November 24, 2014

Gov.-elect Ricketts vows new approach to prison problem

Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts with Gov. Dave Heineman to his right

Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts with Gov. Dave Heineman to his right

Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts promises to bring a fresh perspective to the prison problem in Nebraska.

A legislative panel found state corrections officials use unreliable data and have failed to update policies, including the use of solitary confinement.

Ricketts says he will launch a national search to bring in a new corrections director who will consider a variety of options for improvement.

“And we also want to look and see what’s best practices across the country with regard, for instance, to solitary confinement,” Ricketts tells reporters “So, these will all be things that as we bring that new person in corrections in who can help us evaluate and really look to see how can we do a better job, how can we make improvements that will not only protect the public safety, but will also keep the taxpayer in mind.”

Nebraska has been working with the Council of State Governments on ways to improve the state prison system and keep the prison population down.

Ricketts says a number of steps can be taken to reduce the prison population and keep prisoners from returning once free.

“Because, if you look at some of the previous recommendations, say from the Council of State Governments, this increase supervision of folks once they get out to make sure they getting the care they need is probably going to be part of the solution that we’re looking at for how we address some of the issues with regard to our corrections system.,” Ricketts says.

Nebraska high school graduation rate rises

thEPB7WBDENearly 90% of the seniors in Nebraska high schools last year graduated.

The Nebraska Department of Education reports the graduation rate from last year was 89.7%, up from 88.5% in 2013.

The department says the four-year graduation rate has improved steadily since 2011, when 86.1% of the high school seniors graduated in four years. The number of graduates continues to increase. In 2014, 19,500 students graduated from Nebraska high schools.

“Nebraska public schools set a new all-time high graduation rate this year, in effect, reaching the state goal,” Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said in a written statement released by Nebraska Department of Education.

The new graduation data as well as dropout rates have been added to the State of the Schools Report and are available at: or

Nebraska state unemployment rate drops to 3.4%

workerThe state unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percent in October.

The Nebraska Department of Labor announced the unemployment rate for October was 3.4%, seasonally adjusted, down 0.2% from September and down 0.4% from the October unemployment rate last year of 3.8%.

“The October increase in non-farm employment continues the year to year growth Nebraska is experiencing,” said Acting Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin said in a written statement released by the department. “This growth should encourage workers who are looking to get back into the labor market.”

Nebraska’s non-farm employment reached 999,517 in October, up by 8,966 over the year and up 6,449 from September, according to the department.

The most employment growth the last month occurred in education and health services; trade, transportation and utilities; and professional and business services.

The Omaha metropolitan area had an unemployment rate in October of 3.2%; Lincoln at 2.3%.

The state unemployment rate is far lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.8%

DNR Director Dunnigan steps down

(Left to Right) Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe, Nebraska DNR Dir. Brian Dunnigan, and Kansas Commissioner Dave Barfield sign Republican River Compact update

(Left to Right) Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe, Nebraska DNR Dir. Brian Dunnigan, and Kansas Commissioner Dave Barfield sign Republican River Compact update/Photo courtesy of Gov. Heineman’s office

Another member of the Heineman Administration has stepped down.

Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director, Brian Dunnigan, has resigned. Gov. Dave Heineman appointed Dunnigan to the position in 2008 after he had served in the department for more than 30 years.

“It has been a great privilege to serve the citizens of the state and I will miss all of the wonderful people that I have worked with across the state,” Dunnigan said in a prepared statement released by the department.

The Department of Natural Resources has broad water management authorities, including floodplain management, interstate water management, permitting, and dam safety.

Dunnigan’s resignation comes on the heels of a successful negotiation with Kansas and Colorado officials over use of the Republican River, a major source of contention among agricultural interests in the three states. Dunnigan served as chairman of the Republican River Compact.

Dunnigan has also been credited with navigating the state through the requirements of federal endangered species regulations in the Platte River Basin and with developing improved flood management policies.

Gov. Heineman ends his tenure as governor at the beginning of next year due to term limits.

President Obama action angers Congressional Republicans (AUDIO)

President Barack Obama took executive action to spare up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, angering Congressional Republicans in the process.

Republicans in the Nebraska Congressional delegation charge President Barack Obama has overstepped his authority, even violated the Constitution.

Congressman Adrian Smith says Congress must respond.

“It’s disappointing that the president is doing this. I think and hope that we will continue to push back,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Smith suggests a lawsuit could overturn the immigration executive order.

Sen. Deb Fischer says Nebraskans don’t like the move.

“They are angry,” Fischer tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “They are concerned about the president taking this action.”

Fischer points out that President Obama had previously stated he did not have the authority to act on his own, even stating such action would be unwise and unfair. Fischer says the president’s action is not the course the country should take.

Sen. Mike Johanns sees a pattern.

“It’s just so frustrating when you have a chief executive that operates with this kind of arrogance,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s been there from day one. It just has gotten worse, and worse, and worse.”

Johanns also suggests legal action might be a successful avenue to challenge the president.

All say Congress could respond through the budget process.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]