NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Joni Albrecht

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 6th, 2021

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 17th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Joni Albrecht

WEEKLY UPDATE January 11, 2021
January 11th, 2021

On Wednesday, January 6th we began the first day of the 2021 Nebraska 107th Legislature. I find it so refreshing to be in a proactive season where the things that have made Nebraska a great place to live can be upheld and advanced. Like the past several years, I will be spending a great deal of my time in Lincoln during the Legislative session. But it is a high priority for me to stay connected with constituents in Legislative District 17 by phone, email, meetings and visits when I am home.

I am excited to welcome my colleagues, the new Senators I will have the privilege to work with.  During the first ten days of session we will drop our bills, elect Committee Chairs and work to place all Senators on committees. By unanimous vote, Senator Mike Hilgers, from District 21 of Lincoln, was unanimously elected Speaker.

I have been selected to sit on the Revenue Committee and Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. I always find it rewarding to be on the inside track and have more influence in areas that are dear to my heart. 

New Legislation

I have had the privilege of putting four bills on the docket for this session so far. 

LB111- Our First Responders and Public Protection Bill will address some of the concerns that emerged surrounding officer and public safety during riots this past summer. The bill will define and enact criminal violations related to rioting, inciting or recruiting, or participating in a riot, violence toward law enforcement officers, riot-related vandalism and blocking public roads.

LB112- The Public Comment at Open Meetings Act Change will require that members of the public to be allowed to speak at any public meeting that is subject to the Open Meetings Act. It will increase transparency and accountability by governing bodies, and offer members of the public an opportunity to trust in the process.

LB113- The DMV Bill will change important provisions relating to motor vehicles titling, licensing, registration, and fees and operators’ licenses and permits and authorize a new motor vehicle carrier services system.

LB149- State Patrol Bill will harmonize Nebraska Statute with federal regulations to avoid incompatibility and loss of funding. This is something that is important to update annually.

Nebraska Walk for Life

One of the most rewarding aspects for me of having the privilege of being a State Senator is the progress we have made in the realm of protecting the unborn. I will be speaking at the annual Nebraska Walk for Life Saturday, January 16th, and I would love to have you join me! The Walk begins at 10 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol Building. 

Governor Pete Ricketts issued a proclamation declaring January 22, 2021 as a Statewide Day of Prayer.  January 22nd is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down Nebraska’s laws protecting unborn babies. Governor Ricketts’ proclamation encourages Nebraskans to pray for an end to abortion and a deepening respect for the humanity of unborn children.

 

Maintaining Confidence in Nebraska’s Election Process

One of the most valuable privileges we have as Americans is the right to vote. For generations Nebraskans have trusted our election process to reveal the candidate that the majority of the people in our Nation believed should be their next leader. Recently, that trust has been broken. I will be leading an initiative to ensure that all Nebraskans have confidence in the elections throughout our state. Elections must be operated with complete integrity, accountability and excellence. In order to ensure those characteristics remain true for Nebraska’s elections, I am working to create an Election Review Resolution, which will establish a commission to oversee our elections. I want you, as a constituent in District 17, and the State of Nebraska, to feel completely confident that the integrity of our elections have not been compromised. Be watching for more information to come.

 

COVID-19 numbers in District 17

The number of positive tests reported for the periods January 1, 2021, and January 7, 2021 in District 17 are as follow:

Dakota County +54 (3654)

Thurston County: +45 (911)

Wayne County: +20 (953)

My Legislative Aide, Cyndi Lamb, is transitioned to serve as Legal Counsel for the Natural Resources Committee. I am so proud of her accomplishments and excited about all she will bring in her new role. I am excited to announce our new Legislative Aide,  Lisa Weeks, who will be a significant asset. Lisa is looking forward to answering your calls and emails!

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

WEEKLY UPDATE January 4, 2021
January 4th, 2021

I am grateful and humbled to again be part of the opening week of the Nebraska Legislature. It is a week of time-honored tradition even in the midst of a global pandemic.

With a prayer, the presentation of colors, and the swearing in of newly elected members, the 107th Legislature begins. The welcome looks a bit different this year because of COVID. Family members who usually accompany Senators at their seats will not this year. They will be able to attend and view the proceedings from the balconies. The dividers installed last year to prepare for the July return of the Legislature remain. Senators are socially distanced, and procedures concerning the actual workings of the Legislature may be modified as we begin to deal with “housekeeping.”

Time-honored traditions remain. The first order of businesses, like in opening sessions past, is adoption of temporary rules, election of Officers, election of the Speaker of the Legislature and election of Committee chairpersons. Senators may introduce Bills during the first ten (10) days of Session. If the current tentative schedule stands, that means January 20, 2021.

Watch for other differences this year as we work through the rules and legislation that addresses COVID challenges, a 2-year budget, re-districting following last years’ Census, and my own Bill to provide tools to keep the public and Nebraska’s law enforcement and other first responders safer.

My office will be experiencing change also. My Legislative Aide Cyndi will be leaving the office for another position within the Capitol. We in the office are happy for this next chapter in Cyndi’s career and will miss her.

Bills to be introduced:
Below is a list of some bills I will be introducing in the 2021 Session. As they are introduced and scheduled for hearings, I will provide more details in this column.

My First Responder and Public Safety Bill will address some of the concerns that emerged surrounding officer and public safety during riots this past summer. The bill will define and enact criminal violations related to rioting, inciting or recruiting, or participating in a riot, violence towards law enforcement officers, riot-related vandalism, and blocking public roads.

Erin’s Law will require that public schools provide students and staff in K-5 age-appropriate body safety and awareness education to prevent child sexual abuse. Erin’s Law has already been adopted in 37 states. I was approached by a constituent of District 17 to introduce this Bill. My office has visited with many individuals, professionals, and educators who support the Bill.

I also plan to bring the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act. This Bill seeks to limit pornographic material that may be injurious to children or that may promote human trafficking by requiring retailers of internet enabled devices to ensure that their products contain activated filters that block by default websites that are known to facilitate human trafficking or display child pornography, revenge pornography, or X-rated material prior to those sites being enabled by a user. The Bill also creates a grant fund available for organizations fighting human trafficking.

I will once again introduce the Public Comment at Open Meetings Bill. This Bill will require that members of the public be given the opportunity to speak at any public meeting that is subject to the Nebraska Open Meetings Act. This Bill had incredible support at last year’s pre-COVID hearing and I expect that same support this year.

Again, it is important to note that each bill must receive a hearing and amendments may be recommended by the Committee and/or added on the floor when the Bill is being debated. I will continue to provide an updated status for constituents on these and other bills as the Session unfolds.

COVID-19 State Response Update.
At his press briefing on January 4, the Governor announced that the number of available hospital beds throughout Nebraska remains strong. As of that date, there are 36% of patient beds available, 36% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, and 76% of ventilators available.

The federal government has also responded by providing additional aid to individuals and businesses. Congress passed, and the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The Act provides new stimulus funding of $600 per person, including children to assist with economic damage and hardship caused by the pandemic. The payment is subject to the same qualifications and income limits of the checks received in early 2020. The Act also provides for Round 2 of Small Business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and other programs to assist businesses themselves. PPP funding will be available for businesses that saw a 20% or greater decline in revenues in a quarter of 2020 as measured against the same quarter in 2019. PPP funding available for hospitality industry businesses has been expanded and there are grants available for theaters, museums, concert halls and other venues that have had significant drops in revenue. New application forms for the PPP funding are set to be available by mid-January and the deadline for applications currently appears to be March 31, 2021. Meanwhile, it is likely that compiling the monthly revenue records for each business for 2019 and for 2020 will be most helpful to the application process. For more information on the past and new funding can be found on the SBA’s website online at: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/grants

COVID-19 numbers in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods December 24, 2020, and December 31, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County +67 (3600)
Thurston County: +36 (911)
Wayne County: +11 (933)

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE December 28, 2020
December 28th, 2020

Happy New Year! Welcome 2021! There are numerous quotes about the New Year bringing the first blank page of an unwritten chapter or book. The message is one of resounding hope-hope that some things will be left behind and hope that better things lie ahead. There is hope on both fronts as we enter 2021 together. COVID-19 is not yet behind us, but a vaccine is approved and beginning to arrive. Businesses that have struggled to survive are hopeful that customers will be comfortable to return and that their businesses will once again thrive. Meanwhile, a new relief bill that may provide some assistance to individuals, families, and businesses on the way has passed and been signed by the President. Each of us chooses how we will view the future and the level of hope in our homes. I choose to be grateful and full of hope for those who are going into 2021 with me—my family and friends, my colleagues, and you. I wish you the best that 2021 can bring as we remain NebraskaStrong together!

COVID-19 State Response Update.
Effective December 24, 2020, less restrictive measures are required in 92 of the 93 counties in Nebraska. Based upon the hospital bed availability and staffing numbers, the Governor announced new Directed Health Measures (DHM). The new measures allow gatherings up to 75% of the maximum capacity of indoor spaces and recommend, but don’t require, that people be seated in groups of eight or fewer at restaurants, bars, weddings, funeral receptions and other venues.

They also recommend, but don’t require, that bar and restaurant patrons remain seated unless ordering food, using the restroom or playing games, and that staff and customers wear masks in salons, barbershops and other businesses where they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. Elective surgeries are allowed without restriction.

Vaccinations are taking place.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna. Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been supportive of the development and preparing for distribution of the vaccine whenever it gets to the State. We are beginning to see Pfizer vaccine in the State and the Division of Public Health is working to make certain that the distribution plan is executed quickly so that Nebraskans can returned to a life of normalcy as quickly as possible. As of December 21, 2020, DHHS reported that 9,958 healthcare and emergency management professionals in the state had been vaccinated across 29 facilities in the State. By Wednesday, December 23, that number was u to 15,462. Over this week, the department expects to receive 11,700 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and 32,400 from Moderna and around 86,000 doses by the end of the year. Beginning December 28, 100% of the Pfizer allocation will be reserved and used to support efforts in long-term care facilities and the Moderna allocation will go to 112 facilities including local health departments, federally qualified health centers, and hospital systems throughout Nebraska. For more information about the planned vaccine distribution and details, please visit the NDHHS web page at dhhs.ne.gov/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information.

COVID-19 numbers in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods December 19, 2020, and December 24, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County +40 (3533)
Thurston County: +51 (875)
Wayne County: +18 (922)

Wayne State College News. Did you know that Wayne State College has a new Shotgun Sports Team? Well it does! In November, I was fortunate to stop in and visit with the faculty advisor for the club and one of its founding members Hayley Long. The club was founded this past year by Hayley, a first-year student, and a group of friends interested in the sport. The club already has 17 members who work together to pick up new skills and sharpen the skills they already have in place. The Sports team is a part of the Prairie Circuit Conference and student members compete in trap, skeet, and sporting clay events against teams from Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, and Kansas. Local competition for the team can be found at Midland, Doane, and Concordia Colleges. The majority of student members of the Wayne State team come from Nebraska, with one student member from Missouri. The students are enrolled in a variety of disciplines including criminal justice, science education, pre-chiropractic, conservation biology, manufacturing management, Members are required to have a Hunters Education Certificate, or equivalent certification, and must attend a Shotgun Safety and Range Etiquette class each semester before participating. “As the team is getting started and established, they could use some help,” stated Hayley, “They especially need sporting devices and ammo.” Currently without a coach, he team is also looking for volunteers that are very familiar with the three shooting disciplines at the competition level to offer advice or help in any way possible. If you know a business or individual interested in sponsoring or providing advice and experience to this new endeavor at Wayne State College, please feel free to contact club president Hayley Long at halong01@wsc.edu. I look forward to hearing more from Hayley and the Wayne State College Shotgun Sports team as the members strive to show the excellence we all know Nebraska’s students work to achieve!

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE December 21, 2020
December 21st, 2020

Merry Christmas! A time of wonder and joy for little ones, a time for looking back and cherishing memories. Christmas can also be a difficult time for those who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one lost in the year past. Let us each use this Christmas to reach out to someone who might otherwise be alone or hurting. With the social distancing and fewer in-person encounters with others in 2020, your voice on the other end of the telephone or on the computer or live electronic communication can go a long ways. Many of us have had to get accustomed to Zoom or other virtual meetings. This Christmas season, let’s use Zoom and our electronics for an otherwise impossible encounter with someone we care for. How about a cross-country family Zoom? The children in your life may enjoy an alternative to teachers, classrooms, and their other electronic experiences of 2020. My wish for you is that your holiday will be filled with kindness and joy and that you will treasure each moment with those you love.

COVID-19 State Response Update.
Hospitalizations in Nebraska continue to decline and the vaccine is here. These are both good news for Nebraskans. Some frontline medical workers and other essential personnel have already begun to receive the vaccine. Even so, the doses are limited and it will take several months to see widespread availability. Remember to avoid the 3 “C”s – close contact, crowds, and confined spaces. Wash hands frequently, sanitize hands and surfaces, social distance, and wear a mask when around others from outside of your household. If you are experiencing symptoms, get tested and if you feel sick, stay home.

COVID-19 numbers in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods December 11, 2020, and December 18, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County +71 (3493)
Thurston County: +50 (724)
Wayne County: +34 (904)

College in District 17.
Last week I was able to brag on Wayne State College and the tremendous work it has done in keeping enrollment up in the midst of creating a safe learning environment for students. This week, I am delighted to also brag on Northeast Community College.

First, some very exciting news emerged this past week when the College was notified it will receive a $15 million gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. It is anticipated that the funds will be used to create an endowment that will provide for its Student Scholarships and Success Initiative. Congratulations Northeast Community College!
No doubt the scholarships will bring even more benefit to students from District 17, Nebraska, and throughout the U.S. than is already being provided by the college. Northeast Community College began the fall 2020 with enrollment nearly the same as fall of 2019, which was the third largest enrollment on record at the institution. While the number of first-time freshmen students enrolled at the College was 7% lower, while the number of high school early college enrollment increased 16%.

In response to the pandemic, like Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska, Northeast Community College moved its start date up a week in order for students to be able to complete course work in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Northeast also worked hard to provide alternative online courses for the students, while offering in-person course work for those hoping to fill much needed roles in the fields of Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and paramedics. One third of students in the 2020 class attended in-person, while two-thirds of the students were offered online courses.
Spring 2021 looks to have increased early college (high school) enrollment. Enrollment is currently in process through virtual New Student Registration sessions, with the next one scheduled for January 7, 2021. The College is looking forward to welcoming new and returning students in the spring.

It remains clear to me that Nebraska students, and in particular, Northeast Nebraska students, do not need to go far to find quality educational and training opportunities. We can and should all be proud of Northeast Community College and Wayne State College.

My Congratulations to District 17’s newest judge! I want to take a few minutes to congratulate Edward Matney of Hartington on his appointment by the Governor to the position of County Court Judge. Mr. Matney will replace retired Judge Kurt T. Rager in Judicial District Six, which consists of Dakota and Thurston Counties in District 17, as well as courts in Burt, Cedar, Dixon, Dodge, and Washington Counties.
Mr. Matney has served a multitude of clients in his law practice in South Sioux City since 2012. For the several years, Mr. Matney devoted a large portion of his practice to trials in criminal and juvenile matters in Northeast Nebraska. His work as the Deputy County Attorney for Dakota County in 2020 and serves as the Dakota County Attorney from 1998 to 1999 and from 2004 to 2008 and experiences in other Northeast Nebraska County Attorney offices gives him the knowledge and experience needed to serve the diverse communities and culture well.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE December 14, 2020
December 14th, 2020

It is starting to look a lot like Christmas! With unseasonably warm December temperatures, we may have lost sight of the fact that this is, in fact, December in Nebraska. The past weekend certainly reminded us in short order. Remember to drive safely as snow and ice accumulate periodically and to dress for the cold weather. Sledding and playing in the snow can be a lot of fun with proper clothing. Children just want to get out into it, so if you can, donate winter coats and other clothing to local charities that want to make sure every child is able to stay warm. As the holiday approaches, look in on vulnerable family members and neighbors to make sure they are okay.

Legislature Ahead: Every day, just before the Legislature officially convenes, a state senator leads the Pledge of Allegiance in the Legislature’s chamber. I have been honored to take my turn during each of the four years I have served. This year, my office is preparing a proposed change in the rules that would allow each senator to either lead the Pledge themselves, or, to have an active or retired military member of their district lead it in the senator’s place. The Rules Committee will review the proposal and it must be voted on by the full body to be adopted.

Wreaths Across America Proclamation. Nebraska and our nation are rich with historic recognition of time-honored tradition. One such tradition is coming up on Saturday, December 19, 2020. At 11:00 a.m. Nebraska time, Nebraska will join in 2100 ceremonies through the country and 24 other countries and the Seven Seas in recognizing all of the fallen military members in Wreaths Across America events. The events differ in some respects but one thing is consistent across the world. Wreaths are laid and the names of the fallen are read aloud. There are over 250,000 wreaths laid in Arlington Cemetery alone. In Nebraska there are 12 participating cemeteries.
On Monday, December 14, 2020, the Governor signed a Proclamation, proclaiming Saturday, December 19, 2020 as National Wreaths Across America Day in Nebraska.
I join fellow Americans in recognizing the brave service and importance of those who have served our country.

COVID-19 State Response Update.
Once again, Nebraska has done a good job of slowing the spread. In his Monday press briefing, the Governor reported that hospitalizations throughout the State continue to decrease. The State is now in the yellow zone on the risk dial and the Governor has loosens restrictions accordingly. As of Monday, fifteen to twenty percent of hospital patients in the state are coronavirus patients. That percentage allows for elective surgeries to resume, for non-household members, like grandparents to attend extracurricular events like school sports. The Governor did state that even though those restrictions are loosened by the State, schools still have the discretion to implement their own safety guidelines. You can find updated Directed Health Measures (DHMs) for each county at governor.nebraska.gov, keywords Directed Health Measures.

Even as restrictions loosen, the Governor stressed that no one wants to be quarantined or hospitalized over the holiday and urged Nebraska residents to continue to use the known tools to help protect the hospital availability. Tools include avoiding the 3 “C”s – close contact, crowds, and confined spaces. Wash hands frequently, sanitize hands and surfaces, social distance, and wear a mask when around others. If you are experiencing symptoms, get tested and if you feel sick, stay home.

As of Monday, TestNebraska has returned back over 523,000 tests. As a reminder, the test is available to anyone who wants to sign up at www.testnebraska.com.

There is news that doses of vaccine are on the way and should arrive in Nebraska shortly. The first to receive the vaccine are said to include frontline medical personnel and long-term care facilities, followed by those with underlying conditions. Be sure to watch the Governor’s press briefings on Nebraska Educational Television (NET TV) to keep up to date on this and other information concerning the state.

COVID-19 numbers in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods December 4, 2020, and December 11, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County +105 (3422)
Thurston County: + 63 (774)
Wayne County: +57 (870)

College in District 17. After last week’s report by President Turner about the state of the University of Nebraska, I found it fitting to brag about District 17 institutions of higher learning. Wayne State College and Northeast Community College serve a number of students from Nebraska and other states in pursuing a number of career paths.

Wayne State College was kind enough to provide us a very thorough update of its 2020-21 academic year and the year ahead. We first congratulate Wayne State College on welcoming the second largest class in its history for the 2020-2021 academic year. The increase was a whopping 11.7% over the previous year and was just five students short of the largest freshman class since 1968. The College provided us with the following updated information:

“Wayne State’s fall semester started a week early on Aug. 17, 2020, with face-to-face instruction. The College was able to maintain face-to-face instruction throughout the entire semester, which ended Nov. 25. Graduation was held Nov. 20 due to the modified fall schedule.

Wayne State was exceptionally proud of the way students, faculty, and staff rallied for a successful fall semester. The College instituted the 4 Pillar approach, which emphasized hygiene, masks (which were required in all academic buildings and while in line for food service in the Student Center), social distancing, and self-screening (via mobile app that the college community used to monitor for symptoms). Our full plan for the academic year is available here: www.wsc.edu/covid19

The College kept numbers low throughout the semester, largely due to rigorous testing and tracing combined with quarantine and isolation protocols. We paid for a block of rooms at local motels that we used for students who lived on campus to use when quarantine or isolation was needed for either exposure to the virus or a positive test result. We made it through the semester without any evidence of spread in our classrooms. The College sent weekly emails to the campus community regarding numbers along with updates regarding safe practices (our numbers for the entire semester are available here: https://www.wsc.edu/news/article/552/covid-19_cases_at_wayne_state_college)
Wayne State College began the fall 2020 semester with the second largest class in its history with 821 new freshmen on campus for the 2020-21 academic year. The 11.7% increase is just five students short of the largest ever class that entered in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War.

The freshman class growth, combined with a 2.41% increase in graduate students and a 5.94% increase in returning undergraduate students, put the college at 3,865 total students, which is 4.77% more than fall 2019. Wayne State’s total enrollment has grown 20% in the past three years. You can read more about our enrollment here: https://www.wsc.edu/news/article/555/wsc_welcomes_second_largest_freshman_class_in_college_s_history

Our current recruitment cycle for fall 2021 is underway. We are encouraged by the number of applicants as we continue to meet our mission of regional service through access and affordability, student success, and learning excellence. We are especially proud of our work to keep costs down for students and families through aggressive scholarship programs and the work by the Nebraska State College System to keep our tuition affordable.
One of the ways we have committed to continued affordability is through a new Tuition Guarantee program. The Nebraska State Colleges Tuition Guarantee ensures that Pell-qualified Nebraska students can attend Wayne State College tuition-free.
Qualified first-time freshman and transfer students pursuing an undergraduate degree will receive a combination of federal grants, state or private grants, college remissions, or College Foundation scholarships to fill any tuition gap left after the Pell Grant. The State College Tuition Guarantee does not cover additional costs such as room and board, books, and fees. However, the student’s private or community scholarships will not be considered when providing support to cover tuition costs. You can read more about the plan here: https://www.wsc.edu/news/article/557/state_colleges_to_guarantee_affordability_and_access_through_new_program

We are extremely grateful to the Nebraska Legislature for funding approved in August for the Career Scholarship Program to provide student support aimed at growing the state’s workforce in high demand fields. The newly created Career Scholarship Program will provide a total of $1 million in scholarships in its first year to be awarded to Chadron State, Peru State, or Wayne State College students who are pursuing careers in critical workforce areas. The new funding, signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts on Aug. 6, will help support Wayne State’s Cooperative Education program as part of the Aksarben Foundation’s Northeast Nebraska Growing Together initiative launched last spring. Wayne State is proud to have launched the cooperative education program this past fall, even in the midst of the pandemic.

This exciting cooperative education program, which you can learn more about at https://www.wsc.edu/growtogether, combines classroom education with real work experience for college credit. At its core, the Growing Together Career Scholars Program supports workforce and economic development in Northeast Nebraska. To participate, students must be passionate about earning a degree in one of the eligible fields and must be committed to remaining in Northeast Nebraska. Throughout the program, students participate in career readiness activities. During their senior year, students live in the downtown Norfolk area with peers. This living experience will help students socially connect with the community and gain an appreciation for the many exciting social and cultural opportunities available in the city of Norfolk. Upon graduation, the goal is for students to be hired into full-time positions in Northeast Nebraska.

One final note: Wayne State is currently renovating Benthack Hall, home of counseling, education, and the family and consumer sciences programs. The College aims to make an immediate impact on the region’s shortage of mental health practitioners with the renovation by providing students with a dynamic learning environment that encourages their passionate approach to mental health care.
The renovation, which will be complete in the summer of 2021, includes a state-of-the-art counseling training clinic for students to perfect their psychotherapeutic practices with clients. This clinic aims to serve the surrounding communities’ needs regarding behavioral and mental health. The full-service training clinic will be supervised by licensed professional counselors serving people of all ages, families, and individuals experiencing a variety of diagnoses and treatment needs. The Counseling Department strives to become a leader in producing highly trained clinical providers to serve our rural community starting with the capabilities and functioning of this training facility. You can learn more about the project here: https://www.wsc.edu/news/article/562/benthack_hall_renovation_aims_to_serve_regional_mental_health_needs”

I am so proud of the education we are able to provide our young people in District 17 and am thankful for the hard work Wayne State has done to keep them safe while educating them well. Thank you Wayne State College!

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE December 7, 2020
December 7th, 2020

As this update is being written, it is December 7. Today we reflect on the unprovoked attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and we remember the 2,403 United States citizens who were killed in the surprise attack that day. President Roosevelt described December 7, 1941 as “A day that will live in infamy.” Each December 7 there are events across the country to remember our citizens. Along with others, I remember those citizens and mourn their loss. I also mourn the loss of the sense of security experienced by residents of the United States on that day. I join many in the commitment to do what I can do to remember, learn, and prevent such an attack from ever happening again. I salute those who served then and those who serve now to keep our country safe.

Back on the Job: I truly never leave the job of your State Senator behind. A huge part of serving you is being present in District 17, to meet and listen to the people and businesses here and to live under the laws I help create when at the Capitol. Meanwhile, my staff and I work over the phone and occasionally in person to prepare for the upcoming Session.

I spent some time in Lincoln this past week, meeting with my colleagues and other individuals as we look forward to the 2021 Legislative Session currently scheduled to convene on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. There are discussions about what convening for the 107th Legislature will look like when it rolls out in a manner designed to keep the Senators, staff, and public as safe as possible. Remember that every bill introduced by lawmakers must be given a public hearing, so it is important that the State provide a safe environment and opportunities for you, the public, to be heard. Remember that you are always invited to testify live or submit letters to Committees considering legislation that is of interest to you.

While in Lincoln, I also met with various people about results of studies and potential bills going forward. Some you will likely hear about as we move into and through the 2021 Session.

Last week’s visit also included meetings of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. The first meeting was a joint meeting of the Committee and the Appropriations Committee. We received information about the State’s highway needs and accomplishments for 2020. In a second meeting, the Committee heard from the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) in a 911 service system briefing. The 911 service system is the next generation 911. The is a nationwide standard system that enhances voice and multi-media caller and 911 center communication and enables communications to be sent on to local to local dispatchers for resolution. Northeast Nebraska is the last leg of getting the entire state online with the system, which the PSC reported should be completed in 2021.

COVID-19 State Response Update.
The Governor held press briefings regarding the State’s response to COVID-19 on Wednesday, December 2, Friday, December 4, and Monday, December 7, 2020.
Joining the Governor at the December 7 briefing was University of Nebraska Ted Carter.
The Governor again reminded us of the importance of taking precautions to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, including social distancing six feet, wearing a mask when in contact with the public, frequent hand washing and staying home if you are sick. Speaking about the season of holiday shopping, the Governor asked that we try to shop alone and only once a week. As he said, this is a good time to be extra careful with holidays approaching to take precautions that can help protect our families and reduce chances for illness over the holiday itself.

Hospitalizations again decreased over the weekend. If Nebraska continues to see progress, the Governor noted that the State will be able to move into a less critical phase and revise current restrictions accordingly. As of Monday morning’s report, the hospital bed availability was:
32% of hospital beds available
30% of ICU beds are available
68% ventilators available

Tools to help protect the hospital availability in Nebraska include avoiding the 3 “C”s – close contact, crowds, and confined spaces. Wash hands frequently, sanitize hands and surfaces, social distance, and wear a mask when around others. If you are experiencing symptoms, get tested.

Did you know that TestNebraska has returned back nearly 499,000 tests? As a reminder, the test is available to anyone who wants to sign up at www.testnebraska.com.

University of Nebraska news. Joining the Governor at Monday’s press briefing was University of Nebraska President Ted Carter. They both spoke of the University’s success with in-person classes and effective safety measures.
President Green first thanked Legislature for supporting the University of Nebraska budget this past year. He reported that the Nebraska University system was one of the first universities in the country to announce a re-opening and to welcome students back to campus. The University did so all while keeping a close eye on protecting students, faculty, and staff safety. Unlike many universities seeing drops in enrollment, Nebraska saw a 1% overall increase in enrollment that included a 2% in students from Nebraska enrolling. The University was able to hold back tuition costs for two years running and to reduce online tuition costs as the need for online classes has increased. The University has developed in-person and online learning programs as well as hybrid programs that combine the two.

President Carter offered that one of the most strategic things the University did was take a look at the academic calendar and bring students back a week early, with all students returned to campus by August 24. This adjustment created an opportunity for most students to finish all course work and exams by Thanksgiving break. The University is considering that as students are returning later in January than usual, they will be an expectation to increase testing, exploring full student attendance and perhaps having each student get tested before returning. Looking at the fall numbers, requests for enrollment applications are up 7% for the 2021 Fall Semester and there are examples of the creation of the $2 million Career Scholarship Program, which helps bridge the gap in needed high-skilled occupations keeping and bringing Nebraska’s talented young people to complete studies in the State. Hearing about what’s happening at the University, we will be visiting with leadership at Wayne State College and Northeast Community College in Norfolk and West Point to get news on campus status.

The Governor will be holding future press briefings on Wed. Dec. 9, and Friday, December 11. The briefings can be viewed live on many channels, including NET TV, as well as on Facebook and other social media sites. Summaries can be found at the Governor’s website.

COVID-19 numbers in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods November 28, and December 4, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County: +175 (3317)
Thurston County: + 31 (711)
Wayne County: +36 (813)

Legislative Look ahead: As I mentioned above, I was in Lincoln for a couple of days last week. In addition to my colleagues, I met with various people about topics for consideration as we begin the new Session. For instance, I met with representatives from the Nebraska Ethanol Board and Renewable Fuels Nebraska to discuss the report on my Interim Study (LR373) about the state of Ethanol production and use in the State and steps that might be taken to increase production in Nebraska, and use both inside and outside of Nebraska. We are exploring important steps to obtain more complete information about the breakdown of Ethanol blends currently being sold in Nebraska. Look for more details, as well as details on issues of interest being considered in future newsletters.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE November 30, 2020
November 30th, 2020

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It can be such a heartwarming time of year as we consider the people and life experiences we can be thankful for. It also brings a change in expectations for the days ahead. Even before Thanksgiving was over, people were decorating for the Christmas holiday. Certainly, once Thanksgiving passed and Christmas shopping began online and in stores, more and more store and home decorations went up. This is usually a very festive time for most. At the same time, it is a difficult time for many who have lost a loved one in the past year, or who have lost a loved one at holiday time, or maybe who are frustrated at travel and other restrictions that are keeping them from the joyous gatherings of family and friends. Still, we move through it together. Be sure to be kind to one another as we are all experiencing a Christmas season like no other.

COVID-19 remains in our thoughts, of course.
There is good news on the horizon for COVID-19 vaccines as more than one company has applied to the federal government for approval of a vaccine to be made available as quickly as possible. The number of hospitalizations have decreased steadily over the past few days, even as the number of positive tests continue to add up. While we definitely mourn many who have died from the virus and continue to pray for their families, there are also many who have had the virus and who now find themselves immune—reportedly unable to catch it and unable to pass it on.

At the press briefing Monday, November 30, Governor Ricketts briefed the public on the State’s response to the COVID-19 virus. The Governor is currently holding the briefings every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. His briefings are broadcast on NETV and related press releases can be reviewed at governor.nebraska.gov

As of Monday, November 30, 2020, the Nebraska Risk Dial remains in the Orange Zone and hospitalization being monitored showed a week over week decline for the first time in weeks, with 896 individuals hospitalized throughout Nebraska. He explained that the state never hit the red zone and that the decrease in hospital beds available at some points was in part attributed to the hospitals reporting only “staffed” hospital beds as available beds, a number that is subject to variations. The Governor also reported that as of Monday’s report:
32% of hospital beds available
36% of ICU beds are available
68% ventilators available

Did you know that over 1 million tests have been completed in Nebraska through TestNebraska? Testing is still available and encouraged. The TestNebraska lab has been processing tests all of the holiday weekend, though testing sites were not operational.

The Governor reiterated that the administration is putting together and implementing a plan that is specific to confer benefits on the State itself. The Governor indicated that he expects vaccines to begin to be available by mid-December. He stressed; however, that to keep a balanced approach that considers the interests of individuals, the most vulnerable, and the economic realities of businesses throughout the State, residents need to remain vigilant about healthy choices. The Governor gave kudos to Nebraska schools that have done such a great job of putting measures in place that have made schools safer and allowed them to remain open. Current Directed Health Measures (DHM) are extended through December 31, 2020.

John Hilgert, Director of Veterans Affairs joined the Governor in the Monday press briefing. We have four Veterans’ homes in Nebraska. Director Hilgert urged folks to be careful, recognizing that while you and your younger aged friends may be healthy, some may work in a caregiver profession. Many times when positive tests have occurred in Veterans’ homes, younger teammates—caregivers have tested positive despite being asymptomatic.

Both the Governor and Director Hilgert urged residents of every age to continue to use the tools identified along the way to slow the spread and to avoid infecting the most vulnerable. Tools include avoiding the 3 “C”s – close contact, crowds, and confined spaces. Wash hands frequently, sanitize hands and surfaces, social distance, and wear a mask when around others.

The Director asked for everyone’s help to keep safe our neighbors in long term care facilities, including those who reside in our Veterans’ homes. Currently, the Department is testing teammates at the facilities weekly and all four Veterans’ homes are limiting visitation. The Director stressed that the residents deeply appreciate tele-visits from friends and family.

The Governor will be holding future press briefings on Wed. Dec. 2, and Friday, December 4. The briefings can be viewed live on many channels, including NET TV, as well as on Facebook and other social media sites. Summaries can be found at the Governor’s website.

Remember, we can all help keep ourselves, our families, and our neighbors safer by using good habits such as frequent handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, and social distancing. If you are ill, stay home. If you are able to, wear a mask when in public spaces where you cannot maintain a 6 foot distance from others. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, quarantine away from others. People experience different levels of illness when contracting the virus, so be certain to do all you can to protect the most vulnerable amongst you.

COVID-19 in District 17
The number of positive tests reported for the periods November 20, and November 27, 2020 in District 17 are as follow:
Dakota County: +89 (3142)
Thurston County: +49 (680)
Wayne County: +64 (777)

Legislative Look ahead: We are starting to receive letters from Senators who wish to chair various committees when the Legislature reconvenes. The process of actually electing committee chairpersons does not actually take place until after we reconvene.

As a reminder, the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. The 2021 Session is a ninety-day session, with the days that the Legislature is actually in session being the days counted towards that ninety day number. Certainly subject to change, the tentative schedule currently indicates the final day of the 2021 Legislature will be June 10.

Interim studies proposed by Senators enable legislators and the public to assess whether legislation is warranted in different areas. They therefore, may give some indication of legislation that can be expected to be introduced during the first ten days of the Session. In November, there were hearings in various committees either related to annual reports or interim studies. In November, there were hearings in the Retirement Systems Committee, the Agriculture, Business and Labor, Urban Affairs, and Revenue Committee. Of specific interest to District 17 residents may be the following:
• Agricultural Committee heard LR380, introduced by Senator Brewer to examine the feasibility of creating a state meat packing inspection program;
• Revenue Committee heard LR415, brought by Senator Clements to examine the state inheritance tax, its current structure, and recommendations on whether it should be amended, replaced, or repealed.

Additionally, my office is currently reviewing a report and recommendations regarding recommendations to enhance the ethanol industry in Nebraska. Once we have reviewed the recommendations and considered whether and how to address them, I will keep District 17 residents updated through this newsletter update.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE November 23, 2020
November 23rd, 2020

Once again, Thanksgiving provided opportunity to be grateful, to create and consume amazing food, share smiles and love to re-invigorate for the work ahead. This year, of course, is different than others in many ways.

As COVID-19 numbers surge and hospitalizations increase across the State, we are reminded about the need to keep ourselves and our families safer by good habits such as frequent handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, and social distancing. If you are ill, stay home. If you are able to, wear a mask when in public spaces where you cannot maintain a 6 foot distance from others. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, quarantine away from others. People experience different levels of illness when contracting the virus, so be certain to do all you can to protect the most vulnerable amongst you.

I am thankful to hear of vaccines on the horizon. Some reports indicate that one or more may be approved as soon as mid-December. Meanwhile, it is important to avoid the “3-Cs”—crowded places, close contact, and confined spaces.

Other good news comes from Dr. Anthone about the breakthrough of monoclonal antibody therapy to target the virus and help prevent persons with the virus from needing to go to the hospital. The State of Nebraska has received its allocation of the antibodies and is in process of getting the antibodies to hospitals throughout the State. The doses have been sent to the hospitals first because they have the capability of administering it on an outpatient basis. Already in use, Dr. Anthone stated that they are hopeful it will help to reduce the need for hospitalization.

COVID-19 in District 17
District 17 has not avoided the surge in numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. Not having issued a newsletter last week, below are the number of cases reported for the periods November 7-13, and November 14-20, 2020.
November 7-13, 2020:
Dakota County: +231 (2864)
Thurston County: +73 (569)
Wayne County: +107 (613)

November 14-20, 2020
Dakota County +189 (3053)
Thurston County: +62 (631)
Wayne County +100 (713)

At a press briefing last week, the Governor invited Ashley Newman, Chief Data Strategist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) forward to speak about the importance and status of Contact Tracing to slow the spread of the virus. She reminded the public that contact tracing is a confidential process that starts with a positive test result being reported to the state or local health department. After that, a trained contact tracer calls the person who received a positive test result and asks them a series of questions about whether they are experiencing symptoms, know when and where they were exposed and who they may have been in close contact with.

Because of a rise in positive tests, contact tracers in Nebraska have been finding it challenging to deal with the high volume of work. To facilitate the work, the State has temporarily increased contact tracing staff, activating the Department’s reserve contact tracers from earlier this year. The State has also implemented temporary measure such as reducing the number of questions asked during the interview, reducing the number of call attempts to reach people, and focusing on calling those who test positive for the virus. Additionally, the State has temporarily suspended calling close contacts of positive cases and is asking people who have tested positive to notify their close contacts.

Legislative Look ahead: With the increased activity in the COVID-19 cases and antibody treatments here now, as well as the vaccines on the horizon, it is hard to say exactly what the 2021 Session of the Legislature is going to look like. What we do know is that we are expecting to convene and have new and returning members sworn in on January 6, 2021. I imagine that we will have much more information between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I will pass on that information in my weekly update as I am able. Meanwhile, my office continues to work toward the next Session on issues of transparency, public safety, protecting our children, ethanol production, expanding rural broadband access, and further tax relief. These remain the issues that best describe what constituents in District 17 have asked me to address in the upcoming session.

From my family to yours- we wish you a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! We are grateful for so much-the bounty of the land, the memories we share, and the blessings of loved ones near and far. I am also thankful for the opportunity to serve residents of District 17 for the next four years.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE November 9, 2020
November 9th, 2020

Election Day has come and gone-at least for Nebraska. The year 2020 has been very different than any we have ever known and the election cycle has been no different. In District 17 for instance, the registered voters in rural Wayne County voted by mail while registered voters in the City of Wayne voted had the traditional poll open for in-person voting on Election Day. Candidates campaigned different throughout the nation and state, as well. Door-to-door voter contact was replaced with campaign car cruises, car rallies, or boat rallies across the country. As for me, I greatly missed the opportunities to meet and talk with more of my neighbors during our typical fair season. Nothing was typical, yet we moved through it together. Our families laughed, loved, and eventually harvested. And, we voted.

Election night was a late night for results in our area. Vote counts came in around 10:30 p.m. from Wayne County, and 12:30 a.m. Wednesday for Thurston and Dakota Counties. For me, it was worth the wait and I thank each person who took part. According to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office, 74.87% of registered voters in Wayne County cast ballots, turnout was 54.49% in Thurston County, and 61.25% in Dakota County. Each person in District 17 who exercised their patriotism and right to vote should be commended for turning out in such a significant way.

I extend a special thank you for the incredible vote of confidence in electing me to represent you again for the next four years. Again, according the Secretary of State’s updated website, I received 68.29%, or 4,155 of the 6,084 votes cast in Dakota County; 65.89%, or 1,393 of the 2,114 votes cast in Thurston County, and 68.86%, or 2,746 of the 3,988 votes cast in Wayne County, for a total of 68.06%, or 8,294 out of 12,186 votes cast in all of District 17.

It has been such an honor and a privilege to serve Dakota, Thurston, and Wayne counties in northeast Nebraska. There is much to do in the next four years and I look forward to hearing your concerns and being your voice on issues facing the District and our State in the Legislature.

Legislative Look ahead: Expect to see some familiar issues addressed right away when bills are introduced in the first ten days of the 2021 Session. There will certainly be some focus on the impact of the pandemic on the State’s economy, education, and on families. Fortunately, Nebraska has exceeded revenue forecasted numbers. In light of the protests, riots, and unrest this summer throughout the nation and in parts of Nebraska, I expect we will also focus on public safety and law and order.

My office has been working on issues surrounding public safety, protecting our children, ethanol production, expanding rural broadband access, and further tax relief. These are the issues that best describe what you can expect to see me champion in this upcoming session. In some cases, I will introduce bills, in others I expect to join my colleagues to develop common-sense and practical solutions that help but do not further burden taxpayers.

Concerns about public safety and law and order seen across the nation have also been part of the Nebraska discussion. As I mentioned several weeks ago, I intend to introduce legislation to improve public safety and give our law enforcement, first responders, and others the tools they need to keep themselves safe while they work to protect our families, businesses, and communities. I have circulated a summary of the bill amongst stakeholders for review and have already received feedback. As currently structured, the bill will penalize rioting, inciting rioting, and assaulting first responders by throwing items including bodily fluids or toxic substances or by other means. It also increases penalties for certain crimes committed against the person or property of public safety officers, or threatening public safety by blocking public roadways or other public ways.

I also intend to re-introduce legislation bringing greater transparency and public access to government meetings and to introduce one or more bills designed to protect children in District 17 and throughout the State from obscenity and abuse. These are all areas of concern that I feel strongly about, and that I believe most of my colleagues feel strongly about, as well. I plan to describe each of my bills in more detail in my weekly update as I get closer to introducing them in the 2021 Session.

COVID-19 update: Nebraska, along with many other states, has seen an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 tests, and related hospitalizations. My office and the Governor’s office continue to monitor the number of positive tests, and the beds available for potential hospitalizations. Like you, we are hearing that companies are developing vaccines that will hopefully be available soon. Even so, the first line of defense is each of us.

To slow the spread and potentially avoid infection, it is important that we avoid the “Three Cs” outlined by the Governor: 1) crowded places; 2) close contacts, and 3) confined spaces.”

At a press briefing on November 5, the Governor also reinforced the importance of basic health habits of frequent hand washing and staying at home when feeling ill. Dr. Gary Anthone, Director of Public Health for the State joined the Governor at the briefing and announced a campaign of Public Service Announcement (PSA) in English and Spanish, on radio, in print, and through digital media to encourage Nebraska residents to follow the health safety practices.

On Monday, November 9, 2020, the Governor discussed increased hospitalizations and announced a new Directed Health Measure (DHM) effective Wednesday, November 11, 2020 in an effort to keep resources available. He reported currently there are 31% of hospital beds available, 31% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds available, and 71% of ventilators statewide. The new DHM re-institutes some previous restrictions requiring
1). Six foot (6’) separation in businesses.
2). Masks must be worn in businesses where 6’ separation is not possible, like salons, massage therapists, tattoo parlors, etc.
3). Bars, restaurants, places of worship, and businesses must provide 6’ distance between groups, with groups not exceeding eight (8) persons. In bars and restaurants, patrons must remain at tables unless using restrooms, ordering food, or playing games, in which case, patrons must wear masks. Groups seated at tables should not be more than eight (8) people.
4). Gatherings: Indoor venues are again restricted to 25% rated occupancy. This includes arenas, and other entertainment, and wedding venues. Dancing is restricted to tableside dancing at wedding events and recitals where distancing requirements can be observed.
5). Attendance at extra-curricular sports activities is limited to family of athletes and media; and
6). Outdoor gatherings remain at 100% rated occupancy, with distancing requirements and consultation with local health officials for crowds of 500 or more in any venue, 1,000 in Omaha/Douglas County.

DISTRICT 17 COVID-19 numbers: The following numbers of positive tests were reported and received by District 17 health departments for the period October 31 through November 6, 2020:
Dakota County: +105 (2633)
Thurston County: +83 (496)
Wayne County: +103 (506)

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17
Room 1404
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2716
Email: jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov
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