The Wyoming Senate is set for a Donnybrook on Wednesday morning over two special-session bills that seek to fight expected federal COVID-19 test-and/or-vaccinate requirements.

A principal point of contention is whether Wyoming should pass a state law that bars employers from imposing vaccine rules called for by President Joe Biden. Many fear that such a measure would force businesses to choose between breaking either state or federal law.

Business leaders and others testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday were nearly unanimous in asking lawmakers not to pit their operations between conflicting state and federal jurisdictions. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle used Old West imagery, describing the potential outcome as a showdown, standoff or shootout between the state and federal governments, with Wyoming enterprises caught in the crossfire.

Critics said that, as written, the measure would jeopardize hospitals’ and other health-care businesses’ Medicare and Medicaid funding, potentially bankrupting the state’s medical system. Any other company or individual that does business with the federal government would also be in jeopardy if they chose to follow a new Wyoming law prohibiting enforcement of federal requirements and standards, they said.

“A conflict between laws could put our air service at risk,” said Mary Kate Buckley, president of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which seeks to employ a total of 2,000 workers this upcoming season. “Following the law is very important to me as a leader.”

Senator Drew Perkins, R-Casper, speaks during the morning Senate session on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 at the Capitol. The Senate met Wednesday for the first reading of the bills that were introduced on Tuesday. Of the 20 bills introduced Tuesday, only two, SF 1003 and SF 1019, were passed Wednesday by the Senate for a second reading. (Rhianna Gelhart/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

In response, committee members approved a raft of amendments to House Bill 1 — COVID-19 vaccine employer mandates (officially designated 1001) intended to avoid such conflicts — many of the changes dealing with the timing and nature of enforcement.  

Then the measure proceeded to the Senate floor for consideration by the full body where,  Monday and Tuesday, members spent hours bandying heavily debated amendments back and forth.  At one point Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper), chairman of the Appropriations Committee acknowledged that the amended bill might be seen as “a gummer” — a reference to its teeth having been pulled. 

But a successful, sweeping 11th hour amendment brought by Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) passed 16-10 Tuesday afternoon struck paragraph after paragraph of the already tortured HB-1, settling on a couple of key phrases. For one, the bill would now prohibit employers from enforcing a federal vaccine requirement provided that testing was available instead.

That’s what President Biden ordered OSHA to adopt for employers with 100 or more workers. But Biden’s plan also places a strong requirement for most health care workers operating with Medicare and Medicaid funding to be outright vaccinated.

Federal contractors and others who do business with the government also face that vaccine requirement. All of which keeps alive the specter of conflicts with the FAA and numerous other federal agencies.

Perkins warned his colleagues about the risks of gambling with federal revenue. “We may not have a state left if we don’t go about it in a more temperate way,” he said.

Collateral damage

Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) told colleagues that any measure the Legislature comes up with in a special session could be half baked. In addition to HB-1, the Senate will consider House Bill 2 – Federal COVID vaccine mandates-prohibition and remedies-2

Kinskey, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he was hearing 1,000 whispering voices expressing doubt. “This is not a bill that should be done in a special session in just a few days,” he said of HB-1.

Numerous business representatives had told the committee they did not want to be pinched between opposing state and federal laws. Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said a confrontational approach would hurt not just businesses, but the people who work in them.

Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) waits for an answer after asking a question about a bill during the first day of the 66th Wyoming Legislature Monday, March 1, 2021, inside the state Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

He supported a version of the bill that “did no harm,” he said. But other senators wanted a fight, promoting personal choice over requirements. Hutchings’ amendment would allow the Wyoming law to go into effect regardless of court challenges.

“We need to make a decision whether we’re going to prostrate ourselves here before the federal government and just say ‘you can do whatever you want, we won’t do anything as a Wyoming Legislature,’” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. Any action the federal government would take to cut off funding is speculative, he added.

Hutchings suggested that Wyoming should call federal regulators’ bluff. 

Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) said a $10 million allocation for lawsuits in the bill would help the state and businesses.

“We are fully arming ourselves and our businesses to go into this fight with the federal government,” he said. “And yeah, there’s going to be collateral damage either way.

“If we go and we tip the scales in favor of businesses and against the employees, there’s collateral damage there. If we tip the scales the other way there’s collateral damage.”

Both measures will be debated by the Senate a third and final time Wednesday.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Numerous business representatives had told committee members they did not want to be pinched between opposing state and federal laws.”

    Is there a federal “law?” If so, what is it? It is my understanding President Biden mandated via OSHA a regulatory “mandate.” This is not a law.

    1. Very true. Kissinger said that legal things are easy, illegal things are a little harder.
      If you wanted to plan an economic train wreck to benefit the 1%, you could not do better than what we are seeing.

      1. Unless of course you wanted to discuss tax cuts for corporations that are permanent and temporary tax cuts for the middle class. How many trillions were lost due to those?

        1. No tax cut is ever permanent. That is fantasy talk. Greedy leftists never quit until the whole world is a starving ghetto, with walled castles guarded by small armies. Democrats are planning to give the 1% their SALT write-offs back, because they are the party of the 1%. Corporations in the US will have the highest tax rate in the world under this criminal administration. That will result in cut hours and higher prices. The immigrants will always have their sub mensa economies to offset the impact of corruption, but the ordinary Americans will be bled dry. Working mothers will have two and three jobs. Suicide and drug and alcohol abuse are skyrocketing. The goal is always to cause inequity so they can claim to want to fix what they caused. Schools, economy, urban blight… always the Democrats cause failure and pain and always demand more power and raise taxes. Small businesses are being choked out of existence. That is your Utopia. Biden has only been in office for 10 months. Look at the harm. Be honest.

          1. Your scenario has been playing out longer than just the 10 months that Biden has been in office after being duly elected. Perhaps you should have paid better attention prior to Biden.

            It’s convenient that chrump lemmings become economists when he is out of office. Diane might need to limit screen again. The nonsense is getting more frequent.

  2. I’m trying to imagine being a state representative and attempting to reset this whole mess back to a rational starting point, but I wouldn’t have a clue how to do it.

  3. A journalist can spend his/her entire career crafting news, and never manage to get the glorious clause ” Girding for a Donnybrook ” * into print. Let alone in a headline !

    Well done.

    * Donnybrook is a 19th century maligning of a certain raucous fair held in Dublin Ireland. Angus’ aim was a bit off on that . The current Wyoming Legislature special session is more 16th century French , as subverted by one Wm. Shakespeare on more than one occasion…a FARCE.