During regular news conferences on the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Pete Ricketts regularly urges Nebraskans to wear face masks when they go into stores and other businesses. And on July 1, the governor said he’s worried Nebraska could join the likes of Texas and Florida in experiencing a surge in COVID infections.
But he also has a standing edict issued last month that says counties that require visitors to their offices and courthouses to wear masks will not get one dime of the $100 million in COVID-relief money coming to Nebraska from the federal government. Presumably, these visitors are taxpayers with business such as renewing driver’s licences.
Try as one might, it’s tough to make sense of the directive. Nebraska is getting about $1 billion of $2 trillion authorized by Congress to help offset coronavirus-related costs incurred by states and local government. Ricketts set aside $100 million for counties, cities and utilities. Then he told them there were strings attached.
Pete Ricketts is not taking the best path for the people he was elected to serve. He’s risking the well-being of the public servants who work in county offices and courthouses. He’s upping the chance for spread of the virus. And he’s interfering with local control.
A number of county officials across the state have said as much. And, as Legislative District 23 candidate Helen Raikes of Ashland said in a letter to the governor, “public health and safety must be our top priority right now, and county officials are better prepared to assess local conditions than the state is. I trust my local elected officials to know what’s going on in their counties and protect the interests of their citizens.”