Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed an executive order barring state agencies from complying with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates on October 28th.
“While we have encouraged Nebraskans to get vaccinated, this is a personal health decision, and not one that should be coerced. We’ve already made the decision that state teammates at the State of Nebraska won’t be forced to take the vaccine,” Ricketts said, according to the release. “This order takes the next step and bars cabinet state agencies from complying with coronavirus vaccine mandates from the federal government or other parties.”
But this will not apply to the University of Nebraska’s campuses throughout the state, according to a university spokesperson. While the University of Nebraska system is listed as a state agency on the Official Nebraska Government Website, Melissa Lee, chief communications officer for the University, said the executive order does not affect any of the Nebraska universities.
“The Governor’s executive order applies only to cabinet state agencies, or what are known as “code” agencies,” Lee said in an email. “The University of Nebraska is not a cabinet agency and therefore is not included as part of the Governor’s executive order.”
Lee said she urges the University of Nebraska community to get vaccinated, and that the university system is pleased with the current vaccination rates. As of Oct. 7th, 78.3% of UNL’s faculty, staff, and students were vaccinated, according to a university news release.
Kevin Smith, a UNL political science professor, said there are two types of state agencies in Nebraska: those run by elected officials, such as the Attorney General’s office or the Treasury office, and those run by officials appointed by the governor, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Environment and Energy.
“The difference here is that the latter—the heads of the cabinet agencies --report directly to the governor, while the former hold their jobs at the pleasure of the voters.” Smith said.
Under Nebraska State Constitution Article VII-10, the governance of the University of Nebraska system falls to the state legislature, which in turn, draws the district lines and regulates the Board of Regents.
“For all practical purposes, the regents elected to the board are the primary governing body of the university, which is a different animal constitutionally speaking than other sorts of government agencies,” Smith said.
The Daily Nebraskan also reached out to NU Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen’s campaign, as Pillen has been staunchly against mask mandates.
"I am 100% opposed to mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and vaccine passport policies. I believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility, and in protecting liberties,” Pillen said. “No Nebraskan should lose his or her job for exercising the freedom to decide whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I fully support Governor Ricketts' executive order, and as governor, I would be even more aggressive in fighting these mandates."
Some students, however, may have a different opinion and support a vaccine mandate being implemented at UNL. Rylee Worstell, vocal performance graduate student, said she would be 100% on board if the COVID-19 vaccine was required.
“In such a close knit community, sicknesses and other germs tend to spread much quicker,” Worstell said. “UNL requires many other vaccinations in order to be a student here, so requiring the COVID vaccine seems to be a relevant and logical choice to keep our community safe.”
Sophia Berglund, a junior advertising and public relations major, said she believes public places and agencies such as schools, healthcare facilities and law enforcement agencies should be subject to vaccine mandates.
“While people have (or should have) the legal right to make their own medical decisions affecting their body,” Berglund said, “they also have a social responsibility to protect members of their community.”
Ricketts, however, said he will continue to push back against any mandates President Biden may try to enforce.
“We will continue to use every tool we have in the toolbox to fight back against President Joe Biden’s government overreach, so we can protect the freedom of Nebraskans against big government in Washington, D.C.,” Ricketts said.