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State Sen. Julie Slama quarantined in balcony after coronavirus exposure

State Sen. Julie Slama quarantined in balcony after coronavirus exposure

Julie Slama

State Sen. Julie Slama sits in isolation in the Nebraska Legislature on Monday after her family tested positive for COVID-19. She has so far tested negative.

The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Legislative quarantine

State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru spent Monday quarantined in the east balcony of the legislative chamber after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk announced early in the day that members of her family had tested positive for the coronavirus. He said Slama tested negative, but, out of an abundance of caution, he had asked her to stay away from her colleagues until she can be retested midweek. The second test should pick up any infection that the first test might have been too early to catch.

The Legislature’s coronavirus plan included setting aside the east balcony for any lawmakers who might test positive but want to continue to participate. Slama is the first to use it so far.

Horse racing claims

Nebraska lawmakers voted Monday to have the State Racing Commission pay $50,000 in attorney fees out of its own cash fund rather than tap the state general fund.

The money would reimburse the private attorneys who defended the commission in lawsuits over machines that allow people to gamble on historical horse races. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson brought the suits after the commission approved installation of the machines at Fonner Park racetrack in Grand Island.

In February, a judge blocked the installation, ruling that the attorney general likely would prevail in his argument that the machines were unconstitutional and the commission did not have the power to authorize them.

The commission then sought help through the state’s claims process to pay some of the legal fees. The agency’s claim was based on a law allowing the state to pay when agencies lack money in their own budget to cover legal awards, settlements and associated costs. The cost had been included in the annual state claims bill.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, who offered the amendment to have the commission pay, said the commission’s cash fund had about $90,000 in it and should be able to cover the cost. But Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, warned that the commission may have outstanding expenses to pay from that cash fund.

After approving Hilgers’ amendment on a 26-18 vote, lawmakers advanced the state claims bill to the final stage of consideration. The bill includes a payment of $850,000 to two Lincoln women injured by convicted rapist Armon Dixon in 2016 after he and another inmate hid in a laundry truck to escape from the Lincoln Correctional Center.

Capitol Digest 2020 reporters capitoldigest

Omaha World-Herald reporters Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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