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Natrona vote split on Wyoming Legislature’s vaccine mandate-focused special session

Rep. Chuck Gray (Natrona) with demonstrators protesting a vaccine mandate for clients of Seton House (Gregory Hirst, Oil City)

UPDATE: This story has been updated with some further information about the special session from a press release shared by the Wyoming Legislative Service Office on Tuesday.

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature will be holding a special session to work on legislation related to vaccine mandates from October 26-28 after a majority of members of the legislature voted in favor of holding one.

The special session will tentatively involve the legislature holding committee meetings on October 26. Then an expedited “mirror reading” process would be held on October 27, in which proposed legislation would be considered on all three readings, according to the Wyoming Legislative Service Office. Differences between Senate and House versions of bills could be resolved during joint conference committee meetings on October 28. This process is dependent on a two-thirds majority of each chamber agreeing to special rules for the session.

On Tuesday, the LSO released results of the poll of members of the legislature asking whether they wanted to hold the special session. The vote among members of the Wyoming House of Representatives was 35-12. The vote among Wyoming senators was 17-7.

Among senators and representatives representing districts in Natrona County, the vote was split.

“Aye” votes among members of the legislature representing Natrona were as follows:

  • Sen. Drew Perkins
  • Rep. Chuck Gray
  • Rep. Steve Harshman
  • Rep. Kevin O’Hearn
  • Rep. Art Washut

“No” votes among members of legislature representing Natrona County were as follows:

  • Sen. Jim Anderson
  • Sen. Bill Landen
  • Sen. Charles Scott
  • Rep. Jerry Obermueller
  • Rep. Pat Sweeney

Two representing Natrona in the legislature did not cast a vote on whether a special session should be held:

  • Rep. Joe MacGuire
  • Rep. Tom Walters

The LSO also released a proclamation signed by Senate President Dan Dockstader and Speaker of the House Eric Barlow on Tuesday calling for the convening of the special session.

The proclamation notes that a majority of members of each chamber of the legislature voted in favor of the special session. While the legislature’s website lists the dates of the special session as October 26-28, the proclamation states that it is to convene at 10 a.m. October 26 and is “not to exceed twenty days.” The proclamation does not declare a final day of the session.

The proclamations states that “a critical situation exists relating to COVID-19 vaccine mandates which requires legislative action and cannot be deferred until the convening of the 2022 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature.”

The special session is being held to consider legislation to limit the impact from vaccine mandates issued by the administration of President Joe Biden, despite the fact that Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules to implement the mandate having yet to be finalized.

In September, Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement his mandate and require employers with 100 or more employees to require workers to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly COVID testing.

OSHA has submitted the temporary rules to White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review, but it is unclear how long that review will take, according to Bloomberg Law.

When the Wyoming Democratic Caucus announced last week that all of its members would vote against holding the vaccine mandate-focused special session, it cited the fact that the rules have not yet been finalized as one reason for members’ opposition.

The caucus also said that the special session was expected to cost about $25,000 per day and also said that federal law takes precedent over state law, citing the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

The caucus said that its members believe the proposed special session “would be an undue burden to the taxpayer, a waste of time and resources for legislators and our staff, and would further cause an undue burden to Wyoming businesses who would be forced to choose between following state OR federal law, requiring them to be in violation of one or the other.”

The Wyoming Legislature’s website states that further information about the upcoming special session will be released on Thursday. Oil City reached out to Dockstader and Barlow via email on Monday requesting more information about the special session, but did not receive replies as of 11:25 a.m. Tuesday.

Dockstader and Barlow issued a joint statement last week committing to hold the special session if a majority of members of the legislature were to vote in favor of holding one.

Gray (Natrona County), who has said he is drafting bills for consideration during the special session, said via social media on Thursday that legislators had been notified that an unofficial vote tally found that a majority of Wyoming legislators were in favor of holding the special session.

Oil City also reached out to Gray via email on Monday seeking details about the legislation he plans to propose during the special session, but has not received a reply as of 11:25 a.m. Tuesday.

The Wyoming Democratic Caucus said in its letter to Dockstader and Barlow that it has concerns that the special session will not remain limited to the specific topic of vaccine mandates.

“[T]here are no current rules of the Wyoming Legislature to bind us to discussing only specific bills or to operate within specific parameters,” the caucus stated. “Instead, our rules require a two-thirds vote of duly elected legislators to agree upon a set of rules different from the ones that currently govern the 66th Legislature.”

The caucus added that the proposed rules for the special session would also rush the legislative process through a mirror bill process, adding that the process would limit possible debate on proposed bills.

“Of particular concern, it would also limit the opportunity for the public to
provide meaningful commentary in both chambers,” the letter adds. “If a bill is important, it deserves consideration through a full legislative process, including committee hearings, public participation and three separate readings by both the House and Senate.”

The Wyoming Democratic Caucus said it thinks the special session will “create an opportunity for grandstanding instead of constructive problem solving.”

“Proposed legislation, special rules, meeting schedules, legislator contact information and a video livestream will be made available on the Legislature’s Website at www.wyoleg.gov as they become available,” the LSO states.

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.