By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Three measures authorizing Gov. Mark Gordon to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and spelling out how some of that money should be spent have been signed into law.
Gordon on Wednesday signed all three pieces of legislation, approved during the Legislature’s special session May 15-16, but he vetoed one piece of language to expand eligibility for one of the business relief programs.
The “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program is designed to provide grants of up to $50,000 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that lost money because of the pandemic. The grants will be to compensate businesses for actual losses.
As written, the smallest grant that could be provided would be $20,000.
Gordon said many small businesses lost less than $20,000, however, under the rules for the distribution of the federal money, businesses are to be reimbursed for no more than actual losses.
As a result, Gordon removed the reference to a minimum grant of $20,000 to allow those with lower losses to apply for the program.
“The line-item vetoes I have implemented fairly preserve the eligibility of any applicant, while making it clear that applicants must be able to point to attested losses consistent with the language of the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act,” he said in a letter explaining the veto to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.
Gordon praised the Legislature for work on all three bills.
“You wrestled with complicated programs in challenging times under trying circumstances and demonstrated what we in Wyoming do so well — work together to find solutions,” he said in his letter. “We all agree that the support of Wyoming’s small businesses is a priority as we reawaken our economy and fortify the state for the year ahead.”
In addition to the bill setting up three business relief programs at an initial cost of $325 million, the Legislature approved a plan to reimburse landlords who forgive past due rent payments by tenants who may have lost their jobs or had their wages cut during the pandemic.
Also created was language to make businesses immune from lawsuits that may be filed by people claiming to have been infected with the coronavirus by the actions of the businesses. The language says that if a business adhered to all recommended safety guidelines, such as requiring staff to wear face masks, then it will be immune from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
The language began life as a separate bill filed for consideration the day before the special session began, but eventually was turned into an amendment of one of the three bills approved.
“Ambush legislation rarely results in good legislation, but in this case, the resulting amendment was a reasonable extension of other protections already in statute,” Gordon wrote.
Legislative leaders have said another special session will probably be held later in the year to deal with revenue shortfalls expected to affect the state’s biennium budget approved in March.