Legislators mull special session

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WYOMING – State legislators were polled on whether Wyoming’s Senate and House of Representatives will hold a special session to address COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Senate President Dan Dockstader and Speaker of the House Eric Barlow – the state legislature’s presiding officers – issued a joint statement saying they fulfilled their duty under the rules by sending a poll to all legislators to determine if the special session is necessary. Members had until 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14, to vote. If approved by a majority vote of members elected to both the Senate and House, the session would likely start on Oct. 26, a statement from the two said.

“In the meantime, we understand that Gov. Gordon continues to seek solutions to these issues,” the statement read. “As we stated jointly with Gov. Gordon on Sept. 15, we support any resolution to the issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which ultimately benefit the people of Wyoming, however those solutions can be achieved.”

The results of that poll were not shared by Roundup press deadlines.

Gov. Gordon said his office is prepared to challenge the vaccine mandates in court. In a release on Wednesday, Gordon said he immediately instructed state Attorney General Bridget Hill to consider appropriate strategies for a legal challenge.

“Wyoming will not stand idly by to see any erosion of the constitutional rights afforded our citizens and their industries,” Gordon said in a statement.

The Wyoming Legislature decided not to hold a special session in the summer to address the state’s budget crisis, which was shelved after Senate leadership declined to continue negotiating with the House of Representatives in April. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would have addressed, at least in part, a $300-million education funding shortfall. Senators stripped proposed taxes and changed how districts allocated money. The two sides continued to negotiate until members of the Senate walked away from the table.

So, Wyoming schools were left with no answer to a $300-million deficit. Locally, that decision followed emotional testimony at a school board meeting.

Sublette County School District No.1’s Board of Trustees discussed a budget reduction plan during a special meeting in January this year. The plan was built minding Wyoming House Bill 61, which would have required a 6.54-percent cut of the school district’s annual operating budget. Board chair Jamison Ziegler said in that meeting that cuts were “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “unconstitutional,” and that if the bill passed the district could pursue legal options.

Part of the proposed plan at the time involved cutting faculty positions and eliminating sports programs. Current faculty members, current students and concerned citizens not actively involved with the high school all spoke out against prospective cuts.

Ultimately, the board voted to table the plan by a 6-1 vote, following over 90 minutes of impassioned public comment.

Instead, the district watched the 2021 Wyoming Legislative Session. House Bill 61 died in committee but no agreement was made to address the budget. There was light discussion about possibly holding a special session in the summer to address the budget, only for it to lack sufficient support. A special session regarding vaccine mandates gained significantly more traction among the public.

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