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Unicameral Sends COVID-19 Funding Bill To Final Reading

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska lawmakers returned Monday afternoon from a week-long coronavirus recess to give quick preliminary approval to an expanded $83.6-million dollar version of Governor Pete Ricketts emergency funding package for the fight against the virus.

The new funding bill sailed through a key procedural move, sending it directly to final reading on a 44-0 voice vote. Lawmakers will be back in the capitol Tuesday just long enough to meet statutory requirements, then will hold the final reading on Wednesday.

Ricketts asked for $58.6-million earmarked for such things as personal protective equipment for local governments, lab testing at the UNMC, and overtime for health care workers and other involved in the coronavirus fight, but the legislature added another $25-million in unobligated funds.

All the money would be transferred from the state’s Cash Reserve into the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund, then directed to a new program specifically for COVID-19 needs.

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner of Gering said having a single funding source for the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19 would simplify the process with more adaptability and flexibility than having to pass separate appropriations for individual agencies.

Stinner also said the $25-million in unobligated money will be held as a reserve in the new COVID-19 program so that funding could be quickly accessed for any unforeseen needs that might arise.

Speaker Jim Scheer, who suspended the legislative session when the recommended public gathering limit was still 50, thanked his fellow lawmakers for their willingness to put themselves at risk to provide additional resources to the executive branch.

Scheer called it “truly an historic time in our country and for us to be here – to be able to do something to help the residents of the state of Nebraska.”