Some people may think the Legislature’s recent special session came up completely empty, but I don’t.

It’s true that far-right legislators cost the state an estimated $175,000 for their two-week tantrum over the federal government’s effort to slow a pandemic that has killed more than 1,200 Wyoming residents and 750,000 Americans.


It’s also true that lawmakers who demanded the not-so-special session are disappointed with its product — a single inconsequential bill. They wanted to jail and fine anybody who enforced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and those “Republicans in name only” they detest wouldn’t let them do it.

But look at what Wyoming has learned from the experience. The Legislature will never again be held captive for two weeks by ideologues hell-bent on pushing a radical agenda that wastes everyone’s time and a whole lot of taxpayers’ money.

I’m kidding, of course. The state’s legislative leaders would do it again in a heartbeat, because none of them want to face primary challenge charges of siding with Comrade President Joe Biden.

The sole survivor of the 21 filed bills prohibits many Wyoming employers from requiring staff to be vaccinated, at least until the feds do so, which is already in the works. And it gives the governor $4 million for litigation against the feds, which he’s already begun. 

So, following the worst special session the Legislature has ever held, what will it do for an encore during February’s budget session? Here’s a preview of what we can expect to happen on some of the state’s key issues.

A photo of Wyoming’s Senate as lawmakers opened their special session in October 2021. The session is being held to chart Wyoming’s response to the coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden. (Photo by Rhianna Gelhart, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Medicaid expansion: The Legislature has rejected more than $1 billion in federal funds for Medicaid expansion since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. The main reason for this monumentally stupid economic decision is GOP lawmakers’ determination to not let former President Barack Obama — who hasn’t held office in more than half a decade — and Democrats in Congress claim any victory for the landmark healthcare law. 

Legislators have willfully deprived at least 25,000 low-income residents of health insurance. Wyoming hospitals could greatly reduce the more than $100 million a year they lose in uncompensated care if they could bill Medicaid for expansion beneficiaries.

The Joint Revenue Committee will sponsor a Medicaid expansion bill that finally has a fair chance of passing. Giving advocates hope is the House’s approval earlier this year of the first expansion measure to pass either chamber. 

Medicaid expansion needs 16 senators’ votes, and nearly a dozen of the 30 members remain vehemently opposed. It’s a high bar, but all of Wyoming’s neighboring states except South Dakota have expanded their Medicaid programs. The economic and humanitarian reasons are getting harder for lawmakers to ignore.

Education: Last month the Joint Appropriations Committee gutted the work of the Joint Education Committee, which had approved a $72 million increase in education funding to compensate for inflation and hire faculty and staff at market values. The JAC reduced that overdue investment to $10 million, and only allowed funds to be used for utilities and supplies.

It was a slap in the face to Wyoming educators, but not unexpected, given the Senate’s passion for cutting public school funding. The JAC’s action is far from the last word on the issue. Gov. Gordon will make his recommendation to the Legislature next month, and he’s likely to look more favorably on school funding, especially during an election year.

The last session ended with a $108 million difference between legislative and consultants’ school funding models. Federal COVID-19 relief funds were used to bail out education for the current fiscal year, but a permanent solution is needed.

As long as the Senate digs in its heels, another stalemate looms. It’s up to Gordon to broker a deal, but his failure to do so in 2021 led to the school system’s continued instability. He needs to rise to the occasion.

Federal COVID-19 relief funds were used to bail out education for the current fiscal year, but a permanent solution is needed.

Kerry drake

Elections: In 2021 the Legislature passed a watered-down version of a voter ID bill that Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) and others on the far right promoted for three years. It was unnecessary, but hardly the type of radical voter suppression measures many red state lawmakers have passed since former President Donald Trump lied about the 2020 election being stolen from him.

The Wyoming Republican Party insists that its members toe the line and approve a primary runoff election system that allows the two top vote-getters to square off. The state GOP tried to convince legislators to enact the change to keep Rep. Liz Cheney from winning a crowded primary race next year by splitting the vote.

That effort failed after state and county election officials testified that the system could not be implemented in time for the 2022 primary. But phony fiscal conservatives in the GOP will continue to push it even if it adds an estimated $1.3 million per election. They may well have the votes to enact it in time for the 2024 election.

Abortion: For nearly three decades, Wyoming resisted making changes to its abortion laws. That ended in 2017, when legislators passed two bills. One required physicians to give women seeking an abortion the opportunity to have an ultrasound. The second prohibited the sale and transport of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses, which was already against federal law.

Every session, legislators have tried to chip away at a woman’s right to choose, even calling for prison sentences for physicians who perform abortions. Several bills have been rejected multiple times, including a 48-hour waiting period and bans of the procedure if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

This year the Legislature passed a measure to prohibit the University of Wyoming from expending any funds for abortions. With Texas and other states passing some of the most restrictive bills since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973, expect a new wave of anti-abortion measures in Wyoming next year.

Far-right legislators who want to make vaccine mandates illegal often cited the Wyoming Constitution’s provision that citizens have the right to make their own healthcare decisions. I can’t wait to see hypocritical contortions they tie themselves in trying to justify taking that right away from Wyoming women.

Vaccine mandates: What, you thought this issue would just disappear? Not when there’s so much perceived political gain tied to the topic in Wyoming.

In a rational world, Wyoming’s title as the most vaccine-hesitant state in the nation would embarrass elected officials so much they would loudly call for everyone to take the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s the one sure way to reduce coronavirus cases and deaths in the Equality State, and make certain that businesses stay open.

Instead, many Wyoming lawmakers have bought into the extreme right’s campaign of misinformation and outright lies about the vaccine, which is safe, effective and free. So expect Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs) and Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) to dust off an absurd special session bill to impose $10 million fines to anyone who tries to enforce any so-called “vaccine mandate.”

Will calmer, cooler heads prevail — like they did during the special session — and resist bills that make it more difficult to contain COVID-19 in Wyoming? I hope so, but with more than twice as many days to consider them, I wouldn’t bet on it. Time to ruminate on bad ideas at the Capitol too often leads to their passage.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. It is interesting that the steadily increasing number of covid deaths of unvaccinated seniors is now starting to make a permanent shift in the demographics of Wyoming senior citizens, both in numbers and financial impart.

  2. Wyoming ‘s K-12 schools are getting an extra $302 million from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act, over and above the state school foundation guarantee (about $1.5 billion per year), which amount was not cut in the 2021 regular session, even as state agencies were cut $431 million (about 15 percent) for the biennium. The schools are awash in money. They don’t need an extra $72 million. JAC was right to trim it to $10 million.

  3. Let’s just get weed legalized so the normal people can relax and watch the radicals implode on each other. Colorado is sucking revenue out of Wyoming, as we play around the edges of an economy that Democrats intentionally shattered to serve their political agenda to make us dependent on Federal and special interest dollars. We need to focus on growth and developing a post plague economy that encourages small business and organic and nutritional health. This article is just another infomercial for Big Pharma and the 1% to run our lives. Enough.

  4. Could not care less about their posturing. But if anyone “gives the governor $4 million for litigation against the feds” and they actually spend it, that is a real crime against Wyoming residents when budgets for basic services are strained.

  5. I am continual amazed that our legislature picks and chooses what Federal money they use mainly for political reasons not good budgetary decisions.

    Everyone in Wyoming is hurt when our legislature refuses to do Medicaid expansion. I myself am tired of paying Federal income taxes and not receiving the benefits of Expanded Medicaid

    Our hospitals doctors and clinics lose a lot of money because people can’t pay for their medical expenses.

    Who pays for the losses. We do in higher insurance rates and higher Doctors bills. Health insurance rates go up a as if it comes out of our pockets

    We pay taxes for other states to get federal money for a variety of things that our legislature turns down. Seriously, our legislature is that ignorant. i was born in Natrona County
    and embarrassed that Charles Scott gets elected term after term.

    Wake up people call your Congress people. Medicaid expansion will benefit us all. Particular the people that need medical care and can’t afford it.

    In Wyoming we believe in helping our neighbors in need. I guess the legislature forgot that.

  6. The hypocrisy of a rant about $175,000, and the subsequent activist promotion of big government “bloatware” to the tune of 100’s of millions. Can we just have our pre-Obama Care insurance premiums, and pre-Biden economy back?

    1. Arlo, the past and the present are sitting at the bar. The door flys open and in walks the future. It was tense…
      Wyoming was a shallow warm sea, then buried in volcanic ash, then glaciers formed in the new mountains.
      It is life , deal with it.😷

      1. Despite the mixed metaphors, “It’s the economy, stupid”. This is what most hard working people care about, no matter how hard the radical Left tries to misdirect to other issues, or coerce it’s failed policies on the people.

  7. Once again, you are spot on. I agree totally with this article. The Wyoming legislature reminds me of the keystone cops only harmful and dangerous.

  8. It is scary that so many in Wyoming vigorously support public policies that make people sick, refuse them health care, and allow them to die. Even a person as wealthy and well regarded as Senator Enzi could not get life saving care in Wyoming. It’s like a tantrum where we promise to hold our breath until we die if anyone tries to get us to make a change.

  9. It’s sure easy for those on state health plans to deny ins for those who can’t afford any . Are their strings attached to this money I don’t understand this issue if Trump would have come up with this it would have been a different out come

  10. The far right’s push for a special session was an utter failure, which had to be known before it was even called. There was nothing that the Legislature could do to block the Federal mandate. Only the courts call determine whether or not the mandate is enforceable. The legislators did all they could – rant and rave, but at a cost of at least $175,000 in taxpayer money. They could have stayed home and done the same thing without expending funds better spent for something else, e.g., education or Medicaid expansion.