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.

And with that, the Wyoming Legislature is moving into its COVID-19 special session, the first special session since 2004.

With supermajority votes in both the house and senate, rules for the special session have been adopted.

Legislators are now getting down to brass tacks, debating five bills that would see the legislature allocate $450 million of the $1.25 billion allocated to Wyoming under the CARES Act. The remaining allocations could come in future special sessions or, if the legislature chooses not to meet again, be made by Governor Mark Gordon.

If approved as written, the measures on the table Friday and Saturday could see the state use those funds to set up a rent relief program, reduce the burden of COVID-related unemployment tax on employers, create $275 million in business loan programs, and allow people who contract the virus on the job to file for worker's compensation.

Teton County Sen. Mike Gierau said Thursday that a failure to approve the rules could derail the special session. 

"In the first hour, the plan could be blown up big time," Gierau said.

Despite full-throated opposition from some representatives who said the rules would stifle debate, that didn't happen. Technical glitches aside (the session is almost entirely virtual, with only a few legislators in the room) things are moving forward.

Both houses are now debating the bills and the plan — if all goes according to plan — is to have the bills finalized, passed and signed by Governor Mark Gordon on Saturday afternoon.

As of May 9 in Teton County 1,803 people filed continued claims for unemployment. That's the highest number since at least 2007. It's the same trend statewide, where 20,827 filed continued claims in the same week.

With businesses just starting to reopen after being more or less closed down for two months, Gierau said the stakes are high.

"If we don’t do this, businesses will go out of business. People will leave this state," he said. "This is called first things first, this is what we have to do."

You can tune into the special session by following the links on the legislature's homepage, WyoLeg.gov, where the draft bills are also available for viewing. Sessions are expected to run until 5 p.m. today, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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