Articles of Interest

GOV. PETE RICKETTS PLANS TO HOIST DRINK IN PROTEST OF HIGHER BEER TAXES

LINCOLN — Craft brewers are planning a protest against higher beer taxes, and the state’s chief executive says he’ll drink to that.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that he will join the craft brewers in a March 1 “raise glasses, not taxes” event to protest proposals pending in the Nebraska Legislature that would about triple state excise taxes on brew.

Ricketts, a conservative Republican, said he opposes any tax increases, including the increases in beer, wine and liquor taxes proposed in two bills designed to help lower property taxes.

The bills, if enacted, would give Nebraska the highest state excise tax on beer in the nation, raising it from 31 cents a gallon to $1.38 a gallon.

View the article here

MAJOR TAX REFORM PROPOSAL STIRS OPPOSITION

LINCOLN - The Legislature's Revenue Committee on Thursday took a deep dive into the politically volatile issue of major tax reform at a marathon hearing centered on competing proposals for immediate and substantial property tax relief. 

What will follow will be weeks, and perhaps months, of committee dialogue that attempts to forge consensus on a package that can command the 33 votes required to overcome a filibuster by its legislative opponents.

Beyond that lies the challenge of a probable gubernatorial veto of any proposal that would raise taxes to fund immediate property tax relief. It would require the votes of at least 30 of the 49 state senators to override a veto.

View the article here

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM MAJOR HEARING ON PROPERTY TAX REFORM IDEAS

LINCOLN — If you want to draw a crowd at the Nebraska Legislature, propose a bill that does away with tax exemptions or that raises taxes.

That was true again on Thursday, as representatives of dozens of organizations — from tobacco companies to soda pop providers, from massage therapists to remodeling contractors, from lawyers to brewers — deluged a legislative committee with complaints about proposals that would raise new tax revenue from their customers to allow reductions in the most unpopular tax: property taxes.

The complaints left some members of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee frustrated and wondering where to turn in addressing the property tax issue, one of the leading issues during the 2019 session.

View the article here

BILLS TARGET POLICE IN SCHOOLS: ONE WOULD SET GUIDELINES, THE OTHER WOULD BAN THE PRACTICE

LINCOLN — Dozens of schools in Nebraska have school police programs, citing concerns about school safety. Critics say those programs can fuel a “school to prison” pipeline.

One bill heard Thursday before the Judiciary Committee would outline requirements for having school resource officers in schools. Another bill would ban them entirely.

There are about 75 school resource officers — or police officers in schools — in Nebraska, according to a December report by the ACLU of Nebraska.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks introduced a measure, Legislative Bill 390, that would require that each law enforcement agency that has officers in schools create a “memorandum of understanding” with the school district.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: STATE TAX COLLECTIONS $35 MILLION LOWER THAN EXPECTED FOR THE YEAR

The Nebraska Department of Revenue released a report Thursday showing that net tax collections were 7.6 percent, or nearly $32 million, less than anticipated for the month. Collections were 1.3 percent, or about $35 million, lower than projected for the fiscal year that began July 1.

“We’re missing the numbers fairly dramatically,” said State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman. “It’s a big concern.”

The numbers detailed in the new report understate the financial issues facing legislative budget-crafters.

View the article here

BILL MOVES FORWARD ALLOWING CITIES TO USE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FUNDS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

LINCOLN - Lawmakers advanced a bill adding early childhood education and day care centers to the list of projects available for economic development grants or loans to second-round debate on Wednesday.

The bill (LB160) by Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island would allow cities and towns to provide a portion of sales or property tax dollars to child care businesses under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development.

Quick said the bill would help Nebraska cities and towns address a lack of those services, which would help bring and retain new businesses and employees to the state.

View the article here

GOOGLE ANNOUNCES PLANS TO BUILD DATA CENTER IN NEBRASKA; SIGNS POINT TO OMAHA AREA

OMAHA - Omaha’s growing sector of data centers will add a major name to its ranks now that Google has announced plans to bring a data center to the state.

A map on the tech giant’s website indicated the center will be in the Omaha area. The Nebraska facility was announced as part of a national expansion plan by Google, which will invest more than $13 billion in 2019 in data centers and offices across the country, according to a statement.

The company said those investments will allow Google to hire tens of thousands of employees and create more than 10,000 new construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia

View the article here

BUSINESSES TELL NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE THAT ENDING TAX BREAK WOULD HAMPER STARTUPS

LINCOLN — Dozens of business owners and groups lined up Wednesday to oppose the elimination of an $85-million-a-year tax break they portrayed as critical for growing the state and others called a loophole that benefits only a few wealthy Nebraskans.

The Open Sky Policy Institute, as well as a University of Nebraska-Lincoln tax law professor, said the tax break is unusual, with fewer than five states offering similar policies.

Renee Fry of Open Sky said 80 percent of the tax break went to about 600 taxpayers with incomes of $1 million or more who are shareholders in Nebraska businesses structured as limited liability companies (LLCs) or S corporations — entities in which the shareholders pay taxes instead of the company.

View the article here

LEGISLATURE TESTS PROPERTY TAX FIGHT, DECIDES TO WAIT FOR BIGGER BILLS TO COME TO FLOOR

LINCOLN - State lawmakers skirmished over a plan to shift the burden for repaying school bond issues from agricultural landowners to homeowners and commercial properties. The opening salvo in what promises to be a prolonged fight over how to provide meaningful property tax relief ended with a temporary truce Tuesday morning.

Sen. Tom Briese's proposal (LB183) would reduce the valuation of ag land from 75 percent to 1 percent for the purpose of repaying school bonds, keeping the valuation of homes and businesses at 100 percent.

View the article here

ROAD SIGNS WOULD HONOR CRASH VICTIMS, PROVIDE ALTERNATIVE TO SPONTANEOUS MEMORIALS

LINCOLN - Roadside memorials honoring those killed in car crashes have become a common sight along many roadways. The sometimes elaborate memorials have drawn concern, however, that they are distracting and pose a safety hazard.

Bayard State Sen. Steve Erdman has introduced a measure, Legislative Bill 612, that would provide a new option for mourning family and friends who would like to put a memorial at a crash site: official road signs. The legislation would apply to Interstates and state highways. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. The signs would allow for a more permanent, safer alternative to spontaneous memorials, Erdman said, and would simultaneously honor victims and raise awareness of driving safely.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: NEW PROCESS WOULD ALLOW LINCOLN'S SOUTH BELTWAY TO BE BUILT MUCH MORE QUICKLY

LINCOLN - A four-lane bypass to divert truck traffic around growing south Lincoln would be completed in three years, rather than eight, under a plan unveiled by state and local officials on Monday. Under the plan, the $300 million, 13-mile-long project — the largest single project ever undertaken by the Nebraska Department of Transportation — would be bid out as one job, instead of five separate projects done over a longer period. The winning bidder would be paid over eight years, officials said.

Construction is slated to begin in early 2020 and be completed by the end of 2022. Gov. Pete Ricketts praised the innovative approach, pointing out that waiting eight years for the beltway to be completed didn’t make sense. He also said that making it one project instead of five could save $20 to 25 million in lower earth-moving and bidding costs.

View the article here

EDUCATORS SPLIT ON BILL THAT WOULD ALLOW PHYSICAL RESTRAINT AGAINST VIOLENT, DISRUPTIVE STUDENTS

LINCOLN — The words “physical force” were gone from this year’s version of a bill protecting teachers who use physical restraint against violent and disruptive students. But the change did little to mollify opponents. School administrators, disability rights advocates and advocates for children all lined up against Legislative Bill 147 at a hearing Monday before the Education Committee.

On the other side was the Nebraska State Education Association, which represents teachers, and State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who chairs the committee and introduced the measure. He said the proposal, like a similar one two years ago, seeks to protect teachers so they can maintain order in their classrooms to promote education. He said teachers now fear the consequences of using physical means to deal with violent and unruly students.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: CIVICS BILL CLEARS COMMITTEE AFTER LAWMAKERS REACH COMPROMISE

LINCOLN - Nebraska students could learn a civics lesson from the compromise reached to advance a bill revamping the state’s Americanism law. The compromise allowed the formerly controversial Legislative Bill 399 to get out of the Education Committee on an 8-0 vote Tuesday.

As introduced by State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, the bill would have required all public schools to give students the same civics test that immigrants take for citizenship. The provision was a sticking point for opponents, including the State Board of Education, who said it would infringe on local control and doesn’t represent good teaching.

Under the compromise, districts could choose from among three options: giving the naturalization test, requiring students to go to a government meeting followed by a paper or project, or doing a project or paper and class presentation about a person or events commemorated by selected holidays named in the bill.

View the article here

DOUGLAS COUNTY PILOT PROGRAM AIMS TO INCREASE MENTAL HEALTH CARE FOR YOUTHS IN DETENTION

DOUGLAS COUNTY - Youths in Douglas County detention would more quickly undergo psychiatric assessments and receive more ongoing mental health care under a pilot program that’s about to launch.

The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to allocate $31,000 for the Behavioral Health Screening and Assessment Pilot Program at the Douglas County Youth Center. The vote was unanimous.

The county is partnering with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Creighton University and Charles Drew Health Center on the effort. Two doctors — one a child psychiatrist, the other a specialist in addiction and mental health — will work at the county’s juvenile detention center for a half-day each week. Additional people will help connect youths and their families, if needed, to ongoing care in the community after the youths are released from detention.

View the article here

CITING MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS, SARPY COUNTY BOARD APPROVES $1 MILLION LAND PURCHASE FOR CENTER

SARPY COUNTY - Citing an “unmet mental health crisis” in Sarpy County, the County Board on Tuesday approved a purchasing agreement for a $1 million plot of land for a future mental health crisis center.

The center is expected to serve as a short-term emergency provider where people voluntarily go to receive mental health and substance abuse assessments. It will provide law enforcement officers with a dedicated facility to bring people who don’t belong in jail or a traditional hospital.

The $1.05 million, 6.6-acre plot is on the southeast corner of 25th Street and Highway 370, just east of Nebraska Medicine-Bellevue. The county expects to use cash on hand to pay for the land, though the payment isn’t finalized; board members have four months until the money is owed.

View the article here

OMAHA WORLD HERALD EDITORIAL: NEBRASKA LAWMAKERS NEED TO WORK OUT A BALANCED APPROACH ON 5G TECHNOLOGY

LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers have an important choice to make this session on how the state should manage the next-generation telecommunications technology known as 5G. The Legislature should be wary of stripping Nebraska’s elected town and city officials of the ability to assert basic control in this matter.

The debate focuses on Legislative Bill 184, which would accede to wireless companies’ key demands on the approval process and fees for placement of 5G devices on utility poles and street lights. But approval of LB 184 as currently written would come at too steep a price: It would remove local municipalities’ control over the placement and fee-setting for 5G equipment in public rights of way.

The best approach is to amend the bill and strike a prudent balance that retains a measure of local control while encouraging a sensible advancement of this wireless technology, soon to be the highest telecommunications standard here and worldwide.

View the article here

COMMITTEE DEBATES BILL TO LOOSEN ADOPTION REQUIREMENTS

LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow adoption by two people regardless of marital status.

LB426, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, would allow two persons jointly, regardless of marital status, to adopt a child without requiring the child’s first parent to relinquish his or her parental rights. Lawmakers debated the bill in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

DeBoer said the best interests of the child always should be the primary concern in adoption cases.

View the article here

INPUT NEEDED IN HALL CO. TO HELP IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR CHILDREN

GRAND ISLAND - Grand Island works to make sure young kids who need mental health services don't fall in the gap. The Hall County Community Collaborative (H3C), along with Grand Island Public Schools and Head Start are trying to assess the needs for social-emotional support as well as mental health services for kids from birth to 8-years-old and their families in Hall County.

They are doing this through the Rooted in Relationships initiative grant that partners with communities, home and center childcare providers, and private preschools in Hall County by providing them with training and coaching at the start of the full year grant in July.

View the article here

SUPPORTERS OF BILL TO BAN WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION OF LGBTQ WORKERS EXCEED OPPONENTS

For 90 minutes on Thursday afternoon, the Legislature's Judiciary Committee heard people testify — most for three minutes each — on their support for passing a law that would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They were people from the LGBTQ community of Nebraska, their parents and siblings and friends.

Opponents to the issued were at the podium for a combined 35 minutes. They mostly talked about religious freedoms, business freedoms and the right of women to not have to share safe or private spaces, such as bathrooms, with members of the opposite sex.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who herself has a son who is gay, introduced the bill (LB627) that would make it unlawful for an employer, employment agency or a labor organization to discriminate against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

View the article here

TRANSCANADA SAYS KEYSTONE LIKELY SOURCE OF MISSOURI OIL LEAK

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — TransCanada Corp. believes its Keystone pipeline is likely the source of an oil leak near St. Louis that Missouri officials have estimated at 1,800 gallons, a spokesman for the company said Friday.

Sections of both the Keystone pipeline and Enbridge's Platte pipeline were closed as crews sought to find the source of the leak, which was discovered Wednesday in St. Charles County.

"Following overnight activity and excavation, preliminary investigation has led TransCanada to believe that the oil discovered in St. Charles County likely originates from the Keystone Pipeline system and we will continue to conduct our activities accordingly," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said.

View the article here

BILL WOULD INCREASE AMOUNT OF MONEY FAMILIES COULD MAKE AND STILL QUALIFY FOR CHILD CARE SUBSIDIES

LINCOLN — More struggling Nebraska parents could get help with child care costs under a proposal heard Friday by a legislative panel.

State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said Legislative Bill 329 would increase the amount of money families could make and still qualify for child care subsidies. The bill also would give families more time to ease their way off subsidies as their incomes increase.

LB 329 would allow people to qualify for subsidies while making up to 165 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $27,159 for a single parent and child. Once they qualify, parents could keep the subsidy until they reach 200 percent of poverty.

View the article here

OMAHA ATTORNEY'S NOMINATION TO FEDERAL JUDGESHIP ADVANCES TO FULL SENATE

WASHINGTON — Omaha attorney Brian Buescher is a little closer to a seat on Nebraska’s federal bench.The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination Thursday on a party-line vote.

That move comes after Buescher faced pointed questions last year from Democrats about his views on abortion, religious liberty and environmental regulations. Democrats on the committee expressed skepticism that Buescher, who made an unsuccessful 2014 bid for Nebraska attorney general, would set aside his conservative convictions to handle cases impartially.

View the article here

LAWMAKERS HEAR TEARFUL TESTIMONY FROM WOMAN WHO COULD LOSE HOME OVER UNPAID TAXES

LINCOLN — Fighting back tears, Lindsay Brinson told a group of state lawmakers on Friday that she may lose her $108,000 home because she couldn’t afford to pay her $2,500 property tax bill in 2013. A private company, which paid the tax bill and her unpaid taxes in subsequent years, acquired the title to her home in Eagle, Nebraska, under a legal process designed to get people to pay their delinquent taxes.

At a legislative hearing Friday, Brinson said the process was a nightmare for her and doesn’t give homeowners like her proper notice that a company could soon take away their home.

View the article here

OMAHA, SARPY COUNTY WILL PARTNER IN ENLARGING HARRISON STREET; PUBLIC MEETING PLANNED

OMAHA - That tight drive along Harrison Street from about 147th to about 157th Streets is about to get better. The City of Omaha and Sarpy County are partnering to widen the one mile stretch from two lanes to four lanes.

Local officials say the $10 million project will improve public safety and speed travel. Some work already has been done: tree removal, erection of sound barriers and reconfiguration of the intersection at 156th and Harrison Streets.

View the article here

RICKETTS SAYS HE'S NEVER SMOKED MARIJUANA, SEES DANGER IN USING IT AS MEDICINE

WAHOO, Neb. — Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’s never smoked marijuana despite having friends in college who did, and he sees danger in legalizing its use as medicine.

“I never had the desire to smoke marijuana. I never thought it was the cool thing to do,” Ricketts said.

The 54-year-old governor, a married father of three who attended college in Chicago, has issued statements in opposition to a legislative bill that would legalize cannabis for medical uses.

When asked about his views last week after a town hall meeting in Wahoo, Ricketts said he’s looked at the data, and sees concerns, particularly in the lack of medical evidence that medicinal marijuana works.

“There’s no major medical organization that says smoking marijuana is any way to deliver (health) benefits,” he said.

View the article here

MORFELD FOCUSES ON SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF MEDICAID EXPANSION

LINCOLN - Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln is pushing for an early launch of the expanded Medicaid coverage in Nebraska directed by voters last November, but he recognizes that it might not occur until early next year.

"I would like to see earlier implementation than that, but I understand there are a lot of moving pieces and I'm willing to work to assure that it's effectively accomplished," he said during an interview.

The Department of Health and Human Services is looking at a start time early in 2020, Morfeld said.

View the article here

THERAPY AIMED AT CHANGING SEXUAL ORIENTATION WOULD BE BANNED FOR MINORS UNDER NEBRASKA BILL

LINCOLN — If fear and shame had been enough to make him straight, Adam Witte never would have suffered through 15 months of therapy aimed at changing his sexual orientation.

Instead, as a 16-year-old in 1998, he sneaked out of his parents’ house twice a week for treatment that involved getting increasingly powerful electric shocks while being shown arousing pictures.

His last treatment knocked him unconscious, and he awoke to find that he had bitten off a portion of his tongue.

But none of it made him stop being gay, the Omaha man told members of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

View the article here

LAWMAKER GIVES ULTIMATUM TO CITY OF OMAHA: ACT ON SUBSTANDARD RENTAL PROPERTIES, OR THE STATE WILL

LINCOLN — State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha issued an ultimatum to the City of Omaha on Wednesday — get moving to bolster inspections of substandard rental properties, or he’ll push forward with a legislative solution.

Wayne told fellow state lawmakers that he’s asked that first-round debate on his proposal, Legislative Bill 85, be delayed for two to three weeks to allow the city a chance to introduce an ordinance to solve the problem locally.

“We have to step up to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” the senator said.

An aide to Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said later that several ideas are being considered by the City Planning Department and City Council members in hopes of coming up with an ordinance to introduce.

View the article here

NEW UNEMPLOYMENT TAX INITIATIVE UNVEILED BY GOVERNOR, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

LINCOLN - The goal of the plan is to make financial room for businesses to seek new employment in 2019. Ricketts said the unemployment tax rate for businesses will be the lowest it’s been in the last decade, dropping 0.6 percent to the new rate of 0.7 percent.

The governor said the reduced amount of taxes for employers will continue to have a positive effect on job growth, with a big potential for quick, new jobs.

“Going back to 2011, that rate was 3.33 percent. In 2019, it’s going to be 0.7 percent," Ricketts said. "That’s a significant decline in that unemployment insurance tax, which allows companies to reinvest that money back into creating jobs.”

Department of Labor Commissioner John Albin also said the re-employment plan that has been in use by the state has significantly reduced unemployment fraud.

View the article here

EFFORTS BEING MADE TO DECREASE USE OF OPIOIDS

GRAND ISLAND - In the past, people in the medical community and Americans in general were told you can prescribe as much opioid pain medication as you want, and people won’t get addicted to it.

But that is not true. Research has shown otherwise, says Dr. Kartic Rajput of Grand Island.

People are often introduced to those medications when doctors prescribe a short-term use of opioids, Rajput said.

Some of those taking opioids also wind up using benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety medications. One example is Xanax.

View the article here

PROPERTY TAX BILL CALLS FOR MASSIVE SHIFT IN TAXES OFF AG LAND AND ONTO SALES TAXES

LINCOLN — A coalition of farmers rolled out its plan to reduce property taxes on farmers on Tuesday, arguing that increasing sales taxes is the best course for solving the state’s most vexing tax problem: high property taxes.

Detractors say the plan, released by a group called Fair Nebraska, is too weighted to benefit farmers. Perhaps as a result, no senator was willing to introduce it in the Nebraska Legislature this year — a year in which addressing high property taxes is a high priority.

But Fair Nebraska members say that dramatic changes are needed for the state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

“We’re not only not competitive with other states, we’re not competitive with our neighboring school districts,” said York farmer Doug Nienhueser, one of the leaders of the group.

View the article here

MEDICAL MARIJUANA BACKERS TAKE NEXT STEP IN LEGALIZATION EFFORT, CRAFT LANGUAGE FOR BALLOT INITIATIVE

LINCOLN — Backers of legalizing medical cannabis submitted their proposed language Tuesday for a ballot initiative that would allow Nebraska voters to decide whether to join 33 states that already allow medicinal marijuana.

The group, Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, submitted its proposed medical marijuana initiative to the Nebraska secretary of state, who must review the language before signature gathering can begin.

If the group collects what’s expected to be upwards of 130,000 signatures, the measure would be placed on the ballot in 2020.

View the article here

TARGETED JOB CREATION INCENTIVES BILL HITS SNAG

LINCOLN - Legislation designed to spur creation of high-wage jobs and capital investment in low-income and rural areas in Nebraska triggered a series of challenges Monday about its effectiveness and its costs.

Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, sponsor of the bill (LB604), told the Legislature's Business and Labor Committee that he stands ready and willing to consider changes in the proposal, recognizing that there are "things we can work on" to improve the legislation.

"Nebraska has to have incentives to compete" for business investment and job creation, Lindstrom said, but he also is aware of the state's current revenue squeeze and would be willing to consider implementation at a later date.

View the article here 

SOME BUSINESSES OPPOSE BILL THAT WOULD PREVENT ASKING ABOUT CRIMINAL HISTORY ON JOB APPLICATIONS

LINCOLN - Sean Miller is 38, married with two children and has a bachelor's degree in which he could qualify as a paralegal. 

But when the nine-year Nebraska resident has applied for certain better-paying jobs, he has been turned down, he said, because of a criminal conviction at age 16. 

Miller was asking the Business and Labor Committee on Monday to send a bill (LB254) to the full Legislature that would create the Fair Chance Hiring Act, requiring a prospective employer — those with more than 15 employees — to evaluate a job applicant's qualifications, without first knowing about the applicant's history of criminal law violations.

Omaha Sen. John McCollister, who introduced the bill, reiterated it would not prohibit an employer from asking about criminal history, but would just not allow it on the job application.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: BILL ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION FAILS IN NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers killed a bill Monday that would have required cities and towns to consider early childhood education needs when developing comprehensive plans. Legislative Bill 66 fell six short of the number needed to advance, with 23 senators voting against the bill, 19 voting for it and six abstaining.

State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln introduced the measure as a way to ensure that parents’ needs for child care are taken into account.

Lawmakers passed a similar requirement last year as part of a legislative package. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the legislation because he objected to another part of the package.

View the article here

AT NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE, WIRELESS COMPANIES AND CABLE PROVIDERS SPAR OVER TECHNOLOGY KEY TO 5G

LINCOLN — The ticket to getting higher-speed 5G Internet service in cities like Omaha and Lincoln is passing a bill to ease approval and installation of small-cell wireless antennas, state lawmakers were told Monday.

“I can tell you, Nebraska is losing ground to other states and cities” on readiness for fifth-generation wireless services, said State Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson.

The senator joined representatives of wireless Internet firms in blaming high fees and foot-dragging by cities for stunting the deployment of small-cell wireless, which was portrayed as “setting the table” for 5G.

View the article here

STUDENT JOURNALISTS TESTIFY IN FAVOR OF BILL THAT WOULD GIVE STUDENT PUBLICATIONS GREATER FREEDOM

LINCOLN - Nebraska high school journalists are well aware that the stories they write must be acceptable to their school administrators.

“It’s not about whether it’s accurate,” said Gracia Lantis, an editor of North Platte High School’s newspaper. “It’s about whether or not the story is good for my school’s image. Knowing that schools are supposed to teach democracy and civics, this makes no sense to me.”

Lantis and other students, along with journalism teachers, testified Friday before the Nebraska Legislature in favor of a measure introduced by State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln.

Legislative Bill 206 would establish greater independence for high school and college newspapers from their schools’ administrations.

View the article here

BILL WOULD LET NEBRASKANS MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH CARE IN ADVANCE

LINCOLN — Nebraskans now have a couple of legal options to determine the treatment they want — or don’t want — when they can’t speak for themselves.

They can make out a living will or name someone as their health care power of attorney, giving them the ability to make decisions about their care.

On Friday, lawmakers considered a new kind of legal document, one aimed at allowing people with mental illnesses to spell out what treatment they want if they become too sick to make competent decisions.

View the article here

DEMOCRAT ANN ASHFORD ANNOUNCES CONGRESSIONAL BID FOR NEBRASKA'S 2ND DISTRICT

OMAHA - Nebraska’s 2nd District will see an Eastman versus Ashford rematch in 2020 — but this time around, progressive Kara Eastman will face Ann Ferlic Ashford, the wife of her 2018 Democratic primary opponent.

Ann Ashford, 58, said Friday evening that she intends to seek the congressional seat her husband held during the 2015-16 session, representing Douglas County and western Sarpy County.

Ashford, an attorney who recently left her job at Clarkson Regional Health Services, said her top issues include jobs and the economy and standing up for marginalized people.

She also said she wants to bring people together and appeal across the aisle.

View the article here

CATHOLIC HEALTH INITIATIVES FINALIZES MERGER WITH DIGNITY HEALTH

OMAHA - Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health announced Friday that they have completed the process of combining the two health systems under the new name CommonSpirit Health.

The new nonprofit Catholic health system spans 21 states, 700 care sites and 142 hospitals. Catholic Health Initiatives is the parent of CHI Health in Nebraska and Iowa.

The merged organization, which will be headquartered in Chicago, has about 150,000 employees and 25,000 physicians and advanced practice clinicians. CHI and Dignity combined had $29.2 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2018 and provided $4.2 billion in charity care, community benefit and unreimbursed government programs.

View the article here

BILL ADVANCES TO ENSURE AIRBNB-TYPE RENTALS CAN'T BE PROHIBITED 

A bungalow in Bethany that sleeps four and rents for $100 a night on Vacation Rentals By Owner, aka VRBO, is frequently booked — already reserved for more than half of February. 

A two-bedroom apartment near downtown, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Memorial Stadium sleeps four for $41 a night, and is usually full-up through Airbnb. 

Those and other short-term rentals in Lincoln and around the state, booked on popular internet sites, would be protected in a bill (LB57) advanced Friday to a second round of consideration.

View the article here

ONLINE SALES TAX REVENUE UP FOR GRABS IN LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN - Round One of this year's battle over property tax relief unfolded Thursday in the Legislature's Revenue Committee.

Competing bills to provide for collection of state sales taxes already owed for online purchases presented the committee with a decision as to whether to recommend allocation of the anticipated revenue for property tax relief or inclusion in the state's general fund budget.

Along with three bills presented at a public hearing came stark disagreement between the legislative fiscal analyst's office and the Department of Revenue over whether the legislation would result in any additional revenue beyond what already has been anticipated and factored into construction of the state's upcoming biennial budget.

View the article here

FORMER PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER, STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR ANNE BOYLE DIES AT AGE 75

OMAHA - Anne Boyle served nearly 20 years on the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and an entire lifetime trying to serve the public, especially those marginalized by society.

Boyle, the former state chair of the Democratic Party, died Saturday at her home in Omaha. She was 75.

Boyle had been in hospice care at home since she suffered a stroke on Monday. She died surrounded by family.

View the article here

DON WALTON: LEGISLATURE ROLLING TOWARD SPRING SHOWDOWN

LINCOLN - It takes awhile to get this train rolling. But after a slow and smooth start, the 2019 Legislature is moving down the track now. 

And so they're off and running and headed toward what is likely to be a revenue/spending showdown sometime after a long winter turns into a welcome, glad-to-see-you spring.

Freshman senators are beginning to make their presence known and this appears to be an independent bunch. Reminiscent of the 2015 crop that defied all the initial assessments and expectations.

The mindset expressed by cautionary flags planted on the floor of the Legislature at the end of last week is that the end product will need to be squeezed and shaped to fit into what is likely to be a declining revenue forecast. 

View the article here

LACK OF BROADBAND IN RURAL NEBRASKA CREATING A 'DIGITAL DIVIDE'

LINCOLN - The importance of broadband internet in Nebraska can be illustrated in the tale of two businesses.

Jessika Benes moved to Juniata in Adams County to start Mid-Plains Mobile Vet and Animal Chiropractic, a veterinary clinic on wheels, hoping to utilize broadband internet speeds comparable to the Iowa community where she previously lived and worked.

While the local internet service provider purported to offer a similar connection, at least according to the Nebraska Broadband Mapping Project, in actuality, the download and upload speeds were much slower.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: BILL WOULD CONCEAL PENSION INFORMATION FOR OPS EMPLOYEES FROM PUBLIC

LINCOLN - The public would no longer be able to see pension information for teachers, administrators and other Omaha Public School employees under a bill given the first of three rounds of approval in the Legislature on Tuesday. 

Before the vote, State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte raised concerns about that portion of Legislative Bill 33, saying the change would reduce government transparency. He said it means taxpayers could no longer find out which retirees get $100,000 a year in pension payments or know how much the average retiree received.

Groene pointed to the recent World-Herald series about the Omaha School Employees Retirement System, which went from being one of the top-performing pension plans in the country to being one of the worst, as an example of the value of transparency. 

View the article here

WHO'S LIABLE WHEN A SELF-DRIVING CAR RUNS YOU OVER? LEGISLATIVE BILL ATTEMPTS TO CLARIFY THAT

LINCOLN — Who’s liable if you get run over by a self-driving car?

On Tuesday, a state senator attempted to clarify that question about the fast-growing technology.

Under a legislative bill introduced by State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, the manufacturer of the self-driving technology would be liable in a crash involving a vehicle that was capable of “the entire driving task” and operating in autonomous mode.

In the case of a vehicle operating “in concert” with a driver — such as a car with lane-centering technology that required a motorist to touch the wheel every so often or take control when making a stop — the driver would be liable.

View the article here

WOMEN, THE MAJORITY, NEED TO WAKE UP, CHAMBERS SAYS, AND DEBATE ENSUES

LINCOLN - A day after more than 1,000 people from across Nebraska took to the streets in the third annual Women's March, an exchange about women's "need to wake up" made its way to the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

It started with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers praising U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi for standing up to President Donald Trump over the State of the Union address.

As he talked, his speech moved into the need for women to wake to the fact that they are a majority of the population, and don't have to be whining or begging men for anything. 

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: NEBRASKA FARM BUREAU BACKS A PROPERTY TAX RELIEF BILL

LINCOLN - A legislative heavyweight. The Nebraska Farm Bureau has picked its horse in the race to obtain property tax relief. The state’s largest ag group will back a multifaceted proposal from State Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson. Legislative Bill 497 aims to end the inequity in K-12 school financing across the state and eventually make the state cover 50 percent of all basic educational costs.

Right now, 150 of the state’s 244 school districts receive less than 10 percent of basic education funding from the state, according to the Farm Bureau, which picked the bill over those introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese. But Briese is among a dozen co-sponsors of LB 497 and has said it doesn’t matter which property tax relief proposal is passed, as long as one is.

View the article here

NEBRASKA'S CRAFT BREWERS OBJECT TO BILLS THAT WOULD INCREASE TAX ON BEER TO HIGHEST IN U.S.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s craft brewers are in a froth over two bills that would increase the state’s excise taxes on beer to the highest in the nation.

Lawmakers sponsoring the proposals say that the hike would translate into only about 10 cents per mug of beer and that increasing taxes on beer, wine and liquor is part of the solution to lowering property taxes.

But a craft brewers group, representing 49 small breweries across the state, say the tax increase could cause layoffs and could end some operations if they are forced to absorb what amounts to a 345 percent increase in the tax. They have been inundating state senators with complaints, which might be the first of many they hear about ideas to raise some other taxes to lower property taxes.

View the article here

NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE AGAIN CONSIDERS MAKING STUDENTS TAKE SAME CIVICS TEST AS NEW CITIZENS

LINCOLN - The push for a Nebraska civics test is back on.

And there is pushback against it.

Lawmakers on Tuesday will take testimony on a bill requiring Nebraska school districts to administer a civics test to students by eighth grade and again no later than 11th grade.

LB 399 specifies testing students with the civics portion of the naturalization exam of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Questions from the 100-item civics examination are given to immigrants seeking citizenship in the United States.

A student’s score would be provided to parents.

The bill would also substantially amend the Americanism law, doing away with the term “Americanism” and replacing it with “American Civics.”

View the article here

BILL WOULD UNLEASH 5G IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN - Over the last two decades, the power and connectivity of mobile devices have taken unimaginable strides.

Whether you use a smartphone to shop online, track your exercise regime with a smartwatch, make a doctor’s appointment or play music using Wi-Fi-connected speakers, these devices have revolutionized the way we live, play and work. And it’s just the beginning.

The next generation of wireless technology, called 5G, will unlock new possibilities in medicine, transportation, construction, communication and countless other areas of life. Upgrading the nation’s wireless communications infrastructure to 5G will mean lower latency and broadband speeds at least 10 times faster than what today’s 4G networks offer.

View the article here

DRILLERS EASE OFF THE GAS

Some of the companies responsible for flooding the U.S. with natural gas are dialing back on drilling amid worries that supplies of the fuel are outpacing demand and potentially sending already depressed prices into a tailspin.

Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp. on Tuesday became the latest big gas producer to say it will spend less on drilling this year than it did last year, and that it aims to maintain its present level of output rather than increase it. Gulfport Energy Corp. outlined a similar strategy earlier in the month, saying it would use the cash that it saves from drilling less this year to buy back $400 million worth of its own shares.

Antero Resources Corp. trimmed its 2019 drilling budget by more than 10% in response to languishing prices, a move that should translate to up to 40 fewer wells completed on its land in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The announcements represent a major shift in an industry not known for tapping the brakes and follow a chorus of investors urging shale drillers to stop boosting production while prices are low.

View the article here

NEBRASKA TO CONSIDER CRACKDOWN ON ROBOCALLS, FAKE NUMBERS

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Scam artists who use local phone numbers to trick consumers into answering their calls could soon have a tougher time operating in Nebraska, if one state senator has his way.

The new proposal in the Legislature would add Nebraska to the growing number of states trying to clamp down on "neighborhood spoofing," the practice of making distant calls appear as local numbers on caller IDs.

"Nebraskans are tired of receiving these calls," said Sen. Steve Halloran, of Hastings. "It's not respectful of people's privacy. They don't expect to be misled when they see a call coming in."

Halloran introduced a bill last week that would ban callers from sending bogus caller ID information to phones "with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value." Violators would go before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which could impose a fine as large as $2,000 for each offense.

View the article here

STEP UP TO QUALITY AIMS TO IMPROVE DAY CARES, EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

GRAND ISLAND - Nebraska day cares and early childhood education programs are able to prove they are quality programs while receiving support thanks to a statewide program.

Step Up to Quality is a joint effort between the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that aims to help day cares and early childhood education programs excel and improve to offer the highest quality programs to children.

Lauri Cimino, Step Up to Quality director, said the program is Nebraska’s quality rating and improvement system. Currently, she said, there are more than 350 programs that have been rated since its implementation in 2014. There are approximately 650 programs that have begun the Step Up to Quality process to be rated.

View the article here

DON WALTON: INDEPENDENT LEGISLATURE MAY PROMPT GUBERNATORIAL VETOES

LINCOLN - Vetoes appear to lie ahead.

Trying to understand a new Legislature in its opening days is virtually impossible, but early on this looks like it could be an unpredictable one. 

There's some independence already on display.

Too early to know how this all plays out, but there might be a growing willingness to at least consider some bills that would increase state revenue.

And that might even present an opening for some kind of grand bargain between senators who want to raise sufficient revenue to adequately fund designated state programs and services while replenishing the state's cash reserve and senators who want substantial and immediate property tax relief.

View the article here

BILL WOULD ALLOW EMPLOYEES TO CONCEAL, CARRY WITH PERMIT ON SCHOOL CAMPUSES

HASTINGS, Neb. — After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting, a local legislator says he is taking action to try to protect students.

A bill that would authorize schools to allow concealed carry on campus is a hot issue.

That discussion was on the table at "Coffee with Senator Steve Halloran" in Hastings.

Halloran of the 33rd District met with constituents on Saturday and discussed several bills including whether or not school employees should be allowed to conceal and carry in the classroom.

"So my question is, 'What would you do if a shooter makes it into your school and is shooting at your students?,'" Halloran said.

LB 343 was introduced last week that would allow school boards to authorize those who have conceal carry permits to carry on the school campus for purpose of protection.

View the article here

BILL INTRODUCED IN THE LEGISLATURE WOULD INCREASE ALCOHOL EXCISE TAX

KEARNEY, Neb. — As locals attended McCue's Tap Room Take Over Saturday, many business owners and establishments like McCue's are reacting to the news of LB314, a bill that could potentially help with the statewide property tax issue. 

However, the craft brewer community and places like McCue's aren't that happy about the proposal. The bill introduced by Nebraska State Senator Tom Briese would potentially increase the alcohol excise tax which would affect businesses in the alcohol industry like breweries.

Sen. Briese said he's not trying to single out the craft brewers. There are more parties involved within the bill.

"The craft brewers claim they're being singled out, that's not true," said Sen. Briese. "LB314 increases the alcohol excise tax on the manufacturers, distribution of all alcohol in Nebraska, not just the local brewers."

View the article here

BROAD RANGE OF SENATORS SUPPORT NEW NEBRASKA BUSINESS INCENTIVES PROGRAM

LINCOLN - A new business development tax-incentive program designed to help attract and create more higher-paying jobs in the state will begin its journey through the 2019 Legislature propelled by a broad range of initial support.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward will guide the proposal (LB720) along its legislative path, but the bill already has attracted 21 co-signers that include conservative, moderate and progressive state senators who are members of both major political parties. 

The current business tax-incentive program, which Kolterman described as "cumbersome and not working effectively," is set to expire next year.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: BILLS WOULD ELIMINATE SALES TAXES ON BREASTFEEDING AND MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS

LINCOLN - Sales taxes on breast pumps and related products would be eliminated under Legislative Bill 13 from State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue. Blood said at a hearing Friday that breastfeeding is the best option for a baby.

Jessica McClure testified that for her, a breast pump was necessary for medical reasons, but the one her insurance company sent her didn’t work.

The Department of Revenue estimated that the exemption would cost the state more than $300,000 in lost revenue in fiscal year 2020-21, but Blood said that was a poor estimate.

Women also could not be charged with public indecency for breastfeeding under the bill. Currently, they cannot be prosecuted unless someone complains, Blood and other testifiers said.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: BILL REQUIRING REGULAR RENTAL INSPECTIONS IN OMAHA ADVANCES IN LEGISLATURE

OMAHA - A bill requiring Omaha to regularly inspect rental housing advanced Wednesday, despite opposition from Omaha city officials. The Urban Affairs Committee voted 4-1, with two western Nebraska senators abstaining, to send Legislative Bill 85 to the full Legislature.

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, the committee chairman, introduced the measure to prevent situations like what happened at the Yale Park Apartments at 34th Avenue and Lake Street. Omaha officials evacuated the apartments last year after finding filthy conditions and almost 2,000 code violations. City officials took no actions until receiving formal complaints.

Under LB 85, the city would have to create a registry of rental properties and inspect them every three years. The committee adopted amendments aimed at reducing opposition, including a three-year timeline to roll out the inspection program and exemptions for properties that are already subject to inspection.

View the article here

FORMER PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER, STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HEAD, ANNE BOYLE HAS STROKE, IS IN HOSPICE

OMAHA - Anne Boyle, one of the best known and influential Omaha Democrats for decades, suffered a stroke on Monday and was at home in hospice care Wednesday.

Douglas County’s public information officer issued a press release Wednesday at the request of Boyle’s husband, Douglas County Board member Mike Boyle, who is also a former mayor of Omaha.

The former chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, Anne Boyle served for nearly 20 years on the Nebraska Public Service Commission. Boyle was first elected to the commission in 1996, and retired in 2015.

View the article here

SENATOR WANTS TO CREATE NEW RULES FOR NEBRASKA WIND FARMS

LINCOLN — Rural residents who dislike windmills clashed with renewable energy advocates and economic development officials over a bill that would regulate the construction of wind turbines.

The bill, from State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would require any counties that allow the construction of new wind turbines to regulate their placement, noise and decommissioning. And for two years, while counties developed guidelines, wind turbines would need to be at least three miles away from a home.

Brewer said wind turbines are up there with property taxes as one of the top issues he hears about from constituents.

But opponents argue that Brewer’s measure, Legislative Bill 373, would stifle rural economic development and interfere with county control on the issue.

View the article here

NEBRASKA BILLS SPELLING OUT ONLINE SALES TAX COLLECTION HAILED AS 'WAY PAST DUE'

LINCOLN — More online sellers would have to collect sales taxes from Nebraska customers under bills heard Thursday by a legislative panel.

The trio of proposals appeared to be popular, earning enthusiastic backing from local retailers, business leaders and city officials. No opponents testified before the Revenue Committee, and there were few opposition letters.

“This is apple pie and girl next door; everyone wants to love this,” said Kim Robak, a lobbyist who took a neutral position on behalf of PayPal and First Data.

All three bills would give clear legal backing for Nebraska to require that online retailers collect sales taxes once they have $100,000 worth of sales or at least 200 transactions in Nebraska.

View the article here

GOVERNOR PROPOSES SCHOLARSHIPS TO ADDRESS NEBRASKA'S WORKFORCE CRISIS 

Grand Island, NE — Nebraska faces a workforce crisis -- the state isn't graduating enough students to meet the demands for high skill, high wage, high demand jobs. Now Gov. Pete Ricketts wants to invest in the future, through scholarships.

Dollars could help students like Alyssa Caretti at Central Community College. She spends part of her day in what appears to be a hospital, but is actually a nursing lab.

“It's crazy and the simulators are real life. They breathe, they cough, they talk to us, it's good experience for when we're out on our own,” Caretti said.

View the article here

13 NEBRASKA COUNTIES HAVE NO PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR. HERE'S WHAT UNMC IS DOING TO REACH RURAL AREAS

LINCOLN — Rural Nebraskans escape human hordes and traffic jams, but when they’re ill, many have a long way to go to see a doctor.

University of Nebraska Medical Center officials told the NU Board of Regents on Friday that they are finding ways to serve rural places and are recognizing what it takes to place a young doctor in a small town. They also are making progress through video technology and mobile training strategies. UNMC has been working at this for years. The problem is sure to persist as urban America grows in population and rural America shrinks. In 1910, 54.4 percent of the United States’ population lived in rural areas. As of 2010, that had plummeted to 19.3 percent.

A report Friday said 13 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have no primary care doctor. Dr. Bradley Britigan, dean of UNMC’s College of Medicine, told the regents that the challenge of serving rural Nebraska continues. All counties other than Douglas and Lancaster have been designated by the state as shortage areas for at least one kind of primary care. Those include family doctors, pediatricians, internal medicine doctors and obstetrician-gynecologists

View the article here

LANDLORDS, RENTERS CLASH OVER IDEA OF RENTAL INSPECTION IN OMAHA AND LINCOLN

LINCOLN - Renters and landlords clashed Tuesday over a legislative bill that would require Omaha and Lincoln to register and regularly inspect rental properties.

Supporters argued that Legislative Bill 85 could help prevent another situation like the evacuation of 500 refugees from Yale Park Apartments and ease the minds of tenants who feel they can’t report bad living conditions without facing retaliation from their landlords.

Opponents said the bill would require fees that would ultimately be passed onto renters, making housing less affordable. At least one opponent, the City of Omaha, said it is already working to better enforce its current housing codes and ordinances and doesn’t need state intervention.

View the article here

TEXT-TO-911 NOW AVAILABLE IN 16 SOUTHEAST NEBRASKA COUNTIES

A next-generation system to reach authorities when 911 callers can’t talk has now been implemented in 16 southeast Nebraska counties. The Southeast Region 911 just announced the availability of Text–to-911 service.

 Text-to-911 service is available to the public through most wireless carriers in the region, according to an announcement from the Nebraska Public Service Commission. Text-to-911 is the next step in accessing emergency services as technology advances. It’s not meant to take the place of calling 911 using standard voice calls.

View the article here

ATHEISTS, NON-BELIEVES SAY 'IN GOD WE TRUST' HAS NO PLACE IN NEBRASKA CLASSROOMS

LINCOLN - Call it an act of God — or don't — that a Tuesday snowstorm kept would-be testifiers on a bill requiring "In God We Trust" from filling up the Legislature's Education Committee hearing room. In a marathon 2 1/2-hour hearing, all but two of the dozen people who testified on the first day of committee work called Sen. Steve Erdman's bill (LB73) a naked attempt to inject religion into Nebraska's public school system.

Erdman's proposal would require the national motto adopted by Congress in 1956 to be hung in all classrooms or school common areas.

View the article here

VETERAN LEADER OF HUMAN SERVICES PICKED TO HEAD NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

LINCOLN - Gov. Pete Ricketts has appointed a woman with at least 20 years' experience in human services leadership to replace Courtney Phillips as chief operating officer of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Dannette R. Smith, 61, has directed the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Human Services Department since July 2013. She was also the City of Seattle director of the Department of Human Services for three years and director of youth and family services for Mecklenburg County in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area from 2001 to 2007. In Virginia Beach, she oversaw an eight-member executive team, a staff of 1,600 and a $121 million budget. 

View the article here

GOVERNOR RUNS INTO PUSHBACK ON REFUSAL TO RAISE ANY TAX TO HELP RELIEVE PROPERTY TAXES

BEATRICE — Gov. Pete Ricketts defended his efforts to deliver property tax relief to all Nebraskans at a town hall here Wednesday afternoon. But a handful of Southeast Nebraska farmers in an audience of roughly 50 said the governor was not going far enough to provide meaningful relief, potentially threatening the state's largest economic sector.

Fresh off his second inauguration, Ricketts touted his plan to inject $51 million into the state's property tax relief fund and guarantee at least $275 million a year as the baseline moving forward.

View the article here

LINCOLN SENATOR'S BILL WOULD SPEED UP SOUTH BELTWAY CONSTRUCTION

LINCOLN - Sen. Mike Hilgers introduced legislation Wednesday designed to accelerate construction of Lincoln's South Beltway, opening a path to completion of the long-awaited project within an estimated three years.  That would shave four or more years off the process of completing work on the beltway, an infrastructure improvement that's expected to inject a new spurt of economic activity into the city.

"It promises to have a tremendous impact for growth in our community," the Lincoln senator said.

View the article here

TAX HIKE FOR MILLIONAIRES GETS LUKEWARM RECEPTION IN REVENUE COMMITTEE

LINCOLN — Increasing income taxes on millionaires may be popular in polls, but the idea got only a lukewarm reception Wednesday with the committee that determines tax priorities in the Nebraska Legislature. When told that 78 percent of Nebraskans, in a recent opinion poll, favored raising taxes on millionaires to help stabilize funding for schools and other priorities, one senator on the Revenue Committee remarked that probably 99.9 percent of all people favor raising taxes on someone else.

Another lawmaker quoted the oft-repeated line about taxation: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.”

“But I’d rather pay a high income tax than a high property tax,” said State Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, a farmer who, like many others, is pushing for property tax relief in the 2019 session.

View the article here

SCOTTSBLUFF BREWERY, WINERY, AND DISTILLERY OWNERS SPEAK OUT AGAINST PROPOSED TAX HIKE

As Nebraska state lawmakers work to provide property tax relief and bolster funding for K-12 education, Albion state senator Tom Briese has introduced one bill aimed at just that. LB 314 includes language that would significantly increase the amount of state tax per gallon of alcohol produced by local breweries, wineries and distilleries.

For every gallon of beer brewed, the current tax of 31 cents would increase to $1.38- a 345% increase. For every gallon of alcohol and spirits made, the current state tax of $3.75 would increase to $12.28- a 227% increase.

And for every gallon of wine produced in Nebraska at farm wineries- like at Papa Moon Vineyards and Winery in Scottsbluff- their tax would go up from 6 cents a gallon to $2.62- more than a 4,200% increase.

View the article here

NEBRASKA BEER INDUSTRY SEES FIGHT BREWING OVER PROPOSED TAX SURGE

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- The state has found a way to add millions to Nebraska coffers but one industry says the plan would bump its taxes by some 350 percent. The Nebraska lawmaker behind it believes it's just one part of a blueprint to fix the state's reliance on property taxes. 

Lindsey Clements is one of the people who would pay the price.

“We thought it was an error at first,” she said. “How could it be increased that significantly?"

View the article here

NEBRASKA EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS HAVE HIGH TURNOVER

KEARNEY, Neb. — Turnover among early childhood teachers in Nebraska is high, and is creating issues for childcare centers and families.That's according to the Buffet Early Childhood Institute. The Buffet Early Childhood Institute says when early childhood educators leave their job, it takes centers twice as long to replace them. According to the Buffet Early Childhood Institute, it's an issue seen across the nation, and Nebraska is affected too.

The institute found that the average turnover rate for early childhood teachers was 26 percent in licensed child care settings like daycare's and home providers.

View the article here

PROPOSAL WOULD REQUIRE NEW NEBRASKA SCHOOL BUSES TO HAVE SEAT BELTS

LINCOLN, Neb. — A bill proposed in the Nebraska Legislature would change the way school buses need to be equipped across the state, requiring each student to have their own seat belt.

LB634 states that "any vehicle, regardless of the manufacturer's rated seating capacity, used by or on behalf of a school district or educational service unit for the transportation of students shall be equipped with three-point safety belt systems as defined in section 60-6,265 sufficient to allow each passenger, including the operator, to use a separate three-point safety belt system."

There are several exceptions included in the bill, which only applies to new vehicle purchases.

View the article here

NEBRASKA HOUSING PROGRAM HELPS RURAL WORKERS

WAKEFIELD, Neb. (AP) — A couple in northeast Nebraska is the first to find housing through the state's rural housing program, which aims to help rural communities increase housing opportunities to better retain workers.The state's $7 million Rural Workforce Housing Fund gives nonprofit development organizations matching grants to construct or rehabilitate housing in rural parts of the state, The Sioux City Journal reported.

The goal is to create housing options for middle-income workers who don't qualify for other housing assistance programs but don't have enough for a down payment.

View the article here

LANDLORDS, RENTERS CLASH OVER IDEA OF RENTAL INSPECTION IN OMAHA AND LINCOLN

LINCOLN - Renters and landlords clashed Tuesday over a legislative bill that would require Omaha and Lincoln to register and regularly inspect rental properties.

Supporters argued that Legislative Bill 85 could help prevent another situation like the evacuation of 500 refugees from Yale Park Apartments and ease the minds of tenants who feel they can’t report bad living conditions without facing retaliation from their landlords.

Opponents said the bill would require fees that would ultimately be passed onto renters, making housing less affordable. At least one opponent, the City of Omaha, said it is already working to better enforce its current housing codes and ordinances and doesn’t need state intervention.

View the article here

E15 COULD BE A SIGNIFICANT BOOST TO NEBRASKA'S ECONOMY

In December, President Trump announced that his administration will move forward with year-round sales of ethanol blends of up to 15 percent.

The announcement was met with enthusiasm in Nebraska. There are 25 ethanol plants in Nebraska. Those plants produce 2.5 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Nebraska is second in the nation behind Iowa in ethanol production. Increasing the amount of ethanol allowed to be blended in regular gasoline could give an economic boost to state corn farmers.

Currently, due to government regulations, E15 can be sold between September 16 through May 31 for vehicles 2001 and newer. Trump’s announcement would simplify this regulation and allow for year-round usage for all vehicles 2001 and newer, which comprise nearly 90 percent of the vehicles on the road today, according to the Nebraska Corn Board. E15 typically saves motorists three to 10 cents per gallon at the pump, and is a natural octane booster.

View the article here

LINCOLN SENATOR SLAMS RICKETTS FOR PROMOTING RURAL-URBAN DIVIDE OVER TAXES

BEATRICE - Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks on Thursday rebuked Gov. Pete Ricketts for telling people at a rural Nebraska town hall that senators from urban areas of the state did not care about property tax relief.

At a Wednesday meeting in Beatrice, Ricketts blamed the legislative filibuster for raising a high barrier for property tax relief packages to clear, singling out Pansing Brooks for comments she made in 2015, as well as others for blocking his reforms.

The Republican governor also said he would not sign any bills raising sales or income taxes to offset the cost of providing property tax relief, adding urban senators likely wouldn't support those measures either.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: LATHROP INTRODUCES BILL TO LEGALIZE HEMP IN NEBRASKA

Industrial hemp would be legalized in Nebraska under Legislative Bill 457, introduced by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. The proposal would define industrial hemp the same way it is defined under the newly passed federal farm bill — as strains of the cannabis plant that are less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol. That chemical, commonly known as THC, produces marijuana’s high.

The farm bill gives a green light for hemp sales and production in states that allow it. Under LB 457, Nebraska farmers would be able to grow hemp, and entrepreneurs could process and sell products made with the low-THC plants.

View the article here

CAPITOL DIGEST: STATE SENATORS INTRODUCE A TOTAL OF 739 BILLS THIS YEAR, THE MOST SINCE 2005

LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers this year proved more prolific than any state senators dating back to 2005. In total, they introduced 739 bills and seven constitutional amendments through Wednesday, the last day to introduce bills for this session. During the last long session two years ago, lawmakers introduced 667 bills and four constitutional amendments.

Legislators also voted to keep elections for legislative leaders conducted by secret ballot, after state senators rejected a proposed rules change Wednesday. Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte introduced the proposal, which he argued would make the Legislature more transparent and in line with the vision of George Norris.

View the article here

LEGAL AID OF NEBRASKA CHALLENGES LAW THAT LETS INVESTORS TAKE PROPERTY OVER UNPAID TAXES

LINCOLN — After neglecting to pay a $588 tax bill, a Scottsbluff couple now stand to lose their $60,000 home — because of a state law that allows others to obtain properties by paying off someone else’s tax debts. Now Legal Aid of Nebraska is challenging the constitutionality of the tax lien law, which has already attracted the attention of the Nebraska Legislature.

The homeowners, Kevin and Terry Fair, didn’t realize they were at risk of losing their home until last year, three years after an Omaha-based company that looks for delinquent properties paid the initial tax debt of $588.21.

View the article here

GOVERNOR OUTLINES BUDGET PROPOSAL, GROW NEBRASKA INITIATIVES DURING FLY-AROUND

SCOTTSBLUFF – After presenting his State of the State address to the Nebraska Legislature, Gov.  Pete Ricketts was off on a six-stop, fly-around of the state to talk about his budget proposals for the state’s new biennium.

“I want to help create more well-paying jobs to keep our kids and grandkids here and attract people from around the country to come here to make our state grow.”

Ricketts outlined four pillars that are needed to grow the state. One is connecting Nebraskans to great paying jobs and making sure they have the needed skills and education to take those jobs. Ricketts said property tax relief continues to top the list of what Nebraskans want. His proposed budget recommends a 23 percent increase in direct property tax relief for the next two years through the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund. Included is a statutory floor of $275 million for the fund.

View the article here

NO DECISION YET ON HISTORIC HORSE RACING

GRAND ISLAND - The Nebraska State Racing Commission approved Fonner Park’s request to install historic racing machines in a meeting on Oct. 29.

But the issue was far from over.

The Attorney General’s office sent the commission a letter dated Nov. 15 saying — among other things — that the state’s open meeting laws had been violated at the Oct. 29 meeting.

The racing commission was told to rescind its actions and schedule another meeting, and that meeting was held Wednesday at the Fonner Park Cafe.

View the article here

RULE CHANGES COMING UP FOR DEBATE NEXT WEEK IN NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN - It's time next week for the Legislature to open up discussions on any changes senators want make to their rules, and in the recent past that has led to some long hours of debate.

Two years ago senators spent half the long session arguing over contentious rule changes. In the end, it took them to until the 49th day of a 90-day session, after some fierce and stubborn fighting, to adopt their permanent rules.

The committee on Wednesday and Thursday heard testimony and discussed 16 changes to rules, and voted to advance three of those to the full Legislature. Senators can also bring up their own proposals. 

View the article here

CHIEF JUSTICE GIVES SENATORS 'REALITY CHECK' ABOUT STATE'S GROWING PROBLEM-SOLVING COURTS

LINCOLN - The head of Nebraska’s Judicial Branch gave his annual update to the Legislature on Thursday offering a "reality check” for senators about the state’s growing problem-solving courts and number of probationers.

“During this past budget year, we completely exhausted our allocated resources for problem-solving courts and had to move some probation dollars to fund those initiatives,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said.

And, they’ve stopped all efforts to expand them by starting up mental health courts, he said, “because we have no extra resources."

View the article here

FIRST DATA, WHICH EMPLOYS ABOUT 5,000 IN OMAHA, TO BE SOLD FOR $22 BILLION; SOME JOBS "AT RISK"

OMAHA - A Milwaukee-area company will purchase First Data, the Omaha-born company that has employed around 5,000 people in the area.

Fiserv, a financial technology company, said Wednesday that it had signed a deal to buy First Data for $22 billion.

At least some of the First Data jobs in Omaha could be at risk as the combined company, which will operate under the Fiserv name, looks to prune duplicate functions.

It wasn’t clear in the companies’ Wednesday statement what the deal would mean for their workforces. A spokeswoman for First Data said she didn’t have an initial comment when contacted by The World-Herald. She didn’t return follow-up messages. Fiserv also didn’t return telephone calls or email messages.

View the article here

STATE SEN. MORFELD DISPUTES ATTORNEY GENERAL'S COMMENTS ABOUT MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL, PETITION

LINCOLN - A state senator from Lincoln is calling out Attorney General Doug Peterson for saying a petition and bill that would legalize medical marijuana are motivated by the marijuana industry.

State Sens. Adam Morfeld and Anna Wishart of Lincoln are the co-sponsors of a petition drive to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska, and Wishart introduced a bill that would do the same.

Peterson made the comments Wednesday on an Omaha radio show.

“We know it (the bill and petition drive) is coming from an industry that … is making billions and wants to sweep the country with access to some very high-potency marijuana,” Peterson said.

Morfeld tweeted an open letter he sent to Peterson on Thursday.

View the article here

LINCOLN SALES TAX SHORTFALL COULD CAUSE BUDGET PROBLEMS, PROPERTY TAX INCREASE

LINCOLN - Lincoln’s city sales tax has been limping along this fiscal year, barely bringing in as much money as last year and creating future budget problems for city leaders.

With sales tax revenue below predictions, the city could be about $2.65 million short by Aug. 31, the end of the fiscal year, said Brandon Kauffman, the city’s finance director.

That means the city may have to turn to the property tax to make up that loss, according to Rick Hoppe, chief of staff to Mayor Chris Beutler.

View the article here

PRISONS DIRECTOR SAYS DEPARTMENT HAS MADE PROGRESS TOWARD REFORM

LINCOLN - The director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services said Monday he has seen progress in the number of inmates completing violence-reduction programs, funding for re-entry programs, reducing assaults and expanding prison capacity.

Director Scott Frakes also said staff turnover has dropped agencywide and among protective security staff, which includes corrections officers.

His observations were part of the department's 2018 progress report on its strategic plan.

View the article here

PROSECUTOR DROPS CHARGES AGAINST MOTHER AND SON WHO OPENED CBD STORE IN SCOTTSBLUFF

SCOTTSBLUFF - The Scottsbluff mother and son who were arrested a day after their CBD store opened no longer face criminal charges.

Heather Kaufman Beguin, who turns 46 on Tuesday, and Dreyson Beguin, 23, were each charged in mid-December with one count of possession of a controlled substance.

Scotts Bluff County Attorney David Eubanks said he filed paperwork Monday to dismiss the charges, citing various reasons.

View the article here

NEBRASKA'S POLITICAL ELITE CELEBRATE RICKETTS' RE-ELECTION

LINCOLN — The state’s political elite laid aside their partisan differences Saturday night to celebrate the election of Republican Pete Ricketts to a second term as governor.

Almost 2,000 people dined on flank steak covered with a mushroom port demi-glace sauce and beef tenderloin roulade at the inaugural ball on a chilly and snowy night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The ball, held every four years after the election of the governor, is almost a must-attend event for supporters of the governor, lobbyists and politicians — of all political stripes.

View the article here

DON WALTON: NEW LEGISLATURE LOOKS MORE DARING, INDEPENDENT

There's a new Legislature in town. And it sure looks like a different one. Time to buckle up now.

Yes, yes, it's way too early to tell, but this 2019 Legislature has the look — and the vibes — of a far more independent legislative body than its predecessor.

And maybe more daring, perhaps even adventurous.

So adventurous that it might even consider raising some additional revenue to address lingering issues like the pace of prison reform, an aspirational university's budget needs and depletion of the state's cash reserve, aka the rainy day fund.

View the article here

BILL WOULD OPEN DOOR FOR STATE OF NEBRASKA TO TAKE OVER OPS PENSION PLAN

OMAHA - The state board that administers Nebraska’s pension programs would come up with a plan to possibly take over administration of the struggling Omaha Public Schools pension plan under a bill introduced in the Legislature.

Such a change could help OPS deal with the $771 million shortfall in its pension plan. But the senator introducing the bill made it clear: He’s not interested in the state taking on the plan’s massive liabilities.

“I want people to know this is not about us rescuing them,” said Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, chairman of the Legislature’s committee overseeing public retirement programs. “This is about us working with OPS to help them rescue their own plan.”

View the article here

BILLS TO WATCH IN NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE ADDRESS TEEN TANNING, CONVERSION THERAPY, AND MORE

LINCOLN - Lawmakers tossed in bills on teen tanning, conversion therapy, revenge porn and more on Friday, the second day of bill introduction in the Nebraska Legislature.

Those were in addition to the usual proposals concerning taxes, spending and specialty license plates.

There were 73 bills and one proposed constitutional amendment introduced Friday. Here are eight of the bills that bear watching:

View the article here

AFTER FIGHT OVER MEDICAID EXPANSION, NEBRASKA LAWMAKERS WILL NOW BATTLE OVER HOW TO PAY FOR IT

LINCOLN — The battle over expanding Medicaid to more low-income Nebraskans didn’t end when voters approved Initiative 427 last fall.

But the debate has shifted from whether to do the expansion into one about how to pay for covering an estimated 90,000 more people.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who led the petition drive to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot, expressed confidence that state lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts will include the necessary dollars in the state budget this year.

“We’ve worked on this for seven years, and the people have spoken,” he said. “It’s going to have to be funded pursuant to law.”

View the article here

NEBRASKA CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT REPORTS DECREASE IN TURNOVER, BUT UNION QUESTIONS NUMBERS

LINCOLN — For the first time since 2010, staff turnover declined at state prisons in 2018, but Gov. Pete Ricketts and prison officials said more work needs to be done.

“It’s not down where we want it to be, but we are making progress,” the governor said Monday in comments to reporters.

Officials with the union that represents corrections employees questioned how much improvement had actually occurred, particularly at the Tecumseh State Prison, which has had the state’s worst staffing problems.

View the article here

RICKETTS PROPOSES NEW $4,000 ANNUAL SCHOLARSHIPS AIMED AT FILLING NEBRASKA'S WORKFORCE NEEDS

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a proposed new college scholarship program Monday aimed at filling critical workforce needs for Nebraska.

If funded by the State Legislature, the new Nebraska Talent Scholarships program would provide $4,000 annual scholarships for students in specific majors in the University of Nebraska system, the three state colleges and the six community colleges.

In addition, Ricketts proposed to expand his Developing Youth Talent Initiative, which promotes efforts to get middle school students interested in manufacturing and technology. The governor launched the initiative in 2015, shortly after taking office.

View the article here

THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION GETS CLOSER, SENATORS PREPARE FOR TOP ISSUES

GLENVIL, Neb. — The first legislative session of the year begins on Wednesday and while government officials across the nation prepare for top issues, some closer to home are preparing as well. One of our newest senator elect, Dave Murman from Glenvil who said what might be the number one priority this year is passing the budget.

Other top issues of course include property taxes and Medicaid expansion. A key need this session is for urban and rural senators to work conscientiously to build relationships. That trust-building will be essential if the Legislature is to reach agreement on property tax relief and school funding.

View the article here

RICKETTS FOCUSES ON PROPERTY TAX RELIEF FOR 2019, SAYS SENATE BID IS NOT IN IMMEDIATE FUTURE

LINCOLN - In a wide-ranging interview in advance of the launch of the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Pete Ricketts staked out his position on a number of critical policy issues while remaining laser-focused on a frugal state government and statewide economic growth.

Among the highlights emerging from a half-hour session in the Governor's Office: 

Ricketts said he'll propose that all of the revenue raised by collection of state sales taxes on online purchases be allocated to local property tax relief with none of it funneled into the state's general fund for support of state programs and services.

View the article here

LEGISLATURE BEGINNING LONG JOURNEY; SASSE ACHIEVES GOAL

LINCOLN - The 2019 Legislature convenes on Wednesday but legislative sessions do not begin at a running pace. They start slow, get the machinery in place, pick up the pace, sputter in the middle and finish with a rush.

This year's finish is tentatively planned for June 6.This will be one of the long sessions, beginning in the winter cold and ending in late spring.  And this Legislature has some big decisions to make, some of which may define, open up or limit the future. 

One will be the size and nature of the state's revenue stream, and whether it will be dynamic or restrained. That's what nourishes state programs and services.  

View the article here

OMAHA WORLD HERALD EDITORIAL: NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE NEEDS PROBLEM-SOLVING, NOT SQUABBLING

LINCOLN - The Nebraska Legislature begins its 90-day “long session” on Wednesday. Serious, complex work lies ahead for the lawmakers on issues including property tax relief, state aid to K-12 schools, Medicaid expansion and much more.

Above all, the state senators need to demonstrate that they can work together and be problem-solvers.

Sure, honest disagreement over principles and policy will rightly arise in the 2019 session, but the Legislature needs to show that it can hold spirited debate without plunging into Congress-style ill will and stalemate. The past two years at the State Capitol have been marked too often by squabbling and political maneuvering rather than consensus-building and constructive agreement that produce results.

View the article here

GOV. RICKETTS TALKS HIS SECOND TERM AGENDA, PLEDGES PROPERTY TAX RELIEF AS A TOP PRIORITY

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts will be sworn in Thursday to start his second term in office. In advance, he sat down with The World-Herald to talk about the next four years and the legislative session that starts Wednesday.

In the interview, he pledged to make property taxes his top priority for the session, while controlling spending, stopping any new or increased taxes, and promoting economic development. He talked about fitting the voter-approved Medicaid expansion into the state budget and about his plan to fix the prison system. And he answered questions about his political future.

View the article here

MEET THE 13 NEW MEMBERS SET TO JOIN NEBRASKA'S LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN - Thirteen new senators will join 36 colleagues at the start of the 106th Legislature on Wednesday. The new collection includes nine Republicans and four Democrats. They have expertise in health, local government, farming, small business and the law. 

The new members include: John Arch, Tom Brandt, Machaela Cavanaugh, Wendy Deboer, Myron Dorn, Tim Gragert, Ben Hansen, Megan Hunt, Andrew LaGrone, Steve Lathrop, Mike Moser, Dve Murman, and Julie Slama. Brief bio's for each and their goals for the 2019 session can be found via the link below. 

View the article here

SUPREME COURT BRIEFS FILED BY RESPONDENTS AND THEIR AMICI, ORAL ARGUMENT SHAPES UP IN TENNESSEE RETAILERS CASE

WASHINGTON, D.C- In the first alcohol case heard by the court in over a decade, the briefs filed by respondents and their amici have been released. A short description of each is included in the article below, including one by the National Beer Wholesalers Association. The last case heard by the court, Granholm v. Heald, sparked big changes for the industry, including the development of the modern direct-to-consumer shipping market

On its face, Byrd seems to revolve around a simple question: are Tennessee’s residency requirements for holders of an off-premises package retail license valid? Within that question, though, are deeper, major questions for the regulation of beverage alcohol, including the broader validity of residency requirements, and whether the ruling from Granholm — that the power the 21st Amendment grants to the states to regulate beverage alcohol can be abrogated by the Commerce Clause — apply to retailers and wholesalers as much as it applies to suppliers?

However, it is far from certain that the Court will make a major ruling in Byrd. Not only is it notoriously difficult to predict how the Court will rule on a case, but there are many ways that the Court could issue a narrow decision and not get at the thorny issues

View the article here

NEW YEAR USHERS IN HIGHER DRUG PRICES

Pharmaceutical companies are ringing in the new year by raising the price of hundreds of drugs, with Allergan AGN +2.08% PLC setting the pace with increases of nearly 10% on more than two dozen products, according to a new analysis.

Many companies’ increases are relatively modest this year, amid growing public and political pressure on the industry over prices. Yet a few are particularly high, including on some generics, the cheaper alternative to branded accounting for nine out of 10 prescriptions filled in the U.S. Overall, price increases, including recently restored price increases from Pfizer Inc., PFE -1.83% continue to exceed inflation.

View the article here

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY, FRACKING PIONEER, BET ON OIL. THEN PRICES PLUNGED

DOUGLAS, Wyo.— Chesapeake Energy Corp. CHK -1.21% , best known for its trailblazing pursuit of natural gas from shale formations, is making a big bet on the oil below the rolling grasslands of eastern Wyoming.

Its timing doesn’t look great. U.S. oil prices have fallen more than 40% since early October to close at $45.41 a barrel on Monday, straining the finances of the debt-laden company co-founded by Aubrey McClendon, the late wildcatter. It is a rough time to be planning new shale wells anywhere, but especially in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, an expensive and geologically complex place.

“It seems like every time we make a big strategic step forward we get snake-bitten,” said Chesapeake board member Archie Dunham, previously chief executive of Conoco Inc. Mr. Dunham has purchased more than $9 million worth of Chesapeake stock in recent weeks.

View the article here

EQUIFAX IS BACK IN WASHINGTON'S CROSSHAIRS

WASHINGTON - The credit-reporting industry has largely escaped new oversight from Washington following the 2017 hack of Equifax Inc. EFX -1.57% that exposed the personal information of millions of Americans. That could change in 2019 when Democrats take over the House of Representatives.

House Democrats have put legislation responding to the Equifax hack at the top of their agenda for this year. A handful of existing proposals, some bipartisan, offer a road map for possible changes to how the industry handles consumer information, including subjecting credit-reporting companies to tougher cybersecurity standards and making it easier for consumers to fix errors on their credit reports.

“The Equifax data breach response is far from over,” said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst for Cowen Washington Research Group. “There will be more legislation in the next two years that impacts Equifax and the other credit bureaus.”

View the article here

MORE ONLINE RETAILERS TO START COLLECTING NEBRASKA SALES TAX

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — More online retailers are planning to collect Nebraska sales tax starting in 2019, so residents might see their totals rise a bit when they check out.

New Year’s Day is the deadline for larger online retailers to start collecting sales taxes from Nebraska residents although some sites, including Amazon, had already previously started doing so.

The Omaha World-Herald reports Nebraska Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton says the state plans to enforce the law on businesses with more than $100,000 worth of sales or at least 200 separate transactions in Nebraska during the year.

View the article here

UNDER NEW LEADER, WAYNE STATE HAS MORE STUDENTS, PROGRAMS AND BUILDINGS

WAYNE, Neb. (AP) — Wayne State College might look a little different these days. The campus is buzzing with more students, events and programs, as well as new buildings and renovations. At least that’s what Marysz Rames has noticed since starting as its president in 2015.

This fall, a 9.9 percent enrollment increase meant 720 first-year students.

“Fall was very different. It was busy, it was exciting,” Rames told the Norfolk Daily News. “It’s a very different place than it was four years ago.” The college’s first-year class was the largest since 1995. The college also welcomed 240 new transfer students and 660 graduate students this semester — increases of 14.8 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

View the article here

FAMILY WITH DEEP LA VISTA ROOTS WILL RESTORE CITY'S ORIGINAL FIRETRUCK

LA VISTA - Chris McMahon has a passion for La Vista history, and he’s doing his part to help preserve a piece of that history.

During the Dec. 4 La Vista City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted to transfer ownership of a 1972 Ward LaFrance firetruck to McMahon and his family.

McMahon’s father, Dennis, was an early fire chief at the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department and was chief when the department purchased the truck in 1973. It was the first new truck purchased by the department.

View the article here

GAGE COUNTY SUPERVISORS BACK COUNTRYWIDE SALES TAX MEASURE

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) — Gage County supervisors voted to support legislation that would allow imposition of a countywide sales tax to help pay the $28.1 million owed to six people who were wrongfully convicted in a 1985 Beatrice murder.

Board chairman Myron Dorn outlined the proposal Wednesday at his last board meeting before joining the state Legislature next week to represent District 30.

Nebraska counties can't collect sales taxes in communities that are collecting their own sales taxes, Dorn said. That includes Beatrice, which is Gage County's largest city with nearly 12,300 residents and has a 1.5 percent sales tax. Dorn's measure would allow a blanket sales tax over an entire county for a limited time and only for federal court judgments.

View the article here

5 REASONS PROPERTY TAX RELIEF IS SO HARD TO PASS IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts called attaining property tax relief the “Insuperable Monster” in a recent column.

If you don’t have a dictionary handy, “insuperable” means “insurmountable.”

Insuperable was used 30 years ago in a headline in the Lincoln Journal Star, discussing how the Nebraska Legislature would be trying again, and probably failing, to provide property tax relief for the state’s farmers and homeowners.The Republican governor, in his Nov. 19 column, opined that Nebraska can slay the dragon by doing three things: controlling spending by local governments, changing how property is valued for tax purposes and avoiding shifting the tax load.

But there’s wide disagreement about that.

View the article here

YORK RECALL ELECTION TO BE CONDUCTED BY MAIL ONLY

YORK — Officials say the special recall election on York Mayor Orval Stahr will be conducted by mail only.

All registered voters in York will be mailed a ballot they can mark and mail back to the clerk/election commissioner.

All voter registrations to be filed online must be completed by Jan. 25. The last day to register in person at the election office in the courthouse 6 p.m. on Feb. 1.

View the article here

NEBRASKA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE SAYS STATE MUST URGENTLY REPLENISH LOWERED RAINY DAY FUN

LINCOLN - The conclusion of a legislative Planning Committee report, released Monday, regarding the state's rainy day fund, was a matter of urgency.

As committee chairman Paul Schumacher of Columbus leaves the Legislature in nine days, he and his nine-member committee have this plea: Restore the rainy day fund to two times an average month’s state revenue and, absent significant deterioration in the state’s economy, do it over the next two budget cycles. 

"The tool fashioned by the statutes to minimize the need for sudden unplanned tax increases or painful and costly program abortions is a strong reserve of cash," the report said. 

View the article here

AMERICAN TO BE MONITORED IN OMAHA AFTER POSSIBLE EBOLA EXPOSURE

OMAHA - An American who had been providing medical assistance in the Congo and was possibly exposed to the Ebola virus was expected to arrive at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha on Saturday afternoon to be monitored, according to a medical center news release.

The person did not have any Ebola symptoms as of Saturday afternoon, but if any were to develop, the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit would be activated, the release stated.

View the article here

INJURED VET, WHO WOULD RATHER RETURN TO WAR THAN NARCOTICS, AMONG THOSE PUSHING FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA

LINCOLN — Ben Marksmeier would rather return to war than have to go back on narcotic pain medications.

The Fremont veteran says this even after a roadside bomb in Iraq claimed part of his right leg, mangled his left leg, shot shrapnel throughout his lower body and left him with unrelenting pain. The same 2006 bomb killed Joshua Ford, a fellow Nebraska Army National Guard member from Pender.

“To stay on hard narcotics your whole life, it’s a creepy thing,” Marksmeier said.

He found an alternative in medical cannabis, a solution that has allowed him to function for the past decade in his construction contracting and custom woodworking business and as a father.

View the article here

LONGTIME BELLEVUE POLITICO PAUL HARTNETT CALLS IT QUITS AFTER 5 DECADES OF PUBLIC SERVICE

BELLEVUE - After almost five decades in one office or another, Bellevue’s Paul Hartnett will not this year be taking an oath to defend the Constitution.

It has been a long road for one of Bellevue’s most influential and persistent public officials. Over the past 52 years, he served 18 years on the Bellevue Board of Education, 20 years in the State Legislature and 10 years on the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. His only pause came after 2004, when he left the Legislature and was elected to the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties four years later.

View the article here

COURT REJECTS ARGUMENT THAT LEGALIZATION OF POT IN COLORADO SHOULD CHANGE NEBRASKA STANDARDS

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected an argument that legalization of pot in Colorado should change the standards for searching vehicles in Nebraska.

The case involved a 2017 traffic stop in Gering, Nebraska, initiated by a state trooper after watching a car, at high speed, nearly cause an accident at an intersection.

When the trooper approached the vehicle, she smelled burned marijuana. The driver, Kathy Seckinger, denied that there was marijuana in the vehicle or that marijuana had ever been in the car, and said she would not consent to a search.

View the article here

DOUGLAS COUNTY ATTORNEY WON'T GO AFTER CBD, SAYS STATE LEGISLATORS NEED TO FIX LAW

OMAHA, Neb. — In the average week, 200 new felony cases land on the desks of prosecutors in Douglas County.

Douglas County drug prosecutors are in court on big-time marijuana busts, dealers peddling cocaine and killer amounts of fentanyl.

Despite warnings from the Nebraska Attorney General and crackdowns in the Panhandle and Sarpy County, don't expect the caseload in Don Kleine's office to start including CBD.

"We have other priorities," the veteran prosecutor said in a KETV NewsWatch 7 interview.

But the CBD from hemp isn't getting anyone high like weed. There are just trace amounts -- if any -- of THC, the active component of marijuana that causes a high. For Douglas County's top prosecutor, that's a key component of taking a case to trial.

View the article here

ACLU ADDRESSES SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE IN LATEST REPORT

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The American Civil Liberties Union says Nebraska's school police programs disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities.

The ACLU of Nebraska released a report Thursday that says such programs fuel a "school to prison" pipeline. The report cites several cases where police were called, including one involving brothers in elementary school yelling at each other.

View the article here

LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR EDITORIAL, 12/29: COLLABORATE TO IMPROVE NEBRASKA'S TAX INCENTIVE PROGRAMS

LINCOLN - When it comes to Nebraska’s tax-incentive programs, everybody appears to want the same thing.

Based on the words of state senators, Gov. Pete Ricketts, business officials and chambers of commerce leaders, all parties involved desire laws that reward employers for creating more jobs – especially higher-paying ones – and economic development in Nebraska without breaking the bank.

With a legislative task force twice voting to recommend the Legislature sunset two tax-incentive programs a year before their 2020 end date and eliminate three separate tax credits slated to run through 2022, the state finds itself at a crossroads.

View the article here

DAVE MURMAN OF GLENVIL READY TO FIX PROPERTY TAXES FOR FARMERS

LINCOLN — The 2019 Nebraska Legislature starts Jan. 9, and a number of topics and issues affecting rural Nebraska, such as agriculture, property taxes, educational funding and voter-approved Medicaid, will take the stage.

The state’s 49 senators —11 newly elected, including Dave Murman of Glenvil, and two more to be appointed to vacancies — will convene to discuss, debate and vote on these and other issues.

For many lawmakers, property taxes are a major issue during the 90-day legislative session.

View the article here

CRISIS CENTER PATIENTS WAIT WEEKS FOR SPACE AT LINCOLN REGIONAL CENTER

LINCOLN - It’s not just the Lancaster County jail that is having trouble getting people with a serious mental illness into the state-run Lincoln Regional Center.

The local Crisis Center has also seen the wait time for a bed at the Regional Center grow, all while the number of clients sent to the Regional Center has decreased.

In the last year, a female client waited 101 days for a bed at the Regional Center, according to Scott Etherton, the Crisis Center's director.

View the article here

SCOTTSBLUFF RAID HEIGHTENS DEBATE OVER LEGALITY OF CBD OIL SALES; INVESTIGATIONS ONGOING IN LINCOLN

SCOTTSBLUFF - The arrests of a mother and her son and the raid of their Scottsbluff store offering products containing cannabidiol last week marked a rare crackdown in a contentious legal debate ongoing in Nebraska.

Attorney General Doug Peterson believes cannabidiol products marketed as health aids are barred by state and federal law because they're marijuana derivatives.

Sellers maintain the products are legal because the cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, comes from hemp, a cousin to the marijuana plant but with higher amounts of CBD and much-lower tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels.

View the article here

LINCOLN SOUTH BELTWAY DESIGN WORK FINISHED; RIGHT-OF-WAY PURCHASES TO BEIGIN IN SPRING

LINCOLN - Final design for the 11-mile Lincoln South Beltway is finished, and the state will begin purchasing the necessary rights of way and relocating utilities early next year, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

The South Beltway is a planned four-lane expressway south of Lincoln that will link U.S. 77 and Nebraska 2 and is expected to divert truck traffic from Nebraska 2 through the city.

The state will begin contacting impacted property owners early next year.

View the article here

NEBRASKA STATE AGENCIES TOLD TO BRACE FOR FEDERAL SHUTDOWN

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts' administration is warning state agencies to brace for the impact of the partial federal government shutdown.

The Department of Administrative Services sent a memo to state agencies before the shutdown went into effect, urging them to stay in communication with federal agencies that have awarded them grants.

The memo says each state agency is responsible for managing its own grants. It urges them not to incur any new obligations that would require federal money they haven't yet received. It also warns them not to assume that state money will be available to compensate them for lost federal dollars.

View the article here

THERE'S A MASSIVE NEW DATA CENTER COMING TO SARPY COUNTY. WHO IS BUILDING? 'PROJECT WIZARD'?

SARPY COUNTY - You might call it Nebraska’s data center central.

Yet another giant land tract along Highway 50 in Sarpy County is poised to get a new campus that would hum around the clock with operations supporting information technology.

The identity of the latest on-deck newcomer — which would join the likes of Facebook and Travelers insurance — for now is being kept secret from the public. Still, Papillion officials earlier this month gave the government go-ahead to what is being called “Project Wizard.”

View the article here

LESS THAN 10% OF NEBRASKA SCHOOL DISTRICTS RATED AS 'NEEDS IMPROVEMENT' IN STATE REPORT; 90% HAVE HIGH MARKS

LINCOLN - The state issued its report card on Nebraska schools on Friday, December 21, 2018, and 24 districts were rated as needing improvement.

After a three-year hiatus, state officials released performance ratings for 1,110 public schools and 244 districts.

Twenty-four Nebraska school districts, including the Omaha Public Schools and several Native American districts, were deemed in need of improvement.

View the article here

MIDLANDS VOICES: NO MORE EXCUSES ON PROPERTY TAXES

LINCOLN - In a piece published on editorial pages across the state, Sen. Tom Briese promised that “property tax relief promises to be front and center in the upcoming legislative session.” He continued that “although the level of intensity on this issue varies from one senator to another, I am confident that each of my colleagues is genuinely interested in delivering the property tax relief Nebraskans so desperately need.”

“For many Nebraskans, relief cannot come soon enough. Agricultural bankruptcies in Nebraska are climbing to levels not seen in some time. Creighton University Professor Ernie Goss suggests part of the problem is the high property burden borne by Nebraska ag producers, noting that “(h)igh and rising property taxes are having major impacts on farmers.” Briese said.

“And in a state with an ag-based economy, as the farms fail, so does the rest of the state. Nebraskans need meaningful and substantial property tax relief, and they need it now.”

View the article here

'OPIOID OVERDOES EPIDEMIC CONTINUTES TO WORSEN AND EVOLE,' CDC SAYS

ATLANTA - Illegally manufactured fentanyl was the driving force behind a 45.2% increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report published last Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In all, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in 2017. Opioids were involved in 67.8%, or 47,600 of those deaths. Of those opioid-involved overdose deaths, 59.8% of them, or 28,466, were due to synthetic opioids.  "The opioid overdose epidemic continues to worsen and evolve because of the continuing increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids," the authors wrote in the study.

View the article here

PROSECUTOR TELLS BELLEVUE CBD STORE TO PULL PRODUCTS, SAYS CANNABIS LAW IS UP TO LEGISLATURE

BELLEVUE — A prosecutor has warned a Bellevue store to pull all cannabidiol, or CBD, products from its shelves or risk legal action.

Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov served a cease and desist letter on the CBD American Shaman shop Friday. The letter gave American Shaman and its owner, Jeff Queen, two weeks to comply.

On Wednesday, Polikov said the products being sold at the Galvin Road shop are illegal under Nebraska law, which prohibits “all parts” of the cannabis plant.

View the article here

SENATORS STICK TO PROPOSAL TO END BUSINESS TAX INCENTIVES PROGRAM DESPITE SECOND THOUGHTS

LINCOLN - No take-back was granted last week on a recommendation by a legislative task force to end the Nebraska Advantage Act a year early in 2019. 

The Economic Development Task Force, a 10-member group of senators charged with identifying priorities for the state each year, released its report Friday, including calling for acceleration of sunset dates for the Nebraska Advantage Act and the Nebraska Rural Advantage Act to Dec. 31, 2019. 

That would require a bill being introduced and forwarded to the full Legislature and senators passing the bill. 

View the article here

NEBRASKA GAS TAX WILL RISE 1.6 CENTS A GALLON AT START OF NEXT YEAR

LINCOLN — Nebraska drivers will pay the highest gas tax in the state’s history in the new year.

Nebraska Department of Revenue officials announced Friday that the motor fuel tax is set to rise 1.6 cents per gallon, up to 29.6 cents, on Jan. 1. The new rate will be in effect until June 30.

Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton said most of the increase can be traced to legislation passed in 2015. The rest is determined using a formula based on wholesale gasoline prices and the state road budget.

View the article here

GRAND JURY RELEASES TESTIMONY ON CAREY DEAN MOORE EXECUTION

LINCOLN- An autopsy of executed Nebraska prisoner Carey Dean Moore, presented as evidence to a grand jury and released Thursday, confirmed as expected the toxicity of multiple lethal injection drugs as the cause of death. 

Some of the testimony during the Dec. 7 grand jury appeared aimed at showing the lethal injection drugs performed as expected, that Moore's responses to the drugs as observed by witnesses were common and that he experienced no pain or suffering. Testimony also attempted to explain what was happening behind the scenes during the 14 minutes witnesses were blocked from viewing the execution proceedings.  

Moore was the first condemned prisoner in Nebraska to be put to death by lethal injection, and the first after a 21-year lull in executions in the state. He was also the first U.S. prisoner executed with the use of fentanyl. He was pronounced dead at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on Aug. 14 at 10:47 a.m. 

View the article here

STATE SEN. TYSON LARSON RESIGNS POST TWO WEEKS EARLY TO WORK IN TREASURER'S OFFICE

LINCOLN — State Sen. Tyson Larson, whose term was set to expire in two weeks, has resigned early to take a job with incoming State Treasurer John Murante. Larson, who represented northeast Nebraska's 40th legislative district since 2011, was term-limited and his second term was set to expire on Jan. 9, the day his successor, Tim Gragert of Creighton, is to be sworn in.

But on Wednesday, Larson submitted a resignation letter, indicating that he would be resigning that day. The letter, which was released by the governor's office late Thursday, gave no indication why the 32-year-old senator was resigning early, and Larson did not return messages seeking comment. But Jana Langemach, a spokeswoman for current State Treasurer Don Stenberg, said that Larson had been hired by the Treasurer's Office to work Thursday and Friday at the request of Murante, a state senator who also will be sworn on Jan. 9.

View the article here

RICKETTS NAMES CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY JULIE SLAMA AS STATE LAWMAKER

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that he has chosen his campaign press secretary, Julie Slama, to fill a coming vacancy in the Nebraska Legislature.

Slama, 22, a fifth-generation Nebraskan from Peru, will replace State Sen. Dan Watermeier in representing southeast Nebraska’s District 1. The district encompasses Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee and Richardson Counties and part of Otoe County.

Watermeier, of Syracuse, was elected to the Public Service Commission in November. He is slated to step down on Jan. 9.

View the article here

ALLMAND BROS. ANNOUNCES PLANS TO EXPAND PLANT IN HOLDREGE

HOLDREGE — Allmand Bros. Inc. has announced plans to expand its facility in Holdrege to increase production capacity and speed-to-market with new innovations.

The expansion will add 20 jobs to support further growth of the Allmand business, according to a press release announcing the expansion. The expansion includes five new assembly lines, a prototyping lab, a new paint system and robotic weld cells and enhanced technologies infrastructure and is expected to be complete at the end of 2019.

View the article here

LEGISLATIVE EMPLOYEE FROM GRETNA NAMED NEW STATE SENATOR FOR DISTRICT 49

LINCOLN — A Gretna attorney who works in the office of departing State Sen. John Murante will replace his boss in the Legislature.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Monday that he is appointing Andrew La Grone, an attorney and small business owner from Gretna, to fill the upcoming vacancy in District 49. Murante, who was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, will step down on Jan. 9 to take office as state treasurer.

La Grone, 28, is the founder of La Grone Law, LLC and legal counsel to the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee in the Nebraska Legislature.  Previously, he has clerked for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and a private law firm. Currently, he serves as the President of the Gretna Optimists.  He is also a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the Gretna Chamber of Commerce, and the Nebraska Lawyers Chapter of The Federalist Society.

View the article here

PETE RICKETTS NAMES REPLACEMENT FOR OUSTED ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES DIRECTOR

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday named Jason Jackson, his chief human resources officer, to lead the Department of Administrative Services.

Jackson will take on the new position while continuing his work as chief human resources officer. His salary will be $160,000.

On Monday, Ricketts praised Jackson for coaching state agency leaders to be more effective, efficient and customer focused. The governor said he expects that Jackson will work toward operational excellence in his new position.

View the article here

AMERICANS SHOW GROWING SUPPORT FOR CLIMATE-CHANGE POLICIES, POLL SAYS

WASHINGTON - Two-thirds of Americans believe action is needed to address global climate change, and a record-high 45% believe that the problem is serious enough to merit action immediately, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Some 30% of adults in the survey said they believed the evidence for climate change is inconclusive or that concern about the issue is unwarranted.

The poll, conducted Dec. 9-12, shows growing support for policies that could mitigate the widespread environmental and economic destruction that many scientists predict climate change could cause in the coming decades.

View the article here

STATE AND LOCAL INVESTMENT GETS LIFT FROM RISING REVENUES

State and local government investment in roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure hasn’t returned to its previous peak, but it is now showing signs—deep into the expansion—of a real recovery.

Since the 2007-09 recession, slow economic growth and rising expenditures on Medicaid and pensions crowded out infrastructure investment. Spending on school buildings, hospitals and public safety languished.

View the article here

RETIRING LONGTIME STATE OMBUDSMAN'S LEADERSHIP 'WONT BE EASY TO REPLACE'

LINCOLN - The people of Nebraska will lose an advocate Friday, a man who has served the state as ombudsman since 1981, only the second in Nebraska history. 

Marshall Lux, 70, is retiring. 

The Ombudsman's Office, also known as the Office of Public Counsel, operates independently under the auspices of the Legislature, taking on the issues of people who have complaints about the actions of state agencies.

View the article here

DEADLINE LOOMS FOR NEBRASKA TO REDUCE PRISON OVERCROWDING

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska prison and parole officials say they're forging ahead with state-mandated plans to reduce overcrowding in the correctional system, but some lawmakers are worried the agencies will miss a looming deadline, forcing them to take more drastic action.

The Department of Correctional Services and Board of Parole highlighted the steps they've taken in a report this month to the Legislature but offered few specifics on the progress they've made so far.

Some lawmakers said they're concerned prison officials aren't doing enough to prepare and aren't letting senators know what resources they need to do the job.

View the article here

JBS SWIFT FINED $50,000 FOR INACCURATE RECORDING OF WEIGHTS, GRADES AND PRICES

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — JBS USA Food Company, also known as Swift Beef Company (JBS Swift) is facing fines for allegedly violating the Packers and Stockyards Act.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reached a consent decision with JBS Swift on Nov. 21.

The consent decision was signed by Acting Chief Administrative Law Judge, Channing D. Strother.

View the article here

POLITICIANS GRAPPLE WITH RESPONSE TO HEALTH LAW RULING

WASHINGTON—Lawmakers in both parties began debating whether to respond with legislation to a federal court ruling that found the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, as Democratic attorneys general weighed legal action to challenge the judge’s decision.

Republicans on Sunday said they wanted to maintain the 2010 law’s guarantee of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. But they also said they continued to oppose most or all of the law, such as its requirement that most people obtain health insurance, the so-called individual mandate.

How they might accomplish both goals remained unclear.

View the article here

DON WALTON: NEW LEGISLATURE FEATURES NEW FACES, UNRESOLVED ISSUES

LINCOLN - Too early to tell.

The approaching 2019 legislative session convenes on Jan. 9 and is scheduled to wrap up on June 6, moving from winter through spring to the first month of summer with unresolved issues piled up at the beginning and fresh challenges looming ahead. 

New faces, new dynamics, plenty of uncertainty, a little mystery is good.

View the article here

NEBRASKA'S YOUTH DETENTION CENTERS ARE USING ISOLATION LESS - BUT NOT DOUGLAS COUNTY

DOUGLAS COUNTY - Some of Nebraska’s juvenile detention facilities have made significant progress in reducing the use of restrictive housing — isolating individual children — but the practice continues across the state, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare.

The Douglas County Youth Center stands in sharp contrast to its peers for its heavy use of restrictive confinement, the report says.

This is the second annual report by the inspector general on individual segregation of youths in detention.

View the article here

AS 2,000 FARMERS COME TO OMAHA, SOME FRET OVER LOW CROP PRICES IN WAKE OF TRUMP-CHINA SPAT

WASHINGTON - Farmers who are losing money as a result of a U.S.-China trade spat said in Omaha recently that they need more certainty on trade so they can recover lost income and make plans for next year.

More than 2,000 farmers from 42 states and Canada attended the Farmer2Farmer annual convention hosted by Farmers Business Network on Wednesday through Friday at CHI Health Center Omaha.

Tracy Zink, 48, who farms corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and wheat near Indianola in southwest Nebraska, said she made the trek to Omaha to learn more about how she can improve her operations.

View the article here

HEMP FARMERS WARY BUT HOPEFUL THAT STATE WILL FINALLY LET THEM PLANT

LINCOLN — Years of disappointment and perceived foot dragging by state bureaucrats are inspiring worries among those seeking to plant and profit from soon-to-be legalized industrial hemp in Nebraska.

Hemp backers, in interviews, pointed to the state’s less-than-aggressive efforts from 2014 to 2017 to allow even hemp research. Meanwhile, states like Colorado and Kentucky have been expanding their acres of hemp, and 20 states have adopted pilot projects or research programs in the past two years.Those seeking to plant hemp in Nebraska fret that the state, once a leading producer of hemp in the U.S., could be left in the dust in what is predicted to be a profitable new crop.

View the article here

USDA PAYMENTS ON WAY TO FARMERS DAMAGED BY TRADE TARIFFS

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are releasing the second and final round of trade mitigation payments to farmers economically damaged by trade retaliations by export market countries.

Up to $12 billion was made available in the Market Facilitation Program, including $1.2 billion to purchase commodities for U.S. food programs and $200 million to assist exporters in finding new markets.

Ag tariffs were a response by several countries to President Donald Trump’s decision to impose import tariffs, particularly on steel and aluminum.

View the article here

$12.5B NEBRASKA ROAD MAP: I-80 SIX LANES WEST OF LINCOLN, SOUTH BELTWAY

LINCOLN - The director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation on Monday highlighted the state's billions of dollars in highway maintenance and construction needs, Lincoln's South Beltway, the future of autonomous vehicles and the need for fiber-optic cable to communicate with Nebraska drivers.

And expanding Interstate 80 to six lanes west of Lincoln. 

Nebraska roads cover a lot of ground, and so did Director Kyle Schneweis in his annual State Highway Needs Assessment report to members of the Legislature's Appropriations and Transportation and Telecommunications committees. 

View the article here

STATE DUMPS TWO MAJOR COMPUTER PROJECTS AFTER SPENDING $12 MILLION ON THEM

LINCOLN — The State of Nebraska is jettisoning two major computer projects after sinking more than $12 million into the pair.

Officials said Wednesday that the State Department of Health and Human Services is going back to the drawing board on the larger project — the construction of a new Medicaid eligibility and enrollment system.

On the other, the Department of Administrative Services is opting for a cheaper and less complex alternative than building a new system to consolidate five personnel and budget systems.

View the article here

SENATE APPROVES $900 BILLION FARM BILL BY 87-13 VOTE

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve a new farm bill — welcome news to Midwestern producers who have been struggling with disruptions to their foreign markets.

Sen. Deb Fischer praised the nearly $900 billion package for its inclusion of crop insurance, trade promotion efforts and rural broadband expansion.

“In a time of uncertainty for farm country, this bill is going to bring confidence, stability and predictability to our families who feed our hungry world,” Fischer said in a release

View the article here

WHAT COULD GO WRONG WITH CLIMATE CHANGE INVESTING

It has become accepted wisdom among many of the world’s largest institutional investors that climate change will do obvious damage to the long-run returns on stocks. Thus, the thinking goes, the longest of long-term investors must focus on companies with lower carbon emissions, as their polluting peers will eventually be regulated or shamed out of existence.

The consensus is wrong on a crucial point: that society is sure to act to stop global warming.

View the article here

LAWMAKERS TALK PRIORITIES HEADING INTO LEGISLATIVE SESSION

GRAND ISLAND - Property tax relief, funding Medicaid expansion and a revenue shortfall were some of the issues elected officials touched on during a legislative kickoff Thursday.

State Sens. Curt Friesen, Dan Quick and John Lowe spoke about the expectations for the upcoming legislative session during the event hosted by the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce at First National Bank.

The budget will be tight again, with a projected $95 million shortfall in revenue.

View the article here

PETITION TO LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAUNCHED IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN — A petition effort to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska was launched Thursday with the creation of a campaign committee.

State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, both of Lincoln, will lead the committee, Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws. The group is aiming to put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters on the 2020 ballot.

“Today is the first step toward establishing a compassionate medical marijuana law for sick and suffering Nebraskans,” Wishart said. “Thirty-two states have already adopted effective medical marijuana laws, and Nebraska will soon be joining their ranks.”

View the article here

WHY U.S. SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE BANNING HOMEWORK

School districts across the country are banning homework, forbidding it on certain days or just not grading it, in response to parents who complain of overload and some experts who say too much can be detrimental.

A new policy in Ridgefield Public Schools in Ridgefield, Conn., places nightly time limits on homework for most students. It is banned on weekends, school vacations and some other days off for elementary and middle-school students, and isn’t calculated into their overall grades.

View the article here

NET'S 'SPEAKING OF NEBRASKA' EXAMINES MEDICAID EXPANSION

LINCOLN — When the legislature convenes in January, voter-approved funding for Medicaid expansion will be top-of-mind for state senators and the governor.

NET, Nebraska’s PBS and NPR stations, will offer perspective about the situation on an NET news special, “Speaking of Nebraska: Medicaid Expansion,” on Friday with presentations at 6:30 p.m. on radio and 7:30 p.m. on television.

View the article here

SCHOOLS BALANCE PRIVACY AND TRANSPARENCY WHEN RESPONDING TO THREATS

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — In today's world, many of us are often hyper focused on school violence, but that extra attention has made it difficult for some school administrations to get ahead of rumors and panic when these threats are made.

On Tuesday, parents at Grand Island's Westridge Middle School received a message from school officials informing them of a threat made to the school, but it then notified parents that it was still safe to send their kids to school.

View the article here

BUFFALO COUNTY 911 CENTER GETTING UPGRADED RADIO EQUIPMENT

KEARNEY — The Buffalo County 911 Center soon will upgrade its radio console equipment.

Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller said the land mobile radio system is used by dispatchers to talk to public safety responders. The current equipment was purchased and installed in 2006, he said, and the parts are no longer serviceable by the manufacturer.

“The one we got now, we’re buying parts off eBay for, so I’m not thinking we don’t want to be there for too long,” Miller said.

View the article here

NEBRASKA INTERESTS MOSTLY PRAISE SENATE FARM BILL

LINCOLN - Sen. Deb Fischer on Tuesday hailed Senate passage of a new farm bill that protects crop insurance while containing her proposal to close gaps in broadband connectivity across farm and ranch country.

Nebraska Appleseed praised reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides so-called food stamp assistance for low-income families and individuals.

But the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons expressed disappointment that the new bill did not cap payments to the largest farms and thereby address ongoing consolidation in agriculture.

View the article here

STEBBING CONSIDERING RUN FOR MAYOR

LINCOLN - Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing is thinking about running for Lincoln mayor, again.

Stebbing, who ran and lost four years ago against Mayor Chris Beutler, said many people have suggested he run again.

Stebbing lost in the spring primary when he sought re-election as county treasurer, in large part because he had been charged with several felony counts related to selling used vehicles. He would have been barred from holding office had he been found guilty of a felony.

View the article here

CITY ATTORNEY JEFF KIRKPATRICK FORMALLY ANNOUNCES BID FOR MAYOR

LINCOLN - Jeff Kirkpatrick says his four years as Lincoln's top city attorney has provided experience solving city problems on a daily basis that will allow him to lead the city as mayor from the first day.

The city law department touches everything the city does, from code enforcement to street construction to redevelopment agreements, Kirkpatrick said Wednesday at a news conference formally announcing his candidacy.

Several people active in the Democratic Party attended the news conference in support of Kirkpatrick, who is one of two Democrats so far running for the mayor’s job next year.

View the article here

TRUMP APPOINTS GOV. RICKETTS TO SERVE ON TRADE ADVISORY COMMITTEE

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has appointed Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts to serve on an advisory committee for trade policy.

“President Trump has been working tirelessly to secure new trade deals for the United States,” Ricketts said in a press release. “From his newly signed deal with Canada and Mexico to bringing American beef back to China, the President has been delivering on his promises. It is an honor to support President Trump’s work in this advisory role as he continues to push for better trade deals for working Americans and our family farmers and ranchers.”

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the committee will help shape trade policy, including negotiating objectives and bargaining positions.

View the article here

STATE SENATORS CRITICIZE CORRECTIONS DIRECTOR SCOTT FRAKES FOR WITHHOLDING REPORT ON DEADLY RIOT

LINCOLN — State legislators still want more explanation of why a critical report about a deadly 2015 prison riot wasn’t released until last month.

After a three-hour hearing Tuesday, the chairwoman of the meeting said Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes needs to provide more information when the Legislature convenes next month.

“I think we’ve left a to-do list for the next committee,” said State Sen. Laura Ebke, who will leave the Legislature in January after losing her bid for re-election.

View the article here

WANT TO SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT 'BLUEPRINT' FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH IN NEBRASKA? HERE'S HOW

LINCOLN — Public input is being sought on a new “blueprint” to bring economic growth to Nebraska.

Town hall meetings are scheduled for next Wednesday in Lincoln, Omaha and Norfolk to gather comments and ideas for “Blueprint Nebraska,” a citizen-led initiative to enhance economic development and build on the state’s strengths.

The goal is to develop a long-range plan to “Grow the Good Life” in Nebraska, according to former State Sen. Jim Smith, who is coordinating the effort.

View the article here

GOV. RICKETTS SAYS HE'S OPEN TO WORKING ON 'STAND YOUR GROUND' LAW IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’s willing to work on passage of a “stand your ground” law in Nebraska.

On his monthly call-in show, the recently re-elected Republican governor told a caller from Omaha that he’d be open to working with a state legislator in introducing and passing such a law.

“I’d be willing to work with any senator looking to protect your Second Amendment rights,” Ricketts added, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” clause.

View the article here

OIL'S SHARP SWINGS ARE A SYMPTOM OF A CHANGING MARKET

WASHINGTON - Computerized trading is playing a greater role in the oil market, helping to amplify the volatility that has accompanied crude’s recent downward lurch.

While geopolitical tensions and economic concerns have sent oil prices spiraling, analysts and traders say the shifting makeup of the market has exacerbated swings, with traditional players like supply-and-demand focused hedge funds, market makers and banks scaling back.

View the article here

PROBATION OFFICE, INSPECTOR GENERAL AGAIN QUESTION OVERSIGHT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Oversight questions have again returned to the center of a debate between Nebraska Probation Administration officials and the inspector general's child welfare office.

Nebraska Ombudsman Marshall Lux contacted state senators last month over concerns that that the Probation Administration won't allow Child Welfare Inspector General Julie Rogers to investigate juvenile justice cases as she sees fit, the Lincoln Journal Star reported . He said that Rogers' investigations of death and serious injuries are about protecting vulnerable children and preventing future tragedies.

View the article here

NEBRASKA PROBATION LEADER RETIRING AFTER 43 YEARS CALLS IT A PASSION

LINCOLN - Ellen Brokofsky was 25-years-old, divorced and raising two kids on her own when she took a probation job working with teenagers who got in trouble in Sarpy County.

She never imagined she’d still be part of the system 43 years later. Let alone at the top of it, where she’ll retire at the end of the year.

Brokofsky said those early days as Nebraska State Probation Administrator were tough. So tough she didn’t know if she was going to make it. But she had ambitious plans.

View the article here

SCHOOLS AND POLICE SEEK TO ADDRESS 'RAMPANT' TEENAGE VAPING

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — All the middle school students raised their hands.

Autumn Sky Burns had just asked roughly 25 high-ability learners from the three Papillion-La Vista middle schools whether any of them had friends who used e-cigarettes.

Burns, the Sarpy County coordinator of Tobacco Education & Advocacy of the Midlands, had asked the same question of students the year before. She estimates that only 10 percent of a similar group had raised their hands last year, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

"I'm nervous that people won't really understand what's happening until we have an entire generation of kids addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes," Burns said.

View the article here

SALES TAX CONSIDERED TO HELP PAY OFF $28.1M JUDGEMENT

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) — Gage County officials are looking at imposing a county sales tax to help pay off the $28.1 million owed six people who were wrongfully convicted for the murder of a 68-year-old Beatrice woman.

County supervisors chairman Myron Dorn said during a Wednesday briefing to the board that he plans to introduce legislation for a voter-approved sales tax. He was elected in November to represent District 30 in the Legislature.

Counties can put sales tax measures on electoral ballots, he said, but there are limitations on where funds may be collected, including in the city of Beatrice.

View the article here

NEBRASKA LAWMAKERS SEEK WARNING SYSTEM FOR CITY BUDGET WOES

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Local governments saddled with costly pension obligations, state mandates and aging roads could face tough financial times over the next few decades, and some Nebraska lawmakers want to make sure they're ready for it.

Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, is looking to create a state-run "early warning system" to let state officials know when city and county budgets are at risk. Lawmakers will convene a hearing at the Capitol on Thursday to consider the issue, and Stinner said he may introduce a bill in the legislative session that begins next month.

View the article here

JUDGE DENIES TRANSCANADA REQUEST FOR PRE-CONSTRUCTION WORK ON KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

MONTANA - The company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline can't begin digging, building camps or any other pre-construction field work until the government's environmental review is completed, a federal judge in Montana ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris’ ruling was a clarification of his Nov. 8 decision, which halted construction by TransCanada but allowed certain pre-construction activities. In that ruling, Morris said President Donald Trump's administration violated U.S. environmental laws when approving a federal permit for the pipeline.

View the article here

FOR SOYBEAN FARMERS, LULL IN U.S. - CHINA TRADE WAR MAY COME TOO LATE

WASHINGTON — The temporary truce in the trade war between the United States and China may come too late to reverse damage to the agricultural sector from existing tariffs that remain in place.

The Trump administration was set to raise levies from 10 to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports on Jan. 1. That increase is now off the table until March 1 under an agreement the two countries reached over the weekend.

View the article here

DON WALTON: DANGER OF LOSING NEBRASKA HOUSE SEAT GONE

LINCOLN - Not so long ago, Nebraska faced the possibility that it could be in danger of losing a House seat following the 2020 census and that set off alarm bells about declining representation and influence in Washington.

"We should be safe," numbers-cruncher David Drozd told participants in the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry's economic development summit in Lincoln last week.

View the article here

STATE AGREES TO $35.8 MILLION CHILD WELFARE CONTRACT EXTENSION WITH OMAHA ORGANIZATION

LINCOLN — PromiseShip of Omaha will manage metro-area child welfare cases for a little longer under a $35.8 million, six-month contract extension.

Matthew Wallen, director of children and family services at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, announced the extension Friday.

It will move the contract expiration date to Dec. 31, 2019.

View the article here

STATE LAWMAKER HOPEFULS APPLY FOR TWO VACANCIES IN LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN — A former mayor, a retired county administrator, a legislative employee and a father and son are among the 24 people who submitted applications by Friday’s deadline to fill a pair of upcoming vacancies in the Nebraska Legislature.

They responded to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ invitation to apply for two legislative seats that will become vacant in early January, when the incumbents take on new elected offices.

But, as he has done before, Ricketts may choose someone who didn’t apply. That was the case for his last two legislative appointments.

View the article here

NEBRASKA DEMOCRATIC PARTY VOTES TO DISCONTINUE CAUCUSES AND RETURN TO PRIMARY SYSTEM

LINCOLN - Caucuses are officially no more in Nebraska after the state Democratic Party voted to go back to the primary system.

The state’s Democrats had been choosing their presidential nominee by caucus since 2008 in a system similar to Iowa’s. With caucuses, voters gather in place and discuss the candidates, as opposed to a primary, in which voting is done privately like any other election.

But Nebraska Democratic Party’s State Central Committee voted at its meeting in Ord on Saturday to discontinue the system and go back to regular primary voting. The change was overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote following about 90 minutes of debate.

View the article here

SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE A PATENT CASE WITH BIG IMPLICATIONS FOR SMALL DRUG MAKERS

In a few months, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a closely watched case that could lead to patents being canceled more easily and, therefore, chill deals that small drug makers may pursue in hopes of finding larger partners to get their medicines to market.

The case turns on disputed language in U.S. patent law, which was overhauled in 2011, that prohibits a company from patenting an invention if it was for sale for more than a year before filing a patent application. The court, which heard oral arguments on Tuesday, must decide whether Congress intended the law to apply only to agreements that are publicly known or also encompasses confidential transactions out of the public eye.

View the article here

DESPITE TRADE DISPUTES, CATTLEMEN CELEBRATE RECORD BEEF EXPORTS

Kearney, NE — Despite challenges with trade, the beef industry is holding its own with record exports in 2018, which brings benefits to the Beef State.

The Nebraska Cattlemen organization is meeting this week in Kearney, where they’re celebrating the growth in international beef sales.

View the article here

NEBRASKA NONPROFITS CONCERNED ABOUT BUDGET CUTS AS NEEDS INCREASE

GRAND ISLAND - Nonprofits from Grand Island and Central Nebraska heard Thursday about possible cuts to the state budget that would impact their funding at a forum sponsored by the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands that covers Nebraska and parts of Iowa.

Briefing the nonprofits was Renee Fry, executive director of the Open Sky Policy Institute. Fry had a detailed presentation of state finances and what impact it could have on nonprofits if their funding is cut by state lawmakers.

View the article here

IOWA'S FIRST MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES OPEN SATURDAY, INCLUDING ONE IN COUNCIL BLUFFS

COUNCIL BLUFFS - The walls are all painted, with an ombre band of bright green running around the bottom. Front counters and displays have been installed, including the neon green lights framing the wall-mounted glass cases.

Saturday, the former restaurant — most recently a barbecue joint — just off Interstate 29 in Council Bluffs will reopen as Have A Heart Compassion Care, one of Iowa’s five new medical marijuana dispensaries. The shops were authorized as part of a law approved last year by the Iowa Legislature; licenses were awarded earlier this year.

View the article here

HACKER'S RANSOM PLOT EXPLOITS OMAHA HOSPITAL AND OTHERS, COSTS VICTIMS $30 MILLION, FEDS SAY

OMAHA - OrthoNebraska, an Omaha hospital, was one of more than 200 victims targeted in a years-long computer-hacking plot, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department has indicted two Iranian men in connection with a scheme known as “SamSam” that since 2015 has caused more than $30 million in financial damage to city governments, universities, hospitals and others.

The information technology director at OrthoNebraska, Paul Hakenkamp, told The World-Herald that the hospital paid about $2,000 in ransom.

View the article here

FARM BUREAU PRESIDENT: PROPERTY TAXES STILL NEBRASKA'S NUMBER ONE ISSUE

KEARNEY — Nebraska Farm Bureau’s top state issue hasn’t changed: Resolving property tax issues.

“I’ve talked about property taxes every year since I’ve been president (since 2011),” said Steve Nelson of Axtell during his annual president’s address Monday the Nebraska Farm Bureau Convention in Kearney. “And I know some of you will hear this and question what we’ve gotten done.”

Nelson said progress has been made, but isn’t “where we want to be.”

View the article here

NEBRASKA AND IOWA LEADERS RESPOND TO FEDERAL CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT

WASHINGTON - The National Climate Assessment, produced by 13 federal agencies, paints a dire picture for the future of the United States, including Nebraska and Iowa.

Both states are in regions that the report says will face rising temperatures, wetter weather in some places and changes in extreme weather that will force agricultural producers to adapt. And it’s far from the only analysis warning about climate change: A recent United Nations report gives society a little over 10 years to make drastic cuts to emissions in order to avoid serious effects.

View the article here

GOV. RICKETTS DEFENDS WITHHOLDING OF REPORT ON DEADLY TECUMSEH PRISON RIOT

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts defended the Nebraska Corrections Department for not releasing a less-than-flattering report on a Tecumseh State Prison riot back in 2015, saying that agencies can’t release all the reports they order, but if people ask for them, they will be provided.

“But we don’t publish everything that we do because the volume of work is so great,” Ricketts told reporters Tuesday.

Whether that is proper transparency for a taxpayer-paid report is something a group of state lawmakers now plans to explore during a special meeting called for Tuesday at the State Capitol.

View the article here

NEW BELLEVUE CITY ADMINISTRATOR TO BE NOMINATED, THE CURRENT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE LEADER

BELLEVUE - Bellevue Mayor-elect Rusty Hike said Monday he will nominate Jim Ristow to be Bellevue’s new city administrator.

Ristow is currently chief executive officer and president of the Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce where he has served since 2012, with a brief interruption in 2015 when he worked several months for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce before returning to the Bellevue chamber.

Hike said he will nominate Ristow at Monday’s council meeting where he hopes for quick approval so Ristow can be fully in place by the beginning of the new year.

View the article here

TRADE CONFLICTS HAVE COST NEBRASKA ECONOMY MORE THAN $1 BILLION, FARM BUREAU SAYS

WASHINGTON — Nebraska farmers have lost upward of a billion dollars in revenue from ongoing trade conflicts, according to a new report issued Monday by the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

The hit to agriculture from the ongoing tariff wars has been clear for some time, but the new report uses some eye-popping numbers to illustrate the pain.

“Retaliatory tariffs make our U.S. products more expensive for international customers, meaning they buy less or buy from someplace else,” Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said in a press release. “This report provides a clear picture of how much we’ve lost due to those tariffs and the need to improve our trade relations.”

View the article here

SOYBEAN FARMERS AREN'T CHEERING CEASE-FIRE IN U.S. - CHINA TRADE WAR YET

WASHINGTON - For a U.S. soybean farmer, it may be premature to celebrate the cease-fire in the trade war between the U.S. and China.

After all, there’s still no sign of any easing in the 25 percent retaliatory tariff that China levies on imports of American soybeans, and while the United States said China agreed at the summit in Argentina to immediately restart purchases of agricultural products, that wasn’t mentioned in the Chinese statement.

Market moves on Monday in reaction to news of the truce have so far only worsened crushing margins in China, with benchmark soybean futures rising in Chicago and soybean meal and soybean oil declining in Dalian.

View the article here

FORMER NU PRESIDENT RON ROSKENS SHARES FOND MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH GEORGE H.W. BUSH

WASHINGTON — George H.W. Bush would always ask Ron Roskens about his wife, Lois, by name when the two men would meet.

“He never forgot that, which I thought was pretty terrific,” Roskens said.

Roskens, 85 and retired today, and Lois live in Bennington. They were thinking fondly this week of their years knowing the Bush family.

View the article here

NEBRASKA'S DEATH PENALTY REPEAL WAS TEMPORARY, BUT IT CHANGED INMATES' SENTENCES, ACLU ARGUES

LINCOLN — Was the State Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty in effect long enough to give the members of Nebraska’s death row a new sentence of life in prison?

Yes, an attorney with a leading civil rights organization told the Nebraska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Brian Stull, a North Carolina-based lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, told judges that the repeal went into effect on Aug. 30, 2015, and wasn’t suspended until Oct. 16, when petition signatures were verified as sufficient to force a voter referendum on the future of capital punishment.

View the article here

NEBRASKA LOOKS TO REPLACE VOTE-COUNTING EQUIPMENT; PAPER BALLOTS REMAIN 'GOLD STANDARD'

LINCOLN - Just like old computers need to be replaced, Nebraska’s vote-counting equipment is becoming obsolete and will need to be replaced.

Secretary of State John Gale, who is retiring this year after 18 years in the office, has estimated that new equipment for all of the state’s 93 counties would cost about $12 million. Though he’s leaving the office in January, he wants to see funding secured so that some or all counties can replace aging voting machines in time for the 2020 election.

View the article here

LEGISLATORS FROM BELLEVUE SEEK BROADER TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR MILITARY RETIREES

BELLEVUE - Bellevue-area legislators plan to push legislation next year that would expand and simplify state income-tax exemptions for military retirees.

Sen. Carol Blood briefed a group of veterans Thursday on a bill she plans to introduce that would exempt military retirement pay up to $28,000 for Nebraska military retirees over age 55. Retirees who make more than $28,000 would be able to exempt 40 percent of their income from state income tax.

View the article here

FORMER LINCOLN REGIONAL CENTER MANAGERS SUE OVER FIRINGS, ALLEGE RETALIATION AND DISCRIMINATION

LINCOLN - Two top managers fired last spring from the Lincoln Regional Center are suing the state, contending the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services retaliated and discriminated against them because they wanted to discipline two Regional Center doctors.

Dr. Natalie Baker-Heser, a psychiatrist who was medical director of the Lincoln center, and Stacey Werth-Sweeney, the center’s former chief operating officer, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Lancaster County District Court. 

Both administrators say they were thwarted in attempts to terminate or suspend a male physician who had a history of harassment, intimidation and hostility toward female personnel.

View the article here

MANGIAMELLI: CITY MUST ASK VOTERS FOR SALES TAX INCREASE

BELLEVUE - Bellevue cannot continue to fund development of thousands of acres south of Offutt Air Force Base without a half-cent increase in its sales tax, according to a Nov. 14 memo to City Council members and council members-elect.

Also endangered, the memo said, are plans to build a new public library and an aquatics facility in southwest Bellevue.

The memo, written by City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli, said a total of $2 million has been transferred from the city’s contingency reserve since the 2015-16 fiscal year. That money has been placed into an LB 840 fund, so named for the state law that enabled the creation of voter-approved development funds.

View the article here

FORMER OFFICIALS AT TROUBLED STATE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL SUE OVER FIRING, ALLEGE RETALIATION

LINCOLN — Former top officials at the state psychiatric hospital say they were fired this summer for trying to discipline two hospital psychiatrists.

Dr. Natalie Baker-Heser, the hospital’s former medical director, and Stacey Werth-Sweeney, the former facility operating officer, made the claim in a lawsuit filed in Lancaster County District Court.

The two were terminated from the troubled Lincoln Regional Center on June 12. The hospital treats patients with severe mental illnesses, as well as sex offenders with mental disorders.

View the article here

EMERGING FARM BILL SCRAPS HOUSE GOP'S PLAN FOR WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMP RECIPIENTS

WASHINGTON — An emerging farm bill agreement would scrap both the new work requirements for food stamp recipients passed by the House, as well as Senate-approved restrictions on agriculture subsidy payments.

Many details remain unclear as negotiators work to finalize exact language and get an assessment of the deal’s budgetary impact, but the framework announced Thursday did not please Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The Iowa Republican has pushed hard for those tighter subsidy limits and he did not like hearing they would be abandoned.

View the article here

IN 1863, NEBRASKA TERRITORY HANGED A KANSAS LEGISLATOR IN ITS FIRST LEGAL EXECUTION

OMAHA - In 1863, the muddy little town of Omaha hanged a Kansas legislator convicted of robbing and killing his business partner.

Thousands gathered for the event, perhaps more people than Omaha’s population at the time. Crowds swelled so large that 40 cavalry troops from Iowa escorted the prisoner to the gallows.

It was the young Nebraska Territory’s first legal execution and, according to several historians, a sign that — at least in Omaha — vigilante justice soon would be ending.

View the article here

OMAHA-AREA TEENS ORDERED TO ADULT PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL, HOUSED IN BUILDING WITH SEX OFFENDERS

LINCOLN — Juvenile court judges have ordered at least two troubled Omaha-area teenagers to the state’s adult psychiatric hospital in recent months, causing alarm among child advocates. The boys were placed at the Lincoln Regional Center despite opposition from the State Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the hospital, and without a youth treatment program in place.

The first youth, a 15-year-old, was sent to the hospital in July, according to court records. The second, a 16-year-old, moved in this month.

Once at the regional center, HHS officials put the teens in a building that houses adult sex offenders. The boys are kept in a separate, secure unit and, officials say, have never been alone with the adult patients.

View the article here

U.S. TO CONDUCT ADDITIONAL KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE REVIEW

WASHINGTON/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will conduct another environmental review of TransCanada Corp's long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline, a U.S. official said on Friday, a move that could lead to additional delays of the project.

The so-called supplemental environmental impact statement was ordered by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Montana in his ruling on Nov. 8 that blocked construction of the pipeline planned to bring heavy crude from Canada's oil sands to the United States.

View the article here

ENROLLMENT IN VIRGINIA'S EXPANDED MEDICAID PROGRAM IS BEATING PROJECTIONS

RICHMOND — Virginia is on track to add 375,000 low-income residents to its Medicaid rolls by July 2020, outpacing projections made before the General Assembly agreed to expand the program early this year.

State officials had estimated 300,000 Virginians would probably enroll in the federal-state health insurance program in the first 18 months of expansion, which takes effect Jan. 1.

View the article here

IDAHO MEDICAID EXPANSION MAY BE DERAILED

Two thirds of Idaho voters approved Medicaid expansion.  I can’t find anyone who’ll admit they cast a vote of approval.

I’m reminded of the story about Lou Gehrig’s farewell.  Hundreds of thousands of people claim to have been there, which means an already big stadium violated fire code.  The game wasn’t even sold out!

Maybe all along people voting for expansion were virtue signaling and didn’t really think it would happen.

View the article here

FED REPORT INDICATES FARM DOWNTURN CONTINUES WITH BIG IMPACT ON SOYBEANS

A report from the Federal Reserve indicates the agricultural economy continues to sag.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has issued the 10th District Survey of Agricultural Credit Conditions, stating that farm income and credit conditions continued to deteriorate in the third quarter of 2018.

In other words, farm income has yet to rebound in the Midwest.

View the article here

POTENTIAL NEBRASKA SALES TAX INCOME IF LAWMAKERS TAX ONLINE BUYS

LINCOLN - The Nebraska Legislature will likely address the internet state sales tax issue in the upcoming session. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could implement a sales tax for online sales even if the company had no physical presence in the state Creighton University Economist Ernie Goss crunched the numbers on how much Nebraska could bring in if the sales tax is implemented.

Goss says, “About $105 million will come into the state and local tax coffers for Nebraska.”

View the article here

SENATORS FACE FISCAL CHALLENGE AHEAD OF SESSION

NEBRASKA CITY - On a recent crisp fall afternoon at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, inside a crowded conference room, senators and senators-elect in the Nebraska Legislature gathered to discuss the upcoming legislative session. It fell to Sen. John Stinner, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, to give the first presentation.

Stinner told his colleagues it wasn’t his idea.

“I had nothing to do with the agenda -- putting the budget first. I did google up jokes for budgets. There (are) none,” Stinner said. “So you’re either going to be bored to death or angry or put into a state of depression. (Or) several of those.

View the article here

GAGE COUNTY PETITIONS U.S. SUPREME COURT IN BEATRICE 6 CIVIL CASE

BEATRICE - Gage County has asked the nation's highest court to hear its case for overturning a $28.1 million verdict awarded by a federal jury in 2016 to six people wrongfully convicted in a 1985 murder.

Lawyers for Gage County petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 14 to review the jury's decision to award the multimillion-dollar judgment to the so-called Beatrice 6.

View the article here

RICKETTS ELECTED TO LEAD REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS

Gov. Pete Ricketts was elected Thursday to be chairman of the national Republican Governors Association for 2019.

"The RGA is the most effective political organization in the country," Ricketts said, "and I am honored to serve as RGA chairman for 2019.

"Republican governors are delivering results, achieving meaningful reform, making government more efficient and effective, and moving their states forward," he added.

View the article here

PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED REPORT SAYS TECUMSEH STATE PRISON WAS PRIMED FOR REBELLION IN 2015

LINCOLN — A state prison was "primed" for a rebellion due to stricter rules, understaffing and other factors, according to a previously unreleased report on the 2015 Mother's Day riot at the Tecumseh State Prison.

The report — unlike a previous study of the riot that was released to the public — was more critical of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, and suggested that the Tecumseh facility hold less-dangerous inmates because of its rural location and less-experienced staff.

View the article here

STRESSED FARMERS SEEK HOTLINE SERVICES IN NEAR-RECORD NUMBERS

GRAND ISLAND - Nebraska farmers are putting the finishing touches to a record corn and soybean crop. But with poor farm income, phone calls to the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline from first-time, financially distressed farmers and ranchers continues at record or near-record levels, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Nebraska corn harvested was 94 percent, near 96 last year and 97 for the five-year average. Winter wheat condition was rated 2 percent very poor, 7 poor, 25 fair, 46 good, and 20 excellent. Sorghum harvested was 95 percent, equal to last year, and near 98 average. Pasture and range conditions rated 2 percent very poor, 3 poor, 22 fair, 66 good, and 7 excellent.

View the article here

HIGHER WIND TURBINE NOISE LIMITS GET INITIAL OK

LANCASTER COUNTY - Despite strong opposition from residents of southwestern Lancaster County, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission on Wednesday approved changes to the noise limits in its zoning code for wind farms.

The commission voted 8-1 in favor of a text amendment that would designate a higher noise standard for properties that choose to participate in a wind project than for those that don't.

View the article here

TRANSCANADA ASKS JUDGE TO ALLOW PRE-CONSTRUCTION TO WORK ON RESUME KEYSTONE XL

MONTANA - The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline is asking a Montana judge to change his order blocking the project so that pre-construction work can continue.

Attorneys for TransCanada will argue on Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Brian Morris should clarify or amend his ruling to say the injunction does not apply to activities such as finalizing contracts, purchasing materials, conducting land surveys and discussing federal permits.

View the article here

SUPREME COURT RULING PUTS IMPORTANT LIMITS ON FEDERAL AUTHORITY UNDER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that there are limits to how far the federal government can go in using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to take people’s private property.

The case involved the endangered Dusky Gopher Frog. The USFWS had designated 1,500 acres of forest lands in Louisiana as critical habitat for the frog, although the only two known populations of the frog are at least 70 miles to the east in Mississippi. The land has been owned by the Poitevent family since the end of the Civil War and the impact of its designation could be up to $34 million in lost use and value of the property.

View the article here

OMAHA NOMINEE FOR FEDERAL JUDGESHIP TAKES POINTED QUESTIONS ON ABORTION FROM SENATE PANEL

WASHINGTON — Omaha attorney Brian Buescher faced pointed questions on Wednesday about his views on abortion, religious liberty and environmental regulations as senators consider his nomination to be Nebraska’s next federal judge.

Buescher appeared, alongside several other nominees, before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Democrats noted that Buescher has described himself as “avidly pro-life.”

View the article here

AFTER PRIVATIZING MEDICAID, IOWA SAVED $216 MILLION - HALF WHAT WAS PROJECTED

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa saved $126 million this year from privatizing its Medicaid system, half what former Gov. Terry Branstad projected when he forced the change in 2016, according to an audit released Monday.

The report by Auditor Mary Mosiman also found officials and lawmakers have failed to file quarterly financial reports as required by state law.

She said they "should have worked together to establish a method to estimate the program cost savings" when moving from state-managed Medicaid to a system managed by for-profit health care companies.

View the article here

PLATTE INSTITUTE HIRES STATE LAWMAKER TARGETED FOR DEFEAT BY RICKETTS

Omaha, NE.—Try this on for size.

An influential Nebraska think tank, founded by Governor Pete Ricketts, has hired a state senator who Ricketts targeted for defeat.

News Channel Nebraska has learned that soon to be former State Senator Laura Ebke—she lost her bid for re-election earlier this month—has been hired by the Platte Institute.

View the article here

DRIVERLESS GRAIN CART DEMOED

SCOTTSBLUFF — 21st Century Equipment demonstrated an autonomous grain cart in Scottsbluff on Nov. 15.

A tractor, installed with the system, was able to follow a combine as it harvested a corn field without a driver inside. Troy Randall, an integrated solutions consultant at 21st Century, said it works on a GPS system.

“We have StarFire receivers on the combine and the tractor,” he said. “Their system is completely third-party. It ties into the throttle control, the transmission control, and the steering control too.”

View the article here

HARVEST NEARLY FINISHED IN PANHANDLE

SCOTTSBLUFF — The corn harvest in the Nebraska panhandle is nearing completion.

John Thomas, Box Butte Extension educator, said the dry bean, wheat, and sugar beet harvests have been completed and estimated that 80 percent of the corn has now been harvested.

“It’s gone pretty well,” he said. “We’ve had some good windows for harvest. We’ve had a few moisture scenarios, like this weekend, but there’s been some good chunks of time where things have been good and dry.”

View the article here

CHI HELATH ST. FRANCIS EXCITED ABOUT NEW, LARGER CANCER TREATMENT CENTER

GRAND ISLAND - CHI Health St. Francis is currently building a new Cancer Treatment Center that will feature a TrueBeam linear accelerator, a healing garden and a bright, open design.

The 41,000-squre foot structure, larger than the current facility, is being built on the southeast corner of the hospital campus. Completion is planned for a year from now.

The new equipment will include a state-of-the art radiation therapy system.

View the article here

LA VISTA'S MULTISPORT COMPLEX BEHIND SCHEDULE, WITH SPORTS FIELDS NOW EXPECTED TO OPEN MID-2019

LA VISTA - Sports fields that had been scheduled to open this year at the proposed Nebraska Multisport Complex in La Vista are now expected to be open in mid-2019.

Mike Cassling, chairman of the group’s board of directors, said that the board has created “a more prudent approach” to building the complex in phases. Still, grading for the fields is ongoing and 95 percent complete, he said.

“The board of directors are pleased with the level of support received and the strong interest from families, area foundations and corporations toward capital construction and programming,” he said in a statement.

View the article here

TED TURNER SURPRISES AND FUELS SPECULATION BY BUYING ANOTHER SAND HILLS RANCH

LINCOLN — A decade ago, billionaire bison rancher Ted Turner said his appetite for buying more grazing land in Nebraska was likely satisfied.

But now the state’s largest private landowner, and second-largest individual landowner in the U.S., has surprised some people by purchasing another Sand Hills ranch, putting his holdings in Nebraska past the half-million-acre mark.

Turner’s ranching enterprise recently bought the 15,055-acre Kime Ranch, a Sand Hills spread surrounded on three sides by other ranches owned by the founder of CNN, including the first property he bought in Nebraska 23 years ago, the Spikebox Ranch.

View the article here

SENATORS PLEDGE TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR INVESTORS TO TAKE NEBRASKANS' HOMES THROUGH TAX DEEDS

LINCOLN — Several Nebraska state senators say they aim to strengthen advance warnings for people at risk of losing their homes, farms and businesses over delinquent property taxes.

The lawmakers said they were troubled by a story in The World-Herald last week that showed how investors buying treasurer’s tax deeds have been able to take properties from elderly Nebraskans without proof that the owners received advance notification.

View the article here

RELAX, FALLING OIL PRICES ARE MOSTLY A GOOD THING

NEW YORK - Is the big drop in oil prices going to be good or bad for the U.S. economy? Probably good, but getting to that answer isn’t as simple as it used to be.

It used to be straightforward: Falling oil prices were good. That is because the U.S. consumed far more petroleum than it produced. When prices fell, the U.S. spent less on imported energy, leaving consumers with more money to spend on other, mostly homegrown goods and services.

View the article here

NO REFUGE FOR INVESTORS AS 2018 ROUT SENDS STOCKS, BONDS, OIL LOWER

NEW YORK - Stocks, bonds and commodities from copper to crude oil to burlap are staging a rare simultaneous retreat, putting global markets on track for one of their worst years on record and deepening a sense of unease on Wall Street.

Data show global stocks and bonds could both finish the year in the red for the first time in at least a quarter-century, according to BlackRock Inc. BLK +3.99%

Major stock benchmarks in the U.S., Europe, China and South Korea have all slid 10% or more from recent highs. Crude oil’s tumble has dragged it well into bear-market territory, emerging-market currencies have broadly fallen against the dollar, and bitcoin’s price—which had a meteoric rally last year—crashed below $5,000 last week for the first time since October 2017.

View the article here

AMAZON NOW DELIVERING GROCERIES IN OMAHA

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - Beginning Wednesday, people in the Omaha area can use Amazon Prime Now's service to order groceries and other household items from Whole Foods for same-day delivery. 

To use the service, all you have to do is open the Prime Now app or go on Amazon Prime and pick a delivery time, which can be within the hour.

View the article here

FEDERAL RESERVE: FARM INCOME CONTINUES TO DECLINE THIS FALL

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says farm income continued to decline across the Plains and western states this fall because crop prices remain weak.The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, says more than half the bankers in the region say that farm income is lower than last year because the ongoing trade dispute has hurt crop prices.

The bankers say farmers are borrowing more money because their costs are increasing at the same time that they are bringing in less income.

View the article here

USDA AGENCY PLANS CROP PRODUCTION SURVEY

LINCOLN (AP) - A U.S. Department of Agriculture agency will be contacting farmers to gather year-end production and storage figures. The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service also will survey grain facility operators for information on off-farm storage.

The service's Northern Plains director is Dean Groskurth, and he says survey results are used in calculating county-level yields that have a direct impact on farmers. The USDA's Farm Service Agency uses the data in administering programs such as the Agricultural Risk Coverage and in disaster assistance program calculations.

View the article here

MEDICAID EXPANSION BACKERS FEAR MEASURE COULD BE SABOTAGED

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Now that voters have approved a proposal to expand Medicaid in Nebraska, groups that fought for the measure are gearing up to put the new law into effect and keeping watch for attempts to sabotage it.

Nebraska lawmakers still need to approve funding for the expansion, and Gov. Pete Ricketts' administration has to submit a request to the federal government to amend the state's current Medicaid plan so an additional 90,000 low-income citizens can qualify. Opponents in the Legislature acknowledged it’s highly unlikely they’ll get the 33 votes needed to amend the voter-approved law, but they promised a contentious debate over how to pay for it.

View the article here

STATE LAWMAKERS EYE TIGHTER OVERSIGHT AFTER BOTCHED COST PREDICTIONS YIELDED $462.5M IN UNEXPECTED MEDICAID COSTS

WILLIAMSBURG, VA — Flubbed predictions of Virginia’s Medicaid costs have lawmakers eyeing tighter oversight of the program’s forecasting process after a surprise $462.5 million tab landed on the statehouse with a thud just as the state began enrolling newly eligible Virginians.

The ballooning costs are unrelated to the expansion of Medicaid, but led state lawmakers on Friday to question the administration’s ability to effectively forecast program costs.

View the article here

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE REMAINED STEADY, LINCOLN RISES

LINCOLN- The state unemployment rate remained steady in October, while the local rate ticked up slightly. According to information released Friday by the Nebraska Department of Labor, the state unemployment rate was 2.8 percent last month, unchanged from September but down from 2.9 percent in October 2017.

The rate for the Lincoln area was 2.5 percent in October, up from 2.4 percent in both September and October of last year.

View the article here

GROUP THAT RAN ADS CRITICAL OF MEDICAID EXPANSION DOESN'T INTEND TO FILE ELECTION REPORT

LINCOLN - The deadline for corporations, unions and limited-liability companies spending money in Nebraska's 2018 midterm election has come and gone.

But as of Friday, the nonprofit airing television and radio ads painting Medicaid expansion as harmful to the state's finances had not registered with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, leaving unanswered questions of how much was spent and who financed the effort.State statute requires companies operating in Nebraska to report election expenses over $5,000 within 10 days of the end of the month in which the spending happened.

On Oct. 24, Daley wrote to Marc Kaschke, one of the three people listed on Alliance for Taxpayers' filings with the Federal Communications Commission, advising him of the state's reporting requirements. Kaschke didn't respond, Daley said, and apparently forwarded the letter to Alliance for Taxpayers' legal counsel.

View the article here

OCCUPATION TAX INCOME FAR AHEAD OF PROJECTIONS TO PAY FOR PINNACLE BANK ARENA

LINCOLN - Eight years after city voters gave a green light to building a new city arena on an old rail yard, most of the money has been spent — $365.4 million for the arena, the new street system, parking garages and environmental cleanup.

And the plan for bringing in revenue to pay back the bonds and maintain the arena seems to be successful so far. At the end of the last fiscal year, on Aug. 31, the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency, the entity that built the arena and is paying off the bonds, had almost $39.5 million in its reserve. 

View the article here

HUSKER BALLOON FOUND ON NEW YORK BEACH; DID IT START ITS JOURNEY IN MEMORIAL STADIUM?

NEW YORK - New York marine biologist Alyssa Lefebvre often picks up trash from beaches when she tests ocean water across Long Island. She has found zip ties, straws and other plastic trash. On Tuesday, she found what she called “the holy grail” — a red balloon with an “N” on one side and “Huskers” on the other.

She has picked up remnants of balloons from graduation parties and birthday celebrations, but the Husker balloon was different because it may have come from so far away — 1,400 miles — and was still intact.

View the article here

BELLEVUE MAYOR, REP. BACON HELPED TO GET WAR TROPHY CHURCH BELLS RETURNED TO PHILIPPINES

BELLEVUE - For decades, the people of the Philippines have sought the return of the Bells of Balangiga, a set of church bells seized by American soldiers in 1901 and brought to the United States as a trophy of war. Now, they’re finally going home. And it took Nebraskans to help get it done.

"It’s very overwhelming. This is history, right?” said Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, who has family ties to the Philippines and whose efforts following a visit there last year helped get the bells returned. “It’s a somber event for many. But it’s a joyful event for everyone in the Philippines.”

View the article here

'LEGAL RIPOFF'? NEBRASKA MAKES IT EASIER FOR INVESTORS TO TAKE FARMS, HOMES FOR UNPAID TAXES

LINCOLN — The 73-year-old disabled veteran still struggles to understand how he arrived on the verge of homelessness over $500. It’s not like he didn’t have the money. That’s what haunts L.E. Moss — he could have afforded to pay the half a year in delinquent property taxes.

Moss and his wife always tried to keep an emergency fund to help with the unexpected costs of raising children, recovering from heart surgery and repairing the converted country school near Ravenna where they have lived for 31 years. Even though the law requires official notices of the impending deed transfer to be mailed to property owners, Moss said he never saw any until it was too late.

Six years ago, the Nebraska Legislature passed a law intended to give property owners clearer notice when they were in danger of losing their homes or farms to tax deed sales. The 2012 law required buyers of the deeds to deliver pertinent documents to the owner in an envelope stating “UNLESS YOU ACT YOU WILL LOSE THIS PROPERTY” in 16-point type.

View the article here

WENDY DEBOER EDGES OUT MATT DEAVER FOR LEGISLATIVE SEAT WITH NO RECOUNT

Democrat Wendy DeBoer has pulled far enough ahead of Republican Matt Deaver in northwest Omaha's Legislative District 10 so there will be no automatic recount.

The Douglas County Election Commission released its final round of unofficial results Friday with more than 5,000 new votes counted, including provisional ballots and some early votes.

In total, about 206,000 votes were counted in Douglas County.

In District 10, DeBoer received 8,306 votes compared to Deaver's 8,201.

View the article here

HOW DID THE BLUE WAVE PASS OVER NEBRASKA'S 2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT?

OMAHA - Before Nov. 6, progressive groups pointed to Kara Eastman as a case study for why the progressive wing of the Democratic Party can win in swing or even right-leaning districts.

Now, some establishment Democrats are pointing to her as a case study for why they can’t.

Eastman’s loss in a district that was once considered one of the best pickup opportunities for Democrats stands in contrast to Iowa’s 3rd District, right across the river, where Cindy Axne unseated Republican Rep. David Young.

View the article here

GRACE: COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA'S MEDICAID VOTE WAS A BATTLE OF 'PEOPLE NEED HELP' VS. 'GET OFF YOUR BUTTS'

COLUMBUS, Neb. — Finishing her beer at Nebraska’s oldest still-running tavern, a place that had been in her family for years, 74-year-old Cathy Hoops considered the state’s recent vote to expand Medicaid. And her own vote no. Cathy says she’s not against helping, not unsympathetic to hard luck. But after 44 years of working in the kitchen of Scotus Central Catholic Junior Senior High School, Cathy can’t shake the feeling that circumstances are tied to elbow grease.

“Maybe a lot of us aren’t fully understanding of this whole thing,” she said Thursday night at Glur’s as she pored over this newspaper’s stark front-page map. It showed the counties where Medicaid passed (just eight, including population centers in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy) and where it did not (85 Nebraska counties, including hers: Platte). “There’s just so many jobs!”

View the article here

FED TO FURTHER OVERHAUL BIG-BANK STRESS TESTS

WASHINGTON—The Federal Reserve plans to broaden its proposal to ease stress tests for the nation’s largest banks with changes that could reduce the chance they fail the annual assessments.

Fed Vice Chairman of Supervision Randal Quarles in a Friday speech said the agency was considering revisions that could make the test scenarios more consistent from year to year and give firms their results before they wrap up shareholder-return plans. Big banks must pass the Fed’s stress tests to be able to make shareholder payouts, although the timing of the test results means banks set those plans before knowing how they performed.

View the article here

U.S. OIL PRICES MARK LONGEST LOSING STREAK SINCE 1984

U.S. - Oil prices notched the longest losing streak in more than three decades on Friday as concerns about oversupply have rapidly returned to the market.

The recent fall has wiped out all of oil’s gains for 2018. Light, sweet crude for December delivery fell 0.8% to $60.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, closing at its lowest levels since February. Brent, the global benchmark, declined 0.7% to $70.18 a barrel.

U.S. oil entered a bear market Thursday and is down about 21% from its October highs. Friday’s close lower marked 10 consecutive sessions of losses, the longest since July 1984.

View the article here

NEBRASKA'S ALL-GOP HOUSE DELEGATION IS HEADED BACK INTO THE MINORITY

WASHINGTON — While the rest of the country was electing a wave of new Democrats to the House last week, Nebraska voters stuck with their all-Republican delegation.

But the state’s trio of GOP lawmakers will find a much different chamber when the 116th Congress convenes in January under Democratic control.

“It’s going to be a lot harder to get the things done that they’ve found very easy to do over the last however many years they’ve been in office,” said Randall Adkins, political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “It’s going to be a big adjustment.”

View the article here

CANADA'S CRUDE PROBLEM: PLENTY OF OIL BUT NOWHERE TO FLOW

CANADA - Canada, the world’s fourth-largest producer of crude oil, missed out on a recent global recovery in energy prices, and is now taking it on the chin as prices fall.

Crude prices in Canada briefly dropped below $16 a barrel on Friday, after a U.S. federal judge blocked construction of a key pipeline needed to transport oil from Alberta to Nebraska. That means Canadian crude is going for a fraction of supplies elsewhere, even as U.S. prices have tumbled 21% from last month’s highs to about $60 a barrel. In October, Canadian crude traded at its largest-ever discount to U.S. oil of more than $51, according to S&P Global Platts.

View the article here

MAYOR BUETLER EXPRESSES DISAPPOINTMENT WITH TERM-LIMITS VOTE, PRIDE IN HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS

LINCOLN - Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler issued a news release Friday expressing his disappointment with the term-limits vote that will keep him from running for re-election next year, pride in his accomplishments as mayor and hope for the city and country's future.

Though Beutler has appeared at several public events since the Tuesday election, this is his first comment on the term-limits vote. 

"While the result of the term-limits vote is disappointing, I believe the next mayor of our great city will share my commitment to moving the city forward with continued investments in public safety, infrastructure and the services that enhance our quality of life," the mayor said.

View the article here

NEBRASKA TAX COLLECTIONS DIP BELOW EXPECTATIONS IN OCTOBER

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska state government tax collections fell short of expectations in October.

The Department of Revenue reported Thursday that the state received $247 million in net revenue last month, roughly 7 percent lower than the certified forecast of $267 million. 

The downturn was driven by lower-than-expected income and miscellaneous tax receipts. That offset sales-and-use tax collections that were 1.4 percent higher than expected. 

View the article here

KELLY TARGETS 'UNAMERICAN' INHERITANCE TAX

SARPY COUNTY - Sarpy County Board Chairman Don Kelly wants to change the state’s inheritance tax laws so counties have the option of not imposing the tax.

Kelly described the inheritance tax — often described by critics as a “death tax” — as “un-American” because it imposes a tax on property on which taxes have already been paid. 

Kelly originally declared his opposition to the inheritance tax in 2012 when he was first elected to the County Board. He has periodically raised the issue and did so again at the board’s Nov. 6 session. 

View the article here

GOV. RICKETTS' INAUGURAL BALL TO BE JAN. 12 AT PINNACLE BANK ARENA

LINCOLN - The Governor’s Inaugural Ball will take place Jan. 12 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Gov. Pete Ricketts and first lady Susanne Shore announced Thursday.

More information regarding time, tickets, parking and more will be announced in the coming weeks and will be available at neinaugural.com.

Shore said in a press release: “The Governor’s Inaugural Ball is about Nebraskans coming together to celebrate another new beginning for our amazing state. We wanted to announce the date and location of the event as early as possible to ensure that those Nebraskans who want to attend reserve the date on their calendars.”

View the article here

BALANCED STATE BUDGET 'DOABLE' EVEN WITH MEDICAID EXPANSION COSTS, KEY LAWMAKER SAYS

LINCOLN — Nebraska appears within “shouting distance” of balancing its next two-year budget even after incorporating the cost of Medicaid expansion.

New projections released Thursday show a smaller budget gap than earlier predicted in the period ending June 30, 2021.

The figures include $48 million to extend Medicaid coverage to more low-income Nebraskans, as required under a ballot measure approved by voters last week.

View the article here

OIL GIANTS START TO DOMINATE U.S. SHALE BOOM

TEXAS - Smaller, nimbler companies pioneered the U.S. shale boom. But as American production scales up, those frackers are losing ground to Big Oil.

Giant companies such as Chevron Corp. CVX +1.45% and Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM +0.37% are increasing shale production faster and with fewer complications than their smaller rivals. Their superior size and deeper pockets give them an edge in planning large drilling projects and locking in the pipeline and labor deals needed to ensure profitability.

View the article here

STATES GIVEN MORE LEEWAY TO EXPAND MENTAL HEALTH CARE; RICKETTS SAYS NEBRASKA WILL STUDY OPTION

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Tuesday allowed states to provide more inpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness by tapping Medicaid, a potentially far-reaching move to address issues from homelessness to violence.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the announcement Tuesday in a speech to state Medicaid directors, who are confronting common, deeply rooted social problems.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday at a press conference in Lincoln that state officials will look at the new policy to see if it offers benefits to Nebraska.

View the article here

3 NEBRASKA SCHOOL DISTRICTS GET $9 MILLION TO HELP STUDENTS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

LINCOLN — State officials on Tuesday announced two new school-based efforts to help troubled students and their families.

In one, the Chadron, Hastings and South Sioux City school districts will share a $9 million, five-year federal grant aimed at strengthening connections between schools and local mental health services.

In the other, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Behavioral Health Division has put together a list of behavioral health information and resources for school staff.

View the article here

NEBRASKA MEDICINE, METHODIST DROP RED CROSS TO GET BLOOD FROM NEBRASKA-BASED SUPPLIER

OMAHA - With holiday blood drives starting up, metro-area residents will be seeing more of the mostly blue bloodmobiles operated by a Lincoln-based blood supplier.

Nebraska Medicine and Methodist Health System in October announced that they’d selected the Nebraska Community Blood Bank to supply most of the blood that their patients need under a new three-year contract. Previously, both had received most of their blood products from the American Red Cross.

Wendy Capetz, the Nebraska blood bank’s marketing director, said the organization has been holding some blood drives in Omaha and providing specialty products to Nebraska Medicine for about five years.

View the article here

MEDICAID EXPANSION APPROVAL LEAVES FUNDING QUESTIONS

LINCOLN - As results came in Tuesday night, supporters of expanding Medicaid, like state Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, were happy.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome – not just the results tonight, but what it means to folks who are in need of health insurance coverage all across the state,” Bolz said.

Opponents, like Gov. Pete Ricketts, were less pleased. In a live interview at a noisy election party with Omaha television station WOWT, Ricketts said, “If that passes, what we’re going to do is have to put it in the budget, less money for things like K-12 education, higher education, and property tax relief, and I’m not going to raise taxes, so we’re just going to make it work within the budget.”

View the article here

CONSUMER, BUSINESS CONFIDENCE RISE IN NEBRASKA

NEBRASKA - Consumer and business confidence both increased sharply in Nebraska during October, according to the latest monthly surveys from the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Results from the Survey of Nebraska Households indicate that consumer confidence rose to 108.3 in October, bouncing back from a subpar level of 97 during September and well above the neutral level of 100.

Business confidence also improved during October, rising to 117.3 according to the results of the Survey of Nebraska Business. Business confidence stood at 110.6 in September.

View the article here

ELECTION RESULTS PORTRAY TWO NEBRASKAS; REDISTRICTING WILL BE NEXT POWER PLAY

LINCOLN - Two Nebraskas emerged in last week's election results, but it remains to be seen whether what was visible Tuesday could be more of a peek ahead at the future rather than evidence of already settled reality.

In somewhat stunning fashion, voters in Lincoln and Omaha rejected the re-election bids of Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Deb Fischer, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Rep. Don Bacon, all Republicans who were re-elected either statewide or in their congressional districts. 

View the article here

OMAHA POLICE WANT TO CHANGE LAW ON RELEASING GRAND JURY REPORT WHEN AN OFFICER IS INDICTED

OMAHA - Omaha’s police chief wants to tweak a law designed to make grand juries more open.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said a bill by State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha two years ago had the unintended consequence of making public a grand jury’s final report in cases when an officer is indicted. Evidence, including transcripts and exhibits, should be released, Schmaderer said, but not immediately. That information should be released after an officer’s criminal proceedings are over, he said.

View the article here

OMAHA COMPANY SENDING VOTING MACHINES TO FLORIDA TO HELP WITH RECOUNT

OMAHA - An Omaha company is sending vote-counting machines and other resources to Florida to help with the recounts there.

Election Systems & Software has deployed 15 additional high speed scanners, 12 technicians and 33 support associates to Florida to help with the recount, according to Kathy Rogers, ES&S senior vice president of Government Relations.

The company also sent spare parts for voting machines.

View the article here

ENVIRONMENTALISTS HAIL ANOTHER DELAY IN KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

LINCOLN — TransCanada says it remains committed to building the Keystone XL pipeline, but a federal judge’s ruling this week raised new questions about whether the $8 billion project will ever be built.

Officials with environmental groups said during a press conference Friday that Thursday’s ruling could delay the Keystone XL up to a year, and with prices for Canadian oil at record lows, investors and shippers might abandon the project.

“It becomes less likely as the days go by,” said Brian Jorde, an Omaha attorney who is handling a lawsuit against the project brought by some Nebraska landowners.

View the article here

DEMOCRATS TO PURSUE MOST AGGRESSIVE GUN-CONTROL LEGISLATION IN DECADES

WASHINGTON—Democrats say they will pass the most aggressive gun-control legislation in decades when they become the House majority in January, plans they renewed this week in the aftermath of a mass killing in a California bar.

Their efforts will be spurred by an incoming class of pro-gun-control lawmakers who scored big in Tuesday’s midterm elections, although any measure would likely meet stiff resistance in the GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats ousted at least 15 House Republicans with “A” National Rifle Association ratings, while the candidates elected to replace them all scored an “F” NRA rating.

View the article here

WITH MORE BALLOTS COUNTED, CAVANAUGH, BOGNER WIN AND DEBOER-DEAVER STILL TOO CLOSE TO CALL

DOUGLAS COUNTY - Two of three races in Douglas County that were too close to call got some clarity Friday after the County Election Commission counted about 7,300 early voting ballots that arrived by mail and drop box on Election Day.

But one legislative race is within the margin that typically triggers recounts in Douglas County, 1 percent of the votes received by the top vote-getter, and remains too close to declare a winner.

The midterm election results updated Friday afternoon also reflect a handful of regular ballots that were marked by hand on Election Day or during early voting but could not be read by vote-counting machines.

View the article here

IRAN SANCTIONS WON'T FUEL OIL PIRCES FOR LONG

IRAN - Anticipation of U.S. sanctions on Iran drove oil prices to multiyear highs last month, but the crude being pumped to replace Iran’s supply and easing demand growth from a slowing global economy could push them lower again.

Lower oil prices may be good for U.S. consumers and businesses at a time when inflation is starting to tick up, boosting inflation-adjusted income for households and profit margins for energy-consuming businesses. However, they could sting the nation’s energy producers who have become important drivers.

View the article here

STATE, FEDS RIGHTLY TACKLE OPIOID ABUSE

WASHINGTON - Opioid addiction has become such a serious problem that it can only be remedied through effective and coordinated measures. That’s why we are pleased to see the joint efforts at both the state and federal level in recent weeks to combat this crisis.

President Donald Trump signed the “Support for Patients and Communities Act” on Oct. 24, which promises $8.5 billion this year for opioid-related programs.

View the article here

LEGAL BATTLE CLOUDS OPENING OF NEW CARTER LAKE CASINO

CARTER LAKE - Just by opening its doors on Thursday of last week, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska’s Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake has beaten the odds.

The new gambling parlor had been pitched as a moneymaker for the Poncas for more than a decade, a way of bringing in money that can help the tribe rebuild after losing its federal recognition for a quarter-century. Along the way, though, the Poncas gathered some powerful adversaries.

View the article here

AFTER DEMOLISHING CONDEMNED HOUSES, LAND CAN LANGUISH. OMAHA LAND BANK, CITY WANT TO CHANGE THAT

OMAHA - For years, Marilyn Tunstall has dealt with troubled properties on either side of her well-kept home in north Omaha.The problems didn’t stop when the city demolished one of the long-vacant houses earlier this year. The house, near 42nd and Maple Streets, was replaced with overgrown weeds, some 8 feet high, and debris, Tunstall said.

“I want to live next door to neighbors who care about what they’ve got,” she said. City officials are hoping to do a better job reusing the vacant lots that remain after they tear down properties that have been deemed unsafe.

View the article here

FDA PLANS TO SHARPLY RESTRICT SALES OF FLAVORED E-CIGARETTES

NEW YORK - The Food and Drug Administration plans to sharply restrict the sale of most flavored pod-style e-cigarettes, effectively pulling them from most convenience stores and gas stations and requiring strict age verification controls for online sales, according to senior FDA officials.

The actions, expected to be announced as early as next week, are aimed at limiting access to the e-cigarettes most popular among children, whose use is surging.

View the article here

NEW YORK EYES BAN OF FLAVORED E-CIGARETTES

NEW YORK - The Cuomo administration is planning to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes as soon as next year—putting New York at the forefront of growing efforts around the country to rein in the products.

The state Department of Health posted regulations on Wednesday banning the sale or possession of flavored e-cigarettes, citing an “alarming increase of e-cigarette use among New York’s youth” and a desire to “protect our youth from a lifetime addiction to nicotine.”

View the article here

FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION'S KEYSTONE XL PERMIT

WASHINGTON - A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline and barred any construction of the long-delayed project until completion of a supplemental environmental review.

Siding with environmentalists and indigenous rights groups, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris ruled that President Trump’s 2017 cross-border permit of the pipeline expansion by TransCanada Corp. to take oil from Alberta to Nebraska hadn’t considered all impacts as required by federal law.

View the article here

IRRIGATION COMPANY THAT BEGAN IN GARAGE HAS GROWN INTO ONE OF THE STATE'S LARGEST COMPANIES

LINDSAY — A lot of reminiscing and button-popping pride.

That’s what took place Thursday as Lindsay Corporation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the sale of the first Zimmatic center pivot machine on Nov. 6, 1968. The company was started by Paul Zimmerer and his sons, Art and Bernie, who were co-owners.

Paul Zimmerer opened a blacksmith shop in 1955 and sold modified car engines to be used on irrigation wells. His idea became the foundation of one of Northeast Nebraska’s largest companies, Lindsay Corp.

View the article here

U.S. OIL PRICES ENTER BEAR MARKET

U.S. - U.S. oil prices slid for a ninth straight session Thursday, hitting an eight-month low and entering a bear market amid worries over rising global output and signs of deteriorating demand.

Light, sweet crude for December delivery ended 1.6% lower at $60.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, putting the front-month contract about 21% below its recent high. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 2% to $70.65 a barrel, roughly 18% below its peak.

View the article here

RURAL-URBAND DIVIDE SHOWS IN NEBRASKA VOTE TO APPROVE MEDICAID EXPANSION

OMAHA - Yes, there was an urban-rural divide in the vote to approve Medicaid expansion. And there’s no doubt Democrats were far more supportive than Republicans.

But dig into the numbers behind the 53 percent victory for Initiative 427, and it isn’t so simple. Some figures offering insight into Tuesday’s vote. Rural Nebraska indeed went strongly against the measure, as only eight of the state’s 93 counties supported it. It passed in Douglas and Lancaster Counties with more than 60 percent of the vote. Sarpy County was solidly in favor with nearly 54 percent. It also passed in Dakota, Thurston and Burt, contiguous counties in northeast Nebraska, as well as Scotts Bluff and Dawes in the Panhandle.

View the article here

DEMOCRAT'S BIGGEST WINS ARE IN STATEHOUSES

Democrats pulled off a significant victory on Tuesday night. No, it wasn’t taking back the House in Congress. It’s what they did in state legislatures around the country.

Democrats made strides in a number of statehouses. They seized control of seven legislative chambers, flipping the State Senates in Colorado, Maine, and New York; the House in Minnesota; and both chambers in New Hampshire. Connecticut’s Senate, previously evenly split, is now held by Democrats. They broke Republican supermajorities in Michigan and Pennsylvania’s Senates and both chambers in North Carolina.

View the article here

RICKETTS SEEKS APPLICANTS TO NEBRASKA LEGISLATIVE SEATS

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts is seeking qualified applicants for two Nebraska legislative seats that became available after the incumbents were elected to other offices. Ricketts announced plans Thursday to appoint replacements for state Sen. Dan Watermeier, of Syracuse, and Sen. John Murante, of Gretna. Watermeier was elected to the Nebraska Public Service Commission in Tuesday's election, and Murante was elected state treasurer.

Watermeier represents Legislative District 1 in southeast Nebraska, including Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee, Richardson and portions of Otoe County. Murante represents District 49 in Sarpy County.

View the article here

FIRST DEMOCRAT JOINS LINCOLN MAYOR'S RACE AFTER SUCCESS OF TERM-LIMITS AMENDMENT

With Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler unable to run for re-election because of the successful term-limits amendment, the field of potential mayoral candidates is growing larger, particularly among Democrats. City Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird announced on Facebook on Thursday morning that she would enter the race.

"Excited to announce I'm running for Mayor of Lincoln! More to come soon. Thank you to all who have encouraged me to take this step," her post said.

View the article here

20-YEAR PLAN TO DEVELOP CAPITOL CAMPUS CALLS FOR NEW OFFICE CONSTRUCTION

LINCOLN - A 20-year state government plan for the area around the Capitol recommends several new office buildings, including a Justice Center to house the Supreme Court and supporting agencies. 

The vision for the development of a Capitol campus, in the works since 2016, was led by architectural, real estate and engineering consultants with the Department of Administrative Services and the city of Lincoln. It was completed in May, but only recently released. The aim of the plan is to consolidate space, bring agencies and employees that are now somewhat spread out closer to the Capitol and provide a more attractive workplace to help in recruiting new staff to take the places of retiring state employees.

View the article here

Links of Interest

Nebraska Government

nebraska congressional delegation

National Organizations

Nebraska Newspapers

Nebraska Elections

National Lobbying Resources