Following the temporary suspension of the legislative session March 16, senators met briefly to provide emergency funding to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Nebraska.

LB1198, sponsored by Gering Sen. John Stinner, transferred $83.6 million from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund, which was then directed to the newly created Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19. The funds were to be used to bolster the state’s response to the pandemic.

When session resumed in mid-July, lawmakers made adjustments to the state’s two-year budget with passage of three bills.

LB1008, introduced by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, adjusts appropriations for state operations, aid and construction programs in the current and next fiscal year.

As amended, LB1008 includes $55.2 million to address damage from the 2019 floods. It also incorporates the provisions of several additional bills, including:
LB773, sponsored by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, which transfers $10 million in general funds to the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund;
LB827, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann, which provides a $3.7 million increase in developmental disability provider rates;
LB1018, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, which appropriates an additional $1.5 million to aid local public health departments;
LB1079, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, which appropriates $250,000 in general funds to the Nebraska State Patrol crime lab to support the timely processing of sexual assault forensic evidence; and
LB1097, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, which appropriates $458,000 over two years to the state Supreme Court to increase staffing for youth problem-solving courts.

The bill requires that any unallocated and unexpended coronavirus relief funds as of Nov. 15, 2020, be reoffered through a grant process to meet remaining unmet needs, including rental and food assistance, small business and livestock stabilization, broadband, workforce retraining and child care.

In addition—if allowed by federal law—any unallocated or unexpended funds received pursuant to the federal 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will be transferred to the Cash Reserve Fund on or before Dec. 30, 2020.

LB1008 passed on a vote of 43-3 and took effect immediately.

Lawmakers also approved LB1009, introduced by Scheer at the request of the governor, which authorizes and provides for certain fund transfers. The bill, passed 46-2, includes a transfer of $60 million from the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund to the state’s Cash Reserve Fund. The amount is the unused portion of the $83.6 million appropriated in LB1198, which was unspent due to federal aid received by the state.

Also included in the budget package is LB927, introduced by the Business and Labor Committee, which provides for payment of claims against the state. The bill includes tort and workers’ compensation claims totaling $1.5 million, along with $66 million in agency write-offs for uncollectible debts.

Other measures

Senators authorized business and administrative fee increases and provided for creative districts throughout the state.

LB910, sponsored by Stinner, consolidates cash funds administered by, and restructures fees assessed by, the Nebraska secretary of state’s office.

The bill, passed 42-5, creates the Secretary of State Cash Fund by transferring the balances of the existing Administration Cash Fund, Corporation Cash Fund, Nebraska Collection Agency Fund, Secretary of State Administration Cash Fund and the Uniform Commercial Code Cash Fund.

LB780, also introduced by Stinner, makes a technical change to the budgeting process of the Nebraska Arts Council and authorizes creative districts.

The bill sets the level of administrative funding available from the Nebraska Arts and Humanities Cash Fund, beginning in fiscal year 2021, at an amount equivalent to 0.5 percent of the previous fiscal year’s ending balance of the Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund. Current state law caps that amount at $30,000.

The bill includes provisions of Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt’s LB943 that require the Nebraska Arts Council to devise a plan for creative districts throughout the state.

The newly formed districts will be certified by the council and distinguished by geography, artistic or cultural activities or facilities, promotion and preservation of artistic or cultural sites or events, educational uses of such activities or sites and unique or niche areas, activities, events, facilities or sites.

The bill also allows the council to create a competitive grant program available to a certified cultural district through the Nebraska Arts and Humanities Cash Fund.

LB780 passed on a 47-0 vote.

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