October 26, 2014

Moody’s drops Omaha’s bond rating

Moody’s Investment Service downgraded the city of Omaha’s bond rating from A-A-1 to A-A-2.

The report shows Omaha’s financial outlook is stable but retiree health care costs, unsettled labor contracts and the federally mandated sewer separation project as reasons for the lower mark.

The bond credit rating business goes on to say that significant progress to reduce pension liabilities and reduction in Omaha’s budget’s fixed cost burden could put the city back in the A-A-1 category once again.

Push on to get more former foster kids signed up for Medicaid

Akeeme Halliburton speaks at a Capitol news conference

Akeeme Halliburton speaks at a Capitol news conference

A report indicates few of Nebraska’s former foster children have taken advantage of a provision in the federal health care law that makes them eligible for Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act offers Medicaid to any foster child who ages out of the system at 18 or 19, regardless of the former foster child’s income, up to age 26.

The report states that of the approximately 3,000 who would be eligible in Nebraska, only 3% have enrolled in Medicaid.

State Sen. Sue Crawford says they need the coverage.

“Insurance coverage for this population is very important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that former foster youth are more likely than their peers to suffer from chronic physical or mental health conditions,” Crawford tells reporters during a news conference at the Capitol.

Crawford says former foster children need health insurance coverage.

“According to a 2012 report by the Congressional research office, 35-60% of foster children enter the child welfare system with at least one chronic physical condition, while anywhere from 50-75% of these youths are in need of mental health treatment,” according to Crawford.

Akeeme Halliburton of Omaha aged out of the system at age 19. Now 21, Halliburton is covered by Medicaid and says others in his situation need health insurance coverage as well.

“Some young people aren’t able to get medication they need, because they don’t have the insurance,” Halliburton says. “Some people get hurt and just don’t go to the doctor, because, let’s be honest, they’re not cheap.”

State legislators and officials say greater effort will be made to sign up former foster children on Medicaid.

Congressman Fortenberry calls for Ebola travel restrictions (AUDIO)

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Another member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation calls for travel restrictions in the fight against Ebola.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry calls for a ban on all unnecessary commercial flights to countries fighting the Ebola outbreak.

“This is a very serious disease. This should be fundamentally about protecting public safety,” Fortenberry tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Fortenberry acknowledges there needs to be a balance. He says medical personnel need to be able to travel to the countries affected. Transportation for humanitarian aid also needs to be made available, according to Fortenberry.

“But the job of the government, the highest level, the highest purpose of government is to protect you,” Fortenberry says. “And if we’re about trying to nuance and manage this from a public relations perspective or worse, a political perspective, then you’re not getting at heart of the matter of public safety.”

Fortenberry adds America has been carrying an unfair share of the burden in fighting Ebola.

“This has to be the world’s problem,” Fortenberry says. “Not any more speeches; direct action with resources for people who are suffering.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Kenney defends controversial program; denies governor knowledge

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney defends his controversial program to allow prison inmates released prematurely to serve out the rest of their sentences at home.

Kenney objects to state senators on a special legislative committee calling his temporary alternative placement program illegal, insisting it was the best alternative for a handful of inmates who had been living peacefully in their communities.

“I thought this was the best thing I could do as director is to not bring them back and disrupt that,” Kenney tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “So, I looked at that statute and I believe to this day I have authority to do this.”

Kenney has written 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 writes he believes state statutes provided the latitude he needed to create the program, which required the five to wear electronic monitoring equipment and report twice weekly to parole officers.

Sen. Steve Lathrop, chairman of the committee investigating the prison sentence miscalculations, contends Kenney acted illegally in creating the program.

Kenney says, in wake of accusation, he should have sought legal advice before going ahead with the program.

“Had I known at the time that I would be called a lawbreaker and it would have come to this, I certainly would have deferred to the Attorney General, asked for a specific opinion from him about the legality of doing it and so I certainly regret not doing that.”

Kenney disputes 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. Kenney says Heineman and Bruning attended a meeting called to discuss how to handle about 40 prisoners who had been mistakenly released early.

“I did not announce, in fact I didn’t even have the idea for this temporary release program for several weeks after that,” Kenney says. “So, no, the Governor and Attorney General had no idea that I was developing this specific, temporary alternative placement plan.”

PDF of Kenney letter to committee

Innovation Campus is one of six components of NU’s biennial budget request

It has been nearly five years since the University of Nebraska acquired the former state fairgrounds in Lincoln to develop the Innovation Campus. Dan Duncan is the Innovation Campus Executive Director and says Phase 1 is ahead of schedule with facilities taking shape. 

The 4-H Building is linked to a new building forming the Innovation Commons. A Food Innovation Center is scheduled to open in 2015 and it will house UNL’s Department of Food Science & Technology.   ConAgra Foods is a private collaborator and they will conduct joint research projects with UNL. There is also a 45,000 square-foot greenhouse center underway.

The Innovation Campus is one of six components of the $20-million economic competitiveness package contained in the University of Nebraska’s 2015-17 biennial budget requests. Other components include the Rural Futures Institute, the National Strategic Research Institute, the Peter Kiewit Institute, the Health and Science Education Complex in Kearney and business engagement and workforce development initiatives throughout their four campus system.