NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. 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

WEEKLY UPDATE September 21, 2020
September 21st, 2020

Things having calmed down a bit in the State’s Capitol, for this week I thought it best if we take some time to talk COVID.

It is time we talk about COVID-19 a bit. A lot has happened since the first news of COVID-19 in February brought American evacuees to Omaha from a Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan due to an outbreak of COVID-19. A natural veil of concern blanketed Nebraskans, along with our fellow Americans, as we watched while the experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) once again stepped up to treat and analyze an infectious disease. We saw UNMC’s well-trained staff and top-notch medical professionals care for the ill as they assessed the severity and risk of COVID-19 to the rest of us. By February 25, UNMC began conducting clinical trials of treatment for the infection.

So much has happened in the months since this all began. Reaction to COVID-19 and the fears that it would overwhelm our healthcare systems throughout the Nation brought a nationwide push to “slow the curve.” Hygiene standards became the most frequently uttered words of the day. “Wash your hands frequently.” “Avoid touching your face.” “Social Distance 6 feet apart.” “Stay home if you feel ill.” We began to see businesses where human contact could not be avoided closed. Companies sent staff to work from home. The Nebraska Legislature recessed out of an abundance of caution and, like many of my colleagues, I had my staff work from home as well.

Time has brought information and technology that has helped us all get a handle on what the virus is really about. As we have seen the virus spread, we no longer place ill patients in bio-containment at UNMC. We keep a close eye on the number of hospital beds, Intensive Care Units (ICU) beds, and ventilators that are available as we work to safely reopen businesses and schools throughout the country. As a Nation, we have implemented quarantine and self-isolation recommendations, travel bans, and hygiene standards. Our health departments have issued guidelines to help businesses and schools re-open and to put Americans back to work. This has taken much longer than any of us expected, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The Governor moved all but one county into Phase 4 of the State’s reopening plan. My office receives daily reports about the number of COVID-19 cases, including positive and negative test results. The figures are important as we see our schools and communities re-open and continue to monitor our healthcare system.

At the national level, updated reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are released at 3:00 p.m. daily. The country has seen an increase in numbers at times, including with recent school and business openings, but continue the downward trend that began after peaking in mid-July.

Nebraska continues to follow the trend seen at the national level, and has also seen an uptick since college campuses started opening the first week in September. The increase in positive tests being reported out of college campuses, though certainly adding numbers, has not greatly impacted the positivity rate, which has remained fairly steady at around 9.5% to 9.6%. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), reports that the Nebraska statewide COVID-19 case total as of 5:45 p.m. CT Sept. 18 is 40,387 since March 20, including 466 new cases this past Friday, and 442 deaths, with no new deaths reported on Friday. A total of 30,509 Nebraskans diagnosed with COVID-19 have since recovered.

I am watching District 17 COVID-19 numbers closely as our community businesses and schools reopen and as youth sports and family gatherings for weddings, funerals, and other events increase in frequency. Northeast Nebraska Public Health reports that as of September 18, 2020, Thurston County had 281 positive cases, with three (3) of those reported throughout the previous week. Wayne County has seen 128 total positives, with nine (9) of those reported throughout the previous week. By far, the number of positive tests is coming from the 20 to 29 year-old age group. Since the sharp increase from 246 to 1654 in Dakota County positive cases between April 26 and May 30, workplace modifications and disbursement of information in a number of languages has helped to slow the spread of the virus. A review of monthly numbers reveals approximately 100 to 120 positive tests per month as the County has been reopening, with the most recent increase of 148 new cases between August 30 and September 20.

Even as we work through COVID-19, flu season is quickly moving in. Flu vaccines are available through local health departments and at pharmacies. Those at high risk may also be advised by their physicians to get a pneumonia vaccination, especially with the respiratory risks associated with the COVID-19 virus.

My office and I will continue to monitor the case numbers in all three counties in District 17 and continue to communicate with employers, schools, and community leaders in the District, and consult with the Governor’s office and officials at DHHS. I will keep District 17 residents informed through my weekly updates and local community events.

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 September 14, 2020
September 14th, 2020

Although the Day of Remembrance of what took place in this Nation on September 11, 2001 has passed, the memory of it is never far from my mind. There is little doubt that life changed for us in America that day. Our sense of security was assaulted, our peace of mind destroyed. At the same time, the acts of heroism and unity of purpose, along with the determination to get back what was taken will also be forever remembered. Each of us remembers where we were when we heard the news on 9/11. We remember the eerie feeling experienced when realizing there were no planes in the air; the horrifying images of the towers collapsing, people running and jumping for their lives; the voices and images of our first responders putting their own safety aside as they rushed in to save lives. I thought of all of this and more as I attended the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony at the Fire Hall in Dakota City. I was grateful for the pause in time to reflect and remember and I appreciate the Freedom Park Committee for investing all that was required to put together the touching and encouraging ceremony.

We have worked hard as a Nation to restore our sense of security. Certainly steps have been taken to decrease the probability of acts of terror from forces outside of our borders. Recently, the threat inside our borders has become an increasing concern. In the last several months, we have witnessed and experienced the reality of terror within. When I consider the rioting, looting, and chaos of the last several months, I am struck by the reemergence of fear among us. This time, citizens fear violence in the streets of our own cities, amidst an unbelievable call to defund the very forces that protected and saved lives on 9/11. Residents fear for their personal safety and the safety of their families. They fear for their livelihood, for businesses they and their neighbors have spent lifetimes building. Most of all, they fear for the future of our country. Unfortunately, Nebraska has not been spared the violence in its own larger cities.

On the streets of Lincoln and Omaha, we have seen angry mobs threaten and attack our law enforcement officers. Just like law enforcement in places like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Portland, Nebraska’s fine men and women in uniform have had people shout them down within inches of their faces; they have been spat upon, and have had bottles of urine and gasoline, and fireworks thrown at them. We have seen public buildings and businesses damaged and destroyed, looted, and burned. There should be no place for that type of hateful lawlessness in America, and certainly not in Nebraska.

The United States is a land of law and order. Nebraska is too. With that in mind, and to restore peace of mind in Nebraska residents, I am working with stakeholders across the state on a piece of legislation I currently call the First Responder and Public Protection Act. Discussions with stakeholders began, of course, in District 17. The discussions with others within the District and throughout the state will continue right up until the legislation is debated and voted on in the next Legislative Session.

Others increasingly putting aside their personal safety in recent years are our public school teachers. I not only stand behind law enforcement but I also stand behind giving our teachers the tools necessary to help them protect themselves and protect the children we entrust to their care. A few years ago, over 7,000 teachers submitted stories of assaultive and out-of-control students causing injury and chaos in the classroom. They reported being forced to clear the room of other students rather than remove the disruptive student to provide maximum learning time to the others. They reported personal assaults and reported being unauthorized to intervene to prevent the assaults on other students. These teachers requested help from lawmakers. My priority bill LB1186 and Senator Groene’s LB147 were appropriate responses to their requests for help.

Thankfully, LB1186 passed. LB1186 requires that school districts compensate teachers from day one for injuries they experience resulting from assault by a student. That is one way we take care of our teachers.

Tragically, LB 147 did not pass. LB147 would have given teachers the ability to remove out-of-control students from the classroom, given teachers the authority to intervene for the protection of other students, and would have provided de-escalation training to help them do both. I have to admit that I was taken aback when State Senators, who were supported by the teachers’ union, refused to give these 7,000 plus teachers the tools needed to protect themselves. Tools needed to protect other students, to restore calm to the classroom, and to maximize the learning time of all students. Our teachers deserve better. I fully supported LB147 and will continue to be in full support of giving teachers these tools when the bill comes to the floor again.

Locally, it is great to see our State reopening. All counties in District 17 entered Phase 4 of the State’s reopening plan on Monday, September 14, 2020. I attended Chicken Days over the weekend and received a number of questions about the particulars of Phase 4. In Phase 4, restrictions are removed from the Directed Health Measures (DHMs), with the guidance provided to bars and restaurants under the DHM still in effect and recommended for use by establishment. The same is true for Childcare Facilities, churches, gyms, fitness or health clubs, salons, spas, massage therapy services, tattoo parlors, and wedding and funeral reception venues.. Indoor gatherings are limited to 75% of rated occupancy and outdoor gatherings may take place at 100% of rated occupancy. Social distancing of six (6) feet separation between groups remains in guidance and plans to reopen or expand to capacities must be submitted to the local health department and approved for indoor and outdoor locations that hold 500 or more individuals.

District 17 saw some exciting times this past week and our district has much to look forward to.
On Thursday, I attended the groundbreaking of the Northeast Community College NEXUS Ag Facilities Project in Norfolk. The project includes a new veterinary technology clinic, classrooms, and a large farm animal handling facility. It is good to see Northeast Nebraska expanding the campus. The project provides wonderful opportunities for our young women and men to expand their choices for careers in Nebraska.

On Friday, September 18, Governor Ricketts will make remarks at the ACE Hardware Grand Opening on Dearborn St. in Wayne. I am looking forward to attending and extending my congratulations.

This past Saturday, it was great to see people come out and enjoy the great weather for the 40th Annual Chicken Days event sponsored by Wayne Area Economic Development (WAED). The event was held at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. Even without a parade, it was a great success and fun was had by all, enjoying everything from decorated businesses in the morning, a car show, the farmers market, performances by the Wayne State College band, the Chicken Toss, the Chicken Dale’s float and lots of food and other fun all the way up to the nighttime fireworks show. Congratulations on 40 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 September 7, 2020
September 5th, 2020

The Legislative Session may be adjourned, with state senators not due back until Session begins in January 2021, but there is still plenty happening. I continue to review requests for legislation, talk and meet with constituents and stakeholders, and get out into District 17 as much as possible ahead of harvest time. Moving away from lawmaking for the week, I’d like to let you know about a few happenings at the local, state, and national level

LOCAL
Wayne State College has modified its 2020 Homecoming activities due to COVID-19. Some activities have been cancelled, while others have been re-scheduled for the spring and some are being held via ZOOM meetings. More information about the Wayne State College Homecoming schedule can be found at https://t.e2ma.net/click/e7qmyf/yidf7eb/ie76nab

It may not look exactly the same as in previous years, but Chicken Days Show will be happening on Saturday September 12 and the event will celebrate 40 years of fun for District 17 families. The event will take place at the Wayne County Fairgroundsm 302 Pheasant run, Wayne America. There will not be a parade this year, but there will be fun, fellowship, and fireworks! I am looking forward to attending and visiting with my neighbors. Be sure to say hello!

As most are aware, schools in District 17 and throughout the State are each doing things differently. As will the health departments, my office will be paying attention to the new numbers of COVID-19 positive tests as schools open. It is more important than ever so important to keep your children home if they are ill.

There will be a 9-11 ceremony in Dakota County at Siouxland Freedom. I plan to be in attendance and hope to see many District 17 residents there as well. We should never forget that date in our history. It is important to remember the lives lost, the heroic efforts of so many, and the way we came together as a country to respond to the horrible attack on American soil.

STATE
FOREST FOCUS: Did you know that Nebraska has 1.5 million acres of forest land? Well, it does. On September 4, United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue joined Governor Ricketts and University of Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green in a signing of an agreement “to promote good stewardship of Nebraska’s forests.” Congressman Jeff Fortenberry also attended the signing. We frequently see Secretary Purdue in Nebraska because of his great interest in Nebraska’s role as an agricultural leader and his support for Nebraska’s commitment to its farmers, ranchers, and it rural lands.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Fortunately, we are seeing new and continuing unemployment claims decreasing, as more and more Nebraskans return to work. We have certainly done our part to protect our healthcare system throughout the State, and it is good to see businesses opening. As businesses reopen, people go back to work. As people go back to work, families and businesses get back on their feet. Working together, we can each act collectively to help this happen successfully.

Unemployment claims in Nebraska for the week ending August 29 were down 13.3% from the week before. The United States unemployment rate fell back into the single digits in August, as well. The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) reports it has paid unemployment benefits to over 130,000 individuals throughout the pandemic.

I realize the struggle is not over but I am glad to see our State reopening and am committed, as many are, to shop and dine and do other businesses locally to help small businesses in the State get back up and running. For those who found themselves unemployed because of the pandemic but who were unable to return to work before August 1, there may be a bit more additional relief on the way.

Federal Lost Wages Supplement Grant Funds may soon be available to Nebraskans who were unemployed due to COVID-19 during the three weeks August 1, August 8, and August 15. The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) announced last week that Nebraska will apply for the funding and, if approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), those who qualify will be paid an additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits for the three weeks mentioned. Qualified applicants are those receiving $100 or more in weekly benefits for COVID-related separation from employment. For those receiving maximum benefits under Nebraska’s unemployment law, when combined with the new program, maximum benefits will be $740 per week for the covered weeks, before federal withholding taxes. For more information, log onto the Nebraska Department of Labor website.

MEDICAID EXPANSION is unfolding. Guidelines and rules are in place, additional personnel have been added, and Medicaid Expansion, which was passed by voters in 2017, is ready to roll. Applications for Medicaid under the expansion programs began being accepted August 1, 2020. Benefits under the program are scheduled to begin on October 1, 2020. By September 1, it was reported that Heritage Health Adult Medicaid had signed up 5,218 Nebraskans. Coverage has been expanded to lower income adults 19-64 years old who are earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. (Approximately $17,609 for a single person and up to $36,156 per year for a family of four). The application process turnaround at that time was approximately seven days. Applications are taken online at www.ACCESSNEbraska.ne.gov, by phone at (844) 632-7633, TDD (402) 471-7256, or in person at any DHHS office

NATIONAL
September is National Preparedness month. “Make your plan today, and be prepared to take care of yourselves for at least 72 hours after a disaster,” is the advice given by Bryan Tuma, Assistant Director of Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). NEMA and local emergency managers across the state are urge Nebraskans to use this month to plan for potential disaster.

I would like to thank emergency managers Deanna Hagberg (Dakota County), Nic Kemnitz (Wayne County), and Tom Perez (Thurston County) for their hard work and dedication to providing great service to District 17 residents.

In the event that these or other local officials and relief workers are not able to reach you or your family immediately during a disaster for whatever reason, it is important to have food, water, and supplies to sustain you and your family until help can reach you. Some items, like a first aid kit may immediately come to mind. But, do not forget batteries, waterproof matches, and water purifier tablets. Director Tuma suggests each family assemble an emergency kit that sustains them for at least 3 days. A thorough list of items that should be included in your emergency kit, as well as specific supplies for businesses, healthcare facilities and schools can be found at www.bereadynebraska.com. You can also follow NEMA on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/nema.page
and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NEMAtweets for preparedness tips throughout the month.

We continue to work together as neighbors and friends to help keep one another safe. I count it a privilege to live and serve in a state that continues to show we can overcome all obstacles.

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 August 31, 2020
August 31st, 2020
    Legislative Wrap-up by the numbers.

The 106th Legislature consisted of two very full Sessions in the midst of strong economic growth and small unemployment numbers in 2019 and going into 2020, the 2019 flooding and disaster relief efforts, and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During the two Sessions, the Legislature passed 389 bills that became law. Those 389 bills contained other bills amended into them as well- bringing the grand total of bills actually passed by the Legislature to 579. During the two year Session, Senators introduced 1,222 bills, along with 477 resolutions and 17 Constitutional Amendment Resolutions. We are all now working towards the 2021 Session. My office is reviewing constituent requests for potential legislation and meeting with constituents and other stake holders to determine the legislation I may introduce.

    Re-opening schools and businesses.

Schools are opening. Students, teachers, and administrators are all navigating changes and modifications designed to keep everyone safe from the Coronavirus. There may be some “bumps” along the way but we can accomplish much when we work together. Our children need to be back in school. It is in our schools that our children find education for the future. It is in our schools that our children find encouragement and sometimes nurturing, stability, and food security they do not get elsewhere. Health Department officials are working with schools and monitoring the situation closely.

Meanwhile, last week Governor Ricketts announced that the entire state will be moved into Phase 4 of reopening on September 14, absent any alarming increase in hospitalizations. Phase 4 removes certain sections from Directed Health Measures (DHM) Guidelines and makes use of the practices “recommended.”

Removals from the guidelines include bars, restaurants, childcare facilities, churches, gyms, salons and barber shops and other salons, massage therapists, sports, and wedding and funeral reception venues. Indoor gatherings are limited to 75% of rated occupancy and outdoor gatherings are able to function at 100% capacity; both require social distancing measures and venues with capacity for 500 to 1,000 guests must present a re-opening plan through the local Health Department. There are currently 27 counties where Phase 4 is in place. None of those counties are within District 17. Although there are still some new cases being reported in District 17 counties, the healthcare system here, and throughout the State, is operating with plenty of capacity to accommodate any who need healthcare whether or not related to COVID-19.

    USDA Grants still available

Specific to District 17, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported on August 28, 2020 that rural communities in Nebraska counties where there has been a FEMA disaster declared have utilized only $638,300 of the $2.2 million provided by USDA for disaster recovery. The grants are still available to qualified applicants. The grants are available through the Community Facilities Program at www.usda.gov.

These funds may be used for non-disaster projects also. A sample of the funded projects to date include emergency type (siren, firetruck, and ambulance), utility truck, new auditorium equipment, and renovations to essential community facilities.

More than 100 types of projects are eligible for Community Facilities funding. Eligible applicants include municipalities, public bodies, non-profit organizations and federally recognized Native American tribes. Projects must be in eligible rural areas with a population of 20,000 or less. Dakota, Thurston, and Wayne Counties, along with the Native Reservations lying within Thurston County are included among the counties eligible for funds under the declaration. The USDA states that that grant applications will continue to be processed up to the expiration date or until the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first. For more information contact the USDA at www.usda.com.

    In Other news

Applications for Medicaid Expansion Programs began being accepted August 1, 2020. I plan to include updated information on the resources and application numbers in my next newsletter.

There are also a few initiatives that may be on the November 3 ballot. At this point, exactly what will be included is in than hands of the Nebraska Supreme Court. I will update District 17 residents on those developments next week as well.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE August 24, 2020
August 24th, 2020

Last week, I discussed the Governor’s signature of LB814, which bans dismemberment abortion. After the bill passed in the Legislature on August 13, I spoke on the floor about the hard work of Julie Schmit-Albin, who was at the helm of Nebraska Right to Life for more than 30 years. The Governor signed a Proclamation naming August 13, 2020 as Julie Schmit-Albin Day. A well-deserved honor. Over the weekend, I learned of the passing of this amazingly committed woman after a hard fought battle with cancer. I was privileged to work with Julie and shall miss her. I know many in District 17 have followed and supported Julie’s work. Regardless of where one stands on the pro-life issue, Julie’s dedication and fierce advocacy is deserving of recognition and deep respect. My heart goes out to her family and friends.

Additional time having passed, it is time for a brief recap of a few bills. On Thursday, August 20, I attended a ceremony where Governor Ricketts signed LB1107. As I mentioned last week, LB1107 combined the beginnings of property tax relief, business incentives designed to attract investment and higher paying jobs to Nebraska, and limited funding for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) NExT program.
The Governor expressed his pleasure in signing the historic bill, his appreciation for Legislators working through much to pass what is a priority for most Nebraskans, and gave a shout out to those of us in the ag and other communities, stating, “I also thank the farmers, ranchers, and homeowners who persisted in voicing the urgent need for action on property taxes. LB 1107 delivers real, significant property tax relief and will help grow Nebraska for years.”

District 17 residents have helped keep property tax relief at the top of my list and I appreciate the many calls and emails of encouragement and support from residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners throughout the four years I have served.
The Governor also applauded the performance-based business incentives in LB1107, and the Bill’s support of University of Nebraska Medical Center’s project that “would support an academic medical facility to help the United States address future pandemics and other disasters,” and “would enhance UNMC’s position as a national leader in medical research and hazard response, which has the potential to create 8,700 great-paying jobs.”

Some other bills that should be of interest to residents of District 17.
LB768, which I introduced, was merged into and passed as part of LB944. LB768 harmonized State Patrol passed earlier in the Session. LB768 updated laws to harmonize Nebraska law and references with changes in federal law concerning largely Transportation regulations.

My priority bill LB1186, introduced by Senator Hilgers, passed unanimously on a 48-0 vote. I was pleased to carry the bill that entitles teachers who are injured by a student to be compensated for lost wages from the first day. Protecting our teachers is important to me. Because of my commitment to the principles of teacher safety and maximized learning time for students, I was disappointed that LB147, which was a response to teacher reports of classroom abuse by out-of-control students, did not pass. LB147 would have given teachers the training and tools they need to de-escalate and restore calm to the classroom.

Unfortunately, LB1167, which I introduced, did not make it out of committee. LB1167 was designed to increase transparency and accountability by requiring public testimony be allowed at every meeting of governing bodies. The bill, received tremendous support at the hearing, with the only opponent being the League of Municipalities. Testimony revealed story after story of taxpayers who were kept from testifying at meetings where officials were making decisions that would impact residents. I intend to re-introduce LB1167 in the 2021 Session.

I attended the Governor’s signing of LB153 in Kearney, Nebraska on Monday, August 24. LB153 exempts 50% of military retirement pay from income tax throughout the State. I appreciate Senator Brewer for introducing LB153 and enthusiastically join him in recognizing the richness and value members of our armed forces bring to our State.

Several bills including LB1140, LB1144, LB1148, and LB1188 address many of the concerns emerging from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC) this past year. The bills provide for Legislative oversight of the centers, require plans from each center, and appoints a superintendent to administer education throughout the centers.

Of the bills that passed, the Governor vetoed seven (7) bills last week to protect public safety and support schools in Nebraska. The bills vetoed and a brief descriptions released by the Governor were:
• LB 238 – A bill that would undermine the death penalty and public safety.
• LB 515 – A bill that would undermine the ability of schools to keep drugs out of classrooms and school grounds.
• LB 607 & 607A – Bills that imposed unnecessary and onerous occupational licensing requirements on nail manicurists.
• LB 1004 & 1004A – Bills that would let violent criminals become eligible to get out of prison early.
• LB 1089 – A bill that would mandate all high school students to hand over financial information to the federal government as a condition for graduating.

As anticipated, there was insufficient time left in the last 17 days of the Legislative Session to fully address and discuss meatpacking workers and employers and related issues raised by Senator Vargas’ amendment to LB667. It is my hope; however, that Senator Vargas and the committee will have a hearing in District 17 so that employees and employers in our area can be heard on the topic. I will keep District 17 residents updated on my Legislative website and through this weekly update.

We continue to see decreasing numbers in positive COVID-19 cases in the three counties in District 17. I am grateful to all of those who have worked hard to slow the spread. At the same time, we must all remain vigilant in our sanitation and social distancing practices as schools begin to fill with children again and school sports begin to take place. Nebraskans working together are stronger than ever.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE August 17, 2020
August 17th, 2020

“We are adjourned sine die,” that is Latin for “without a day” to reconvene. The 106th Legislative Session came to a close on Thursday, August 13, 2020. In the course of the 106th Session, the Speaker reported that the Legislature passed approximately 258 bills. The Session was packed and, when we reconvened after the COVID-19 interruption, the last 17 days did not miss a beat. We got a lot done and have much more to do. My colleagues and I will be working through the interim on various bills left undone. January begins a new Legislative year and many will be working to bring forward some bills that didn’t make it out of committee come back to the floor in new form.

Two Important Bills passed on the Last Day:
On the last day of Session, the Legislature passed two historic and monumental bills. LB1107, that delivers property tax relief that has been a long time coming; and LB814 that bans dismemberment abortions in Nebraska.

As I noted in an earlier newsletter, LB1107 is not all that I had hoped for but did incorporate portions of the former property tax relief bills LB974 and LB1106, along with the business incentives of LB720 and funding for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) NExT project. Within the bill, property tax payers will be eligible for a refundable income tax credit based upon a percentage of the amount of property taxes paid towards school funding. That percentage grows annually to a maximum percentage, dependent upon revenue growth in the State. The bill sets aside future revenue growth for return to taxpayers for property tax relief. The business incentive portion of LB1107 encourages financial investment and good paying job growth in Nebraska. The incentives are performance-based, meaning companies must perform before they are able to realize the benefits of the incentives. Finally, the UNMC project will bring in more than $1 Billion dollars from federal and other investment before the State makes its contribution.

LB1107 was not all that we had hoped for, but it is a historical start. As I have done from the beginning, I will continue to work for more property tax relief for District 17 and all Nebraska residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners.

On Thursday, August 13, 2020, the Legislature also passed LB814, which prohibits dismemberment abortions from being performed in Nebraska. The Governor held a public signing of LB814 on the Capitol steps on Saturday. I was honored to be among the pro-life Senators standing with the Governor and with Senator Geist, the bill’s introducer. There were hundreds of Nebraskans in attendance. The Governor also recognized Julie Schmit-Albin, who has worked tirelessly for the unborn for over 30 years. In fact, on Thursday, the Governor also signed a proclamation designating August 13 as “Julie Schmit-Albin Day” in honor of her hard work that has helped keep Nebraska a pro-life state.

Other Important Bills Passed as well:
There are many bills to mention, but I do want to let you know about a couple I am especially proud to have supported. I was pleased to support LB1008, which was brought on behalf of the Governor and signed into law during the last days of Session. LB1108 provides $1 million in additional funding to state colleges’ Career Scholarship Programs and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to establish the Corrections Workforce Development Pathways program, a partnership between Peru State College and NCS. Wayne State College is among the colleges that will be offering the scholarships for students in critical workforce areas needed for Nebraska economic growth.

Additionally, beginning with the tax year 2022, veterans receiving military retirement pay will find 50% of that pay exempted from income tax under Senator Brewer’s bill LB 153. We value those who have served our country and want to make sure they will honor us with their continued presence in the State. It was essential that LB153 become law so that Nebraska is competitive with neighboring states. I was especially proud to support this bill.

As you know, I sit on the Natural Resources and Transportation and Telecommunications Committees. Important Committee priority bills that were passed during the last 17 days of Session were LB632 and LB992. There were a number of bills included in each priority bill. LB632 was a Natural Resource Committee priority bill that makes technical clarifications in the section of state law providing for procedures to be used for improvements in rural water districts. LB632 also brings statewide uniformity to plastic bag bans by limiting authority for such bans to be placed in State law. LB632 passed with a 46-0 vote.

LB992 was a priority bill from the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee for the purpose of providing statutory changes recommended by the Rural Broadband Task Force. Increasing broadband service in rural areas remains a priority for me and for the Committee and I was happy to see LB992 pass on Final Reading with a 47-0 vote.

Rural Investment: In addition to what was happening at the Legislature, it is worth noting that the Trump Administration announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $10,556,000 in Cherry-Todd Electric Cooperative to build and improve critical electric infrastructure that will benefit more than 6,000 rural residents and commercial customers in South Dakota and Nebraska. I will be looking further into this investment and will report to you in a later newsletter to what degree District 17 may benefit.

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 August 10, 2020
August 10th, 2020

Heating up before winding down. That describes this past week at the Legislature.

On August 6, Governor Ricketts signed the Budget adjustments passed by the Legislature the week before. The Governor noted that the Budget adjustments included $10,000,000 for Rural Workforce Housing, $1,500,000 for Public Health Departments, over $55,000,000 in Flood Relief, and $4,000,000 in Career Scholarships, including $1,000,000 for State Colleges. Recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19 is front and center on our minds as we move towards closing out the 2020 Legislative Session.

In the midst of this pandemic, I have not lost sight of the need for property relief in District 17 and throughout Nebraska. LB1106, the property tax relief bill I’ve discussed many times, got merged into a “Grand Proposal” bill along with the economic incentives of LB720 and the UNMC NExT Project previously found in LB1084. The new bill-LB1107 was debated into the night on Wednesday, August 5 and was eventually advanced to Select File (Second Reading). None of these bills, standing alone, had the number of votes needed to advance them otherwise. I am disappointed that one of the major parts taken out of the property tax portion of the bill amounts to a loss of over $11,000,000 to District 17 schools. Next year I will continue to work on more substantial relief and fair treatment of rural schools and taxpayers.

Although not perfect by any means, and much less than I had hoped for, LB1107 does give some property tax relief to all Nebraskans in the form of tax credits that can be claimed by property owners to recover a portion of property taxes paid. In the first year, property owners may see a refundable tax credit of up to an average of 6% of the school portion of property taxes paid. That percentage may grow each year over the next five years to up to as much as eighteen percent. A property owner will be entitled to the tax credit even if the property owner does not have an income tax liability when filing. LB1107 also offers incentives to attract new businesses to build and provide higher income jobs for Nebraskans. The incentives are performance-based, which means businesses will benefit from the incentives only after they have met the criteria for dollars invested and jobs created in our State. Lastly, LB1107 provides $300 million for the University of Nebraska Medical Center for its NExT Project that involves substantial investment from federal and private funds before the State participates financially.

I am thankful that we have a beginning to property tax relief in LB1107 and that the Speaker worked with Senator Linehan, who chairs the Revenue Committee, Senator Stinner, chair of Appropriations, and other Senators to combine the bills to bring LB1107 across the first hurdle with a 43-2 vote. With only four days left of the Session as I write this update, time is of the essence. LB1107 will be heard on Select File on Tuesday, August 11 and if advanced, will be on Final Reading on the last day of Session, August 13, 2020.

LB814, which bans dismemberment abortions in Nebraska, is also scheduled for debate on Tuesday. If advanced, it, too, will be on final reading on the last day of the 2020 Legislative Session.

If you recall, a couple of weeks ago, the Legislature denied Senator Vargas’s motion to suspend the rules and bring a brand new bill placing new regulations on meatpacking plants in Nebraska. Despite being denied by the Legislature, and rather than take the time to have a hearing in District 17 where folks living and working there could testify, the Senator introduced the same material as an amendment to a bill still in Committee. On Thursday, August 6, there was a hearing on Senator Vargas’s amendment. The amendment proposed regarded the same subject matter that the Senator asked the body to suspend the ruleThe amendment proposes a number of COVID-19 related regulations for meatpacking plants to be in place through December 31, 2021. Only twenty people at a time were allowed in the hearing room, so we observed the hearing by closed-circuit television. There were a number of people who testified at the public hearing on the amendment. It is well known that the largest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in District 17 is in Dakota County, where the largest percentage of cases involved workers in the meatpacking industry. As of August 10, the Dakota County Health Department has reported 1900 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 6,827 negative tests, and 43 deaths. Fortunately, the rise in the number of new cases has declined as information about the virus has been distributed in multiple languages in the area and as Tyson has worked to modify its plant to incorporate social distancing, increased sanitation measures, and taking employees’ temperatures. The largest numbers of testifiers at Thursday’s hearing were from Omaha, with the largest portion of them being representatives of non-profit organizations of one sort or another.

A couple of Thursday’s testifiers had family employed or were themselves employed at Tysons. One young man spoke of his father’s death from COVID-19. My heart breaks for him and his family and for all of those affected by the virus. In addition to live testimony, the Committee received letters from facilities throughout Nebraska, including Tysons. The companies detailed reactive and proactive steps they took to provide a safer environment for their employees in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It appears that the requirements and regulations contained in Senator Vargas’s bill are being implemented by Tyson and other companies in the meatpacking industry. I look forward to looking over the bill in its entirety and listening to full debate, which I anticipate will come to the Legislature in the 2021 Session. In the meantime, I look forward to being invited to listening sessions on the topic in District 17 on the topic.

In addition to LB1107 and LB814, on Tuesday the Legislature will continue to hear other priority bills dealing with issues like solid waste management and flood mitigation plans, housing density, changes the age of majority in certain circumstances , regulations regarding nail technology, cosmetology, and body art, and potentially expanding the ability of local government to utilize land banks. I am expecting a very busy last four Legislative days. Over the next few weeks, I will share more details about some of the bills that have passed this session and that will have an impact on District 17.

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 August 3, 2020
August 3rd, 2020

Another busy, busy week at the Capitol. There’s been plenty of debate on many bills that have amendments and last-minute changes that affect the host bill to various degrees. So while we might hear it on General File in one form, there can be many changes by second reading (Select). This may cause changes that have an adverse affect on the bills and result in changes in how Senators view their votes on the original bill.

On Monday, July 27 and Tuesday, July 28, the Legislature debated the Budget bill. It was passed to Final Reading, where it was advanced to the Governor’s desk by the Legislature.

On July 29, the Legislature again debated a typically rarely-used motion to suspend the rules and allow a Senator to bring a new bill despite the rule that bills to be considered in this Session are allowed to be introduced in the first ten days of a Session, which was in January. The week before, we debated the same motion made by a different Senator. The first motion passed but the second failed. In both cases, there were great concerns with the limited time left in the Session to properly include all members of the public who wanted to participate in hearings and to deal with new bills. I shared those concern and voted “No” in both instances.

The first bill, introduced by Senator Wayne, would mandate that cities with populations greater than 5,000, which would include Wayne and South Sioux City, which have one or more full-time law enforcement officers form a 7-person citizen advisory committee to oversee local police actions. The bill had a public hearing on Friday, July 31. There appeared to be equal testifiers in support and in opposition to the bill. It is unclear whether the bill will somehow make it to the floor for debate because it is not a priority bill and there are so few days left on the Legislative Calendar.
The second motion was brought by Senator Vargas but failed to get the required 30 votes needed to be introduced. Senator Vargas also filed a Legislative Resolution (LR 459) to have a study on the topic completed before the next Legislative Session. He also brought it before the Business Labor Committee as a proposed amendment to another bill (LB887) and a public hearing is set for 1:30pm on Thursday, August 6, 2020. In its current form, Senator Vargas’s amendment seeks to mandate certain regulations on meatpacking plants through December 31, 2021.

While I understand Senator Vargas’s intentions, there is simply not enough time to thoroughly investigate, process, and work through any new bill or this particular amendment on this topic. The people most likely to be affected by the Senator’s proposal on this topic, including those workers who live in District 17, deserve an opportunity to be heard. They deserve to hear from the meat processing plants, too.

District 17 is the home of the largest Tyson Foods plant in Nebraska, employing approximately 4,500 workers. The Legislature is in its last days of the 2020 Session, scheduled to adjourn August 13. An August 6 hearing date does NOT give sufficient time for residents of District 17 to shuffle schedules or to arrange to take off of work to travel to Lincoln for a hearing. Nor should they have to. Neither is there sufficient time to have the issue debated on the Legislative floor.

I appreciate Senator Vargas filing Legislative Resolution 459 (LR459) for an interim study to review the effects of COVID-19 on the safety of workers in Nebraska. It is a wiser and more practical approach to this issue. In an interim study, rather than requiring people wanting to be heard come to Lincoln to testify, members of one or more Legislative committees can travel to the people. I am looking forward to attending and listening in sessions in District 17 to hear from workers and processors alike.

I will note that prior to the debate on this motion, I had not heard from a single meatpacking worker with concerns about the plant in District 17, although I have spent nearly all of my time in the District since March and my staff has kept me informed of calls daily. I called the Governor at an early point in the pandemic to make sure his office did more to get the messaging out to employees at the plant who speak so many different languages. The Governor started to ramp up testing and he started conducting press conferences in Spanish a couple of days a week. His office also provided documents in several languages and made public service announcements to make plant employees aware of the ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. I also contacted Tyson Foods early on to make sure they were exercising best practices to look out for workers at the plant and I received a copy of Tyson’s commitment to its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that Tyson’s commitment to the health of their employees, employee families, and to the community reflects a deep consideration of all. It is also important to note that Tyson recognizes its reliance on the continued health of its employees. It was evident to me that Tyson was acting in good faith on the USDA and UNMC recommendations when Tyson closed the plant down for six days for cleaning and modification of work spaces.

Dakota County had a large number of positive cases of the virus reported when intensive testing was initiated in the area. It is comforting to see the number of positive cases steadily decline. I credit residents and businesses in District 17 that have worked hard to stop the spread of COVID-19 through frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and other recommendations of the Governor and the Nebraska Department of Health.

It is true that even one death is too many and my heart goes out to the families and friends throughout the State who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Together we can continue to serve the needs and preserve the safety of District 17 workers and residents by TAKING enough time to really listen. Again, I look forward to hearing from my neighbors at the listening sessions that will take place on the issue.

On Wednesday, July 29, the Legislature had first round debate on LB814, which would prohibit abortions that dismember an unborn child in order to cause its demise. As you might expect, this is an emotional issue for many in the Legislature. I fully support LB814 and, although it stalled on the first round of debate, I am hopeful LB814 will return to the floor once again in this Session.

We also heard second round debate on LB632, which proposes we adopt the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act and provide for certain broadband and Internet-related services. This is an issue of particular importance to those residents of District 17 who struggle with accessing and meeting their increased need for broadband service.

On Friday, July 31, there was debate on LB147, which failed to move on by one vote. LB147 was a teacher-requested bill by the Education Committee and I am disappointed that after working on this bill for over four years, it failed by one vote. LB147 would have been a tool for teachers to act in a situation to protect themselves and other children from an out-of-control outburst by a student that might present harm to themselves or others. I supported LB147 and the training teachers would have received under it. It was a disappointment.

There were several bills passed on Final Reading and presented to the Governor, including several bills designed to provide greater transparency and best practices for housing juveniles at Nebraska Youth Rehabilitations and Treatment Centers (YRTC).

Much has been done—yet there is still so much to do. The current week may see more debate on property tax relief, the State’s incentive program to attract new businesses, and a bill to aid the University in pursuing federal funds with some state match for its NExT project. Stay tuned, the Session is not yet over.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

Today (July 29, 2020), the Legislature debated a motion to suspend the rules to enable a Senator to bring a new bill despite the rule that bills to be considered in this Session are allowed to be introduced in the first ten days of Session, which was in January. The motion was brought by Senator Vargas but failed to get the required 30 votes needed. I voted against the motion, which is consistent with my vote on the same motion brought by a different Senator last week. Senator Vargas wanted to bring a new bill regarding meatpacking plants.

While I understand Senator Vargas’s intentions, there is simply not enough time to thoroughly investigate, process, and work through any new bill. Especially on this topic. As I stated last week, every bill that is introduced is required to have a public hearing before it can reach the floor for debate. The people most likely to be affected by any bill deserve opportunity to be heard, including the workers in District 17. this should necessarily include people in District 17.

District 17 is the home of the largest Tyson Foods plant in Nebraska, employing approximately 4,500 workers. The Legislature is in its last ten (10) days of the 2020 Session. The earliest that Senator Vargas can hold a hearing on any new bill would be next Thursday, August 6, 2020. That does NOT give sufficient time for residents of District 17 to shuffle schedules or to arrange to take off of work to travel to Lincoln for a hearing. Nor should they have to.

The Legislative Resolution filed by Senator Vargas (LR459) for an interim study to review the effects of COVID-19 on the safety of workers in Nebraska is a wiser and more practical approach to this issue. In an interim study, rather than requiring people wanting to be heard, members of one or more Legislative committees can travel to them. I am looking forward to attending listening sessions in District 17 to hear from workers and processors alike.

I will note that prior to the debate on this motion, I had not heard from a single meatpacking worker with concerns about the plant in District 17. I did speak with the Governor at an early point in the pandemic and testing was conducted in Dakota City a number of times. The Governor also initiated presenting his press conferences in Spanish on a regular basis and provided documents in a number of languages to make sure nearly all, if not all, of those working in the plants were made aware of the ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. I also contacted Tyson Foods to make sure they were exercising best practices to look out for workers at the plant.

I also received a copy of Tyson’s commitment to its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other meat processing plants, Tyson relies upon its employees to help them perform an important part of feeding America. It is committed to working to keep them safe and healthy.

Dakota County had a large number of positive cases of the virus reported when intensive testing was initiated in the area. It is comforting to see the number of positive cases steadily decline. I credit residents and businesses in District 17 that have worked hard to stop the spread of COVID-19 through frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and other recommendations of the Governor and the Nebraska Department of Health. It is true that even one death is too many and my heart goes out to the families and friends throughout the State who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Together we can continue to serve the needs and preserve the safety of District 17 workers and residents by TAKING enough time to really listen. Again, I look forward to hearing from my neighbors at the listening sessions that will take place on the issue.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE July 27, 2020
July 27th, 2020

WELCOME back to the remainder of Session! Lots happened in the five days the Legislature met this week. Forty-three bills were voted on Monday, July 20 alone. A couple of rarely used motions were debated. And, the Governor appeared on the floor of the Legislature. Busy week and preview of things to come.

On Friday, July 24, the Governor spoke to Senators on the floor of the Legislature. He updated Senators on the success of TestNebraska, which has trained 929 contact tracers who have been able to contact those who have been exposed to a person with confirmed COVID-19 within the first day after confirmation 90% of the time.

The Governor also spoke of the updated figures from the Forecasting Board. Those figures show an optimistic picture for Nebraska and its economy. The Governor urged the Legislature to put the people’s work ahead of personal politics and suggested four key pillars to get Nebraska growing again. The four pillars identified by the Governor were:

1. Property tax relief by passing LB1106, which he described as giving more money to our schools while reducing taxable valuations to provide property tax relief to every property owner in the State, whether personal , commercial, or agricultural/horticultural
2. Incentives to bring new businesses to Nebraska through passage of LB720, which would replace the soon to expire Advantage Act that has provided hundreds of jobs in Nebraska and would help keep Nebraska competitive with other states as companies
look for new places to locate or expand.
3. The University of Nebraska Medical Centers NExT Project. The NExT project is described by UNMC as including two major components to serve the training and research needs of Nebraska and to provide a federal all-hazard disaster response military and civilian partnership to treat United States military and civilian personnel injured by biological weapons and
4. Veterans tax relief through LB153, which exempts one-half of military retirement benefits from Nebraska Income Tax.

I am in full support of these priorities and continue to work first and foremost towards the passage of LB1106 to make sure the other pillars are possible.

The Legislature also debated Senator Groene’s bill, LB147 this past week. I am a strong supporter of LB147 and the teachers of Nebraska. LB147 will give teachers throughout Nebraska the ability to protect themselves and other children from danger by being able to restrain and/or remove from the classroom out-of-control children. We heard from teachers who have experienced horrible assaults and unmanageable classroom situations that they have been unable or uncertain about what action, if any, can be taken. LB147 also provides that teachers will receive training in proven de-escalation methods to assist them in being able to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for Nebraska children.

As the Session has moved forward, it was encouraging to see LB1186 pass on to Final Reading. LB1186 was introduced by Senator Hilgers and I designated it as my priority bill back in February. The bill requires that school districts pay teachers their salary from day one if the teacher is injured as a result of an assault taking place while at school. Our teachers are important to our children and our future. Making schools safe for them as well as for our students is a priority and I am honored that Senator Hilgers allowed me to designate his bill as my priority bill.

Things got very interesting pretty quickly once the Legislature reconvened. We experienced some procedural matters that are not necessarily typical during Session.

First, there was what is called a “Pull Motion” from Senator Geist to pull her bill banning dismemberment abortion (LB814) out of Committee. In order for a bill to be debated on the floor, it must first be voted out of Committee and on to General File. The Judiciary Committee, which handles an estimated 250 bills per session did not advance LB814. It takes a motion and 25 or more votes to pull a bill out of committee. We debated Senator Geist’s motion on Tuesday, July 21. The motion prevailed with a 30-8 vote in favor. There were seven senators who were Present Not Voting and four who were Excused and Not Voting. LB814 is Senator Geist’s priority bill and is now on General File for first round debate.

On Wednesday, July 22, the Legislature debated a Motion to Suspend the Rules in order to file a new bill out of time. The motion was filed by Senator Wayne for purposes of introducing LB1222, a bill that would require all cities over 5,000 that employee a full-time police officer to mandate formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Council to investigate complaints and examine law enforcement standards and practices. Though seldom used, the Motion to Suspend the Rules is a tool available to Senators where circumstances warrant. As a rule, bills are allowed to be introduced by Senators during the first ten days of Session. The deadline for introducing bills in the 2020 Session was January 23rd.

Senator Wayne’s motion prevailed on a 32-4 vote with 12 members Present Not Voting. I voted “no” on the motion because of the limited time left in this Session and because I see this as best addressed at the local level rather than state government handing down an unfunded mandate. The bill, in its present form, would require each city to pass an ordinance creating a board of seven people without any experience or ties to law enforcement procedures to investigate every complaint, giving them subpoena power and reporting responsibilities, along with one or more mandated personnel positions. I have reached out to cities and law enforcement in District 17 about the issue and am aware that there are already procedures in place that serve this need through a Civil Service Commission or advisory board. My concern is that a one-size fits all response to the unrest we have seen in Omaha, Lincoln, and throughout the United States, is not appropriate considering the differing needs and resources available in various cities and counties throughout Nebraska. Hearings on Senator Wayne’s bill is scheduled to be heard before the Urban Affairs Committee at 1:00 PM on Friday, July 31.

There is much more ahead as we move into the last 11 days of Session and I will do my best to keep residents of District 17 informed.

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
Phone: (402) 471-2716
Email: jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov
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