CHEYENNE – After eight days of the special session, only one of the 21 proposed bills was passed relating to vaccine mandates in the state.
House Bill 1002 regarding federal COVID vaccine prohibition and remedies was sent to the governor’s desk on Wednesday after it was passed by the Conference Committee consisting of three members from each house.
According to the bill, it is, “An act relating to the protection of individual rights; providing legislative findings; prohibiting the enforcement of federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates as specified; providing definitions; authorizing litigation to protect the rights of Wyoming citizens and the state of Wyoming as specified; providing an appropriation; and providing for an effective date.”
District 2 Senator Cheri Steinmetz said it was the weakest bill in the special session and highlighted the resolution in Section 4.
“[It] was basically a resolution that gave the Attorney General $4 Million dollars for a lawsuit and allowed the state to help other plaintiffs in their lawsuit.”
The House initially passed another bill, HB 1001, which focused on COVID-19 vaccine employer mandates. The bill sparked debate during every step of the process starting in the Minerals Committee meeting on the first day of the special session all the way to the senate failing it on the third reading.
While on the house floor, 36 amendments were proposed for the bill during the three readings and 17 were adopted.
District 5 Representative Shelly Duncan said the bill became very confusing and potentially contradictory by the time it left the house.
“This [was] a completely different bill as it started…It was a completely different bill coming out of committee,” Duncan, who was on the original committee to recommend the bill to the house floor, said. “It was very complicated to follow. Had I not been in the committee and had to go through page-by-page with all the testimony and I was just another member, I would have been lost.”
Aside from the varying perspectives of the public during testimony on the first day of the special session, the representatives themselves had a hard time agreeing on any aspect of the bill. Each day including long discussion om studies from all over the world including England and Israel, debates on major studies versus minor studies, and even a quote from Wikipedia.
Duncan said it was frustrating to have to figure out how to compare all of the research and data to Wyoming.
“I am feeling the same frustration that the general public has felt since day one as well,” Duncan said.
Along with the daily arguments came high levels of emotion and tension as well.
District 37 Representative Steve Harshman was heard cursing out District 57 Representative Chuck Gray while on Zoom on Thursday, Oct. 28, and was banned from participating by House Speaker Eric Barlow the next day. It was the most prominent example of how both houses were handling the topic.
“Tensions run high when people feel like other people are not completely [on] the same page,” Duncan said. “It’s difficult to navigate because you want to be respectful and honor everybody’s perspectives, but at the same time it’s really hard when you have people all over the spectrum.”
On Friday, Oct. 30, HB 1001 and HB 1002 passed through the house on all three readings and were sent to the Senate Appropriations committee on Monday morning. The house was on standby until after the senate went through all three readings of the bills.
The committee, which included Steinmetz, listened to four-and-a-half hours’ worth of testimonies on both of the bills.
After another two hours of discussion, the committee passed HB 1001 3-2 and HB 1002 5-0.
The senate had similar debates on HB 1001 to the house, over the next three days. 14 amendments were proposed on the floor and four were adopted to the bill. However, the bill ultimately failed 14-13 with three senators excused.
On Monday, Duncan said there were opportunities missed during the special session.
“We had the opportunity to meet force with equal force to defend our people and secure their freedom. We had the opportunity to fight for the God given rights of our people. We had the opportunity to make the decision that no virus will divide or defeat us or take the precious gift of freedom. We had the opportunity to stand as a Sovern State on behalf of our people. And we FAILED,” Duncan said.
Of the two bills which were initially presented to the senate on the second day of the special session, only SF 1019 regarding Wyoming gaming commission-scrivener error correction passed. The house, however, decided not to discuss the bill since it did not pertain to the topic of COVID-19 vaccines.
SF 1003, sponsored by Steinmetz, regarded COVID-19 discriminatory practices-prohibition. The senate failed the bill on third reading 13-15 with one senator excused and one with a conflict.
Steinmetz said the bill differed from the ones proposed in the house.
“SF1003 which was patterned after Texas and Montana legislation, was an attempt to get us all back on the same page on equal footing and protect, businesses, employees and citizens from Federal overreach,” Steinmetz said. “HB1002 dealt specifically with employment.”
On the third reading of HB1002, the senate passed it 20-6 with four senators excused and sent it to the conference committee.
The senators and representatives deliberated on changes to the bill, specifically setting the general fund to the governor’s office for purposes of funding legal action to $4,000,000.
The committee approved the bill, and it was sent to the Governor on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, Speaker Barlow and Senate President Dan Dockstader issued a joint statement on the session. The statement included, “Every legislator who attended this
session worked hard to make those bills better, and in the end, to do what they believed was right
and in the best interest for the people of Wyoming.”
Representative Duncan said after the house adjourned, she was frustrated with the how things went.
“There’s a lot of emotion and there’s not a lot of fact,” Duncan said. “There’s a lot of what if, so it is very frustrating to do any sort of policy based on what if.”
For Steinmetz, the most important takeaway was how important it was to have the session during a very important time in the nation.
“I am thankful we were able to call ourselves into special session in response to the concerns raised by the citizens of Wyoming,” Steinmetz said. “The outcome of the session could have been much better. We are living at a transformational moment in history. A moment in time in which we will decide what our state and nation will become.”
The job of the legislature is seemingly over for now as it is up to Governor Mark Gordon to either accept the bill or veto it.