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Governor signs new taxable Wyoming ‘senior health care districts’ into law

Governor Mark Gordon and First Lady Jennie Gordon walk toward the House chamber before his State of the State address during the opening joint session of the 2020 Budget Session of the Wyoming State Legislature on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Cheyenne. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed House Bill 62 into law on Monday, March 9.

The bill will allow the creation of new “senior health care districts” in the state. Up to two mills in mill levy property taxes may be imposed on properties within the new senior health care districts.

“House Bill 62 help will allow communities to develop infrastructure to take care of their residents as they age,” Gordon said on Facebook on Tuesday. “This includes development of everything from nursing homes and assisted living complexes to the delivery of home health services, allowing Wyoming residents to age in the home.”

Senior health care district will operate and be administered according to provisions which also regulate rural health care districts. Before property taxes could be levied on properties within a “senior health care district,” voters within that district would have to approve.

County commissioners could place such question before voters if a rural health care district board of trustees asks that they do so.

The money could be used for property purchases, construction, improvements or to purchase equipment to provide senior health care within the district.

Hospice services will be eligible under the list of senior health care services in the new law due to an amendment to the bill adopted by the Senate ahead of second reading.

“I think this is important,” Senate District 27 Senator Bill Landen said. “A lot of care out there for our seniors ends up in that place.”

With the adoption of the Senate’s amendment, the following types of health care provided to people 60 or older, to those with developmental disabilities or to people with early onset dementia or chronic diseases who are not yet 60 will qualify as “senior health care”:

  • certified facilities
  • assisted living programs
  • skilled nursing facilities
  • nursing homes
  • hospice services
  • residential care homes
  • home care services

“The board of county commissioners, at the time of making the levy for county purposes shall levy a tax for that year upon the taxable property in the district in its county for its proportionate share based on assessed valuation of the estimated amount of funds needed by each senior health care district but in no case shall the tax for the district exceed in any one (1) year the amount of two (2) mills on each dollar of assessed valuation of the property,” the legislation states.

Before the House of Representatives passed the bill on a third reading, they also added some amendments.

An amendment from House District 03 Representative Eric Barlow amended the definition of “senior health care” in the bill.

Prior to Barlow’s amendment, the provisions in bill would have applied to health care provided to people 65 years of age or older and wouldn’t have included health care provided to people with early onset dementia or chronic diseases under 65.

Barlow explained that his amendment lowered the age to 60 to align with federal regulations.

He added that his amendment would “allow someone with early onsent dementia or a chronic disease who is not 60 years old and not disabled to also have residency in one of these facilities.”

“This is actually how it is being done in the state,” Barlow said. “In my haste…I overlooked a population that is already receiving care in our state so we certainly don’t want to exclude them from the opportunities to receive care.”

The House killed an amendment proposed by House District 31 Representative Scott Clem. That amendment would have added the following section to the bill:

No health care facility within a senior health care district shall refuse to treat or provide services to a person solely because the person is not immunized due to a religious objection or medical contraindication

“I forsee if this bill does pass…possibly some time in that future that perhaps my community in Gillette would have a senior healthcare district,” Clem said. “Currently we do have a nursing home that is ran by what is currently our hospital district. This entity, this hospital district is taxpayer funded.”

“What we are finding out, something that occurred this last year is, there are certain individuals who are being denied access to care. This is where it really kind of rubs me wrong.”

He said that since the senior health care districts under the bill would be taxpayer funded, he thought that access should be guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of immunization statues.

“What’s happening in my community right now is another taxpayer funded special district, a hospital district, is taking taxpayer money to provide access to care but then turning around and denying access to certain taxpayers based upon their immunization status,” Clem said. “We have the CDC that has come out with an adult vaccination schedule. My concern is I don’t want a taxpayer funded special district to turn around and say ‘No, you can’t come into our nursing home because you’re not vaccinated according to the CDC recommendations.’”

“That’s what this is really about, not mandating recommendations.”

Clem pointed out that public schools in Wyoming allow some vaccination schedule exemptions based on religious or medical reasons.

House District 20 Representative Albert Sommers brought up the “recent outbreak of coronavirus.” He suggested the amendment could be problematic since some senior health care facilities might not be “geared to handle that virus.”

“Let’s go back to smallpox, what if smallpox comes back?” he added.

House District 45 Representative Charles Pelkey said that the amendment should be shot down.

“We would be exposing a particularly vulnerable population to the affects of a disease based on an individual’s decision [to not get immunized],” he said. “If you look back at some of the flu pandemics of the past, those that were particularly most susceptible were the young and the elderly.”

“This amendment may potentially expose large number of people to the consequences of an unimmunized patient in their presence. The ramifications go far beyond an individual’s choice.”

Clem said that the state health officer would maintain the “power to do a statewide quarantine” in case of disease outbreaks.

“There is nothing in this amendment…that would prohibit the state health officer from doing her job,” he said.

House District 12 Representative Clarence Styvar also spoke in favor of the amendment.

“We already do this in schools,” he said. “Religious, medical exemptions on this, this is a good thing.”

House District 07 Representative Sue Wilson said that “I think we would go down a dangerous path if we are to mandate that health care providers must provide services against their professional judgement. Right now in statute we have conscience exemptions for health care providers providing abortions.”

“I totally support religious freedom. However I don’t think that our religious freedom requires that we mandate that other people do things.”

House District 34 Representative Tim Salazar said that he was in support of the amendment.

“It is my understanding that the Supreme Court has made a number of exemptions for religious freedom,” he said. “With regard to the argument of mass epidemics, yeah we’ve had mass epidemics before, I don’t know when the last one was, I think it was a few decades ago.”

“This amendment deals specifically with day to day religious freedom rights for those people who are not for religious reasons immunized.”

Pelkey said that the United States Supreme Court “has not ruled that mandatory vaccinations are unconstitutional.

House District 53 Representative Roy Edwards said he was concerned about immigrants who had not received immunizations.

“This country has a problem where we treat two different peoples differently,” he said. “Those that are coming into this country illegally don’t have all the immunizations but they will do whatever to treat them and a lot of times they won’t get any money back out of it. But yet the citizens of our country that pay the taxes, they can refuse to treat them because they were not immunized the way they think they ought to have been.”

“A lot of the problems that we are getting is coming from those that are coming into the country that weren’t checked health wise. You look in California they have got a whole lot of diseases that we had gotten rid of in this country and they came from those that are coming into this country.”

Pelkey called a point of order saying that “the speaker is drifting off topic” of the proposed bill.

He later said, “Given that we were on the subject of immigrants, data would suggest that they have a higher rate of vaccination than do some sectors of the American population.”

The House killed Clem’s proposed amendment before passing the bill on third reading.

After the Senate passed the bill on a third reading vote of 18-12, the bill returned to the House for a concurrence vote, which passed 42-18, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

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