October 31, 2014

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]

 

Nebraska Insurance Dept. offers sessions on Affordable Care Act changes

The Nebraska Department of Insurance wants everyone to be up to speed when Affordable Health Care open enrollment starts on November 15. Director Bruce Ramge says they are holding several information sessions to update residents about requirements and other change.

Representatives will cover open enrollment, premium tax credits, individual mandates, employer sponsored insurance, small business options and changes in premiums.

The first meeting is today, Monday, October 27 at the O’Neill Library from 6 until 8 pm. On Tuesday, October 28, the first meeting is at the Lifelong Learning Center in Norfolk from 11 until 1 and then from 6 until 8 pm at Metro Community College in Fremont. On Wednesday, October 29th the session is at University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health from 11 until 1

The sessions are at no charge.

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.