July 8, 2015

UNL grad is now CNN’s man in Washington DC

Jeff Zeleny

Jeff Zeleny

A University of Nebraska Journalism College graduate is in the midst of covering his fifth presidential election.

CNN’s senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny says the speed of the news cycle has changed how often candidates are forced to answer questions, which was the case with last week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

Zeleny says the campaigns have had to adapt to the speed of news through social media. He says the topic of day may require comment, but substance in the campaign will be critical.

He says he keeps his Nebraska upbringing close while covering presidential candidates.

“It’s a great privilege that I have to be in this position and I learned a ton in Nebraska and I try to take that Nebraska commoin sense and sensability out there with me,” he says.

Zeleny recently moved from ABC to CNN, but this is his first presidential campaign working on television. He’s covered the four previous presidential elections for the New York Times or other print media.

 By Kevin Thomas, KLIN, Lincoln

Governor stands behind big-money donation to death penalty effort

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts is defending his donation to the group seeking to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska.

Governor Ricketts was asked during a press conference on Wednesday about his $100,000 donation to the organization leading the petition drive.

“I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about allowing Nebraskans the opportunity to be able to vote on this,” the governor says. “I think the legislature was out of touch with what the vast majority of Nebraskans feel. I think it’s up to Nebraskans to be able to make this decision.

The Unicameral abolished the death penalty in May when legislators overrode the governor’s veto of a repeal measure. The ballot measure could reverse the Legislature’s action.

Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, each donated a six-figure check to the cause.

“The death penalty is an important tool to help protect the people who protect us,” the governor says. “That’s why I believe so strongly that Nebraskans ought to have the ability to vote on this. That’s why I contributed to Nebraskans For the Death Penalty.”

The effort must gather around 57,000 signatures by the end of August to put the issue on the ballot in 2016.

By Kevin Thomas, KLIN, Lincoln

Lawsuit looms over possible cuts to ethanol production mandate

Ethanol PlantCongressional delegations from the nation’s top two ethanol producing states — Nebraska and Iowa — are asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to hold hearings on proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard in each of their states.

Nebraska Ethanol Board Administrator Todd Sneller says while he would like to have a hearing in Nebraska, he doubts it’ll happen.

“It might be beneficial but it may be difficult to get an accommodation by EPA,” Sneller says. “I think EPA’s view is likely to be that they were in Kansas City, they spent two days there and that should have provided everybody in the Midwest the opportunity to present testimony in person if they were inclined to do that.”

Sneller says the EPA needs to bring its RFS volume levels up to statutory levels, and if officials choose not to do that, he says the issue will likely end up in court.

“There’s a legitimate argument to be made by the biofuels sector that EPA has gone too far in their interpretation, and in fact, there’s no legal basis for their interpretations, therefore, the numbers they derived really shouldn’t stand a test in the courts,” he says, “but the American Petroleum Institute has a completely different view on that.”

Last week, the EPA hearing in Kansas City drew testimony from nearly 300 people. Most supported an increase in the volume levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard, not the cutback the feds propose.

There are 24 ethanol plants in Nebraska that produce a total of more than two-billion gallons each year. Nebraska is the nation’s #2 producer of corn-based ethanol, behind only Iowa.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Aftermath of ACA ruling: repeal it or fix it? (AUDIO)

In the aftermath of yet another ruling by the Supreme Court on the federal health insurance law competing calls have been issued: get rid of it versus fix it.

A Supreme Court ruling keeps subsidies in place for those getting health insurance through the federal exchange, a crucial victory for the Affordable Care Act.

Most of the Nebraska Congressional delegation disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling, based primarily on their opposition to the law itself.

They also stand by their insistence the law should be repealed.

“We need to scrap the law. It is unworkable. It becomes obvious it is more and more unworkable and more and more costly,” U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican, tells Nebraska reporters during her weekly conference call.

Fischer claims to have received more than 18,000 complaints from constituents to her office about the ACA, from high premiums for health insurance to problems with retaining their current doctor.

Congressman Adrian Smith, a Republican, tells reporters during a conference call that the federal health insurance law simply hasn’t lived up to his promises.

“When you look back at the promises that the president made about this health care proposal then and the law now. Let me just say it’s discouraging, if not maddening,” Smith said.

Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s office released a statement of the Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell:

“The decision is a bit of a surprise. There was a level of optimism that a different court ruling could pave the way for a more reasoned discussion about the right type of healthcare reform, while also protecting newly insured. Now the country continues to face skyrocketing prices, diminishing choice and healthcare cartels. We need a new healthcare architecture that will reduce costs, improve outcomes, and protect vulnerable persons.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, ran for Senate last year on a number of issues, yet emphasized his opposition to the ACA. He says he hasn’t changed his stance.

“I think we need to repeal Obamacare and start over with a patient-centric alternative,” Sasse tells Nebraska Radio Network. “But, obviously, the conversation about repeal needs to be had at the same time that you’re explaining what you’d replace it with.”

Sasse says the issue needs to be a central part of the presidential election in 2016 and, again, he says Republican presidential candidates need to present an alternative, not just criticize the current law.

Not everyone in the delegation agrees the law should be scrapped.

“It doesn’t need to be repealed,” Congressman Brad Ashford, a Democrat, tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Ashford agrees the ACA has problems, but says Congress needs to fix it and he doesn’t want to wait until the 2016 presidential election.

“We can’t wait for the next president to find a solution,” according to Ashford, “I mean, the premiums are going up now, not two years from now. They’re going up now.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Nebraska Republicans disappointed in health care ruling

United States Sen. Deb Fischer says she’s disappointed the Supreme Court held in favor of the federal health insurance law.

“Today’s decision is disappointing and it does not change the fact that this law is hurting millions of Americans,” Fischer tells Nebraska reporters during her weekly conference call.

The court upheld subsidies to those receiving health insurance through the federal exchange, such as the case in Nebraska. Those bringing the lawsuit argued that the law limited subsidies to state exchanges. Approximately 57,000 Nebraskans received subsidies to offset some of the cost of buying health insurance through the federal exchange.

Fischer insists the Affordable Care Act doesn’t need to be fixed. She says it needs to be scrapped.

“I am committed to working with my colleagues to foster policies that will reduce costs and improves care,” Fischer says. “For now, we must focus on ways to scrap this law and replace it with a system that improves patient-centered care.”

Congressman Adrian Smith also expresses disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling.

“Obviously today’s Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of Burwell is disappointing,” Smith tells reporters during a conference call. “I think that following the letter of the law, especially in this situation, is what our system needs. Obviously the court has disagreed. So, we move forward now with a yet broken health care law.”

Smith says debate on the merits of the Affordable Care Act shifts back to Congress.

“Let me also say that it’s not the Supreme Court’s responsibility to just overturn a piece of legislation simply because it’s bad legislation,” according to Smith. “I mean that, obviously, is in the eyes of the beholder. Clearly, what is taking place through Obamacare in harming many, many Americans is a problem.”