Nebraska

National Safety Council Nebraska wants brakes put on speed limit increase bill

There is a bill under discussion that would increase the speed limit by five miles an hour on state highways and interstates across Nebraska. That would bump up the speed limit to 80 mph on interstate systems and 65 on most state highways.  President and CEO of the National Safety Council of Nebraska Eric Koeppe says slow down and take things one step at a time and look at the facts.

Koeppe says, “From an Insurance Institute study, the last time we increased speed limits nationwide that we had an increase in deaths related to the speed increase. Basically their study found that for every five miles an hour you increased speed you had a 4% increase in fatalities.  Their study showed there was an 8% increase in fatalities on interstates.”   He says those deaths were tied directly to the increase in the speed limit.

Koeppe says when you raise the speed limit two things happen. One is the likelihood that you will be involved in a crash increases and  secondly the severity of the injury in that crash increases.

The Council would also like to see seat belt use and texting while driving or other forms of distracted driving be primary offenses in Nebraska prior to considering an increase in the speed limit.

No boys allowed – All female Nebraska Honor Flight in the works

Patriotic Productions is now taking applications for their next honor flight to Washington D.C. Organizer Evonne Williams says they have put together eleven past flights that included veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam and decided to make number twelve much different.  This flight is for women veterans only.

Williams says, “We said we weren’t going to do this again but we couldn’t resist when Bill (Williams) was inspired by an idea of a women’s only flight to D.C. for veterans, female veterans, any war, as long as they were deployed to a war zone.”

As in previous flights this is a one day trip. The group will fly out of Eppley Airfield in Omaha to Washington D.C. where they will board buses and tour our nation’s memorials and monuments.  The tour also includes a stop at Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard ceremony and this time a special stop at the Women’s Memorial at the gates of the cemetery.

Williams says they started collecting applications. A committee will then determine who will go.  WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans will be given priority because of their ages however women who served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan are encouraged to apply.

Williams says, “A lot of us forget that there are so many women who play a major role in any war, whether it is behind the scenes or as you know with Iraq and Afghanistan, they are right there in the vehicles. Nebraska has lost three women in Iraq and Afghanistan so we felt it was very important to recognize the women who have served throughout the years.  We just discovered someone from WWII who is 98 years old and wants to go.”

The tentative date of the honor flight is September 24th. Everyone on the plane, from the flight crew to guardians will be women.  Applications and more details can be found at patrioticproductions.org.

Study: Pumping pricey premium fuels may be a waste of money

Many Nebraskans follow the rule of keeping their vehicles’ gas tanks at least half full during extremely cold weather as it can help engine performance, but be sure to choose the pump carefully.

A new report finds paying for premium gas may not be worth the extra price. Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says the motor club study found some people will pump premium fuels occasionally as a “treat” for their engines.

Weinholzer says, “Many people do use it in that way but looking at the return on investment (ROI), only a 2.7% increase in fuel economy and a 1.4% increase in horsepower certainly doesn’t justify the 20-to-25% higher cost of putting premium into your car versus regular.”

While regular gas is averaging $2.52 a gallon in Nebraska, premium blends are averaging $2.88. The report finds only 16% of the vehicles on the road are required by the manufacturer to use the pricey premium fuel of 91 octane or higher.

“If it’s required, use it, but if it’s recommended, it’s really not the best idea,” she says, “and it certainly doesn’t provide the ROI.”

On the other side of the coin, some Nebraskans may see certain ethanol blends being advertised in the $1.85 range, a good 60-cents a gallon cheaper than regular gasoline. Weinholzer reminds, those less expensive blends are cheaper for a reason.

“Not to dissuade people from using ethanol, whether it’s E10 or E15, but it costs less because there’s less fuel economy associated with it,” Weinholzer says. “When it comes to fuels and your vehicle, the best way to maintain your warranty is to put in whatever fuel the owner’s manual requires, not recommends, but requires.”

An earlier report from the motor club found drivers nationwide waste more than $2-billion per year fueling vehicles with higher-octane gasoline. It concluded there is no benefit to using premium gasoline in cars designed to run on regular.

Gov. Ricketts Announces Red Willow as Newest Livestock Friendly County

 MCCOOK – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts named Red Willow County as the newest county in Nebraska, and the first one this year, to be designated a Livestock Friendly County (LFC).  The LFC program is administered by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA).  With the addition of Red Willow County, located in southwest Nebraska, 44 of the state’s 93 counties are now designated as livestock friendly.

“By requesting and receiving the state’s Livestock Friendly County designation, Red Willow County is showing a true commitment to growing Nebraska and creating more opportunities for the next generation,” said Governor Ricketts.  “Making Nebraska as livestock friendly as possible is a great way to start off the new year.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of the $180 million Red Willow County had in agricultural receipts for the year 2012, $98 million, or 54 percent, came from livestock sales, and $82 million, or 46 percent, came from crops.

“As a livestock producer, I know firsthand how important a strong livestock sector is to supporting our grains sector,” said NDA Director Steve Wellman.  “A Livestock Friendly designation means that Red Willow County and the more than 400 farms located there support the livestock industry and are open for business.”

The LFC program was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2003 to recognize counties that support the livestock industry and new livestock developments.  A county wishing to apply for the LFC designation must hold a public hearing, and the county board must pass a resolution to apply for the designation.  Additional information about the LFC program is available on the NDA’s website at nda.nebraska.gov or by calling 800-422-6692.

Gov. Ricketts, Nebraska State Patrol Highlight Success of new Online Renewal Process for Concealed Handgun Permits

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) Superintendent Colonel John Bolduc highlighted the success of the first three months of operation for a new online renewal process for Concealed Handgun Permits (CHP).  Nebraskans are benefiting personally from the time-saving option, while the NSP is seeing greater efficiency with savings in both time and cost.

“At the state, we are always looking for new ways to make state government work better for Nebraskans,” said Governor Ricketts.  “This new online renewal process for Concealed Handgun Permits is just another example of how we are working to make state government more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused.  These first three months have shown just how beneficial this new process will be for Nebraskans exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.”

The NSP officially launched the online CHP renewal process in October and issued more than 1,800 renewals through the online system by the end of 2017.

“The online renewal process is a major time-saver for both the public and NSP staff,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol.  “But at the same time, NSP utilizes the exact same security protocol making sure the system is safe and ensuring that only qualified CHP renewals are approved.”

An online renewal saves NSP approximately 35 minutes per application, which amounted to 610 hours of savings in the final three months of 2017.  During 2018, the first full year of operation for the online CHP renewal system, NSP staff members are projected to save more than 4,700 hours.

The public saves even more time with an online renewal, eliminating the requirement to travel to an NSP office and the time spent on the paper form.  NSP estimates this will save the average citizen one hour in the process to renew a Concealed Handgun Permit.  There is an online renewal fee of $4.50.  New CHP applications must still be completed in person at an NSP office.

“The time and cost savings already achieved through the online system are encouraging,” said Bolduc.  “We saw 72 percent of renewals use the online system in the first three months.  We hope more people will take advantage of this time saving option in the coming years.”

To renew an online Concealed Handgun Permit, visit https://www.nebraska.gov/apps-nsp-chp/. To find more information about the system, visit the Nebraska State Patrol CHP page.

Gov. Ricketts Names Nathan Cox to Second Judicial District Judgeship

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that he has appointed Nathan Cox to the Second Judicial District of the Nebraska Court System.

Cox, 53, is the County Attorney for Cass County.  In this role, Cox directs the prosecution of over 3,000 cases annually through County Court and additional cases in District Court.  Cox also handles appeals to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.  Previously, Cox served as the Deputy County Attorney for the Adams County Attorney’s Office.

Nathan holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Brigham Young University, as well as a Juris Doctor from the Creighton University School of Law.

The Second Judicial District serves Cass, Otoe, and Sarpy Counties.

The vacancy is due to the retirement of Judge William B. Zastera

Behavioral Health Education Center reports nearly 15 percent growth of providers

The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN), recently released its legislative report that highlights a nearly 15 percent increase in behavioral health providers in Nebraska from 2010 – 2016.

Increasing the number of behavioral health providers in Nebraska, especially in rural and frontier areas, can have a major impact on access to mental health services.

“Rural families may have to travel long distances to see a provider or may only have access to a primary care doctor in their community,” said Howard Liu, M.D., director of BHECN. “It’s crucial to address mental health concerns as they arise, so improving access is a priority.”

  • In Nebraska, 88 of 93 counties meet federal criteria for Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas designation;
  • 32 counties lack a behavioral health provider of any kind; and
  • The behavioral health workforce is aging, with more than 50 percent over the age of 50.

“The good news is we are experiencing healthy trends in our workforce growth, and we are dedicated to continuing the momentum with proactive and innovative programs for students, trainees and professionals,” added Dr. Liu. “We are paying particular attention to growing providers in rural, frontier and urban underserved areas of the state.”

Through strong partnerships with academic programs, state government and community partners, BHECN has leveraged state funding and federal grants to connect trainees with training opportunities, especially in rural and underserved communities.

“Collaborating with BHECN on workforce strategies is essential to ensuring Nebraska has enough well-trained behavioral health specialists and health providers to treat individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” said Sheri Dawson, director of behavioral health, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “Since there is no health without behavioral health, growing the behavioral health workforce ultimately provides improved access to prevention, treatment, and recovery for all Nebraskans.”

“We are cultivating providers in the state through student pipeline programs,” Dr. Liu said. “Creating meaningful experiences for college and graduate students to shadow behavioral health providers is a key strategy. We place behavioral health trainees in clinical rotations and internships reaching all corners of the state to help shape their careers and to encourage them to work in Nebraska.”

Integrated behavioral health clinics (primary care clinics integrated with a behavioral health provider), psychiatric hospitals and community-based centers serve as training sites for multi-disciplinary trainees.

In support of the existing workforce, BHECN provides live and online training to clinical providers, educators, trainees, community organizations and individuals.

In 2017, BHECN completed its third annual School Mental Health Conference, connecting statewide educators, administrators and providers with best practices in policy, teacher training, and behavioral health services for children and adolescents. BHECN also orchestrated an annual Psychiatric Nursing Workforce Summit to lead discussions on growing psychiatric nurses in the state.

With state and private funding, BHECN also continued work on a free jobs website, NebraskaBehavioralHealthJobs.com, connecting behavioral health employers in Nebraska with job seekers. The site received more than 125,000 page views in its first two years.

New initiatives include programs that target high-need populations in Nebraska. This includes training behavioral health interns in correctional sites, establishing free statewide education related to opioid addictions, and leveraging community partnerships to grow Spanish-speaking behavioral health providers.

For more information about BHECN, or to view the legislative report, visit https://unmc.edu/bhecn/.

Bitter cold grips Nebraska; causes some schools to cancel classes

Bitter cold has Nebraska in its grip.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory for much of the state as wind chills range from minus 15 to minus 30.

The extreme wind chills prompted the Omaha and Lincoln public school districts to cancel classes for today. Other districts also canceled classes. Nebraska schools closed yesterday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The weather service expects temperatures to warm throughout the week, but for today wind chills have become dangerous. NWS says exposed skin could become frostbitten within half an hour.

According to the weather service, the stiff northwesterly winds should begin to die down and shift to the south, which would allow warmer air to move into the state. Wednesday could see highs warm into the 20s and by the end of the week, temperatures might even move into the 40s

Bill would put the pedal closer to the metal

Legally doing 80 miles an hour on Interstate 80 could soon be an option in Nebraska.

A bill is being introduced in the Unicameral that would instruct the Nebraska Department of Transportation to boost speed limits.

Senator John Murante of Gretna is sponsoring the legislation which reportedly has the backing of Governor Pete Ricketts.

It would raise speed limits to 80 on I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, up from the current 75, while many other sections of interstate, and other state highways, would also see a rise.

While the measure is sure to see opposition from traffic safety groups which equate more speed with more deaths,

Murante says the goal is to make the roadway more efficient and effective.

13-year-old girl dies in tragic hunting accident in east-central Nebraska

Authorities in east-central Nebraska report a “tragic accident” has led to the death of a teen-age girl hunting with her father and two family friends.

Dead is 13-year-old Kimberlee Paddock, a seventh grade student at Shelby-Rising City Public School.

The Nance County Sheriff’s Office reports Paddock was hunting south of Genoa along the Loup River when the black powder gun she was using backfired, striking her. Paddock was taken to a hospital in Genoa where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators concluded the shooting was a “tragic accident.”

Weatherization Assistance Program, noticed the most in winter, could be cut

Federal funding that has helped weatherize nearly 70,000 homes in Nebraska over its 40 year history is on the chopping block.

President Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

David Bracht, Nebraska Energy Office director, says the state receives about $4.5 million a year from WAP.

“Kind of interesting, right now the funds we are getting in total, Nebraska residents, we estimate, are saving that much in utility costs each year,” Bracht tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Typical home improvements including caulking or replacing windows, and adding insulation.

Bracht says that can save homeowners hundreds of dollars a year – more so in older houses.

“We can see savings of as much as $1200 a year,” he says, “so $100 a month reduction in utility bills for that low-income family. That’s quite an impact.”

Bracht says WAP is an economic investment tool as well.

“Almost all the cities (in Nebraska) can use more and better housing to attract workers,” he points out. “I think the Weatherization Assistance Program has helped in that effort by having 69,000 homes that now are better than they were before.”

2017 is best year ever for Nebraska tourist attraction

The Homestead National Monument of America set a new attendance record last year with more than 123,000 visitors.

Mark Engler is superintendent of the National Park Service attraction that commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862.

Engler says 2017 was the best year in park history, thanks in part to the total solar eclipse for which the monument was an official NASA viewing site.

“Absolutely, it was worth it,” Engler says. “We’re still seeing the ripple effects from the eclipse back in August and I anticipate we’re going to see these ripple effects for quite some time.”

The park recorded 123,399 visitors last year, eclipsing the previous record, set in 2012 when more than 103,000 people visited during the 150th anniversary of the federal act.

Hosting the eclipse event means many thousands of people now know exactly how to find the monument and they may make a return trip.

The massive crowd during the August eclipse

“Also, there’s the benefit that just comes from people learning more about our corner of the nation, our corner of the state,” Engler says, “and the pride that comes with that.”

The increased attendance, Engler says, carries with it a solid economic impact for the region, with increased spending associated with the higher visitation.

In June, the monument will host a major event that celebrates the days of the one-room school house, the annual conference of the National Country School Association.

“We’ll be hosting one-room school enthusiasts from across the nation here and it’ll be a great opportunity for people to learn about our community and learn about the monument,” Engler says. “Once they learn about the monument and the community, I’m sure they’ll be sharing their experiences with others back home.”

The Homestead features the Freeman School, a one-room school house, just west of the Education Center.

The Homestead National Monument, four miles west of Beatrice, is open every day, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice

Gov. Ricketts not worried about using cash reserves to balance state budget

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts says he isn’t worried about dipping into the cash reserves to help close a nearly $200 million budget gap.

Ricketts has recommended both across-the-board and targeted budget cuts to close the gap, but also recommends transferring $108 million from the rainy-day fund.

“So, we have a cash reserve to help cushion us when we have revenue shortfalls and that’s what we have right now,” Ricketts tells reporters. “Our cash reserve with my recommendations will be at $274 million. That’s about middle of the pack if you look on a percentage basis compared to what other states are doing. So, when you’re looking at that, it’s a healthy cash reserve. It’s right, again, in the middle of the pack where other states are and, given our financial circumstances, I think that’s appropriate.”

State lawmakers face a $173 million revenue shortfall in the current state budget.

Ricketts recommends making $103.2 million in General Fund cuts, transferring $21.7 million from cash balances into the General Fund, and using $108 million from cash reserves to balance the budget.

The governor’s recommendations have gone to the Unicameral’s Appropriation Committee for consideration.

Ricketts says he’s reluctant to bring the cash reserves down to $274 million, but says he has a plan to build them back up.

“And then with continued spending constraints in the next biennium, if our revenues are growing the way the Legislative Fiscal Office predicts, we will have the flexibility to be able to bring that cash reserve back up to $500 million,” according to Ricketts.

Of the $103.2 million dollars in budget cuts recommended by the governor, $77.1 million would come from across-the-board budget cuts affecting most of state government. Ricketts’ recommendation spares public education as well as the Department of Correctional Services. There is a recommended increase contained in the governor’s recommendations. He recommends increasing the Child Welfare budget by $54.8 million to cover an unexpected drop in federal funding as well as an increase in the cost of services.

NDOT Announces Selection of County Bridge Match Program Proposals

January 12, 2018 (Lincoln, Neb.) — Today, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced 22 proposals were selected from 68 submitted in December for the second round of the County Bridge Match Program (CBMP).  The program was created as a result of the 2016 Transportation Innovation Act (TIA), signed into law by Governor Ricketts in April of 2016.

“Over the last twenty months the Department of Transportation has worked with our partners to implement a program that meets the intentions of the Transportation Innovation Act,” said NDOT Director Kyle Schneweis.  “I am proud of how the CBMP has come together in a short period of time to provide assistance to our communities by addressing critical needs within Nebraska’s transportation system. NDOT has been fortunate to have the support of Nebraska’s citizens for such critical infrastructure projects.”

The CBMP provides funding to counties for the innovative replacement and repair of deficient county bridges.  The second Request for Proposals (RFP) was announced in October, with $4 million to be distributed to counties across Nebraska.  Proposals were submitted by 59 counties and included 165 bridges.

The CBMP will fund 55 percent of eligible bridge construction cost with counties providing a 45 percent match.  The selected proposals include 35 counties and 66 bridges at a total construction cost of $8.5 million of which $ 4 million is from the CBMP.  Selected proposals are listed on the NDOT website at www.dot.nebraska/projects/tia/bridge-match/.

Radon Tests Kits Free at RC&D

To promote radon awareness and make it easier for Nebraskans to test their homes for radon, the Northeast Nebraska RC&D has once again partnered with the North Central District Health Department to offer free radon test kits for citizens living in Knox, Antelope and Pierce counties.

Winter months are the best time for Nebraskans to test for radon in their homes.  During winter, homes are closed up and can trap the toxic gas.  Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for people who have never smoked.  It is a radioactive gas.  You can’t see it, taste it or even smell it.  It comes from the decaying of naturally occurring uranium in the earth’s soil and exists in varying amounts in most soils.  It enters the home through cracks or holes in concrete floors or walls, sump pits, and drinking water from private wells.  Once radon becomes trapped inside an enclosed space, it can accumulate.

 The tests kits are a quick screening method which indicates potential radon problems.  They should be placed in the lowest livable level of the house.  The District Health Department follows up with anyone who has a test result of 4.0 pCi/L or above which is a health standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

 For more information on radon, the test kits or radon mitigation, call North Central District Health Department, 1- 877-336-2406 or visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/radon.   North Central District Health Department serves Antelope, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Keya Paha, Knox, Pierce, and Rock Counties.

 Kits for citizens who live in Knox, Antelope or Pierce counties can be picked up at the RC&D office during business hours of 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday each week. The kits can also be picked up at the NCDHD office in O’Neill, 422 E. Douglas St. from 8 – 4:30 Monday through Friday.

 For those living in Cedar, Dixon, or Wayne counties call the Northeast Nebraska District Health Department in Wayne at 1-800-375-2260 about getting a test kit.

Winter storm lessens but still brings snow, ice & chill

The Winter Storm Warning has been cancelled for most of the region but all of central and eastern Nebraska is still under a Winter Weather Advisory until 6 o’clock tonight.

Forecasters say there will be much less snow than first feared, but road conditions will still be iffy as we’re seeing a mix of rain, sleet and snow. As temperatures cool, the precipitation is changing to all snow. Travel is not advised, if it can be avoided.

Wind gusts up to 45 miles an hour are bumping wind chill indices to around 15 degrees below zero.

Many schools across Nebraska have already announced they’ll operate on a delay or they’re cancelling classes for the day.

It’s an abrupt turn-around in some areas, as high temperatures on Wednesday climbed near 50 in parts of southeast Nebraska. For Friday and Saturday, highs are only expected in the teens with lows in single digits.

Director Frakes Comments on Penitentiary Housing Construction

January 10, 2018 (Lincoln, Neb.) – Today, Governor Ricketts announced that his budget includes adding a 100-bed unit to the Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP).

“This new construction adds minimum custody beds, which will allow individuals to transition through the system and ultimately to the community,“ said Director Frakes. “We appreciate the Governor’s support as we increase our capacity and keep people safe.

“We have focused significant efforts on reentry and rehabilitation and will continue to work toward preparing individuals to be ready for parole when they are eligible. To effectively manage the population, we must also expand capacity. We have been thoughtful and measured in our approach to adding capacity to ensure we add new beds at the appropriate security level.”

There is $105 million in construction projects currently underway to expand capacity, which includes the expansion that combines the Lincoln Correctional Center and the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center into one campus that is more efficient and easier to operate; the 100-bed community custody unit completed in September and the 160–bed expansion of the Community Corrections Center – Lincoln. The bids for the 160-bed project came in significantly lower than anticipated. The Governor’s budget reinvests $5.8 million of those funds into constructing a new unit at the penitentiary.

The expansion at NSP adds lower custody beds, which will allow individuals who can be safely managed at minimum custody to move out of maximum/medium security areas. It will provide greater flexibility to move individuals between facilities and open up higher custody beds for new admissions.

NDOT Reminds Drivers to Prepare for Winter Travel

January 10, 2018 (Lincoln, Neb.) — The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) crews are prepared for the latest round of winter weather.  Workers and equipment will be out to clear the highways and monitor changing conditions throughout the expected winter storm.

“While our NDOT crews are prepared to clear the roads, it is important for motorists to stay informed on the latest weather forecast and to plan ahead if travel is required,” said NDOT Director Kyle Schneweis.

Travelers are urged to be alert, be aware and check the most up to date weather and travel conditions available through 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System.  The system is available at all times via phone by dialing 511, online at www.511.nebraska.gov, or Nebraska 511’s smartphone app.

Should travel be necessary, NDOT reminds motorists to be prepared with warm clothing water and food. If traveling a distance, a winter weather survival kit is advised with additional basic items.  Travelers are advised to not drive faster than conditions allow.  Surfaces will be slick under the snow and visibility may be poor.  Allow plenty of time to arrive at your destination.

With snowplows out on the roads, travelers are urged to be cautious and courteous to those operating
them, making sure to:

  • Slow down as you approach plows. They travel slowly, usually 25-30 miles per hour or less.
  • Stay well behind plows to give you and them plenty of room.  When traveling outside of a
    business or residential district, it is unlawful to follow a highway maintenance vehicle (snowplow,
    truck or grader) more closely than 100 feet when it is plowing snow, spreading salt or sand, or
    displaying a flashing amber or blue light.
  • Never pass a plow on the right – snowplows are equipped with “wing plows” which extend beyond
    the truck itself.
  • Know where plows are and actions they may be taking while they plow snow.

Motorists are reminded to make sure everyone in their vehicle wears a seat belt and children are in a car safety seat.  Do not use cruise control in wet or snowy weather and keep a full gas tank.

Gov. Ricketts and Nebraska Ag Director Congratulate Senator Fischer on Appointment to Senate Ag Committee

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) Director Steve Wellman congratulated U.S. Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska on being appointed to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

“Congratulations to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer on being selected to serve on the Senate Ag Committee,” said Governor Ricketts.  “This is a critical time in agriculture as the Farm Bill debate begins.  Senator Fischer will play an important role in helping ensure the interests of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers are heard in Washington.”

“I’m pleased to hear Senator Fischer joined the Senate Agriculture Committee,” said NDA Director Wellman.  “The committee’s role in agriculture and nutrition is extremely important to Nebraska.  The Senator’s presence will provide an important voice for our state.”

Senator Fischer also serves on the following Senate Committees:  Armed Services Committee; Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Committee on Environment and Public Works; Committee on Rules and Administration; and the Special Committee on Aging.

STUDENTS: ENTER NDA’S ANNUAL AG POSTER CONTEST, SHARE THE STORY OF NEBRASKA AG

 LINCOLN—The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) is asking students to share the story of Nebraska agriculture by entering NDA’s annual ag poster contest. The contest is in its 15th year and is open to all Nebraska students in grades 1-6. This year’s theme, “Sharing the Story of Nebraska Agriculture,” highlights the importance of our state’s number one industry.

“Farm families work hard to provide us all with delicious, nutritious and affordable food, and this contest is a great opportunity for students to highlight the numerous contributions agriculture makes to our state,” said NDA Director Steve Wellman. “We look forward to seeing the students’ creativity as they share the story of Nebraska agriculture.”

NDA’s annual ag poster contest is divided into three age categories: first and second grade students; third and fourth grade students; and fifth and sixth grade students. Entries must be postmarked by the March 1, 2018, deadline.

“Agriculture is our state’s number one industry, so it’s important to share the story of Nebraska agriculture and show how diverse and expansive the ag industry is in Nebraska,” Wellman said. “This contest also gives teachers and parents the opportunity to help children better understand the extensive role agriculture plays in their day-to-day lives.”

NDA will announce the winners of the poster contest during National Ag Week, March 18-24, 2018. National Ag Week highlights the diversity of agriculture and celebrates the food, feed and fuel that farmers and ranchers provide every day. NDA will feature winning entries on its website and in promotional materials and publications.

Contest rules and official entry forms are available online at www.nda.nebraska.gov/kids. For more information, contact Christin Kamm at 402-471-6856 or by email at christin.kamm@nebraska.gov.

RIDDER TO SERVE AS COMMISSION CHAIR

LINCOLN, JANUARY 9, 2018- The Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) elected Fifth District Commissioner Mary Ridder of Callaway as Chair for 2018. Commissioner Ridder was selected during the Commission’s January 9, meeting in Lincoln.

Ridder was elected to the Commission in November 2016 for a six-year term. She represents 47 counties in the western 2/3rds of Nebraska.

Fourth District Commissioner Rod Johnson of Sutton was re-elected Vice- Chair.

The Commission leadership positions are elected on an annual basis.

Motorcycle helmet law could well be repealed as votes appear there to overcome filibuster

It appears state lawmakers are on the verge of repealing the state motorcycle helmet law.

Sen. John Lowe of Kearney fell one vote short of overcoming a filibuster last year, but has a second chance after Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha prioritized his bill this year.

“I urge you to allow a vote on LB 368 and I urge you to vote yes on returning freedoms to your fellow citizens,” Lowe told colleagues as he opened debate on the bill.

Legislative Bill 368 would repeal the requirement that adult motorcycle riders must wear a helmet in Nebraska. Motorcyclists 20-years-old and younger would still be required to wear helmets. Children under six would not be allowed to ride on a motorcycle.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha leads the filibuster against the bill. He told senators during floor debate Monday that helmet use fell 50% in states which repealed the law.

“And in every state that has repealed their helmet law, they have an increase in the number of head injuries or deaths,” Hilkemann stated.

Supporters of LB 368 cast their support in terms of personal freedom. Some even state it is a matter of civil liberties. Opponents emphasize safety and the heavy cost of treating traumatic brain injuries which are often borne by taxpayers.

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said the state has no right to force motorcyclists to wear helmets.

“This is an infringement on the motorcycle rider’s rights and I believe, once and for all, we need to settle this and repeal the helmet law,” Erdman said during legislative debate.

But, Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha related stories about motorcyclists who lost their lives, because they failed to wear helmets.

“And so, when we think about what it means to be safe on the road, when we think about what these helmets mean, these helmets can often mean somebody coming home,” Howard said.

A motorcycle helmet repeal bill has become an annual event at the state Capitol as had a filibuster to block a vote. This year could be different.

State lawmakers debated the issue for three hours Monday afternoon. Lowe convinced Speaker Jim Scheer he has the 33 votes needed to overcome the filibuster and go to a vote on the bill. Scheer has scheduled additional debate for Wednesday afternoon when, after an additional three hours, presumably a vote will be taken to end the filibuster and go to a vote on the bill.

NSP Urges Nebraskans to Prepare for Winter Storm

JANUARY 9, 2018 (LINCOLN, NEB.)  — The Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) is urging motorists to be prepared for the potential of hazardous conditions with an expected winter storm this week. The storm could make driving difficult in various parts of the state.

“The storm forecasted for this week could make for dangerous driving conditions across a large portion of the state,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Drivers should be prepared by staying up-to-date on the forecast and plan ahead if you need to travel.”

Travelers are urged to stay up-to-date on travel conditions with information available through Nebraska 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System. The system is available at all times via phone by dialing 511, online at www.511.nebraska.gov, or Nebraska 511’s smartphone app.

NSP also issues the following reminders for motorists traveling in extreme weather conditions:

  • Always wear your seat belt and never drive faster than conditions allow.
  • Blowing and drifting snow can reduce visibility. Travel only when absolutely necessary.
  • If you must travel, use well-traveled routes and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Let others know where you are going, your route, and when you will arrive.
  • If you do become stranded while traveling, stay in your vehicle until help arrives. Wind chill and freezing temperatures can be life threatening.
  • If your vehicle becomes stuck, run your motor sparingly and keep a window cracked to prevent buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Carry a red flag or bandana in your car and attach it to the outside to signal for help.

Be sure to keep a winter weather survival kit in your vehicle as you travel. Some basic items to include are: First Aid Kit, phone charger, ice scraper, shovel, small bag of sand, flashlight with extra batteries, blankets or sleeping bags, extra clothing and winter accessories, jumper cables, tow rope, tool kit, matches, candles, red flag or bandana, high energy or dehydrated foods, and bottled water.

The NSP Highway Helpline is available 24 hours per day for motorists in need of assistance. Drivers can reach NSP by dialing *55 from any cell phone. Call 911 for any emergency.