CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming lawmakers approved the outline of a large aid package for hospitals, businesses and people affected by the coronavirus in a rare special session over the weekend.
They voted against shielding businesses against lawsuits from customers who catch the virus. They also decided not to tinker with existing public education and state agency budgets.
The session Friday and Saturday - Wyoming's first since an unsuccessful effort to limit medical-malpractice awards in 2004 - was unlike any in state history.
A handful of legislators met in the mostly empty state Capitol. The rest convened by video conference.
They accomplished their biggest goal: Laying out a framework to allocate $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief bill. The money will go to costs of fighting the virus; helping businesses and individuals affected by it; road, building and other economic development projects; and replacing revenue lost because of the virus.
Another bill approved will specifically help people who've lost jobs because of the coronavirus get workers' compensation and be protected from eviction. Landlords who receive funding to cover the cost of their affected tenants' rent must promise not to evict them.
A third bill will provide $275 million in interest-free loans and other aid to businesses shut down and otherwise affected by coronavirus public-health orders.
Legislators had little appetite, however, to legally indemnify businesses where customers get the coronavirus. They also shied away from major changes to Wyoming's stressed public-education funding system and from allowing Gov. Mark Gordon to move large amounts of money between state agencies.
Less electricity use has taken a toll on fossil-fuel extraction including coal mining, Wyoming's biggest industry. Less driving threatens tourism, the state's second-biggest industry. Big hits to state revenue - complicating a two-year budget just approved in March - are likely.
Another special session could follow soon. Legislative leaders hinted they might meet in late June to consider new bills related to the coronavirus.