Legislators returned to Jackson last week in order to finish any outstanding work and to Sine Die which will end the 2020 Legislative Session. One issue that the Legislature had to address was the allocations to school districts from House Bill 1788, which is the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act. Under this bill, $50 million in CARES Act money was provided in order to extend internet access for teachers and students in schools across underserved areas of the state. Government entities cannot enter into prepayment contracts for CARES Act money; therefore the issue arose with those contracts which allow for prepayment of hot spot services under HB 1788.
In order to combat this issue, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 3057 which authorizes local school districts to spend program funds for licenses to use devices and services, including hot spots. Without the provisions of SB 3057, these licenses would be considered prepayments and would not be allowed under Mississippi Law. SB 3057 will allow school districts to enter into a license for these services for one year. Once this license has expired, the school district may then renegotiate to further extend that license to another year.
In order to avoid these contracts falling under scrutiny of the State Auditor’s office, school districts should avoid certain language. In these contracts, avoid words such as “prepayment” or “pay in advance”. Any contract that contains these, or similar, phrases will be questioned by the State Auditor’s office and could possibly be found invalid. School districts should try to use phrases in their contracts which create a license for a year term with the option to be extended at the end of that year period. The deadline for the use of the CARES Act money is December of this year (2020).