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This week the Speaker announced that we would be returning to finish our Legislative Session on July 20, assuming that no spikes in outbreaks occur. The Speaker and our legislative staff have been hard at work with the Lancaster County Department of Public Health to devise ways to make the Chamber safer for us to return. This includes provisions like plastic shields between the rows, spreading out our seating arrangement and providing masks. Meanwhile, as Rules Chair I have been involved in discussions about whether we could also incorporate remote participation for those at greatest risk.
When we return, we have 17 legislative days left. By the end of July we will hopefully be in a safer space and we also should know more about the economic impact of COVID on our tax receipts for the year. When we return, we will have the same bills on the agenda as when we left. Any changes in laws that may be critical to address issues related to the pandemic will need to be considered as amendments onto existing bills or approved for debate by a suspension of the rules. By our rules, all new bills must be introduced in the first ten days of session.
While the bills may be the same, the economic conditions clearly are not what we anticipated when we introduced these bills in January. Many of us are spending hours during this break from the legislature talking about how to move forward on some of the policy concerns, like property taxes and economic development incentives, given the drop we expect in revenue for the year and the likelihood that we will experience at least two years of economic downturn from this pandemic.
While we are not in session, the Governor has addressed several issues related to the pandemic through executive orders. He also has broad discretion to spend many of the CARES Act dollars. Consequently, much of our efforts to directly address pandemic concerns in the immediate term have been through advocating the Governor to act. For example, early in the pandemic several of the Senators urged the Governor to issue an executive order to reduce the threat of evictions. We appreciate that he did issue such an order, which is now set to expire May 31. Some of us urged him to expand the order, but he chose not to do so. On Friday, I sent a letter to the Governor, along with ten other co-signing Senators, urging him to use some CARES Act dollars on rental assistance to help stabilize the rental market and avoid an eviction cliff that we expect will otherwise occur after the executive order is lifted. This is just one example of how the CARES Act dollars could be spent to help Nebraskans. Ongoing conversations have been occurring over how the funding could be used including helping to fund front line services in our cities and counties, providing small business relief and providing pandemic property tax relief to forestall foreclosures.
The Governor proclaimed this week National Emergency Medical Services Week in Nebraska. First responders, emergency medical technicians and paramedics have been on the front lines of the COVID crisis and we are grateful to them for their hard work.
As we approach Memorial Day weekend, it is just as important as ever to continue practicing safe social distancing and staying connected to one another. Thank you for doing your part to stay safe and healthy. On Monday our legislative office will be closed. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!
Memorial Day Virtual Ceremony
Though an in-person ceremony is not possible this year, there will be a Memorial Day ceremony streamed live from the Capitol Rotunda on NET all day long on Monday, May 25.
Mental Health and Child Mental Health Month
May is National Mental Health and Child Mental Health Month in Nebraska. Over 20% of Nebraskans deal with mental health issues. The Department of Health and Human Services and Governor Ricketts worked this week to bring attention to some of the resources that are available for Nebraskans that are in need of support and to normalize the conversation around mental health.
Sheri Dawson, Director of Behavioral Health for DHHS, spoke on Wednesday about what we can do to best care for ourselves and our mental health during the pandemic. She recommended taking time for self care, getting sufficient sleep and exercise and having a support system in place. The Red Cross is offering a free psychological first aid class for those who want to learn strategies for supporting themselves and others during the COVID crisis.
The focus of DHHS’s Facebook Live event this week was on child mental health and coping skills. Nathan Busch with Nebraska Children and Families Foundation stressed the importance of checking in with children, establishing a routine when possible and monitoring mood swings. Children may have physical responses to stress or a change in routine as well, like stomach aches or headaches. An important tip he shares with families is to utilize video conferencing services like Zoom to help children make a safe face-to-face connection with friends and family. As always, the Nebraska Family Helpline is available to help and answer questions for parents and guardians at 1-888-866-8660.
If you or someone you know is struggling, the Nebraska Family Helpline mentioned above, Community Action Partnerships and United Way all have professionals who are happy to provide support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or you can find the online chat option here.
Governor’s Executive Orders and Announcements
DHM Updates Announced
At his press conference on Thursday, Governor Ricketts announced the new directed health measures that will be put in place at the beginning of June. These changes include but are not limited to: bars being able to open at 50% rated capacity, and fitness facilities, salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and massage therapy services being able to open with a limit of 25 people or 50% of rated occupancy. Though these facilities are allowed to open at the beginning of the month, the expectation that people will maintain six foot distance from each other and wear masks whenever possible is still in place.
These updates apply to 89 Nebraska counties. The Central and Dakota Public Health Districts will not be loosening restrictions for the time being. Specifics about the loosening restrictions and DHMs can be found here.
FHA Order Update
In mid-March, we shared information about a federal order that was issued regarding a foreclosure and eviction moratorium for borrowers with FHA-backed single family mortgages. On May 14th that order was extended through June 30. More information about this extension is available here.
Reopening Resources for Businesses
The Bellevue Chamber shared a number of great resources for businesses reopening in the coming weeks that we share below. Also this week the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce released their guidance for area businesses reopening.
Reopening guidelines published by DHHS can be found here.
If you have questions about your business, the Nebraska Business Development Center is happy to help. Their phone number is 402-554-6232.
The Nebraska National Guard has provided incredible support to Nebraskans at testing sites and food banks throughout the COVID crisis. For those who would like to see what they have been up to the past several months, the Nebraska National Guard frequently updates an online photo album at this link.
The Women’s Fund of Omaha highlights helpful resources for women during the pandemic. Information for those that are experiencing domestic violence, struggling to pay bills, or seeking a support network can be found at their website.
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All the best,