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The Legislature was called back into session on Monday, March 23, to pass emergency funding relating to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). An amendment was added to LB 1198, a bill that originally sought to appropriate funding for the restoration of the doors to the legislative chamber. LB 1198 had already received first-round approval from the Legislature. An amendment offered by the chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator John Stinner, struck the original content of the bill and replaced it with an appropriation of $83.6 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund, to be used for the fight against COVID-19.
The Governor sought $58.6 million, but the Legislature added an additional $25 million in the event that additional funds are necessary. This amount would transfer back to the Cash Reserve Fund if not needed.
The largest amount of emergency funding, $38.2 million, would be used for Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Public Health local response efforts. It would provide additional funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to local jurisdictions (including tribal nations) and support to local health departments for staffing, PPE, call centers, and information technology. Veterans Hospitals and DHHS Care Facilities would receive an additional $13 million for staffing expenditures resulting from staff quarantine or isolation requirements. There is also funding provided for lab testing, lab equipment, software programming, and UV light boxes to allow for the reuse of respirators.
LB 1198, as amended, was passed by the Legislature on Wednesday, March 25. Since LB 1198 contained the emergency clause, the bill went into effect with the Governor’s signature.
Senators have 17 days remaining in this legislative session. At this time, I cannot predict when the Legislature will complete its work. When we are called back, our primary focus will be the budget. However, there are many other issues that are still pending, such as property tax relief and the package of bills aimed at resolving issues at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers. I am hopeful that during this break, a compromise can be reached on the school finance/property tax relief bill, so that it can move forward.
Earlier, the IRS granted federal income tax relief to taxpayers by extending the tax filing and payment deadlines for federal income taxes from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. It was announced this past week that the State of Nebraska is providing this same income tax relief to state income taxpayers. However, the Governor did urge those not affected by the coronavirus to still pay by April 15, to help the state manage its cash flow. The governor stated at a press conference this past week that he was not considering delaying the deadline for paying property taxes because these taxes are a very important source of revenue for local governments.
During this uncertain time, don’t hesitate to contact me if my office can be of assistance. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. My telephone number at the State Capitol is (402) 471-2801 and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.