The State Legislature will likely be back in session this summer to respond to the massive changes to the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council, a committee that sets governing policies and procedures as well as interim committee topics for the House and Senate, met remotely Thursday to consider legislative responses to the current public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as study topics for joint interim committees.
The council discussed holding a short, limited session in early May to address immediate needs coupled with a longer session in June to flesh out additional support and response programs.
“The impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Wyoming families, businesses, hospitals and communities cannot be overstated,” Senate president Drew Perkins said. “Coupled with the dramatic drop in oil prices, action from the Legislature must be strategic, adaptive and quick.”
Legislators praised Gov. Mark Gordon for his work thus far to address the issues the pandemic has raised.
“I’d like to thank Governor Gordon for his leadership during this crisis,” said speaker Steve Harshman. “The Wyoming Legislature and our staff are partnered with the governor and the executive branch and everyone is working hard to meet the unprecedented challenges facing our people and communities.
“None of us could have predicted this event. The key now is how we respond as that will determine the outcome. We are certainly wounded, but we want to emerge and come out of this stronger and with new skills and new opportunities for our precious state.”
The council and Gordon discussed a host of issues in need of immediate discussion and action including healthcare delivery and training, small business relief and assistance, allocation of Mineral Royalty Grant funding to local communities, along with providing flexibility to the Wyoming Community Development Authority to curb evictions and extending deadlines for mortgage payments for veterans, assisting credit unions to help in facilitating Paycheck Protection Program loans, completing construction of the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander and updates to the Wyoming State Hospital.
Other topics related to the impact of COVID-19 for discussion included elections, workshare and working with Gordon to comply with federal guidelines in appropriating more than $1.25 billion in funding coming directly to the state through the CARES Act.
Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) said Thursday morning at a Park County Travel Council meeting that spending the money would not be simple, as it could only be used on issues related to the pandemic.
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Gordon announced he had directed all state agency directors to identify opportunities to immediately reduce spending through the current budget year, which ends June 30, and into the next two-year budget.
The governor immediately directed agencies to institute position freezes, halt general fund contracts greater than $100,000 and implement a rigorous review of major maintenance spending. The directive came shortly after LSO released a memo showing that state revenues could decline by $555 million to nearly $2.8 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with declines in oil, gas and coal.