Faced with plummeting state revenues exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wyoming’s Legislature will meet in a special session this week, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday.
The special session will convene on May 15 and is scheduled to end the next day, according to a news release from the Legislative Service Office. Lawmakers will consider how to spend $1.25 billion provided to the state through the federal relief act. Gordon said the session would be conducted electronically, with the “anchor” being the Capitol building in Cheyenne.
“We want to provide assistance to businesses and citizens as quickly and possible,” he said. “Many of our businesses and citizens have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.”
He said he was “looking for the help of the Legislature” to address the state’s various needs in the midst of the pandemic, which he called a “grave emergency.”
The session will consider four heavily related priorities, Gordon said: first, appropriating federal funds earmarked to help “states, political subdivisions, businesses and individuals” impacted by the pandemic; second, “amending and creating programs” to help those impacted; third, to provide assistance to businesses and people negatively impacted by the virus; and fourth, to provide “budgetary flexibility” to “retain and transfer funds to prepare state and local governments for the public health emergency and resulting economic devastation.”
The special gathering of lawmakers is the first in Wyoming in more than 15 years, and it comes as the state faces extraordinary challenges on multiple fronts. There is much to do: In addition to economic questions, legislators have to hammer out how to spend more than a billion dollars in federal dollars doled out in an effort to mitigate the worst effects of the virus’s spread.
Last week, legislative leaders approved a broad plan to address the effects of the virus, which has ground parts of Wyoming’s economy to a halt and has dovetailed with oil prices cratering. The federal government has allocated $1.25 billion to the Equality State, a pot of money the Legislature plans to use to stop evictions, build capital projects, and expand workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits. Additional monies will go to communities and agencies who’ve tapped their own funding to address the pandemic.
Gordon has repeatedly warned that the state is not in complete control of its own economic fortunes. The national economy has contracted as part of the pandemic, and plunging oil prices are an international concern.
Gordon’s announcement comes as more than half of the state’s counties begin to slowly unwind some of the restrictions placed on restaurants, bars and churches, which had broadly been closed or heavily limited as part of the effort to stymie the spread of the virus.
As of Friday afternoon, there have been 483 confirmed and 152 probable cases of the virus in Wyoming. Of the combined 635 patients, 428 have recovered.
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