LINCOLN – Things will look very different when the second session of the 106th Legislative reconvenes on Monday, according to State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard.
Plexiglas barriers have been installed on every senator’s desk, creating a see-through barrier to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the legislators debate, discuss and vote during the final 17 days of the session.
The session was halted on March 25 by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk as the COVID-19 pandemic began to threaten the state. The Legislature met once during the suspension to approve $83 million in emergency funding for the pandemic.
“These funds have played an important role in helping Nebraska successfully respond to the pandemic, and giving the state the flexibility it needed to purchase testing, personal protective equipment and other key supplies,” said Bostelman, who represents Wahoo and Ashland in District 23.
Senators will have their temperature checked as they enter the Legislative Chamber. They can remain at their desks, sit at tables on the side of the chamber or even sit in the South balcony, all in an effort to maintain social distancing.
While the session was suspended, Bostelman said he has been busy working on the priorities his constituents bring to him, including COVID-19 issues.
Bostelman has been attending weekly meetings and briefings with local, state and federal health officials and has been in contact with local hospitals, long-term healthcare facilities and law enforcement.
The pandemic has brought to light an issue that Bostelman has been working on for the last few years – the lack of broadband in rural areas of the state.
“The need to expand broadband connectivity has only been made more urgent by the pandemic,” he said.
The gaps in broadband coverage were especially noticeable when the pandemic forced schools to close in mid-March, Bostelman said. However, the need has been evident well before the pandemic, as fiber has not reached very far beyond the metropolitan areas of the state.
Broadband is also vital to economic development, the senator said.
“For small businesses to succeed and to meet the needs of a growing agriculture economy we need high speed broadband accessible for every household in Nebraska,” he said.
Improvements are being made, Bostelman said, but there is still work to be done. He co-sponsored LB992 after working on the Broadband Task Force. The bill is still pending in committee, but the senator said there are other opportunities for broadband expansion, including the $40 million allocated in the CARES Act to fund the new Rural Broadband Remote Access grant.
“This grant will help those areas in the state that otherwise were not being considered at this time for broadband development,” Bostelman said.
Of the bills Bostelman has introduced this session, one of the most important to him is LB832. This bill will allow immunity from criminal or civil action when a person forcibly enters a car to remove a child that is in danger of dying from extreme heat. It was chosen by the speaker as one of his priority bills, which are heard before all other bills on the agenda and are usually debated during the session, according to the senator.
“I brought this bill as a result of a tragedy that occurred with a family in our district when a child was mistakenly left in their vehicle and died,” he explained.
Bostelman also hopes the bill will increase awareness of this type of tragedy and help a nonprofit organization called “Weston’s Wish” that was formed by the family. He expects LB832 to pass before the session ends.
The senator also expects a bill he introduced regarding junked automobile titles to pass this session. LB 831 was amended in to LB944 and is on final reading, Bostleman said. It allows the owner of a vehicle manufactured before 1940 who received a junked title to receive a salvage title if it meets certain requirements. It was prompted by a Wahoo family that has been dealing with this issue for years.
“Specifically, this bill will allow the Nelson family in our district to receive a salvage title for the vehicle which has been in their family for generations,” he said.
Bostleman expects some of his other priority bills to be debated on the floor this session, including LB632, which was amended from LB1201. This bill would establish a statewide flood mitigation plan where local and state entities coordinate and communicate during and after a flood to maximize federal funding.
“I am continuing my work on flood recovery and the need to rebuild levies, identify critical infrastructure and protect our homes and communities while ensuring planning is carried out statewide through the Department of Natural Resources,” he said.
Bostelman’s personal priority bill this session is LB1002. He amended LB893 into this bill. Both deal with emergency medical services (EMS). The bill would allow the EMS workers on an ambulance to restock from the hospital pharmacy the prescription drugs used during transport. This will save money and time, according to the senator.
The second bill creates two new licensure classifications for EMS providers. They are critical care paramedics, who are trained in advanced life saving techniques, and community paramedics, who can do home visits, administer medications and perform post-surgery checkups to reduce costs and save time for patients.
“We must continue to modernize our EMS system in our state and better equip our EMS professionals,” he said.
While there are only 17 days left in the session, Bostelman said he expects the Legislature to not only tackle his priority bills, but also property tax relief, which he said is his No. 1 priority.
It will be a busy time, but in the end the senator feels they will complete all necessary business by the time the final gavel sounds.
“This does not mean that every bill that senators want passed will be debated as there are too many bills remaining,” he said. “The bills not completed this session may be introduced next session for consideration.”