Legislators prepare bills fighting vaccine mandate
CASPER —Some Wyoming lawmakers are already working on bills for the impending special session aimed at fighting the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for all companies with over 100 employees.
Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, has requested two bill drafts, he told the Star-Tribune. One of his bills would ban vaccine passports, while the other attempts to ban vaccine mandates.
Gray’s bill banning mandates is not confined to companies over 100 employees. It classifies firing, demoting, promoting, compensating or refusing to hire based on vaccination status as a “discriminatory or unfair employment practice.”
If companies violate the provisions of Gray’s bill, they may face civil penalties of a $500,000 penalty payable to each victim. There would also be criminal penalties: a misdemeanor with jail time of up to six months, a fine of up to $750, or both.
The $500,000 payments, if adopted, would far exceed most other employment discrimination awards. Most claims in Wyoming — which can stem from discrimination on the basis of disability, age, sex, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or pregnancy — are paid out on a case-by-case basis based on the employee’s lost income and legal fees, and average around $40,000 per claim according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It’s unclear what kind of effect the bill would have. The U.S. Constitution gives federal law precedent over state statutes.
Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, is taking a workaround approach that would also institute a misdemeanor penalty.
His bill bars any “public servant” from enforcing or attempting to enforce “any act, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States government relating to mandating covid vaccination,” James posted on Facebook. Anyone violating the rule would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
“This goes to show that we can bring something that prevents government overreach and does not infringe on the private sector,” James added.
The final version of both bills will be posted online for the public to view a few days before the session is proposed to start on Oct. 26.
The special session is intended to fight back against the Biden administration’s executive order issued in early September that mandates employees at private companies with over 100 workers get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. It’s unclear exactly how many Wyoming companies meet this criteria, but sources have estimated between 200 and 300 businesses.
The federal mandate is not yet in effect, and must still go through the federal rule-making process. In practice, this means that it’s next to impossible to know exactly how to fight back against the vaccine mandate until those details are released, multiple lawmakers have said.
All of Wyoming’s Democratic state lawmakers said they plan to vote against the impending special session and have urged others to do the same, according to a statement issued Tuesday.
“All members of our caucus intend to vote “NO” on the vote for a special session, and “NO” for any proposed rule changes if the vote for a special session is successful,” the letter stated.
The letter from the Wyoming Democrats stated that a special session “would only serve to create an opportunity for grandstanding instead of constructive problem solving.”
To hold a special session, the legislators need to pass three votes all with different thresholds.
The first vote, which has already been successful, required 35% support from both the House and the Senate. No Democrats voted in favor, according to Matt Obrecht, director of the Legislative Service Office. The second vote is a public tally that requires a majority from both chambers for the special session to move forward. Lawmakers must send their votes by mail and have them postmarked by Thursday, meaning results of the poll could be delayed due to the recent snowstorm that closed highways around the state.
If that vote succeeds, a special session would occur. Once lawmakers convene, they need to vote on rules for the session, which requires a two-thirds majority. Technically, they could use the rules of the 66th Legislature if they do not reach the supermajority, but legislative leadership said they will not allow that outcome.
Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Speaker of the House, Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said they would request that the session be dismissed if they do not reach the supermajority needed to enact the proposed rules.
The proposed rules mainly confine the session to a couple days and require the session to only address vaccine mandates, among other parameters.
Democrats are taking issue with the fact that speeding up the the session to only a couple days excludes public input. Committee meetings would be limited to the first day of the session, according to a copy of the proposed rules provided to the Star-Tribune.
Meanwhile, Republicans have repeatedly said that many of their constituents have reached out to them in support of the special session and with concerns about the federal vaccine mandate.
Support for the special session does not fall along party lines.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said he’s working to get others to vote “no” for the special session, too. Case has expressed doubt that the matter can be fixed legislatively rather than judicially.
“There will be quite a few ‘no’ votes,” Case said.