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LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts issued a statement on a resolution approved by the U.S. Senate to affirm the First Amendment and the No Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The resolution was introduced by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

“Thank you to Senator Sasse for his leadership in the U.S. Senate to reaffirm the key role religious freedom plays in the public life of the American Republic,” said Governor Ricketts.  “Recently, we saw Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Mazie Hirono question a judicial nominee’s qualifications based on the nominee’s religious affiliation.  This line of attack is a prejudiced assault not only on the individual nominee, but also on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  I am encouraged that the U.S. Senate has backed Sen. Sasse’s resolution, and I renew my call for the swift confirmation of Brian Buescher as the next federal judge for Nebraska.”

Today is observed as Religious Freedom Day in Nebraska and across the United States.  The Governor recently hosted faith leaders at the Nebraska State Capitol to sign a proclamation highlighting the day.  More information about the Governor’s proclamation can be found by clicking here.

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is set to take the oath of office for his second and final term.

The Republican governor will take the oath at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol. He will deliver his annual State of the State address to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Other top state officials are slated to take the oath of office Thursday. They are Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Stephanie Stacy, Secretary of State-elect Bob Evnen, State Treasurer-elect John Murante, State Auditor Charlie Janssen and Attorney General Doug Peterson.

Also taking the oath are Public Service Commissioner Tim Schram, State Board of Education members Maureen Nickels and Robin Stevens, and University of Nebraska Board of Regents Elizabeth O'Connor, Rob Schafer and Barbara Weitz.


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Lincoln, NE - Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers is renewing his push to abolish the death penalty after his last successful attempt was overturned by voters in 2016.

The longtime Omaha senator introduced a repeal bill Thursday on the Nebraska legislative session's second day.

Nebraska received national attention in 2015 when the Legislature overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto and ended capital punishment. Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot campaign that placed the issue before voters, who reinstated the punishment. Ricketts donated $300,000 of his own money to the campaign.

Nebraska executed its first inmate since 1997 last year, using a never-before-tried combination of drugs. Prison officials refused to identify their supplier, prompting lawsuits that accused them of violating Nebraska's public-records laws.

Chambers has fought for decades to abolish capital punishment.

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Jordan Engle/GICC

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Dr Josh McDowell and Dr Maggie Mintken

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Heartland United Way - Karen Rathke

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Grand Island, NE - Lauren Rathman joined the Grand Island Public Schools team Jan. 7 as a registered dietitian in Nutrition Services.

Rathman graduated with her masters degree in December from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and nutrition exercise health science, with an emphasis in community nutrition and health promotion.

Rathman will work with special diets, nutrition education for students and staff, menu and recipe tasting and development, and student and staff wellness.

Kris Spellman, director of nutrition services, said Rathman’s position was needed to help with the many responsibilities of nutrition services. She said Nutrition Services wants to create a better meal experience for students, which Rathman will play a role in.

“This will be helpful for us to better serve the students,” Spellman said.

Rathman said she is excited to be part of the GIPS team and developing the position.

“I’m most excited for the variety of job duties in this role at GIPS,” Rathman said. “I’m also looking forward to working in the cafeterias to do taste testing and recipe development. In that responsibility, I hope to help others be more familiar with eating foods they may have never tried.”


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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers are set to kick off a new session Wednesday with proposals to balance a tight state budget, lower property taxes and legalize medical marijuana in the face of a potential ballot measure.

The new, 90-day session will also usher in 13 new state senators who will reshape the officially nonpartisan Legislature in ways not yet known.

Here are some things to watch:

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THE BUDGET

A persistent state revenue shortfall could create budget headaches once again for lawmakers, who have relied on Nebraska's rainy-day fund the last several years.

Nebraska faces a projected $95.1 million revenue shortfall in its upcoming two-year, general fund budget.

It's a tiny fraction of the roughly $9 billion total state budget and smaller than other recent shortfalls, but some lawmakers worry the downturn will continue and they won't have enough money left in the rainy-day fund to cover state expenses. The fund holds about $296 million, down sharply from the $729 million stashed away in 2016.

"I think we may be getting to the point where we can't afford to use any more of that," said Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer, of Norfolk.

In an interview last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts said tapping the cash reserve was appropriate given the downturn in agriculture, the state's largest industry. Ricketts has previously said he'd like to keep about $500 million in the rainy-day fund.

"The reason you have a rainy-day fund is to help cushion against economic downtimes," he said. "In agriculture, it's clearly raining."

Lawmakers will also debate how to pay for a voter-approved measure to expand Medicaid to an estimated 90,000 low-income residents. Ricketts said he will fit that expense into his budget proposal to lawmakers, but it's likely to crowd out other priorities over time.

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PROPERTY TAXES

Lawmakers will try once again to address the complaints of farmers, ranchers and homeowners who have seen sharp increases in their local property tax bills.

The issue rises to the forefront nearly every year, but lawmakers seldom agree on how to pay for property tax cuts and who should receive most of the benefits.

"I'm relatively optimistic we can get something done this year," said Sen. Tom Briese, an Albion farmer who has introduced numerous property-tax proposals. "A lot more folks are realizing the gravity of the situation."

The biggest recipient of property tax dollars are K-12 public schools, particularly in rural districts that no longer qualify for state equalization aid because they contain too much valuable land. Farmers argue that they're paying higher property taxes even though lower commodity prices have reduced their incomes.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln, said she understands the pressure farmers are facing and wants to help, but she also sees needs in her urban district.

"We have to work together," she said. "The conservative and rural members need to work with the urban senators and the progressives to really get something done."

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ELECTING NEW LEADERS, SETTING THE RULES... AND MORE GRIDLOCK?

Lawmakers will choose new committee leaders in a secret-ballot election that's often full of surprises.

During the last elections in 2017, conservative Republicans won nearly all of the Legislature's leadership positions and tried to force through a change that would have made it harder for Democrats to win committee chairmanships in the future. Democrats and even some moderate Republicans blasted the moves as a partisan power grab, and the dispute brought the Legislature to a virtual standstill for 30 days.

The leadership votes were highly unusual in an officially nonpartisan Legislature, where committees are traditionally led by a mix of Republicans and Democrats. The new session will mark the first time lawmakers have formally addressed those issues since 2017.

Pansing Brooks said she's hopeful lawmakers will try to build coalitions more than they have in previous years.

"The original my-way-or-the-highway approach doesn't work," she said. "People are starting to realize it takes coalitions, it takes people working together."

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Nebraska lawmakers could face more pressure to legalize medical marijuana in some form, thanks to a group of senators and activists who are promising to put the issue on the 2020 ballot if nothing passes this year.

A newly formed ballot committee, Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, plans to launch a signature-gathering campaign, although organizers said they'd prefer that lawmakers address the issue. Sen. Anna Wishart, of Lincoln, a leading proponent, will introduce a medical marijuana bill this year.

Similar measures won approval last year in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah, bringing the total to 33 states that have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes. Unlike past efforts in Nebraska that have faltered, the latest campaign is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that has helped lead five successful marijuana-related ballot measures.


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Troopers and dispatchers with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) have successfully resolved an incident on Interstate 80 near Wood River.

The incident began when a trooper was notified of a vehicle that had been swerving while traveling eastbound on I-80 near Kearney. After locating the vehicle, the trooper attempted a traffic stop, but the vehicle continued driving eastbound. At that time that trooper observed a firearm inside the vehicle.

As the Ford F-150 pickup continued eastbound the driver called 911 and reached the Buffalo County 911 Center. He was transferred to NSP dispatchers who spoke with him for several minutes and were able to connect him with an NSP crisis negotiator.

Troopers conducted a controlled pursuit and were able to successfully use spike strips to deflate at least one of the pickup’s tires near the Wood River exit. The vehicle exited I-80 at mile marker 300, where NSP negotiators remained in contact.

After conversations for more than an hour, the subject voluntarily left the vehicle and was taken into custody at approximately 11:25 a.m. The subject has been taken into Emergency Protective Custody.

There were no injuries to anyone involved in this incident. The NSP Aviation Support Division, Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office, and Wood River Fire and Rescue assisted in this event.

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