July 23, 2014

State’s cattle producers encouraged to attend meetings to learn, sound off

The Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association is holding a series of meetings around the state this week to get input from its members on various state and federal issues and concerns. The association’s legislative director Laura Field says they’re making seven stops for meetings.

Field says, “We’re going to talk about some issues with animal health and what’s the current status with foot and mouth disease as far as the rules at the federal level with the importation of beef from Brazil and how it could affect us if it gets in the state.”

Property taxes will also be a topic of conversation.

“Our real goal around that is to talk about how our members at the local level can have an impact on those discussions in county commission meetings and school board meetings,” Field says. “We’ll also help to make sure you’re reading your property tax statements correctly and also tell them what we see coming at the state legislature.”

Field says they’ll also discuss the EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule and their group’s opposition to it.

After meetings on Monday in Alliance and North Platte, more meetings are scheduled today in Cambridge and Fairbury, on Wednesday in Wahoo and Norfolk, and on Thursday in Bloomfield.

For more details, go to the website: www.nebraskacattlemen.org

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Expert: Nebraskans’ premiums may bounce 30% under Obamacare

An official with the Nebraska Health Care Alliance estimates when the federal health care law goes into effect in several months requiring all policies to be compliant, the expense will be staggering.

Paul Utemark, CEO of the Fillmore County Hospital, says premiums in Nebraska could increase an average of about 30%.

“If you look at what the reaction was for the people who were shopping for insurance on their own, some people think it’ll be much greater than that just because of the sheer numbers of people who fall into those type of plans will be that much more,” Utemark says. “I’d like to hope that it would be a smooth transition but there’s definitely a possiblity people are going to be shocked.”

Utemark says some states may see even higher percentage increases in premiums.

The Nebraska Health Care Alliance initially formed to promote a state-based health insurance exchange, which failed to materialize. Now that the federal Affordable Care Act is law, Utemark expects we’ll see a lot of things businesses and individuals will try to make things work.

“Employers have been offering group health plans for a long time and they take a lot of pride in that and feel it’s part of their responsibility to repay their employees for work well done,” Utemark says. “I think there will have to be a lot of thinking and a lot of collaborating and a lot of talking to find out how many options there are and to make the best decision for each individually.”

Utemark says every family and individual experiences a different situation when it comes to health care, which makes it difficult to find a solution that’s acceptable to all. Opinions on the law differ among health care providers and over how they’ll practice health care in the future.

“The concern I see over time is for so much change in the way things have been done,” Utemark says. “The folks who are younger in their career are okay with it because they can adapt. The folks who are in the latter stages of their career are wondering how far they can go and if they can really make it work for them.”

Utemark says the Nebraska Health Care Alliance doesn’t pretend to know all the answers to what the long-term effect of the law will be. So far, about eight-million people have enrolled in health insurance since the ACA went into effect.

What’s not known is how many younger people, who tend to get sick less often, will enroll under the program. Other variables include how prescription drug spending and consolidation in the medical field will affect the future cost of health care.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice



Expert: Too much social media can make kids anti-social

Summer should be a time for kids in Nebraska to play at the park, ride bikes and learn how to paddle a canoe, not to while away the hours on Facebook.

One expert suggests parents should limit a teen’s access to social media, internet and T-V during summer vacation.

Peter Komendowski, with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, says too much screen time can raise the risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

“Children are not happy if they spend an excessive amount of time on Facebook,” Komendowski says. “We’ve even heard children say things like, ‘I OD’d on Facebook.’ They start sensing that there’s a problem with how much involvement there is and what we forget as parents is they count on us to lead them and to give them guidance as to what to do.”

Social media can be a very antisocial experience, he says, when it reduces the actual time spent in activities with friends and family members.

Komendowski says, “Studies are showing that the more time children spend on the media as a basis of how many hours a week they spend doing things, the more difficult time they have structuring decisions when it comes to high-risk behavior.”

Too much social media and screen time can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which he says is setting the stage for substance abuse and other high risk behavior. Smart phones aren’t evil, he says, but they need to be used properly.

“If you use your cell phone to make a date with somebody to meet at the ball field to play ball or to go to a movie, that’s a great tool,” Komendowski says. “But if you’re spending all of your time just interacting on the media, the risks in terms of how children feel, their psychological strength, their behavioral sort of aptitude, those things begin to get diminished.”

He says parental involvement in youth-focused media improves a children’s physical health, sleep, school performance and social behaviors.

The average Nebraska teen spends 35 hours a week in the classroom and more than 55 hours a week engaged in social media, video games, television and internet activities.


Large chicken farm proposed for southeastern Nebraska

Gage County leaders will consider a special permit next week for a proposed poultry operation that would be one of the state’s largest. The facility would be built near Blue Springs with six buildings to house more than 150,000 chickens.

James Zimmerman says he’s researched modern methods used by MBA Poultry near Tecumseh where 26 barns are computer-regulated for temperature and airflow.

“When you walked in there and kicked the litter, the litter was actually dry and how they keep it dry is the computer system,” Zimmerman says. “It constantly regulates everything inside the building. The building is completely closed. That’s how they keep the odor down.”

Forty-six nearby property owners have been notified of the plan. The nearest residence is over a half-mile away, meeting county zoning regulations. A management plan for the operation has been submitted to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, regarding control of animal waste.

Addressing the issue of potential odor, Zimmerman’s wife Marie says they have a significant stake in making sure the operation is run properly.

“We will do what we’re supposed to,” Mrs. Zimmerman says. “We will maintain the buildings like we’re supposed to. This is our livlihood. This is where we’ll get our income and this is what we really truly want to do and we want to do it the right way. There isn’t anything we haven’t researched. We’re going to be living there.”

Gage County is one of several that have been earned the identification as “livestock friendly” in Nebraska and the operators are making a good faith effort to be good neighbors.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Pesky mosquitoes are plentiful, but West Nile risk is still low

skeeterAnyone who’s spent any time outside lately knows how annoying the mosquitoes are in Nebraska this summer.

While the wet June we had made conditions right for millions of mosquitoes to breed, epidemiologist Patty Quinlisk says there is not an increased risk for catching West Nile virus.

“Mosquitoes that carry West Nile and some of the other diseases actually don’t like this much water. They like the little, tiny puddles of warm stagnant water,” according to Quinlisk.

She says the biting bugs that have thrived in the wet conditions are “nuisance mosquitoes,” and the other type that carry the virus are more common in the drier fall months.

Quinlisk says regardless of the type of mosquitoes in your yard, use insect repellent as protection against them. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors, and get rid of standing water where the mosquitoes may breed.

“Most people who get West Nile will be exposed in say August or September,” Quinlisk says. “Typically we do see our first case around this time of year, so we know that the virus is out there and some mosquitoes are carrying it.”

West Nile first showed up in Nebraska in 2002. There were 174 cases and seven deaths statewide from it that year. Last year, there were 226 cases and five deaths in the state. So far this year, no cases have been reported in Nebraska.