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Final Day Of 2014 Nebraska Legislature Session

The Nebraska Legislature finished up for the year at 5:36 p.m. Thursday. Typically the last day only takes a few hours. They did make it through the entire agenda, but it wasn't easy.

Legislators took some time to say goodbye to their colleagues who have hit their term limits of 8 years.

But, as soon as the first final bill reading began, Senator Ernie Chambers fulfilled the promise he's made since Governor Dave Heineman vetoed his mountain lion bill- that he would continue to return to the subject.

"I have some things that I'm going to say today," said Chambers. "And every bill is going to contribute some time to me. As the session was going on, I mentioned that I would get my pound of flesh. I took my bumps this session and I had said that ultimately the session would be delivered into my hands," he said.

The senators sent 13 bills to the Governor for signing. They included a bill that would provide insurance coverage for children with autism, one to change provisions on a number of acts, a bill that would make military honor plates in Nebraska, a bill to allow guns for historical re-enactions, hunting education and honor guard in school, the bill updating what kinds of K2 are banned, one regarding nurse practitioners and a bill regarding school safety and health, among others.

Governor Heineman has five days, excluding Sunday to make a decision on the bills. Even if he does veto something, there's no possibility for override now that the session is over.

Gov. Heineman Signs Nebraska Water Sustainability Bill

Gov. Dave Heineman has signed a bill designed to help Nebraska prepare for floods, water shortages and water quality problems.

The measure approved Wednesday will provide about $11 million annually to help pay for projects related to water management and quality, flood control, and compliance with interstate compacts. It will generate an estimated $32 million by mid-2015.

The bill by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege would also expand the Natural Resources Commission, from 16 members to 27, to ensure that more major water users are represented. The new commission would include irrigators, cities, public power districts and wildlife conservation groups.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the law will help bring together surface and groundwater users, who are often at odds.

Research Looks At Using Crops To Contain Nitrogen

A research project in northwest Iowa is looking at ways to keep fertilizer out of drinking water by planting certain crops to help contain nitrogen.

The Sioux City Journal reports the project on Matt Schuiteman's land near Sioux Center yielded lessons that may be useful in other areas.

The research got started because some of Schuiteman's land is close to wells Sioux Center relies on for drinking water, and nitrate levels were rising.

The project looked at five different ways to use perennials and cover crops to limit the amount of nitrogen that washed away.

Schuiteman says he plans to start growing alfalfa on his land in rotation with corn because that proved effective.

NDOR Says 18 People Killed on Neb. Roadways in March

The Nebraska Department of Roads says 18 people were killed on Nebraska roads during the month of March.

NDOR says the 18 deaths occurred in 17 crashes.

They say eleven of the 14 people killed were not using safety belts.

NDOR says three deaths occurred on the Interstate, seven happened on non-Interstate highways, and eight took place on local roads.

They say thirteen of the deaths occurred in rural locations.

NDOR says seven of the deaths occurred in vehicle rollovers.

They say seven of the deaths were age 24 or younger.

NDOR says two of the deaths were pedestrians.

They say one death was a motorcyclist.

NDOR says one death was a bicyclist.

The department says between January and March there have been 47 people killed in 42 crashes.

NDOR says there were 7 fatalities in March of 2013.

Lincoln 911 Call Center Problem Now Fixed

Officials say the a Windstream outage that affected Lincoln's 911 call center has been fixed.

Lincoln Emergency Communication Officials say just before 9:30 a.m. Tuesday the emergency call center began taking reports that some people were getting a busy signal when dialing 911.

When placing a phone call, many citizens received a recording stating that "all circuits are busy" or if the call does go through, it is dropped mid-way through the transmission.

Officer Katie Flood said the outage affected both land line and cellular phone calls.

Communication Coordinator Julie Righter said Windstream worked to fix the problem. Righter says test calls have been successful.

According to Windstream, several calls were affected, including 911 calls, local and long distance calls. They say the data stream was disrupted, which cause calls to be dropped.

Windstream has routed around the device causing the outage while engineers repair it.

Unruly Man Charged after Jet Diverts to Nebraska

A man removed from a California-bound Southwest Airlines flight is facing federal charges because he tried to open a door.

Prosecutors charged 23-year-old Joshua Carl Lee Suggs Monday with interfering with the crew of the Chicago-to-Sacramento flight.

The plane diverted to Omaha, Neb., Sunday, so Suggs could be removed.

The complaint against the Sacramento man says he refused to return to his seat, as instructed, before trying to open a door. The incident happened about an hour into the flight.

The passengers who helped subdue Suggs told officers his pupils were dilated and his speech was incoherent.

Suggs is expected to appear in court Wednesday. Court records did not show an attorney for him Monday.

Nebraska Looks to Join States in Fighting Wildfires

Nebraska is on the cusp of joining forces with Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas to help fight rural wildfires.

A bill sent to Gov. Dave Heineman would allow Nebraska to join the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact, an agreement that lets member states share their firefighters and equipment in an emergency. Kansas is considering a similar proposal.

The bill was introduced two years after massive wildfires swept through central and western Nebraska. Its sponsor, Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis, says pooling the states' resources could lead to faster response times in the most remote and hard-to-reach areas of Nebraska.

Nebraska State Forester Scott Josiah says the state still has the potential to see large wildfires in years when its grasslands and forests are dry.

Syracuse United Methodist Church Raises Money To Rebuild

This past January, a fire reduced the Syracuse United Methodist Church to a pile of rubble. As one of the largest and oldest buildings in the town, it was tough for members to keep their spirits high.

After raising money to take a cruise together, Patsy Tischofer and her three sisters decided to use the money instead, to bring country music artist Ty Herndon to town for a concert on Friday night.

Members of the community were invited to come and enjoy music and if at all possible, donate freely to the church at the event. And their idea worked because eighty people came to offer donations, as well as support, to members of this church as those members enjoyed a well deserved evening.

The trio of sisters who planned this say that the best part about their idea: they get to share a country artist they love - with the people they love.

And that country star Ty Herndon says he knows that he's making a difference as well.

"This reminds me of my little church in Alabama. It's really awesome being here tonight, " said Herndon.

Pastor Gary Ganger said how proud he is that many of the people who attended tonight weren't even members of their church - but just supporters.

While the church has plans to rebuild, as of now, there is no timeline for when that will begin.

FDA Proposal Unpopular with Brewers, Cattle Feeders

Brewers and cattle feeders describe it as the perfect relationship - one gets rid of their spent grains, and the other gets food for their cattle.

But, the Food and Drug Administration is considering rule changes that would prevent breweries from selling their used grains. Instead, the grains would go to a landfill, something brewers would likely have to pay for. Farmers that benefit from this practice are also unhappy with the possible change. Doug Drevo, who owns a small cattle operation outside of Lincoln, doesn't understand the FDA's proposal.

"It'd be a waste of time and money and a good product, when you consider this type of practice has been done for hundreds of years" Drevo says.

The FDA says they're reconsidering their proposal after brewers nationwide expressed concern in a public comment period last month. A spokesperson said a revised proposal will be issued later in the summer, and there will be another public comment period.

The FDA was, however, vague on how exactly they'll change the proposal.

Neb. Elderly Care Services Bill Approved over Veto

A bill that would provide millions of dollars in federal and state funding to help elderly Nebraskans stay in their homes has won approval from lawmakers, despite a veto.

Lawmakers overrode Gov. Dave Heineman's veto on Thursday with the minimum 30 votes required. The proposal would direct Nebraska to apply for a federal grant that would help pay for in-home services. Nebraska would spend an estimated $8.2 million over the next two years, while the federal government would provide $36.4 million.

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln says her measure would help keep more of Nebraska's aging population out of nursing homes, which ends up being more expensive.

Heineman argued that while the idea is laudable, more of the cost will eventually shift to the state.

Nebraska Senator Proposes 'Mountain Lion' Plates

Nebraska is one step closer to honoring veterans on license plates, and some lawmakers looked seriously Wednesday at giving mountain lions the same recognition.

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont floated the idea Wednesday during debate on his bill. Janssen, a Navy veteran, proposed an amendment that would allow motorists to apply for "Mountain Lion Protection Plates." Revenue from the plates would help pay for a wildlife conservation program for youths.

Some lawmakers argued that the proposal was offensive to veterans. Others from military backgrounds shrugged it off.

The debate followed several unsuccessful efforts this year to end mountain lion hunting, led by Sen. Ernie Chambers.

Janssen later withdrew the mountain lion amendment, and the veterans' plate bill was advanced to a final vote without it.

Neb. Water Sustainability Bill Sent to Final Vote

A bill designed to prepare Nebraska for floods, water shortages and water quality problems is headed to a final vote in the Legislature.
Lawmakers gave second-round approval Tuesday to legislation that would help local governments and the state pay for water projects. Budget bills approved this year are expected to generate $32 million for the new water sustainability fund by mid-2015.

The bill by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege would also expand the Natural Resources Commission, from 16 members to 27, to ensure that more major water users are represented.

The bill would require natural resources districts and the state to work to together on river-basin management plans.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop says it's designed to bring together groups that often disagree on water policy.

The bill is LB1098.

'Ban the Box' Bill Changed in Neb. Prison Measure

A bill designed to help ex-convicts find jobs in Nebraska is headed to a final vote in the Legislature.

The measure, part of the state's prison reform bill, was amended Tuesday before receiving second-round approval by lawmakers. The legislation would prevent public employers from asking about a job hopeful's criminal history when they first apply.

The amendment would allow schools to ask about any criminal infractions related to sexual or physical abuse. The amendment came in response to lawmaker concerns about student safety. Supporters say nothing stops the schools from doing the background checks.

The measure was included in prison reforms that aim to reduce the inmate population by providing more services to those behind bars and diverting nonviolent offenders from the Department of Corrections.

Nebraska Parks to Reopen Sooner Than Expected

Officials say state parks and recreation areas closed temporarily last fall to deal with deferred maintenance amid budget woes will reopen nearly two weeks earlier than scheduled.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says work crews reassigned from the closed parks completed their projects ahead of schedule.

The parks and recreation areas will reopen on April 18 rather than on the expected reopening date of May 1.

The closings were designed to help the commission tackle some of the projects on its list of more than $30 million in deferred maintenance and help the commission comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ethanol Producers Complain About Rail Service

Ethanol producers say clogged rail lines and other shipping problems have forced them to reduce production of the fuel and contributed to higher prices.

The Renewable Fuels Association criticized railroads Thursday and triggered a strong response from the Association of American Railroads.

RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen says railroads should take the blame for ethanol prices jumping more than $1 a gallon between early February and late March.

AAR CEO Ed Hamberger acknowledges rail traffic slowed in certain areas, but he says it's preposterous to suggest the rail network is in disarray.

Hamberger says railroads have done their best to deal with an exceptional winter, sizeable grain harvest and increased coal demand.
Railroads have hauled 6.8 million carloads this year -- about 2 percent more than last year.

Nebraska Water Sustainability Bill Advances

Nebraska lawmakers have advanced a bill designed to steer the state toward long-term water sustainability.

Senators gave the proposal first-round approval on Wednesday, but say they'll make additional changes before it comes to a second vote.

The bill by Sen. Tom Carlson, of Holdrege, would expand the state's Natural Resources Commission from 16 to 27 members. Members would have to come from a variety of major water users, including surface and groundwater irrigators.

The measure would require the commission to set goals and a ranking system for water conservation projects, paid for out of a new state water sustainability fund.

Senators postponed action on an amendment that would require a basin-wide management plan within the Republican River Basin.

The bill is LB1098.

Mountain Lion Hunting Survives Neb. Veto Override

Supporters of a bill to outlaw mountain lion hunting in Nebraska have failed to override Gov. Dave Heineman's veto.

Lawmakers fell six votes short Wednesday of the 30 needed for an override. Heineman rejected the bill last week, saying the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission should have the power to manage the animals.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha argues that cougars pose no real threat to humans -- and if they did, state law already allows people to kill them to defend themselves or their property.

The state approved mountain lion hunting in 2012, while Chambers was briefly out of office because of term limits.

Chambers introduced a motion Wednesday to reconsider the vote so that lawmakers might revisit the issue this year.

The bill is LB671.

Gov. Heineman Signed Package of Bills to Provide Over $400 Million in Tax Relief

LINCOLN - Governor Dave Heineman signed a number of bills into law Wednesday morning to provide a number of avenues to provide tax relief over the next five years.

Gov. Heineman: "Nebraska taxpayers will be receiving over $412 million in tax relief over the next five years which is responsible, meaningful, and significant tax relief. We are providing tax relief for hard working families."

Bills signed will address a number of issues including indexing the state's individual income tax brackets for inflation, exempting portions of social security and veteran retirement income, eliminating sales tax on the sale, lease, or rental of agricultural equipment.
Legislation was also signed to increase the Property Tax Credit Program by $25 million a year, expand Nebraska's homestead exemption program so that more Nebraskans can qualify, and expand eligibility for the current property tax homestead exemption to include a 100 percent property tax exemption for honorably discharged veterans.

Lack of Moisture a Concern for Nebraska Farmers

As Nebraska farmers prepare to plant their crops in the next few weeks, they are worrying about the lack of moisture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the state received less than half the amount of precipitation it normally does in March.

So the level of moisture in the soil is a concern. About 65 percent of the state is currently experiencing drought conditions.

The USDA says about 62 percent of the state is short or very short on topsoil moisture.

About 55 percent of the state's winter wheat crop is in good or excellent condition.

State Lawmakers Advance 'Emergency Powers' Gun Bill

Nebraska lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill that would prohibit governors from restricting gun sales in a declared state emergency.

Lawmakers advanced the bill Tuesday with a 39-0 vote. Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says he sponsored the measure so that Nebraskans can defend themselves against mobs and looting in a natural disaster.

Current Nebraska law allows governors to restrict the sale, distribution and transportation of guns once a state emergency is declared.

Christensen has worked on the bill with the National Rifle Association, which has pushed successfully for similar "emergency powers" laws in 34 other states. Bills are pending in Iowa, Massachusetts, Colorado and Washington.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha says the measure is feel-good legislation that doesn't help or hurt anyone.

Cigarette Butts a Leading Cause of Grass Fires in Nebraska

With almost no rain or snow recently and strong winds, much of Nebraska is in a fire danger zone.

In conditions like this the smallest spark can lead to a large fire, including a cigarette butt. With the ground being so dry and it being so windy, fire departments say that cannot happen.

Many times the grass fires caused by cigarettes are along roads where people throw them from their car.

A recent report made by the National Fire Protection Association, about 12% of outside fires were caused by cigarette butts. But it could be more.

In cases of grass fires where there are no injuries or property damage, fire fighters usually don't spend a lot of extra hours investigating. That's why many times the cause of these fires are not known.

In any case, fire fighters are urging smokers not to throw their cigarette butts out the window.

Bill to Raise Nebraska's Minimum Wage Stalls

A proposal to increase Nebraska's minimum wage to $9 an hour is dead for the year.

The bill stalled Monday night on a 20-20 vote in the Legislature. Opponents also defeated several amendments that would have exempted small- and mid-sized businesses, and allowed companies to exclude employees who have worked for them for less than two years.

The measure would have raised the wage gradually, from $7.25 to $9.00 by 2017. Business groups opposed it, saying the legislation would have increased their labor costs and made them less competitive.

Lawmakers also rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, who currently make $2.13 an hour.

Knitters Finish Tree Huggers Project in Iowa City

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Volunteers have cut down 135 colorful sweaters that had been wrapped around trees on Iowa City's pedestrian mall through the winter.

People who made the sweaters were asked to cut them down during an official event Sunday. Organizers say any remaining sweaters will be taken down in the next few days.

The event marked the end of the second annual Tree Huggers project. The public art project aims to brighten the downtown area during the winter. Knitters are given yarn as well as the measurements of trees.

Last year, organizers turned the sweaters into blankets and shawls for a hospice. They're not sure what will happen with the sweaters this time.

Heineman Signs Bill to Allow Online Voter Registration

LINCOLN -Governor Dave Heineman, Monday morning, signed legislation to allow Nebraskans to register to vote or update their registrations online. LB 661 was introduced on behalf of the Secretary of State John Gale, who oversees the state's elections.

Gov. Heineman: "This online voter registration law reflects Secretary Gale's continuing efforts to modernize the process of voter registration through the use of technology.

Secretary of State John Gale credited the work between his office and the State Department of Motor Vehicles in making this system a reality…

Sec. Gale: "…by making their [DMV] database available for people who go online to the Secretary of State's website and be able to transport that signature off of a driver's license so that we then capture that signature for our other election purposes."

Nebraska is joining 17 other states that have implemented online voter registration, the online system is expected to be completed by 2017.

Heineman Discusses Veto to Mountain Lion Hunting Ban

LINCOLN - Governor Dave Heineman has vetoed a bill that would outlaw mountain lion hunting in Nebraska.

Heineman, Friday morning, said that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission should have the power to manage the mountain lion population across the state.

Gov. Heineman: "They've [Nebraska Game and Parks Commission ] got much more expertise than the legislature. It was just two-years ago that the legislature gave them the authority to do it, now they're completely trying to reverses it, and it's all because of Senator [Ernie] Chambers, they [the legislature] ought to stand up to him and say no.

In 2012, the legislature unanimously approved the mountain lion hunting season. Heineman also cited concern that the bill could be unconstitutional due to a recent statewide vote that placed hunting, fishing and trapping rights in the Nebraska constitution.

Nebraska Roads Bonding Bill Overcomes Filibuster

A bill to allow bond financing for Nebraska road projects overcame a filibuster in the Legislature by lawmakers concerned about taking on the debt.

After voting to end debate, lawmakers voted to advance the bill Wednesday. The bill faces two more votes in front of the Legislature.

Opponents launched a filibuster to block the measure, which would allow Nebraska to issue up to $200 million in bonds at a maximum, fixed interest rate of 5 percent.

Nebraska has used a pay-as-you-go system for decades, but supporters say the state could take advantage of low interest rates.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton says she introduced the bill to accelerate work on long-delayed projects.

Nebraska's Most Populated Cities Grow Larger

Nebraska's most-populated counties continue to grow at a fast pace.

New population estimates based on the U.S. Census were released Thursday.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha's David Drozd says the fastest growing Nebraska counties between April 2010 and last July were the state's five biggest counties.

Sarpy County led all counties with at least 1,000 residents with 6.6 percent population growth in the Omaha suburbs.

Lancaster County, which is home to the capital of Lincoln, ranked second with 4.1 percent growth.

Douglas County, which includes Omaha, and Buffalo County, which includes Kearney, both recorded 3.9 percent growth.

Hall County, which is home to Grand Island, ranked 5th with 3.6 percent population growth.

The Census estimates also show that 31 of Nebraska's 93 counties added population between 2010 and 2013.

Legislature Approves Lowering Local Effort Rate For School Funding

LINCOLN- Nebraska lawmakers have approved a change to the state aid formula.

Legislative Bill 725 will lower the local effort rate, a formula that determines what a community's property tax contribution will be.

The bills author, Senator Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, says the legislation lowers the local effort rate from a dollar and 3 cents to a dollar.

Sullivan: "In doing that, then we upped the amount of Teeosa for the 2014-15 school year by an additional 32.9 almost 33 million dollars."

Sullivan says the end result of this is some school districts will see a little more relief on property taxes.

The deadline for the Department of Education to certify state aid to schools is on April 10th.

Lincoln City Council Considers Repealing 65 Year Old Teenager Curfew Ordinance

Having teenagers in their restaurant for late night dinners is a regular sight for many bar and grille owners around Lincoln, especially during the high school sports season.

However a Lincoln ordinance set back in 1949 says that children under 16 must be accompanied by a parent to be in these alcohol establishments after 9 p.m., but restaurant owners feel that as long as their employees are checking ID's and keeping a close eye on who is being served, that these young people are safe.

Now the Lincoln City Council is considering altering the ordinance or repealing it altogether. Updating the ordinance to reflect the current practices in today's communities.

A change that some business owners say they wouldn't have a problem with seeing dry up altogether.

Nebraska Lawmakers Advance Prison Reform Bill

Supporters of proposed changes to Nebraska's prison system argue that providing more services to inmates can help reduce recidivism and lead to a drop in the state's prison population.

Lawmakers Wednesday advanced a bill designed to address overcrowding in the state's prison system.

Nebraska's prisons were at 156 percent of their capacity as of Feb. 28.
The bill would increase funding for vocational training, mental health and substance abuse services.

Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, who sponsored the bill, says it is a start to addressing prison overcrowding without building a new prison.
"As inmate re-enter, hopefully making certain that they can productive members of their communities and that means lowering the risk of re-offending," said Ashford.
Brad Ashford: We will totally reform and revamp our prison system to reduce the prison population and to keep our citizens safer I absolutely guarantee.

Another argument was from senator Bob Krist, his focus was on the juvenile system and says the problem starts at childhood.
"You put money in the playpen, you avoid spending money in the state pen," said Krist.

The bill faces two more votes in front of the Legislature.

Omaha College Student Arrested for Guns in Dorm

A 20-year-old University of Nebraska at Omaha student has been arrested after three rifles, magazines and bullets were found in his dorm room.

The resident adviser at Scott Village reported to campus police around 2 a.m. Saturday that Ned McNally had the weapons.

Police say McNally told officers the guns and ammunition were his. He faces a felony charge for unlawfully possessing firearms on school property. Online court records don't list the name of his attorney.
The university said Monday that having firearms on campus also would violate several university policies.

Cold Spring Temperatures Affect Winter Wheat

It's hurry up and wait for some farmers in Nebraska as they prepare for the outcome of winter wheat.

Low snow levels in most parts of the state, combined with dry conditions and cold temperatures at the beginning of spring, have some farmers worried about their crops.

"Wheat has nine lives," said wheat farmer, Mike Bundy.
But even with nine lives, some crops may not be able to outlive the cold temperatures early this spring.

"We're a little late on breaking dormancy around here because it's been so cold," said Bundy. "We didn't have much fall rain, we went into the fall dry, had some moisture and got a good start, but that's just the start."

Finishing the process is what Bundy is counting on, but with low snow accumulations around the state, he says it's hard to be optimistic.
"We've had almost no snow cover," said Bundy. "It will act just like a blanket and keep the plant from getting cold. The longer you have a snow cover, the better it is."

Without that cover, cold temperatures won't necessarily destroy the crop, but Bundy says it all depends on rainfall when the wheat breaks dormancy.

"It still needs a couple of really good rains at critical times, and one of those is when it breaks dormancy," he said.
But with a chance for rain by the middle of this week, it could be coming at just the right time. Until the wheat breaks dormancy, Bundy said he'll just have to wait and see if cold temperatures affected his yield.

Neb. Residents Face Federal Flood Insurance Hikes

Thousands of Nebraska homeowners face soaring flood-insurance premiums as the federal government prepares to end its decades-old subsidy program, despite Congress offering temporary relief for the worst of the price hikes.

An Associated Press analysis shows that 2,050 policies in Nebraska are expected to face a mandatory 25 percent annual increase, while 3,746 will grow by up to 18 percent yearly.
Rates will rise until they reflect the true flood risk. The National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in debt.

A public works employee in Lincoln says homeowners have expressed frustration with the increase, which will affect those who want to sell or refinance.

Lincoln leads the state with 1,041 affected property owners, followed by Omaha with 403, Fremont with 276, Sarpy County with 187 and Valley with 172.

Neb. Lawmakers Pass Tanning Ban for Those under 16

Nebraska teenagers under 16 could soon be banned from using indoor tanning beds, under a measure passed by lawmakers.

Lawmakers voted 40-1 on Monday to send the bill to Gov. Dave Heineman.

The bill would require anyone under 16 to be accompanied by a parentto use a tanning bed. A parent would have to sign a permission statement each time the youth tans.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha introduced the legislation, which originally would have banned those under 18. His bill would also require tanning facilities to post a sign warning that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer.

Nordquist says he is concerned about increasing rates of skin cancer, particularly for young women.

Road construction on Hwy 34 east of Lincoln set to start

Work is scheduled to begin on Highway 34 east of Lincoln beginning next week, according to the Nebraska Department of Roads.

The 10.8-mile highway improvement project is located just east of 84th Street to Highway 63 junction. The $6.5 million dollar project is for new turn lanes, culvert repair, asphalt milling, concrete pavement repair, and asphalt overlay. The project also includes bridge deck maintenance and guardrail work.

The bridge work is expected to be completed in late May 2014 with the entire projected to be finished in early November.

Drought Monitor: SE Neb, SW Iowa current in moderate drought

Drought maps show most southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa are facing moderate drought conditions.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Drought Mitigation Center's most recent release show Nebraska overall has seen a 12 percent increase in moderate drought areas compared to a week ago, while Iowa saw about the same percentage increase.

More than 82 percent of Iowa and over 88 percent of Nebraska are currently abnormally dry. That's an improvement when compared to the same time last year , when each state was near 100 percent in drought.

University plans to rebuild dorm damaged in fire

The University of Nebraska at Omaha says it will rebuild a student apartment building partially gutted by fire last month.

The February 26th fire destroyed the roof and third floor of the three-story building at UNO's Scott Village. No students were injured. Investigators say the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette on an apartment balcony.

A university news release Friday says it will replace all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in the building and reconstruct the roof and third floor, and all interior finishes will be replaced.

UNO hopes to have the building ready for students by the 2014 fall semester.

UNO says officials spent weeks working with architects, engineers and insurance adjusters to determine the best course of action for damaged building.

Watermeier says vote against Wellness In Nebraska act shows ACA 'uncertainty'

A cloture vote to end a filibuster against the Wellness in Nebraska Act that would have expanded Medicaid in the state failed by 6 votes earlier this week. State Senator Dan Watermeier talked about the Legislature's vote.

"Other senators pointed out that if LB887 were to pass, one in five Nebraskans would be on Medicaid," Watermeier stated during his weekly radio broadcast. "They were also concerned with the future financial burden the expansion would place on the state as the number of those eligible and the projected cost estimates varied significantly, reiterating the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act."

The failure of the cloture vote means the bill will not be debated or voted on again this session.

Columbus woman pleads guilty in stabbing death

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska woman has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a man.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said Friday that 32-year-old Kimberly Henderson of Columbus entered the plea in connection to the death last May of 51-year-old Steven Jorgensen, also from Columbus. Authorities say he was stabbed to death during a home robbery.

Henderson is one of three people facing charges in the case. Twenty-seven-year-old Quentin Critser of Lincoln entered the same guilty plea in December and agreed to testify against his co-defendants. Thirty-one-year-old Eric Henry, of Columbus, is still scheduled to stand trial in April. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges.

Dinsdale Business Background Separates Him from Crowded Senate Primary Race

NORFOLK - The Republican primary election in Nebraska is less than two-months away, and candidates are continuing to cross the state in their bid for various elected offices.

Pinnacle Bank President Sid Dinsdale, candidate seeking the republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, said that his business background separates him from the pack...

Dinsdale: "[I'm] in agriculture in business continue to be, community banker for 37-years, my wife and I serve a lot of the non-profit community on charity boards and helped raise money for charity events."

Dinsdale also said that he's already had a successful career, and if elected he would term limit himself out after the first two-years.

Dinsdale is facing off with Former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn, Midland University President Ben Sasse, Omaha Attorney Bart McLeay, and Fort Calhoun Businessman Clifton Johnson, in the May 13th primary.

Nebraska senators debate redistricting overhaul

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers are considering an overhaul of the state's process for drawing legislative and congressional districts.

Lawmakers began debate Thursday on a bill that would create an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission to propose new boundaries after each U.S. census. Lawmakers would appoint one Democrat and one Republican from each of Nebraska's congressional districts.

Modeled after a system in Iowa, the measure would give lawmakers up to four up-or-down votes on new districts, after which the Nebraska Supreme Court would decide.

Senator Russ Karpisek of Wilber says the current process leads to districts where incumbents have no incentive to compromise. Some rural senators say the system increases urban Nebraska's political clout.

Opponents say the commission could end up cutting senators out of their own districts.

The bill is LB976.

NSP Participates in "Drive to Save Lives" Campaign

The Nebraska State Patrol joined law enforcement agencies from across the United States on Thursday, March 20, to pledge support for a national effort to save lives by lowering the number of traffic deaths on our nation's roadways by 15% in 2014.

Command members of the Nebraska State Patrol, along with their law enforcement counterparts from more than 40 states, participated in a news conference for the "Drive to Save Lives" campaign kick-off. The event in New Orleans, La., was held in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) mid-year conference.

"This campaign shines the national spotlight on the devastating and often preventable effects of serious injury and fatality crashes," said Colonel David Sankey, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. "Our troopers will join their counterparts across the United States to engage motorists in this effort, through education and special enforcement activities designed to encourage voluntary compliance with all traffic safety laws."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), highway fatalities rank as one of the top 12 causes of death in the United States and are the leading cause of deaths among teens. More than 33,000 people are killed each year on our nation's roadways.
In 2013, Nebraska recorded 207 roadway fatalities. To date in 2014, 41 people have died on Nebraska roads, a nine-percent reduction when compared to the same period in 2013.

Colonel Sankey said, "We are headed in the right direction and encourage everyone to do their part as we drive to save lives.
The Nebraska State Patrol encourages all motorists to do their part in keeping our roadways safe by obeying the posted speed, never driving impaired or distracted and always buckling up!

Opponents Try to Derail Mountain Lion Bill

A proposal to eliminate Nebraska's mountain lion hunting season has hit a snag in the Legislature.

Opponents mounted a filibuster on Thursday to try to block the legislation before lawmakers could grant final approval.

"We just set a policy that would allow Game and Parks to use hunting as one of its tools to manage the cougar population. And there's no reason to reverse that course now," said Senator Scott Lautenbaugh, who introduced the amendment.

The bill has already advanced through two previous votes. Lawmakers moved on to other measures without voting, but are expected to return to it later.

Sen. Ernie Chambers has said he introduced the bill because the state has a duty to protect mountain lions, which are native to Nebraska but were virtually wiped out by settlers. Foes of the measure say the Nebraska Game and Parks Commissions should be able to regulate the population.

Lawmakers approved mountain-lion hunting in 2012, while Chambers was out of office due to term limits.

Heineman Continuing to Call for Reform to Good Time Law

LINCOLN - Governor Dave Heineman is still calling on state lawmakers to reform Nebraska's "good time" law as a part the Legislature's efforts to reform state prisons.

Heineman said Wednesday that he viewed the proposal as an important change, and than things have really changed in the wake of the Nikko Jenkins case in Omaha this summer.

Gov. Heineman: "This is one that the public understands very well, you ought to have to earn your good time instead of automatically getting it. Especially if you're a criminal who's committed murder."

The current system automatically gives inmates one day of credit for every day served, effectively cutting their prison sentences in half. The Judiciary Committee advanced its prison reform bill without changes to the "good time" law earlier this month.

Heineman backed a proposal that would require inmates convicted of crimes such as murder and sexual assault to maintain good behavior while incarcerated and to participate in rehabilitation programs. That bill is still in committee.

Nebraskan to be Resentenced for Killing Sister

A resentencing has been scheduled for a Nebraska inmate who killed his 12-year-old sister when he was 14.

The hearing is scheduled June 9 for Sydney Thieszen. He was convicted of murder in 1988 for killing his sister, Sacha, at their home near Henderson on Sept. 17, 1987. The 41-year-old has been serving his life term at the Tecumseh prison.

After a March 12 hearing, a judge ruled that Thieszen was entitled to resentencing in accordance with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile killers is unconstitutional.

Last year state lawmakers enacted a measure that ends mandatory life sentences for juveniles who commit first-degree murder. The guidelines now call for a sentence of 40 years to life for the juveniles.

Norfolk Man Dies After Pickup Rams Tree

A 41-year-old Norfolk man has died after his pickup rammed a tree in northeast Nebraska.

Madison County authorities say deputies and paramedics were dispatched around 6:30 p.m. Monday to the accident site near Yellowbanks Wildlife Management Area, about three miles northwest of Battle Creek.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Michael Prather says Kevin Haase was pronounced dead at the scene.

Haase's truck was moving at a high rate of speed when it hit the tree.

The accident is being investigated.

McCook Airport Losing Commercial Flights in April

Commercial air service from McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport will be suspended next month.

Great Lakes Airlines flights from McCook to Denver, Colo., will be suspended effective April 1 through April 27.

McCook Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff says the airline also announced Wednesday it was suspending flights in Great Bend, Kan., and Williston, N.D. That follows a previous round of flight suspensions announced in January in Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota cities.

The Cheyenne, Wyo.-based airline said the decision was due to a "severe industry-wide pilot shortage."

Great Lakes Chief Executive Officer Charles Howell has said a federal requirement that pilots at small airlines have 1,500 hours of experience, instead of the previous 500 hours, has left it short-handed.

Pilot Has Life Threatening Injuries after Beatrice Municipal Airport Collision

Beatrice Fire and Rescue say that a pilot suffered life threatening injuries after his single seat airplane collided with a hangar on Tuesday.

Beatrice Fire and Rescue say they responded to a call at Beatrice Municipal Airport for a man pinned or struck by a plane around 2:45pm.

They found the pilot unconscious and began CPR. The pilot has been transported to Beatrice Community Hospital and Health Center Nebraska with life threatening injuries.

Beatrice Fire and Rescue says the incident was accidental and is still being investigated.

LPD Says Missing Teens in Danger | Officers Need Your Help Finding Girls

Lincoln Police are investigating two missing teen cases and believe their cases are related.

Police have reports of a sighting of the girls getting gas at a gas station in Falls City. According to police, the two girls know each other and left together.

Officers said 16-year-old Racheal Bates was last seen March 9th, 2014. She is 4' 8" tall, 140 pounds with green highlights in her hair and bangs. Police also say she has cuts and scars on her arms.

LPD said 16-year-old Samantha Zuerlein was last seen March 15, 2014. She's 5' 6" tall, 245 pounds and has scars on her arm, thighs and a fusion scar on her lower back.

Police don't suspect either of the missing teens have criminal intentions.

Investigators said the teen girls could be in a 1997 silver Lincoln Continental 4-door car with Nebraska license plate SBX-421. They could be en route to Wisconsin or New Mexico.

Police told 10/11 while the girls are considered in danger, their missing persons cases did not meet the qualifications for an Amber Alert.

Travel Options Limited For Fans Going to Husker Men's Basketball Game

If you're looking to travel down to San Antonio for the Nebraska men's basketball game against Baylor, you may be out of luck if you're planning to fly.

"We have not seen this kind of interest in many, many years," Marilyn Muir with AAA Nebraska.

Muir says flying will cost you because tickets are hard to come by.

"What we've been finding is airfare is pretty slim. There's just not many seats left, it's pretty limited availability," said Muir.

President of Executive Travel, Paul Glenn says fans are excited to travel to support the team.

"7:30 this morning the phones were ringing off the hook and people were wanting to get as much information as they could for this," said Glenn.

Glenn says making travel plans for this game is difficult because fans didn't know where the Huskers would play until 5 days before the game.

"There's just so much last minute...especially for Nebraska fans, we're not used to this," said Glenn.

And that makes airline tickets soar with such short notice. But Glenn says he's sure Husker fans will get to San Antonio some way.

"Husker fans are definitely creative when it comes to getting somewhere to support their teams and so I'm sure when you get down there and say how'd you get here, you'll be able to find a whole array of stories," said Glenn.

Neb. Statewide Education Vision Bill Advanced

Lawmakers on a Nebraska education committee are looking for new long-term goals for the state's K-12 schools and colleges.

Senators voted 33-0 to advance the bill on Tuesday that would create a "statewide vision" for education.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, chairwoman of the Education Committee, says its members will reach out to various groups to helpdetermine what the state's goals and priorities should be for education.

Possible changes include changes to the state aid formula for schools.

At least three public hearings would be held as part of the process. The committee would issue its report to the Legislature before the end of the year.

The bill is LB1103.

Keeping Roads Safe During State Basketball Tournament

The Nebraska State Patrol hopes to increase its visibility in order to keep roads safe for drivers who are headed to Lincoln for the high school boys basketball state tournament.
The NSP will be paying extra attention to the state's main roads, like Interstate 80.
"We are just going to step up our enforcement a little bit," said J.J. Connelly, a trooper with the NSP Troop D headquarters in North Platte. "Make sure everyone is safe out there on the interstate, getting down there to the tournament."
If a driver is headed to the tournament to watch a local team, it's advised to have a travel plan put in place.
"Give yourself plenty of time to get down there," said Connelly. "That way you can avoid speeding if you're late."
A grant for $11,990 from the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety will help pay for the extra enforcement efforts. Troopers hope to accomplish a simple goal.
"I hope we are visible out there," said Connelly. "If we are visible, hopefully people will obey the rules of the road a little bit more."

Missing Nebraska Teen Returns to Omaha

A missing eastern Nebraska teenager has returned to the Omaha area, but didn't immediately return home to her family.

Police in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue say 16-year-old Michaela Wells was flown back to the area on Friday -- a day after she was found safe in Indianapolis at the home of a teen boy.

Bellevue Police Chief Mark Elbert says Wells will be held in the Sarpy County Juvenile Justice Center until investigators can talk with her and evaluate the situation.

Elbert says this interview procedure is used in any case of missing or runaway teens his department investigates.

Wells disappeared March 2 when she went outside to take out the trash.

Proposed E-Cigs Ban for Nebraska Minors Advances

Nebraska minors could soon be banned from using e-cigarettes.

Lawmakers voted 28-0 Tuesday on a measure that would prohibit minors from using the product, and prevent stores from selling them to anyone under 18.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, who introduced the legislation, says there hasn't been enough study to know if e-cigarettes are safe.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that give users a puff of vapor, typically containing nicotine and sometimes flavorings such as fruit or mint. Users can vary the amount of nicotine.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln says the devices should be available to help minors quit smoking.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that at least 27 states have prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Nebraskan Senate Delegation Backs Bill to Delay Affordable Care Act Individual Mandate

WASHINGTON D.C. – Nebraska's U.S. Senate delegation have cosponsored legislation to delay the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act as long as the employer mandate delays remain in effect. 

This legislation, known as the Freeing Americans from Inequitable Requirements (FAIR) Act, was introduced Senator Deb Fischer, and cosponsored by Senator Mike Johanns and nine other Senate Republicans.

Fischer said that hardworking American families in Nebraska and across the country continue to face the devastating impacts of "Obamacare" as their health care costs skyrocket, plans are cancelled, and care options become more limited.

Johanns said that cherry-picking who gets a delay and who must cope with the law, as the Administration has done, is just wrong. This bill would ensure that any delay of the employer mandate means a delay for American families as well."

Improvements Coming to the Lincoln Airport

Spring means construction and that's exactly what you can expect when you drive into the Lincoln Airport.

It's all in an effort to make the entrance more appealing and the road smoother.

The City of Lincoln held an open house for people to see the current plans and construction schedule.

The 6.5 million dollar project includes parts of West Adams Street, Northwest 12th Street, Cornhusker Highway and the area of 9th and 10th Streets at S Street.

Improvements include planting the state flower, more trees and banners.

Construction is scheduled to start later this month and last through October.

The project is paid for through the street and bridge rehab money along with private donations.

Nebraska Joins Fight Against California Egg Law

Nebraska is joining a lawsuit that seeks to strike down a California law regulating the living conditions of chickens.

Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced Wednesday that they will help Missouri with its legal challenge in federal court. The lawsuit pits California's new animal rights protections against the economic interests of Midwestern farmers.

The law set to take effect in 2015 would prohibit the sale of eggs that come from hens raised in cages that don't comply with California's new size and space requirements.

Heineman says the law will hamper interstate trade because it effectively imposes California's requirements on out-of-state farmers. He says it also could set a precedent for beef, swine and dairy producers.

Missouri's lawsuit was filed on Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court.

Indoor Tanning Bed Bill Advances

Teenagers younger than 16 years old may soon be restricted from using indoor tanning beds in Nebraska.

Lawmakers on Tuesday gave first-round approval to a bill designed to reduce skin cancer risks. The bill by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha would also require tanning facilities to post a sign warning that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer.

"Indoor tanning is considered and rated as a class one carcinogen, in the same level as tobacco, arsenic and asbestos. Obviously we regulate tobacco products, I think it just makes sense to allow appropriate regulation of indoor tanning," said Nordquist.

Senators added an exemption for young teens if they are accompanied by a parent, and the parent signs a permission form each time their child tans.

"When you're a young person, the last thing you think about is what's going to happen 40 years from today or 30 years from today," said Sen. Al Davis.

"Why not just have the state raise the kids? They don't make mistakes we'll just raise those kids right and just have the state do it," said Sen. Bill Kitner.

The bill advanced on a 34-0 vote. The original legislation would have imposed a ban on users younger than 18.

Bellevue police search for Miss Teen Nebraska

The public is asked to help in search for Miss Teen Nebraska Michaela Wells.

According to a missing person's report on the Nebraska State Patrol website, the 16-year old from Bellevue has been missing since Monday. Wells was wearing a black tank top with a teal hoodie, jeans, and black shoes. She's described as a white female, 5'6", 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

A Facebook titled "USA National Miss Nebraska Teen – Michaela Wells", has post, believed-to-be from the Michaela's parents, stating she vanished around 8:30pm Sunday and that she was "not dressed for the weather and her cell is still here at home."

Anyone with information on Wells' whereabouts is asked to contact the Bellevue Police Dept. at 402-293-3100 or the Nebraska Missing Persons Information Clearinghouse at 1-877-441-LOST (5678)

Justices won't hear ordinance similar to Fremont's

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a local immigration ordinance that closely resembles the measure approved by voters in Fremont.

The justices on Monday declined to take up appeals from the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, or the city of Hazleton, Pa., of lower court rulings that blocked their rental-housing regulations. Both ordinances were intended to keep people who are in the country illegally from finding housing in town.

Kris Kobach, an attorney defending Fremont, says parts of the Fremont and Farmers Branch ordinances are identical. Kobach says the decision not review the Farmers Branch case suggests the justices won't hear the lawsuit filed against Fremont.

The Supreme Court held in 2012 that immigration is primarily a matter for the federal government.

UNL to Host Event Cultivating Nebraska's History

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting its third annual History Harvest event to honor the state's past.

The event will take place March 15 at the Nebraska History Museum, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The project brings together computer science and history students to produce a digital history of Nebraska.

UNL history professor Will Thomas says the project will help make remnants of the state's history available to teachers and scholars. It may also reveal new, untold stories about Nebraska.

The event is free and open to anyone who can contribute.

Materials include but are not limited to diaries, photographs, letters, maps, images, war memorabilia and other heirlooms.

Students will not keep the items, but will digitally document them. The finished products will go into a website and eBook.

Heineman opposes prison marriage at public expense

LINCOLN - Gov. Dave Heineman says he's opposed to any use of public money to transport Nebraska prisoners to marriage ceremonies with other inmates, and he says a majority of Nebraskans stand with him.

Gov. Heineman: "They are outraged at the thought that they ought to use their tax dollars to transport someone to get married when in fact, it's their fault. If they hadn't committed any crimes, they'd be on the outside and they could get married any day of the week."

Heineman's comments Monday came in response to questions about a lawsuit filed against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the department on behalf of 42-year-old Paul Gillpatrick and 33-year-old Niccole Wetherell.

The department has refused to transport either of them for an in-person wedding, although they have offered to pay the transportation costs.

Neb. panel advances $31.5M for water, resources

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Water research and conservation projects would receive $31.5 million in state aid under a measure advanced by a Nebraska legislative committee.

The measure that moved Friday would help pay for current, unfinished natural resources projects for both land and water. It would also fund new efforts to keep Nebraska's water supply sustainable.

Committee members voted to use $20 million from the state's cash reserve, $11 million from its general fund, and nearly $500,000 left over from a Nebraska water task force.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege sought the water funding, saying it would ensure Nebraska's supply is sustainable.

Nebraska would continue to spend $11 million on water projects in future budgets, which is roughly double the current amount.

The proposal still requires approval in the full Legislature.

Medicaid Expansion Expected To Be Debated Later This Legislative Session

LINCOLN-Several topics will be debated over the coming days of this legislative session, but none will be quite bigger than the topic of expanding the Medicaid program in Nebraska.

Several state lawmakers believe LB 877, better known as the Nebraska Wellness Act, will be costly to taxpayers with arguably the most outspoken opponent being Governor Dave Heineman.

Henieman: "It would cost state tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars that we can't afford. It will mean less future funding for the Norfolk Public schools, for Northeast Community College and for Wayne State College. I don't think we should do it."

One of the authors of the bill, Senator Sue Crawford of Bellevue, argues that if we adopt wellness in Nebraska, the program would take over many of the things we are currently paying state and county dollars for health care.

Crawford: "Actually in my own county, Sarpy County, they tell me it would save them 200 thousand dollars a year. Because the wellness in Nebraska program will take care of health care cost that they now have to take care of as a county."

The final day of the 2014 legislative session is slated for April 17th.

Mountain Lion Killed in Nebraska Panhandle

The killing of a female mountain lion has automatically ended the year's second season in the Panhandle area where it was taken.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says the 102-pound animal was killed Wednesday in Sheridan County.

The commission says the animal was about 5 1/2 years old and didn't show any signs of recent motherhood. One of its ears had a tag from South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

Season 2 in the Pine Ridge Unit was scheduled to run from Feb. 15 through March 31, with a requirement to end once one female or two mountain lions total were killed.

The first season in the Pine Ridge Unit closed when two male mountain lions were killed on Jan. 2. The season is continuing in the Prairie Unit.

Proposal for New Airplane for Governor Gets 1st Around Approval

A proposal to buy a new airplane for Nebraska's governor and other state officials has won first-round approval in the Legislature.

Lawmakers advanced the measure on Thursday with a 31-3 vote.

A legislative consultant has recommended buying a new twin-engine King Air model that can carry five passengers and two pilots. It would cost as much as $3.8 million, though money from other aircraft sales would likely reduce that cost. The plane would replace the state's current, 1982 Piper Cheyenne aircraft.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, says buying a new plane instead of leasing or chartering is more cost-efficient over the long term.

"We've just come light-years with this airplane in terms of safety and maintenance. This new airplane is a much better airplane," said Krist.

Krist says a new plane would have better safety features, and would retain more of its value after its recommended 20-year lifespan has expired.

Other senators question how much this plane will cost years down the road.

"I'd be interested to see when all this shakes down as far as costs because depreciation and all these things are figured in there and noticed. It's going to cost more money than we think," said Sen. Norm Wallman.

Gov. Dave Heineman has said the state needs a plane so officials can travel quickly and safely for state business.

Many Welcome Nebraska Bronze Medalist Home

Two days after winning a Bronze Medal in Sochi, Curt Tomasevicz got a hero's welcome home earlier this week in Lincoln.

A former Nebraska football player and Olympic bobsledder, Tomasevicz and his four-man sled finished just three-hundredths of a second ahead of a Russian team to win third place in Sunday's racing. Cheers erupted as about 100 people packed the Lincoln Airport wearing red, white and blue as he stepped off the plane.

Tomasevicz called the surprise incredible and thanked everyone who's supported him on his Olympic journey that started in his hometown of Shelby, Nebraska.

Tomasevicz won a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 but says this one tops his accomplishments. Tomasevicz also said this is his last Olympics and he plans to retire.

Independent Jenkins Discusses US Senate Campaign

NORFOLK - There are a number of individuals coming forward seeking election to the U.S. Senate following the announcement that current Senator Mike Johanns will not seek election once again. Currently there are five declared Republican candidates, two Democrats, and two independent candidates. Former Nebraska Ethanol Board Chairman Jim Jenkins of Callaway, Nebraska has announced his candidacy as an independent.

Jenkins: "I just see our county being impacted negatively and our democratic system being undermined by the polarization that's going on. I see myself as sort of a bridge builder, someone that understands that you need to compromise and need to build consensus.

Jenkins also said that if elected, he'd continue to work as an independent and not caucus with either major party.

Heineman Discusses President's Cryptic Message on Keystone XL during National Governors Meeting

LINCOLN - Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman recently returned from attending the National Governors Association annual meeting in Washington D.C.. Heineman said that during the meeting, President Barack Obama discussed the future of the Keystone XL pipeline with the nation's governors saying that a decision would be made in the coming months…

Gov. Heineman: "He gave no indication which way he was going to decide, noting only that a decision will be coming and some governors would be happy and some would not.

Calgary-based TransCanada, the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline says its proposed route through State of Nebraska, is still legally valid until a higher court decides whether the state's pipeline-siting law is constitutional. TransCanada representatives said that last week's ruling to strike down the law can't be enforced while the case is on appeal, and the ruling shouldn't affect the federal project review.

Attorney: Teen will be charged as adult in killing

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A county attorney says an Omaha teenager will be charged as an adult in the killing of another teen.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Monday that 17-year-old Christopher Spears would be prosecuted as an adult. He's charged with second-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony.

Spears, a student at Northwest High School in Omaha, was arrested after the killing of 17-year-old Dominique Hollie.

Kleine says the shooting happened after Spears made sexual comments about Hollie's sister, prompting Hollie to go to his bedroom and grab a sawed-off shotgun that he later returned to his room.

Kleine alleges that after an argument, Spears went to Hollie's room, returned with the shotgun and shot Hollie in the face.

Police arrested Spears a few blocks away.

Alternative breakfasts for Neb. schools supported

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Education groups are supporting a Nebraska lawmaker's effort to increase the number of students eating breakfast at school.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln introduced a bill that would encourage schools to create alternative breakfast programs, such as grab-and-go breakfast or breakfast in the classroom through a grant program.

The bill was presented to the Education Committee on Monday. Avery says Nebraska has one of the lowest school breakfast participation rates in the country. Supporters of the bill say eating breakfast leads to better educational outcomes for students.

Norris School District Superintendent John Skretta testified in support of the bill.

Skretta says his school has seen higher participation rates at schools with grab-and-go breakfast than those with a traditional breakfast.

Creighton University president to exit next year

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Creighton University President Timothy Lannon has announced his intention to leave his post in June 2015.

Lannon returned to Creighton in 2011 as Creighton's 24th president. He said in an announcement Monday that when he returned he wanted "to give back to what the institution gave to me."

Lannon says there's another role ahead for him, one "that will be even more pastoral and less administrative."

He says his announcement gives the Creighton University board of trustees more than a year to find and confirm his successor.

TransCanada says Neb. pipeline route still valid

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline says its proposed route through Nebraska is still legally valid until a higher court decides whether the state's pipeline-siting law is constitutional.

A spokesman for Calgary-based TransCanada said Monday that last week's ruling to strike down the law can't be enforced while the case is on appeal. Company officials say the ruling shouldn't affect the federal project review.

Jane Kleeb, director of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, says the move is "a slap in the face to landowners, citizens and our state constitution."

President Barack Obama told a meeting of governors on Monday that he will make a decision on the pipeline in the next couple of months.

Gov. Dave Heineman says he's pleased a decision will be made after years of delay.

Neb. Medicaid bill sent to Legislature for debate

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill to expand Medicaid in Nebraska as part of the federal health care law has been sent to the full Legislature for debate.

The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted on Monday to advance the "Wellness in Nebraska Act," a new version of a Medicaid-expansion proposal.

The new bill was introduced after a Medicaid expansion bill stalled in the Legislature last year. The rewritten proposal makes use of private insurance, cost-sharing and wellness incentives.

Committee members voted 5-1 to advance the bill. Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse voted against it, and Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha did not register a vote.

Gov. Dave Heineman and a group of conservative state senators say they're still opposed to expanded Medicaid.

Psychology internship program clears 1st Neb. vote

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers have given initial approval to a psychology internship program that would provide specialists in under-served parts of the state.

The proposal would offer funding for five doctoral-level psychology internships. The number would increase to 10 in the program's third year. Lawmakers advanced the bill on Monday with a 30-0 vote.

Interns would be placed in under-served areas and rural communities where behavioral-health services are needed.

Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln says her bill seeks to fill a gap in mental health services. Most professionals are based in Omaha and Lincoln, and even some parts of those cities are considered under-served.

The program would cost an estimated $548,000 in its third year.

Neb. senator targets 'hold' charges on debit cards

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Hotels, gas stations and restaurants would have to notify customers if they place temporary hold charges on their debit cards, under a bill set for review in the Nebraska Legislature.

The holds guarantee that merchants are paid for gas bought at the pump and food taken from hotel refrigerators. But they also temporarily deny customers access to money in their accounts, sometimes in amounts $50 to $100.

Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff will present the bill Monday to the Legislature's Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. Harms says the bill is designed to help low-income people who don't realize their money could be held.

Nebraska oil production up to 2.8M barrels in 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Oil production grew again last year in southwest Nebraska thanks to new techniques, but state officials don't expect the boom to last long.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission estimates that 2.8 million barrels of oil were produced in the state last year, but final numbers aren't yet available.

Commission Director Bill Sydow says that's better than the 2.5 million barrels produced in 2012, and it would the best year since 2001.

But Sydow says he expects many of the new oil fields in Hitchcock and Dundy counties will dry up by the end of 2014.

Omaha police ticket 52 minors for having alcohol

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Omaha police ticketed dozens of teenagers for possessing alcohol at a party this weekend and cited a 20-year-old man for providing it.

Officers were called to the party in midtown Omaha around 12:15 Sunday morning.

Police ticketed 52 juveniles for possessing alcohol, and a 20-year-old man was ticketed for procuring alcohol for minors and possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Iowa-based egg producer expands into SE Nebraska

BLUE SPRINGS, Neb. (AP) - An Iowa-based egg producer is expanding into southeast Nebraska to reduce the risk that a poultry disease could cripple its operations.

The Beatrice Daily Sun reports Hy-Line International is building a new chicken barn on Ed and Glennis McClure's farm near Blue Springs to expand and protect its business.

Hy-Line officials wanted to have some of company's chickens laying eggs at a site away from its West Des Moines headquarters to protect against disease.

McClure Farms is partnering with Hy-Line and will own the barn, but Hy-Line will own the chickens. The company chose McClure because of his experience raising chickens and his location.

Omaha man dies after his car strikes tree

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Douglas County authorities are investigating a weekend crash that killed a 23-year-old man near Omaha.

The Douglas County Sheriff's office says the crash happened early Sunday morning on 72nd Street.

Officials say Brandon Fry was driving north in his Volkswagen Jetta when he struck a tree. The impact broke Fry's vehicle in half and killed him.

A second vehicle was found in the ditch near Fry's car, but it didn't appear that the vehicles had hit each other.

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams to speak in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - One of the co-founders of Twitter will speak in Omaha this spring at a conference on entrepreneurship.

Evan Williams is one of the speakers scheduled to appear at the Big Omaha conference May 7th through 9th.

Williams is a Nebraska native who helped create Twitter and has launched several other high-tech businesses.

The conference created by Silicon Prairie News focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation in the Midwest.

UNL Extension offers crop scout training in March

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension is offering a program to help crop scouts learn how to better manage corn and soybean pests.

The March 6th training program will provide detailed information from university specialists. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m., and the workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the university's Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead.

The program costs $135. Fees cover the cost of lunch, refreshment breaks, workshop materials and an instruction manual. Registrants should pre-register to reserve a seat and ensure workshop materials are available they day of the training session.

9-year-old dies after Kearney collision

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) - Authorities say a 9-year-old boy has died after vehicles collided at a Kearney intersection.

Police say the accident occurred around 5:15 p.m. Monday, when vehicles headed south and east crashed into each other. There are no traffic lights or stop signs at the intersection, but police say drivers are expected to yield to each other.

The boy was identified as Jackson Wallace, of Kearney. Police say he was in the front seat of a car driven by his baby sitter, Rebecca Konate. She was taken to a hospital. It's unclear whether the other driver was injured.

The collision is being investigated. No citations have been reported.

Nebraskan pleads not guilty in 2 slayings

A 58-year-old Nebraska man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed his former wife and his former divorce attorney.

Michael Petersen, of Glenvil, entered a plea Tuesday in Hall County District Court.

He's charged with first-degree murder and use of a weapon in the slaying of 52-year-old Todd Elsbernd.

Prosecutors say Petersen shot Elsbernd on Nov. 13 outside his Grand Island law office.

Last week Petersen pleaded not guilty to the same charges in Buffalo County.

He's accused of killing his former wife, Nancy Petersen, on the same date at her rural Buffalo County home.

His trial is scheduled for May.

Neb. counties support solicitor regulation bill

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Counties may soon have a way to regulate door-to-door salesmen through a bill in the Nebraska Legislature.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna introduced the bill, which was heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The bill would allow counties to regulate the salesmen through charging a fee, issuing a permit or both.

Murante says his constituents have had a problem with aggressive door-to-door salesmen.

Cities can regulate these solicitors but counties do not have the authority to do so. Most of the people Murante represents live outside of a municipality.

The Nebraska Association of County Officials and other county representatives testified in support of the bill. No one testified against the bill.

Nebraska law that allowed Keystone XL struck down

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A judge has struck down a Nebraska law that allowed the Keystone XL oil pipeline to proceed through the state.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling Wednesday that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of the route.

Stacy says the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

The ruling could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries.

But it's a win for Nebraska-based pipeline opponents. They've argued that Heineman exceeded his authority when he approved the route in January 2013.

UNL Wants To Expand Bike Trails Within Master Plan

Members of the Great Plains Trails Network recently met to hear the accomplishments of the last year - bike trails that extend through all four corridors of the city.

Now the City Parks and Recreation Department will work with UNL to keep this trend going. UNL's master plan that was introduced includes a bike plan that will make it easier for students to get around.

Jennifer Dam, Assistant Director for Campus Planning at UNL says that while they will focus on the campus malls - she reiterates they also want to work with the city to include bike lanes in more spots downtown - making it safer for all students.

As the plan develops, many at the meeting believe that these trails will give UNL and the community an extra boost.

JJ Yost added that," I have to believe it is an incentive, a benefit to the community, a quality of life to the community and it is something we can be really proud of."

The Master Plan that includes these new bike trails has been approved by UNL'S Board of Regents already.

The Assistant Director for Campus Planning says that while there's no specific timeline, this is the vision that they want to complete within the next 10 to 15 years.

Bill seeks taxes on RVs registered out of Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska lawmaker and the Department of Revenue are trying to collect taxes from Nebraskans who register their recreational vehicles in another state.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney has introduced a bill that would target those who register their RVs through sham limited liability corporations in Montana, where there is no sales tax.

Hadley says there are Montana lawyers who set up LLCs for those out of state so they can license their RV in Montana and save thousands in tax.

This bill would give Nebraskans 30 days to pay sales taxes and fees if they are served with a notice by the Department of Revenue or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Those who don't comply would face a 50 percent penalty.

Nebraska Sen. Janssen to run for state auditor

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska state Sen. Charlie Janssen is running for auditor.

The Fremont lawmaker filed papers Tuesday to seek the office held by Mike Foley, who is running for governor.

Janssen entered the contest little more than two weeks after he withdrew from the Republican gubernatorial primary race. State Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, a Democrat, is also running for the auditor's job.

Janssen and McGill are the only two candidates who have filed for auditor. Sen. Pete Pirsch previously announced that he was a candidate, but he said last week that he would run instead for Nebraska attorney general.

Janssen has served in the Legislature since 2008, and was re-elected in 2012. He previously served on the Fremont City Council.

Lincoln attorney Mike Hilgers to run for Neb. AG

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lincoln attorney Mike Hilgers is joining the race for Nebraska attorney general.

Hilgers will announce his bid Wednesday morning at the Capitol. The 34-year-old will compete against Lincoln attorney Doug Peterson and Omaha state Sen. Pete Pirsch in the Republican primary. Omaha attorney Brian Buescher is also looking seriously at the race.

Hilgers is a founding partner of Gober Hilgers, a firm with offices in Nebraska, Texas and Washington. He ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 2012.

The candidates are looking to replace Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is running for governor. Hilgers says he hopes to continue Bruning's focus on lawsuits challenging the federal government's environmental and health care regulations.

Fremont attorney Janet Stewart is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Cougar killed in trap in north-central Nebraska

SARGENT, Neb. (AP) - State wildlife officials say a mountain lion has been unintentionally killed in a trap north of Sargent in north-central Nebraska.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said Tuesday that a trapper found the cougar on Sunday in a cable restraint trap he had set for other animals.

Officials say the trapper called Game and Parks officials immediately after discovering the mountain lion, described as a 150 pound male that had been in good health before it was killed.

Game and Parks' carnivore program manager, Sm Wilson, says high pelt prices have led to an increased effort to trap bobcats and other fur-bearing animals, which may have contributed to the accident trapping of the mountain lion.

Nebraska officials shut down public shooting range

GERING, Neb. (AP) - A public, outdoor shooting range on a state-run wildlife management area in western Nebraska has been shut down over safety concerns.

Nebraska Game and Parks Wildlife Division Administrator Scott Taylor says the shooting range at Wildcat Hills Wildlife Management Area south of Gering was closed after receiving complaints from people using a recreation area across the road from range.

Taylor says people complained that they were finding spent shells and casings near recreational areas.

Taylor says no one has been injured from shooting at the range. He says officials are considering opening the range at another location.

The wildlife area is still open to hunting.

5 teens face charges in Omaha carjacking

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Five teenagers face charges in connection to a carjacking in Omaha.

Omaha police say a woman reported early Sunday that juveniles approached her as she pulled her car into a parking stall at an apartment complex.

The woman said one suspect displayed a firearm then took her cellphone and car keys. The juveniles allegedly fled in her vehicle.

Police later located the car and tried to pull it over. The car fled but then collided with a light pole. The suspects fled but were eventually apprehended.

The five teenagers face charges, and at least four face a robbery charge. Three of the suspects are juveniles. The Associated Press generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes. Court records do not list attorneys for 19-year-old Tomas Smith and 18-year-old Armon Jackson.

Hy-Vee grocery chain buying specialty pharmacy

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Hy-Vee grocery chain is acquiring a specialty pharmacy based in Nebraska.

Hy-Vee said Monday that it has agreed to purchase Amber Pharmacy, which is based in Omaha, Neb.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The employee-owned grocer says the acquisition of Amber will help it expand its pharmacy services for complex cases and for patients dealing with chronic illnesses.

Amber Pharmacy has locations in Omaha, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia. It will continue to operate independently of Hy-Vee.

Hy-Vee operates 235 stores in eight states. It is based in West Des Moines.

Panhandle bomb scare suspect seeks mental tests

MITCHELL, Neb. (AP) - A 39-year-old Mitchell man intends to use an insanity defense to fight charges stemming from a bomb scare in Mitchell.

Papers asking for a psychiatric evaluation of Christopher Lopez were filed Wednesday by his attorney. Lopez is charged with placing a false bomb, possession of methamphetamine and driving under suspension and is facing trial in May.

Mitchell Police Chief Mike Cotant says an officer recognized the man who fled a vehicle that had been parked behind the police station on Dec. 31. The officer raised an alarm when he smelled fuel coming from the vehicle and saw four fuel cans lashed together, sitting on the car's dashboard.

Judge: Omaha man not competent to stand trial

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A judge has ruled that an Omaha man is not competent to stand trial in connection to the death of his teenage girlfriend.

Douglas County District Judge Joseph Troia ordered 19-year-old Mikael Loyd on Thursday to be treated at Lincoln Regional Center until he's deemed competent to face a first-degree murder charge.

Loyd has pleaded not guilty in the case. A message left with his attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.

Prosecutors say Loyd strangled 19-year-old Melissa Rodriguez on the night of Aug. 14 following an argument. He had been released that day from emergency protective custody at a mental health treatment center.

Rodriguez's body was found the next morning in an open grave intended for another homicide victim in an unrelated case.

Neb. lawmakers worried by proposed tax rate change

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Even the lawmaker who introduced a bill seeking to lower Nebraska's income tax rates is acknowledging the proposal needs to be changed.

Sen. Burke Harr, of Omaha, introduced the bill, which was heard Thursday by the Revenue Committee.

The bill would lower personal income and corporate tax rates gradually by 2017 and reduce the number of tax brackets from four to three.

Harr says the state is receiving more tax revenue than it is spending, and the bill would help make the state more competitive.

But Harr notes a recently completed fiscal study of the bill indicates it's not workable, as the state would lose $595 million in revenue in fiscal year 2017.

Other lawmakers expressed concern the bill would hurt funding for state programs.

Neb. VA head defends decision to move vets' home

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans' Affairs is defending a decision to move a state veterans' home from Grand Island to Kearney.

Director John Hilgert said Thursday that state officials went with a competitive bidding process for the Central Nebraska Veterans Home because they believed it was the best way to proceed.

Gov. Dave Heineman announced in July that Kearney had won the project. The decision angered local officials in Grand Island, where the home has been located for nearly 127 years.

Hilgert's comments came in response to a bill by Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island that would create more legislative oversight and potentially block the move. Gloor says the decision was based on subjective criteria, including "cultural factors" and "community support."

Omaha Public Power District sells property

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha Public Power District has sold a portion of its original property in the downtown area.

The utility's board of directors voted recently to sell land that included the generating facility known as the Jones Street Station. NuStyle Development Corporation bought it after submitting a bid for $100,000.

The facility, which once produced more than 100 megawatts, was decommissioned in the mid-1980s. The buildings on the 16-acre property have been unused for about 25 years. Still, they were incurring expenses.

The facility was marketed for sale in August.

Neb. awards more than $2M for recycling programs

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska officials have awarded more than $2 million in grants for recycling and litter cleanup programs.

The state Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday that the awards aim to benefit litter cleanup, recycling and public education programs and activities.

The money will be used on multiple programs around the state. Funds for the litter reduction and recycling grant program are generated from a fee charged to companies that commonly contribute to litter.

Acting Director Pat Rice says the agency received many applications for the money. He said the awards will help local efforts to recycle and protect natural resources.

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