Eased requirements on unemployment benefits, school safety reports, alcohol sales advance

Sen. Megan Hunt speaks Tuesday (NET screenshot)
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April 6, 2021 - 5:19pm

Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday advanced proposals to make it easier to get unemployment benefits, report school safety concerns, and buy alcohol.

Nebraska law on unemployment insurance currently allows people who quit to get benefits only if they leave for one of a list of 10 good causes, ranging from discrimination to job-related injuries. Under a proposal by Sen. Megan Hunt, quitting to take care of a seriously ill family member would be added to that list. In debate Tuesday, Hunt said the pandemic has highlighted the need for a change. She said the proposal would benefit low-income people who might not be able to pay someone to care for their family member, and women, who are often the caregivers. And she stressed it would affect only people who had tried to keep their jobs.

“The provisions in this bill require that the person has made all reasonable efforts to preserve their employment, but has had to leave employment to care for a family member with a serious condition.  You’re only eligible for unemployment under this bill if you’re seeking a new job. And these individuals would be subject to the same job search requirements as any other claimant. So really what we’re covering with this bill are situations where someone has had to leave one job, but they’re looking for another job,” Hunt said.

Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus opposed the bill, focusing on the cost.

“If you allow people to quit and take care of -- which is a worthwhile cause, don’t get me wrong – to help family members, it’s going to increase the amount of losses or benefits paid out in the unemployment fund. And if you don’t charge the individual employers for those funds, then the whole fund balance is going to go down, and either the state has to pay into that to keep it solvent, or they have to raise rates on everyone, every employer, to get that balance up,” Moser said.

Senators voted 27-11 to give the bill first-round approval.

On school safety, senators debated Sen. Matt Williams’ proposal to set up a hotline people could call to report concerns ranging from the threat someone would commit suicide to potential violence against schools. The proposal is modeled after a pilot program that’s been running in Douglas County.

Williams says the fact that people can call in anonymously increases the chances that someone will report. A number of senators questioned whether that was truly a benefit, including Sen. Curt Friesen.

“If somebody is pranking someone and they make a false call with absolutely no basis – just wanting to get a reaction, prank call -- but they report someone as being unstable and there’s guns in the home, and suddenly the red flags go up, and they go there and they find out none of it is true, is there any repercussions for the prankster that called in?” Friesen asked.

“If it’s anonymous they wouldn’t have any record of that, Sen. Friesen.  That was certainly not the cases that happened in the pilot program in Douglas County. The listing of the calls that came it, the 480 of them, I don’t know that there was one prank call in that whole bunch,” Williams replied.

Senators gave second-round approval to the bill on voice vote.

And on alcohol regulation, lawmakers debated a bill that would allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell alcohol to people in cars and put it in their trunk. That was illegal in the state, but has been permitted during the pandemic, and this bill would make that part of state law going forward.

Sen. Steve Erdman questioned Sen. Anna Wishart about a requirement that the alcohol be accompanied by a food order.

“So, if I order a bag of peanuts and a quart of whiskey, would that be a grocery order that I could pick up out of my car?” Erdman asked.

“Yes,” replied Wishart.

“So, shouldn’t there be a requirement or a minimum grocery purchase before it can be considered a grocery list?” Erdman continued.

“No,” Wishart answered.

“Why would you say no?” Erdman continued.

“Because people are currently doing this right now, and the sky is not falling,” Wishart said.

Senators also gave second round approval to that bill on a voice vote.



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