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Ricketts: Counties cannot require masks if they want federal coronavirus cash
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Ricketts: Counties cannot require masks if they want federal coronavirus cash

From the Milestones in Nebraska's coronavirus fight series
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Gov. Pete Ricketts has informed county governments that they cannot require residents to wear masks in order to receive services in courthouses and other county government facilities if they want to receive federal coronavirus assistance.

The state's CARES Act funding eligibility criteria issued to county governments states: "Customers may be encouraged to wear face coverings, but may not be refused service for failure to do so," according to Taylor Gage, the governor's spokesman.

The mandate seems at odds with the message that the governor often shares at his frequent news briefings on the state's response to the coronavirus. There's also inconsistency in the expectations for counties versus cities.

"The governor encourages folks to wear masks in public," Gage said, "and the city of Lincoln may require people to wear masks at their meetings."

Even though Lancaster County offices are co-located with the city of Lincoln and judicial offices, the non-county offices may require people to wear masks without risking the county losing federal reimbursement, Gage said.

If you want to go to the courthouse next month, wear a mask

The governor's office has communicated that fact to the city of Lincoln, he said.

Meanwhile, Gage said, "the governor's team continues to work with local governments to distribute masks to the general public."

The statement from the governor's office followed on the heels of criticism voiced by some county officials, including officials in Lancaster County who had sought to require all visitors to county offices to wear masks.

Of the $1.1 billion in federal assistance coming directly to the state, Ricketts said he will direct $180 million to reimburse county and local governments for their coronavirus-related expenses.

That announcement came last month, with the requirement that entities had reopened their courthouses or offices to the public by June 15.

On Thursday, Ricketts was in Washington along with other state officials and met with President Donald Trump to discuss reopening the state's economy.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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