November 20, 2014

Gov. Heineman working toward a strong finish

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman says he plans to finish strong.

Heineman, responding to a reporter’s question, says he isn’t really concerned about tying up any loose ends as his 10-year term as governor comes to a close.

“You’re never finished, really,” Heineman says. “I’m very pleased that I know Gov.-elect Ricketts is going to continue to focus on property and income tax relief, strengthening education, reforming Health and Human Services, and those issues need to continue to move forward.”

Heineman has been governor for two full terms, plus a two-year stint when he took over for then-Gov. Mike Johanns after President George W. Bush appointed Johanns Secretary of Agriculture. Term limits prevent him from running for re-election. His tenure ends when fellow Republican Pete Ricketts takes the oath of office in early January.

One issue preoccupies Heineman these days: prisons.

Heineman says he and his staff have been meeting with the prison working group on how to lower the prison population.

As part of the review, Heineman says the legislature must study inconsistent sentencing across Nebraska.

“For the same crime in Omaha, judges are giving those individuals prison sentences while judges in the other parts of the state are giving probation,” according to Heineman. “We also need to deal with the issue that too many judges are sending us individuals who have less than six months to serve in a prison. That was really not the intent of prisons.”

Heineman suggests those short-term prisoners could serve out their terms in county jails rather than state prisons.

Sen. Fischer: Keystone XL debate is not over

Senator Deb Fischer says she’s disappointed the Senate failed to pass the Keystone XL bill.

Fischer says construction of the oil pipeline is long overdue.

“As you know, the debate is not over and I look forward to a robust discussion on this project early next year, where we’re going to be free from the political theater that has dominated the Senate this past few days,” Fischer tells Nebraska reporters during a conference call.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, pushed for a vote on the bill, which many considered a key to her re-election bid. Landrieu faces a run-off election next month.

The Senate failed by one vote to approve the bill, which passed the House last week. Fischer and Sen. Mike Johanns joined other Republicans in the Senate in support of the bill. It needed 60 votes to break a filibuster waged by opponents and force a vote. Landrieu could only muster 59.

“It’s disappointing,” Fischer says, “because there were some Democrat senators who have voted for Keystone bills in the past and, when it came down to it, they wouldn’t vote for it when it mattered.”

Fischer says Keystone XL will return to the Senate next year when Republicans take control of the majority.

Fischer says the vote spared President Barack Obama from having to make a decision.

“I don’t think the president wants to make a decision on the bill,” Fischer says. “I think that maybe played in to Sen. Landrieu only getting 59 votes. Her own party, the majority party, did not support a senator who I think was doing this, because she’s facing a run-off election in her state in December.”

Fischer says the president is torn between two groups who support him: unions which support Keystone and environmentalists who oppose it.

TransCanada needs a presidential permit to cross the Canadian-American border to build the pipeline which would take crude produced from the oil sands in western Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast. The southern portion of Keystone XL, from Cushing, OK to the Gulf in Texas is operating. The northern portion would construct the pipeline from western Canada to southern Nebraska, where it could connect with the southern portion.

Keystone XL is an $8 billion project that supporters say would provide energy security for the country and create jobs, while detractors say it will harm the environment.

Keystone XL oil pipeline fails in Senate by one vote

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

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

The United States Senate fell one vote short of authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline needed 60 votes to pass the bill. They got 59.

Senate rules require a 60-vote threshold rather than a simple majority.

Sen. Mike Johanns, who supported the measure, contends the only reason the Senate considered the bill was to save the seat of Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who must win a run-off next month to keep her job. Landrieu sponsored the measure.

“The issue isn’t dead either. I think you’ll see this issue come back next year, just simply because, I believe, that it’s the right direction,” Johanns tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “And I think at some point it will happen. But, man alive, talk about politics, you’re seeing it right now.”

Sen. Deb Fischer also supported the measure. Her office release a written statement.

“I’m disappointed that the Senate failed to advance this bipartisan bill requiring the president to act on the Keystone XL pipeline project. This debate is not over and I look forward to a robust discussion on this project early next year-free from the political sideshow we’ve seen the past few days.”

TransCanada released a written statement by President Russ Girling:

“Today’s vote in the U.S. Senate demonstrates a growing and high level of support for Keystone XL both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. We have also seen this in new public opinion polls with two-thirds of Americans calling for the project’s approval. Senators Mary Landrieu and John Hoeven are to be commended for leading a bipartisan coalition in support of a legislative solution to the protracted regulatory process Keystone XL has languished in for six years. This $8 billion infrastructure project will improve American energy security, minimize the environmental impacts of transporting Canadian and American crude oil to U.S. refineries and support 42,000 jobs. We will continue to push for reason over gridlock, common sense over symbolism and solid science over rhetoric to approve Keystone XL and unlock its benefits for America.”

The House approved the bill last week that might well have faced a veto by President Barack Obama.

U.S. Senate vote expected today on Keystone XL pipeline

TransCanada-Keystone-Pipeline-System-Map-2014-02-25A vote may come in the U-S Senate as soon as today that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Ben Gotschall, energy director for BOLD Nebraska, says he’s not surprised by the sudden move in Congress on the controversial project but doesn’t think the legislation will be signed into law by President Obama.

Gotschall says, “The decision is still ultimately the president’s decision and if they try to rush his decision or force him into a decision, we’re hoping he will do what he did the last time they did it in 2012 and that he will deny it.”

He says if the Senate votes on the project now, they will be ignoring the rights of landowners who are in the path of the pipeline.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face to them because they spent a lot of time and money trying to make sure their interests are protected in this matter,” Gotschall says. “For Congress to just rush this approval, it’s not what I would call due process.”

The U.S. House approved the legislation last week authorizing construction of the pipeline.

TransCanada has applied for a presidential permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. It would connect with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is operating from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.

The northern portion of Keystone XL is estimated to cost $5.4 billion. It would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude from Canada to the refineries.

 By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton

Legislative audit of Corrections finds fault with prison management (AUDIO)

Sen. John Harms/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Sen. John Harms/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

An investigation of the state prison system prompted by the release of serial killer Nikko Jenkins finds fault not only in how Nebraska runs its prisons, but even with the data on which the department relies.

A report by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee found while state law clearly identifies inmates who should be civilly committed as dangerous sex offenders, it lacks guidance on the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous inmates.

And, says committee chairman John Harms, a state senator from Scottsbluff, the electronic data used by the Department of Correctional Services isn’t reliable.

“It all boils down to one thing and that is you just don’t have the management,” Harms tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Harms says it will be up to the new legislature to determine why.

“Is it because we’ve just had too much growth, we haven’t budgeted enough money? Those issues will eventually become clearer as they continue to pursue and dig out of this issue,” according to Harms.

The early release of Nikko Jenkins from prison and his convictions in four murders in Omaha shortly after his release last year prompted the Unicameral to closely review the Department of Correctional Services. Many have questioned why the state didn’t move to have Jenkins civilly committed.

Harms says the legislature that convenes in January will be responsible to deal with the problems disclosed in the committee’s findings.

PDF of Performance Audit Cmte report

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]