Nebraska Legislature Speaker Jim Scheer made the right call in suspending the 2020 legislative session following a weekend announcement of Nebraska’s first documented case of community spread of COVID-19.
The Legislature has up to 20 working days remaining in the short 60-day session. While no date has been provided for a return to session, senators could reconvene as soon as Monday, March 23 to pass any needed emergency measures. But that may depend on developing events in the current crisis.
Government’s fundamental role is to protect our rights to life, liberty, and property. While the Legislature can always do more to perfect legislation on those subjects, in a health emergency of pandemic proportions, the executive functions of state government have a larger role.
It would not benefit anyone right now for senators to be stuck in Lincoln staging filibusters on policies that don’t relate to COVID-19. Policy changes that are not emergency matters have to be signed by the governor and then still take months to become law anyhow, potentially requiring executive agencies to dedicate resources to their implementation that could be better used elsewhere.
Senators represent districts across the state, and the Legislature relies on many hardworking staff members as well. Placing their health and the health of their represented communities at risk by carrying on with the Legislature at this time would be irresponsible.
To some, suspending the Legislature may seem to be unfair to other public employees who can't temporarily close up shop, but this should not be interpreted as a vacation for lawmakers. There is still plenty that legislators and staff can do as community leaders and constituent servants without gathering in the George Norris Chamber at the moment.
Nebraskans need to know that COVID-19 is not a business-as-usual event. Our leaders are right to demonstrate that disruption to daily activities is a necessity for everybody right now if we want to protect life, liberty, and property, and salvage the chance of getting get back to normal sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, with the vast majority of the legislative session already complete, there is plenty of time left in 2020 for senators to return and complete their business in this calendar year, including adjustments to the state budget, and any other legislative matter.
Certainly, Nebraskans have many serious concerns they would like the Legislature to address, but it’s not unreasonable for the governor and legislators to put aside issues that could pose a distraction at the moment--even major items like property tax reform--and focus on the many pressing tasks facing the state and local communities.