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Wyoming House disagrees with Senate changes to last standing anti-vax mandate bill

(John Rodel, CapCity)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature has so far failed to pass any legislation during the special session that was convened mainly to consider ways to oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The only active bill still standing is House Bill 1002, a bill that aims to restrict public entities such as counties, municipalities and school districts from enforcing federal COVID-19 mandates.

After moving through the House of Representatives and into the Senate, the Senate passed the bill on a third reading vote of 20-6 on Wednesday. Since the Senate had adopted amendment to the bill, the House then held a vote on whether to concur with the vote. That concurrence vote failed on a vote of 11-47.

The legislature could still potentially pass the legislation as it will be assigned to a joint House and Senate committee that will attempt to resolve differences between the two chambers.

House Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers (Sublette County) explained differences between the version passed in the House and in the Senate ahead of the House’s concurrence vote on Wednesday afternoon.

The House version would have prohibited public entities from enforcing federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates until legal challenges to federal mandates were exhausted. The Senate reversed this, allowing public entities to follow the federal mandates until those were potentially overturned in courts or otherwise repealed.

The Senate also amended the bill with the intent to allow the state attorney general to initiate a class action lawsuit against the federal government over vaccine mandates that Wyoming individuals and businesses could join. In order to help fund such a lawsuit, the Senate increased the appropriation included in the House version of the bill of $250,000 to $10 million.

The Senate also added a variety of language expressing a position that federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates are unconstitutional and that the federal government is overreaching into power that should be reserved to states.

Sommers asked that the House vote against concurring with the Senate changes. He said that he thinks there needs to be more discussion about whether the state attorney general has the authority to initiate class action lawsuits. He also said there needs to be debate about whether $10 million is too large of an appropriation in the bill.

House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly (Albany) also called for a vote against concurrence. She said that the House version of the bill had worked to ensure that public entities that receive federal funding would be protected against the risk of losing that funding for following Wyoming law but that she had concerns the Senate version might not ensure such protections.

Rep. Bob Nicholas (Laramie County) said that he opposed concurring with the Senate changes because he thinks language was added which makes inaccurate legal claims.

He noted that the bill as passed in the Senate expresses a position that the federal government doesn’t have the authority to issue COVID-19 vaccine mandates. However, Nicholas said that the federal government has historically had the ability to issue mandates related to measles, smallpox and polio.

“They have the authority to do it,” Nicholas said.

He said that the resolution section of the bill could possibly be reworked to take out what he sees as legally inaccurate statements.

Further details about the bill when it was being debated in the Senate are available in this article.