Articles of Interest

MORE POWER NEEDED: OPPD PLANS TO BUILD NEBRASKA'S LARGEST SOLAR FARM, PLUS NATURAL GAS PLANTS

OMAHA - Omaha’s electric utility plans to build Nebraska’s largest solar power farm as part of a broader green power initiative.

The Omaha Public Power District board will vote as early as Nov. 14 to seek bids to produce 400 to 600 megawatts of solar power, officials said Tuesday.

That would be roughly double the size of the state’s largest solar installation announced to date, a 230-megawatt, $230 million project proposed east of Lincoln by Ranger Power.

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STRONG STATE TAX REVENUE REPORT RENEWS CALLS FOR PROPERTY TAX RELIEF IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts renewed his call for property tax relief Tuesday after state tax revenues topped projections for a seventh month in a row.

“Our budget is set for the next two years, and higher-than-expected revenues have flowed into our cash reserve,” he said. “This trend of healthy revenues is setting the state up to do significant property tax relief in the upcoming legislative session.”

The Department of Revenue released a report Tuesday showing that the state collected $76.5 million more in taxes than had been forecast for July 1 through Sept. 30.

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PETITION DRIVE LAUNCHES TO CAP PAYDAY LOAN LENDING RATES AT 36% IN NEBRASKA

LINCOLN — A petition drive to cap payday loan rates at 36% annual interest in Nebraska kicked off Tuesday in Lincoln.

Leaders with Nebraskans for Responsible Lending said they are trying to put a measure before voters in the November 2020 general election. They plan to begin gathering signatures soon.

“It’s time that something was done,” said former State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis. “The Legislature has had ample opportunity to fix this problem and they haven’t done so, so now we’re going to go out and secure signatures and get this in place.”

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NEW FEDERAL FAMILY FIRST LAW COULD HELP NEBRASKA PREVENT CHILDREN FROM GOING INTO FOSTER CARE

LINCOLN — Nebraska hopes to be among the first states taking advantage of a new federal law aimed at keeping children out of foster care, officials said Thursday.

Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the Family First Prevention Services Act breaks from 30 years of federal child welfare policy by putting the focus squarely on prevention services.

“Previously, federal funding for child welfare was largely available to states only after a child enters the foster care system,” she said. “Under Family First, states can utilize federal funds for programs that strengthen families and reduce the trauma that occurs when a child is removed from his or her home.”

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NEBRASKANS PRIORITIZE HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION FUNDING IN ANNUAL PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY

LINCOLN - Nebraskans prioritized access to affordable health care, investments in K-12 and higher education, and property tax cuts in a public opinion poll conducted by the Holland Children's Institute.

Seven in 10 respondents to the survey ranked affordable and accessible health care as a top priority for state policymakers to pursue, according to the phone survey.

The delay until October 2020 to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion, as well as potential restrictions on who would qualify for coverage, concerned 56% of the respondents, the results show.

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SARPY COUNTY DATA CENTERS HAVE $522 MILLION IMPACT STATEWIDE, UNL REPORT SHOWS

OMAHA - Business leaders in Nebraska take every available opportunity to refer to the state as the “Silicon Prairie,” a play on the term for Northern California’s cluster of big technology companies.

The idea behind the term — to bring those companies, and by extension, high-paying jobs and more money, into the state — is playing out in Sarpy County, which recently landed its eighth data center with Google’s $600 million announcement.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers recently set out to determine how big an impact the data center industry has on the local economy, and their findings revealed some whopping figures.

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OMAHA MAYOR SAYS SHE SUPPORTS TAX ON VAPING PRODUCTS

OMAHA — Omaha's mayor says she supports a proposal to expand a tobacco tax to include vaping.

Mayor Jean Stothert said last week she would support the expansion for public health and tax fairness reasons.

Council President Chris Jerram has called for ending an exemption for nicotine delivery devices. The proposal would add a 3% tax on tobacco products to e-cigarettes and other vaping products.


The change would spur an estimated $1 million increase in the tobacco tax, which now raises about $3.5 million annually.

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$250,000-A-YEAR CONSULTING DEAL FOR FORMER NU PRESIDENT HANK BOUNDS DRAWS BOTH CONCERNS, PRAISE

LINCOLN - Hank Bounds resigned as the University of Nebraska’s president in August, saying that he was tired and that his family wanted to get back to the South.

But the NU system, with the support of the NU Board of Regents, has brought Bounds back as a consultant and fundraiser for some University of Nebraska athletic department construction projects.

Bounds’ pay as a consultant: $250,000 a year in donor money for up to three years. The recipient officially is One Team LLC, a company Bounds has set up and will manage. It’s not clear whether other people will serve on his consulting team. He didn’t return calls or respond to a text late this week.

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HISTORICAL HOMECOMINGS: STATUES RETURN TO NEBRASKA AFTER NEARLY 90 YEARS IN WASHINGTON

LINCOLN - William Jennings Bryan has been living a low-key life lately, far from the millions of annual guests who used to visit his longtime home at the U.S. Capitol.

For the past few weeks, the three-time populist presidential candidate has been kept under red, white and blue wraps in the Nebraska National Guard Museum on the west side of Seward, awaiting his second unveiling in 82 years.

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DON BACON TO DONATE CAMPAIGN FUNDS HE RECEIVED FROM INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE

OMAHA - Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon received campaign donations from one of the men indicted this week on charges of violating campaign finance laws in connection with the president’s pressure on Ukraine.

The World-Herald brought the donations to Bacon’s attention. His campaign said that as soon as the congressman “discovered the illegality of these donations,” he donated that amount to two anti-sex trafficking charities.

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ERNIE CHAMBERS PREPARES BILL TO COMPENSATE COLLEGE ATHLETES HE CALLS 'UNPAID EMPLOYEES'

LINCOLN - In December 1983, Ernie Chambers faced off against Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler on Phil Donahue’s TV show. The issue: Should college athletes be paid?

At one point, the conversation got so heated — and the studio audience so animated — that Donahue told the Nebraska lawmaker: “You’re going to need an escort to get out of here.”

Now, 36 years later, the state senator finally sees the NCAA inching toward dramatic reform after passage of a California law permitting athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

“I like any plan that makes it possible for athletes to gain something,” Chambers said.

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RUMORED PULLOUT FROM OPEN SKIES TREATY WOULD IDLE OFFUTT JETS

WASHINGTON- The Trump administration is believed to be preparing to pull out of the 34-nation Open Skies Treaty, a plan that would idle two Offutt-based OC-135B reconnaissance jets and their crews. 

The planes are crewed and maintained at Offutt by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, which is part of the 55th Wing. Several dozen Offutt airmen are involved in the program. Members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation have also questioned the move.

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J&J HIT WITH $8 BILLION JURY AWARD OVER ANTIPSYCHOTIC DRUG

PHILADELPHIA - A Philadelphia jury on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $8 billion in damages to a Maryland man who said his use of J&J’s antipsychotic Risperdal as a child caused enlarged breasts and the company failed to properly warn of this risk.

It was the biggest award to date among more than 13,000 lawsuits against J&J alleging that Risperdal caused a condition called gynecomastia in boys, which involves enlargement of breast tissue. The lawsuits generally claim that J&J was aware of the risk of this side effect, but understated the risk to doctors.

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MINE NEAR ELK CREEK QUALIFIES FOR $200M IN NEBRASKA TAX INCENTIVES

JOHNSON COUNTY - The company working to build a mine in southeast Nebraska to extract a rare heat-resistant element says the project qualified for up to $200 million in state tax incentives.

NioCorp Developments said Tuesday it signed a contract with Nebraska for tax incentives on the proposed niobium mine near Elk Creek in Johnson County. The project is expected to create over 400 jobs and require more than $1 billion in construction costs.

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HHS FINDS NEW COVERAGE OPTION FOR SOME KIDS WITH DISABILITIES WHO LOST COVERAGE THIS YEAR

LINCOLN — State officials have found a way to continue Medicaid-funded services for some children with disabilities who lost coverage this year. The option may help children like 4-year-old Claire Aschoff of Blair, who was dropped from a special Medicaid waiver program for disabled children and adults on Aug. 1. She lost coverage after state officials determined she did not meet new eligibility standards.

Now the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is offering to transfer Claire, and children like her, to a different Medicaid waiver, one designed for people with developmental disabilities.

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TWO SIDES OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA DEBATE WILL MEET IN LINCOLN AT EVENT AIMING TO FOSTER CIVIL DIALOGUE

LINCOLN — Two men who have been duking it out across the country over medical marijuana will meet for the first time in Lincoln. Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, advocates for legal access to marijuana. Luke Niforatos, chief of staff for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), argues against legalization of marijuana.

They will be featured at the Oct. 17 launch of Good Talks for the Good Life, a Nebraska effort to promote thoughtful, reasoned dialogue on divisive issues.

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TESLA NEEDS ITS BATTERY MAKER. A CULTURE CLASH THREATENS THEIR RELATIONSHIP

Five years after committing to invest billions of dollars in a shared battery factory in the Nevada desert, Panasonic has a strained relationship with the electric-car pioneer. The Gigafactory was supposed to boost profits, cement Panasonic’s future in automotive electronics and give Tesla easy access to the most important—and expensive—component of its vehicles.

Instead, the partnership has exposed a culture clash between the conservative, century-old Japanese conglomerate accustomed to consensus and the 16-year-old Silicon Valley upstart built around Mr. Musk’s vision for upending 100 years of automotive tradition.

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EDITORIAL: CANDIDATES FOR THE NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE SHOULD UNDERSTAND IMPORTANT OBLIGATIONS

LINCOLN - Serving in the Nebraska Legislature is stimulating, important work. State senators debate proposals that can have far-ranging effects on the state. Lawmakers defend values and principles important to them. Many Nebraskans who have served at the State Capitol have found the experience deeply rewarding.

Nebraskans deciding whether to run for the Legislature need to understand beforehand, however, how stressful and complicated the job can be. It’s not uncommon, for example, for newly elected state senators to find that the Legislature’s demands on their time well exceed their expectations. As a result, some have struggled to develop a successful balance between their legislative service and their job. Some with young families have been frustrated trying to achieve a suitable work-and-home balance.

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NEBRASKA DMV WILL SOON LAUNCH NEW $21.9 MILLION COMPUTER SYSTEM

LINCOLN — A 17-month-long effort to replace a 1990s computer system at the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles is about to be completed. The agency said its new, $21.9 million “VicToRy” computer system will go live Oct. 15 and will deliver more services to users and reduce errors in inputting data.

State DMV Director Rhonda Lahm said her agency has been working with county treasurers and others since March 2018 to make the switch to the VicToRy system. Training of workers to use the new system also has been underway.

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EVIDENCE EMERGES THAT AFFORDABLE CARE ACT HAS MADE SOME PEOPLE HEALTHIER

DETROIT — Poor people in Michigan with asthma and diabetes were admitted to the hospital less often after they joined Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. More than 25,000 Ohio smokers got help through the state’s Medicaid expansion that led them to quit.

And around the country, patients with advanced kidney disease who went on dialysis were more likely to be alive a year later if they lived in a Medicaid-expansion state.

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