October 31, 2014

Former state fairgrounds emerging as Innovation Campus (AUDIO)

Nebraska Innovation Campus under construction on the old state fairgrounds in Lincoln

Nebraska Innovation Campus under construction on the old state fairgrounds in Lincoln

Nebraska Innovation Campus is taking shape on the former state fairgrounds.

Two buildings are occupied. Others are under construction.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman has high hopes for Innovation Campus.

“I think it does place us clearly in a lead toward the commercialization of innovation and I think it’s becoming an attraction for both students and faculty,” Perlman tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Construction crews have been erecting new buildings on the campus next to the Devaney Center, but the campus also retains some of the flavor of old State Fair buildings.

Perlman suggests the campus is coming full circle, with the innovation it proposes advancing agriculture around the globe.

Perlman calls it a 25-year project that shows steady progress, which will depend in large part on how successful the campus is on attracting private partners.

“The university is moving its food science department out here, but that’s pretty much the extent to which we will occupy the campus,” Perlman says. “Our objective is to have at least 75% of the buildings occupied by private-sector companies.”

Innovation Campus hopes to become a hub for global initiatives on food, water, and fuel.

Eventually, the campus will sprawl over 2.2 millions square feet, with 500,000 square feet completed within five years.

Buildings will be designed to foster interaction and stimulate ideas for the up to 5,000 people who could one day work and study on Innovation Campus.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Sen. Johanns: elections could send message to Washington bureaucrats

Sen. Mike Johanns speaks with reporters

Sen. Mike Johanns speaks with reporters

Sen. Mike Johanns isn’t running for re-election this year, but he’s interested in how the elections turn out and what impact they might have on Washington.

Johanns, a Republican, says the elections next week could determine whether bureaucracies will be reined in or have free rein to expand their powers.

“I think it gets worse over the next two years. Waters of the U.S. is one of the most egregious,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX. “I mean this thought that we’re going to give EPA power over every puddle of water in the United States drives me crazy.”

Johanns has been a strong and vocal opponent of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to revise the Clean Water Act called “Waters of the United States”.

Johanns says election results will send a message to Washington bureaucrats and Johanns hopes the message is that they need to work with Congress.

“Because what I worry about is, well let’s say Gina McCarthy (EPA Administrator) sees the light and she says well we’re not going to enforce it that way,” Johanns says. “What about the next one and the next one and the next EPA administrator 20 years from now. You’ve got to look ahead, because once these rules are in place, they’re hard to change.”

Johanns is retiring from public office. Republican Ben Sasse and Democrat Dave Domina are running to succeed him, as well as two independent candidates.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this story.

Gov. Heineman denies he pressured Corrections on overcrowding (AUDIO)

Sen. Steve Lathrop (L) speaks with Gov. Dave Heineman prior to the legislative hearing at the Capitol

Sen. Steve Lathrop (L) speaks with Gov. Dave Heineman prior to the legislative hearing at the Capitol

Gov. Dave Heineman denied during a legislative hearing he put pressure on the Department of Correctional Services, leading to the miscalculation of prison sentences and the premature release of inmates.

Heineman appeared before the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee Wednesday during a seven-hour hearing at the Capitol.

The special legislative committee has been looking into the premature release of inmates from prison. Hundreds of inmates were released, because the Department of Correctional Services failed to adhere to state Supreme Court rulings on prison sentences.

Committee chairman Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha pressed Gov. Heineman on whether his desire to reduce the prison population and avoid building a new prison created the problem.

“I can only think that the pressure from overcrowding was making people do things they shouldn’t have doing over there,” Lathrop stated during his questioning of Heineman.

Heineman earlier had stated he didn’t want to spend up to $150 million to build a new prison and didn’t perceive that legislators wanted to either.

The state prison system had been at 140% of capacity when Heineman first became governor 10 years ago. Overcrowding has grown worse, now up to approximately 157% of the designed capacity of state prisons.

Under questioning from Lathrop, Heineman said he had asked then-Corrections Director Bob Houston if he could manage the prison population and stated Houston had assured him he could.

Heineman denied he put pressure on Corrections to keep the prison population in check. He insisted the problem stems from department attorneys not following Supreme Court rulings and records not being kept correctly.

“Do we need a culture change down there? Absolutely, I agree with you (on) that,” Heineman responded to Lathrop. “And that’s going to take a long period of time in a wide variety of areas.”

Lathrop criticized two programs created by Corrections officials, stating the Re-entry Furlough Program released early 162 prisoners convicted of violent crimes. Lathrop claimed both it and the Temporary Alternative Placement program created by current Corrections Director Mike Kenney were created without the proper statutory authority. Kenney created TAP to deal with five inmates released prematurely who had only days left on their sentence. It allowed those prisoners to serve the remainder of their time at home monitored by ankle bracelets and weekly visits to parole officers.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has disputed Lathrop’s conclusions about the programs. Heineman has stated he has relied on Bruning’s legal analysis of the programs.

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident. No inmates remain at large.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

AG Bruning defends controversial Corrections program (AUDIO)

Attorney General Jon Bruning

Attorney General Jon Bruning

Attorney General Jon Bruning defends state Corrections Director Mike Kenney’s controversial program to deal with inmates prematurely released from prison who had very little time left on their sentences.

The defense comes as a special legislative committee prepares to hear from Gov. Dave Heineman.

The program covered five inmates released prematurely from prison with only days left on their sentences. Corrections Director Mike Kenney allowed them to serve out their time at home with monitoring bracelets and weekly check-ins with parole officers.

Attorney General Jon Bruning defends Kenney’s actions.

“Now, should he have checked with us and we could have vetted this thing and maybe done it slightly different? Maybe, but I mean it’s easy to armchair quarterback. We’re trying to clean up a very broad mess,” Bruning tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

The Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee has been looking into the premature release of inmates from prison. Hundreds of inmates were released, because the Department of Correctional Services failed to adhere to state Supreme Court rulings on prison sentences.

The special legislative committee has heard from a number of individuals. Now, it will hear from Gov. Heineman, who it subpoenaed to testify during its hearing at the state Capitol in Lincoln this morning.

Some on that legislative committee have called Kenney’s program illegal.

“Is it legal or illegal? I don’t know. A court would decide,” Bruning says. “When people say it’s illegal, they make it sound like it’s something criminal. I mean it’s most certainly is not that.  It’s somebody in state government making a decision and I support him in it.”

Bruning has sent a letter to the committee, outlining his legal analysis of the program. [PDF of Bruning letter to committee]

Kenney earlier wrote a letter to the committee, outlining the steps that led him to create the program. It covered five of the 20 former inmates who had been mistakenly released early from prison and had six months of their sentences left. The five had from 12 to 64 days left on their sentences.

Kenney has disputed hand written notes by a former attorney at the Department of Correctional Services, George Green, that listed Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning among those attending a meeting in which he created the alternative placement program. Heineman has denied he attended such a meeting.

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

 

Innovation Campus will be powered through innovative source (AUDIO)

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman

Nebraska Innovation Campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will use an innovative energy source.

University and Lincoln city officials have announced the campus under construction on the former state fairgrounds will heat and cool buildings through an exchange of the heat generated by the nearby city waste-water facility.

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman says the unusual energy source should actually attract businesses to Nebraska Innovation Campus.

“We know that attracting private sector companies to this property will require us to have a culture that’s suitable for innovation and for forward-looking companies,” Perlman says. “We know that the ability to make this campus green and to use renewable energy will be an important element in their consideration about whether they will join us as partners here.”

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler says he’s pleased energy for the buildings will be generated through one of the few such systems in the nation.

“And it truly represents the spirit of Nebraska Innovation Campus and, in addition, is a direct reflection of UNL and the City of Lincoln’s mutual commitment to low-cost renewable energy and sustainability,” Beutler says.

The campus is under construction next to the Devaney Center.

AUDIO: UNL and City of Lincoln hold news conference on renewable energy source Nebraska Innovation Campus. [15:30]