2021 special legislative session

Hundreds of observers crowded the galleries of Wyoming’s House and Senate on Oct. 26 as legislators met for the first day of their special session aimed at combatting President Biden’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

CHEYENNE — Concerns about business owners’ rights didn’t prevent Wyoming lawmakers holding a special legislative session Wednesday from advancing a bill that would prohibit them from singling out customers based on their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Senate File 1003, a bill barring businesses from denying services and insurance companies from denying coverage to unvaccinated people, cleared the Wyoming Senate on an 18-10 vote.

It’s one of 20 bills before state lawmakers in a special session that kicked off Tuesday to counter President Biden’s plan to require vaccination for certain workers in government, health care and elsewhere in the private sector.

Only a handful of those bills appear headed forward so far. Senate File 1003 was the only COVID-related bill that moved forward in the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Gierau, a Democrat from Teton County, told the Jackson Hole Daily he wasn’t sure how many more bills would come out of the Senate during the session.

“There may be another one or two,” Gierau said, adding that he expects to see other legislation come from the Wyoming House of Representatives.

“We’ll see what the House comes up with,” he said. “Maybe they’ll come up with something that’s more artful.”

On the House side, Gierau speculated that House Bill 1001 might be something that “both bodies can coalesce around.”

As originally proposed — the House debated amendments to the measure Wednesday — that bill bars Wyoming employers from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment but provides exceptions that could allow them to do so.

Gierau didn’t speculate beyond those two bills.

“Past that, I’m not sure,” he said.

Rep. Mike Yin, also a Democrat from Teton County, described the House bills as “harmful” because he thinks protections for the unvaccinated will discourage hesitant people from getting the jab.

“We’re essentially spending time and money to prolong our pandemic,” he told the Daily.

Yin reiterated that he thinks the session is premature because federal rules have not been established.

Senators debated Senate File 1003, the bill that would bar businesses from denying service and insurance companies from denying coverage to unvaccinated patients, for the first time after adopting committee-recommended changes to allow insurers to raise premiums and provide other incentives for unvaccinated customers to get the shots.

The original version of the bill would have not allowed insurers to raise premiums based on vaccination status or provide incentives.

“We felt that we were venturing a little too far there,” explained Sen. Sheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that worked the bill earlier in the day.

Gierau, also on the Appropriations Committee, voted to move Senate File 1003 out of committee.

He said that he did so out of principle, pointing to past years where Appropriations Committee members who opposed a lodging tax bill moved it to the Senate floor anyway.

“I didn’t agree with it. I think it had fatal flaws,” Gierau said.

He added that he passed it out of committee because, like the senators in years past, he felt “it deserves a full airing of the entire body.”

Gierau voted against advancing the bill on the floor.

Several senators said Senate File 1003, which faces two more Senate readings before possibly heading to the House, was flawed but deserved a hearing and more work.

“I think the Legislature, even to a point, is starting to see that, while the public wants us to come down and do something, boy, what that is exactly and what it is that doesn’t actually cause more problems than it solves is a pretty elusive thing right now,” Gierau said.

Senators opposed can always vote against it on third and final reading, pointed out Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs.

“We’re here folks,” Hicks said. “Let’s do the debates. Let’s work with this.”

Even so, much of the debate over Senate File 1003 resembled one Tuesday over whether to even go ahead with the special session, which some lawmakers see as generally interfering with business.

A mother looking for day care providers might want to choose one where all employees are known to be vaccinated, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said of Senate File 1003.

“It’s a private business, private money, I want the best for my child,” Case said.

“Why isn’t that my right? Why are you interfering with that right?” he added.

— Billy Arnold and Evan Robinson-Johnson contributed to this report by Associated Press reporter Mead Gruver.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Billy Arnold has covered government and policy since January 2020, sitting through hours of Teton County meetings so readers don't have to. He moonlights as a ski reporter, helps with pandemic coverage and sneaks away to climb when he can.

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