December 18, 2014

Keystone XL talk heats up as Senate considers vote

Keystone XL pipeline construction in North Dakota/Photo courtesy of TransCanada

Keystone XL pipeline construction in North Dakota/Photo courtesy of TransCanada

Key U-S Senate leaders say the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline is near the top of their agenda and plan to address it next month.

Supporters and opponents continue to dig in their heels on what has turned into a controversial issue.  Chris Faulkner is the founder of Breitling Energy and says transporting oil sands through a pipeline is a much safer alternative to truck or train.

Faulkner says, “Whether you like it or not, the oil from Canada is already coming into our country right now via truck and train.  It is 700 miles of pipeline that is being added to 2.1 million miles of pipeline.  This is the method we have used to transport oil here for the last 70 years.  I just don’t see the big deal. The oil coming in by truck or train is far more of a safety concern than oil going into a pipeline built with the latest technology.”

Jennifer Krill is the executive director of the environmental group Earthworks and has a different take.  She says, “The Keystone XL Pipeline is not about American energy independence.  It is about Canadian tar sands getting shipped through the American heartland to the coast where it is going to be exported.  For Americans the Keystone XL Pipeline is all risk and no reward.”

Krill goes on to say there is no good solution to transporting oil and that is one of the good reasons we need to phase out fossil fuel all together.

Some landowners in Nebraska filed lawsuits and continue to fight the new proposed path through their property.

Nebraska veterans encouraged to enroll in registry

sample-dl_2[1]First, Nebraska veterans had the chance to get a special driver’s license. Next, they can get a special license plate.

Gov. Dave Heineman says more than 12,000 veterans have enrolled in the Nebraska Veterans’ Registry, created last year by the Unicameral to place the word “veteran” on their driver’s licenses.

In 2016, Military Honor License Plates will be made available.

“There are approximately 140,000 veterans. That number represents a lot of years of sacrifice to our country,” Heineman tells reporters during a conference calls. “Adding a veterans’ designation to the driver’s licenses or Military Honor Plate provides a public symbol of gratitude for their service.”

Nearly 2,700 veterans have received the veteran designation on their driver’s licenses, including the governor himself.

“This designation is one way of saying thank you to the veterans all across Nebraska who have served in the armed forces,” says Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lamb. “The designation has been applied to the documents of veterans in 85 of the 93 counties in Nebraska. The Department of Motor Vehicles is proud to have been a part of this process.”

Nebraska chose to house the Registry within Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs. That move allows the veteran information not only to be used by the DMV, but also for veteran outreach or to apply for veteran benefits.

“So, we might be able to do outreach as we’ve never done before as well as saying thank you by the designation on the driver’s license ID as well as the honor plates coming up,” says Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director John Hilgert

To enroll, veterans can contact the Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs online, in person, or via email.

The website is www.veterans.nebraska.gov . The phone number is 402-471-2458. The email address is ndva@nebraka.gov.

Gov. Heineman accuses prison committee of rewriting history (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman accuses a special legislative committee of attempting to rewrite history in its report on the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

The committee concluded in a report released Monday Gov. Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.

Committee chairman Sen. Steve Lathrop, a Democrat from Omaha, asserted during a news conference pressure from Heineman to keep the prison population down and avoid building a new prison led to problems within Corrections.

Heineman, a Republican, points out work is underway to reform the state prison system.

“And then you’ve got the Lathrop report, which is really a partisan shot in my opinion,” Heineman tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “He’s trying to rewrite history in the sense that he says, you know a report came out in 2006 (that) we ought to build a new prison.”

The 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space.

Lathrop contended that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.

The senator claimed he didn’t see that report.

That’s not true, says Heineman, who says he shared the report with Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, and made it available to members of the Unicameral.

“For Sen. Lathrop to say he never saw the report, that is totally inaccurate and he’s not being honest with everyone,” according to Heineman.

Heineman says no one in state government wanted to spend $260 million to build a new prison.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Committee outlines state missteps in Nikko Jenkins case (AUDIO)

Nikko Jenkins

Nikko Jenkins

A special legislative committee concludes solitary confinement and a lack of mental health care might well have pushed Nikko Jenkins to murder four people in Omaha.

Nikko Jenkins, convicted of killing four in Omaha after being released from prison, spent most of his time behind bars locked in solitary confinement.

“It illustrates the problem with administrative confinement and it illustrates the problems by not having adequate mental health care,” according to Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha.

Lathrop chaired the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, which formed to review the role the state played in the release of Jenkins in 2013. It expanded its charge to study the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

Jenkins was released from prison after serving his term in late July. Within a month, he began to fulfill the promise he made in confinement; that he would kill once freed.

The committee concludes the state should have sought civil confinement for Jenkins, an option available when an inmate is considered mentally ill and a danger to himself and others.

Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings, vice chairman of the committee, says mental health treatment needs to be restored to the prison system.

“Thirty-one percent of 5,054 people (inmates) have mental health problems and I think when you use (the term) mental health that includes drug addiction and alcohol addiction,” Seiler says. “That also is going to help recidivism.”

Click here for full committee report.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Committee concludes Corrections pressured into questionable practices (AUDIO)

Sen. Steve Lathrop makes a statement with committee members behind him

Sen. Steve Lathrop makes a statement with committee members behind him

A special legislative committee concludes Gov. Dave Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.

Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, acknowledges the committee never made a direct connection between Gov. Heineman and various questionable practices to release prisoners, but uncovered a pattern at the Department of Correctional Services to skirt the law and ignore court decisions to relieve prison overcrowding.

“In our judgment, overcrowding began to drive the policy decisions and the behavior of the staff at the Department of the Corrections,” according to Lathrop.

A 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space. But that costs money and Lathrop says the governor decided against proposing money for prison construction.

Lathrop contends that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.

Lathrop says creation of the Re-Entry Furlough Program didn’t follow proper procedures, either through the state legislature or through the Administrative Procedures Act and, though it was to exclude violent offenders, 162 inmates convicted of violent crimes were released through the program. Lathrop says the creation of the Temporary Alternative Placement Program is an example of Corrections’ willingness to ignore the law.

“Overcrowding was driving policy at the Department of Corrections in two respects: move people out and don’t bring people back,” Lathrop says.

The committee has released a 62-page report of its findings and recommendations. Click here to access the reports.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

AUDIO:  Sen. Steve Lathrop discusses Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee report. [27 min.]