Lawmakers approved emergency funding Monday to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic in Nebraska.
Previously, Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk suspended the legislative session March 16 in response to growing public health concerns regarding the spread of the virus.
He called senators back into session for the limited purpose of approving emergency pandemic funding.
Offered by Gering Sen. John Stinner, the amendment would replace the contents of his LB 1198, which senators previously advanced to the second round of debate.
The amendment would appropriate a total of $83.6 million to bolster the state’s response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Funds would be transferred from the state’s cash reserve to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund. Dollars then would be directed to a newly created program to be known as the Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19, housed within the state’s military department.
Stinner said using the new program would simplify the process and allow adaptability and flexibility, rather than making separate appropriations to individual agencies.
Among the funding priorities outlined in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ request to the Legislature were:
• $38.2 million for personal protective gear and other supplies and support for local health departments
• $13 million to maintain staffing at veterans’ homes and state Department of Health and Human Services care facilities;
• $4 million for additional staffing and overtime costs for the DHHS Division of Public Health;
• $2.5 million to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for lab equipment, software programming and personnel;
• $515,000 to UNMC to facilitate COVID-19 testing; and
• $344,000 to establish a statewide communication system to share information related to response efforts.
Stinner said the amendment also would provide $25 million in unobligated funds to deal with the fluid situation. The additional funds would be held in reserve for unforeseen needs that may arise.
“We’ll get through this,” Stinner said. “But now it’s our turn to lay down our partisan politics and pass this bill for the state to protect the safety and well-being of all Nebraskans.”
Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said she hoped to see the unobligated resources prioritized for vulnerable populations served by nursing facilities and federally qualified health centers.
Following adoption of the amendment on a vote of 44-0, lawmakers advanced LB 1198 to final reading by voice vote. By law, bills must lay idle for at least one day to allow more thoughtful consideration.
Final reading is scheduled March 25.
Scheer thanked lawmakers for their willingness to put themselves at risk to provide additional resources to the executive branch.
“It is 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,” he said.