TRADE AGREEMENT WITH TAIWAN COULD ALSO HELP NEBRASKA FARMERS

LINCOLN — Another trade agreement announced Wednesday was trumpeted by Gov. Pete Ricketts as positioning Nebraska to grow its exports to Taiwan.

Taiwan signed letters of intent to buy more than $2.1 billion in U.S. soybeans, corn and distillers grains.

The country last year purchased about $70 million in corn from Nebraska, which was about 5% of the total corn exports from the state. Taiwan was Nebraska’s fifth-largest export market for corn in 2018.

Representatives of the Nebraska corn and soybeans boards signed letters of intent with Taiwanese firms Tuesday evening, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office. The release did not specify how much grain would be purchased from the state, though it said past agreements had resulted in “millions of dollars” of sales.

View the article HERE

STATE SENATORS ASK FOR PUBLIC INPUT AND 'PRESSURE' TO HELP SOLVE HIGH PROPERTY TAXES

OMAHA - A panel of state senators asked for public input, and even “pressure,” on Tuesday to help them solve Nebraska’s decades-old problem of high property taxes.

And those who filled half the seating area at the Omaha Firefighters Hall attempted to oblige, asking lawmakers why the state’s taxes pinch homeowners and landowners harder than in neighboring states like South Dakota and Iowa.

A farm manager from Waterloo provided the most dramatic testimony, saying that property taxes on cropland he oversees have risen by 278% over the past decade and gobble up 36% of the rental income from the property.

The tax burden will drive farmers out of business, said Ed Herlein, who supports shifting the tax load onto sales or other taxes. Before he stepped into the hall Tuesday evening, he signed an initiative petition that — if passed by state voters — would do that, by mandating a 35% state rebate on property taxes to all property owners. Senators have said it would force either drastic cuts in state services or steep increases in state sales and income taxes.

View the article HERE

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT LEADER LEAVES GREATER OMAHA CHAMBER AFTER 16 MONTHS

OMAHA - The Greater Omaha Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development has left the post, the chamber announced.

Dee Baird came to the Omaha chamber in May 2018. She was hired from the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Metro Economic Alliance and had worked in higher education.

Chamber President David Brown said at the time that her key challenge was attracting more workers to keep up with the Omaha area’s business expansion rate.

Finding enough skilled workers for Nebraska businesses has been described as a “crisis” and “the most pressing economic issue in the state.”

The Omaha chamber is in the second, five-year phase of its Prosper Omaha campaign that, among other things, aims to attract 10,000 new jobs paying $50,000 and above to the metro. The Omaha and Lincoln chambers in June announced an ”Opt In” campaign seeking to lure tech workers from Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Sioux Falls.

View the article HERE

NEBRASKA'S JUVENILE PROBATION SHOWING PROGRESS AT REDUCING SERVICES COSTS, REPORT SAYS

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s juvenile probation system has made progress on reducing the costs of services and increasing the use of home- and community-based services for juvenile offenders in the past few years, according to a new report.

The Legislature’s Performance Audit Committee released a report Wednesday that looked at the system over three years, from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018.

The report found that juvenile probation spent $45 million on services for youths in fiscal year 2018, a drop of $9.4 million from the amount spent two years earlier.

According to the report, a reduction in spending on group homes and institutions for treating youths accounted for almost all of the difference. The number of youths sent for such treatment dropped to 231 in fiscal year 2018, down from 424 two years earlier. In addition, the average cost of that treatment declined to $26,459 per youth, down from $33,987.

View the article HERE

LINCOLN STATE SEN. KATE BOLZ WEIGHS CONGRESSIONAL BID AGAINST JEFF FORTENBERRY

LINCOLN — State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln says she is weighing a congressional challenge to eight-term U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

Bolz, a 40-year-old Democrat, has represented a south Lincoln legislative district for the past seven years but is barred from seeking reelection to her District 29 seat because of term limits. She said Monday that she plans to decide soon whether to enter the 2020 race.

If she runs, it would be the most formidable challenger to Fortenberry, a 58-year-old Republican from Lincoln, in several election cycles.

In the Nebraska Legislature, Bolz is vice chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and is known for her work on health and human services issues and workforce development. She is a native of Palmyra, Nebraska, and holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

View the article HERE

JUUL REPLACES ITS CEO AND UNVEILS A NEW MARKETING STRATEGY AS VAPING CRISIS ESCALATES

Juul co-founder Kevin Burns is out as CEO of the embattled maker of e-cigarettes, the company announced Wednesday.

He is being replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, who had been chief growth officer at tobacco company Altria, a major investor in Juul. In that position, he oversaw expansion into alternatives to traditional cigarettes and played a key role with commercial and regulatory efforts related to the US launch of iQOS, a device that heats tobacco rather than burning it.

Juul and other makers of vaping products are facing a crisis due to a growing number of deaths and illnesses tied to their products. Several states are moving to ban their use.

The company also said Wednesday it has a new marketing strategy: It will suspend all TV, print and digital ads and it will stop some of its lobbying efforts.

View the article HERE

ELECTION COMMISSIONERS SHOULD BE ELECTED, NOT APPOINTED, SAYS OPINION FROM NEBRASKA ATTORNEY GENERAL

LINCOLN — The century-old method of choosing election commissioners for Nebraska’s most populous counties is “constitutionally suspect,” according to an opinion from Attorney General Doug Peterson.

The opinion was issued Tuesday in response to questions posed by State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln. His questions followed up on an issue raised by Civic Nebraska, a Lincoln-based group working to promote civic involvement and protect voting rights.

In the opinion, Peterson concluded that election commissioners and chief deputy election commissioners are county officers and, therefore, under the Nebraska Constitution, must be elected to their positions.

The opinion raises concerns about a state law requiring the governor to appoint election officials for Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties, the Nebraska counties with more than 100,000 residents.

View the article HERE

NEBRASKA OFFICIAL APOLOGIZES FOR CALLING STATE WORKERS UNION 'COMMUNIST AGITATORS'

LINCOLN — A state agency director has apologized for a social media post that referred to the leadership of a state labor union as “communist agitators.”

Trevor Jones, the head of History Nebraska (formerly the State Historical Society), sent a message to employees referring to a July 10 meeting between agency employees and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees. The union represents state workers, including History Nebraska employees.

“Don’t spend your noon hour throwing hands and dustin’ it up with communist agitators,” the post said. “Consider instead spending a peaceful hour at ‘Lunch with Trevor.’ ”

 The post, which featured a photo of a 1934 labor riot in Loup City, Nebraska, drew a harsh rebuke from a union official who called it “unprofessional, inappropriate and a prohibited (labor) practice.”

“In my 34 years as a state employee, I’ve never seen the head of a state agency … treat our union with such contempt,” wrote Deb Strudl, chairwoman of NAPE/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 61. “Your implication that we are communist agitators, violent and unfriendly is without merit and completely false.”

View the article HERE

RICKETTS SAYS NEBRASKA DOESN'T NEED NEW TASK FORCE ON PRISON STAFFING

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday that the state doesn’t need a new task force to explore the staffing shortages at state prisons but that the Department of Corrections is always open to new strategies to fill vacant posts and reduce high worker turnover.

“If someone has some ideas, I certainly suggest they get them to us or talk to (State Corrections Director) Scott Frakes,” said Ricketts, in his first public comments about a critical state watchdog’s annual report.

That report, issued a week ago, described a continued “downward spiral” in hiring and retention of state prison staff, particularly the officers, corporals and sergeants who guard inmates.

Nebraska spent a record $15 million on overtime to fill vacant posts last year, according to the report, and turnover of security staff, while down slightly, was still roughly 30%, which is about twice the rate considered desirable.

View the article HERE

NEBRASKA'S 'MONUMENTAL' DATA PROJECT KEY IN IMPROVING HEALTH OUTCOMES, REDUCING COSTS, OFFICIALS SAY

Partners in Nebraska’s health information system are taking next steps to improve health outcomes — and the state’s IT workforce — through data.

The Nebraska Health Information Initiative, or NEHII, has been working to link patient records collected by physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care entities across the state for roughly a decade. An ER doctor in Kearney, for instance, now can check the medications and health history of a visiting Omahan who lands in her hospital.

But so far, that data has been put to limited use with questions involving larger groups of patients, known as population health. That may involve checking whether at-risk groups, such as diabetics, are getting recommended eye and foot screenings on time and reaching out to those who aren’t.

The new Nebraska Healthcare Collaborative will focus on bolstering both the expertise and tools needed to tap that data, said Jamie Bland, NEHII’s CEO.

View the article HERE

FOUR STRUGGLING NEBRASKA NURSING HOMES WILL CLOSE IN NOVEMBER

LINCOLN — The company that recently purchased a group of Nebraska nursing homes announced plans Monday to close four of the homes Nov. 21.

The four are Blue Hill Care Center, Crestview Care Center in Milford, Mory’s Haven in Columbus and Utica Community Care Center. Employees and residents were notified of the planned closings Monday.

The four were part of a group acquired last week by Azria Health, a company with operations in Omaha and Kansas. The nursing homes have struggled financially in recent years.

Heath Boddy, president and CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association, said reimbursement rates from Nebraska Medicaid make it difficult for long-term care facilities to survive in the state.

View the article HERE

DON WALTON: RICKETTS, OTHER GOVERNORS PUSH FOR MISSOURI RIVER MANAGEMENT CHANGES

LINCOLN - Gov. Pete Ricketts says he and three other Midwestern governors in the Missouri River Basin are determined to push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to "change the way we're managing the river" following this year's devastating flooding.

A couple of 500-year floods in recent years argues strongly for "managing the river differently," Ricketts told a caller on his monthly radio call-in show this past week.

And so the governors of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas are working together to try to convince the Corps that it must reconsider how to "protect people and property" downstream from Gavins Point Dam as it makes its decisions in managing the river, Ricketts said.

Gavins Point is one of the big Missouri River dams in the Dakotas and the last one to release the river water that pours downstream.

"It's imperative we get some of these things done before March," Ricketts said.

View the article HERE

MILLARD TEACHER ACCUSED OF DRAGGING STUDENT ACROSS THE FLOOR IS CITED ON SUSPICION OF CHILD ABUSE

MILLARD - A teacher in the Millard Public Schools has been cited on suspicion of child abuse after she allegedly dragged a student across the floor.

According to an Omaha police report, state child welfare officials were contacted Sept. 6 by personnel from Walt Disney Elementary School, 5717 S. 112th St., about one of their students.

The school’s principal said a 10-year-old student had been dragged across the floor by his teacher, Theresa Curley, 26. The report said the student had four or five rug burns on his back.

The student was seen by the school nurse, and Curley was placed on administrative leave.

Curley could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

Rebecca Kleeman, a spokeswoman for the district, said “multiple staff members saw and reported unacceptable roughness with a student to the school administration.”


View the article HERE

COUNCILMAN VINNY PALERMO SAYS HE'S NOT RESIGNING AFTER GUILTY PLEA IN TAX-FILING CASE

OMAHA - In his first comment after pleading guilty to failing to file federal income tax returns, Omaha City Councilman Vinny Palermo on Tuesday described it as "an administrative matter" and said he won't resign from office. Palermo, 46, entered guilty pleas Monday for willful failure to file income tax returns for 2012, 2013 and 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Omaha announced.

NEBRASKA CONTINUES DOWNWARD TREND FOR CRASHES ALTHOUGH CRASH DEATHS HAVE CLIMBED THIS YEAR

LINCOLN - Despite the fact there are 350,000 more licensed drivers in Nebraska than 30 years ago and more miles traveled on the state's road, there were nearly 3,300 fewer crashes here last year. The reason is unclear, particularly in light of the fact that there are more distractions for drivers than ever.

Still, Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said there's more work to be done as the state aims for a goal of zero fatalities. "Although much progress in traffic safety has been made over the years, far too many Nebraskans -- friends, neighbors and loved ones -- are still being killed or seriously injured in crashes," he said in the 2018 annual report on traffic crash facts.

Read more here

OMAHA'S STREETCAR TALKS START OVER WITH INFLUENTIAL PLAYERS, A PLEDGE FOR DETAILED STUDY

OMAHA - Omaha’s streetcar discussions are back — with new, influential backers on board.

A group within the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce is taking a new look at the streetcar concept, even starting over examining why and how Omaha would even run a streetcar. The chamber has formed a group called the Urban Core Committee to study ways to step up Omaha’s development, housing and jobs in its urban center. Part of that is looking at how to move people around the urban core, including a streetcar.

After Omaha’s earlier streetcar discussion quietly stalled, it now has an influential group of corporate and civic leaders, headed by longtime real estate developer Jay Noddle, studying the idea. Noddle told The World-Herald that the group wants to develop a recommendation for the community based on a thoughtful, detailed examination.

Read more here

PARENTS OF DISABLED CHILDREN PLEAD WITH LAWMAKERS TO RESTORE AID

LINCOLN, Neb. — Emotions and frustrations ran high as dozens of parents pleaded with lawmakers to save their disabled children's health care.

"This is literally life or death," said Melanie Kirk. Her 13-year-old son, Logan, has a rare lung disorder that affected his brain. Kirk told lawmakers on the Legislature's Health and Human Services committee Friday a recent change by the state will strip her son of the Medicaid assistance he needs.

DHHS placed a six-month moratorium on implementing the new criteria. The federal government granted the state a delay because staff members were too busy dealing with historic spring floods

NEBRASKA PRISON WATCHDOG CALLS FOR 'DEFINITE ACTION' ON STAFFING; LATHROP SAYS START WITH BETTER PAY

LINCOLN — Lingering problems at Nebraska’s state prisons won’t be solved until facilities are fully staffed, a leading state senator on corrections issues said Monday. And that means better pay for corrections workers, said State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha.

“It’s going to be a vicious cycle until we fix the staffing,” he said. “You can’t fix the culture, you can’t fix the low morale, until you have more people working at the prisons.”

The comments came after a prison watchdog reported Monday that state prison workers are working record-high overtime hours to cover vacant posts. Nebraska’s prisons — the second-most overcrowded in the nation — are as overcrowded as ever, according to the annual report by the Legislature’s inspector general for corrections.

Read more here

FOES SLAM HHS PROPOSAL TO REPEAL BULK OF NEBRASKA'S CHILD WELFARE REGULATIONS

LINCOLN — A key lawmaker joined child advocates Monday in panning a state proposal to repeal almost all of Nebraska’s child welfare regulations. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan to eliminate almost 200 pages of rules and regulations could affect the rights of children and families and increase the chances of unequal treatment.

“It’s clear the mantra right now is to get rid of regulations, regardless of the cost,” she said. “The cost here is the welfare of children.”

Pansing Brooks spoke at a hearing held to collect comments about the proposed changes in rules and regulations. HHS officials will consider the comments offered at the hearing, along with any written comments, in deciding whether to go forward with the changes. In a statement, HHS CEO Dannette Smith said the proposed changes are part of a broader review of department regulations. The aim of the review is to remove old policy, eliminate duplication and remove regulations that are spelled out in state law.

Read more here

NEBRASKA OFFICIALS CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT SUSPENSION OF CHINESE TARIFFS

Nebraska officials expressed cautious optimism Friday about a report that China will suspend plans for further tariffs on pork and soybeans from the U.S. China's Xinhua News Agency reported the plan, citing the Cabinet planning agency and the Commerce Ministry. Beijing "supports domestic companies in purchasing a certain amount of U.S. farm produce," it said, but it gave no details.

Beijing imposed 25% tariffs on American farm goods last year in response to President Donald Trump's tariff hikes on Chinese goods. Importers were ordered to stop buying soybeans, the biggest U.S. export to China. The move follows Trump's decision Wednesday to postpone a planned Oct. 1 tariff hike on Chinese imports to Oct. 15.

China's move may be due in part to problems in the country's pork industry, which is reeling from an epidemic of African Swine Fever that has caused pork prices to soar.

Read more here