January 23, 2023 |

A bill that would prevent employers and others from discriminating against anyone over their Covid-19 vaccine status narrowly passed the House Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee.

House Bill 66 passed on a 5-4 vote Friday with a do-pass recommendation. The legislation criminalizes Covid-era rules that required vaccinations, face coverings or testing to keep a job or, in some cases, enter a business as a customer.

If it becomes law, a business could request compliance but not require it.

Friday’s vote on the bill came after two days of debate. Professional groups, like the Wyoming Hospital Association and the Wyoming Bankers Association oppose the bill. Opponents based their objections more on the risk of losing federal dollars than on the medical efficacy of either vaccines or masks when it comes to Covid.

The committee also heard from a number citizens, some of whom are vaccinated, but who oppose any forced mandates that supersede an individual’s choice.

Caroline Paseneaux, a past chair of the House Labor, Health, and Human Services Committee and now the Executive Director of the Wyoming Health Care Association, gave the committee a reality check. Paseneaux provided a history on how the federal government has strongarmed the state in the past with the threat of holding federal dollars. The former lawmaker, who began her presentation by saying that she is unvaccinated, recalled the third term of Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler, which began in 1982.

Passeneaux was asked about her position on the bill. Her response was based in law—not in ideology or medicine—and likely was not what the bringers of the bill wanted to hear.

Passeneaux added that the debate is important and that the Wyoming Legislature should work with other states to develop a legal bulwark against Washington over the mandates.

Representative Sarah Penn of Fremont County, one of the co-sponsors of HB66, said the legislation represents the states revolting against tyrannical mandates that have no basis in science or even good health care.

Another co-sponsor, Rep. Ben Hornock of Laramie County, said he was impressed with how the bill is supported at the grassroots level by ordinary citizens, many of whom testified about losing their jobs or being denied service because of their refusal to comply.

The bill criminalizes discrimination over vaccine-status and mask-wearing by making each violation a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $5,000 or by imprisonment not to exceed one year.

The 5-4 vote sends HUB to the Floor where the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeanette Ward of Casper, will lead the debate.

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