Wyoming Legislature

Members of Wyoming’s Legislature convene virtually via Zoom for a COVID-19 special session Friday morning. The special session, the first since 2004, ended Saturday with lawmakers sending three bills to Gov. Mark Gordon detailing how $1.25 billion the state received through the federal CARES act will be spent.

Casper Star-Tribune

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Legislature finalized details of a wide-ranging and historic coronavirus aid package Saturday afternoon, laying the groundwork for a future special session late next month.

The deal to disperse the $1.25 billion provided to Wyoming through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act includes:

• More than $300 million in grant funding available June 1 for locally owned and operated small businesses and nonprofits across the state, including on the Wind River Indian Reservation, that were excluded from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and closed or experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19.

• $175 million in assistance to local governments.

• An eviction avoidance program for cost-burdened renters.

• Major changes to the state unemployment insurance program, including language to suspend charges to employers’ unemployment insurance accounts for COVID-19 claims.

• Millions in funding for medical infrastructure as well as a substantial boost for various capital construction programs, particularly rural hospitals and other health care facilities.

Several components of the bills are subject to veto by Gov. Mark Gordon, though it is unclear when he will take action on the bills.

Though the final package was kept relatively narrow to get funding to programs quickly, it was broadened significantly from a version debated over the previous weeks to ensure as much of the $1.25 billion as possible is spent before a Dec. 30 deadline.

That’s not to say this phase of relief was exhaustive. Various proposals from legislators were excluded from the final package, including providing hazard pay for state workers and a provision granting Gordon significant leeway to make unilateral reductions in education spending, which likely will come up at another session tentatively set for June.

Other proposals by House and Senate conservatives to get funding directly to residents — such as $600 million in tax breaks proposed by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, and $2,000 payments to residents proposed by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester — were ultimately rejected.

But funding for the eviction avoidance program through the Wyoming Community Development Authority, a key component of the state’s disaster response, and the easing of unemployment insurance obligations were adopted with little fanfare, even after debate over an amendment to protect business owners from COVID-19 liability threatened to derail work. That amendment, introduced by Sen. Lisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs, also eventually passed.

Lawmakers aren’t done yet. Numerous bills remain to be discussed in June, and the state still faces the prospect of an unprecedented decline in revenues in the middle of an election year — something many believe will result in either new taxes or new cuts in public spending just a few years after some of the deepest budget cuts in state history.

While no date has been set for the next session, House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said it was likely to take place over five days starting June 29.

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