Legislature begins extended special session

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming State House of Representatives and Senators convened for what could be a long special session on Tuesday, Oct. 26 for COVID vaccine mandates in the state. 

A large crowd against the mandate occupied the outside of the state capital in Cheyenne for most of the day. Some carried flags while others held up signs and left them on the stairs while the session took place. Many believed their jobs were on the line, and relied on the legislators to save them.   

Inside the capital, the public crowded into the galleries above the house and senate floors and had expectations of a three-day special session with new rules to expedite the process. 

Instead, the rules were met with criticism from both sides of the aisle in both houses. 

Minority Floor Leader Representative Cathy Connolly said she is normally proud of the work the legislature does but was worried about the creating a new process to consider bills. 

“We are all committed to the process in doing best by the state,” Connolly said. “I do not see these rules abiding by that.” 

Meanwhile on the other side of the hallway, Senator Cale Case from Fremont County advised his colleagues to vote against the rules as well. Case mentioned this is the 21st special session since Wyoming achieved statehood, while the majority were an extension on budget sessions or major historical events such as as war.

There was always a clear path forward for those kinds of special sessions,” Case said. “There was a feeling that we needed to put our shoulders together and go forward.”

Case also said the decisions they will make require time and need to go through the regular process. 

“I ask you about the optics of having a legislature that really willy-nilly calls itself in to change the rules by which business is operated,” Case said. 

While some legislatures such as Representative Chuck Gray of Natrona County and Senator Larry Hicks of Albany, Carbon and Sweetwater Counties urged their colleagues to adopt the rules, neither house achieved a two-thirds majority to do so. The house voted 37-20 in favor with three representatives excused, while the senate voted 18-11 with only one senator excused. 

The failure to adopt the rules now allows for the session to go up to 20 days in order to go through the regular procedures to pass a bill. It also allows for unlimited discussion from legislators as the proposed rules would have enacted a five-minute time limit and restricted members to only speaking twice per amendment on the same day. 

After the senate adjourned for the day, Niobrara County’s Senator, Cheri Steinmetz, said she is confident in the direction they are heading despite some early “bumps” to start the session. 

“Once we kind of got our wheels under us we were off to a good start,” Steinmetz said. 

The house and senate allowed remote participation for members who needed to go back to their jobs and still participate in the session. 

Before business could be conducted as if it were a regular session, there was a vote to adjourn on both floors. 

Representative Gray recommended to not adjourn the session, which is what he assured would happen to the people standing outside the capital during the house’s lunch break. 

Representative Mike Yin of Teton County said it should not be up to them to make decisions on vaccine mandates.  

“I think the right place to deal with constitutional disagreements are in the court system,” Yin said. 

According to Governor Mark Gordon’s letter to the house and senate, there are already plans for the issue to go to court, and Yin repeated it does not have a place in the legislature. 

The house voted 35-21 against the motion to adjourn and only needed a majority of the members present.      

The senate saw less support for a motion to adjourn as it was rejected by a vote of 23-6. 

Before each house adjourned for the day, 10 bills (five in the house and five in the senate) were referred to committees to approve. 

Steinmetz’s bill, 1003 on COVID-19 discriminatory practices-prohibition, was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee which she is on. The committee met in the afternoon to discuss the bill and sent it to the senate floor in general file on Wednesday morning. 

The bill was one of two to be read and approved by the Committee of the Whole on first reading after detailed discussion on the bill and added amendments to it. 

Steinmetz said bills will need to be passed on three readings before it goes to the house to be read three times there. Once a bill is approved in both houses it is sent to the governor’s desk.

The other bill in the senate was 1019 which made a correction on a bill regarding the Wyoming Gaming Commission. Despite criticism from some senators including Senator Anthony Bouchard and Lynn Hutchings for discussing a bill with no relation to vaccine mandates, it still passed on first reading.   

On the house floor, House Bill 1001 regarding COVID-19 vaccine employer mandates warranted four and a half hours of discussion before being passed on first reading. The bill also received plenty of feedback from healthcare facilities and medical professionals on each side of the issue the day before. 

House Bill 1002 regarding Federal COVID vaccine mandates-prohibition and remedies-2 required less discussion and was also passed on first reading. 

Both houses will continue to discuss bills on further readings, which could go into Monday, Nov. 1. Senator Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill said he the readings could go up to Tuesday, Nov. 2. 

Senator Steinmetz said the plan is to avoid the maximum amount of days for the whole session.

“It could go up to 20 days, but we’re hoping maybe shorter than that, Steinmetz said. “Maybe six or seven.” 


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