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vaccine mandate

Wyoming Assistant U.S. Attorney Challenges Vaccine Mandate

in News/Coronavirus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An assistant U.S. Attorney in Wyoming is suing President Joe Biden and a group of other federal officials over the requirement for federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Margaret Vierbuchen, a 25-year employee of the federal government, is asking the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to block federal agencies from demanding that she and other federal employees get the COVID vaccine or face the loss of their jobs.

“No law passed by Congress .. authorizes such a sweeping intrusion into the lives and medical decisions of America’s federal civil servants,” the lawsuit said. “Nor does the Constitution give the president such monarchial power.”

Biden announced in September that he would require federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people to get the coronavirus vaccine. The mandates for health care workers and large employers are being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 4, Vierbuchen, who has spent the last six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Wyoming and New Mexico, caught the coronavirus and recovered from it, giving her antibodies against the illness.

The lawsuit said Vierbuchen is refusing to get the vaccination, which has resulted in threats of the loss of her job.

“For her failure to obey the president’s illegal command, the defendants have threatened that she will lose her job and, contrary to federal law, they will strip away the retirement benefits she has earned through her service,” it said.

The lawsuit said Vierbuchen has also been forced to submit to intrusive COVID-19 tests and has had access to her workplace restricted because she refuses the vaccination.

The lawsuit said Biden’s order “exceeds the lawful authority of his office” and violates Vierbuchen’s due process rights, right to privacy and her right to be free of unwanted and unnecessary medication.

The lawsuit, which also names as defendants the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the directors of the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget, argued Biden had no authority to impose a vaccine mandate.

“Never has the executive branch claimed authority to compel all federal civilian employees to submit to the forcible injection of medication against their will,” it said. 

Congress has never given the president the authority to issue such a mandate for civil servants, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also argued that federal employees do not give up their constitutional freedoms because they are employed by the federal government.

“Federal employees do not lose their personal autonomy over medical decisions by agreeing to serve the people of the United States,” it said. “Nor do executive branch officials have dictatorial authority over the lives and livelihoods of those they supervise.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find that Biden’s mandate is unenforceable and that its implementation has violated Vierbuchen’s constitutional rights.

The lawsuit also asks the court to block officials from requiring Vierbuchen “and others similarly situated” to comply with the mandate.

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Wyoming To Sue Biden Administration on Friday Over Fed Vaccine Mandate

in Mark Gordon

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will join several other states in suing the federal government over the coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday.

Gordon said the state will file a lawsuit as soon as the rules to put Biden’s mandate in place are issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a move expected Friday.

“We have prepared for this moment and the attorney general has a strong legal strategy she developed with a coalition of other attorneys general,” Gordon said. “We cannot allow the rights of Wyoming citizens and her industries to be trampled by federal overreach.”

Biden’s proposal would require that all federal workers, health care employees and employees of companies with more than 100 people get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.

The details of the rules needed to put the mandate in place were released Thursday. 

Under the rules, companies affected by the mandate would have to make sure their employees are vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Wyoming has already challenged an executive order issued by Biden that mandated vaccines for federal contractors.

Gordon’s announcement came one day after Wyoming’s Legislature completed its special session aimed at charting the state’s response to the mandates.

Of the 20 bills proposed for review during the session, only one won final approval. It would prohibit state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate, but it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Wyoming House Committee Hears Passionate Testimonies From Banner Health Employees

in News/Coronavirus/Legislature

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Health care workers are being questioned by their employers about their decisions regarding the coronavirus vaccine, several told legislators on Tuesday.

Two employees from the Washakie Medical Center, a Worland facility owned by Banner Health, shared their experiences with members of the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee who were reviewing three bills proposed for consideration during the Legislature’s special session on federal coronavirus mandates.

Jacob Power, a Washakie Medical Center X-ray technologist in Worland, told the legislators about being called into his manager’s office multiple times to be questioned about whether or not he would get a COVID vaccine.

“I simply told them at that point in time that they do not have the right to ask me that, as that is my personal decision,” Power said. “The people that are working above me, they have no right to look into my medical record without my permission, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Later, he told his bosses that he would seek an exemption from receiving the vaccine, but that his employers did not have the right to question him about his decision.

The special session is being held to chart Wyoming’s response to the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Under the mandate, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies employing more than 100 people would have to get the vaccine or be tested for coronavirus weekly.

The committee was studying three of six bills proposed regarding the mandate. One would prohibit employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment, unless certain conditions are met. Another would require employers to grant exemptions from the mandate requested by employees and the third would require severance pay for employees who are fired or quit because of the mandate.

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.

Lorena Stewart, another Washakie Medical Center employee, told the legislators that she had requested a religious exemption from the vaccine, but it was denied. This was the first time in her 17 years of working at the medical center where she has been denied a vaccine exemption. she said.

“I’ve been a born-again Christian since the age of 8,” she said. “I think everybody was shocked when my request got denied. They want us to jump through these hoops, they didn’t want to make it easy.”

Stewart said that up until the last couple of months, she has loved working for Banner Health, but the vaccine mandate has completely changed the atmosphere.

Mary Lynee Shickich spoke as a representative for Banner Health in Wyoming and noted that of Banner’s 1,629 employees in Wyoming, about 160 had not yet received a COVID vaccine. However, she noted that there were processes in place to keep those employees on until the end of November.

Lance Porter, CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center, stated that the company is implementing the mandate due to the fact that the hospital is a resource that the community relies on to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have the obligation to make sure we can staff the beds and make sure we have providers to provide the care that is needed,” Porter said. “I guarantee you that anybody who works in health care got into it to help other people. Regardless of where you fall on the vaccine mandate, we want to help people.”

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Wyoming Special Session Slated For Next Week

in News/Coronavirus/politics

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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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Gordon Continues Preparation Of Legal Challenge Against Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is continuing to prepare a legal challenge against President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccine mandate.

Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill are preparing Wyoming’s legal challenge to the mandate when they are finalized. However, the administration has not yet issued any specific policies that can be challenged in court.

“Four weeks ago, when the president issued his announcement regarding vaccine mandates, I immediately instructed Attorney General Hill to prepare for legal action to oppose this unconstitutional overreach,” Gordon said. “Attorney General Hill has begun that mission and is continuing to strengthen alliances, improve potential arguments, and consider appropriate strategies.”

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 for the illness weekly. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be responsible for levying fines against companies that do not comply with the mandate.

Gordon also noted that a joint letter from 24 attorneys general explained that the president’s call for a vaccine mandate is broad, inexact and uses a rarely-used provision in federal law that allows it to be effective immediately.

“This coalition of Attorneys General is well-prepared to fight the Biden administration in courts when the time is right, and I am committed to using every tool available to us to oppose federal rules, regulations, and standards whenever they overreach. We are prepared to act promptly once these mandates are finally issued,” Gordon said. “Wyoming will not stand idly by to see any erosion of the constitutional rights afforded our citizens and their industries.” 

As the state prepares for its legal battle with the federal government, Gordon stressed that as a conservative Republican, he stands for smaller government that is closest to the people.

“Government must resist the temptation to intrude in private sector interests,” Gordon said. “It is neither conservative nor Republican to replace one form of tyranny with another. Doing so is antithetical to our American form of government, even if it is for something we like. I will stand firm against unconstrained governmental overreach regardless of where or when it occurs.”

Wyoming legislative leadership has initiated a poll of members on whether they would hold a special session later this month to address the mandate.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, previously said it would likely be conducted via video conferencing instead of in-person as the cost savings would be significant.

Driskill previously told Cowboy State Daily that he envisioned a two- to three-day session where legislators would focus on strategies to fight the president’s mandate which would, in effect, force thousands of Wyoming workers to receive a COVID vaccine or be fired.

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