Lawmakers Prepare Two Bills For Special Session

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Legislative leaders began crafting two bills Friday morning that grant some abilities to Gov. Mark Gordon and state agencies to respond to Wyoming’s numerous needs that have emerged in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Legislature’s Management Council, which consists of leaders from both chambers and parties, met virtually Friday in preparation for a special session that could come as soon as late next month, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

The council did not vote on the two pieces of legislation, which touch on everything from hospital funding to low-income housing. Instead, legislators prepared the bills for a final vote at their next meeting Friday, May 1.

The first bill worked by lawmakers would set up a COVID-19 relief fund for a preliminary, partial distribution of the $1.25 billion Wyoming has received through the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Gov. Mark Gordon has the ultimate authority on how to use those funds, but through the legislation, the pot would be divided into a few separate sections to address various needs. Federal rules also prohibit the relief funds from being used to replace lost state revenues, forcing state officials to get slightly more creative with how they use the money.

The team of lawmakers decided to move forward with an initial $238 million appropriation for the COVID-19 relief fund, with $70 million of that going to municipalities, counties and political subdivisions. During the meeting, Jerimiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, told lawmakers that the state’s local governments are bracing for a hit ranging from $109 million to $451 million in the coming year, and those figures could grow.

The relief fund also includes $200 million for Wyoming public hospitals, which are facing serious revenue hits brought on by the virus.

A second bill would allow the Wyoming Community Development Authority to assist landlords who don’t evict tenants unable to pay rent due to the pandemic. The money would be available to landlords who have lost at least 25% of their rental income and have tenants who have lost pay due to the pandemic.

Another section of the second bill would expand the state’s workers’ compensation program to allow employees to make claims if they contract COVID-19.