April 19, 2014

Landowner attorney not surprised by State Dept. Keystone XL delay

State Department officials say they will not move on the Keystone XL oil pipeline due to the legal wrangling over the route through Nebraska.

Attorney Dave Domina, who represents the landowners challenging how the state went about authorizing the route, says the latest delay makes sense.

“I’m not at all surprised to hear that the presidential permit process has slowed for a final decision in Nebraska,” Domina tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s been the persistent position of the administration that all issues related to where the pipeline will go and how and where it will be built and operated have to be decided before the president will make a final decision about crossing the border.”

The lawsuit challenges the 2012 law approved by the legislature that gives the governor the authority to approve pipeline routes through the state. The lawsuit contends the law violates the state constitution that gives that authority solely to the Public Service Commission.

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy sided with the landowners and ruled the law unconstitutional.

The legislature approved the 2012 law as a follow-up to an agreement reached with TransCanada during a special legislative session in 2011. LB 1161 gave the governor authority to approve or reject pipeline routes through the state after the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality reviewed proposed routes and made a recommendation.

Judge Stacy ruled the Nebraska State Constitution gives exclusive regulatory control over pipeline companies, such as TransCanada, to the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Domina has stated in the past that the court ruling effectively rescinds Gov. Dave Heineman’s notification to President Barack Obama that Nebraska legal procedures have been satisfied. TransCanada has no approved route through Nebraska, according to Domina, who adds that the pipeline project is at a standstill in the state.

Domina says it is understandable that the State Department doesn’t want to move forward until the legal process on the route has been satisfied.

“And until the Nebraska process is in place, done correctly, and decided correctly we simply don’t know where the pipeline will go in this state,” according to Domina. “I know there is what TransCanada has called a final route, but no Nebraska authority has passed on the validity or prefer ability or reliability or safety of that route.”

Domina expects the State Department to delay its recommendation on whether TransCanada should be given a presidential permit to cross the border to build the pipeline until the legal issues in Nebraska are settled.

“We think the State Department will defer a decision until Nebraska’s legal process is final and there is a final, approved, lawfully approved, route in Nebraska.”

The southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas, is operating.

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.

Gov. Heineman praises lawmakers on last day (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman praised state lawmakers for their work this legislative session, addressing the Unicameral on the final day of the legislative session.

“It’s been a very good year for Nebraska taxpayers,” Heineman stated. “We are providing more than $412 million of tax relief to Nebraskans over the next five years. That is meaningful, responsible, and significant tax relief.”

The legislature indexed the state income tax system to inflation, exempted portions of

Social Security income from taxation, expanded the homestead exemption, and added money to the property tax relief fund.

Heineman highlighted tax cuts, though the legislature again this year balked at the governor’s proposal to cut taxes further.

Other legislation won praise from the governor.

“We’ve addressed the water sustainability issue with noteworthy legislation that preserves our water supply for generations to come,” Heineman said. “This legislation is aimed at planning for future water use in our state, especially in preparing for water shortages, as well as addressing water quality and flood control issues.”

Heineman also noted that the legislature has taken the first steps toward prison reform, steps that will continue when the state works with the Council of State Governments this summer.

Heineman added that he was pleased the legislature did not expand Medicaid, a measure that died when supporters couldn’t overcome a filibuster mounted against it. The governor also stated that legislature was right in not authorizing the state to use bonds for road construction, a measure that fell just short of the votes needed for passage.

Even as Heineman praised legislators for their work this year, he looked back over achievements during his decade-long run as governor.

“Over the years, working together, we’ve made a lot of progress on numerous issues,” according to Heineman. “We’ve focused our attention on the two most important, critical issues for the future of our state: education and jobs. We’ve passed statewide education assessments. We are focused on academic achievement and academic improvement.”

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman delivers farewell address on last day of legislative session. [7:40]

“Unique” legislative session comes to close today (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman calls it a unique legislative session; one that ends today as lawmakers return to the Capitol for the final day of a 60-day session.

The governor’s office has been reviewing dozens of bills sent to Heineman by the Unicameral.

Heineman says some of those bills have been combinations of bills.

“It has been a unique session in terms of how they’ve incorporated numerous bills into other bills,” Heineman tells reporters.

A unique session?

“Well, I just don’t recall a session where we have seen so many bills eventually get incorporated into one bill,” Heineman explains. “Normally, that’s not the way we work in Nebraska. Each bill was decided on its merits.”

Work remains, even today.

State lawmakers return for the final day of the session with final votes to be taken on about a dozen bills. They also will consider any vetoes from the governor.

The legislature puts the fate of any bills passed today in the hands of Heineman. They have run out of time to consider veto overrides should the governor spike any of the bills approved today.

Also today, 17 state senators bid good-bye to the Unicameral, due to term limits.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Nebraskans urged to get involved during ServeNebraska Week (AUDIO)

Volunteers, including Gov. Dave Heineman, line up behind First Lady Sally Ganem as she addresses a news conference on ServeNebraska Week

Volunteers, including Gov. Dave Heineman, line up behind First Lady Sally Ganem as she addresses a news conference on ServeNebraska Week

Gov. Dave Heineman urges Nebraskans to get involved in their communities by getting involved in ServeNebraska Week, which begins Sunday.

“I want to encourage all Nebraskans to volunteer during ServeNebraska Week, which is April 20th through the 26th,” Heineman stated during a news conference held in his Capitol office. “This statewide effort provides Nebraskans with an opportunity to volunteer and focus their energy in service.”

Gov. Heineman First Lady Sally Ganem will volunteer at McPhee Elementary School, located a block from the Capitol and catty-cornered from the Governor’s Residence. The governor and First Lady will read to 4th Grade students.

Jamesena Moore spearheads the ServeNebraska effort, and stated that once someone volunteers they often make it a habit.

“Because once you start volunteering and you realize the little things that you do, the difference that you’re making, people are more than happy to do it again,” Moore told reporters. “Last year, we had volunteer activity in 22 of our 93 counties. Our goal is to have volunteer activities in every county.”

ServeNebraska Week is a statewide effort to encourage families, students, congregations, employees, and individuals to give something back to their communities.

First Lady Sally Ganem said it is the willingness to help that separates Nebraska residents from residents of other states.

“And I really do believe that’s what gives us our strength. That’s what makes Nebraska special. Our greatest treasure is the people of Nebraska,” according to Ganem. “We don’t get to have the mountains and skiing. We don’t have the oceans nearby. But, we do have the great people that are willing to step forward and just give a hand.”

In a recent survey, Nebraska ranked 5th among the states in volunteerism.

For more information about ServeNebraska Week and to register you or your group’s activity, visit the website at serve.nebraska.gov.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds news conference to promote ServeNebraska Week. [7:30]

State director of Medicaid, Vivianne Chaumont, dies of cancer

The state Director of the Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care, Vivianne Chaumont, has died.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that Chaumont died of cancer today. She was 60

“The Department has lost a director who was a dedicated public servant, one who cared deeply about the program she oversaw and the people who receive those services,” said HHS CEO Kerry Winterer in a written statement released by his office. “Vivianne’s goal was to manage the program so finite resources could serve as many Nebraskans as possible. That meant sometimes she had to make difficult decisions, but she was willing to make them for the good of the program that served over 230,000 people who depend on Medicaid.”

Gov. Dave Heineman appointed Chaumont to be director of the HHS System’s Finance and Support agency. She made the transition to director of Medicaid and Long-Term Care in the summer of 2007 in the newly created Department of Health and Human Services.

“We appreciate Vivianne’s work on behalf of Nebraskans during the last 7 years as the Director of the Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care,” said Gov. Dave Heineman in a prepared statement. “She had a long and dedicated career in public service, and she should be remembered for her commitment to others during her life. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”

Chaumont came to the United States from Cuba at the age of eight. She attended college in California and became the counsel for the California Department of Health Services. She worked in state government in Colorado before beginning work in Nebraska.