Nebraska

NSP Urges Drivers to Plan Ahead For Winter Storm

APRIL 12, 2018 (LINCOLN, NEB.)  — As the National Weather Service has issued Blizzard Warnings, Winter Storm Warnings, and Winter Storm Watches for a majority of Nebraska counties, the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) is urging motorists to be prepared for the potential of hazardous conditions. The expected storm could make driving difficult in many parts of the state.

“Some forecasts for this storm are indicating the possibility of more than a foot of snow in parts of northern Nebraska,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Drivers should be prepared and plan ahead for travel this weekend. If you do run into a problem or need assistance, please know that troopers and other law enforcement officers will be on the road to help.”

Travelers can 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. Have a red flag or bandana to signal for help. 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.
  • Maintain a winter weather survival kit in your vehicle, including a First Aid Kit, phone chargers, blankets, extra clothes, tools, food and 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.

Troopers Continue Safety Education for Teen Drivers

APRIL 12, 2018 (LINCOLN, NEB.)  — The Nebraska State Patrol (NSP), working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation – Highway Safety Office (NDOT-HSO) and other partners, continues the important work of providing teen drivers information about safe driving.

From January through March, troopers gave more than 200 safety presentations throughout Nebraska. Presentations at 52 of those events were funded through grants from NDOT-HSO, including presentations at schools, churches, businesses, community centers, the Midlands International Auto Show, and at Nebraska basketball games. Those presentations reached an estimated 65,000 people.

“The early part of every year brings great opportunity for our Community Service Officers and other troopers to connect with students about seat belt use and the dangers of distracted driving,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “As we near the end of the school year, we will continue to spread that message and encourage young drivers to practice safe driving.”

Troopers are continuing the effort to bring valuable safety information to young drivers with more programs running from April through June of 2018. The presentations include demonstrations of how seat belts can save lives. Troopers use the Rollover Simulator, Seat Belt Convincer, the Persuader, and Driving Simulator.

According to NDOT-HSO, 100% of teens who lost their life in crashes in 2016 were not wearing their seat belt. Teen drivers 16-20 also represent the highest number of unbelted fatalities, compared to other age groups.

Those interested in scheduling a safety presentation can visit the Community Policing/Safety Programs page of the NSP website for information.

Legislation on prison overcrowding advances, though watered down

A package of corrections bills has advanced in the legislature, aimed to resolve the stubborn problem of prison overcrowding.

It makes only minor changes in an effort to reduce a prison population now at 150% of designed capacity.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln reminds colleagues if not reduced to 140% by July 2020, a state of emergency must be declared, and prisoners released.

“If we do nothing about that overcrowding issue and then wait again until next year in 2019, think how close that is to the state of emergency,” Pansing Brooks warns colleagues during legislative floor debate.

Pansing Brooks acknowledges past legislation, specifically LB 605 approved in 2015, has not had the desired effect, barely reducing prison population.

Judiciary Committee Chair, Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, says both the legislative and executive branches are responsible.

“I think this corrections issue is one that is serious,” Ebke says. “It’s one that the legislature ought to be dealing with on a regular basis, that we ought to keep stirring the pot if you will to make sure that progress is made.”

LB 841 has advanced on a 37-1 vote, though both Ebke and Pansing Brooks say it has been watered down.

The package, LB 841, had combined nine bills, but five were stripped at the request of Gov. Ricketts’ office.

The legislation requires the Department of Correctional Services and the Board of Parole to submit a plan to the Unicameral by the first of December on how the agencies plan to proceed if a state of emergency is declared. The Office of Parole Administration will become the Division of Parole Supervision. Corrections officials will have until 2020 to broaden their analysis of the need for security staff to other personnel needs, including medical.

The Nebraska prison population stands at 5,343 inmates, well over the designed capacity of 3,435 inmates.

Nebraska’s groundwater levels lower than average, still better than other High Plains states

The latest survey of groundwater in Nebraska shows drought several years ago is still impacting water levels.

The 2017 Nebraska Statewide Groundwater-Level Monitoring Report from the Conservation and Survey Division at the University of Nebraska compared 5,200 wells from the spring of 2016 to spring 2017.

Aaron Young, survey geologist, says the High Plains Aquifer’s levels are below average.

“Over the last five-years, if you average out the water levels measured across the state, we’re still seeing about a two-foot decline,” Young tells Nebraska Radio Network. “That decline is still a result of, essentially, the drought we had in 2012.”

The report shows problem areas exist in the far-west portion of the state, due to heavy irrigation use.

When you look at present groundwater levels compared to pre-pumping levels, Young says the aquifer under Nebraska is down about a foot, which is better than other states.

“Texas is closer to 41 feet. For a place like Kansas, it’s 26 feet,” he explains. “So, as a whole, we’ve seen some declines, but we shouldn’t be panicking. We’re doing a very good job of managing our water.”

The report shows about half of the wells in the state saw levels decline over the 2016-17 monitoring period while half increased.

That ranges from increases of 10 feet in the northeast, to five-foot drops in the south-central part.

new report finds the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease in Nebraska is growing rapidly, as is the cost of care.

Greg Woods, a program specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association, says the annual report isn’t very encouraging as there’s still no effective treatment and no cure.

“This year, we looked at three main things,” Woods says, “the prevalance and incidence of the disease, so how common is it, we looked at the cost of care and we looked at the effect of caregiving, as well.”

Alzheimer’s deaths have more than doubled in the last 15 years while deaths from other major illnesses and medical conditions, like heart disease, have significantly decreased. The report finds about 5.7-million people nationwide are now living with Alzheimer’s, while the figure in Nebraska is about 34,000 and both numbers are escalating.

“By 2025, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to reach 7.1-million, that’s an increase of almost 29% from this year,” Woods says.

In Nebraska, the number is expected to rise to 40,000 Alzheimer’s cases by 2025, an increase of more than 17%.

“We know that Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and that is interesting to some people because they don’t often think of it as an actual cause of death,” Woods says.

The national cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s is projected to surpass a quarter-trillion dollars ($277 billion) this year, an increase of nearly $20-billion since last year.

In Nebraska, the Medicaid costs to care for people with Alzheimer’s are expected to reach $347-million this year. The cost is expected to grow by nearly 16% by 2025 to $404-million.

In Nebraska, 82,000 caregivers provided a total of 94-million hours of unpaid care for Alzheimer’s patients, valued at $1.2-billion.

The difficulties associated with providing that care are estimated to have resulted in $61-million in additional healthcare costs for caregivers last year.

The sky isn’t falling, but a large chunk of space junk may be headed for Nebraska

Credit: European Space Agency

An empty Chinese space station is expected to fall back to earth as soon as today and it’s possible pieces of it that survive the fiery reentry may fall on Nebraska.

Astronomer Allison Jaynes says Tiangong I will likely come down between now and Monday and there’s a wide path of possible landing spots, including us.

“Most of North America, most of the latitudes where people are living are in the path,” Jaynes says, “but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get hit by any of these pieces because, of course, that chance is extremely small.”

There are many unknowns as to when and where the space station will fall, but Jaynes notes, since 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, the odds are better than seven in ten it won’t hit land.

“We’re not sure exactly where in its orbit it’s going to start to reenter but the more important thing to look for is if you’re going to be in the path of visibility to see the piece when it comes through the atmosphere,” Jaynes says. “It will glow. You’ll likely be able to see it, even during the day, if you’re in the right spot on the world.”

Launched in 2011, Tiangong — which means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese — is roughly the size of a school bus and weighs about nine-and-a-half tons. It’s 34-feet long and is filled with all sorts of equipment, large oxygen tanks, two beds and some exercise gear, as well as two large solar arrays or wings.

“Most of it will burn up. You might end up with fist-sized chunks coming in to land somewhere on earth,” Jaynes says. “This is one of the biggest things that has reentered the atmosphere so we don’t have a whole lot of data points on this, but from what we know, most of it does get burned up.”

So how should Nebraskans be conducting themselves over the next few days? Should we be wearing helmets if we dare to go outside?

Jaynes says, “You have many thousands of times better chance of winning the lottery in the next few days than you do getting hit by anything coming from space.”

The American space station, Skylab, fell in 1979. It was much larger than Tiangong — Skylab was 85 tons or about nine-times heavier — and some large pieces did strike land in Australia. A small town there famously tried to charge NASA a fine of $400 for littering.

Gov. Ricketts denies he has interfered with the legislature this year (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts denies allegations leveled by some legislators that he has interfered with the legislative process this session.

Ricketts rejects notions that he has meddled in the legislature’s business this year.

“I’ve worked with the legislature every session to work on the priorities of the people of Nebraska and this session has been no different,” Ricketts tells reporters during a news conference on another topic.

Critics point to Ricketts’ insertion of language into the budget that restrict federal Title X family planning money from going to clinics which perform abortions as a prime example of overreach by the executive branch.

The language remains though several senators railed against it.

“On the particular thing with regard to Title X, I want to thank Speaker Scheer for his leadership and congratulate him on getting a resolution to it,” Ricketts says. “And, again, we just work with senators all the time on these things. So, there’s really been nothing different this session versus any other session.”

Legislators Wednesday advanced the adjustments to the $8.8 billion state budget to Final Reading. LB 944 was held up for a week as legislators wrangled over the Title X language. Though a compromise was struck, several legislators harshly criticized the governor’s role in the legislation.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Nebraska’s pork producers worry over escalating trade troubles with China

Farmers, ranchers and commodity group leaders in Nebraska are growing more concerned about the looming trade war with one of the state’s biggest trading partners.

Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, says China is a vital buyer of American pork and the Chinese tariffs will have a real impact.

“They are one of the major producers and purchasers of pork,” Juhnke says. “They are not able to produce enough pork to feed their population and the United States has had a great partnership with them in the last few years, getting them that product.”

President Trump signed an order placing $60 billion in tariffs on imported Chinese goods. China retaliated in two stages, first, slapping a 15% tariff on 120 products worth $977 million and later, a higher 25% tariff on $1.99 billion of pork and aluminum.

Juhnke says America’s pork producers are highly reliant on exports so any trade disruption directly impacts their bottom line.

“Nearly 30% of our pork production in the U.S. is exported,” Juhnke says. “That amounts to over $50 per pig and really is the difference between making a profit or not making a profit many years in our industry.”

Juhnke says the National Pork Producers Council will ask President Trump to change his stance and they’ll also be speaking to members of Congress about the trade implications.

“We have been sending letters not only to the administration but to our congressional delegations,” Juhnke says. “We have been working with Secretary Perdue, who I do think understands the issue and we’re hopeful he has a front row seat in the White House as these decisions are being made.”

The president says he’s imposing the tariffs due to China’s pattern of stealing intellectual property and robbing U.S. companies of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

USDA Offers Renewal Options for Expiring Conservation Stewardship Contracts

 LINCOLN, March 28, 2018 – Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to renew their Conservation Stewardship Program(CSP) contract.

Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation.

Participants with existing CSP contracts expiring on Dec. 31, 2018, can access the benefits of the recent program changes through an option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands.

NRCS will mail contract renewal notification letters to all participants whose contracts expire in 2018, which will contain instructions on how to apply for renewal.

Applications to renew expiring contracts are due by April 13.

Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat – all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land. CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Some of these benefits of CSP include:

  • Improved cattle gains per acre;
  • Increased crop yields;
  • Decreased inputs;
  • Wildlife population improvements; and
  • Better resilience to weather extremes.

NRCS recently made several updates to the program to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. These tools also enable producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

Producers interested in CSP are recommended to contact their local USDA service center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Nebraska ranks #6 in nation for hail damage losses in 2017

Nebraska’s largest auto insurer says the Husker State saw a drop in hail storms last year but still made the top ten list of states with the most expensive losses.

State Farm reports paying out $152-million in hail damage claims in Nebraska last year, compared to $172-million the previous year.

State Farm agent Drew Edmond, of Lincoln, says if you’re on the road and hear on the radio hail is coming, take immediate action.

“Get to as safe of a place as you can, whether that means your own garage or just someplace that’s enclosed so you don’t have to withstand as much damage as you would driving or having your vehicle exposed to the elements,” Edmond says, “That’s the foremost thing to do when the storm is coming or when you’re in the midst of the storm.”

If you’re at home during a hail storm, he suggests quickly making a move to limit potential damage in every room with windows.

“Definitely closing the drapes, closing the blinds and the shades,” Edmond says. “What this can do is reduce the blowing glass that’s broken by the hail. That’s something you can do while the storm is taking place.”

While hail can hit during any time of the year, the most popular season for hail is spring.

If you have roof damage after a hail storm, document it with pictures, make temporary repairs to prevent more damage, save receipts and take pictures of your repairs. When hiring a roofer, Edmond says don’t rush into a contract, don’t let yourself be pressured into signing anything and don’t pay up front.

“Get multiple estimates from roofers and don’t just go with the first roofer you see,” Edmond says. “Definitely make sure that it’s someone local that you’re going to be able to get a hold of. A lot of times, if it’s not a local person, they might leave and you’ll never be able to get a hold of them again.”

When remodeling, he says to consider impact-resistant roofing to reduce hail damage.

The insurer says Nebraska ranked 6th among the 50 states for most hail damage in 2017, that’s down from 5th the previous year.

For 2017, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota were the top three, with number-one Texas reporting $610-million worth of losses, about four times the losses in Nebraska.

Gov. Ricketts stands firm on federal Title X budget language

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts stands firm on his insistence that the budget bill now stuck in limbo contain the controversial Title X language.

Budget debate has ground to a halt as the legislature cannot come to agreement on Title X language proposed by Governor Ricketts.

“The Title X language we have proposed is to assure that our tax dollars don’t go to fund or subsidize abortions and so any language that accomplishes that would absolutely be something I would support,” Ricketts tells reporters during a news conference on another subject.

Adjustments to the budget, needed to cope with declining state revenue, have hung up on the language; unable to overcome a filibuster.

Legislators have been meeting in an attempt to fashion a compromise to overcome the filibuster but have been unable to come to an agreement.

It appeared the main budget bill, containing cuts to align the budget with declining revenue, was on its way to passage last Friday. That didn’t occur. An attempt to overcome the filibuster fell two votes short, throwing the budget process into uncertainty.

Legislative rules called for the budget bills to pass by the 50th day, which came and went on Tuesday.

Ricketts says his language would call for agencies to separate family planning clinics from abortion clinics to receive the federal funds.

“At the end of the day, this is a pro-life issue,” Ricketts says. “Nebraska is a pro-life state. Our taxpayers don’t want our dollars going to abortion clinics and that’s what this bill, the language, is meant to accomplish.”

Critics contend the governor is attempting to keep the federal money from Planned Parenthood. Others say the language could create problems for other clinics in the state.

Title X funds primarily provide family planning services, most for the poor. They also pay for cancer screenings and other health related issues.

Research on improving tractor testing could save farmers money

Nebraska researcher Santosh Pitla (center) assists students with a sensor-building project. (Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communications)

University of Nebraska researchers say tractor-testing techniques need to be updated.

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is funding their premise with a the four-year grant of nearly $473,000.

Santosh Pitla, assistant professor of Advanced Machinery Systems in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, says tractors are high-tech now, but methods used to test their performance have not kept pace.

“We need to test tractors in mixed-mode,” Pitla tells Nebraska Radio Network, “which means we need to be applying drawbar, power takeoff, and hydraulic force simultaneously.”

He says that more accurately reflects what happens in the field.

“If we can match the tractor to the implement, then we will be more fuel-efficient.”

The results could help farmers use their tractors more efficiently.

“A thousand dollars a horsepower is not a bad figure,” explains Roger Hoy, Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratorydirector, tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So, you buy a 280 horsepower tractor when a 250 horse would have worked. There’s an extra $30,000 in purchase price there.”

Sensors will be used to measure a tractor’s three power sources while operating on the Test Track and in the field.

“Tractors have changed tremendously,” Pitla says. “There are a lot of electronics, so it will be really neat to get this out into the field and collect useful data.”

Santosh says some farmers are using a tractor with too much power for the job they are performing, so matching the right tractor to the right planting or harvesting implement will save money.

As fears of trade war rise, report details importance of trade to ag economy

Officials with the Nebraska Farm Bureau are rolling out a report that details the critical importance of international trade to the long-term health of the state’s agricultural industry.

Jay Rempe, the Farm Bureau’s senior economist, says the report details the top three commodity exports.

“The first three — soybeans, corn and beef — were all over a billion dollars and distiller’s grain is at about $300-million,” Rempe says. “Our exports in 2016 are three times the value that they were in the year 2000, so that’s a figure that has been growing.”

Jordan Dux, the bureau’s national affairs coordinator, says the report came at the request of the state’s farmers and ranchers who are concerned about a possible trade war. He says those concerns surfaced after the Trump administration began pushing for tariffs on steel and aluminum and threatened withdrawal from existing agreements.

Dux fears Nebraska’s major trade partners might retaliate.

“When you go down this path, it certainly is our fear that you begin that process of initiating what we’ve talked about as a trade war, where you have a tit-for-tat retaliation for things,” Dux says. “That’s a very real concern for us.”

Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says they’ll be sharing the report with President Trump and with members of Congress.

Nelson says the message they want to send to the president and Congress is clear: Don’t do anything that would harm agricultural trade.

Preparedness is key to surviving severe weather

This is Severe Weather Awareness Week as Nebraskans are reminded how to prepare for and respond to storms, tornadoes, flooding and more.

Meteorologist Ken Podrazek, with the National Weather Service, says severe storms typically hit in Nebraska during two times of day, but they can strike at any time.

“There’s two different peaks, sometime in the late afternoon between 4 and 6 PM, and then a secondary peak during the overnight hours around midnight,” Podrazek says. “That’s when we get into the low level jet and get the overnight thunderstorms that race across the state.”

Severe storms are more frequent during the spring and early summer months, but they can strike during any time of the year.

Nebraska averages around 50 tornadoes a year, though in 2004, the state had a record of 110 twisters. Nebraska’s peak month for tornadoes is June, followed by May. Podrazek says tornado warnings should be taken very seriously.

“Any time there’s a tornado warning issued, you definitely need to take cover,” he says. “Even if you think it might go north or south of you, it’s good practice to always get to safety.”

A statewide tornado drill is scheduled for Wednesday morning. A test tornado watch will be issued at 10 AM, followed by a test tornado warning. Podrazek says it’s an opportunity to develop plans on where you’d go in the event a real tornado warning is issued.

“This is a great time for local businesses and schools to practice their severe weather preparedness plan and to actually get to safety,” he says.

Another major concern in Nebraska is flooding, which is one of the leading weather-related killers.

“It’s resulted in 84 deaths per year throughout the United States,” he says. “That’s higher than tornadoes, higher than lightning, higher than winter storms. The only one that’s ahead of it is heat-related fatalities. As far as thunderstorm-related, flooding and flashing flooding, that’s the biggest one that kills people.”

More than half those flooding deaths happen in motor vehicles when people try to drive across a water-covered roadway.

“We always say ‘Turn Around, Don’t Drown’ and we absolutely mean it,” Podrazek says. “A lot of times you see water over the road, you don’t know how deep that is, how fast it’s going, if the road is intact. It doesn’t take a whole lot of water to sweep an adult off their feet and it doesn’t take a whole lot of water to move a vehicle either.”

Podrazek says flooded roads are worse at night when your vision is more limited. He notes, just six inches of fast-moving water can knock over and carry off an adult, while 12 inches of water can float a smaller car, and if the water is moving, it can carry the car away. Some 18 to 24 inches of flowing water can carry away most vehicles, including large SUVs.

Learn more about Severe Weather Awareness Week at www.weather.gov.

“Sharptails & Saddle Tales” Tour To Be Held At Naper

NAPER, Neb., —  On Saturday, April 7, a guided sunrise tour in Boyd county will provide participants with the rare opportunity to view the annual return of sharptail grouse to their spring dancing grounds.

Following their time at the lek, the assembly area where grouse display their courtship behavior, tour participants will return to the Naper Café for a breakfast buffet, presentations on sharptail grouse biology and stories of how sharptails and grouse hunters are giving back to Nebraska ranchers by providing conservation cost-share opportunities. The morning will conclude with a history and tour of the White Horse Ranch Museum in Naper.

To preregister for this event, call 402-582-4866, 402-376-5842 or email northeastrcd@plvwtelco.net. The registration fee of $30 includes transportation to and from the lek, breakfast buffet, educational speakers, and the museum tour. Those wanting photo opportunities should call in early to reserve their spot in the photography blind. Nearby lodging options include the Oak Creek Inn in Butte, NE or the Bonesteel Motel in Bonesteel, SD.

The tour is cosponsored by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; Northern Prairies Land Trust; USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; North Central and Northeast Nebraska Resource, Conservation and Development and the Naper Historical Society.

“Grouse depend on large, open expanses of grassland, and their presence on any particular piece of property is a compliment to the stewardship of that landowner,” said Cassidy Wessel, a biologist with NGPC. “They’re a species with a lot of personality and a lot of history in the culture of Nebraska. Being able to couple the tale of the White Horse Ranch and the sharptail grouse is a great way to tell the story of what makes the Keya Paha River grasslands in Boyd county such a special place.”

            For more information on this event, visit http://www.nenercd.org/news–events.

Volunteers needed to provide daily readings of rainfall, snowfall

Nebraska’s weather forecasters are looking for more volunteers to help make simple but important observations daily.

Climatologist Harry Hillaker says they need people with an interest in the weather who can purchase a four-inch diameter rain gauge, set it up in a suitable location and post their daily readings on the internet.

“That data gets used for a variety of purposes,” Hillaker says. “It helps the National Weather Service issuing flood warnings when there’s unusual rain events occurring in places other than where official weather stations are at. It also helps on the other end of the spectrum as far as drought conditions and just how dry things are.”

On a typical day, making the observations and recording them should only take a few minutes.

Hillaker says it may not sound like a big deal, but these volunteer observers play a key role in helping better document the amount and variability of rain and snow.

Joining the network of observers is free, but specific equipment is a must.

“There is a particular type of rain gauge that is used, not the least expensive thing, roughly $30 to 40 to get that gauge that’s required,” Hillaker says, “and the type of gauge does make a difference.”

The multi-state group is known as CoCoRaHS (CO-co-roz), the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network.

It was launched in Colorado in 1998 and is now in all 50 states and Canada.

14 year old Omaha teen facing murder charges

A 14 year old Omaha boy will be charged as an adult in the deadly shooting of a 17 year old Sunday afternoon at 25th and Crown Point Avenue.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine says, “Tyon Wells, 14 years of age, he is being charged as an adult with 2nd degree murder, use of a firearm and 2nd degree assault and use of a firearm.”

Kleine says Wells and another teen, 15 year old met with the two victims in what he describes as a drug deal involving marijuana gone bad. The accusation is that Wells pulled a firearm and fired three shots into a vehicle hitting two teens inside.

17 year old Zachary Parker was rushed to a hospital where he later died. 17 year old Devon Darnell was treated and released from a hospital.

The 15 year old with Wells will be charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and will face those charges in juvenile court. Kleine says he had no connection to the homicide.

Raybould calls for reinstating federal assault weapons ban

U.S. Senate candidate Jane Raybould is calling for a ban on assault weapons and other “common sense measures” to reduce gun violence.

It is the focus of her first campaign ad:

She says several gun control proposals have bipartisan support.

“Common sense gun safety measures that will protect the Second Amendment right, but still offer safety measures, like closing loopholes on background checks,” Raybould tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Raybould takes aim the National Rifle Association and incumbent Senator Deb Fischer, who has received campaign contributions from the group.

“Many of our elected officials, certainly like my opponent, just continue to allow a special interest group, like the NRA, to hold our country hostage, rather than keeping our families and kids safe,” Raybould says, vowing not to accept any campaign contributions from the group.

She says she supports the Second Amendment, but believes some regulation is needed.

“Like President Trump, taking a stand, let’s ban bumpstocks and let’s raise the minimum age to 21 for young people to purchase a weapon,” Raybould says. “On closing background checks [loopholes] when you purchase a gun online or you purchase a weapon through some of the gun shows. These are common sense measures that can be easily implemented.”

Nebraska bank dumps NRA Visa card

NRA photo

After hearing an outcry from customers following last week’s deadly shootings at a Florida school, officials with First National Bank of Omaha say they’ll be dropping a co-branded credit-card with the National Rifle Association.

The bank’s spokesman made a statement Thursday via email, saying it will not renew its contract for the NRA Visa card.

The bank official declined interviews, as did the NRA.

First National is Nebraska’s largest bank by deposits.

Tensions are high in many circles over firearms and the association, after the attack at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead.

President Trump praised the NRA on Thursday and suggested teachers who carry guns to class should get bonus pay.

Study: Opioid crisis hits construction industry harder than others

A report finds the construction industry in the Midwest is being disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic.

Report co-author Jill Manzo, a researcher with the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, says construction work is particularly vulnerable to the epidemic because of the physical nature of the work.

“Nearly 1,000 construction workers across the Midwest died from an opioid overdose in 2015,” Manzo says. “It cost the construction industry and the Midwest economy over $5-billion in lost production, lost lifetime earnings, pain and suffering costs, and reduced quality of life costs every year.”

“Construction is one of the most physically-demanding and dangerous occupations in the United States,” Manzo says. “Construction workers pull, lift, remove debris and work with heavy equipment every day and this causes wear and tear on the body. The injury rate for construction workers is 77% higher than the national average for other occupations.”

The report finds 15% of construction workers struggle with substance abuse, which is nearly twice the national average. Also, it found opioids account for about 20% of all total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry — far higher than its share in other industries.

Being a construction worker is a challenging occupation, Manzo says. “They’re paid hourly and a lot of it is seasonal work and if they get injured, they want to pop a pill to go back to work, basically,” Manzo says. “There’s a lot of incentive, especially with the skilled worker shortage, they turn to opioids as opposed to physical therapy to get back to work at a faster rate.”

The report from the Minnesota-based institute offers recommendations for reversing the trend, including:

  1. Provide health insurance that covers substance abuse and mental health treatment,
  2. Adopt new policies in health plans that limit dosages of opioid medications.
  3. Encourage physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications for chronic wear-and-tear injuries.
  4. Educate employees about responsible prescription opioid use.
  5. Provide at least two weeks of paid sick leave.
  6. Update employee policies to include regular drug testing, but do not immediately fire employees who test positive.
  7. Temporarily put employees on prescription opioids in low-risk positions.
  8. Fund substance abuse treatment programs and workforce development initiatives.

Economic growth expected to continue through summer

(Graph from Bureau of Business Research, University of Nebraska)

Nebraska businesses are increasingly confident about expanding sales and hiring over the next six months. That is the assessment from the latest leading economic indicator report.

Overall, the indicator rose by 1.18 percent in January, which suggests growth six months from now.

Dr. Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska, says that increase is significant.

“It’s nearly large enough to suggest rapid growth in the economy, but not quite,” Thompson tells Nebraska Radio Network.

The declining value of the U.S. dollar helped push the indicator up.

“The U.S. dollar, after rising recently, fell pretty strongly during the month of January, and that’s a positive for Nebraska businesses that export,” Thompson explains.

He says increasing business confidence also boosted the indicator last month. Part of that is from businesses that export.

“Nebraska is a state that, among other things, specializes in the production of goods, particularly in agriculture, but also general manufacturing,” Thompson says. “We benefit quite a bit from international trade.”

Businesses are more confident that their sales will grow and they will do more hiring.

The only drag during January was a slight increase in new unemployment claims.

“We’ll need to see if that continues,” Thompson says. “Based on the outlook that the business survey is reporting, I wouldn’t expect that we’re going to see a continued spike in initial claims for unemployment insurance.”

Safety experts ask farmers to rethink all actions near grain bins

Farmers are being asked to reconsider ever entering grain bins in a plea from Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.

Neenan says, “The farmer needs to ask themselves, ‘Do I really need to go in the bin? Is there something that I can do from outside of the bin instead of having to go inside?’”

Between one and three people die every year in Nebraska after becoming trapped in grain bins.

Neenan says if a farmer decides to enter a bin, there are some essential safety steps to follow.

“We need to lock-out and tag-out the power source to the auger,” Neenan says. “If you get in the bin with the auger turned on, or if you’re in the bin and somebody turns the auger on inadvertently, it can pull you to your waist in 15 seconds and completely submerge you within 30 (seconds).”

He recommends being at least 18 years old before entering a grain bin, ensuring good air quality inside the confined space, wearing a body harness, and following the rule Neenan says is broken most on the farm.

“Entering into the bin should be a minimum of a two-person job,” Neenan says. “The person entering into the bin, and then there needs to be a reliable attendant outside who’s one and only job is to watch what’s going on inside the bin.”

He says that attendant should -not- enter the bin if there’s trouble, but instead call emergency services. This is National Grain Bin Safety Week.

Local investors come to rescue, corner grocery reopens in Coleridge after 8-month absence

A small town in northeast Nebraska has its grocery store back. Ken’s Corner Market in Coleridge reopened earlier this month after it closed in June of last year.

The store’s new manager, Paula Dirks, says the response has been very warm.

“We’ve had a very good turnout,” Dirks says. “Lots of people came in to check the store out. We’re still filling our shelves each day. We get two to four trucks a week. It’s going really good.”

Dirks says they’ve added some special features the previous store didn’t offer.

“We have a coffee and cappucino machine and we have a bakery that we do sticky rolls, cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches, pastries and breads,” Dirks says. “And we do the meats, lots of new items and things that people want in the store.”

Coleridge has a population of around 460 and since the market closed, residents were having to drive ten or 15 miles for their groceries.

More than 70 local investors raised some $180,000 to clean up, restock and reopen the store. Dirks says she’s happy to provide the service.

“Everybody I hear come in the story is very proud to have it open again and proud to be here and shop here,” Dirks says. “I get nothing but complements on how everything looks and tastes. I’m glad I can be here to be a part of it.”

Dirks says the store now has two full-time employees with eight part-time workers.

Icy conditions round 2 for Nebraska overnight

A Winter Weather Advisory will be in effect for a good portion of Nebraska starting at 9 p.m. tonight until 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Becky Kern is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service and says another round of freezing drizzle, possibly mixed with sleet, is again in the forecast overnight.

Kern says, “It is looking like amounts will be very similar to what we saw this morning. It only takes a little bit of precipitation to fall like that to create havoc, as many are aware.  The precipitation should be out of the area around sunrise, 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning Tuesday and then clearing out.”

The Winter Weather Advisory extends across a large portion of the region. Kern says it extends from northern South Dakota south to Kansas City and from central Nebraska east across all of Iowa.  Kern says travel will be challenging.

Nebraskans can expect dry conditions on Wednesday but snow and freezing rain is again likely Thursday afternoon into Friday..

NeRAIN website gets cleaner look, user-friendly navigation

After a dozen years, a popular, state weather website has a new design.

The NeRAIN website, which stands for Nebraska Rainfall Assessment and Information Network, is run by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Jim Williams, DNR engineer, says retooling was necessary, partly because the server and software were too old to update.

“We also wanted to get a new look and feel,” Williams tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We wanted to make the new website a little friendlier for folks who use mobile phones or tablets.”

Google Maps were incorporated to give the site a fresh look, which Williams says it gets hundreds of thousands of hits a year.

“And that’s taking out the web robots that often go after these kinds of sites,” he points out. “It is far and away the website with the most activity related to the Department of Natural Resources.”

The website counts on hundreds of citizen scientists to upload rainfall totals as well as snow and hail reports.

“It’s a four-inch diameter, clear plastic rain gauge, so we know exactly what we’re measuring,” Williams explains. “They actually check that rain gauge every single day. So we’ve asked the volunteers not to use any sort of automatic equipment.”

He says the Department works with regional Natural Resource Districts to provide training for volunteers.

And there is always a need for more weather watchers to join the effort.

“Some volunteers get upset when somebody moves in near them, but I tell them to be happy about that,” Williams says. “It is really surprising how different rainfall can be just a few blocks or a few miles away.”

A link to the NeRAIN website is HERE.

Survey finds health care in rural areas lacks compared to urban settings

A survey of health care providers and community leaders in Nebraska and six other states focused on the state of health care in rural America — and strategies to improve it.

Heidi Schultz, a rural health care program officer with the Bipartisan Policy Center, says there are renewed efforts to revive rural America, but its residents continue to face greater disparities and barriers to quality health care than their urban counterparts.

“What we hear the most is just concern for being able to provide the kind of health care that each community needs,” Schultz says. “These health care providers really want to do the right thing for their patients but a lot of times their hands are tied by either reimbursement mechanisms or regulations.”

A federal report finds 46-million Americans living in rural areas are at a greater risk of dying from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than city dwellers.

Schultz says rural residents also have higher rates of obesity, tobacco and opioid use, and suicide than in urban areas.

“A lot of times, it’s access to health care, it’s distance to health care and it’s our population,” Schultz says. “Our population in rural (areas) tends to be older, we have a lot of obesity and we do have a lot of people living in poverty, so there are quite a few reasons those statistics exist.”

According to the report, some of the main health care issues rural residents are struggling with include heart trouble, COPD and lung problems, and a high rate of type two diabetes.

Schultz says, “We also have a lower number of mental health providers and we heard a lot in these roundtables and interviews, concern for people with mental health issues and concern for the providers that want to help them but maybe don’t have the tools they need or a place to refer them to.”

One recommendation is to “rightsize” health care services to fit community needs, recognizing that every rural area is different and has different needs.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that every community needs a hospital with in-patient beds,” she says. “What we see in a lot of rural communities is the need for clinics, out-patient services, specialty care, therapies following a stroke or a severe illness.”

The report, “Reinventing Rural Health Care: A Case Study of Seven Upper Midwest States,” was created in collaboration with the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE).

In addition to Nebraska, the surveys were also conducted in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. See the full report at: bipartisanpolicy.org.

New degree offering at NCTA caters to poultry production

The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) is partnering with Mississippi State University (MSU) on a new program.

The agreement means NCTA students can earn an Agricultural Production Systems degree with a poultry science concentration.

Ron Rosati, NCTA dean, says graduates will be ready to work in Nebraska’s growing poultry industry thanks to Mississippi State, which he says has one of the best programs in the country.

“The people are top-notch. The facilities are great,” Rosati tells Nebraska Radio Network. “In addition, they’re willing to let our students attend Mississippi State for the semester while paying resident tuition.”

NCTA students will spend their third semester attending classes at Mississippi State.

“They have all the infrastructure needed to teach a good poultry science program,” Rosati explains. “They have nine faculty experts, just in poultry, many of them with multiple decades of commercial experience in the industry.”

Rosati says Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont plans to offer internships and provide guest lecturers, in addition to likely hiring graduates of the program.

“Mississippi State has changed its schedule just for our students, which is just incredible,” Rosati says. “Our students can take a full semester of just poultry science, commercial poultry production, while they’re in Mississippi.”

Rosati says the associate’s degree will prepare students to work in management positions throughout the industry.

The new program will enroll its first studentst his fall.

Mary Beck, poultry science department head, spent 25 years as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska prior to taking the helm at Mississippi State.

“It is exciting to be able to partner with a college in Nebraska to help train the state’s workforce in poultry and expand agriculture in a place where I spent much of my career,” Beck said in a news release. “This is a unique partnership that should be mutually beneficial to our two institutions and states.”

NebFile is ready for Nebraska tax filers

NebFile is open for Nebraska resident to do their 2017 individual income tax returns.

The online program is free to use, and 90 percent of Nebraskans can file that way, but not everyone.

“If you have some of the more complex credits, that require documentation or special forms, then you won’t be able to use NebFile,” Dawn Holtmeier, Nebraska Department of Revenue tax specialist, tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Last year, 26,000 people used NebFile. Holtmeier says all e-filing programs save the state time and money.

“It’s a much quicker process,” she says. “We believe it’s more accurate as well as people probably are going to get their refund faster.”

Filers do have to have your federal tax return completed before using NebFile.

“NebFile is kind of a question and answer. It says, ‘Do you have this credit? What amounts are shown on your federal return for adjusted gross income?’ Then it does the filling out of the Nebraska return for you,” Holtmeier explains.

She says using NebFile can take as little as 15 minutes to complete.

If a user has a questions, the Department of Revenue’s taxpayer hotline is open 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 800-742-7474 (NE and IA) or 402-471-5729.

Economist predicts 2018 will be tough for Nebraska farmers and ranchers

A recent report by CoBank predicts the farm economy in Nebraska will tighten this year and that will lead to more farmers filing Chapter 12 bankruptcy. In 2014, there were 380 filings statewide. Last year, there were more than 500.

Jay Rempe, the senior economist at the Nebraska Farm Bureau, says farmers will continue to struggle in the year ahead.

“The incomes have come off 50% since their highs,” Rempe says. “It’s a transition. It’s a struggle to make ends meet, especially looking forward, we don’t see any changes in the near term in terms of income opportunities or huge growth in income opportunities so it’s going to be tough for some folks out there for a while.”

Rempe says some growers and livestock producers have been surviving because they’ve had cash on hand.

“We’re seeing that uptick which you’d have to expect, given the income conditions,” Rempe says. “On the bright side, if there is a silver lining, coming into this situation, most guys were sitting very good with their working capital and they are managing to stay afloat with their working capital.”

Rempe advises producers to keep good lines of communication open with their lenders, and to take advantage of any possibilities that arise.

“Look for those marketing opportunities,” Rempe says. “2018 looks like they might be few and far between but when they’re there, don’t hesitate to have a marketing plan and to move forward. We’re seeing a lot of costs being squeezed out of agriculture right now and that’s got to continue.”

Rempe says some Nebraska producers have been rebounding a bit but most of those are livestock producers. He says grain farmers continue to struggle.

Hundreds of pounds of drugs discovered after two I-80 traffic stops

Seward County sheriff deputies discovered 343 pounds of hydro marijuana inside vacuum sealed bags after a traffic stop on I-80 Jan. 26. (photo from Seward County Sheriff’s Office)

Millions of dollars of marijuana are in police custody after a couple of traffic stops on I-80.

Lancaster County Sheriff’s deputies confiscate over a million dollars worth of marijuana and other drugs near Lincoln.

“Police K9 was dispatched around the vehicle and indicated the odor of narcotics,” Terry Wagner, Lancaster County Sheriff, told reporters at a news conference. “In the bed of this Toyota Tundra was located 328 pounds of vacuum-sealed marijuana, 2,480 pre-loaded THC-concentrate vapor pens.”

Sheriff Wagner says they also confiscated $10,000 in cash and arrested a 38 year old Wyoming man.

“Total street value of the narcotics is about $1.4 million,” Wagner said, “but a big seizure by the task force.”

This comes after Seward County deputies confiscated more than 340 pounds of marijuana valued at $1.5 million dollars in a traffic stop on I-80.

Gov. Ricketts Celebrates School Choice Week

 LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts celebrated School Choice Week in Nebraska.  Governor Ricketts signed a proclamation for School Choice Week in the Warner Legislative Chamber and held a press conference alongside Katie Linehan of Educate Nebraska and Clarice Jackson of the Voice Advocacy Center.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed that education ‘teach[es] one to think intensively and to think critically.’  We know this intuitively,” said Governor Ricketts.  “A quality education system and informed citizenry are foundational to the health of our republic. To achieve this, we must work together to expand educational opportunities for the next generation of Nebraskans.”

School Choice Week is celebrated nationally January 21-27, 2018.  More information about National School Choice Week can be found here.

“The demand for school choice continues to grow,” said Katie Linehan, executive director of Educate Nebraska.  “Every child deserves the opportunity to attend a school that best suits his or her unique needs and families in Nebraska continue to seek additional options, regardless of income level or zip code.”

Roadblock for a new Douglas County drive-in

A Fremont couple is hoping to break ground on new, retro-style drive in movie theater in Douglas County this year. Jenny and Jeff Karls purchased 40 acres of land on Highway 36 and 300th Street for the project.  The Douglas County Planning Commission gave their approval and the County Board was going to address it at their meeting on Tuesday  Jeff Karls says then came a hurdle.

Karls says, “The main issue we have right now is some discussion that needs to take place with a neighbor. There was a letter submitted that raised some concerns, most of which have been covered with our work with the Council.  We’ve worked with both the state and the county in our plans to ramp up for this meeting.”   Karls says they have a meeting scheduled this week with the neighbor to discuss concerns.  He says they have put a lot of time and effort into their planning and they want to make sure the project has a positive impact on the area.  The Douglas County Board tabled the issue until their February 6th meeting.

Karls says they plan to call the drive-in “The Quasar”. Phase one includes a 100 x 50 foot screen, room for 420 vehicles, double features on weekends and of course a retro snack bar.  He says, “It is a throw-back retro structure and if you are going to bring people out there at 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening for a show that starts at 9:00, you have to have a fantastic dinner menu.  You want them to come out and spend the evening, you want the kids to play and make an evening of it.  For most of the ones we’ve been to around the country, it is a value for their customers.  An adult admission.  Kids under 12 are free.  They get a double feature.  They get a really good value for their money that way.”

Karls hopes to break ground this summer and running at full speed by the 2019 movie going season.  Phase two includes adding another screen at a later date.

Unicameral considers tighter rules on seat belt use

Sen. Roy Baker

Nebraska legislators are considering a bill that would make seat belts mandatory for everyone in the vehicle. Current law only requires the driver and front-seat passenger to be belted in. Senator Roy Baker of Lincoln is sponsoring the legislation.

“The law calls for secondary enforcement, meaning, a citation can only be issued if the driver’s first charged with another violation,” Baker says. “I chose to leave it that way from the desire to get a bill that would pass.”

The state’s secondary offense seat belt law has been on the books since 1993. You can’t be cited for not wearing a seatbelt unless you’re stopped for some other violation. Fifteen states have secondary offense seatbelt laws, while 34 states and the District of Columbia have stronger, primary offense laws. Only New Hampshire, has no occupant protection law.

Baker’s seat belt bill is getting the backing of Laurie Klosterboer, executive director of the Nebraska Safety Council.

“Do unbelted occupants pose a risk to other people in the vehicle? Yes,” Klosterboer says. “In a frontal crash, drivers and front seat passengers are at increased risk of injury from unbelted back seat passengers and in a side impact crash, passengers sitting adjacent to unbelted passengers are at increased risk of injury.”

Safety experts say an unbelted person can become, in effect, a missile who injures themselves or others, in a crash.

Coleen Nielsen, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance, says a recent study found rear seat passengers often believe they are safer, simply because of their position in the vehicle.

“This shows a clear misunderstanding about why belts are important, no matter where the person sits in the vehicle,” Nielsen says. “Further, those safety belts are proven to save lives. More than half of the people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted. One person’s decision not buckle up can have consequences for the other people riding with them.”

Another related vehicle safety bill, from Senator Bob Krist of Omaha, would make it a primary offense for younger drivers to use a handheld wireless devices while behind the wheel.

Senator Baker, who represents the 30th District of Gage County and part of Lancaster County, says there are compliance differences between states that have primary seatbelt laws and those like Nebraska, where it’s a secondary offense. In states where it’s a secondary law, an average of 80-to-83% of people use seatbelts. In states with primary offense laws, it’s about 89%.

Endangered Missing Advisory system launched to help find vulnerable adults

Nebraska has a new tool to help find a missing person.

The Endangered Missing Advisory (EMA) would be issued for an adult who is in some way vulnerable.

Jim Timm, Nebraska Broadcasters Association executive director, says radio and TV stations will help get the information to the public.

“We already have Amber Alerts,” Timm told news reporters on a conference call. “We decided an EMA could be an all-encompassing system where we can seek the public’s support to find missing persons quickly, and have it activated only through local law enforcement, rather than statewide.”

Capt. Jeremy McCoy, Nebraska State Patrol, says the system is modeled on guidelines from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“It’s designed for local law enforcement to be able to work with their local media,” he explains. “However, this gives them another option to ask us (NSP) to issue the Endangered Missing Advisory.”

The new system will not trigger an alert on your cell phone, like an Amber Alert does.

“This type of an alert is used when the risk of someone being beyond a distance of maybe even a few miles is not very great,” Timm said.

He says local law enforcement can contact the Nebraska State Patrol to issue an advisory.

The public can sign up to receive the alerts as well, by going tot he State Patrol’s website.

First child death from the flu in Nebraska this season

State health officials say a child in central Nebraska has died of complications from the flu.

The child’s identity is being kept private.

State epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek says this flu season has been particularly severe, both in the state and nationwide.

Dr. Safranek says, “We started seeing increased flu activity earlier than usual this year and flu continues to circulate at very high levels. During a severe flu season, we see more illness, hospitalizations and sadly more deaths.”

This marks the first child death from the flu in Nebraska this season, while there have also been 21 adult deaths. Nationwide, the CDC reports 30 children have died from the flu this season.

Safranek notes, while most children recover from the flu, some can have severe and sometimes fatal infections, but that has been rare in Nebraska.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months and older.

Winter Storm Causes Fatal Accident, Dozens of Crashes

JANUARY 23, 2018 (LINCOLN, NEB.)  — Most Nebraska roadways became covered with snow and ice during Monday’s large winter storm, which included blizzard conditions across much of the state. There were numerous accidents on Nebraska’s major highways Monday and potentially hazardous road conditions continue in many areas.

A weather-related accident resulted in two fatalities in Kimball County at approximately 4:45 p.m. Monday. A car driven by Frankie Back, 30, with passenger Joshua Hack, 33, both of Kimball, lost control because of poor weather conditions while driving southbound on Highway 71 approximately two miles north of the Colorado border. The 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer crossed the center line and struck a northbound semi. Back and Hack were pronounced deceased at the scene. The driver of the semi, Abraham Lamas-Cuevas, was transported to the Kimball Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

In addition to that accident, weather was to blame for many more accidents throughout the state. Two accidents on Interstate 80 resulted in pile-ups of more than ten vehicles each. One of those accidents, near the Goehner exit, sent four people to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. The other accident, near the Greenwood exit, did not result in any significant injuries.

The Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) responded to around 75 accidents during the storm and made 375 motorist assists. Many of those motorist assists were for drivers who had become stranded. Dozens of vehicles remain stranded around the state as conditions were too dangerous for tow trucks to operate on major highways for much of Monday.

Troopers throughout the state report that roads are still covered with ice in some areas. NSP recommends that anyone travelling today use caution and prepare for traffic to move slower than normal. Nebraska’s 511 system is the best source of road and travel condition information.

Nebraska unemployment rate holds steady at 2.7%

Nebraska’s unemployment rate held steady last month.

The Nebraska Department of Labor reports the state unemployment rate in December was 2.7%, the same as in November.

Nonfarm employment dropped slightly in December, but still remained over one million workers. In December, nonfarm employment in Nebraska totaled 1,037,248 compared to 1,039,493 in November.

According to state officials, the unemployment rate for the Omaha area rose from 2.5% in November to 2.8% in December. The Lincoln area unemployment rate also rose three-tenths of a percent last month; from 2.1% to 2.4%. In Grand Island, the unemployment rate rose from 2.5% in November to 3.1% in December.

Nebraska DOT crews focusing on northeast Nebraska roads

Travel across Nebraska is starting to resume after Monday’s blizzard. Nebraska Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeni Campana says they are now focusing on the northeast quarter of the state that took the brunt of the storm.

Campana says, “Most of our problems are in the northeast Nebraska area. Kind of in the Pender, Norfolk area.  There are quite a few roads that are still closed and crews are starting to work to get those open.”

DOT reports critical road restrictions on Nebraska Highways 9,12, 32, 35, 50 and 91 and U.S. 20. The I-80 corridor across Nebraska is open but Campana says there could still be some slick areas so drivers need to stay alert to road conditions.

Many vehicles were abandoned alongside of the road or slid off into ditches or medians during the blizzard. Campana says they are working with the Nebraska State Patrol and tow truck companies to clear those vehicles so the snow plows can continue to focus on the roads.  How long that will take depends on the number of vehicles stuck in the snow and tow truck availability.

Travelers can keep track of road conditions by logging on to 511.nebraska.gov or by downloading the 511 app.

Nebraska State Patrol continues clean up after winter storm leaves the state

Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) continues to deal with the snow storm that moved through the state Monday.

Colonel John Bolduc, NSP superintendent, says roads conditions are poor throughout Nebraska.

“Roads still are very slick in many parts of the state,” Bolduc said during a conference call with news reporters. “Up in the Troop B area, between Norfolk and Omaha, we still have some road closures.”

He says drivers need to still be careful today, because roads remain slick, and give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going.

“Allow for greater stopping distances,” he advises. “We still have icy conditions in many parts of the state. It depends on your locale, but check 511 for road conditions and be constantly alert.”

The Nebraska 511 mobile app and website have real-time traffic conditions.

“Please use caution when you see those emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and snowplows,” Bolduc said. “Give yourself greater [following] distances. That’s going to be a condition we deal with the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Heavy snow, fierce winds shut down traffic, cut off power, and kill at least two in Nebraska

I-80 in Seward County/Nebraska State Patrol photo

Heavy, wet snow with fiercely strong winds brought blizzard conditions to much of Nebraska Monday, causing traffic in parts of the state to shut down, cutting off power to thousands, and killing at least two.

The Kimball County Sheriff’s Office reports two people died Monday when the driver lost control of his vehicle on icy Highway 71 south of Kimball in the Panhandle.

Schools across the state canceled classes. Some businesses closed or shut their doors early. Whiteout conditions shut down travel in western, central, north-central, and northeastern Nebraska.

Snow totals varied widely with the brunt of the storm sparing the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, Omaha and Lincoln, and much of southeastern Nebraska.

About a foot-and-a-half of snow fell on north-central Nebraska, around the Ord and Fullerton areas. Norfolk, in northeastern Nebraska, recorded more than 14 inches of snow.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency reported more than 5,000 Nebraskans without power due to the storm as heavy, wet snow brought down power lines.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation had to pull snowplows off some highways Monday after drivers could no longer see the roads. Snow plows had to get off Highways 20, 183, and 92 in the Broken Bow area for a while as visibility dropped to zero, according to NDOT.

Portions of Interstate 80 closed several times as the number of accidents piled up. Some were injury accidents.

I-80 rest areas in western Nebraska shut down for a while. Truck drivers pulled into the rest area parking lots or on the shoulder to wait out the storm.

The Nebraska State Patrol reported troopers came to the aid of stranded motorists stuck north of Grand Island. NSP reports troopers answered hundreds of calls.

The forecast provides some relief for the state. Temperatures are expected to steadily climb for the remainder of the week with highs above freezing, sunny skies, and more tolerable wind conditions.

NDA SEEKS PROPOSALS FOR SPECIALTY CROP GRANTS DEADLINE FEB. 9

LINCOLN – The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) is currently accepting grant proposals for its 2018 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP). NDA administers the program, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The deadline for submitting proposals is Feb. 9.

“Nebraska’s specialty crop industry is thriving with help from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program,” said NDA Director Steve Wellman. “The program supports research, development and marketing of specialty crops and offers resources for innovative projects and ideas that help grow Nebraska’s ag industry.”

Specialty crops are fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture).

For the 2018 SCBGP, NDA anticipates approximately $600,000 will be available to fund new projects. Producers, organizations and associations, as well as state and local agencies, educational groups and other specialty crops stakeholders are eligible to apply.

Thirteen specialty crop projects were funded in Nebraska last fall through the program for a total of nearly $600,000.

This year’s proposals will be reviewed and scored using select criteria. Applicants who make it through the first round will be asked to submit additional information. NDA and USDA will announce the projects receiving funding in the fall.

Instructions for submitting a proposal, proposal applications, performance measures and program guidelines are available on NDA’s website at nda.nebraska.gov/promotion/scbgp/index.html. All proposals should be saved as a Microsoft Word .docx file and sent electronically to casey.foster@nebraska.gov by the Feb. 9 deadline. For additional information contact: Casey Foster at (402) 471-4876, or by the email listed above.

To view a comprehensive list of eligible specialty crops and examples of projects funded under the SCBGP, visit USDA’s website at ams.usda.gov/services/grants/scbgp.

Nebraska DOT – give us room to work

The Nebraska Department of Transportation in eastern Nebraska started work early this morning to prepare for the snow and blizzard conditions. Jim Laughlin says, “We had our trucks in early this morning.  We started putting some salt down to create a brine to hopefully keep the snow from packing to the pavement.  A layer of salt will help us peal it off the snow later today.’

Laughlin says they are working twelve hour shifts until the all clear is given. The D-O-T has 40 trucks clearing roads in the Omaha metro area alone.  There are things that drivers can do to help them out.

Laughlin says, “Our plows are big trucks and they have a lot of blind spots on them. I advise drivers to give them a little bit of space.  From my perspective it is always better to be behind a snow plow than try to pass it.  They have a lot of blind spots and they might not see you, especially on the right hand side.  Give them a lot of space.”

NDOT Reminds Drivers to Prepare for Winter Travel

January 22, 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.

“With this storm, we encourage Nebraskans to be aware of the weather and travel conditions should they feel the need to drive.  Know before you go and make the best decision possible given the current conditions,” 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.

For safe-driving tips and winter weather information, visit NDOT’s website,
http://dot.nebraska.gov/safety/driving/winter/

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.