April 21, 2014

Young boy dies after being run over by loader

A 9-year-old Ashland boy died this weekend after being run over by a Bobcat loader.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office reports Grant Johnson died after the loader backed over him. According to the sheriff’s office, 35-year-old Augusto Figueroa was clearing brush and debris at a rural Ashland acreage at the time of the accident.

The office considers the death an accident.

Grant, the son of Shad and Kimberly Johnson, was a third-grade student at Ashland-Greenwood Elementary.

Landowner attorney not surprised by State Dept. Keystone XL delay

State Department officials say they will not move on the Keystone XL oil pipeline due to the legal wrangling over the route through Nebraska.

Attorney Dave Domina, who represents the landowners challenging how the state went about authorizing the route, says the latest delay makes sense.

“I’m not at all surprised to hear that the presidential permit process has slowed for a final decision in Nebraska,” Domina tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s been the persistent position of the administration that all issues related to where the pipeline will go and how and where it will be built and operated have to be decided before the president will make a final decision about crossing the border.”

The lawsuit challenges the 2012 law approved by the legislature that gives the governor the authority to approve pipeline routes through the state. The lawsuit contends the law violates the state constitution that gives that authority solely to the Public Service Commission.

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy sided with the landowners and ruled the law unconstitutional.

The legislature approved the 2012 law as a follow-up to an agreement reached with TransCanada during a special legislative session in 2011. LB 1161 gave the governor authority to approve or reject pipeline routes through the state after the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality reviewed proposed routes and made a recommendation.

Judge Stacy ruled the Nebraska State Constitution gives exclusive regulatory control over pipeline companies, such as TransCanada, to the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Domina has stated in the past that the court ruling effectively rescinds Gov. Dave Heineman’s notification to President Barack Obama that Nebraska legal procedures have been satisfied. TransCanada has no approved route through Nebraska, according to Domina, who adds that the pipeline project is at a standstill in the state.

Domina says it is understandable that the State Department doesn’t want to move forward until the legal process on the route has been satisfied.

“And until the Nebraska process is in place, done correctly, and decided correctly we simply don’t know where the pipeline will go in this state,” according to Domina. “I know there is what TransCanada has called a final route, but no Nebraska authority has passed on the validity or prefer ability or reliability or safety of that route.”

Domina expects the State Department to delay its recommendation on whether TransCanada should be given a presidential permit to cross the border to build the pipeline until the legal issues in Nebraska are settled.

“We think the State Department will defer a decision until Nebraska’s legal process is final and there is a final, approved, lawfully approved, route in Nebraska.”

The southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas, is operating.

The northern portion of Keystone XL is estimated to cost $5.4 billion. It would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude from Canada to the refineries.

Chambers extracts his pound of flesh on final day (AUDIO)

Sen. Ernie Chambers

Sen. Ernie Chambers gestures during his delaying tactics on final day of the legislative session

State lawmakers wouldn’t give him what he wanted, so Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha made them pay on the last day of the legislative session.

Chambers, angry that twice state legislators failed to give him the votes to overturn a veto of his bill to ban the hunting of mountain lions, slowed legislative work to a crawl on the 60th day of the 60-day legislative session.

“What some think was the end of the war will turn out to be what is called a Pyrrhic victory. You waste all of your resources and you win a battle, but you have so weakened yourself that you then lose the war.,” Chambers told the legislature, adding a warning, “The war is not over.”

Chambers vowed to continue his effort to ban the hunting of mountain lions during next year’s legislative session.

Chambers turned what should have been a quick succession of final votes into a day-long affair, speaking on each bill before allowing them to come to a final vote.

Chambers’ bill to ban mountain lion hunts, LB 671, initially passed on a 31-5 vote. Opposition mounted against the measure, though. An agreement ended a threatened filibuster against on final reading, a rarity in the Unicameral. It eventually passed on a 28-13 vote, two votes short of the total needed to override a veto.

Chambers twice moved to override the veto and twice fell just short of the votes needed. On the final try, Chambers claimed he had been deceived by legislators who promised him to vote to override the veto, but failed to live up to their promises.

The legislature gave authorization to the Game and Parks Commission to hold mountain lion hunts in 2012 on a 49-0 vote.

Two male mountain lions were taken in the first hunt authorized by Game and Parks this year.

One hunter paid more than $13,000 for one permit. A teen-ager won the second permit through a lottery.

The second hunt ended when a female mountain lion was taken.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Gov. Heineman praises lawmakers on last day (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman praised state lawmakers for their work this legislative session, addressing the Unicameral on the final day of the legislative session.

“It’s been a very good year for Nebraska taxpayers,” Heineman stated. “We are providing more than $412 million of tax relief to Nebraskans over the next five years. That is meaningful, responsible, and significant tax relief.”

The legislature indexed the state income tax system to inflation, exempted portions of

Social Security income from taxation, expanded the homestead exemption, and added money to the property tax relief fund.

Heineman highlighted tax cuts, though the legislature again this year balked at the governor’s proposal to cut taxes further.

Other legislation won praise from the governor.

“We’ve addressed the water sustainability issue with noteworthy legislation that preserves our water supply for generations to come,” Heineman said. “This legislation is aimed at planning for future water use in our state, especially in preparing for water shortages, as well as addressing water quality and flood control issues.”

Heineman also noted that the legislature has taken the first steps toward prison reform, steps that will continue when the state works with the Council of State Governments this summer.

Heineman added that he was pleased the legislature did not expand Medicaid, a measure that died when supporters couldn’t overcome a filibuster mounted against it. The governor also stated that legislature was right in not authorizing the state to use bonds for road construction, a measure that fell just short of the votes needed for passage.

Even as Heineman praised legislators for their work this year, he looked back over achievements during his decade-long run as governor.

“Over the years, working together, we’ve made a lot of progress on numerous issues,” according to Heineman. “We’ve focused our attention on the two most important, critical issues for the future of our state: education and jobs. We’ve passed statewide education assessments. We are focused on academic achievement and academic improvement.”

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman delivers farewell address on last day of legislative session. [7:40]

“Unique” legislative session comes to close today (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman calls it a unique legislative session; one that ends today as lawmakers return to the Capitol for the final day of a 60-day session.

The governor’s office has been reviewing dozens of bills sent to Heineman by the Unicameral.

Heineman says some of those bills have been combinations of bills.

“It has been a unique session in terms of how they’ve incorporated numerous bills into other bills,” Heineman tells reporters.

A unique session?

“Well, I just don’t recall a session where we have seen so many bills eventually get incorporated into one bill,” Heineman explains. “Normally, that’s not the way we work in Nebraska. Each bill was decided on its merits.”

Work remains, even today.

State lawmakers return for the final day of the session with final votes to be taken on about a dozen bills. They also will consider any vetoes from the governor.

The legislature puts the fate of any bills passed today in the hands of Heineman. They have run out of time to consider veto overrides should the governor spike any of the bills approved today.

Also today, 17 state senators bid good-bye to the Unicameral, due to term limits.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]