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special session

Harshman Won’t Be Censured For Dropping F-Bomb & Swearing At Colleague On Hot Mic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A representative from Gillette has decided to not to seek the censure of one of his colleagues for breach of conduct, he confirmed to Cowboy State Daily.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues on Friday that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body this week, but he said Tuesday he had changed his mind.

“I simply evaluated what would lead to the best result as far as maintaining decorum as we go forward with technology like video conferencing,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily late Tuesday.

“The public nature of censure and the potential divisiveness of the debate would not improve the legislature’s reputation nor our decorum, so I chose a more private path of petitioning leadership to change the consequences to something more appropriate and more likely to reduce further breeches of decorum,” he said.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

A censure, a formal expression of disapproval with no binding effect, must be approved by a majority of those in the House. Had representatives voted to support it, Harshman would have been the first legislator in recent history to be censured.

Bear had said last week he would bring a motion to censure Harshman and one possibly one other unidentified House member when representatives returned to the Capitol to resume the special session Wednesday.

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Explainer: What Is The Cost Of The Special Session?

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By Ellen Fike Cowboy State Daily

The cost of the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will reach at least $125,000, according to latest state calculations.

However, the final cost breakdown will likely not be known for several weeks, according to the Legislative Service Office.

Costs for the special session will vary depending on how many members of the Legislature decide to waive the daily allowance they get to cover living expenses, which is $109 per day, and how many days they waive it and how many members participate remotely.

The payment, called a “per diem,” covers expenses such as lodging (excluding taxes), meals and incidental expenses. Since some legislators live in Cheyenne or within driving distance to the Capitol, they may choose to waive their per diem for whatever reason.

Legislators must notify the LSO of their intent to waive some or all of their per diem, and much of this does not occur until the session has adjourned, the LSO explained.

However, it does cost around $25,000 per day for the Legislature to convene, which comes from the legislators’ salaries ($150 per legislator per day) and per diem.

With 90 legislators (30 in the Senate and 60 in the House), the salary pay would amount to $13,500 per day. However, since the House of Representatives has not met two days of the session, this could reduce the cost by around $18,000.

The $125,000 figure assumes both chambers will meet for at least five days, four days last week and at least once this week.

Additionally, the cost to employ the 12 part-time LSO staffers during the special session is approximately $2,000 per day, meaning the state could spend nearly $175,000 by the time the session ends, if you factor in costs from the Senate meeting for two days ($9,000 for two days) and whether the legislature adjourns on Wednesday.

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Rep. Harshman Apologizes For Cursing At Rep. Gray During Session; Has Remote Privileges Revoked

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative apologized to fellow representatives on Friday morning after he was caught on a live microphone cursing one of his House colleagues and was punished by losing his privileges to participate in the Legislature’s special session remotely.

During a debate on Thursday, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, was participating in the Legislature’s special session remotely via Zoom when he was heard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

He appeared in person at the beginning of the fourth day of the session to apologize to the body and Gray in particular.

“What happened yesterday was a breach of conduct on the floor of this house and it’s not acceptable and I come here to apologize for that,” Harshman said. “We’ve all worked very hard to keep that decorum, so I apologize for that. It’s wrong and I know better than that.”

Harshman apologized for creating a distraction, particularly during the special session.

Speaker of the House Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

“Your conduct was unbecoming, so I want to condemn it, clearly,” Barlow said.

Due to these breaches, Harshman had his remote privileges revoked, meaning he would have to attend the rest of the session, which will last until at least Wednesday, in person.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body on Monday. One is likely Harshman, but he did not clarify who the second was, saying he wanted to speak with them privately first.

“I don’t come to you with this lightly,” Bear said. “We should have already been on our best behavior, but that’s not what happened at the end of the debate.”

He asked the legislators to fast over the weekend, so they could be focused in prayer because their votes on Monday could be “pivotal.”

Bear said the incident reaffirmed his belief that allowing legislators to take part in sessions remotely would hurt the decorum of the Legislature.

“Being in a room like this, (decorum) has to be elevated so high in our hears and minds,” he said. “I feared at the time that Zoom would lighten that up.”

Carbon County Republican Chair Joey Correnti said people should have the same outrage over Rep. Harshman’s language that they did over a GOP precinct committeeman’s obscene email to a state senator “if they wanted to be looked at as relevant and legitimate.”

“Whether he did it remotely or not does not matter,” Correnti said. “As an elected member of that body his voice went out over the floor of that chamber and in that action the former Speaker of the House Representative Steve Harshman desecrated that chamber by speaking those words on its floor.”

Gray did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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Wyoming Democrats Fail To Introduce Bill To Create COVID Impact Program

in News/Coronavirus/Legislature
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Democrat leaders in Wyoming’s Legislature on Friday unsuccessfully proposed new legislation that would create a COVID impact support program using American Rescue Plan funds, legislators announced.

House Bill 1021, offered four days into a special legislative session designed to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus madate, would have created a program using ARP funds to provide monetary support for food, medicine, child care, mental health support and lost wages for people and families suffering from COVID impacts.

The bill’s introduction was defeated on a vote of 11-45.

One of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, urged legislators to change their rules to allow introduction of the bill because of the hardships experienced by Wyoming residents because of the coronavirus.

“We’ve heard from our constituents that they have struggled tremendously in trying to access basic necessities,” she said. “If COVID relief funding isn’t meant to ensure that those with COVID are able to access food, proper medical care, and resources while missing work to recover, then I don’t know what it’s meant for.”

But opponents to the bill pointed out it was offered very late in the special session. Under the session’s rules, legislation was to be filed five days before the session began.

In addition, several opponents criticized the program that would be established by the bill.

“”We’re distributing literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of (federal) dollars,” said Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton. “One of the criticisms I hear from my constituency is we’ve been too liberal and we’re actually encouraging people to stay home.”

The program would have been administered through the Wyoming Department of Family Services in coordination with existing social service programs (in an effort to prevent duplication of services), the legislators explained, and it is designed to provide a hand up for those quarantined or recovering from COVID who lack access to basic services.

Benefits under the program shall be initiated by boards of county commissioners who may request increased support to individuals and families suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. 

If the bill passes, $20 million from American Rescue Plan funds will be provided the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute.

“Whether an individual without a support system nearby to help with meals, or a family with lost wages who is deciding between rent and medication, this program is meant to alleviate the unnecessary suffering felt by our Wyoming friends and neighbors,” said Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily that the lawmakers were able to introduce new legislation on Friday due to the legislature working under the 66th legislature’s normal rules.

“Even during a budget session, you can file a bill on the last day of the schedule,” Yin told Cowboy Stae Daily. “We do have some introduction limits based on House Rule 4-5, where we’d need a 2/3 vote to introduce a bill after the 15th legislative day, however, we’re not anywhere near that date”

This is the first new legislation introduced since the special session began on Tuesday, as the deadline for bills was set five days before the session started.

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Wyoming Special Session To Last Until At Least Wednesday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The special session of Wyoming’s Legislature, originally scheduled to last three days, will now stretch into the next week at least, the Wyoming Speaker of the House said on Thursday.

Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told his fellow legislators to plan on being at the Wyoming Capitol until at least Wednesday.

“No bills will be accelerated, that means we’ll do third reading tomorrow,” Barlow said. “I don’t see any point working on a Saturday. Then come back Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

Barlow added that the House, which spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday reviewing two bills, will likely see short days next week when it receives the Senate’s measures. The Senate, which wrapped up its work before noon on Thursday after finishing its second review of two bills, will probably have longer days as it looks over the House bills, he said.

Only four bills remain of the 20 originally proposed in each chamber for review during the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

In the House, those bills still in play were HB1001, which specifies that vaccination status cannot be used as a condition of employment except under certain conditions and HB1002, which would prohibit the enforcement of mandates related to coronavirus and reiterate the governor’s authority to take legal action to defend the state against mandates.

In the Senate, SF1003 was the focus of much of Thursday’s work. The bill would prohibit using a person’s vaccination status to bar them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities.

The second bill up for a second reading in the Senate, SF1019, would correct an error in existing law that prevented law enforcement officers for the Wyoming Gaming Commission from participating in the state’s retirement system.

Initially when the special session was proposed, it was only supposed to last three days and would have wrapped up Thursday. However, special rules for the session drafted to speed up the process to accommodate that timeline were rejected.

By law, legislators have up to 20 days to finish the session.

Beginning Monday, the House bills will move to the Senate for review and the Senate bills will move to the House.

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Sheridan County Senator Compares Vax Status To Racism

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Blocking access to goods or services based on a person’s vaccination status is akin to racism, a state senator said during the second day of the Legislature’s special session Wednesday.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, made the comments while the Senate was debating Senate File 1003, sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, which would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status, as well as prohibit any requirements that a person obtain the coronavirus vaccine in order to receive or access benefits, services or educational opportunities.

“What are we having right now with COVID? Second-class citizens,” he said. “I’m hearing members who are perfectly OK with that; think it’s funny to have a vaxxed bar versus an unvaxxed bar. It’s not funny to have a Black-only bar versus a whites-only bar. We’re beyond that in this country.”

The bill was approved for a second review, schedule for Thursday, despite opposition from some lawmakers who said the Legislature was improperly trying to impose its will on the state’s residents.

“I think this bill looks at one overreach that could possibly happen and then takes another overreach that I think is far more draconian to try and fix it,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said.

Debate occurred during the second day of the special session legislators called themselves to chart Wyoming’s response to a coronavirus vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Measures being considered so far include measures that would make it illegal to base employment on a person’s vaccination status and prohibiting law enforcement from enforcing vaccine or mask mandates.

Under Biden’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies with more than 100 workers would have to get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

One proposed piece of legislation named after a Laramie teenager who was arrested following her refusal to wear a mask earlier this month died Wednesday in the Senate.

Senators voted 11-18 to reject HB1010 on Wednesday. The “Grace Smith Medical Freedom Act” would have required county and state health officers to grant a waiver from coronavirus immunization or face mask use requirements to any K-12 student who requests one. This bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, Biteman.

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Wyoming Legislators Reviewing Ten Bills During Special Session

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Nine bills aimed at reducing the impact of the federal coronavirus vaccination mandate on Wyoming residents and businesses have been selected for further review during the Legislature’s special session.

Lawmakers on Tuesday referred 10 of the 20 bills filed for consideration during the session to committees for review. The original schedule for the special session called for all of those bills to be reviewed by committees Tuesday and returned to the floor of each chamber for final action on Wednesday.

However, the special rules drafted to allow a faster legislative process were killed Tuesday and only a few of the bills referred to committees for review were sent back to the floor for action Wednesday.

Nine of the 10 bills introduced referenced the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

The tenth bill would correct an error in legislation approved in 2020 that prevented Wyoming Gaming Commission law enforcement officers from participating in the state’s retirement system.

The vaccine mandate, which has not yet taken effect, would require federal employees, health care workers and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 to receive the coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing for the illness.

The nine bills related to the mandate propose different approaches to limiting its effectiveness, from prohibiting its enforcement to specifying that employees who quit or are fired from a private sector job because they are unwilling or unable to get a vaccine are eligible for severance benefits.

Here is a list and brief explanation of the bills relating to the proposed vaccination mandate that are being examined:

HB1001 — Prohibiting employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment and requiring a severance package for employees who are fired or quit because of vaccine mandates.

HB1002 — Prohibiting the enforcement of the vaccine mandate and setting aside $1 million for legal action against the mandate.

HB1005 — Requiring employers to grant exemptions from the vaccine mandate requested by employees and making employers who fail to grant exemptions liable for damages of up to $5,000.

HB1006 — Requiring health care facilities, government entities and providers of essential services to offer reasonable options for those unwilling or unable to get the vaccination as a condition of obtaining essential products or services or visiting certain areas. The bill would also require employers who require their employees to get the vaccine to prove that any employee not getting the vaccine would create a hardship for or pose a threat to others in the business.

HB1009 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

HB1013 — Specifies that anyone who quits a job because their employer is not complying with the vaccine mandate is eligible for unemployment benefits.

SF1003 — Prohibiting discrimination against any person because he or she has not received the coronavirus vaccine or does not have a COVID “immunity passport.” Any acts of discrimination, such as keeping a person from obtaining servies or good or entering a public space, could be punished by a fine of up to $750 and six months in jail.

SF1004 — Making it a crime (blackmail) to threaten a person’s livelihood, employment or educational opportunities to compel that person to get the COVID vaccination.

SF9 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

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Gordon Says Proposed Federal Vaccine Mandates Offensive To Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Proposed federal mandates for coronavirus vaccinations are offensive to Wyoming residents and must be addressed, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in welcoming comments to the Legislature as it convened for its 3-day special session, said the vaccination requirements proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden is a form of federal overreach that is opposed by Wyoming residents.

“It has been hard to stomach the increasingly aggressive license the Biden Administration has taken over the past few months to extend the federal government’s overreach into our lives,” Gordon said in his prepared comments. “This temerity is offensive to me, to you, to Wyoming citizens, and to the Constitution that enumerates our rights. It must be stopped.”

Legislators met Tuesday to begin the special session aimed at preparing Wyoming’s response to the proposed mandates, which would require federal employees, health care workers and workers for companies that employ 100 or more people.

Bills filed for consideration would take steps such as prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who have not been vaccinated or creating exemptions to the federal requirements.

Gordon referred to the administration’s mandate and the pending release of federal labor rules to put it in place as “blackmail.”

“I am incensed that the Biden administration would have the audacity to mandate that private employers require their employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and find it unconscionable to threaten to withhold Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements unless mandates are enforced,” he said. “Using taxpayer dollars in an attempt to coerce compliance is nothing more than blackmail.”

Gordon said Attorney General Bridget Hill is working with other states to prepare for possible legal action against what he called federal overreach.

Gordon urged the Legislature to address proposed legislation quickly in charting the state’s response to the rules.

“I appreciate the challenges you have ahead of you to be both thoughtful and to act urgently with purpose and merit,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the fruits of your labor and will review them carefully and without prejudice, as is customary.”

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Fremont County Sen. Cale Case Urges Colleagues Not To Have Special Session

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Longtime Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, sent out a document over the weekend to his fellow legislators explaining why he believes the Legislature’s upcoming special session is a bad idea.

Case sent his colleagues a “white paper,” an informational document detailing the philosophy and guidance of a complex issue. The document was initially written by Equality State Policy Center executive director Chris Merrill in December, but he and Case revised it to apply to the session.

In the paper, Case explains why he believes it is a bad idea for the House and Senate to consider the same bills at the same time in a “mirror” arrangement. Usually, a bill is reviewed by one chamber and, if approved, sent to the other for review.

“We have two houses for a reason,” Case wrote. “Mirror bills and expedited scheduling defeats bicameralism at least in part because the reviews are not independent as they are both at the same time or in the same ‘passion.'”

The Legislature is to begin a three-day special session on Tuesday to formulate the state’s response to President Joe Biden’s mandate that federal workers, health care employees and employees at companies employing more than 100 people receive the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.

The Biden administration has not yet issued the rules that will be required to put the mandate into effect.

In his email to his fellow legislators on Saturday, Cale noted that he has served as the Senate chairman of the Select Committee on Legislative Process for a number of years and in that role, he and the committee have worked hard to improve transparency and public access to the legislative process.

“The rules proposed for the Special Session are a step backward,” Case wrote in the email. “I encourage you to vote no on the proposed rules and conduct all our work with maximum transparency and opportunity for public education and participation.”

Should a majority of the legislators vote “no” on the proposed rules, the special session will be adjourned on Tuesday or lawmakers will have to abide by the rules for a regular legislative session.

Thirty-five Wyoming representatives and 17 senators voted in favor of holding a special session, while 12 representatives and seven senators voted against holding one. Case was one of the senators who voted against the session.

In the document, Case and Merill detail how the traditional legislative process upholds the spirit and intent of the Wyoming Constitution and fulfills the vision of the Founding Fathers.

“The ‘mirror bill’ process—even in the best of circumstances and with the best of intentions—does not,” Case and Merill wrote. “It is a deeply flawed, inferior approach to lawmaking that undermines the wisdom and intent of a bicameral legislature. It compresses the timeline for deliberations, eliminates the one-chamber-at-a-time principle, eliminates the key ‘crossover’ moment (which allows for a fresh infusion of public input and new information), and severely limits—even eliminates at key points—public input and involvement.”

Case told Cowboy State Daily last week that he felt the special session was a bad idea.

“I don’t agree with the federal mandates on employers and I want to be clear about that,” Case said. “But I don’t see a legislative path to fix that.”

An op-ed published Monday and penned by various non-partisan officials from across the state also objected to the session.

“This is not about whether or not you support mandates,” the opinion piece said. “Regardless of your position on vaccinations or masks, fast-tracking legislation undermines the deliberative process that is the hallmark of good lawmaking.”

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State Senator Thinks Special Session On Vaccine Mandate Is Bad Idea

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Longtime state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, thinks that next week’s legislative special session regarding vaccine mandates is a bad idea, he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

“I don’t agree with the federal mandates on employers and I want to be clear about that,” Case said. “But I don’t see a legislative path to fix that.”

The Legislature is to begin a three-day special session on Tuesday to formulate the state’s response to President Joe Biden’s mandate that government workers, health care employees and employees at companies employing more than 100 people receive the corronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.

Before any work can begin, the rules spelling out how the session will proceed will have to be approved by two-thirds of the legislators.

Thirty-five Wyoming representatives and 17 senators voted in favor of holding a special session, while 12 representatives and seven senators voted against holding one. Case was one of the senators who voted against the session.

The Biden administration has not yet issued the rules that will be required to put the mandate into effect and Case said that is the biggest argument against holding a special session.

“I think we run the risk of putting our Wyoming employers in a squeeze between state and federal policy,” he said.

Case added that the Wyoming Legislature cannot hold a special session every time “a bunch of people get mad at something that happens.” He said many Wyoming voters who have pushed for the special session do not fully understand how the legislative process works.

“I’ve actually had people tell me that we can nullify a federal law, because all we have to do is pass a law that nullifies it,” Case said. “I assure you, we can’t do that.”

Gov. Mark Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill are preparing to file a legal challenge on Wyoming’s behalf once the rules are completed, which Case totally supported.

“I think we are in the realm of overreach by the federal government and I think in the end, it is the legal efforts that we join with other states that will be successful, not these special sessions,” he said.

Case’s stance is in opposition to that taken by many of his colleagues.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was one of the senators who voted to hold the session and he announced his position by posting a photo of his ballot to social media, along with a post-it note containing a message to legislative leadership.

“We now need a special session because the Republican establishment killed my bill on the same subject,” Bouchard wrote on the ballot. “Of course I will vote yes on the special session. Don’t Fauci our Wyoming!”

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also voted for the session.

“The dates of October 26-28 have also been scheduled for the special session, which would allow us to pass a bill banning mandates before the Banner Health deadline goes into effect,” Gray wrote on social media. “This is great news for our state! We must stop these radical vaccine mandates.”

Banner Health, one of the largest U.S. health system employers, is requiring its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1 to keep their jobs. The organization announced this mandate in July.

Banner Health operates multiple health care facilities in Wyoming, including the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and clinics in Torrington, Wheatland, Guernsey, Douglas, Worland and more.

No other Wyoming-owned hospitals or health care systems in the state have implemented a vaccine mandate, although some, such as Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, have created incentive programs for employees who do get vaccinated.

Banner officials said the company is implementing the requirement for several reasons, including the rise of the Delta variant of coronavirus, the need to protect its patients and workforce and to prepare for flu season.

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Wyoming Special Session Slated For Next Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Legislature will convene for a special session next week to address coronavirus vaccination mandates expected to be handed down by the federal government, the Legislative Service Office announced Tuesday.

The Legislature’s leaders, Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, received a sufficient number of votes affirming the decision to have a special session, the LSO said.

The three-day session will begin at 10 a.m. on Oct. 26.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, the Senate’s majority floor leader, explained that despite the fact that about 20 bills could be introduced during the special session, the legislators’ focus would be on vaccine mandates.

“We’re going to keep the topic very narrow, just to mandates,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “We’ve got three bills being worked on right now, and in the broadest terms, one deals with federal overreach, one is about employer mandates and then there’s one about employee rights.”

In September, President Joe Biden announced that federal workers, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people will have to be vaccinated against coronavirus or be tested every week for the illness.

However, the Biden administration has not yet released the rules to put the mandate in place. As a result, writing bills in Wyoming for federal policies that are not yet in place could be tricky.

“The LSO has done a phenomenal job with these bills,” Driskill said. “We want to be careful to avoid making a law where Wyoming citizens and employers have to decide between violating a state law or a federal one. It’s really hard to deal with rules that aren’t out there yet.”

Thirty-five Wyoming representatives and 17 senators voted to hold a special session, while 12 representatives and seven senators voted against holding one.

According to the LSO, the Legislature plans to hold committee meetings on Oct. 26. After that, identical versions of any bills to be considered will be worked in each chamber, with the required three reviews of the bills to take place Oct. 27. Then joint conference committee meetings will be held Oct. 28 to resolve any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills.

Barlow and Dockstader did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Tuesday.

The rules formalizing the schedule will have to be approved by two-thirds of the legislators when they open the session on Oct. 26.

Nine members of Wyoming’s Democratic Caucus told legislative leadership that they would be voting against the session. The legislators included Reps. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, Mike Yin, D-Jackson, Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, and Andi Clifford, D-Riverton, and Sens. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and Mike Gierau, D-Jackson.

“After considering the $25,000 per day cost of a special session, the lack of released federal rules in regards to how OSHA may enforce vaccine mandates, and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution that indicates that federal laws override state directives, we believe a special session would be an undue burden to the taxpayer, a waste of time and resources for legislators and our staff, and would further cause an undue burden to Wyoming businesses who would be forced to choose  between following state OR federal law, requiring them to be in violation of one or the other,” the caucus wrote. 

Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, was one of the Republican members of the legislature who also voted against the special session.

“My stance is clear: Our President’s mandate has no place in Wyoming,” Brown said on social media last week. “Unfortunately, we have no clue what his mandate looks like under rule making process and we would be fighting against a rule that doesn’t exist yet. While I believe President Biden’s proposed rule is too far for government to reach, I also believe it is too far for government to enter into the hiring practices of private businesses.”

“If a private business wishes to impose hiring protocols that an employee is uncomfortable with, they have the choice to not enter into that employment,” he continued. “Likewise, the business should be ready to suffer the consequences of the choices they choose to impose or not impose on their employees and the response from the public. Let the business succeed or fail based on their merit, not on government interference.”

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was one of the senators who voted to hold the session, posting a photo of his ballot to social media, along with a post-it note containing a message to legislative leadership.

“We now need a special session because the Republican establishment killed my bill on the same subject,” Bouchard wrote on the ballot. “Of course I will vote yes on the special session. Don’t Fauci our Wyoming!”

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also voted for the session.

“The dates of October 26-28 have also been scheduled for the special session, which would allow us to pass a bill banning mandates before the Banner Health deadline goes into effect,” Gray wrote on social media. “This is great news for our state! We must stop these radical vaccine mandates.”

Gov. Mark Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill are preparing Wyoming’s legal challenge to the federal vaccine mandate when they are finalized. 

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Legislators Divided Over Whether Wyoming Should Have Special Session On Vaccine Mandate

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Wyoming State Capitol
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legislators are divided over whether or not the state should hold a special session regarding President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccine mandates.

In September, Biden announced that federal workers, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people will have to be vaccinated against coronavirus or be tested every week for the illness.

Wyoming’s legislators have until Thursday to vote on whether or not the state should hold a special session regarding the mandate.

Nine members of Wyoming’s Democratic Caucus told legislative leadership that they would be voting against the session. These members included Reps. Cathy Connolly, Mike Yin, Karlee Provenza and Andi Clifford and Sens. Chris Rothfuss and Mike Gierau.

“After considering the $25,000 per day cost of a special session, the lack of released federal rules in regards to how OSHA may enforce vaccine mandates, and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution that indicates that federal laws override state directives, we believe a special session would be an undue burden to the taxpayer, a waste of time and resources for legislators and our staff, and would further cause an undue burden to Wyoming businesses who would be forced to choose  between following state OR federal law, requiring them to be in violation of one or the other,” the caucus wrote. 

Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, was one of the Republican members of the legislature who also voted against the special session.

“My stance is clear: Our President’s mandate has no place in Wyoming,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, we have no clue what his mandate looks like under rule making process and we would be fighting against a rule that doesn’t exist yet. While I believe President Biden’s proposed rule is too far for government to reach, I also believe it is too far for government to enter into the hiring practices of private businesses.”

“If a private business wishes to impose hiring protocols that an employee is uncomfortable with, they have the choice to not enter into that employment,” he said. “Likewise, the business should be ready to suffer the consequences of the choices they choose to impose or not impose on their employees and the response from the public. Let the business succeed or fail based on their merit, not on government interference.”

Former Speaker of the House Kermit Brown praised Brown (no relation) for his vote.

“Courageous vote and absolutely the right thing to do. We don’t need to be getting in lawsuits with the Feds,” Kermit Brown wrote. “They are horribly expensive and trying to overcome the supremacy clause in the US Constitution is an uphill battle.”

“I always figured each day of the legislature cost $30,000 and I think I am low especially for a short special session. We are broke and don’t know it and we cannot afford silly expenditures like this,” he said.

As of Wednesday morning, a dozen senators had voted to hold the special session, while four had voted to not hold it. More than 25 representatives had also voted to hold the session.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was one of the senators who voted to hold the session, posting a photo of his ballot to social media that included a post-it note with a message to legislative leadership.

“We now need a special session because the Republican establishment killed my bill on the same subject,” Bouchard wrote on the ballot. “Of course I will vote yes on the special session. Don’t Fauci our Wyoming!”

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also voted for the session.

“The dates of October 26-28 have also been scheduled for the special session, which would allow us to pass a bill banning mandates before the Banner Health deadline goes into effect,” Gray wrote on social media. “This is great news for our state! We must stop these radical vaccine mandates.”

It was not immediately clear whether the plan was to hold the session in person or virtually, but it would be around $45,000 cheaper to hold a session online.

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Wyo Legislator: Wyoming Legislative Special Session Will Start July 12

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative told a Cheyenne radio station over the weekend that the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will likely take place in mid-July.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, spoke with KGAB over the weekend and told host Doug Randall that he expected the latest legislative special session to convene July 12 and run for one week. Zwonitzer said all of the state’s legislators have been contacted and told to block out that particular week.

The Legislature is to use the session to discuss the appropriation and distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds.

“It’s about $1.3 billion coming in for municipalities, education, rental assistance, all types of things,” Zwonitzer said during his interview.

Legislative Service Office spokesman Ryan Frost could not confirm the dates of the ses to Cowboy State Daily on Monday, but said the week was being eyed as a possibility for the special session.

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon announced a program for rental assistance in the state that would use $200 million in federal funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

His office also announced last month that the state was expected to receive around $1.2 billion in federal funding, close to Zwonitzer’s own estimate for the special session.

Gordon wanted to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the COVID funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” he said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments.

Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued sometime this month, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

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