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Bills Civic Engagement Legislature Nebraska Politics

State Senators Can’t Phone It In

There are many jobs in our society that the last couple of weeks have shown us can be done from the comfort of our homes, often in our pajamas. State Senator isn’t one of them.

The government of this state is asking all of us to do our parts to slow the spread of COVID-19. For many of us, this is a completely “new normal.” They are asking students to take their lessons remotely. They are asking public school teachers to migrate lessons to a remote environment and continue to look out for students with specific special needs. They are asking bars and restaurants to change their business model to take out and selling meals in bulk. Parents are being asked to negotiate new-to-them work-from-home arrangements while taking responsibility for educating their kids who are no longer in school. Grandparents are being asked to learn Zoom and other technologies to interact with loved ones. Most of all, the majority of us are being asked to stay home.

For another set of folks, the government is asking something else difficult. Continue. Continue to work as a first responder, so that we can be safe. Continue to show up to hospitals and clinics to serve those who are ill. Continue to deliver the mail, pick up the garbage, and maintain our public utilities. Keep calm and continue.

Nebraskans are doing what Nebraskans do. We are doing the hard things government is asking us to do because we care about the greater good.

But the newest heroes on our front lines are the grocery store and other retail workers who are ensuring that our food supply remains uninterrupted. These are folks who are not, for the most part, paid a living wage. Many of these folks rely on government programs to assist with child care, healthcare, and housing. The irony is that they are ensuring our food security while remaining food insecure themselves. Yet, it would be difficult to argue that they are not essential workers.

Do you know who else needs to realize they are essential workers? Our state senators.

Last week, the NE State Legislature, citing concerns about the proportion of their population in the COVID-19 “at risk” group, chose not to convene for their session. Yesterday, the NE State Legislature convened for likely the shortest session in the history of the world. For about 30 minutes, the legislative branch did the work of governance, moving on an $83.6 million emergency funding package to deal with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic right here in Nebraska.

The speed with which this body acted makes it clear that there was definitely work being done behind the scenes. Colleagues likely had many calls and conversations to iron out exactly what this package would look like so that they were able to quickly come together and pass something without discussion. But the public was not privy to any of that discussion.

We have heard that normal, everyday issues in our hospitals are going to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal, everyday problems like bed shortage and equipment shortage will become very apparent with the added strain of a global emergency.

Nebraska has normal, everyday issues that we need our leaders to handle as well. And these are not going to look smaller in the face of a global emergency.

Vote by Mail
Nebraska’s voting system is cumbersome to many. We can increase enfranchisement by making it easier to vote by mail. This helps all of us by expanding the voter base. As the pandemic drags on, it’s becoming more and more clear that the election will not continue as business as usual and we need our legislators to be here for us.

Medicaid expansion
Nebraska had a healthcare emergency long before COVID-19. It is well past time to do what the voters have asked and expand Medicaid. The governor has made it clear where he stands on this issue and it’s time for a check on that power. Again, add COVID-19 and this problem only multiplies.

Prison reform
Nebraska has a prison problem. The ACLU has sued our state. Prisons are overcrowded. Medical care is inadequate, at best. At worst, it’s criminal. Corrections officers and inmates alike are the victims of regular assaults. This is not a safe situation for anyone involved. Now, let’s add COVID-19 to the mix and it’s a recipe for a major disaster.

State leaders, Nebraskans need you to show up to work and handle these issues and more. Take necessary precautions, please. Figure out how to allow the public to participate remotely. Stay home if you are sick. Socially distance. Don’t greet one another with hugs. Wash your hands. Stop touching your face. You know, the things you are asking grocery store workers to do. But show up.

Your position is essential.