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Ricketts mulls extra unemployment benefits, slams medical marijuana proposal
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Ricketts mulls extra unemployment benefits, slams medical marijuana proposal

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Gov. Pete Ricketts ran the gamut from unemployment benefits to marijuana during a news conference Monday, with detours to Big Ten Conference football and the spread of the coronavirus on college campuses and among the prison population.

Ricketts said he is "still doing an analysis" about the state costs that would be incurred in participating in a federal program that provides an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits and noted that he has until Sept. 10 to make a decision.

In answer to questions, the governor said he is "very much against" the proposed initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

"This is not a benign thing; this is a dangerous thing," Ricketts said.

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After receiving sufficient signatures on petitions to place the issue on the November general election ballot, the initiative is facing review by the Nebraska Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit filed by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner.

Ricketts said he believes "it is manageable" to play Big Ten football in Lincoln this fall, and he encouraged the conference to "reexamine what they're doing" in calling for what is at least a tentative halt to the season.

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Answering a barrage of questions, the governor said, "I do not see the need to take any additional steps" to control the spread of COVID-19 as a result of the return of students to campuses and the evidence of a growing number of cases at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Hospital capacity will continue to "drive any decisions we make," he said, and hospital capacity in the state continues to be robust.

Ricketts said he is confident corrections officials will be able to manage the recent outbreak of the virus in state prisons. 

The Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln is now under quarantine after 29 inmates tested positive for the virus Friday.

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Rounding out the questions that Ricketts fielded at his news briefing, the governor said he felt safe at last week's Republican National Convention gathering on the lawn at the White House when a crowd of about 2,000 people were seated closely together with hardly anyone wearing a face mask.

Ricketts said he wore a mask, "but not the entire time," during the event that featured President Donald Trump's address accepting his party's nomination for a second term.

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The governor said he was tested for the virus a month ago and probably will be tested again "in the near future."

The news conference featured the rollout of a new branding campaign by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture that will help Nebraska companies promote their products and services with an eye on expanded exports.

"Opportunities to export is one of the ways we're going to grow," Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said. 

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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