Lincoln – This fall, when the spread of Covid-19 was raging across Nebraska, one person, an unidentified state employee working in a Unicameral office, came to the rescue. He or she identified an existing state law that allows cities to implement necessary countermeasures of their choosing against infectious diseases. It is Neb. Rev. Stat. § 16-238.
Cities and local health departments across the state quickly acted on this discovery, many choosing to implement mask mandates and to take other appropriate actions. The Covid curve has now bent downward as a result.
They had not done this before, based on instructions from the governor and the attorney general, who either did not know of this statute, or chose not to inform local governments of its existence. Both the governor and the attorney general, in fact, had threatened local officials with legal consequences for acting without their permission. The governor and attorney general were following the lead of the president, who ridiculed mask-wearing and told the country the virus would soon go away on its own.
At the same time the state employee discovered the key statute, many doctors, nurses, and hospital leaders intensified their pleas to the public to limit gatherings and to wear masks. They testified at public hearings across the state in support of measures authorized by the heretofore neglected law.
It worked. Nebraska is now in a much better place as it continues to fight the pandemic. Lincoln and Omaha, which had already defied the governor and attorney general based on other statutes, saw their hospital conditions improve because of fewer patients coming from Nebraska's other jurisdictions.
I called the office of Senator Justin Wayne in the state capitol, where the unknown hero works, and asked to know his or her name. The receptionist declined to tell me, other than that the person indeed works in that office. I asked the receptionist if she was that person. She laughed and said no.
But I asked her to pass along the heartfelt thanks of a Nebraska taxpayer who is getting his money's worth from the work of one unknown Nebraska hero. One person can indeed make a difference. On behalf of many whose very lives may have been saved, thank you.