Gov. Pete Ricketts outlined a conservative strategy to reduce the size of the government by centering entitlement decisions in the states, during a speech he made this week at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Other elements of the plan included making government more efficient by using a business model to institute change and supporting the role played by volunteer organizations in assisting people with needs. Under his administration, Ricketts said, reforms had already been instituted in managing unemployment benefits and food stamp support, providing assistance to help people get a job. Ricketts said he and conservative state senators blocked proposed expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska because the addition of "able-bodied single adults" could result in less funding support for children, the elderly and the disabled. When conservatives are governing, Ricketts told the Hillsdale audience, it is vitally important that "they make sure government runs really, really well."
The state of Nebraska asked a federal judge to dismiss much of a federal civil rights lawsuit citing “extreme” overcrowding in the Nebraska prison system. The state’s motion to dismiss says that the ACLU “over reached” in their lawsuit. Attorney General Doug Peterson asked that all claims made against the state parole board be dismissed as well as any allegations based on the federal civil rights act. After years of threatening to sue, the ACLU filed their lawsuit last August. Alleging that the prisons being at 160% of capacity have led to cruel treatment and death of inmates and assaults on prison staff. The ACLU’s attorneys will have until Dec 11th to respond to the state of Nebraska.
The Public Service Commission is nearing the end of its deadline for making a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Some people are speculating that the decision will come two weeks from today. Jane Kleeb has recently offered to take possibility of high profile anti-pipeline protests off the table if the route is altered to run as a twin line 60 miles to the east of the already existing Keystone pipeline. That move is one of three likely options facing the PSC, the other two involve approving or denying the pipeline outright. TransCanada has played down the idea, defending its preferred route by saying that this route was selected because of it was the environmentally responsible route.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has signaled support for South Dakota's bid to collect sales taxes from internet retailers, a case that could have nationwide implications for online shoppers. On Friday, Peterson's office joined 34 other states and the District of Columbia urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether retailers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where they lack a physical presence. Right now they cannot, which "exacts an ever-increasing toll" on state finances as online sales boom, the states wrote in their friend-of-the-court brief. Nebraska loses an estimated $30 million to $40 million each year to e-commerce. Peterson said his goal is to ensure that Nebraska has the legal authority to collect online sales tax if it wants to. Last year a bill, LB44, was introduced by Dan Watermeier in the state legislature that would require online retailers to collect or remit sales tax on purchases in Nebraska. The bill was filibustered however and held over for consideration in the upcoming session.
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary, Thomas Bowman, visited VA facilities in Omaha and Lincoln and met with Rep Don Bacon on Saturday. Bacon’s office said the two discussed several issues including an ambulatory care clinic in Omaha, and an unauthorized waiting list for psychotherapy appointments at Omaha’s VA hospital. Bowman and Bacon affirmed in a statement that the ambulatory care clinic is on track. Regarding the waiting list Bacon said the Omaha VA director had taken appropriate measures to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.
Senate Judiciary committee members split along party lines on Wednesday as they reviewed Steve Grasz’z nomination to the federal bench. The committees Republicans praised Grasz for his qualifications and pushed back against his critics. While Democrats pressed him over whether he can set aside his personal views on abortion, same sex marriage, and gay-rights. During the hour long hearing Grasz avoided delving too far into what his personal beliefs were. Grasz was nominated by President Trump at the recommendation of Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer. His nomination however hit a snag when the American Bar Association’s committee on federal judiciary issued a unanimous “not qualified” rating for Grasz. Such unanimously negative ratings for a nominee are rare for the ABA to issue. Fischer said she was shocked by the ABA evaluation, saying it was a “baseless, political character assassination.” ABA President Hilarie Bass posted a statement defending the review, noting that the ABA had approved 43 of Trump’s 45 judicial nominations.
At Strada Health Care patients pay a monthly membership fee to their doctor, usually under $100 a person, rather than paying copays. Patients then receive all their primary care needs without having to file insurance claims, meet deductibles or pay copays. Patients also typically get longer appointments and increased access to their healthcare providers with unlimited visits and contact by phone, text, or email. Dr. Joel Bessmer started Strada soon after the Nebraska Legislature unanimously adopted a law in 2016 opening the door for direct primary care practices. Currently three providers — a doctor and two physician assistants — practice at Strada’s main office south of 90th Street and West Dodge Road and in an office in Council Bluffs. Strada also has five other locations, where clinicians enroll and see Strada members alongside their traditional insurance-using patients in a hybrid practice. Two new locations — one in South Omaha, another in Kearney — signed on to offer that arrangement Friday, adding to existing affiliates in west Omaha, Bellevue and Papillion. The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the direct primary care model and even provides a toolkit on its website to help doctors convert their practices. The Nebraska Medical Association views it as another alternative for health care delivery, said Dale Mahlman, the group’s executive vice president. Nationally, the number of direct primary care practices has grown from a few in the early 2000s to more than 700 today, according to the Direct Primary Care Coalition. Twenty-three states, including Nebraska, have direct primary care laws on their books. The Nebraska law sets basic standards for the agreements and makes clear they are not insurance plans and therefore aren’t subject to state insurance regulations.
Kissel Kohout ES Associates is proud to announce that Brennen L. Miller will be joining the firm as an associate. Brennen is a native of Nebraska, and resides in Lincoln. He most recently served as a Policy Research Associate at First Five Nebraska which focused on early childhood. His role included assisting in the development and execution of First Five’s annual legislative package, policy research and political strategy, committee testimony and meetings with field stakeholders and state officials.
Prior to joining First Five, Brennen was Clerk to the Health and Human Services Committee under the leadership of Senator Kathy Campbell. He also served as Aide to both Senator Sue Crawford and Senator Abbie Cornett.
He serves as a Trustee of the Sheldon Art Association at the Sheldon Museum of Art and as a member of the Lincoln Gridiron Association. He is a former member of the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Board. Brennen is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where he studied Political Science and History Education.
"We look forward to Brennen joining our team at Kissel Kohout ES!" said Joe Kohout, the firm's managing partner. "Brennen brings a wealth knowledge from both his experiences inside the Legislature and working with First Five!"
Brennen’s first day with the firm will be Tuesday, November 14th . Please join us in welcoming Brennen!
October 28th, 2017 Courtney Dentlinger is leaving her position as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to take a job lobbying for the Nebraska Public Power District. Ricketts made the announcement on Friday, praising Dentlinger for all her work in helping Nebraska grow. Dentlinger will step down December 1st at which time an interim director will be named in her place.
October 25th, 2017 The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce made its pitch on Wednesday for state income tax reduction, saying Nebraskans are in need of tax relief and government spending restraints. The dominant issue for business and industry in Nebraska however is developing a trained and adequate workforce, said Barry Kennedy, the Chamber President. During a breakfast event hosted by the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce seven state senators discussed options to remedy these problems. A comprehensive tax reduction plan (LB461) that's pending in the Legislature was described as "at least a good start" in terms of tax relief. That bill would gradually reduce income taxes and change the manner in which the state values agricultural land for local property tax purposes, thus reducing both income taxes and Ag property taxes. That proposal however, has been blocked on the floor of legislature by filibuster. Providing protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace, utilizing DACA immigrants and allowing them to work, and adequate support for the University of Nebraska were all also brought up as ways to develop Nebraska’s workforce.
October 25th, 2017 Scott Frakes, the Director for the Department of Corrections, submitted an adjustment to his 2017 – 2019 budget request this Wednesday. The adjustment didn’t call for any increase in funding but rather for permission to spend money already in the budget on hiring more corporals and sergeants and to move some money around to reallocate to health care workers. Last year when Frakes submitted his budget before the legislature he asked for an increase of $15.3 million and 164 corrections positions. When it came to a vote appropriations committee members and other senators withdrew support for the increase and cut the request. Senator Krist, one who voted to cut the request, said at the time there were already 142 vacant positions and there needed to be accountability for the money already in place for the empty positions. Frakes' new request would allow the department to draw from funding that previously paid for contract medical services at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The contract with a medical provider ended in July and Corrections Department employees are now providing medical services at the Tecumseh prison.
October 26th, 2017 The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is seeking $38 million more for child welfare services in the current fiscal year and $23 million more for the year following. Department officials made the request in a document submitted to the state budget office Thursday morning. In a letter to key state senators, agency CEO Courtney Phillips said the funds “would allow the department to continue to provide services and supports to the children, families and individuals served through the Division of Children and Family Services.” The money sought would amount to a 23 percent increase in state dollars for child welfare. State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said agency officials told him that they want to clean up past budgeting and accounting practices in child welfare. “We’ve been consistently under budgeting child welfare,” he said. “They are trying to rectify the situation.” The request now goes to the governor for review and possible inclusion in his budget recommendations to the Legislature in January.
October 23rd, 2017 When Toyota-Mazda’s consultants looked at Nebraska, the state’s two possible sites were near the Interstate 80 exit at Greenwood and near Nebraska City. Miles from utilities, mostly raw land, under purchase options but not owned, the sites didn’t stack up with competing sites like the ready-to-develop Alabama property. Ten days ago, Toyota-Mazda crossed Nebraska off its list partly because of the lack of a viable mega-site. The automakers were seeking 1,000 ready-to-go acres. Many development experts say only government has the staying power to buy up land and spend pre-development cash to make sites shovel ready. “We’re too conservative,” said Denny Sciscoe, an industrial real estate broker with Cushman & Wakefield/Lund Co. “I don’t know if we’ll ever have anybody step up. It would take a combination of private donors and government funds, chambers of commerce and economic development funds.
October 20th, 2017 The Justice Department has petitioned the court to make finalize the Proposed Final Judgement eight months after the DOJ responded to public comments filed under the Tunney Act. In its motion the court seeks to make the terms of the consent order the DOJ negotiated with ABInbev and SABMiller/MolsonCoors final. In this brief the DOJ claims to have responded to all concerns and they have complied with all terms of the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act (APPA). However, this view of compliance is not shared by a growing collections of entities. There are now five different entities including NBWA that have petitioned Judge Sullivan noting concerns with the process and substance of this order. While the specific concerns vary, a generalized theme has emerged from four of the briefs about holes in the terms and language of the PFJ that will cause real life enforcement challenges due to the inconsistent treatment of the competitive concern identified. The five entities that have filed briefs to date are Yuengling, Teamsters, Consumer Action and Consumer Watchdog , the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Brewers Association.
October 21st, 2017 It was like two opposite universes Friday at the State Capitol when it came to the status of the state’s troubled prison system. In the morning, prison security staff provided stern and tearful pleas that more must be done to enhance salaries to address high staff turnover, low morale and safety concerns for State Department of Correctional Services workers. In the afternoon, Corrections Director Scott Frakes outlined several signs of progress in his agency, including expansion of rehabilitation programs, a new 100-bed prison dormitory and a new evaluation tool to guide inmates to needed programs. “Despite some very serious events, we have been able to move forward,” Frakes said. There was one clear sign of progress reported Friday: 365 more low-level felons and 939 inmates on post-release supervision are under probation supervision now. Those were two reforms undertaken in recent years to reduce prison overcrowding and costs, by avoiding more expensive incarceration behind bars.
October 23rd, 2017 Omaha can now be added to the list of cities competing to be the location for Amazon’s 2nd headquarters. The 2nd headquarters is expected to cost about $5 billion and eventually employee 50,000 people. Omaha doesn’t meet many of the requirements that Amazon put out for its future location, but Randy Thelen, VP for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said they decided to go for it. Thelen added it’s good to get Omaha’s name in front of the Amazon execs in case they decide to split up the project or are looking for locations for future projects.
October 18th, 2017 Sen. Bob Krist started his campaign this past Wednesday piloting a turbo-prop plane to various different campaign events across the state. He emphasized points of his ability to provide non-partisan leadership and pledged to restore separation of powers in state government. Krist also said that under Pete Ricketts the Nebraska legislature has become increasingly more partisan, due to Ricketts funding campaigns of challengers to senators that didn’t fall in line with the Governor. Ricketts is almost a certain for the Republican primary, while Democrats have not yet fielded a candidate for the Governor’s race. Krist has not yet announced a lieutenant governor running mate.
October 18th, 2017 State health officials announced Tuesday that they are releasing new opioid prescribing guidelines for health care providers. Dr. Tom Williams, the state’s chief medical officer, said the Nebraska Pain Management Guidance Document can make clinical decisions easier and provide effective pain treatment options. The document includes different ways to treat acute pain, chronic pain, non-opioid options, treating pain in special populations, and tapering off opioids. The document is not mandatory but is available to all health care providers who prescribe and dispense prescription medication.
October 19th, 2017 The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has embarked on a series of changes in recent years to combat high employee turnover, chronically overcrowded prisons and shortages of rehab offerings, as well as increases in prison uprisings and assaults on staff. In a statement Scott Frakes, the Director of the Department of Corrections, said he was proud of the progress made so far to change the agency’s culture and deepen public trust. Some of the progress listed in the “Strategic Plan Progress Report” included expansion of rehabilitation programs, a 25% increase in mission-specific prison beds, implementation of a new risk assessment test, and opening of a 100-bed work release dorm.
October 18th, 2017 A broad coalition of Nebraskans has decided to launch an initiative petition campaign to seek a vote of the people on a proposal that would provide an estimated $1.1 billion in annual property tax relief, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said Tuesday. The proposal is aimed at effectively reducing the local school property tax load by up to 50 percent, Erdman said in a telephone interview. Erdman said property taxpayers could access that tax reduction through a refund or credit that he suggested might be funded by elimination of some exemptions to the state sales tax. Petitions seeking a vote of the people on the proposed statute would require roughly 85,000 signatures and would need to be submitted to the secretary of state by next July, Erdman said.