September 1, 2014

Gov. Heineman calls EPA the enemy of agriculture (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman says federal regulations being issued by the Environmental Protection Agency pose a big problem for agriculture.

Heineman takes direct aim at the EPA, especially its proposal to expand the Clean Water Act.

“As I kiddingly say, but I think it’s fairly accurate, you know, when we have a little rain in the state and there’s a little pond in the ditch, they think that’s an environmental wetlands and they want to regulate it,” Heineman says, adding. “It’s ridiculous.”

Heineman, answering a question about what is the biggest regulatory issue facing Nebraska agriculture, says the federal government under the Obama Administration has been over-aggressive with its regulations.

The governor says he appreciates the efforts of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to curb what he considers federal over-reach.

“The fact of the matter is we all support clean air, clean water, and appropriate regulations, but it’s the EPA that’s the enemy of agriculture, I’ll put it that way.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Gov. Heineman declares September Nebraska Preparedness Month (AUDIO)

Gov. Heineman signs proclamation that September is Nebraska Emergency Preparedness Month as (L to R) Asst. NEMA Dir. Bryan Tuma, and Major Gen. Daryl Bohac look on

Gov. Heineman signs proclamation that September is Nebraska Emergency Preparedness Month as (L to R) Asst. NEMA Dir. Bryan Tuma, and Major Gen. Daryl Bohac look on

Gov. Dave Heineman has declared September Nebraska Preparedness Month.

Heineman says it is only appropriate in light of a series of severe storms that tore through Nebraska this year.

“During this spring and summer, Nebraska has experienced three weather-related events that were eventually declared federal disasters,” according to Heineman. “These storms devastated the lives of many of our fellow Nebraskans. Tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding caused significant damage in our state.”

Severe weather ripped through the state this spring and summer. Twin tornadoes struck Pilger in June, with one of the tornadoes roaring through the center of the town. Two residents died of injuries suffered in the storm. Other towns also got hit by tornadoes.

Assistant Director Bryan Tuma with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency says no one can forecast when an emergency will strike.

“So, our advice to you is to plan ahead. Prepare for contingencies and have a list of emergency contact information readily available. Get those documents like medical records, contracts, property deeds, leases, banking records, birth certificates and make sure that’s kept in a safe place,” Tuma advises.

State officials say three steps can help prepare a family to make it through the first 72 hours of an emergency: be informed, make an emergency plan, and build and emergency kit.

Emergency kits should include items such as:

· battery-powered or crank radio

· weather alert radio

· extra batteries

· first aid kit

· sanitary wipes

· dust mask

· water for drinking and sanitation

· water purification tablets

· waterproof matches and/or butane lighter

· crank flashlight

· plastic sheeting

· non-perishable food for at least three days

· disinfectants and medications

· medical information for entire family, including details about dosages of required medications and a list of known health issues.

State Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joseph Acierno says steps now can help you and your family make it through a disaster.

“Nebraskans can protect themselves and their families by being prepared. We can’t prevent the disaster, but we can be better prepared to respond to one,” according to Acierno. “Together we have been through tornadoes, wild fires, flooding, ice storms, flu, and food-borne illness outbreaks. Even small steps can make a big difference.”

State officials say a national website, www.ready.gov, has a fill-in-the-blank plan available to make it easy to assemble most of the information needed for personal emergency plans. Nebraska emergency managers operate the website www.bereadynebraska.com.

Click here for more information from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency website.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman declares September Nebraska Preparedness Month. [2 min.]

Supreme Court hears arguments on historic horse racing issue

State Supreme Court justices will decide the fate of historic horse racing in Nebraska before the voters do.

In fact, the court could rule the voters don’t get to decide.

The court has heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by Gambling with the Good Life, which claims LR 41 CA violates the state constitution’s requirement that ballot initiatives stick to one subject.

Attorney Steven Grasz, representing the group, made the case before the court during oral arguments Wednesday that the issued placed on the ballot by the Unicameral is unconstitutional.

“Constitutional amendments are not supposed to be presented as package deals,” Grasz stated, referring to a case which established the natural and necessary connection test for ballot issues. “There is no necessary connection between legalizing a controversial new form of gambling on the one hand and devoting tax revenue from the General Fund to property tax relief and education on the other.”

The legislature, unable to get historic horse racing through the regular process, placed the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide. It would authorize the replaying of past horse races on video machines with enough obscured to disguise the results. Supporters say it would raise enough revenue to revive Nebraska’s horse racing industry.

The issue also designates how revenue generated by betting on historic horse racing will be distributed.

Grasz urged the court to throw the issue off the November ballot.

“The respondent attempts to categorize all the provisions of LR 41CA under the general subject of wagering on horse racing,” Grasz told the justices. “Now, the obvious problem with that is that gambling terminals aren’t horses and they don’t race. I think we do need to give Nebraska voters more credit than that.”

Assistant Attorney General L. J. Bartel countered Grasz during the oral arguments before the court, arguing the issue should be granted some leeway, because it went through the legislative process which he said provides safeguards unavailable to initiative petitions.

“Well, you have elected representatives of the people acting,” Grasz responded when pressed about those safeguards by a justice. “You have public hearings. You have legislative debate. You require a larger number of senators to put something on the ballot as opposed to passing normal legislation.”

Bartel also accused opponents of exaggerating the revenue portion of the issue.

“So, when you get down to it, and I can’t point to anything factually, but there’s not going to be much tax revenue when you look at the current pari-mutuel tax; just the way it’s structured,” Bartel stated. “So, to say that somehow we’re diverting some large amount of current tax revenue that would be available for say education or property tax relief, we really know that’s not the case.”

The Supreme Court will rule later.

Sen. Dubas steps into new position with association

Sen. Annette Dubas/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Sen. Annette Dubas/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton will become the Executive Director for the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations.

It is a newly created position at the organization founded in 1983 with mental health providers and consumer groups across the state.

“Our members include rural and metropolitan area providers, hospitals, non-profit organizations, consumer groups, private practitioner groups, adult and children service program providers. The selection of Senator Dubas as Executive Director for our organization was unanimously supported within our membership and we are thrilled to have such a distinguished leader promote our focus on excellence in behavioral health service delivery,” Connie Barnes, President of NABHO and Executive Director for Behavioral Health Specialist, Inc. in Norfolk, NE, said in a written statement released by the group.

Gov. Heineman vows transparency in sentencing scandal investigation (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman answers questions with Corrections Dir. Mike Kenney

Gov. Dave Heineman answers questions with Corrections Dir. Mike Kenney

Gov. Dave Heineman has announced disciplinary action against employees involved in the prison sentencing scandal and vows to be transparent as the investigation continues.

Heineman dismisses any notion that employees in Department of Correctional Services ignored Supreme Court rulings on sentencing to reflect the governor’s desire to keep the prison population under control and avoid building a new prison.

“Not that I’m aware of, but let me go back to the prison capacity issue,” Heineman tells reporters. “Let me be very clear. I have been here 10 years. There hasn’t been a single Nebraska state senator who has called me or written me a letter saying, ‘Governor, we need to build a new prison.’”

Nebraska prisons have been over their capacity since Heineman has been in office.

State prisons now hold more than 5,000 inmates, nearly 160% of their capacity.

State lawmakers, worried the state might face a lawsuit, approved LB 907. The law established the 19-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group, with members from all three branches of state government. The group will work with the Council of State Governments Justice Center to review alternatives to prison. The Pew Charitable Trust and the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will also assist in the study.

State officials estimate building a new prison could cost as much as $150 million.

The working group’s policy recommendations are expected to be delivered at the end of the year.

The top two lawyers of the Department of Correctional Services took retirement, rather than face being fired. Two other Corrections employees have been suspended. Other disciplinary action could be forthcoming.

The department ignore two state Supreme Court rulings that affected sentencing. That resulted in sentences being miscalculated for approximately 600 prison inmates. Slightly more than 300 were released prematurely, due to the error.

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney announced disciplinary action late last week.  Kenney took over for long-time Corrections Director Bob Houston, who took questions about the scandal from state lawmakers during a recent legislative hearing.

The Nebraska State Patrol is conducting a criminal investigation into the sentence miscalculations.

Heineman says the Department of Correctional Services must restore public confidence.

“Continue to make sure that we’ve corrected all mistakes and get back to operating this department on a day-to-day basis with a lot of hard work and regain the public’s trust,” Heineman says. “And that is going to take a long period of time.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]