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14 senators ask Ricketts to broaden definition of essential workers
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14 senators ask Ricketts to broaden definition of essential workers

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Fourteen Nebraska state senators are calling on Gov. Pete Ricketts to shore up protections for state employees and other front-line workers.

In a letter sent Thursday, the senators said they have heard concerns from  constituents working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response about their own health, safety, and stability.

They urged Ricketts to include grocery store, pharmacy and food production workers in the definition of front-line emergency service providers. Those emergency workers could then qualify under the coronavirus relief bill and any future federal acts for certain economic assistance and benefits, such as access to emergency child care, said Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz. 

The letter also asked the governor to:

* Allow every state employee possible to work from home. Currently about 30% are working remotely.

* Allow services provided to the public, such as Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor services to be provided over the phone or delayed until the crisis passes, and closing offices to face-to-face interaction wherever possible to protect state employees.

* Issue a proclamation or guidance to businesses to promote proper social distancing, work-from-home policies, adopt additional health and screening practices, expand personnel and leave provisions that encourage self-quarantine to contain spread. 

Ricketts spoke to the letter in his daily briefing, saying he hasn't made a formal distinction in his recommendations of which essential workers have to go to work versus everybody else. 

Emergency workers can be designated for priority in virus testing and lodging programs, he said, but programs may be extended to others down the road. 

"I think we prioritized appropriately," he said. 

The 14 senators are Sens. Dan Quick, Sue Crawford, Adam Morfeld, Rick Kolowski, Kate Bolz, Anna Wishart, Carol Blood, Robert Hilkemann, Machaela Cavanaugh, Wendy DeBoer, Megan Hunt, Sara Howard, John McCollister and Matt Hansen. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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