March 1, 2015

AG office sees Republican River order as victory for Nebraska (AUDIO)

The Republican River

The Republican River

The United States Supreme Court has ordered Nebraska to pay Kansas $5.5 million to settle a dispute over use of the Republican River.

Nebraska officials call it a victory.

“I think overall the office of the Attorney General is very pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision,” Justin Lavene, chief of the Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Bureau with the Attorney General’s office.

Lavene says there is much to like in the Supreme Court order.

Though the Supreme Court has awarded Kansas $5.5 million that is much lower than the initial request of $80 million sought by Kansas.

Kansas had asked the court to shut down groundwater irrigation wells covering 300,000 acres in Nebraska. The court declined the request. Lavene credits the work of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Districts in writing new rules and regulations that reduced the use of water from the Republican River, which made the request unnecessary.

The biggest benefit for Nebraska is the adoption of new accounting procedures, the procedures that determine how much water is being allocated and to which state.

Under the 1943 compact, Nebraska receives 49% of the water; Kansas 40%; and Colorado 11%. Nebraska argued that water flowing from the Platte River had been calculated in the allocation, distorting the calculations. The court agreed with a Special Master in the case who recommended the North Platte flow be excluded.

The most positive aspect of the ruling, according to Lavene, is that the ruling removes uncertainty for Nebraska farmers using water from the Republican River to irrigate their crops.

“And so, by having this decision and finalizing the aspect of the accounting change, we’ll know where we’re at with regard to our obligations to the state of Kansas going forward which ultimately will give more certainty to the users in the basin.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

President Obama spikes Keystone XL bill

Keystone XL RoutePresident Barack Obama has fulfilled his promise and vetoed legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The president retains his authority to approve or reject an application by TransCanada to cross the border between Canada and the United States to build the pipeline from western Canadian oil sands fields to Steele City, Nebraska. The Obama Administration has stated its review of the application has not been completed.

The State Department has released an environmental review of the project and has received input from various agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. It has yet to issue its final report to the president.

TransCanada proposes building the $8 billion pipeline to carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil produced from the oil sands of Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas. The southern portion of Keystone XL, from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast is operating. The northern portion would connect Keystone XL with the existing Keystone pipeline that runs from Steele City to Cushing.

Nebraska loses to Kansas in Republican River dispute

Nebraska has been ordered to pay Kansas $5.5 million to settle a lingering dispute over the use of water from the Republican River.

While the United States Supreme Court sided with Kansas in the main portion of the legal wrangling between the two states concerning the Republican River, it did side with Nebraska in its argument that there needs to be a new formula to measure use of the Republican River.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion in the case. In it, Kagan stated the court adopted the recommendations of an independent expert appointed to review the differences between Kansas and Nebraska.

The 1943 compact governing use of the Republican River allocates 49% of the water to Nebraska, 40% to Kansas, and 11% to Colorado.

Kansas filed a lawsuit against Nebraska, complaining that Nebraska farmers siphoned off too much water from the Republican River to irrigate their crops in 2005 and 2006, leaving less for Kansas farmers. The Republican River begins in Colorado, runs through Nebraska, and into Kansas.

Six justices agreed on the financial settlement to the lawsuit. Five agreed that the formula needs to change.

AG Peterson doesn’t see same-sex marriage as inevitable (AUDIO)

Attorney General Doug Peterson

Attorney General Doug Peterson

Attorney General Doug Peterson defends Nebraska’s definition of marriage and rejects the notion that same-sex marriage is inevitable.

Peterson doesn’t believe it’s inevitable that Nebraska will recognize same-sex marriage.

“I’m a little troubled by a simple notion that says everyone’s doing it, just go with it,” Peterson tells reporters during a news conference in his Capitol office. “Don’t resist it. Don’t make Nebraska look like we’re out of touch, that we’re not progressive.”

Peterson says the definition of marriage has been one man-one woman for 2,500 years.

“And I think it’s one that we shouldn’t simply abandon without making sure we’re fully aware of the ramifications that this has on the family,” Peterson says.

Same-sex couples have brought suit against the state, seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The ACLU of Nebraska argued on behalf of the couples before United States District Judge Joseph Bataillon during a court hearing in Omaha. The Attorney General’s office defended the state law, placed in the state constitution in 2000 by the voters.

Bataillon has stated he will rule expeditiously. In 2006, Bataillon ruled the state law unconstitutional, but the ruling was overturned on appeal.

Peterson has argued that Bataillon should leave the issue for the United States Supreme Court to decide in a case scheduled for a hearing this spring. If Bataillon rules against the state, Peterson says the state will appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Peterson points out the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld constitutional amendments defining marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee; definitions similar to that in Nebraska. The 5th and 7th Circuits have struck down same-sex marriage bans.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

AUDIO:  Attorney General Doug Peterson discusses same-sex marriage case. [5 min.]

Voter photo ID bill dies after opponents shelve it for session (AUDIO)

Voting BoothsOpponents didn’t have to talk the voter photo ID bill to death.

They, instead, won a procedural vote to, in effect, kill it.

Opponents of LB 111, which would require Nebraskans to display photo identification to cast ballots, had mounted a filibuster against it. They prepared to spend days criticizing the bill, seeking to block it from ever coming to a vote.

Criticism varied. Yet, a theme emerged that it would suppress certain voters, especially minorities and the poor.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln typified the argument when he stated during legislative debate that requiring a Nebraska resident to display a photo ID to cast a ballot erects obstacles to a cherished right.

“And I’m strongly opposed to it, because this is the perfect example of an unnecessary, burdensome government regulation on a fundamental right,” Morfeld said.

Supporters of the bill stated the requirement would combat voter fraud, insuring that those who show up at the polls are who they say they are. The sponsor of the bill said he modeled it after an Indiana law upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

During legislative debate, Sen. John Murante of Gretna, the chairman of the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee that advanced the bill to the full Unicameral for debate, issued a challenge to opponents.

“But if you want to kill it, let’s just kill it. File a bracket motion and kill the thing and we’ll be done with it,” Murante stated. “We could be done by the end of the day if you have the votes to kill it.”

Opponents took him up on the offer. A motion to bracket won with the bare minimum of votes needed on a 25-to-15 vote, effectively killing the bill for the session.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]