An ambitious special legislative session that proposed 21 bills resisting expected federal test and vaccination rules ended Wednesday with a lone measure that was amended to minimize conflict with federal law.

Lawmakers considered 25 amendments and adopted 13 before passing House Bill 1002 – Federal COVID vaccine mandates-prohibition and remedies-2 late Wednesday evening. The measure seeks to protect individual rights by prohibiting “the enforcement of federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” by any public entity.

The 10-page bill, which heads to Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature or veto, says no public entity shall enforce any federal mandate requiring “that an employee shall receive a COVID-19 vaccination.” The measure, however, includes a carve-out for entities that could lose federal funding by following the Wyoming law instead of complying with federal standards.

That carve-out — accomplished by re-defining “public entity” in the bill — appears to protect hospitals and other medical institutions whose Medicare and Medicaid funding would be at risk should they not require vaccinations.

Other public entities — essentially state and local governments — can’t require a vaccination, the measure says. But that vaccine-mandate prohibition won’t be enforced if a federal vaccine requirement is in place, the bill says.

Should legal challenges lead a court to temporarily or permanently block any federal law, rule, standard, order or regulation, Wyoming’s prohibition on newly defined public entity vaccine requirements would kick back in.

The bill also appropriates $4 million to the governor for legal action, including joining suits brought by Wyoming citizens and businesses fighting federal regulations. 

The session showed that “the majority of Wyoming residents [believe] that the decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice,” Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) and Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said in a statement Thursday. 

Gov. Gordon thanked lawmakers but stopped sort of congratulating them at the conclusion of the special session. “Your comprehensive debate shed light on the complicated issue of states’ rights and highlighted some particular challenges we face when addressing policies around this pandemic,” he said in a 170-word statement read into the Senate record.

Hours after Wednesday’s final legislative action, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its standards for employers with 100 or more workers. The standards direct those who won’t be vaccinated to submit to weekly tests and wear a mask.

Gordon announced a lawsuit Thursday as the statewide COVID-19-related death count reached 1,243

“The Attorney General has a strong legal strategy she developed with a coalition of other Attorneys General,” he said in a statement.

‘Affront’ to state sovereignty 

Five pages of the HB-1002 cover findings that lay out Wyoming’s constitutional arguments against the proposed federal requirements. “The directive issued by the federal executive branch and the forthcoming rules by federal agencies regarding COVID-19 vaccination mandates cannot be a more direct affront to state sovereignty,” one passage reads.

Another page is dedicated to a resolution. “Any federal COVID-19 vaccination requirement or mandate [i]s an infringement on the rights of the citizens of Wyoming to make their own healthcare decisions without governmental coercion, intrusion or dictate,” one passage reads.

Several hundred people took part in a rally outside of the Capitol on Tuesday as Wyoming’s Legislature opened its special session on the coronavirus vaccine mandate. The rally was held to oppose the vaccine mandate for federal employees, health care workers and some private sector employees proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. (Photo by Rhianna Gelhart/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

The meat of the bill amounts to 34 words: “No public entity shall enforce any mandate or standard of the federal government, whether emergency, temporary or permanent, that requires an employer to ensure or mandate that an employee shall receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”

Lawmakers arrived at that conclusion after voting for a special session in late October, rejecting fast-track rules and proposing 21 bills. They considered three of those in-depth over seven days.

The successful HB-1002 was subject to much political negotiating.

Legislators considered 24 amendments and adopted 12, not counting changes made in a House-Senate conference committee, before finally approving it. The closest votes came on third reading in the Senate and when the House voted for the House-Senate conference committee version. In both instances the bill earned support from about 66% of the elected members of each body where a simple majority was required.

Along the way, the Senate failed twice to pass House Bill 1001 – COVID-19 vaccine employer mandates, mustering only 15 of the required 16 votes on the first ballot and only 14 “ayes” on a second, reconsideration vote. As originally proposed, HB-1001 would have prohibited businesses from requiring workers be vaccinated, among other things.

Contentious debate saw the measure tortured with 55 amendments before it met its ignominious end.

The third measure considered in depth, Senate File 1003 – COVID-19 discriminatory practices-prohibition, sought to prevent insurance companies; entities providing benefits, services and education; and places of “public accommodation” from barring the unvaccinated or treating them differently. Only 13 senators voted for it, three shy of the tally required for passage.

Sharp contrasts

Lawmakers and citizens brought passion to the Capitol during the session, many wading deep into theories of Constitutional law, the separation of powers, scientific method, business practices and personal liberties. Some of the sharpest contrasts came during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee as it considered the ill-fated HB-1001.

“My fear is the impact of this bill is going to be to create chaos,” said Jeffrey Chapman, chief medical officer at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. While the Supreme Court requires a “sincerely held religious belief” for an exemption, the House version of the bill would have granted an exemption to anybody who asked for one.

Senator Affie Ellis 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 the day before. (Rhianna Gelhart/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

“I think there needs to be something in the bill that says that employers have the ability to create some type of a process on what constitutes a religious exemption,” he said.

Joanna Vilos, chief legal and human resources officer at CRMC, said those standards exist. Adopting them “would be very helpful … so that employers aren’t confused about how to grant those religious exemptions.”

Jasper James Chen, president of the Wyoming Medical Society and a psychiatrist at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, focused on contemplated medical exemptions to any vaccine requirement.

“The complexity and the difficulty of this — the enforcement — just sets us up, for lack of a better term, chaos,” he said. “I don’t know how you’re going to implement all of the pieces of the bill as they stand in balancing individual rights versus employers’ rights.”

Any conflicts between Wyoming and federal laws — such as those proposed in the bill — would create problems, Scott W. Meier, president and CEO of Wyoming Bankers Association, told the committee. “We’re not in support of anything that puts additional burdens on our small businesses and including our banks,” he said.

Seventy-nine percent of employees at CRMC are voluntarily vaccinated, the center’s President and CEO Tim Thornell told the committee. He advocated against a prohibition against vaccine requirements.

“We have concerns today, and growing concerns over time, that employees who are vaccinated will not want to work in an environment where it is not required of all their peers,” he said. “We will absolutely be at risk of losing employees if we don’t have the option to have the vaccine requirement at some point in the future.”

Vaccine opponents laid out their worries.

Holly Brock, who said she represented 850 people with the Wyoming Medical Freedom Advocates group, described what she said were deleterious effects of COVID-19 vaccines among a “large group of women” aged 25-35.

“I have a couple of my dear friends who are experiencing high levels of abnormal bleeding,” she said. “I also have two friends with infants who are in vegetative states and unable to move their arms and legs, one of whom — their infant was flown to Lansing, which is the center that takes care of these, and they say within the last month they had 16 cases of this.”

Brock also referenced a privately funded study from a scientist friend in her group, she said, “who says they are finding an 82% pregnancy loss amongst vaccinated women in my age demographic.”

None of Brock’s claims, or those of any other witness, were verified by WyoFile or the committee.

She also attacked standards to justify a religious exemption. “We have very conservative cities with mosques being built in the centers because we stand for religious freedom in this country,” she said. “So how is it that they’re having to prove on the cross their religious convictions and sincere beliefs [in] a religious exemption?”

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. So we are averaging about 50 reported covid deaths of the unvaccinated a week in Wyoming. Accurate death totals would easily be triple that in the state. We doin guud!

  2. Hundreds of thousands of revenue wasted on the Wyoming Legislature. They are so proud they are strutting around like a bunch of peacocks.

  3. This Special Session – an absolute farce of political theater and not much more – directly cost the State treasury at least $ 233,000 in out of pocket expense. Final tally may be more.

    You can bet that those members of my rabid Republican delegation from here in Park County , most of whom went all in on the farce, will be asked about accountability, fiscal responsibility, STATE government overreach and all the other dryrotted planks in the state GOP party platform used to justify their abject groupthink subversiveness.

    Please consider holding your own rabid Republican legislator’s feet to the fires of science, reason, public health , historical precedent, and community responsibility , once the fever abates and they get halfway cogent again. Remind them how much they embarrassed all of Wyoming once again.

  4. I was just looking at the Broke Back Better bill the clowns in DC just passed. Be grateful these folks did as little as they did.

  5. The 5th circuit put a hold on President Biden’s Occupational Health and Labor mandatory COVID vaccine or weekly testing for private businesses.

    26 states fighting this rule will benefit from the bills funding of this legal fight.

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMlcnmS46SA&t=1486s
    Governor DeSantis talks about the OSHA rule and Florida’s possible responses.
    Note that he waited until the rule was published and is only now looking at responses that will be constitutional and reasonable in terms of protecting the rights of workers and businesses. He also refers to the CMS rule for healthcare facilities. Our legislators were twisting in the wind and the result is a paper tiger. Now that we have the actual rules (500 pages for OSHA alone) we have the job of analyzing the crisis before us and determining a response that suits Wyoming.

  7. The breakdown of our society is moving forward at a breakneck pace.
    The best that could have come out of this session would have been unemployment benefits for those who are forced to be laid off due to the unconstitutional mandate. That would include small business owners forced to close their doors, the actual goal of this criminal administration.

  8. The legislative session was simply a “Dog & Pony” show for the poorly informed folks that lack understanding of basic science their own government. The plus side is that “Natural Selection” is working and the down side is those that get the virus are spreading i before they know they have it. Maybe the OSHA reg will at least slow that down some.

  9. Here in Colorado where we are having an unprecedented outbreak of the virus, most affecting children and unvaccinated people, ( though most Coloradans are vaccinated) hospitals are now allowed to refuse unvaccinated patients and send them to another hospital. Our governor Polis, who can best be described as a progressive libertarian, said on TV that he believes in free choice , but can’t understand why some people have a “death wish.”

  10. Let’s look at the big picture a virus came from China which overwhelmed our health industry put everyone out of work and on government stimulus money created out of thin air given mostly to the banks and big businesses who bought their own stocks and kept it . We can’t even agree on a vaccine let alone who’s president . A tremendous amount of distrust of our government leaders with a 32 trillion dollar debt. Their is a pandemic all right but it’s not from coved.

  11. I love Wyofile but was disappointed that nowhere in this article is there discussion of Wyoming’s out-sized struggle with Covid-19 infection. States like Wyoming that have fought vaccination mandates have had similar experiences, and this deserves mention.

  12. So the long and short of this is that it was a waste of time. There actually is not a federal “mandate”. You either have to 1. get vaccinated or 2. get tested weekly. If private businesses want to pass their own mandate or about being vaccinated or not, or anything else, isn’t that the essential to the concept of individual freedom, as in the foremost tenement of conservatism? AND they are private businesses, it’s their own decision, (especially) hospitals! And why did the legislature waste its time on this to basically get nowhere and go against their own conservative ideology? Couldn’t they have assigned a special committee to look into this before arriving at a forgone conclusion instead of calling for a special session? I thought Republicans were against government waste, what happened here?