The Nebraska Legislature temporarily reconvened Monday, March 23, to discuss emergency funding for combatting the coronavirus pandemic within the state.
In response to growing public health concerns over COVID-19, Speaker Jim Scheer announced March 16 that the legislature would not reconvene as scheduled on March 17 and that senators could be temporarily called back to discuss emergency appropriations.
The emergency COVID-19 funding advanced in the form of an amendment to LB 1198 by Sen. John Stinner of Gering. The amendment, adopted 44-0, would replace the contents of the original bill. The new bill would appropriate $83.6 million to be used for fighting the pandemic.
Funds would be transferred to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund and then directed to a new program called the Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19, allowing for funding to come from one source instead of appropriating money to a number of different agencies.
A large portion of the funding, $38.2 million, would be allocated for personal protective equipment and other equipment, but other funding priorities included staffing veterans’ homes and other state care facilities, supporting the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health and the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s resources, as well as facilitating COVID-19 testing and establishing a statewide communications system to share response efforts.
The funding would also reserve $25 million in unobligated funds to be used as unforeseen needs arise.
The bill advanced to final reading by voice vote, and lawmakers will debate the contents of the bill again on Wednesday because of the required one-day layover. An emergency clause will enable the bill to go into effect as soon as it’s signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Sources: The Nebraska Legislature’s Unicameral Update