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Wyoming Senate Approves Bill For Public Health Order Oversight

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Wyoming Legislature
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The Wyoming Senate passed a bill that would create legislative oversight for public health orders.

The bill was amended since its introduction, and now would require the legislature to approve any public health measure that goes beyond 60 days.

County government approval would be needed for any local orders going beyond 30 days.

The changes allow for the legislature to approve an extension virtually. It also includes a 48 hour delay to any order to allow for public feedback.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Drew Perkins said with the amendments, he supports the bill.

"It brings into effect the practicalities associated with doing this. And so it incorporates the lessons that we've learned just less than a year ago, what it took to convene a special session in the midst of a pandemic and how you do that," he said.

Some still argue that legislators shouldn't make health decisions.

Casper Sen. Bill Landen said few members of the legislature are equipped to make these decisions.

"I look around the room and I love you guys, but there's only about one senator that I would trust to tell me, what the heck is going on with a public health order, pandemic, a serious situation where we've got people in jeopardy for their lives," he said "That's the piece that I'm really struggling to get over."

Casper Sen. Charles Scott agreed and said the bill could lead to serious problems in the future if another, more deadly pandemic were to occur.

"This an economic development bill, alright. We passed a lot of economic development bills. And this is an economic development bill for the undertakers. That's not one we ought to pass," he said.

Scott added he thinks the governor has done a good job handling the pandemic, given the constant uncertainty faced.

"I think if this bill had been in effect, we would have removed some of the necessary public health orders way earlier and we should have. We would have killed a bunch more, not a tremendous amount, but a significant number. And in a much more deadly outbreak, you can kill a lot," Scott said.

He said the bill is a response to people not liking the restrictions placed on them, but they were necessary to curb the disease.

But the bill's sponsor Gillette Sen. Troy McKeown said it's a lawmakers responsibility to provide oversight.

"I'm not saying we're smarter than health officers. But what I am saying is we're responsible for their decisions. We gave them the authority to make the decisions, but we can't delegate the responsibility of the outcome of that," McKeown said.

Supporters say they are capable of balancing expert advice with their responsibilities to their communities.

"We rely on experts. We take public testimony. We go through that process. That's how we end up legislating. We don't have the expertise on almost anything as a body. We may have expertise in one area or another area," said Baggs Sen. Larry Hicks.

The bill passed 21-9. It will now move onto the House for consideration.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

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