By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Legislation proposed for the Legislature’s upcoming special session would authorize Gov. Mark Gordon to spend $1.25 billion in federal aid and give him guidance on how to spend it.
Three of the four bills pre-filed with the Legislative Service Office for the special session set to begin Friday provide guidance for aid programs to be launched in the state using federal coronavirus relief funds, including relief program for the state’s renters and businesses.
The fourth would allow Gordon to adjust the state’s budget to deal with public health emergencies and coronavirus impacts.
Gordon last week called the Legislature into a special session to begin Friday, primarily to determine how to use the $1.25 billion in federal money sent to the state.
Legislators will meet online through a video meeting app, although some will be present in the Capitol building.
The Senate and House will review identical pieces of legislation at the same time. As each chamber approves its version of that legislation, the bills will be sent to the other chamber for review and action.
The first bill authorizes Gordon to spend the federal funds on four areas of priority: Costs incurred to battle coronavirus in Wyoming, relief to support businesses, families and individuals economically hurt by the pandemic, economic development projects such as capital construction and road construction projects to create jobs and replacement of lost revenue for public entities.
The measure specifies that the Legislature will help Gordon and local governments determine how to use the money to address the areas of priority.
Two of the other measures would provide specific instructions along those lines.
One of the bills would put into place Gordon’s proposed relief package for renters so they can avoid eviction. Under the bill, $10 million would be set aside to compensate landlords for rent money they may have lost because their tenants have been unable to pay rent due to the coronavirus.
The same bill would also allow the state to enter into negotiations with the federal government to use federal funds for a short-term compensation program for those who may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
The second bill sets aside federal funds for three programs to help Wyoming businesses hurt by the pandemic.
One program, the Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend program, would use $50 million to reimburse small businesses for losses caused by the pandemic. Qualifying businesses would be eligible to receive $15,000, plus $2,000 for every full-time employee and $1,000 for every part-time employee. Preference would be given to companies that have not received any funding under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Another program, the Coronavirus Business Relief Loan Program, would use $175 million in federal money to provide interest-free loans of up to $300,000 for businesses that suffered a loss because of the pandemic or because they were forced to close by one of the state’s pubic health orders.
The third program would set aside $50 million for the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend Program, which would be used to help businesses recover coronavirus-related expenses.
The final bill would give Gordon the authority to shift up to 25% of an agency’s budget approved by the Legislature during its budget session earlier this year to another agency “when determined by the governor as beneficial or necessary for the state to respond to the public health emergency …”