CS/SB 426 (Montford) and CS/CS/HB 1139 (Clemons) revise how the Regional Rural Development Grants Program and the Rural Infrastructure Fund operates. Specifically, the bills:
•require grant recipients to serve or be located within a rural area of opportunity.
•authorize organizations that serve an entire rural area of opportunity to receive grants of up to $50,000 annually.
•increase the maximum amount of funds the Department of Economic Opportunity may expend for the program from $750,000 to $1 million annually.
•reduce the percentage of grant funds that must be matched with non-state funds from 100 percent to 30 percent of the state’s contribution.
•specify that regional economic development organizations may use grant funds to build their professional capacity and provide technical assistance.
•add as eligible use of funds: upgrades to or development of public tourism infrastructure and improvements to broadband internet service access in unserved or underserved rural communities.
•require projects that improve service and access to be through a partnership that was publicly noticed and competitively bid.
•establish certain contract and public notice requirements. (Cook)
CS/CS/HB 1139 was amended to remove the provision that increased the amount DEO may expend on Regional Rural Development Grants from $750,000 to $1 million. The bill also reduces the percentage of grant funds that must be matched with nonstate funds from 100 percent to 25 percent of the state’s contribution. CS/SB 426 still includes this provision. CS/SB 426 passed the Senate (40-0) and is on the way to the House. (Cook)