August 22, 2014

First Lady throws cold water on Governor; all for a good cause

1st Lady Sally Ganem dumps a bucket of ice on Gov. Dave Heineman as part of the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge"/Photo courtesy of governor's office

1st Lady Sally Ganem dumps a bucket of ice on Gov. Dave Heineman as part of the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge”/Photo courtesy of governor’s office

First Lady Sally Ganem did the honors. Gov. Dave Heineman got drenched.

All for a good cause.

The First Lady dumped a bucket of ice water onto the governor to fulfill Heineman’s acceptance of the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”

In addition, Heineman donated $100 to the ALS Association’s Nebraska Chapter.

“I’m glad to be able to help raise awareness for the individuals struck with this devastating disease,” Heineman said in a written statement released by his office. “I hope others will join the challenge to learn more about ALS as we continue to seek a cure.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, University of Nebraska-Lincoln volleyball head coach John Cook, and Nebraska Television (NTV) in Kearney news anchor Marylyn Barnett had challenged the governor.

In turn, the governor issued his own challenge. Heineman has issued an ice bucket challenge to Omaha World-Herald Publisher Terry Kroeger; KETV in Omaha news anchor Rob McCartney; and KFAB on-air personality, and “Governor Dave” impersonator, Jim Rose.

The ice bucket challenge has taken on a life of its own. Originally, the challenge was to donate to the ALS Association within 24 hours or been drenched with ice water. Mostly though, those challenged take the cold and still donate the money.

The ALS Association says it has raised $31.5 million from the challenge.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Most commonly, ALS strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70. As many as 30,000 Americans, or about 2 in 100,000 people, have the disease at any given time, including world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

For more information, please visit The ALS Association website at: www.alsa.org.

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]

 

Two employees retire rather than be fired; two suspended in prison scandal (AUDIO)

Corrections Director Mike Kenney speaks to reporters as Gov. Dave Heineman looks on

Corrections Director Mike Kenney speaks to reporters as Gov. Dave Heineman looks on

Two state employees have retired, rather than be fired. Two others have been suspended for their part in the prison sentencing scandal.

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney announced his disciplinary action against those responsible for miscalculating prison sentences for nearly 600 inmates this afternoon during a news conference in the governor’s office.

“In response to the sentencing miscalculations, disciplinary hearings have been held for four employees,” Kenney stated. “The General Counsel George Green and Associate Legal Counsel Sharon Lindgren chose to retire, pending discipline. My decision in both of these cases would have been termination.”

In addition, Records Administrator Kyle Poppert has been suspended without pay for two weeks and Associate Legal Counsel Kathy Blum has been suspended for a day without pay.

All the employees are accused of failing to heed two state Supreme Court rulings on prison sentencing, leading to the miscalculations.

Gov. Dave Heineman largely blames Green and Lindgren for the mistake which led to the premature release of slightly more than 300 inmates from state prisons.

“There are two employees of the Department of Correctional Services that are the most responsible for these sentencing errors: The Chief Legal Counsel George Green and Associate Legal Counsel Sharon Lindgren,” according to Heineman. “When confronted with their charges of discipline and facing probable termination, both attorneys immediately retired from state government.”

Heineman told reporters during the news conference Green and Lindgren failed to inform Corrections to adjust prison sentences in accordance with two state Supreme Court rulings.

“Mr. Green and Miss Lindgren are no longer employed by the Department of Correctional Services and they shouldn’t be. Their actions were inappropriate, inexcusable, and irresponsible,” Heineman stated. “They were the individuals most responsible for the sentencing miscalculations and they are being held accountable for their actions.”

Heineman stated the investigation continues.

A Nebraska State Patrol criminal investigation also continues.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman and Corrections Director Mike Kenney hold news conference on sentencing miscalculations. [4:25]

Gov. Heineman hands out special veteran driver’s licenses (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman has presented four military veterans with special driver’s licenses at a ceremony held at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue.

“July 1st of this year marked another milestone for honoring veterans here in Nebraska,” Heineman told the veterans. “This was the very first day Nebraska veterans were able to apply to have a veteran’s designation added to their driver’s license or state ID card.”

Heineman presented the driver’s licenses to World War II veteran Joseph Vocelka, Korea War veteran Richard Aube, Vietnam War veteran Grace Ford and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kimberly Mahlberg.

“And let me just share with you on a personal basis, I have talked with a number of Nebraskans, they are really excited when they see for whatever reason that on your driver’s license that you’re a veteran, they want to say thank you to you. They want to show their appreciation and this is a way for them to know,” Heineman told the veterans during the ceremony.

Heineman said the special driver’s license was only one of a series of bills approved this past legislative session to aid military veterans. Among them, giving veterans preference in employment, provide in-state tuition for veterans, provide income tax exemption for portions of military retirements, and providing homestead exemptions for disabled veterans.

Veterans interested in the special driver’s license can apply with the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs on-line, in person, via email, or FAX. The website is www.veterans.nebraska.gov, phone number 402-0471-2458, and FAX number 402-471-2491.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds news conference at Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home. [3 min.]

Gov. Heineman: Hardly anything is left in Pilger (AUDIO)

Aerial view of destruction in Pilger/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Aerial view of destruction in Pilger/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Gov. Dave Heineman toured a devastated community and said recovery for Pilger has just begun.

Heineman traveled to the small northeast Nebraska community of Pilger to observe first-hand the damage done by twin tornadoes.

“It’s total devastation, massive damage, unbelievable damage,” Heineman told Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “Hardly anything is left in Pilger.”

Heineman had already declared a state of emergency in wake of the destruction late Monday afternoon when two tornadoes formed about a mile apart with Pilger directly in the path of the stronger one. The declaration made state resources available to local governments struggling with recovery efforts.

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Heineman toured the areas hardest hit along with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Deputy Adjutant General Rick Dahlman, and NEMA preparedness section manager Nikki Weber. The group first viewed the destruction from the air as they flew over the village of about 350.

They then landed for a walk through.

“And then, of course, you’re talking to people and it’s about their home and their business and you can just feel it, the shock, the disbelief; stunned,” Heineman said. “Two tornadoes. I mean, normally, you might get one, but not two. And you’ve lost everything.”

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger reported between 45 to 50 houses destroyed in Pilger. Unger said five-year-old Calista Dixon was killed when the tornadoes struck Pilger. Nearly 20 others suffered various injuries. The Cuming County Sheriff’s office reports that 74-year-old David Herout of Clarkson was killed in a one-vehicle accident east of Pilger. Officials believe that crash was storm-related, but the incident remains under investigation.

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Photo courtesy of NEMA

The two fatalities were the first deaths recorded due to a tornado in Nebraska in 10 years. The twisters destroyed nearly a dozen homes in Dixon County, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Faith Regional Medical Center in Norfolk treated 17 patients; 13 were treated and released, three remain hospitalized in Norfolk and one was transferred to an Omaha hospital. Providence Medical Center in Wayne treated and released three patients, all from the Pilger area, according to NEMA.

The National Weather Service reports the larger of the two tornadoes that formed outside Pilger was an EF4 tornado, with its twin an EF2, a rare phenomenon, according to NWS. As many as four tornadoes formed during the storm, with the other two doing no damage.

A shelter has been opened for victims of the tornado by the American Red Cross at the Wisner-Pilger High School. Bottled water, non-perishable food, diapers have been donated by fellow Nebraskans, even from out of state.

Gov. Heineman talks with victims of Pilger tornado/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Gov. Heineman talks with victims of Pilger tornado/Photo courtesy of NEMA

The Red Cross is organizing volunteers to assist in clean-up beginning this morning at the high school. NEMA says volunteers will be bused in to Pilger and separated into groups to perform debris removal. Volunteers must have a photo ID and are encouraged to wear sturdy work shoes, long pants, hats, work gloves, safety glasses and bring insect repellent and sunscreen (lunch will be provided). Volunteers who arrive directly in Pilger will not be allowed to enter the town, according to NEMA.

Financial donations are being accepted at Midwest Bank branches. Donors are asked to reference the Pilger disaster.

Twenty Nebraska National Guardsmen have been called to state active duty to assist in recovery, primarily from 189th Transportation Company based in Wayne and Norfolk. Five vehicles have been mobilized to support the NEMA.

State Fire Marshal, Jim Heine, reported his office responded to 12 leaking propane tanks. Fire Marshal staff were onsite performing damage assessment of commercial and residential structures.

State Agriculture Director Greg Ibach encourages producers who suffered livestock losses due to the tornadoes to keep detailed records documenting those losses.

Counselors have been made available to those feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the circumstances by calling the Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258.

The Nebraska Department of Roads has closed Highway 15 from Hwy 275 (north of Pilger) to Hwy 32 (south of Pilger). This highway will most likely remain closed through June 18 for storm response activity. US Highway 275 is open.

The water supply in Pilger has been affected by the loss of power and pressure. Crews from

Wisner, Madison, and Norfolk have been sent to make repairs. A “boil water” advisory has been issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and will stay in effect until further notice.

Kevin Thomas, KLIN, contributed to this story.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]