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

As I am sure most are aware, confirmed cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been growing in number in Dakota County in District 17 daily since testing began in earnest. Kudos to the leadership at Dakota County Health Department, Emergency Manager, and the Nebraska National Guard for the work they’ve done and long hours they’ve devoted to doing it. Certainly, the increased numbers of confirmed cases are concerning. They should also serve as a reminder to all of us to be exercising appropriate caution when making choices that will protect our health and the health of our loved ones and our community. During these times, please remember to follow the six rules suggested by the Governor:
1. Stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings. Respect the ten-person limit.
2. Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
3. Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
4. Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.
5. Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
6. Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.

Informational Videos highlighting these and other ways to stay healthy and keep families healthy during the pandemic and one about what to do if an individual or family member becomes ill or has been exposed to COVID-19 have been translated and released on YouTube in the following six languages:
• Spanish
• Arabic
• Karen
• Somali
• Nepalese
• French

Re-Opening parts of District 17:
The Governor announced that as of May 4, 2020, the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department region that includes Thurston and Wayne Counties, is one of 19 separate regions with Directed Health Measures (DHM) that relax some restrictions in place. The DHM will be in place and effective through May 31, 2020. Businesses that may open or reopen under more relaxed guideline limitations include restaurants, barber ships, hair salons, nail studios, massage services, tattoo parlors, and childcare facilities. Each business is subject to certain restrictions and social distancing practices.

Because of the increasing number of cases seen in Dakota County, Dakota County Health region, which oversees Dakota County, is NOT included in any DHM loosening restrictions at this time and business closings previously ordered will remain in place. For more information about the Directed Health Measure changes, visit the Governor’s website at www.governor.nebraska.gov

Although Thurston and Wayne County are not seeing the significant numbers seen in Dakota County, I urge residents to be just as dedicated to making choices that protect your health and the health of your families.

Maintaining the integrity of Nebraska’s health care system remains the State’s top consideration when making decisions about public health measures. The Governor’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continue to monitor the state’s and each region’s ability to have ample capacity to care for area residents.

Governor’s Daily Briefings and Weekly Live Town Hall
As a reminder, Governor Ricketts is holding press conferences updating the state’s response to COVID-19 on Mondays at 1:00 PM and Tuesday through Friday at 2:00 PM. The conference is being broadcast live by many television and radio stations, or can be accessed on the Governor’s Facebook page, where it broadcasts live, as well. The Governor holds press conference interpreted in Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:00 PM.
Additionally, NET is o broadcasting the Governor’s Live Town Halls every Thursday at 8:30 PM. At the NET web page, people can ask their questions ahead of time. To ask your question during the program, call one of these numbers: 800-676-5446 or 402-472-1212.
TestNebraska Information Available in Spanish
TestNebraska is now accessible to even more Nebraskans. The website now includes information and instructions in Spanish as well as English. If you know someone who would benefit from this addition, please let them know of its availability and direct them to www.TestNebraska.com/es to take the test and/or to take the survey.
The expand testing will give the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and Health Officials across the state valuable information as the state begins reopening the economy. All Nebraskans are urged to complete a short assessment survey. Testing sites will multiple kits and multiple test options. All individually identifiable information being gathered for the TestNebraska initiative is protected by state and federal law. Aggregate data collected will be shared with the public health departments which are expected to then provide the aggregate data to the National information gatherers.

AG Disruption and Depopulation
As processing plants work to deep clean, stagger shifts and adapt to social distancing and other safety recommendations in response to COVID-19, many producers have been struggling with decisions about livestock depopulation. At the Governor’s press conference last week, Director Wellman from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture spoke to the issue and referred to resources available to AG producers having to make these tough decisions. My office reached out to Director Wells for more information. To recap, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NEE), has provided temporary period, until June 1, 2020 for operations to have more livestock than previously permitted on the land. There are requirements and necessary precautions that must be taken.
In addition, there may be some federal assistance to help deal with the financial aspects related to depopulation and mortality management under the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). For more information, be sure to follow the Governor’s daily briefings and access state information at hpps://nda.nebraska.gov/COVID-19, keyword Livestock Depopulation Guidance www.deq.state.ne.us for NEE guidelines and/or the USDA website at www.usda.gov

Yes, these are challenging times. Please remember that together we will get through them as we have come through challenging times in the past. #NebraskaStrong.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE April 27, 2020
April 27th, 2020

On Thursday, April 23, 2020, we learned of the first confirmed case of COVID 19 in a 20-year old on the Winnebago Reservation. Northeast Nebraska Public Health are investigating the contacts related to this case. The Winnebago and Omaha Tribes continue to implement stay-at-home and curfew orders for members of their respective nations.

TestNebraska Initiative and Challenge
This past week, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts rolled out the TestNebraska Initiative, which is a new state initiative to increase the rate of COVID-19 testing as an aid to strategizing the re-opening of Nebraska businesses. This will allow residents to have better access to testing and help slow down the spread of COVID-19, in an effort to get us back to normal as quickly as possible.

To expand its testing capabilities, the State has launched a public-private partnership that leverages the technologies and relationships of a number of companies to help solve limited testing challenges that have been experienced. The initiative will expand testing in Nebraska over the next several weeks.

To prepare for the increased testing, the Governor simultaneously issued the #TestNebraskaChallenge, asking Nebraskans to sign up to take the test by first completing an assessment at www.TestNebraska.com . Testing will be set up in different locations across the state in the next 2 to 5 weeks. The sites will have multiple kits and multiple test options. All individually identifiable information being gathered for the TestNebraska initiative is protected by state and federal law. Aggregate data collected will be shared with the public health departments which are expected to then provide the aggregate data to the National information gatherers.

Governor’s Weekly Live Town Hall
NET is broadcasting a series of COVID-19 town halls with the governor every Thursday at 8:30 PM. Governor Ricketts has a couple of guests scheduled for each week. At this web page, people can ask their questions ahead of time. To ask your question during the program, call one of these numbers: 800-676-5446 or 402-472-1212.

Re-Opening Nebraska
On Friday, April 24, the Governor announced the first steps to re-open Nebraska’s economy.

While stressing that the elderly and medically vulnerable should continue to stay home at this time, he outlined a strategy for implementing relaxed limitations for some businesses and organizations throughout the state.

Douglas, Sarpy, Cass Counties: As an initial matter, the Governor extended the April 30, 2020 deadlines of the State and local Directed Health Measure (DHM) for Douglas, Sarpy, and Cass Counties through May 3rd.

Regional. The Governor announced that as of May 4, 2020, the State will have 19 separate Directed Health Measures (DHM) addressing loosening of restrictions related to opening businesses. The DHMs would be in place for each of 19 local health departments and will be effective through May 31, 2020. Businesses affected include salons, nail studios, massage services, tattoo parlors, and childcare facilities. Each business is subject to certain restrictions and social distancing practices.

Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department, which includes Cedar, Dixon, Thurston and Wayne was identified as one of the 19; However, Dakota County Health was NOT included. Based upon current test results and the number of confirmed cases, Dakota County Health is not able to loosen restrictions under its own Regional Directed Health Measure (DHM) and business closings will remain in place.

Statewide: Also announced were May 4, 2020 loosening of restrictions statewide on Places of Worship (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc.). Beginning May 4, 2020, Places of worship, funerals, and weddings, will no longer be subject to the 10-person gathering limitation, as long as: 1) they ensure six feet of separation between different household units, and 2) It will not be permissible to pass items among attendees. A guidance document will be provided with the new DHMs to give instructions to faith communities on how to comply with the updated health measures.

For more information about the Directed Health Measure changes, visit the Governor’s website at www.governor.nebraska.gov

Maintaining the integrity of Nebraska’s health care system remains the State’s top consideration when making decisions about public health measures. Nebraska continues to have ample capacity to care for the state’s residents. As of April 24th, 48% of hospital beds, 42% of ICU beds, and 74% of ventilators are available for use statewide.

Guard your health.
As a reminder, you can take measures to protect yourself, especially if you are in the vulnerable population.
1. Stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings. Respect the ten-person limit.
2. Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
3. Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
4. Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.
5. Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
6. Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.

Secretary of State Reminder:
Early vote mail-in ballot request
• May 1 The last day to request an early ballot
• May 12 Primary Election, Poles Open and the last day to return your ballot – by close of polls
As of last week, 413,839 ballots have been sent to Nebraska Voters.
I would like to personally encourage you to request your early ballot in order to vote safely from your home.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE April 17, 2020
April 20th, 2020

Patience is key as we wait to hear about re-opening Nebraska and the nation. So many changes to lifestyles throughout Nebraska and across the U.S. have resulted in harm to our economy, our agricultural goals, and challenges to daily work and family life.  Though the virus is still with us, it appears we have worked together through hopefully the worst of it.  On Thursday, April 16, 2020, the President announced his 3-part plan for Re-opening America.  True to the Tenth Amendment and common sense, the President provided the outline of a plan while recognizing the importance of placing leadership for the reopening with governors who know their states.

COVID 19 UPDATES: By Friday, April 24, Nebraska will be at Day 15 of the Governor’s 21-day Stay Home and Stay Healthy request for Nebraska residents.  Over the weekend, my office was notified that as of today there a total of 66 cases in Dakota County as of April 18, 2020.  There was a false alarm over the weekend, but my office has confirmed that as of that date there was also one (1) case in Wayne County.

UPDATE 4.22.2020: The first confirmed case of COVID 19 in Thurston County was reported by the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department (NNPHD) on April 22, 2020.  For update on the national numbers, go to https://www.cdc.gov/covid19  click on CASES in the US.

WORK IN WASHINGTON and The CARES Act

Our federal delegation in Washington, D.C., continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation with an eye towards its impact on individuals, businesses, and agricultural operations in Nebraska.  This week, Congressman Adrian Smith issued a letter containing the following statement:

Even as COVID-19 has closed much of America, our farmers and ranchers continue to produce.  However, because of a multitude of challenges, such as the precautionary shutdown of production facilities and a dramatic shift in consumption from restaurants to cooking at home, the current demand for food isn’t aligned with what producers expected when planting crops or birthing livestock. That is why supporting American agriculture and strengthening our food supply remains so vital during this pandemic.”

The recently passed CARES Act included stimulus checks for most Americans, as well as emergency funding for businesses and replenished funding of the Commodity Credit Corporation for agricultural producers.

Stimulus checks have been received by millions of Americans.  Thanks to the efficient work of Nebraska bankers, Nebraska has been the number one recipient of small business funds made available by the CARES Act.  The program ran out of funds last week, but members of Congress, the Senate, and the White House are working for additional funding to help businesses stay at the ready for reopening.

Meanwhile, some funding for farmers and ranchers has moved more slowly and it is my understanding that members of the Nebraska federal delegation, along with leadership from the Farm Bureau, the State Chamber, and others have been working to facilitate more funding options and disbursement of aid.

As cattle producers we are aware, the CCC does not have a “cattle” provision included with provisions for crops, dairy and pork.  However, the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the USDA received an additional $9.5 billion as part of the CARES Act that can be disbursed for specialty crops, farm-to-market programs and livestock.  In further support of agricultural producers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has extended its emergency declaration that provides relief from certain rules or drivers in order to keep the food supply chain moving as smoothly as possible.

Additionally, the Secretary has informed us that the federal government will purchase the excess milk and other products about which many are concerned in order to aid producers and struggling food banks, families, and/or food distribution centers.  The products will be purchased by the government and distributed to meet community needs through appropriate organizations.

For more information about the USDA authority under the CARES Act, go to www.USDA.gov and/or www.farmer.gov  . To see the declaration regarding the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, go online to:   https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/emergency/expanded-emergency-declaration-under-49-cfr-ss-39023-no-2020-002-relating-covid-19

Remember, the deadline for sending in your request for absentee ballots is May 1.

My husband and I are grateful to count our family among so many in District 17 and other Nebraska farmers and ranchers who work every day to feed the world.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE April 10, 2020
April 13th, 2020

Working together to make things better.  That is what Nebraskans do.  I continue to be so proud of residents and businesses in District 17.  Everyone appears to be doing their best to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus in Northeast Nebraska.  Residents are social distancing and finding creative ways to still maintain the community-feel of our area.  The Health Departments have published flyers on social distancing and other practices to reduce the risk.

COVID 19 UPDATES: Over the weekend, there were three (3) cases of COVID 19  confirmed in District 17.  Two (2) cases are in Dakota County and one (1) in Wayne County.  There are no cases reported in Thurston County.  Please keep you and your family safe and follow the Governor’s guideline rules for 21-Days To Stay Healthy discussed below.

GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES 21-DAYS TO STAY HEALTHY

This past week, Governor Ricketts proclaimed April 10 to April 30, 2020 as a 21-day plan to Stay and Home and Stay Healthy, outlining 6 rules that are designed to help reduce the spread of COVID 19 in Nebraska.  He did not issue a shelter-in-place order, but instead stated he was counting on Nebraskans to do what he knows we all try to do– the right thing.  In his press release, the Governor suggested residents can help Nebraska stay healthy if we each:

  1. Stay home except for essential errands. No social gatherings and respecting the 10-person limit.
  2. Socially distance yourself. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
  3. Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
  4. Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports and no playgrounds.
  5. Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
  6. Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distance activity.

 Gov. Ricketts also proclaimed Sunday as a Statewide Day of Prayer. He asked that Nebraskans pray for the people being impacted by COVID-19, for people who are ill, for nurses and doctors, police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and for people in nursing homes.

It seems like everyone is talking about and reporting on COVID 19.  Obviously, we all want to know as much as possible.  Sometimes too much information can be confusing if different numbers regarding testing results and related deaths are being reported.  For the most accurate information, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) posts numbers of confirmed cases daily at 4:00 PM ET (Weekend numbers are posted on Monday).  Their website can be accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/covid19  click on CASES in the US.,

MEAT PRODUCERS ADJUST

NEBRASKA CATTLEMEN have worked diligently to ensure continued safe and adequate production of beef products.  Leadership of the organization has tele-conferenced with other organizations and with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Under Secretary Greg Ibach to discuss current and ongoing market-related challenges in the packing sector and relief efforts available under the recently passed federal CARES Act.  Cattlemen’s reported that they hope to have information from Secretary Perdue next week about financial relief available under the CARES Act to cattle producers who have been harmed by COVID 19.

Governor Ricketts, along with governors from other states, has issued emergency declarations that are providing relaxed trucker/carrier rules to aid in smoother transportation for the food supply.  Additionally, the Nebraska Cattlemen Board amended its current policy to increase competitiveness in fed cattle markets by increasing packer capacity and reinstituting good business practices by packers and renewed its request that our Nebraska delegation find long term solutions “to cattle producer profitability – by revamping the Risk Management Association Livestock Risk Protection program to eliminate limitations that discourage cattle producer participation and by modifying subsidy levels to attract increased participation by cattle producers,” stated the organization.

TYSON FOODS is doing its part, too.  The company is working to protect team members and to ensure continued ability to keep the food supply chain filled.  They have instituted practices of taking the temperature of workers at all locations before they enter company facilities, have stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing efforts, are coordinating with federal agencies for personal protective equipment (PPE), and have erected dividers that increase space between line workers.  The company recently suspended operations at their Columbus Junction, Iowa pork plant due to cases of COVID-19 involving team members at the facility. In order to minimize impact on overall production, they’ve diverting the livestock supply originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to other pork plants in the region. Tyson Foods, Inc. is one of the world’s largest food companies and a recognized.

On the financial front, Tyson Foods, Inc. also announced on March 30 that it will pay approximately $60 million to about 116,000 frontline workers and truckers as a thank you for their daily support of the company’s operation.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE April 3, 2020
April 6th, 2020

As of Friday, April 3, 2020 at 10:00 P.M., the Governor has ordered implementation of Directed Health Measures (DHM) in all 93 counties in Nebraska to mitigate the spread of COVID19.  The Directive involving the counties in Legislative District 17 is in effect until May 11.  My office is receiving daily COVID 19 updates from the Governor’s office and many other sources throughout the state.  We are also receiving notice of resources.  I have included a few that may be useful to you as we work through this challenging time together.

COVID 19 UPDATES:

Nebraska Dept. of Health & Human Services http://dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus Nebraska COVID-19 Information Line: (402) 552-6645.Hours are: 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. CST – every day.  COVID 19 Announcements available in English and En Espanol.  State agencies are sharing information using the #NECOVID19#

Nebraska Dept. of Agriculture info for AG producers: nda.nebraska.gov/COVID-19

FINANCIAL AND OTHER RESOURCES:

Unemployment Insurance  https://neworks.nebraska.gov/vosnet/Default.aspx Enhanced unemployment insurance operates as a federal-state partnership.  In Nebraska program includes:

  • An additional $600 per week for up to eight weeks under CARES Act
  • An additional 13 weeks of benefits under CARES Act
  • First week waiting period waived by Governor
  • Work search requirement waived by Governor
  • Coverage temporarily extended to include self-employed individuals
  • Caution: The benefits are intended for those who have lost jobs or who have been laid off due to the virus and due to no fault of their own.  If someone has quit or quits a job voluntarily, that person is ineligible to receive the expanded benefits.

Small Business Assistance:   https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options

Small Business Administration Programs through local lenders include:

  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans, designed to help small businesses and non-profits keep employees on through the crisis. Available to eligible farmers and ranchers as well as small businesses and non-profits. Additional information for AG producers:  https://www.nefb.org/covid-19
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Grants up to $2million with principal and interest deferment for small businesses with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Small Business Debt Relief Program to assist for up to six months with existing non-disaster SBA loans
  • Employee Retention Tax Credit for businesses that have had to be suspended or closed during the crisis. *This credit is not available to employers that have participated in the Payroll Protection Program.
  • Deferral of Employer Payroll Taxes to assist with cash flow concerns.

PARENTS, FOOD, and SHELTER

School food programs for students are operating.  Call your local school district for distribution location and for any guideline information.

United Way Parent Resources, including online helpline, School food programs, and more.  unitedwaysiouxland.com

USDA Distance Learning grant program (2nd window open 4.11.2020) to further access to distance learning and telehealth in rural communities  www.rd.usda.gov Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT).

Feeding Kids During COVID-19: Emergency Grants and Updated Resources. https://www.nokidhungry.org/coronavirus-grant-request

Alternate temporary housing for former guests at the Warming Shelter and Mission Contact Amy Keirns 712 279 6255 for more information.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION:  As mentioned in last week’s update, the Legislature will reconvene at some point after the current crisis passes and at that time, we expect early debate on the Revenue Committee’s Property Tax Relief proposal (LB1106).   LB1106 contains amended provisions of LB974.  Earlier in the Session, I provided District 17 constituents with points from LB974 that I considered important, including funding that would be provided to the District 17 school districts under the bill.  Looking at LB1106, following is a summary of its provisions as currently contained in the amendment:

The State does not levy or collect property taxes; property taxes are levied by local government and schools.  Therefore, in order to reduce property taxes, it is necessary to reduce local government and school district reliance on those taxes.  While other states typically fund their schools primarily with state revenues, Nebraska has not for many years.  Consequently, schools typically levy the largest portion of local taxes on property owners.

LB1106 is designed to reduce the heavy reliance of school districts on property taxes by increasing state funding to schools.  In its amended form, LB1106 will:

  • Reduce each school district’s reliance on property taxes by increasing state funding to schools by $520 million. This state funding increases will step in over a 3-year period as property values available for school funding purposes decrease;
  • Slows the growth of spending over the next three years from the 4% historical annual growth to align more closely with the taxpayers’ ability to pay;
  • Nebraska schools will remain well-funded, with per-pupil spending greater than all but one surrounding state;
  • Will add per-pupil funding for every student in the state through foundation aid;
  • Per-pupil funding will be based upon a set percentage of State general revenues divided by the number of public school students;
  • Equalization aid will continue to be available using “needs based” criteria and will remain funded, even if foundation aid were to fall because of revenue below projections;
  • Transition aid will be available for the first three years of the bill’s implementation to ensure a smooth transition from property taxes to additional state funding; and
  • Both the Governor and the Chair of the Revenue Committee have reviewed the numbers and have agreed that the provisions of LB1106 fit within the Budget.

The Revenue Committee is currently exploring what, if any, effect the State’s response to the current COVID 19 crisis may have on the amendment to LB1106 as proposed.  I will keep constituents in District 17 up to date as we learn more.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE March 30, 2020
March 30th, 2020

Our physical office at the Capitol may be closed but my staff and I have been hard at work in the District and remote from our homes.

My week has included assessing current status, answering questions, and finding answers for many individuals and agencies all over District 17.

I am proud to report that throughout the District, I have found communities to be compliant with safety guidelines and coming together to creatively socialize even while observing social distancing.

Some example of creativity can be found in the emergence of the “Corona Cruise”, in Wayne and Dakota counties, where residents exercising social-distancing while driving their neighborhoods and waving at neighbors.  Additionally, in Pender, the residents go out onto their driveways and recite the Pledge of Allegiance together at 9:00 A.M.  What a great way to start the day!

My Administrative Assistant and I visited all three counties in the District to listen to concerns and needs, to discuss the President and the Governor’s directives, and to discuss local efforts including school closings, social distancing, meeting size limitations, feeding programs for school age children, and more concerning the Coronavirus and COVID 19.

For discussions in the District we combined small in-person groups with more modern technology of Zoom, etc., that allow us to meet in groups fewer than ten and to maintain social distancing guidelines.   On Thursday and Friday, we met with the following:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

  • Macy, Nebraska: Thurston County and Omaha Tribal Emergency Managers, Tribal leaders, law enforcement, first responders, Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department administrators, school officials, and community leaders.
  • Dakota County Health Department & Emergency Management: DCHD Director, DCEM Director, SSC Chief of Police. Discussion included special challenges during this time for communities operating with shared state borders.

Friday, March 27, 2020

  • Wayne County, Wayne Area Economic Development Office. Met with WAED Executive Director Luke Virgil and produced the weekly Chamber Facebook broadcast. We discussed the challenges faced by local businesses and creative solutions being implemented by many. I also updated viewers about the latest from the Governor’s office and the importance of following the guidelines provided by the State Health Department.
  • Wayne County Emergency Management: visited with the County Emergency Manager and Wayne County Commissioners. In addition to the topics noted above, we discussed challenges for children of essential personnel like health department, nurses, fire, rescue, and law enforcement.
  • Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department (NNPHD): We discussed the commendable actions of members of District 17 in following the guidelines of social distancing, maintaining healthy hygiene practices and working to keep everyone safe during this time. Weekly calls are taking place with schools.

 

At this point, I want to give a huge shout out to our District 17 newspapers, radio, and television stations.  They have done a wonderful job of keeping residents fully informed and up to date during this crisis.  As a reminder, there is more information available in the District by going to the website of Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department (NNPHD), watching the weekly Wayne Area Economic Development (WAED) programming with Luke Virgil, at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website.  Additionally, the Governor is holding daily briefings that are broadcast on weekdays at 2 PM on 98.9 FM in Wayne and at NET TV.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION:

The Legislature met on Monday and Wednesday March 23 and 25 to pass an emergency $83.6 million appropriations bill to help families, health care providers, and businesses get through this health crisis.

The Legislature will reconvene upon the call and direction of the Speaker.

Speaker Scheer announced on Wednesday that, because of the delays and uncertainties of dates that it will reconvene, his plan is that, when the Legislature does reconvene, we will meet for six days straight for two weeks, and finish off the 17 days remaining for the session the following week.

My office is preparing to hear a large number of bills in a fairly short time.  One of the primary debates I expect we will have upon return is property tax relief.  Earlier in the session, LB974 was introduced and had first round debate.  Since that debate, Senator Linehan and members of the Revenue Committee have been working with schools, governing bodies, and other Senators to make changes that are acceptable to them while still moving forward with the primary goal of property tax relief for landowners across the state.  The result of that work has taken the form of LB1106, which incorporates LB974 and the changes.  My office is researching and analyzing the changes so that I can present updated information and comparisons in my newsletter next week.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE March 16, 2020
March 16th, 2020

Today, March 16, 2020, I and other State Senators received news that the Legislature will not reconvene until further notice.  This is due to concerns surrounding the Coronavirus COVID-19.  My office will remain accessible to constituents.  Your phone calls and emails will be answered.  If staff steps away, or is out of the office for a time, your calls will be forwarded or sent to voicemail.

Though things seem to be moving very quickly, there is no reason to panic.  State and local government are putting measures in place to reduce the spread of the virus.  We can do our part, too.  Please follow the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, to cough into your elbow, and to avoid large crowds.  Be sure to keep an eye on the suggestions being made by your local city government and county health department.

As your State Senator, I am frequently in touch with the Governor as he stays in close contact with leading health officials in Nebraska and throughout the nation.  I will be checking in daily with Health officials in District 17, who keep me informed about the activities, health status, and implementation of best practices in District 17.  Julie Rother, keeps me in formed about Wayne and Thurston counties and Tiffany Hansen, keeps me informed about happenings in Dakota County.

Businesses are also doing their part.  Black Hills Energy has temporarily suspended its’ disconnect for nonpayment practices.  Many businesses have encouraged employees to work remotely from home.

We are so fortunate to live in a state with the brilliant minds and abilities at University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Nebraska Medicine.  Around the nation, they are recognized for excellent work in biocontainment and medical research.

We have been assured by top health officials in the State that there are sufficient tests available for any and all who need to be tested in Nebraska.  Your healthcare provider can direct you to the appropriate source should a test be needed.

Please, use this unexpected time at home to enjoy your loved ones, to build up your immune system, and maybe to do some spring cleaning.  Life is always offering up challenges.  Together, we will work through this challenge as we have others—together.  Together we will come through it stronger; as a people, as a state, and as a nation.

To keep up to date on the latest concerning the virus, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/covid19.

 

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 March 6, 2020
March 9th, 2020

Things keep moving as we continue to try to accomplish goals set for the betterment of District 17 and all of Nebraska.  This week my Priority Bill LB1186 passed first reading.  Together, Senator Hilgers and I expressed the importance of making sure we take care of our teachers.  As a reminder, LB1186 requires that schools pay teachers their regular wages for the period up to seven days that workers’ compensation does not if the teacher is unable to teach because of an injury caused by an intentional assault while working.

VISITORS.  I was delighted to have family visit the Capitol last week.  Scott and Lisa Albrecht from Thurston, Laura Fischer from Scribner, and Andrea Diehm from South Dakota, were welcomed to the chamber by the Speaker, as were their children Isaac, Ben, Evelyn, Keegan, Kylie, and Kessler.  Be sure to make the Capitol one of your stops if visiting Lincoln.  I would love to see you and introduce you to the Legislature.

NOVEL CORONOVIRUS: By now, we have all heard much about the global spread and local appearance of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.  As talk of the virus has increased worldwide, so has attention on Nebraska, UNMC/Nebraska Medical Center, and the crucial role our state is playing in effective quarantine and diagnosis and treatment research.  Notably, the qualifications for release from UNMC/Nebraska Medical Center are greater than CDC qualifications.  The nation’s first clinical trials on coronavirus therapy has begun at UNMC.  Updated on the University’s role on the virus can be found at https://www.nebraskamed.com/COVID.

The Health Director for Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department (NNPHD) which serves several counties in Northeast Nebraska, including Thurston and Wayne, has kept me updated on status of their commitment to keeping on top of the situation.  There are currently weekly phone call updates involving the CDC, NNPHD and other health departments across the state.  Health Alerts have been drafted and distributed to the medical community, local government officials, and to schools, daycares, and Wayne State College.    Weekly meetings with Pender Community Hospital department heads, and meetings with Wayne State College Student Health Staff and International Student Coordinator have taken place.  Links to CDC information are also now included on the NNPHD website.

As for personal action, the most important information we are hearing is that, despite the global and local attention on the virus, individual risk of contracting the virus is low.  Everyone reinforces a singular message-prevention is key.  Exercise good hygiene practices, stay home from work and activities if you are ill, and self-quarantine if you suspect you have symptoms consistent with those of the virus.

 COMING UP IN SIOUXLAND   At 11:00 am on April 9, 2020, representatives of the United States Army Corps of Engineers will be at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, 300 Third St. to answer questions from the public.  The conversation will likely include the Corps’ action to cut water release in certain areas because of melting snow downstream.

 PROPERTY TAX RELIEF MAY BE ON THE FLOOR AGAIN SOON.  I continue to work toward the passage of the property tax relief provided by LB974.  There is great resistance from large schools as LB974 seeks to make sure that every property owner gets some relief and that every public school, including those in rural Nebraska, receives funding for every pupil being served by that school.

Under LB974, there is a three tier, three year plan for reducing property taxes on agricultural land, commercial property, and residential property, while at the same time reducing public school reliance on property taxes.

A review of the figures for District 17 schools that was provided by the Fiscal Office and that I included in my February 14 Weekly Update to provide a reality check if we do not pass LB974.  If we do nothing, the property tax burden for every Nebraska property owner is not reduced and reliance on property taxes to fund public schools means property taxes will continue to grow with increased spending.

Additionally, District 17 schools stand to leave over $12 million dollars on the table as larger and louder school districts protect their taxing authority.  I simply cannot stand by and watch this happen.

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

Over halfway there already!  Thursday, February 27 marked the 32nd day of the Legislative Session.  The Senators, Committees, and the Speaker have each designated priority bills.  Committees have held final meetings.  The Legislative Body begins full day floor debate on Tuesday, March 3.  We are all working hard to review the bills that our colleagues have identified and I anticipate an even quicker pace as we move forward.

VISITORS.  We had more visitors from Wayne and South Sioux City this past week.  It is great to have visitors from District 17 welcomed to the Legislative Chamber by the Lieutenant Governor or presiding Senator.  Be sure to make the Legislature one of your stops if visiting Lincoln.

BILLS TO WATCHLB974 (Property Tax Relief) and LB720 (Business Incentives for economic development) remain in the forefront of our minds this Session.  Several Senators are working hard to garner the support needed to bring property tax relief over the finish line and to invite continued economic growth to our State.  Although we are not there yet, I believe progress is being made and feel confident the Legislature will get property tax relief accomplished before the end of this Session.  It is what Nebraskans want, it is what Nebraska need, and we are working hard to make it happen.

LR288:  With last year’s flooding, following several severe flooding events over the past several years in mind, Senator Julie Slama introduced a Legislative Resolution (LR) urging Congress and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to make flood control a top priority for management of water systems under their authority in the Missouri River Mainstream Reservoir System Manual.  The preliminary assessment of damage to infrastructure like roads, bridges, and levees caused by the 2019 flooding has reached approximately $450,000,000.  The Corps has authority over many of the systems in Nebraska as well as management of water flows in the Missouri River Basin using an infrastructure network.  Current standards put in place by the Corps for levee design, construction, and maintenance have not been updated in over twenty years.  Therefore, through LR288, the Legislature states that the Corps should consider the impact of flooding on people, agricultural land, property and economies and prioritize flood control when creating future Water Systems Manuals and when updating levee standards to best serve the needs of Nebraska residents living within the affected areas.  It was a natural for me to join Senator Slama as a co-sponsor of LR288 when it was introduced and I am pleased to report that the Resolution was adopted by the Legislature on a 43-1 vote.

In addition to everything else, I am preparing for the time when my Priority LB1186 comes to the floor for debate.  As a reminder, LB1186 fills in a pay gap for teachers and staff who are injured by an assault while on the job.  Currently, teachers who are assaulted and are unable to work due to injuries from that assault are not paid injury leave to compensate them during the first seven days that is not covered by workers’ compensation when those benefits kick in.  LB1186 requires that teachers or school employees injured by such intentional assaults be paid their usual salary for those seven days without having to sacrifice accumulated sick leave or vacation time.  Our teachers serve our children and it is important to me that we in turn serve them.  If they are injured by assault while doing their job, our schools should make sure they are not penalized financially by the school where they serve. .

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 February 21, 2020
February 24th, 2020

“The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.”  This inscription is on the north side of your State Capitol.  It serves to remind us all to be aware, involved, and engaged in business within that touches our lives at home.  It should also serve to call lawmakers and governing bodies to be transparent and accountable to the people we serve.

That is why I introduced LB1167.  I introduced the Bill after hearing from numerous individuals and organizations that have felt disenfranchised and unable to testify at public meetings.  Under LB1167, you and your neighbors can be heard at meetings of governing bodies that make decisions that impact you.  LB1167 makes two simple changes within the Open Meetings Act.

The changes are simple.  The message is clear:

  • If you have been elected by the people; and/or
  • If you are able to decide how to spend the people’s money;
  • Then, you are expected to listen to the people.

Members of the public deserve it and this change requires it.

There was a Committee Hearing on LB1167 on Thursday, February 20.  Prior to the hearing, there were a number of letters and emails supporting LB1167 sent to the Chair of the Committee.  There were no letters in opposition.    Ten people and organizations testified in favor of LB1167.  Most spoke of times when they or their members were kept from testifying at government meetings.  Some spoke of being frustrated when the process for them to speak was made difficult or impossible.  Five people testified against the Bill.  The five were from school, city, county, or NRD government bodies. They primarily testified that the governing bodies they represented either were okay with people testifying, as long as the body knew what the speaker would talk about in advance of “allowing” them to be put on the agenda for a future meeting and/or were afraid that open public comment might result in personnel or others being falsely accused by a testifier.

I believe the opponents’ fear of public testimony is misplaced.  In fact, the changes presented in LB1167 do NOT disturb the ability of governing bodies to make and enforce reasonable rules and regulations regarding the conduct of persons attending and/or speaking at their meetings.  In other words, a governing body could schedule public comment for a defined period at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the meeting.  The governing body could define the number of minutes each person could testify.

To be clear, the goal of LB1167 is to ensure that governing bodies recognize they are servants of the people and honor that position, along with honoring the First Amendment right of individuals to petition their government, and to honor the Open Meeting Act’s instruction that that “the public has the right to attend and the right to speak at meetings of public bodies.”In summary, people have the right to be heard.  People have the right to petition their government.  LB1167 provides clarity, uniformity, and reassurance that Nebraska respects and honors those rights.

Priority Bills.  Friday brought the deadline for designation of Priority Bills.  Committees are able to designate two Priority Bills and each Senator is able to designate one Priority Bill for the Session.  This Session, I considered a number of Bills before choosing mine.  Among the bills I considered were those that protect Farmers and further economic development and I was pleased to see Committees and other Senators prioritize those Bills.

Eventually, I designated LB1186 as my Priority Bill.  This Bill was introduced by Senator Mike Hilgers and allows me to prioritize my care for and appreciation of teachers throughout the State.  As introduced, this bill fills in a gap for teachers who are injured by an assault while on the job.  Currently, teachers who are assaulted and are unable to work due to injuries from that assault are not paid injury leave to compensate them for the seven days before workers’ compensation benefits kick in.  LB1186 requires that teachers or school employees injured by such assaults be paid their usual salary for those seven days.  I was frankly surprised that this was not already happening.  Our teachers serve our children.  If they are injured by assault while doing so, our schools should make sure they are not penalized financially by the school where they serve.

Red Flag Law.  There has been a lot of communication from members of District 17 and other members of the public concerning LB58, the Extreme Risk Protection Ask, otherwise known as the Red Flag Law affecting gun rights.  I have tried to respond to each and want to make sure my position on this type of legislation is known to residents of District 17.  I, and many of my colleagues are strong advocates of Second Amendment rights.  I agree with Senator Tom Brewer that “[t]the bill, LB58, would create a new legal process for government seizure of firearms without any criminal prosecution, criminal conviction, or finding of mental illness.” I oppose LB58 and any similar legislation.

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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