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This week we convened for a three-day stint to pass the emergency funding bill, LB 1198. The package provides $83.6 million dollars that will go toward necessities needed in light of the COVID outbreak including personal protective equipment, increased staffing in the state public health division and equipment to be used at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. On Monday, we advanced the emergency package unanimously. On Tuesday, around half of the body convened for a check-in day. On Wednesday we convened once more for Final Reading and the bill passed with strong bipartisan support. Now that the emergency appropriation has passed, we are adjourned until the Speaker calls. Updates about the legislative session going forward will be published to the Home Page of the Legislature’s website, linked here.
Governor’s Executive Orders
Since we are in a declared emergency, emergency powers for the Governor now apply. The Governor has made several policy exceptions and changes related to the COVID emergency.
Governor Ricketts issued an executive order to prevent the strict legal timeline for evictions that is currently in law. The order allows courts to stall or halt evictions for renters unable to pay rent due on or after March 13th because of economic hardship related to the pandemic. It is important to note that the executive order does not cancel rent payments, but it does defer a landlord’s right to a trial in an eviction action for non-payment of rent until May 31st. Full text of this executive order can be found here.
Another executive order issued this week eases the licensing requirements to open and operate temporary, non-residential child care in an alternative setting like a nonprofit or faith-based organization. The executive order is effective immediately and will remain in place until 30 days after the State lifts the state of emergency due to the pandemic. The executive order can be viewed by clicking here.
Mixed Drinks for Takeout
With restaurants and bars being some of the hardest hit businesses in our state during the pandemic, Governor Ricketts issued a new executive order on Thursday allowing businesses to sell mixed drinks with lids for takeout. If you are a business owner and have questions about what can be sold for takeout during this time, the full text of the executive order is available here.
Information for Small Businesses
Additional SBA Disaster Loan Information
The recent disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in the entire state of Nebraska. Small businesses, non-profit organizations of any size and small agricultural cooperatives that have been financially impacted as a direct result of COVID-19 since January 31, 2020 may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses. Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. The deadline to apply is December 21st. 2020. In an effort to encourage businesses to retain workers, the loans have a provision that allows loans to be forgiven if businesses retain their employees.
Grants Available for Small Businesses
The CARES Act provides for emergency grants for small businesses (<500 employees) of up to $10,000. These are considered economic injury disaster loans but do not need to be paid back. Small businesses may apply to the Small Business Administration to receive a grant of up to $10,000. The money can be used to maintain payroll, cover paid sick leave and service other debt obligations. The grant also applies to sole proprietors, those without employees and independent contractors. There is not yet information on the SBA website about grants, but we expect it to be available next week and will post an update to our Facebook page when we have that information.
Additional Unemployment Insurance Information
The Department of Labor’s website and unemployment applications have been updated with the waived work requirements. If you applied for unemployment prior to this week and were denied because of work requirements or did not complete your application after seeing the work requirements, please revisit the site now as it is now up and running with those requirements waived. If you have already submitted the application in its entirety your denial will be processed again, changes will be made administratively, and you will be accepted.
Unemployment claims are filed online at NEworks.nebraska.gov, or on the NEworks mobile app which is free to download.
Following the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act by Congress last week, Paid Sick and Family Leave tax credits are now available to covered employers. For more information about how businesses can access tax credits for the new paid sick leave, see the post linked here.
Since last week’s update, more specific information about the exemption for small businesses from the requirements of the new paid leave law have been released. The IRS has said that small businesses with less than 50 employees can apply for an exemption from the paid leave requirements only for paid leave for parents providing childcare due to school closings or child care unavailability. The US Dept of Labor has published an Explanation of Benefits under the new law for employees and for employers.
Employee Tax Retention Credit
The new coronavirus relief package creates an employee retention tax credit to businesses impacted by COVID19. It provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose operations were fully or partially suspended due to a COVID-19-related shutdown order or whose gross receipts declined by more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the prior year. The credit is based on qualified wages paid to full-time employees. More information will be forthcoming on this topic in the coming days. Please keep an eye out for new information on our Facebook, Twitter and in upcoming updates.
State and Local Updates
May 12 Primary
Secretary of State Robert Evnen announced on Thursday that the May 12th primary election will go forward as planned. People are encouraged to fill out an early voting ballot request form which will be mailed to voters or make a request online at this link. Applications are due May 1st. For those that plan to vote in person, polling sites will be taking extra precautions to keep voters safe and prevent the spread of illness.
Nebraska Medicine – Bellevue Visitors
Nebraska Medicine – Bellevue announced that visitors will be allowed only in special circumstances on a case-by-case basis effective March 27. There are exceptions for pediatric and labor and delivery patients. This also includes Nebraska Medicine’s clinics. Patients will still be screened and staff will escort patients. If a patient arrives with a guest the guest will be asked to return to the vehicle.
Nebraska High School Sports Cancelled
Due to the coronavirus outbreak and school closures, the Nebraska School Activities Association announced Wednesday that it will be extending the suspension of all high school athletic and activity practices and competitions through May 1.
The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office has established a helpline for the sick, elderly or caretakers who need assistance picking up prescriptions, groceries or other necessities.The number to call is 402-593-1593. Requests can be made Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Requests received after 4 p.m. will be addressed the following business day.
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has resulted in numerous scams. The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) provides individuals and businesses with information to avoid scams, tips on who to contact regarding health claims/questions, as well as how to find licensed, knowledgeable, ethical professionals to assist with financial security planning. Please follow this link for more information on financial security during this time.
Heartland Workforce Solutions may be able to assist youth 14-24 with job applications, questions about student loans, housing and other community supports.
The Bellevue Housing Authority (BHA) has a special change form for families that have lost employment. For more information about these forms or how to complete them, contact Monica at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 402-502-8778.
The Department of Economic Development website is partnering with the Governor to keep businesses informed about the pandemic and assist them when possible. Their website is frequently being updated with available information and resources.
Coronavirus.gov continues to be a great source of information for questions about symptoms, how to prepare and protect yourself, how to social distance and the federal response to the virus. If you scroll to the bottom of their page, there is also guidance for small businesses.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development website contains information for homeless service providers, property owners and housing stakeholders.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) allows U.S. citizens who are currently abroad or traveling to receive alerts and travel advisories.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is maintaining a list of resources on their website for providers and communities, including Opioid Treatment Programs and Behavioral Health Treatment Programs.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) is working with the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division to detect, prevent and investigate criminal conduct or fraud related to the COVID-19 emergency. Complaints can be shared with their hotline staff at 1-866-720-5721 or e-mail at email@example.com.
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All the best,
COVID-19 Situation Update
The COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving. We will do our best to continue to post information as it becomes available on our Facebook and Twitter sites. Once a week we will continue to prepare and distribute our newsletter with summaries of new information. We are also posting these newsletter updates on our Unicameral blog so you can access information from previous updates there.
The Legislature remains at recess. We will be coming back into session for three days next week to pass emergency appropriations for funds needed for items like more protective gear for our health workers, increased resources for testing and more resources for staff at our Veterans and DHHS facilities. Plans are underway for a process of voting that complies with the guidance to have no more than 10 people in a room at a time.
The Unicameral website has a statement from the Speaker and the Executive Board noting that while we are out of session, our offices have been busy working with the executive branch and government agencies to implement and communicate emergency policy changes. View the full statement here. Our office has had a special focus on what we can do to reduce or eliminate evictions in the state during this crisis.
COVID-19 Housing Update
Prior to the session adjourning, I was working on legislation to prevent evictions during the pandemic. Now given that the legislature is postponed indefinitely, it is unlikely that we will be able to pass statute language in a timely manner. The Governor has announced that his office is researching whether his office has power to issue a moratorium on evictions. My office has been in communication with housing advocates and tracking federal developments impacting evictions.
Federal Home Loans
Recent federal actions allow some relief for homeowners with FHA and FHFA (Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae) mortgages. Both agencies have implemented a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for single family homeowners. The FHFA is also allowing payment forbearance for borrowers who have suffered a loss of income due to coronavirus for up to 12 months. Payments may be reduced or paused completely. They encourage borrowers experiencing a hardship to reach out to their loan servicer for more information about forbearance or to work out a payment plan. FHFA is also directing lenders not to report people to the credit bureaus for missed or late payments if the borrower is in forbearance at this time. These changes impact about half of mortgage holders. It is expected that the entire mortgage industry will soon adopt similar policies.
The Federal HUD recently sent guidance encouraging public housing agencies to put a temporary freeze on evictions for all rent assisted properties. Families have the ability to report a decrease in income to have their share of the rent adjusted. I spoke with the director of the Bellevue Housing Agency serving Sarpy County (BHA) yesterday and confirmed that BHA has placed a moratorium on evictions and have forms outside their office and online for people who need income adjustments to their rent.
I am glad that federal and local agencies are taking steps to provide relief for some homeowners and those in public housing. However, I am concerned about renters who may still be vulnerable to evictions. The Governor discouraged evictions in a recent press conference, but I am encouraging him to issue an executive order to place a moratorium on all evictions during this emergency.
Bellevue Public Schools – Meal Support for Students
Bellevue Public Schools is extending a program similar to the summer meals program to ensure all students have food at home during this closure. Beginning on Monday, March 23rd from 11:00am-12:00pm; and then each day through the week visit these locations for a meal:
Every child who shows up (ages 1-18) at one of our drive up sites will receive meals (breakfast and lunch) to take home. There is no charge, and no ID is required.
Food Bank for the Heartland
I spoke with Brian Barks, President of Food Bank for the Heartland, yesterday morning. Though the Bellevue Food Pantry has closed, there are two upcoming drive-up pantries in Bellevue within the next week put on by Food Bank for the Heartland. The Food Bank is putting together pre-packed pantry boxes that contain staple items like peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pasta sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruits, bread and produce. Dependent on family size, the pantry boxes should feed families for 7-10 days. In an effort to reduce person-to-person contact, volunteers will ask you to drive up, pop your trunk and put the box in for you without you ever having to exit your vehicle. Though they do not know how many people to expect, they are going to do their best to serve every household they can. See here for the full list of mobile pantries for the month of March. Brian also noted that calling 2-1-1, United Way’s community resource line, will put you in touch with local pantries or meal providers based on your zipcode.
Drive Up Pantries in Bellevue
Mission Middle School (2202 S Washington Street), March 25th, 5:00 pm – 6:30pm
Church of the Holy Spirit (1305 Thomas Drive), March 28th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Providing Relief for Restaurants
On Thursday, the Governor directed all restaurants and bars to close their dining areas and move to take-out or delivery options only. The Governor issued an executive order that afternoon to provide relief to restaurant owners and businesses who may experience economic hardship during this time. The executive order permits the following:
Temporarily Ease Driver and Vehicle Requirements
On Thursday the Governor also issued an executive order to increase flexibility in requirements for Nebraskans relating to driver licensing and vehicle registration requirements. The Governor is extending driver licenses and vehicle registrations expiring on or after March 1st. The extension will remain in effect until 30 days after the order is lifted. This will assist social distancing and reduce the need for traveling to driver licensing offices. Any Nebraska penalties or interest associated with late filing of quarterly returns for members of the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) will be waived. Monthly inspection and reporting requirements under the ignition interlock program will be provided a two-week extension period for all existing interlock customers. Additional extensions will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Federal Tax Day Moved to July 15
The Secretary of the Treasury announced Friday morning that the federal Tax Day would move from April 15th to July 15th. This provides individuals and businesses with additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties for federal taxes. The Governor said that we should expect an announcement next week on whether the state of Nebraska will follow suit.
Federal Student Loan Payments Suspended
The U.S. Secretary of Education announced today that the office of Federal Student Aid is providing student loan relief to borrowers for the time being. All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for 60 days or more to allow for greater flexibility during the national emergency. This will allow borrowers to temporarily stop their payments without worrying about accruing interest.
Governor’s Press Conferences
Wednesday afternoon, the Governor held a press conference with leaders from the Grocery, Restaurant and Daycare industries. In discussing the grocery industry we were assured that the supply chain is strong and there are just shortages on some sanitizing items. There are not any concerns about the strength of the food supply. It was recommended that we let the elderly and most vulnerable people shop in the first hour of the day. If you can shop at a later time, it allows people in high-risk groups to get items that they need with less risk of contracting the virus and suffering from complications. For now, the recommendation is to avoid reusable bags to avoid any spread of germs from the bags. The restaurant industry continues to use strong sanitation practices. The best ways to support your local restaurants in this time is by ordering carryout and buying gift cards. Lastly, the Governor is still mandating that people congregate in groups of 10 people or less by limiting daycares to 10 kids per room. The daycare industry is asking parents to allow health care workers and first responders to have daycare spots first, due to their work demands.
On Friday, the Governor held another press conference to discuss testing, OPPD’s response, the city of Lincoln’s first confirmed case and our water supply. Dr. Anthone, director of the Division of Public Health, spoke briefly about their need to expand testing so that people who must be tested (health care professionals, first responders, and nursing care facility patients) have access. Tim Burke from OPPD discussed that they are in the process of creating a pandemic crisis and business continuity plan and have extended their disconnection period through April 30th. He expects that the disconnection period will likely be lengthened after they reassess the situation in the near future. OPPD is looking into customer options and solutions they can implement for the next several weeks but wants to assure the public that they are monitoring staff and implementing work-from-home strategies. Lastly, though it can be convenient to have bottled water around, the drinking water supply is safe and abundant and the Governor is encouraging Nebraskans to use their tap water as they would normally.
Nebraska Approved for SBA Disaster Loans
At his press conference on Friday, the Governor announced that Nebraska was approved for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loans. More information will be forthcoming on this topic in the coming days. For now, you can access information about these loans here. The Governor stated that a call center will likely be operated through the Department of Economic Development for those who want to apply for an SBA Disaster Loan but have questions or concerns.
Governor Ricketts Announces Directed Health Measures for Sarpy County
On Thursday, the Governor announced the State’s first Directed Health Measure (DHM) for COVID-19 which imposes a limit on public gatherings. This DHM applies to Cass, Douglas, Washington and Sarpy counties. The DHM applies to restaurants and bars, requiring that they shut down their dining areas and transition to only take-out or drive-through options. It also applies to theatres, churches and other places of worship, gyms, and social clubs. Below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding the DHM which were included in the Governor’s press release.
Do I need to shut down my bar or restaurant? No, but please prepare food for takeout.
Do I need to shut down my daycare? No. DHHS has issued new guidance for daycares you can find at this link.
Do I need to shut down my office? The DHM does not apply to office buildings, grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, court houses, court rooms, banks, car dealerships, auto repair shops, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, small shops, golf courses, big box stores, gas stations, convenience stores, shopping malls, manufacturing facilities, packing facilities, construction jobs, and other traditional office settings. That being said, please make an effort to engage in social distancing if possible.
Are weddings or funerals cancelled? Weddings and funerals are subject to the 10-person limit, as are concerts, athletic events and other social gatherings. As such, rearranging plans is encouraged and flexibility on the part of event planners and facilities is appreciated.
Other counties in Nebraska remain under the Governor’s guidance that was issued on Monday. Please find that guidance here.
Testing and Screening Information
If you are showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19, please call ahead to your healthcare provider to be evaluated and determine if you need to be tested. Symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms reported are: fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. If you do not have a primary care provider, below is a list of healthcare networks that can help. If you see a doctor at one of the health systems below, call or use the hospital’s information line below.
The bill recently passed by Congress requires that private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid cover COVID-19 testing. Contact your insurance provider for more information.
Sarpy County Cancellations and Closures
The following Sarpy County events and programs have been cancelled:
Bellevue Cancellations and Closures
The following Bellevue closures have been announced:
Offutt Air Force Base Closures
On Wednesday, Offutt AFB announced that its Field House and Indoor Pool would be closed indefinitely. All events at Warhawk Community Center have been canceled. Peacekeeper Lanes is closed for bowling, but Kegler Kafe is open for take-out orders. The Military Personnel Flight will limit its waiting room and modify check-in procedures.
Lift Up Sarpy
Lift Up Sarpy County provides management for a collaboration of local organizations that help families move from crisis to sustainability. This is achieved by providing information, support, education and crisis assistance. Please call 402-578-1953 for more information on how Lift Up Sarpy can assist you during these trying times.
Sarpy Chamber Partnering with Midlands Community Foundation
The Midlands Community Foundation has established a charitable fund named the Coronavirus Response Fund. The community can donate to the fund and donations will be pooled to provide emergency food, supplies, utility and other financial help for the hardest-hit households within Sarpy and Cass counties. The Coronavirus Response Fund will partner with other nonprofit organizations, government, and business partners to provide flexible resources to organizations in our joint service area working with communities who are disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the economic consequences of this outbreak. If you are interested in donating to the COVID Response Fund to help Sarpy and Cass counties, please follow this link.
A reminder that the DHHS COVID-19 information line is available 8:00am – 8:00pm, 7 days a week, at 402-552-6645. If you have questions about Nebraska cases, how to protect yourself or others, or Nebraska’s response to the virus please give them a call.
If you have questions about resources or services, call the United Way’s 2-1-1 Resource Hotline.
You are also welcome to call my office and speak with my staff at 402-471-2615. Though we are working from home and doing our part to flatten the curve, all calls are being forwarded to staff cell phones and we are checking email regularly. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daily Press Conferences with Governor Ricketts
Starting next week, the Governor will be holding daily press conferences at 2:00pm on weekdays. If you would like to stay up to date on Nebraska’s response to COVID-19, please visit this link to stream his press conferences live.
Federal Response: Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On Wednesday President Trump signed into law HR 6201: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act”. The Act will go into effect not later than 15 days after enactment. The Act provides:
2 weeks of paid sick leave paid at 100% of the employee’s usual salary up to a maximum of $511 per day if the employee is isolated, sick or quarantined (points 1-3) and $200 per day for employees caring for a family member or a child whose school has closed (points 4-5). Eligible employees are those who are unable to work because:
Up to 12 weeks paid family leave for employees unable to work because of a need to care for the employee’s child under 18 if the child’s school or child care is closed or the child care provider is unavailable. This leave is paid at a rate of two-thirds of the employee’s usual wage, up to a maximum of $200 per day.
Generally, these paid sick leave benefits apply to you if:
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All the best,
Special COVID-19 Update
I am using our newsletter outlet today to reach out to you and provide information about the COVID-19 virus and what it means in our community. In this difficult time, I encourage you to follow the guidance of our President and our Governor to avoid crowds over 10 people and to practice social distancing. Our office is following this guidance and so my staff and I will be working from home. I have been impressed with how our government and nonprofit leaders are stepping up to address this crisis. As I learn more about resources available, I will post updates on our Facebook page and will send out additional COVID-19 newsletter updates as updates accumulate. As we engage in social distancing, please be sure to reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors through phone calls and social media to keep our community connected.
Legislative Session Postponed
Yesterday morning, the Speaker announced that the 2020 Legislative Session would be postponed indefinitely. Our office will be closed to visitors until we are sure that we can operate safely. Please contact us by phone at 402-471-2615 or by email at email@example.com. We will continue to be at work and will do our best to answer your questions and needs through these means.
Bellevue Emergency Response
I attended an emergency response meeting yesterday morning with Bellevue city officials from various departments. At the time of the meeting they reported 0 cases in Bellevue and 0 cases in Sarpy County. They shared that the library and city departments remain open but they are asking people to use online and phone means whenever possible and asking people with symptoms to refrain from entering. This is subject to change as the situation changes rapidly. Departments are at work stocking supplies and setting up protocols to deal with city business while limiting exposure. Later today we are expecting a statement from the City of Bellevue that will be made available on the Bellevue YouTube Channel. Watch for that statement for updates on what is happening in Bellevue to address the crisis.
Governor’s Press Conference
The Governor held a press conference yesterday afternoon to discuss new relief measures and guidance. New guidance is to limit events to 10 people based on the CDC’s recommendation. Grocery stores will stay open. Schools are to transition to closing by Friday. New Unemployment Insurance rules for the emergency include the ability to apply for unemployment if you have been sent home from your work without pay or if you have reduced hours even if you have not been laid off.
Help for Workers
The best resource that we have at the state level to help workers is our unemployment insurance program. I spoke with the Department of Labor this morning about how they will be processing unemployment insurance claims. As of March 22, they will be processing claims for people who were sent home from work and are “underemployed”, meaning that they may return at a later date but are not currently working, in the same manner that they will processing claims for people who were laid off and will not be returning to work at all. Unemployment benefits are available now should someone get laid off from work entirely by the crisis. If you are still working but on reduced hours you should use the current Short Time Compensation plan (see here).
Our office is also tracking what is happening at the federal level to see what resources may be available to workers. A bill has passed in the House and is in the Senate. When we learn about additional resources available from the federal government we will post that information on our Facebook page.
Help for Businesses
The state is currently working with the Small Business Administration to ensure that emergency disaster loans will be available for Nebraska businesses. We will post updates when we have more information about the availability of these loans in Nebraska.
Bellevue Public Schools
Bellevue Public Schools has extended their closure following spring break with no tentative return date. They will re-evaluate every two weeks regarding return options. This closure includes all Bellevue Public Schools buildings, the Welcome Center and Lied Activity Center and the Kids’ Time program. This also means that activities, athletics, clubs, meetings and school dances are cancelled or postponed until a later date. As for graduating seniors and ceremonies, Superintendent Jeff Rippe is monitoring the situation and will make a call about graduation ceremonies at a later date. BPS also assures me that they are working on a plan to get food to our students who rely on the schools for breakfast and lunch. Watch for more details on the Bellevue Public Schools website linked here.
White House Briefing Call Tomorrow
Tomorrow morning I will join White House Senior Administration Officials for a briefing call about the virus with other state and local elected officials. I will share what I learn from the call on my Facebook page.
The Sarpy/Cass County Public Health website is frequently being updated with local information on the COVID-19 situation. You can find information about public gatherings, school closures, business closures and testing resources here. If you have traveled to China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand within the past 2 weeks please complete the survey on the website to help the Department assess and control the situation.
Yesterday and today Sarpy County restricted access to in-person services. Many Sarpy County services like renewing your vehicle registration, paying your property taxes, property searches and paying traffic or court fines are available online. Like many other counties during this time, Sarpy is encouraging the use of online services whenever possible to contain the virus and decrease the chance of community spread. Please visit this link to access online Sarpy County services. Check out the Sarpy County website for updates on whether in-person services are available.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has set up a coronavirus information line that will allow residents to get answers to general questions and receive information on resources available. That number is (402) 552-6645. The information line’s hours of operation are 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. CST, 7 days a week. For more information visit the DHHS COVID-19 webpage here.
Nebraska Medicine also is keeping their website updated with community spread information and resources for health care providers here.
Lastly, the President in collaboration with the CDC has released general guidelines to keep people as safe and healthy as possible as we maneuver this difficult time. These guidelines include: staying home if you feel sick, staying home and away from others if you are an older person or a person with an underlying health condition, avoiding discretionary travel, avoiding social gatherings and practicing good hygiene. Additional recommendations can be found at the CDC’s website here.
More Details on How to Apply for Unemployment Insurance in Nebraska
To file a claim, you will first visit the Department of Labor website linked here. Once you’ve reached the homepage, you will see a box labeled “NEworks” on the left side. If you do not have an NEworks account you will be asked to set one up, but the process is quick and easy. After logging into your account or creating a new one, you will see two columns. On the left side will be “Unemployment Services”. Click there to proceed to the page where you can file a claim. The claim will ask for your basic information as well as if you have an estimated return to work date. The Department of Labor emphasized that this is one of the most important parts of the application because they base your benefits and status off of that date. If you are unsure of your return to work date, it may be helpful to contact your manager for their best estimate. I was told that some parts of the application have tricky wording, so if you have specific questions about the language you can call the Department’s main line at 402-471-2275. I’ve also attached the Unemployment Insurance Handbook from the Department which contains further information about reemployment services, eligibility and benefits. It is important to note that due to an influx in applications, it may take up to three weeks to process your claim. Again, if you are still working but on reduced hours you should use the current Short Time Compensation plan (see here).
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All the best,
LB 933 Amended into LB 632
LB 933 is now a part of the Natural Resources committee priority package, LB 632. My LB 933 is a bill to prevent tragedies resulting from customers with medical needs being disconnected from their utilities. We will debate LB 632 next week after our Monday recess day.
LB 627 Press Conference
On Wednesday after adjournment I attended Senator Patty Pansing Brooks’ press conference about her priority bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, LB 627. LB 627 would apply to employers with 15 or more employees or with state contracts regardless of the number of employees. I was happy to stand with Senator Pansing Brooks and several of my other colleagues to support this important legislation.
COVID-19 Briefing and Information
On Tuesday morning, members of the body and their staff met in the Warner Chamber for a briefing on the COVID-19. The briefing was presented by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Nebraska Medicine, two of the key players in approaching the issue at the state level. Speakers included Dr. Chris Kratochvil (UNMC), Shelly Schwedhelm (Executive Director of Emergency Management at Nebraska Medicine) and Dr. Gary Anthone (Chief Medical Officer, Division of Public Health). All speakers stressed the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions. These include staying home if you feel ill or if you know someone who feels ill and reducing close contacts at large gatherings. At this point Nebraska is well-equipped to address the virus with impressive research and testing facilities and the UMNC bio-containment unit, but it is vital that we do our part to stay safe and healthy. If you have questions or concerns, please follow this link to the CDC website which provides helpful information about the situation and the federal response. For Nebraska-specific information, please visit this link.
Speaker Scheer and the Executive Board have been in collaboration to formulate a plan should the virus impact our legislative duties in the next several weeks. As of now, Senators have been advised to limit public appearances and meetings as well as develop a Continuity of Operations plan with our staff members.
We debated the budget on Thursday. It includes additional money for our public health departments. We are still waiting for a plan from the Governor to know what other funds may need to be appropriated.
There are also conversations about what can be done to help workers who will miss work if they are quarantined. Currently our Department of Labor is in conversations about whether we can authorize unemployment funds to provide funds for workers who must be away from work because of the virus. Also, I plan to offer an amendment to one of our upcoming bills to amend the Governor’s Emergency Power to allow the Governor to offer paid leave and paid family leave for individuals who are quarantined. We are still waiting to hear if aid may be made available to states for leave. If such funds become available, this language would give the Governor authority to expend those funds for paid leave.
Budget Briefing & Debate
On Wednesday morning, Senator John Stinner held a briefing to provide a general overview of budget bills. The budget proposal was advanced to the full Legislature for debate on Thursday. There are several hefty priorities and concerns outlined in the committee’s budget report including property tax relief, a tax incentive program and corrections funding.
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All the best,
UNO Women’s Policy Forum
Monday was a recess day so I spent my afternoon at the UNO Women’s Policy Forum. The forum is put on every year by UNO’s School of Public Administration. I was joined by Senator Howard, Senator Hunt, Senator Pansing Brooks, Senator Deboer and Senator Blood. The event had an excellent turnout and was a wonderful opportunity to discuss our passions and priorities this session.
For the Love of Reading Event
Also on Monday I had the chance to read to a class of second graders at Chandler View Elementary in Bellevue. The event was fun and educational and I hope these students keep pursuing their love of learning in the years to come! Thank you to Mr. Ventura for organizing this event for Senators to visit.
This week we made the transition from debating solely in the mornings to full-day floor debate. Our discussions on Friday included LB 1061 and LB 870 on Select File. Both bills advanced with strong bipartisan support. My staff and I have worked especially hard on LB 1061, our bill about the non-court child welfare system, this session. After reaching an agreement with the County Attorneys last week, we were especially excited to see it advance. I introduced LB 870, which was later prioritized by Senator Clements, to provide cities with direct borrowing power after a natural disaster. This bill would be helpful in cases of flooding, which is an issue we are well aware of as a body after the flooding last spring.
LB 944, the Transportation and Telecommunications committee priority package, also advanced Friday morning. My LB 983, a bill to eliminate the one point penalty for speeding violations up to five miles per hour, was amended into this bill.
LB 1001, my bill to require suicide hotline numbers to be printed on public school IDs, advanced as part of Senator Groene’s LB 1131 on Tuesday. I’ve received many moving emails and phone calls since introducing this bill and am glad to know that Nebraska students feel it would make a positive impact if passed.
Logan Middle School Visit
On Friday morning, 7th and 8th graders from Logan Fontenelle Middle School visited the Legislature for a tour of the building and to learn about the Unicameral process. I was glad they had a chance to sit in and listen as we debated bills on the floor.
Renewable Fuels Nebraska Reception
On Wednesday evening I attended a reception put on by Renewable Fuels Nebraska. I have received many emails this session about climate change related issues and the importance of transitioning to renewable energy sources, so I appreciated the chance to speak with experts about how we can be aware of our environmental impact within policy decisions.
NLA Advocacy Day
The Nebraska Library Association’s (NLA) Advocacy Day was held on Thursday. The NLA’s annual visit to Lincoln provides legislators with a chance to discuss state-wide opportunities and challenges with library volunteers. Their day in Lincoln included a legislative briefing in the morning and a luncheon. I appreciate NLA’s commitment to furthering learning in Nebraska communities.
Boy Scout Troop 305’s Chili Cook Off
This weekend I’m looking forward to being a judge at the Boy Scout Troop 305 Chili Cook Off. The cook off and silent auction will benefit Boy Scouts in the Bellevue and Offutt communities on Saturday, March 7th at 4:00pm. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 11 and under. For more information about Troop 305’s fundraising weekend please visit the website linked here.
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All the best,
On Monday morning I attended the AFL-CIO annual Legislative Breakfast. The breakfast was held in conjunction with their annual Legislative Conference. Union members from throughout the state met in Lincoln to visit with Senators and their constituents. Members also had the chance to listen to floor debate Monday morning and hear several of my colleagues speak about relevant bills in the Warner Chamber.
Bills on the Floor
We debated several bills on the floor this week. A couple of notable ones include a bill that allows college athletes to earn money, LB 962 (the Nebraska Fair Pay to Play Act) which passed the first round. Another lengthy debate occurred on a bill to ban vaping in public spaces, LB 840. This bill also passed the first round.
Priority Bill Update
Behind the scenes I spent considerable time this week in meetings with the Department of Health and Human Services, child advocates and County Attorneys working out a compromise on the language in LB 1061. The County Attorneys opposed the bill on its first round and I agreed to meet with them and other stakeholders between the first and second round. I am happy to report that by Thursday morning we reached an agreement so we will be set to push the bill successfully through the next round.
Nebraska Nurses Day
Thursday was Nebraska Nurses Day at the Capitol. Nurses from all over the state visited the Unicameral and discussed important issues with their representatives. One of the highlights of the day was learning about Nebraska’s nurse practitioners. There are currently 2,000 licensed nurse practitioners in Nebraska and 1.06 billion visits to nurse practitioners annually for health care needs. I am grateful to these hardworking people for keeping our state healthy and safe.
LB 870 Advances
LB 870 advanced to the Enrollment & Review stage on Wednesday. LB 870, introduced by me and prioritized by Senator Rob Clements, would allow cities and municipalities to borrow directly from banks in the event of a natural disaster. LB 870 is an important bill this session given the hardship many Nebraskans faced last year in the spring with flooding.
Bags & Swag
The Housing Foundation for Sarpy County put on a wonderful fundraising event this week to benefit the Bellevue Housing Agency. Cleverly named Bags & Swag, the night includes a silent auction with handbags and musical entertainment. I have attended this event for the past several years and it never disappoints. Thank you to the Housing Foundation for Sarpy County for your dedication to maintaining and supporting the Bellevue Housing Agency.
Military Assets and Spending Webinar
On Friday I attended a webinar through the University of Nebraska’s Bureau of Business Research (BBR). The subject of this webinar was military assets and spending. UNL’s BBR partnered with the Nebraska Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs to examine federal spending on military assets and support for veterans in Nebraska specifically in the 2018 fiscal year. I appreciated discussing these topics with the project’s director, Mitchel Herian, and Phil O’Donnell, the military affairs liaison for the Nebraska Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs.
Public Hearings over
This Tuesday marked the halfway point of this 60-day session and Thursday marked my last afternoon of public hearings in office. I am looking forward to next week when we will begin full-day floor debate. Toward the middle of March the Speaker will start scheduling late nights, where we debate later into the evening instead of adjourning at 5:00. Senators are eager to have their priorities heard, so it will be an interesting and busy next 30 session days!
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All the best,
On Monday I attended a breakfast hosted by OutNebraska and heard a presentation about the organization’s priorities this session. OutNebraska is a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring equal rights for LGBTQ Nebraskans. It has grown exponentially since last year when they obtained their official status as a statewide organization and I’m grateful for their efforts to promote equality and fairness in Nebraska workplaces.
FFA Agriscience Students Visit
This week I had the opportunity to speak with Kullen Cartella and Karter Otte from the O’Neill FFA Chapter. They will be participating in the Agriscience Fair this year which requires them to brainstorm about how to solve issues in the agriculture industry. I was happy to answer their questions about how agricultural education has influenced state leaders and wish them the best of luck on the rest of their project.
Governor’s Youth Advisory Council Lunch
On Tuesday I joined many of my colleagues at the Governor’s Youth Advisory Council Lunch, part of the Legislative Days program. The program gives young leaders the opportunity to learn about the legislative process, observe floor debate and connect with their Senators when they visit the Capitol. One of the highlights of the event was hearing each group of students present their stance on bills for us during the luncheon. Nebraska’s future is in good hands with these bright young people.
Final Reading Bills Passed
On Thursday morning we worked through a number of bills on Final Reading and sent them to the Governor’s desk.
One of the bills that we voted to send to the Governor’s desk was my LB 236, a carryover bill from last session. LB 236 allows the Department of Revenue to provide sales tax reports on the Nebraska Advantage Transformational Tourism and Redevelopment Act (NATTRA) to cities who participate in one of their economic development incentive programs in a secure electronic manner. The current law requires that the information can only be accessed if someone from the participating municipality drives to Lincoln and views the information in the Department office. The goal is to make the NATTRA process work more efficiently for both sides. If signed by the Governor, LB 236 will take the standard effective date which is 90 days following the final legislative session day.
Though there were not any public hearings on my bills this week, another one of my bills was assigned a public hearing date. LB 948 will be heard in the Banking, Commerce and Insurance committee on February 18th. It requires that insurance companies offer coverage at no cost for more intensive breast cancer screening services for women with dense breasts or at higher risk of cancer. The bill also requires that insurance covers their MRIs. I am looking forward to presenting this bill so that women at higher risk of cancer get the coverage they need.
CAFCON Legislative Lunch
The Children and Families Coalition of Nebraska (CAFCON) invited Senators to visit with their member organizations this week on Thursday. The lunch provided an opportunity for us to hear about specific priority bills that would impact them. These bills address issues like the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Centers needing better regulation and juvenile justice reform. My office has had many conversations regarding child welfare in the past several months so it was helpful to hear from CAFCON about their strategies and intentions for the session.
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All the best,
Nebraska Thriving Index Briefing
On Monday I joined the Rural Futures Institute for their briefing on their recently published Nebraska Thriving Index. The report offers insights and context about economies and quality of life benchmarking in rural parts of the state. They also introduced a comparison tool for tracking regional trends. That tool is up and running for public use and is available here.
Nebraska LEAD Program Breakfast
On Tuesday morning I attended the Nebraska LEAD Program Breakfast honoring my constituent and LEAD Fellow John Bronner. The Nebraska LEAD Program is a nationally recognized organization that discusses agricultural policy, marketing, economics and technology. Congratulations to John for all his hard work and to the rest of LEAD #39 as well.
Public hearings this week
This week we continued the presentation of legislation at public hearings. Four of my bills were heard: LB 983, 842, 870 and 1061.
LB 983 and LB 842 were both heard on Monday in the Transportation and Telecommunications committee. LB 983 eliminates the current provision that one point be issued against a driver’s license for any speeding violation of five miles an hour or under . LB 842 relates to motor vehicle taxes imposed on military service members. This bill creates a vehicle tax exemption for active duty members of the armed forces who are Nebraska residents as well as their spouses.
LB 870 was heard on Tuesday in Urban Affairs. This is a bill that allows cities to directly borrow funds from a bank to supply infrastructure and services following a natural disaster.
I presented LB 1061 in the Health and Human Services committee on Friday. The bill makes a number of changes to Nebraska’s Child Protection and Family Safety Act. Thank you to the child welfare advocates that testified in support of this bill that will protect parents, children and caregivers.
Public hearings coming up
The next bill hearing I have scheduled is for LB 933. LB 933 changes provisions relating to the discontinuation of utility services. This bill would prevent tragedies resulting from customers with medical needs being disconnected from their utilities. The hearing will take place on February 13th in the Natural Resources committee.
Hall of Fame Banquet
On Thursday night I joined many of my colleagues at the Nebraska Chamber’s Hall of Fame Banquet. Each year the Chamber holds this event to celebrate business leaders in Nebraska. This year’s inductees were Richard Bell (former chairman and CEO of HDR in Omaha), Bill Marshall (former president of Five Points Bank in Grand Island) and Roland Temme (founder and owner of TMCO, Inc. in Lincoln). Congratulations to all of the inductees and thank you to the Chamber for putting on this event to honor our state’s leaders in business.
Nebraska Veterans Council Day
The Nebraska Veterans Council annual Legislative Day was held at the Capitol yesterday. They spoke with legislators about their priorities and interests for this session. I was glad to welcome them to the Unicameral this year and update the group on LB 841, LB 842 and LB 153, three bills that would greatly benefit Nebraska veterans and active duty members.
Elevating Nebraska’s Early Childhood Workforce Program
The Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission and Buffett Early Childhood Institute shared their new report and recommendations in a program on Thursday morning. Public and private sector leaders came together to discuss the need to prioritize the early childhood workforce in Nebraska for children and families. The report is available here and explains their comprehensive plan to ensure the workforce is highly qualified, diverse and engages stakeholders in the process.
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All the best,
Supporting Survivors Luncheon
I was happy to attend the Supporting Survivors Luncheon this week, hosted by Senator Robert Hilkemann, Survivors Rising, the Women’s Fund of Omaha, and the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska. This was a great opportunity to show our support of survivors of trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence and encourge their continued advocacy in the Legislature.
Week 3 Bill Introduction
This week I introduced one more bill for a total of 10, not including carryover bills. LB 1061, introduced Tuesday, is about the alternative response program and non-court cases within the child welfare system. Over half of our child welfare cases in Nebraska are now non-court involved cases. LB 1061 would set statutory parameters for those cases to ensure that children are safe. You can see the full list of my bills for this biennium here. If you would like more information on any of these proposals please contact my office.
Public Hearings This Week
This week marked the end of bill introduction and the start of public hearings on legislation. Two of my bills, LB 871 and LB 841, were presented this week in the Judiciary and Revenue committees respectively. LB 871 creates a mechanism for the Attorney General to take action against companies suspected of engaging in unfair pricing. LB 841 would allow permanently disabled veterans to verify their disability status just once, instead of having to verify their disability status on an ongoing basis.
Public Hearings Next Week
Next week four more of my bills will have hearings: LB 983, 842, 870 and 1061.
LB 983 eliminates the current provision that one point be issued against a driver’s license for any speeding violation up to five miles per hour. The hearing on LB 983 is on Monday before the Revenue committee.
LB 842 relates to motor vehicle taxes imposed on military service members. This bill provides that active duty members of the armed forces who are Nebraska residents, as well as their spouses, can qualify for a motor vehicle tax exemption.
LB 870 is a bill that allows cities to directly borrow funds from a bank to supply infrastructure and services following a natural disaster such as a flood. With this in place, communities impacted by natural disasters can quickly obtain the funding they need to provide essential resources like water to their residents. This bill will be heard by the Urban Affairs committee next Tuesday.
LB 1061 makes a number of changes to Nebraska’s Child Protection and Family Safety Act which will protect and provide greater clarity for parents, children and caregivers involved in Nebraska’s child welfare system. Several of these changes to alternative response include clearer definitions of response pathways for reports of child abuse and neglect and the establishment of an advisory group under the Nebraska Children’s Commission. Changes to non-court involved cases include the requirement for a temporary delegation of parental authority when a child is placed out of the home and notification of rights for the parent and/or caregiver. LB 1061 will be heard by the Health and Human Services committee next Friday.
The schedule for bill hearings can be found here. If you have any interest in testifying at a public hearing, please contact me or my staff at 402-471-2615.
State of the Judiciary Address
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Mike Heavican delivered the annual State of the Judiciary Address to the body. He discussed the Supreme Court’s Language Access Program, child welfare in the courts and the expansion of services and programing within the Judicial Branch despite challenges like the flooding last spring. I was especially glad to hear about the outreach programs across our state that work to improve the juvenile court system and hope to see those programs expand and improve once again this year.
Nebraska Volunteer Firefighter Association Breakfast
Early this week I joined the Nebraska Volunteer Firefighters Association for their annual breakfast for elected officials. The breakfast is always well-attended and offers a chance to show our appreciation for these volunteers.
YRTC Health and Human Services Briefing
In August, members of the Health and Human Services Committee learned of improper living conditions and problems caused by understaffing at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs) in Geneva and Kearney. These centers serve youth ages fourteen to nineteen in the state’s juvenile justice system and are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS Committee held public hearings, tours of the facilities and interviews with stakeholders over the interim to determine how to best approach the problem. On Wednesday, Senator Howard held a briefing about the Committee’s recommendations and the six bills they will introduce this session in response to the situation. I am hopeful that these pieces of legislation will improve the environment of the YRTCs and create a supportive framework for the treatment programs they provide.
Nebraska Conservation Breakfast
On Thursday I attended the Nebraska Conservation Roundtable Breakfast. The Nebraska Conservation Roundtable serves as a resource for Senators in the Legislature as they approach sustainability issues in our state. At the breakfast we discussed the impact of climate change on agriculture and possible agricultural legislative changes to address climate change such as support for ground cover crops.
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All the best,
Week 2 Bill Introduction
This week we had four full days of bill introduction. By the end of the day Thursday 314 bills and 18 resolutions had been introduced this year. I introduced 3 bills this week. They are:
LB 948 requires that insurance companies offer coverage at no cost for more intensive breast cancer screening services for women with dense breasts or at higher risk of cancer. The bill also requires that MRIs be covered by insurance for these women. This bill ensures that women at higher risk of cancer get the coverage they need and are not stuck with surprise medical bills due to their intensive testing needs.
LB 983 eliminates the current provision that requires 1 point be issued against a driver’s license for any speeding violation up to 5 miles per hour. Nebraska’s point system is stricter than surrounding states and a small speeding violation can increase insurance costs.
LB 1001 requires that the Suicide Hotline number be printed on public school student IDs. The bill brings awareness to suicide prevention and encourages struggling students to access the suicide hotlines if they are in crisis.
Bills on the Agenda
This week we debated several key bills on General File first-round debate. Those include two of my own, LB 305 and LB 322.
LB 305 creates the “Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act” and requires employers with four or more employees to provide employees with one hour of “sick and safe” leave for every thirty hours worked. Safe leave can be used by employees experiencing domestic violence or stalking. The discussion on LB 305 will continue next week.
LB 322 deals with tobacco compliance checks performed by law enforcement and tobacco prevention coalitions and establishes a uniform process for those checks state-wide. Compliance checks allow law enforcement and tobacco prevention coalitions to work with young people to test whether retailers are selling tobacco products to minors. The bill advanced to the Enrollment and Review stage with unanimous support from the body.
Suicide Prevention Press Conference
Senator John McCollister and I held a press conference on Wednesday morning to bring awareness to the suicide prevention legislation that is being brought forth by each of our offices this session. My bill, LB 1001, would require that public schools print the Suicide Hotline number on student ID badges. Senator McCollister’s bill, LB 816, would put a 48-hour waiting period on purchasing a semi automatic rifle or shotgun so local law enforcement can conduct a background check. His bill also requires that suicide prevention material be provided with certification and a background check when purchasing a firearm at a gun show.
The statistics regarding teen suicide are sobering to say the least. LB 1001 is one small step we can take toward reducing teen suicide. I appreciate Channel 3 News covering this story and have linked their article here for those who would like more information on the subject.
Bill Hearings Begin Next Week
Next week will mark the start of public bill hearings. I have two bills scheduled for hearings next week: LBs 871, my bill about price gouging, and 841, my bill about veterans’ disability status and certification. You can find the schedule for bill hearings here. Committees must give at least one week’s notice to the public before a hearing, so the schedule will continue to be updated as the session progresses.
Bill Tracker Tool
My colleagues and I have introduced 314 bills this year. If there are particular bills in that collection that you want to keep track of, our bill tracking tool is a great way to do so! You can sign up for the bill tracker here.
The Bill Tracker tool allows you to receive updates on up to 15 bills at a time for free or to sign up for a premium account to track an unlimited number of bills. If you check the box to receive email updates you will be sent a notification when a bill you selected is scheduled for a public hearing and when it is advanced through each round of debate.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
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