'We just created the old food fight': Unicameral battles over $1 billion in federal money

Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 19:17:57-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska Legislature has $1 billion to spend. $4 billion in requests and essentially every old request on the table Wednesday. With the main rule being ‘it must be a one-time spend,’ not a continuing request.

“I think right now we just created the old food fight at the cafeteria,” said Sen. Curt Friesen.

The Nebraska Legislature debated all day on how to spend the roughly $1 billion from the federal government, stemming from the American Rescue Plan passed last year.

The Appropriations Committee put together a plan that devotes funds across 39 projects including $100 million to North and South Omaha recovery, money for public health, major economic development projects, and tens of millions of dollars to expand treatment for developmental disabilities and mental illness.

“The sooner mental illness can be treated, the better chances young people have to acquire the coping skills and work skills needed to be happy and healthy adults,” said Sen. John Arch.

But on Wednesday, it was on the rest of the senators, not on the Appropriations Committee to inject their own proposals. One proposal from Sen. Julie Albrecht, who ultimately withdrew the amendment for lack of support, was spending $60 million to provide families who have lower income money for education assistance such as tutoring or private school tuition.

“There are so many that are so far behind that they need as much help as they can possibly get,” said Sen. Steve Erdman.

Sen. Megan Hunt looked to take half the money from additions to the law enforcement training center and use it to double aid to nonprofits that help with food insecurity across Nebraska.

That drew sharp rebuke before the amendment was withdrawn. Sen. Mike Flood says these additions will help more officers receive training.

“What’s the first thing that people that are critical of the police say? 'We need more training, we need more training, we need more training.' Well this is it, this is your chance to support the police,” said Flood.

Friesen doesn't think much of the programs that needed to be funded and wants to wait to allocate funds until next year.

“The new body can come in, the new governor can come in and maybe pick the best projects again,” said Friesen.

Later in the day, the Unicameral added five million dollars for nursing scholarships to address the nurse shortage.

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