Under the pretense of “protecting” Wyoming companies from a limited federal vaccine mandate, state lawmakers are launching a regulatory assault that will punish businesses for complying with federal law and leave workers exposed to increased health risks.

It’s unprecedented and unconscionable.

Opinion

Senate File 20-Penalties for mandating COVID-19 vaccinations is the most extreme bill that will be considered at the special session that begins today. (It has an identical mirror bill in the House, HB 20, as do all measures that have been filed.) The bill would impose a sentence of up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $10 million on a federal or state public servant who enforces a vaccine mandate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs) and Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette), is absolute nonsense. It should have as much chance of passing as its ancestor bills that tried to stop enforcement of federal gun laws did — zero. But there are plenty of other measures sponsored by state legislators that should seriously concern everyone who wants to see an end to this pandemic.

Take House Bill 1-COVID-19 employer vaccine mandates, which includes this remarkable provision: “To protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Wyoming, it is necessary for the Legislature to exercise its police powers to ensure the state of Wyoming does not experience a greater shortage of workers in general, and health care workers in particular, by imposition of unconditional employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates.”

How in the world does allowing unvaccinated workers to expose others to COVID-19 — including healthcare workers and the medically compromised — protect our collective “health, safety and welfare?” And frankly, the idea of this Legislature exercising its “police powers” makes me shudder.

Please keep in mind that OSHA has not even issued the rules for President Joe Biden’s so-called “vaccine mandate,” which isn’t a mandate at all. Biden said his executive order will allow people who do not want to take the vaccine to instead be tested for COVID-19 weekly. It also allows for religious exemptions. That’s not “unconditional.”

The president’s order would affect only companies with more than 100 employees, federal agencies and certain health care facilities. House Bill 1, however, would apply to every business in the state, regardless of size.

The fact it is co-sponsored by Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) and House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) and other key members of the GOP leadership means it’s the primary bill that will be discussed.

It’s no surprise that the Wyoming Business Alliance and the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce oppose both HB 1 and House Bill 2-Federal COVID Vaccine Mandates-Penalties and Remedies. In addition to imposing up to a six-month jail sentence and/or a $750 fine for enforcing the mandate, HB 2 would give the governor $1 million to mount a legal challenge to any federal vaccine mandate.

“We can’t let our collective detest for federal overregulation cloud our judgment on how we allow our businesses to operate in a free-market economy grounded in making choices and living with the consequences,” WBA President Cindy DeLancey said in a statement. She added that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

DeLancey pointed out that over 98% of Wyoming businesses have fewer than 100 employees and would not be subject to the federal mandate.

Why does the Legislature insist on funding lost causes just to show how much it hates the federal government?

Kerry drake

She asked lawmakers to allow business leaders and their employees to make their own decisions. The Legislature should instead be focused on opportunities to grow and diversify the state’s economy, DeLancey said. 

It’s excellent advice they should heed, but won’t. 

Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce Director Dale Steenbergen told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle that HB 1 and HB 2 are antithetical to capitalism.

“More regulation is never an answer to existing regulatory overreach,” Steenbergen said. He noted the bind that any legislative action would cause, since it would effectively give businesses the choice to violate either federal or state laws.

“We’re caught in the blender,” Steenbergen said.

The Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares that the federal laws are the supreme law of the land, and judges are bound to recognize this regardless of state laws to the contrary. That’s all businesses need to know to jump out of the blender and make the right decision.

Both bills would prohibit enforcement of a federal vaccine mandate in Wyoming until the state exhausts all of its legal remedies. Why does the Legislature insist on funding lost causes just to show how much it hates the federal government? Bankrolling frivolous lawsuits at a time when lawmakers have cut millions from public education and health and social services is outrageous.

The Legislature has scheduled the special session for only three days. Lawmakers must vote on establishing special rules, including whether each chamber will be allowed to simultaneously consider and mark-up identical bills, also known as “mirror bills.”

The standard legislative rules require mirror bills to only be used for budget measures. It will take a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to expand that practice, which is a pretty high bar. Whether it can be met will go a long way toward establishing the degree to which the Legislature is now controlled by the far-right politicians who pushed for this wasteful session.

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), co-chairman of the Select Committee on Legislative Process, is encouraging his colleagues to vote against the rule change. In a white paper developed with former Equality State Policy Center Director Chris Merrill, the pair call the mirror bill process “a deeply flawed, inferior approach to lawmaking that undermines the wisdom and intent of a bicameral Legislature.”

Case and Merrill correctly argue that the mirror bill process compresses the timeline for deliberations during a special session and limits an essential part — public input and involvement. There is no time for the public to comment on the proposed legislation, which in this case has a dramatic impact on Wyoming residents.

This isn’t the way the legislative process is supposed to work.

This disturbing chapter in Wyoming legislative history comes as the state boasts a COVID-19 vaccination rate of about 43% — second worst in the nation behind only West Virginia.

The session comes on the heels of Wyoming’s highest weekly death toll — 69 residents — in the entire year.

State lawmakers should be laser-focused on ways to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Instead, this will be a session designed for grandstanding. 

Wyoming needs to do something about its critical shortage of healthcare workers, but the answer isn’t to allow employees to work at hospitals and medical centers without being vaccinated against the deadly virus.

There’s a health emergency in Wyoming, but the remedies posed in the vast majority of bills will only exacerbate the state’s problems.

The federal vaccine mandate, whenever it is finalized, will be aimed at reducing the impact of the most severe health crisis this country has ever faced. The policy will be the work of highly-trained professionals focused on saving lives.

Prohibiting the new regulations, litigating against them and punishing people for enforcing them is, sadly, the work of fools, and will ensure that yet more Wyomingites die as political casualties. 

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. Is this session about the vaccine mandate or the fact it was implemented by a Democratic President? If Trump had implemented this last year I am guessing the legislators are all for it and encouraging citizens to get the vaccine. I didn’t see a special session when Gordon implemented a mask mandate and shut businesses down around the state while calling Wyoming residents “knuckleheads” for not following his mandate.

    1. Meanwhile a 47 year old young man died of covid in Sheridan. He worked for Weatherby, where no one wears a mask. The funeral was yesterday.

  2. Boy oh boy, fun times on a windy day. Amazing how the state legislature can waste money on a government mandate not really in acted. This from a group that couldn’t fund state rest stops/ bathrooms a few years ago. Today, the state of Wyoming was rated as having one of the highest Covid death rates ( per capita) in the US. I imagine they seek #1 with this new legislative over reach. Also today, the Patron Saint of the GOP addressed his people in the Russian Federation. Putin said: You have 2 choices illness or vaccination, you can not run between the rain drops! How will that go over in church on Sunday in Campbell County or with septic service in Cheyenne? What kind of people legislate illness, death and economic despair ? When will the Wyoming State legislature make 1/6 a Wyoming State Holiday? Will Senator Cynthia Lummis be our Sedition Queen? Oh, too many weird wind induced thoughts today.And thank you again for making me think.

    1. Read the fine print, highest death rate……in the last 7 days. Alaska is #2 in the last 7 days. Which really does not mean much because the timeline of when the person actually died and is reported. It’s not consistent day to day.

      In reality, Wyoming’s death rate per 100,000 people is 199. The US average is 222. Wyoming is the 19th lowest – death rate of less than .2% per 100,000 population. Mississippi is the highest at 337. 4th lowest? Alaska.

      1. Thanks Rob, and does any statistic really matter if ignorant legislation and misinformation sickens or kills less? Wyoming like other GOP states are a mess. I will not deny your right to jump off a cliff, but who you land on or the mess you make is a burden to others. I am vaxed and with a booster now; that said I had a breakthrough case in early August and it kicked my ass. 65 days later I still have not fully recovered. Am I to thank the my state representatives for the opportunity of another infection because they spread misinformation and hate? They are debating federal policy not actually formalized. I understand natural immunity, I first contacted Covid 19 in February 2020 at work. 6 weeks of slow deterioration and then recovery. The bottom line is our pro authoritarian- Trump fascists will sicken children and elderly ( vaxed or not) . I assume this special legislation session is paid for by Federal Covid 19 funds. In the meantime, be safe!

        1. Most of the anti-science people would think differently if someone in their family were one of the 700,000+ that had died of covid and/or covid complications. Until then, they feel it is not their problem. The selfish arrogance is sickening.

        2. I’m sorry you got sick even after the vaccine. It’s not something anybody should have to go thru. However my point was strictly regarding the data and science. I’m not anti-vax, but I am pro using the correct data and not distorting the truth.

          GOP states might be a mess, but Liberal states are far worse. California is a disaster and joke a the same time. New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Massachusetts, states with extensive lock downs are all in the top 10 of deaths per 1 mil residents. Wyoming? 33rd. California? 35th. Last 7 days? Wyoming slips to #3, Alaska #1, Montana #2. #10? Colorado.

          I think my wife said it best, Covid does not care what your political affiliation is, it can make you sick no matter what side of the fence you are on. So the liberals commenting on this article can continue to rant and rave about the GOP, the GOP can rant and rave about the Democrats, but what we really should be asking is who can lead us out of this mess – and so far nobody at the national level has the ability to lead this country out of a wet paper bag.

  3. The two perspectives cannot be reconciled. It is 1860 all over again.
    There is a divergence and we have two societies with two different sets of facts and two different sets of priorities. It would be ridiculous to demand that one size fits all and that the beliefs of one segment be thrust upon the other. That is perspective in Washington and it is making decisions that are miserable and divisive for everyone from coast to coast. Obviously it is not working for Wyoming.
    It is a mistake for Wyoming’s Republicans to behave like the Washington and assume they are always right. They accomplish nothing but a media frenzy and a waste of effort. Unreasonable demands and rules are coming from both sides that limit people’s choices rather than encourage freedom of choice and a Free Market. If a business wants to demand compliance with the Karens in Washington then so be it. Let them prosper or perish. As the comments here show, there are plenty who do not question authority and will comply and do as they are told. If a business wants to take it free and easy, same thing. There are plenty who source their information out of the mainstream and will not be told what to do. They will spurn masks and jabs and seek businesses that do the same. Isn’t that the Wyoming way? Live and let Live? Let the market decide. Let Charles Darwin be the judge of who was right and who was foolish. After all, both sides believe strongly that they are right and the others are fools. Let businesses put red or blue signs in their windows and let’s see who makes money.
    It is a shame that there are two very different versions of reality now. But that will not change. There are simply too many reasons for one side to doubt the other. We need to let the chips fall where they may. This situation will get worse before it gets better. Let’s not throw gas on the fire, and not pursue any more scapegoating.

      1. Thank You. I wish that everyone respected the need for civil discourse. Unfortunately I do not believe that to be the case. I submit some comments to be seen here as examples of how not to win friends or influence, as a great businessman once suggested. I regret that I have sometimes said disrespectful things myself. But what matters now, more than anything is that we grow from our experiences and not behave like the children with arrested development who hold the reigns of government. The name-calling must be set aside, and a focus on civil solutions and honoring the mature methods of the framers must take center stage. The adolescent bullying behavior of the playground must not replace the measured steps to mutual agreement. Sadly, I feel that many simply don’t know who they themselves have become, and cannot empathize with those who disagree. This is extremely disappointing, as the only way to reach consensus is to exchange information openly and without blinders. The tools to do that are being set aside. Debate appears to be becoming obsolete. Can we ever just talk again? I hope so.

  4. Thank you for reminding me there are still sane people in Wyoming. Our state’s approach to this pandemic has been anything but.

  5. Another predictable radical left opinion piece designed to drum up a small base with fear mongering. And the same old moths will flock to the flame. Dems won’t agree to the rules, preventing the 2/3 majority, and nothing will pass, including more Leftist bills not mentioned here, like unemployment for only the vaccinated, and Medicaid expansion.

    1. Maybe try to be a bit more specific instead of just repeating talking points. What is radical left about pointing out the idiocy of this special session to resist a vaccine mandate that doesn’t yet exist? While you’re at it maybe you could explain how democrats, who hold only 9 seats in the entire legislature are going to prevent a 2*/3 majority vote? The Wyoming legislature hasn’t passed a leftist bill in the 30+ years I’ve lived in Wyoming so that’s another swing and a miss for you. The right wing playbook now consists mostly of just making stuff up.

      1. Facts matter less now than they ever have before. In the past, Republicans would push ideas that were semi-rooted in truth and used data to bolster those ideas. Those days are gone..

        Just look at the lies and nonsense that some of the most vocal commenters on wyofile post. A complete disregard for truth from verifiable sources.

        It makes sense that their leader chrump didn’t want to read any kind of briefing while in office. He wanted pictures shown to him…..probably in crayon. The new age chrump republican can only believe memes they see on Facebook. Is it an emulation of their savior?

    2. The cynical part of me tells that this whole extra session is to hold the radical right wing barbarians at the gate. Legislators are cowered by some of their radical constituents who demand some sort of action when it will be all for naught once the Federal OSHA mandate rules governing Covid vaccinations are established.

  6. An unconscionable, unnecessary waste of $75k by these “lawmakers” who are blinded by their adherence to all things Trump. Since when do we prevent and punish proven public health measures in the name of protecting the public? The sheer idiocy of these actors defies comprehension.

  7. I met a fellow a few weeks ago who moved from the Seattle area to Wyoming because he said he was tired of all the liberal wing nuts in Washington State. I thought to myself, “you are really going to like it here as we have an over supply of conservative wing nuts.” I worked for a utility in Wyoming for almost 40 years and I don’t think that the company would have any problem with 100% vaccination of their employees. Now some legislators want to punish companies interested in protecting their employees and their businesses. To top it off some legislators want to rescind vaccination requirements to attend private and public schools. It didn’t think things could get more idiotic but they have. Evidently these legislators want to go back in time when people died of diseases that we don’t even hear of anymore because of vaccinations.

  8. So, the ever wise and now militant Republican Hegemony in the Wyoming Legislature want to hurriedly pass preemptive punitive law to halt the so-called federal Biden Vaccine Mandate – before those orders are even issued ?

    An analogy might be the duly appointed Town Drunk crashing his truck into a house on his way to the saloon , just to get it over with. We know he’s gonna eventually do it… he just wants to do it on his terms.

    Can we please just pass Medicaid Expansion instead, so long as the Legislature is hastily gathered to deliberate matters of urgent public health ? It would allow the GOP gung-hoers to salvage something positive from this farce.

  9. Why does our state government insist on tilting their lances at windmills? Miguel de Cervantes would be so proud of our wannabe knights. Government waste from the party that abhors government. Irony, thou art a wicked bitch.

  10. It is difficult to discern whether the captains and crew of this ship of fools is “merely” grandstanding to promote their hatred of the federal government, or whether they are truly ignorant devoid of humanity.

  11. The new world order:Conservatives trying to be more conservative and more outrageous than than the next. The Republican Party has been hijacked by the radicals. They don’t have ideas, they don’t have a platform and they certainly don’t have a conscious. And as far as the pandemic goes, if we had just worn the mask, social distanced and got the jab, we might very well have this in the rear view mirror. But still it goes on and on.

  12. Inflicting more government rules over business in Wyoming is like using ivermectin to treat COVID because you don’t trust the vaccines. Let business’s do what they feel is best for their business

  13. I see that Wyoming is now NUMBER ONE in covid deaths per capita of all the states. The legislature is so proud of their hate and ignorance.

    1. Again, last 7 days, distorted how the State reports deaths that are Covid related. In reality the State is the 19th lowest and well below the US average per 100,000 of population.

      1. Maybe true. But look at the rest of the stats – near the bottom in vaccinations, near the top in positive covid test rates etc. And given that, plus the 7 day figure, you would think the legislature would be discussion ways to limit the covid rate in Wyoming.