Monday, April 21, 2014

Nationwide Perscription Drug Take-Back Day

LINCOLN - Attorney General Jon Bruning and the Nebraska State Patrol today announced seven collection sites in Nebraska for the Nationwide Prescription Drug Take- Back Day to be held Saturday, April 26, 2014. The agencies have partnered with the DEA to coordinate collection sites across the state to offer a secure way to dispose of unused or expired prescription medication.
At six national take-back events since May 2011, the Attorney General’s Office and partner law enforcement agencies have collected a total of 4,145 lbs. of unwanted drugs in coordination with the DEA. Statewide, 35,381 lbs. have been collected at sites during the national events. 
“I’m proud to partner with the Nebraska State Patrol and health facilities across the state to provide a safe and easy way to dispose of potentially dangerous medications,” said Bruning. “No one wants to see another life lost to prescription drug abuse.”
Unused medication will be collected between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at sites in Lincoln, Fremont, McCook, Columbus, Grand Island, West Point and York.
The Nationwide Take-Back campaign serves the dual purpose of creating awareness of prescription drug misuse and abuse and providing the public an opportunity to surrender their unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals to law enforcement for proper disposal.
The following locations will host collection sites from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 26:
Lincoln
Guardian Angels Homecare
3200 O Street, Suite 6 (North side of 32nd & O St.) 
Fremont
Fremont Area Medical Center
450 East 23rd Street 
West Point
St. Francis Memorial Hospital
430 N. Monitor Street  2 
Columbus
Columbus Community Hospital
 4600 38th Street
Lexington
Tri County Hospital
1201 North Erie
York
York General Hospital
 2222 N. Lincoln Avenue 
Grand Island
St. Francis Medical Center
2620 West Faidley   
For more information on collection site locations, visit www.nationaltakebackday.com

Gov. Heineman Signs Autism Coverage Bill into Law

 

 
(Lincoln, Neb.) Today, Gov. Dave Heineman is signed LB 254 into law. As a result of this law, some health insurance plans in Nebraska will provide coverage for screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in a child until the insured child is 21 years old.
“I’m pleased to sign this autism bill into law,” said Gov. Heineman. “I am signing this bill on behalf of Nebraska families who meet the challenges of autism every day.”
The Governor held a public bill signing news conference on with autism advocates. The autism bill was sponsored by State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, and had the backing of many autism advocacy groups and families.
“I care about this issue because I have seen the impact that this treatment can have on the future of a child with autism,” said State Sen. Coash. “Positive things can happen when they receive life-changing treatment. These families are strong willed and they never gave up on the bill, so I wouldn’t either. Today is a special day.”
One of the autism advocates involved in the legislation is Vicki Depenbusch of Lincoln, who is the mother of an autistic son, Jacob. Governor Heineman met Jacob at his parent teacher conference held in 2010. For the last 4 years, the two have communicated regularly and attended events together. Governor Heineman appreciates his friendship with Jacob, who calls himself the “Governor’s Buddy.”
“This is a great day for Autism families in Nebraska,” said Depenbusch. “It gives us hope that our children will be the best citizens that they can be.”
The insurance coverage includes behavioral health treatment, such as applied behavior analysis, for autism. This type of treatment will be limited to 25 hours per week and the insurer will be able to review the treatment once every six months. 
Certain insurance plans will be exempt from providing the autism requirement, according to LB 254. Those include health plans sold in the individual or small group federally facilitated marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act. Also, Nebraska is preempted from mandating coverage on plans governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Most private employer sponsored plans are ERISA plans.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Taxed at Every Turn

Deb Fischer
Sen. Deb Fischer
Each year, April 15 serves as the dreaded deadline for all Americans to file their taxes. Nebraskans, especially small business owners, spend hours going through their records to fill out the necessary forms and meet the IRS’ seemingly endless reporting requirements. An estimate from the National Taxpayer Advocate last year indicates Americans collectively spend 6.1 billion hours and $168 billion on efforts to navigate our confusing tax code and file taxes.
Hardworking Americans – including many who work two or three jobs to support their families – shouldn’t be expected to dedicate countless hours to comply with these burdensome requirements, or spend their money to hire expensive accountants.
When the income tax was ratified in 1913, the entire tax code was 400 pages. Today’s code and related rules now total more than 73,000 pages. While these regulations cause stress and frustration for families, they also create financial hardships that hold back businesses and job creators.
Tax Day is an annual reminder that our complex tax laws desperately need reforms. I remain committed to promoting a simpler, fairer system that provides certainty and encourages economic growth. To do so, I have been working on a number of specific legislative proposals that provide relief for families and job creators. These efforts include legislation to stop new taxes and eliminate misguided taxes already on the books.
For example, I cosponsored legislation to prevent the Obama administration from bypassing Congress to enact a costly national energy tax. If implemented, the president’s energy tax plan would jeopardize valuable jobs and raise electricity prices for all Nebraska families.
As a cosponsor of the Tax Freedom Forever Act, I have also worked to prohibit fresh taxation that could stall progress in needed broadband development. This legislation bans any new taxes on Internet access, as well as multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.
As more and more consumers spend their time and money online, expanded Internet access is increasingly essential to help businesses stay competitive and foster growth. Improved broadband access is also critical for promoting public safety. Rather than hindering growth with more taxes for more wasteful spending, the federal government should work to help both rural and urban communities update their aging and incomplete infrastructure.
The nearly century-old death tax is especially harmful as it taxes hardworking Americans twice – once when they earn their money, and again when they give it away. Family farmers, ranchers, and small business owners – our chief job creators – are hit hardest by the death tax, which undermines their ability to pass along thriving businesses to future generations. That’s why I cosponsored the Death Tax Repeal Act to permanently eliminate it from our tax code.
This year, April 15 was also the deadline for some Americans to sign up for government-approved health coverage, as required under ObamaCare. Unfortunately, many families will be forced to pay a penalty tax simply because they were unable to find affordable plans. Rather than lowering costs as promised, ObamaCare has caused millions of Americans to face higher premiums and diminished access to doctors they like. But it’s not just the individual mandate tax – there are over 20 new or increased taxes in ObamaCare, a law I remain committed to repealing and replacing with commonsense, patient-centered reforms.
These examples hardly scratch the surface of how our current tax policies are hurting Nebraska families and job creators. Moreover, the vast majority of economists agree that the single best way to create jobs and generate economic growth is through comprehensive tax reform – an issue I assumed would be at the top of our agenda when I arrived in Washington. Unfortunately, the Democrat leader in the Senate has not made it a top priority. Despite the lack of progress, I stand ready to work with my colleagues to make needed reforms. It’s hard work, but it’s why Nebraskans sent me here in the first place.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process, and I’ll visit with you again next week.
Deb Fischer
United States Senator

Lenae Kohmetscher Listed among Winners of 2014 Congressional Art Competition

 
Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE) announced the winning artists of the 2014 Congressional Art Competition: An Artistic Discovery.  Smith worked with the Nebraska Art Teachers Association to coordinate the competition.
The first place artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Smith will display the runners-up in his Washington, D.C. and Third District offices.
“Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Congressional Art Competition and to all of the students who submitted their work,” said Smith.  “The quality of the art submitted this year is further evidence of the talent of Third District students and their teachers.”

First Place: Thomas Hoxmeier from Orleans, Southern Valley High School
“Then There Were Three”
Thomas’ work will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year.

Second Place: Ethan Nelson from Dalton, Nelson Home School
“Aviator”
Ethan’s work will be displayed in Smith’s Washington, D.C. office.

Third Place: Lenae Kohmetscher from Blue Hill, Blue Hill Community School
“The Reason Behind it All”
Lenae’s work will be displayed in Smith’s Scottsbluff office.

Fourth Place: Shelby Engles from Kearney, Kearney High School
“My Best Friend”
Shelby’s work will be displayed in Smith’s Grand Island office.

Lenae is a student of Blue Hill art teacher Christine Brown who annually encourages her students  to enter the competition.. Mrs. Brown's Blue Hill Students have represented the school very well  in the competition for several years. 
This competition is open to all high school art students in Nebraska’s third congressional district. Each congressional district selects it's own winners.
Art works entered in the contest were to be two dimensional up to 28 inches by 28 inches (including the frame) and may be up to 4 inches in depth. The art work may be: Paintings - including oil, acrylics, and watercolor Drawings - including pastels, colored pencil, pencil, charcoal, ink, and markers Collage Prints - including lithographs, silkscreen, and block prints Mixed Media Computer Generated Art Photography All entries must be an original in concept, design and execution.
The Congressional Art Competition began in 1982 to provide an opportunity for members of Congress to encourage and recognize the artistic talents of their young constituents. Since then, over 650,000 high school students have been involved with the nationwide competition
In 2010, the competition was won by Blue Hill art student Kassie Starkey. Her art work entitled "Alone in Thought" was displayed at the capital building for a year.
 It was replaced in 2011 by Michaela Schlesinger's 2011 submission.  Danielle Wallace of Blue Hill was 1st alternate in 2010 with her piece called "portrait in a cassette tape". 
In 2012  Andi Meyer of Blue Hill won second place in the contest.with her oil painting entitled "Venice"
 Andi’s work was displayed in Smith’s Washington, D.C. office.

This competition is sponsored by Members of the U. S. House of representative and facilitated by the Nebraska Art Teachers Association.
 

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH

Duane A. Lienemann
UNL Extension Educator
                       

     I absolutely love this time of year! New born calves with their tails up in the air, running after each other or chasing a windblown object; the fresh smell after a long awaited rain; farmers in mass fertilizing, spraying or even planting – some chomping at the bit to get going; nice days with cool nights for great sleeping; the trees budding and even leafing out; crocus and other early flowers poking out of the ground; baby spears of grass starting to emerge – greening the pastures; all in the promise of a renewed agricultural year. Let us not forget another renewal – the renewal provided by this Holy season.
     As I write this column it is Good Friday. Let’s take pause from the activities of early spring to reflect a while. The Friday before Easter, is recognized and mourned as the anniversary of Christ’s death on the cross. It has been set apart as a holy day as long ago as the 300s. In some countries in Europe, bells are tied on this day so that they cannot ring. This is considered a solemn day, and is approached with a spirit of humility and reverence. Many Christians spend this day in fasting, prayer, repentance, and meditation on the agony and suffering of their savior, who gave his life for the salvation of mankind. While it concerns suffering, crucifixion, cruelty and death, I always wondered why this day was called “Good” Friday. 
     I, of course, did some research and found some ministerial explanations. The most common for many Christians is that Good Friday is considered a day of sorrow but mingled with joy. It is considered a time to grieve over the sin of man but to also meditate and rejoice upon God's love in giving His only Son for the redemption of sin. Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter!  Interesting enough I also found more academic explanations. I learned that there are two possible origins for the name "Good Friday". The first may have come from the Gallican Church in Gaul (modern-day France and Germany). The name "Gute Freitag" is Germanic in origin and literally means "good" or "holy" Friday. The second possibility is a variation on the name "God's Friday," where the word "good" was used to replace the word "God," which was often viewed as too holy to be spoken aloud.
     Then on the third day after Christ’s crucifixion on the cross, we celebrate Easter which honors his resurrection, or rising from the dead, which coincides with spring, the time when flowers, warm sun and green grass are beginning to push aside the dreary cold of winter and nature has its own resurrection. We have a resurrection – a renewal of nature and life.
     Have you heard of the Passion Flower?  It is actually the “Maypop”, a weed found growing in fields with an edible fruit, is commonly called the passion flower because the flower parts of its beautiful, unique lavender bloom seem to represent Christ’s Passion. The fringes in the center of the five petals are symbolic of Christ’s crown of thorns and the five pollen-bearing antlers are like the marks of his wounds. The division of the pistil where the seed develops represents the nails of the cross. The leaf is a symbol of the spear, which pierced his side while the tendrils of the plant represent the whips and cords used to beat and bound him, with the column of the ovary representing the pillar of the cross.
     Another beautiful flower which has come to be a sign of Easter, is the Easter lily, a tall plant with large waxy white fragrant blooms, a symbol of purity and light shaped like a trumpet as if to announce the risen Christ. It is primarily representative of a renewal. Just as the earth is dressed in a new cloak of greenery, people also wear new clothes for Easter.
     We cannot forget what a lot of young kids associate with Easter – the colored eggs hidden for them to find. The idea of Easter eggs actually came to us from ancient Egypt and Persia and the eggs are another sign of new life. The Easter bunny, which is now traditional at Easter, is actually another legend that originated in ancient times and is a novelty that young children eagerly look forward to. How, though, did the tradition of the bunny rabbit and eggs come about? 
     Being the educator, that I try to be, I can without reservation tell you that rabbits do not lay eggs. They instead give birth to live young. The modern method of celebration with both eggs and bunny during the Easter holiday has a history not only through Christianity but through paganism as well. Long ago in pre-Christian Germany, people worshipped the goddess Eostra during this same time of year. Eostra is the goddess of renewal and fertility. One of her symbols is the hare (or rabbit) due to the creature’s high rate of reproduction. Additionally, both eggs and the full moon are symbols of Eostre as both are indicative of renewal and fertility. Pay special attention to the name of this Goddess.
     You may by now have seen a connection.  Eostre supposedly gave her name to the Christian festival which became known as Easter. Feasts once held in worship of the goddess became part of the celebration of the day in which Christians believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Eggs, rabbits, the beginning of spring, and fertility were still honored even as Catholicism took hold and people began worshipping the life and death of Jesus Christ. As often happens, old traditions merged with the new beliefs, and so the pagan beliefs regarding rabbits and eggs became merged with the resurrection of Jesus. The day of the Easter celebration is symbolic of new beginnings.
     No matter if you believe in Good Friday and Easter, or think that this is just another day – one cannot dismiss the signs of new life, a new beginning, a resurrection in reality of the things we love in Nature. One cannot help but marvel at all the things around us and especially the care and the work that goes into the providing for food and fiber for our world. God has a hand in it, but so do our farmers and ranchers. They work hand in hand with nature to provide the environment conducive to growth of new seeds that they place in soil that has been generated from past growing seasons, rich not only in nutrients but in hope and anticipation for a new crop – which springs from the remnants of the departed. Happy Easter everyone!

The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or UNL Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, UNL Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email to: dlienemann2@unl.edu or go to the website at: http://www.webster.unl.edu/home 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Solutions for our Budget and the Economy

 
Rep. Adrian Smith
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a budget plan which honestly accounts for the federal government’s spending, proposes solutions to balance the budget in 10 years, and grow our economy.  This plan stands in stark contrast to current policy which will continue to spend more money than we have, burden our economy, and plague future generations with trillions of dollars of debt.
Our national debt has now exceeded $17 trillion, and without reform it is expected to increase by another $7.3 trillion during the next 10 years.  Despite the massive amount of deficit spending by the government, there is little to show for this “stimulus” to our economy.  Five years after the financial crisis far too many Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or live in poverty.  The lack of improvement in our economy is just the latest evidence we cannot tax, spend, and regulate our way to prosperity.
In order to grow the economy and create jobs we have to get government out of the way.  The House-passed budget would remove the government imposed barriers to growth by making responsible reforms to long-term spending, calling for a simpler tax code, promoting American energy production, and repealing burdensome policies such as Obamacare.  Economic growth and new jobs would not only benefit America today, they will increase revenue and help reduce the debt.
However, private sector growth alone will not be enough to balance the budget.  The United States currently borrows about 40 cents of every dollar it spends.  This is irresponsible and unsustainable.  The House budget goes after fraud, waste, and abuse today, but is also honest about the real drivers of our long-term deficit – entitlement programs.  Without reform, these popular programs will go bankrupt, and to do nothing is to endorse their demise.
Thankfully, there is still time to reform health programs including Medicare without making changes for current retirees by introducing market-based reforms.  For example, Medicare Part D costs 55 percent less in 2012 than originally estimated because negotiations and competition have driven down prices at every level.  Similar reforms to Medicare as a whole would give seniors more control over their health care and make the program sustainable for future generations.  The budget also calls on Congress and the President to submit their plans to stabilize the Social Security trust fund.
This budget plan is not perfect, but I am proud we in the House of Representatives are working to address these problems not sweep them under the rug.  The President’s budget does not include a plan to reduce our long-term deficit, but rather doubles down on his current strategy of more taxes, more spending, and more debt.  Even worse, Senate Democrats have not and do not plan to introduce a budget at all.
I was disappointed last year when the House and Senate agreed to a budget which failed to address long-term spending and actually broke the budget caps agreed to on a bipartisan basis in 2011.  I voted against this budget because I believe we can and must do better.  Ultimately, the House and Senate will have to work together to pass a spending plan to fund the government, but the failure of Senate Democrats to even propose a budget which moves beyond last year’s agreement to address the long term deficits and debt will all but ensure we pass another stop-gap measure and continue down the current path for another year.
The House-passed budget is not only a solution to balance the budget and begin to pay down our debt, it represents our governing philosophy and principles.  We believe it is possible to restore opportunity, fairness, and prosperity for all Americans through limited government and economic growth.  I hope you will take the time to learn more about our plan at http://budget.house.gov/fy2015

Monday, April 14, 2014

Legislative Newsletter

Sen. Tom Carlson
 
On this 59th legislative day, this is my 8th and last regular Legislative Session. It has been a time of joy, education, hard work, good friends, and doing my best to represent my constituents. I have learned so much about our great state and its people.
Today was the passage of what I consider my most important bill of these eight years. While I consider water to be the theme of my tenure, LB 1098 will be remembered as a bill that helped make possible water sustainability for generations to come.
LB 1098 will change the membership of and provide powers and duties for the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and make possible the distribution of money from the Water Sustainability Fund. The Natural Resources Commission will form rules and regulations to proceed in a process of considering appropriate research on water issues and evaluating proposed projects which contribute to attaining and maintaining a position of water sustainability across the state of Nebraska.
We have challenges of addressing water scarcity, water surplus, and water quality. LB 1098 provides the framework to deal with and solve these challenges.
In my view, we are water sustainable when, on average, we are not using any more water than what our supply provides. We must focus on growing more with less water, but we should also work to increase our supply of usable water. It is generally accepted that one million acre feet of water flows into the state every year while eight million acre feet flows out.
Appropriate amounts from the Water Sustainability Fund should be used to better hold back, or capture, water flowing into the state during wet years, to be used in dry years. We also need to address critical infrastructure to better guard against damaging floods.
Water is Life. LB 1098 is landmark legislation. I am thankful to those who served on the Water Sustainability Task Force last year. I also thank the Senators who served as advisory members on the Task Force, for the members of the Natural Resources Committee, and the members of the Legislature for their overwhelming support of LB 1098.
I appreciate Senator Lathrop for his contribution and the significant work of the Appropriations Committee for including the funding in the budget. Their support was critical.
We are near the end of this session. The past eight years, serving in the Legislature, have been one of the most interesting and satisfying experiences of my life. I am thankful for the support of you, my constituents, as well as my wife, Margo, and the legislative staff members who have been at my side each legislative day. I have the best staff in the Capitol. Thank you for allowing me this privilege.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Johanns, Fischer to Federal Agencies: Halt Scheme to Regulate Livestock Emissions

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer (R-Neb) and several of their Republican colleagues called on the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop pursuing regulations on livestock emissions. If enacted, the new regulations could cost medium-sized dairy farms up to $22,000 and medium-sized cattle farms up to $27,000 annually.
“Ag producers have a tremendous stock in maintaining a healthy environment—their livelihoods depend on it,” Johanns said. “These sorts of top-down regulations are not only absurd, but they create a tremendous burden for the industry. Agencies should work with Congress and the ag industry to develop manageable strategies to achieve our mutual goal of caring for our environment rather than trying to regulate them into oblivion.”
“Before these agencies start dispensing fresh reams of red tape, they first should consider the economic impact these new requirements will have on producers and their operations both in Nebraska and across the country,” Sen. Fischer said. “The agriculture community works hard year-round to protect our natural resources, as shown by the measurable progress in reducing methane emissions in previous years. More heavy-handed regulations will only create unnecessary burdens and increase costs for the livestock industry.”
On March 28, 2014, the President released his Climate Action Plan “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.” The proposal calls on the USDA, DOE, and EPA to develop a plan in the coming weeks that would reduce dairy sector methane greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by 2020. If this plan leads to heavy-handed regulations or mandatory guidelines, farmers and ranchers would likely face a steep increase in production costs. Currently, EPA is prevented from regulating GHG emissions associated with livestock production through an annual appropriations rider that expires at the end of each fiscal year.
Below is the text of the letter, signed by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and David Vitter (R-La.):

April 10, 2014

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
US Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20010
The Honorable Ernest Moniz
US Department of Energy
100 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20585
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
US Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
Dear Secretary Vilsack, Secretary Moniz, and Administrator McCarthy:
We are writing today in regards to the president’s plan released on March 28, 2014, to reduce methane emissions.  In particular, we are concerned about potential actions against the agriculture community to regulate methane and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could severely impact the livestock industry.

The president’s Climate Action Plan “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions” targeted a number of industries for methane emission reductions, including agriculture.  Specifically the plan calls on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Energy (DOE) to outline a “Biogas Roadmap” to reduce dairy sector GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020 through voluntary strategies. 

Federal regulations of GHGs in the agriculture sector would have detrimental implications on livestock operations across the country.  In 2008, as part of its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act, the EPA deliberated regulating agriculture-related emissions, which would have required farmers to purchase expensive permits.  It was estimated that these top-down regulations would have cost medium-sized dairy farms with 75 to 125 cows between $13,000 and $22,000 a year, and medium-sized cattle farms with 200 to 300 cows between $17,000 and $27,000.  We reject the notion that the EPA should, absent express authorization from Congress, seek to regulate the agriculture sector in this manner.

The agriculture community is committed to environmental stewardship, which is evidenced by the 11 percent reduction in agriculture-related methane emissions since 1990.  It is our hope that the EPA, USDA, and DOE will work with Congress and the agriculture industry to outline voluntary measures that can be taken to reduce emissions without imposing heavy-handed regulations on farms across America.  We respectfully request that you commit in writing to refrain from proposing new regulations, guidelines, or other mandatory requirements on methane or other GHGs from the agriculture industry.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH

Duane A. Lienemann
UNL Extension Educator

     I talked fleetingly last week about the recently released rule proposal that could vastly expand the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over farm and ranch operations. I think we need to take a closer look at this new rule this week and perhaps try to make it a little clearer. First of all, I do know that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the proposed new Clean Water Act will not require farmers to obtain new permits and further suggests that farming practices that do not currently require permits will not need them when the rule becomes law. Their position is that the rule's only goal is to clarify, not to impose greater authority.  However a lot of people including several large farm organizations disagree with that “promise”!  Not only is their suspicion of the EPA based on past activities, but of current activities that seem to favor extreme environmentalists and language that comes out of the department that is not conducive to conventional farms.
     Farmers Push Back on New EPA Rule: According to studies conducted by their lawyers and policy experts they feel that this proposal could have far reaching implications that would allow the EPA to tell farmers and ranchers what they can and can't do on their own land! They believe that this rule could have serious consequences as this authority would give EPA the power to require farmers and ranchers to have a permit for things like applying manure, fertilizer or pesticides; possibly even planting seeds; and even activities as commonplace and essential to farming as building a fence - but more frightening, the ability to deny a permit for them to do these things on their own land. To many farm organizations and farmers that have read this rule, it seems that is more about EPA controlling land use and taking away private property rights! 
     EPA says its new rule will reduce uncertainty, and that much seems to be true: there isn’t much uncertainty if most every feature where water flows or stands after a rainfall is federally regulated. Under EPA’s proposed new rule, waters – even ditches – are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest ‘navigable’ waters. Indeed, so-called ‘waters’ are regulated even if they aren’t wet most of the time.  In reality - this rule would give them the ability to claim federal authority over land where water pools or flows only during precipitation events (i.e. areas that are not wetlands or do not normally flow unless it is raining/snow melt). Think of all the fields where after a rain or snow melt that either pools or water runs!
     Furthermore, under this proposed rule, farmers, ranchers and every other landowner across the countryside could face a tremendous new roadblock to ordinary land use activities as described above. This is not just about the paperwork of getting a permit to farm, or even about having farming practices regulated. The fact is there is no legal right to a Clean Water Act permit – if farming or ranching activities need a permit, EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers can deny that permit. That’s why Clean Water Act jurisdiction over farmlands really amounts to nothing less than federal veto power over a farmer’s ability to farm. In short, the feeling is that the EPA has moved ahead with a proposal that Congress and the Supreme Court have determined goes well beyond the agency's authority. That is why we all should be concerned.
     EPA accompanied its proposal with a new ‘interpretive rule’ claiming to clarify certain statutory exemptions for agricultural conservation practices, including activities as commonplace and essential to farming as I mentioned earlier -- building a fence. But these exemptions apply only to ‘dredge and fill’ permit requirements. They do not protect farmers from federal veto power over pest and weed control, fertilizer application, and other essential farming activities that may result in the addition of ‘pollutants’ to ‘navigable waters,’ – providing one views every ditch and wet spot across the landscape as ‘navigable waters.’ I have a tendency to agree with the opposition on this issue as this “clarification” is troubling to me.
     The public-comment period for the proposed rule begins as soon as it is posted in the federal register! The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days. You can read the act at this site: http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/definition-waters-united-states-under-clean-water-act  . I participated in a webinar this week that I thought gave a very good explanation on the concerns that are levied against this new proposed EPA rule. The webinar was recorded and archived and can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhUMrHLmwo4  . It will be worth your time to watch and learn. Once again, be sure to study up on this and then use your rights as a citizen to give your comments towards this new rule!  
     Feds to Target Cows for Methane Reduction: While we are on the subject of the EPA, let’s look at something else that I found interesting if not laughable. This administration and the EPA is targeting the dairy and beef industry to reduce methane emissions in their operation, an issue that has long drawn criticism of the agriculture industry from environmentalists. Some of these methane emissions come from cow flatulence, exhaling and belching. That is what is comical to me. This comes despite falling methane emission levels across the economy since 1990.The White House has proposed cutting methane emissions from the dairy and beef industry by 25 percent by 2020. Although U.S. agriculture only accounts for a small amount of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, all domestic animal types, beef and dairy cattle were by far the largest emitters of methane, according (of course) to an EPA analysis charting greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. While it is true that cows and other animals produce methane through digestion, which ferments the food of animals, I think that this is just one more form of overreach and most likely a knee jerk reaction –to environmentalist pressure and to a new report put out by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which of course is really all about global warming! While this could lead to further problems, right now these proposals for curbing gas emitted by livestock strictly on voluntary measures that are largely already under way! But keep watch! Oh, do try to keep those cows from flatulating and belching!

The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or UNL Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, UNL Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email to: dlienemann2@unl.edu or go to the website at: http://www.webster.unl.edu/home  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lois Lerner Case Referred to Department of Justice

                            

Committee on Ways and Means turns over evidence of criminal acts

 
Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE), along with colleagues on the Committee on Ways and Means, turned over evidence of criminal acts by former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner to the U.S. Department of Justice for possible prosecution.  Lerner previously served as Director of the Exempt Organizations Division which is being investigated for the targeting of political groups because of their beliefs.
“Abuse of the tax code for political purposes undermines our founding principles of free speech and equality under the law,” said Congressman Smith.  “The documents we are turning over today clearly indicate the inappropriate targeting of conservative organizations by the IRS.”
Congressman Smith is a member of the Committee on Ways and Means which has jurisdiction over tax policy, including the IRS, among other issues.  The Committee, along with the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has led the House investigation into political targeting by the IRS.
Click here to view a PDF copy of the Ways and Means letter to the Department of Justice.
All of the public documents in this case are now available online at: http://gop.gov/irs.

Monday, April 7, 2014

QUOTE OF THE DAY


"Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise."


~Baden Powell,  (1857-1941), British army officer, founder of the Boy Scouts

How to Save a Billion Lives

Sen. Mike Johanns

 

Norman Borlaug might not be a name many would put on a list of American icons, but a statue of this Iowa farmer now stands with sculptures of former presidents and other great American figures in the U.S. Capitol. Inscribed on it is the phrase, “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.”
To put this in perspective, the world’s population is 7 billion.
Borlaug earned this title for his lifetime achievements in improving ag efficiency in developing nations struggling to feed their people. He used science and technology to develop plant genetics that would thrive in local conditions and could be used by local farmers.  As a result hungry nations began outpacing the starvation that was too often at their door.
The significance of his discoveries is only going to become more important as the global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That means limited resources must be stretched further to feed more people. The stakes are high and the implications are real. Fighting hunger is not only a matter of humanitarian aid, but also important for global stability.  Hungry people cannot advance their communities when their lives are spent looking for their next meal. Desperate nations spar with themselves over scarce necessities, and become easy targets for adversarial neighbors looking to capitalize on their weaknesses.
Our nation has been a leader in working to eradicate extreme hunger around the world and improve global food security. Our achievements on this front have been remarkable. As Secretary of Agriculture, I saw firsthand the benefits of our food aid programs. This investment is returned to us in the appreciation and affection felt by the recipients of these dollars. It’s an important diplomatic tool because it shows that Americans care about the most basic needs of people living in poverty around the world.
Even though we live in a landlocked state in the middle of the country, Nebraska farmers are always thinking globally.  And there’s a simple reason for that: beyond our borders the demand for our products is on the rise. Crops grown in Nebraska soil are used to keep people alive on the other side of the globe. As developing countries become wealthier, they demand more beef, and Nebraska leads the nation in its production.
Meeting these demands means expanding on Borlaug’s mission of increasing ag productivity. The Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska is just one example of how our state is prepared to meet this challenge. We’ve had to learn how to ensure agriculture thrives despite scarce water resources. The Institute is using that knowledge to find solutions for sustainable water management that benefits countries throughout the world.
We must continue to embrace science-based innovations like plant and animal genetics and conservation techniques that help a safe and healthy food supply meet a growing demand. I applaud the work of Nebraska’s ag community to explore new and creative ways to feed the world and help to save a billion lives.

Friday, April 4, 2014

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH

Duane A. Lienemann
UNL Extension Educator

     Oh gosh, where do I start?  There are so many things going on right now it is hard to focus on one or two things, but I think I will give my best in trying to zero into a couple of things that caught my eyes the most. If you live in the rural area of Nebraska like I do, it is not unusual to see farmer-owned semi-trucks either setting in the yards, on the road or pulled into the local cooperative with a load of grain. In the past these were treated as commercial trucks and required special license. I think we know that most family farm and ranch operations in Nebraska, and the drivers of the farm-plated vehicles used in these operations, are by no means commercial trucking operations. Yet at the same time, they rely heavily upon trucking and hauling to maintain their farm business. Now because of a Nebraska Unicameral we now have signed into law LB 983 which facilitates changes that will give the appropriate degree of regulatory flexibility and relief for farm and ranch families.
     LB 983 and Farmer’s CDL Requirements: Gov. Dave Heineman signed LB 983 into law this past week after state lawmakers gave final approval to the measure. This bill is touted to give Nebraska farmers and ranchers regulatory relief in the area of farm truck regulations. For you that are not aware, this law includes provisions designed to bring Nebraska farm truck regulations in line with federal farm truck requirements. Basically the legislation exempts farm vehicle operators from having to obtain a commercial driver’s license and testing requirements. It also brings Nebraska law in line with federal rules it prevents unnecessary costs and regulations from hampering producers.  For you that need to read the law for yourself you can find it on the internet by simply going to: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/103/PDF/Slip/LB983.pdf 
     One of the most notable changes allowed by the legislation is the exemption from CDL requirements for farm covered vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating less than 26,000 pounds, regardless of how far the farm vehicle travels. The changes also provide the CDL exemption to farm vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 26,000 pounds provided they operate within the state or a 150-mile radius from their farm operation. That should cover most producers that I know of. Farmers, family members and employees would be exempt from the CDL requirement under certain conditions per an amendment to the bill. There are still some things about this new law that I am not exactly clear on and perhaps this will all will be clarified in the near future as this I think this is big news to farmers, their families and their employees.
     One of the things that I wonder about in reading the bill is a provision that seems to point that test-takers would be required, for example, to physically perform a pre-trip inspection of commercial vehicles instead of completing that segment of the CDL exam on a computer.  If this is indeed still part of the equation that I don’t see this as a big deal because everybody should know how to do a pre-trip inspection anyway for their own and the public’s safety. I know that Iowa and some other states already require test-takers to perform a physical inspection. But yet I can find no explanation on this in subsequent explanations or news articles considering this. I also wonder about the language in the bill that says it will add “new license classifications, endorsements and restrictions.”  I think there are still some unanswered questions on this.
      I believe there has been some Federal legislation that has had some cause and effect pressure for Nebraska to get into compliance which some regulations that are on the books. Passage of Federal MAP-21 legislation in 2012 provided some exemptions for farm operated vehicles as it relates to Commercial Driver License (CDL) requirements, hours of service, medical testing and some other requirements. But up until now, Nebraska farmers and ranchers haven’t been able to take advantage of those changes. The passage of this bill allows family farms to do so as has been the case in other states. I thought this was strange that we didn’t have the same trucking regulations as other states so was curious as to why now? 
     From what I could ascertain it seems to come down to availability of Federal dollars. Without a change, the federal government was set to withhold $13.7 million from the Nebraska Highway Trust Fund for fiscal 2015 and $27.4 million for fiscal 2016 and each ensuing year as penalties for noncompliance with certain federal regulations regarding testing and issuance of commercial driver's licenses and learner's permits. Now to put that into perspective Federal funding accounts for 45 percent of highway construction in Nebraska. That is significant and I am sure had a bearing in the discussion of this bill.
     EPA and Our Land: I have been watching for several years the Clean Air and Water Act that is regulated by the EPA. Well this past week the EPA released a proposed rule that would vastly expand their authority over farm and ranch operations. Their proposal could have far reaching implications that would allow them to tell you what you can and can't do on your land! In short, EPA has moved ahead with a proposal that Congress and the Supreme Court have determined goes well beyond the agency's authority. This rule would give them the ability to claim federal authority over land where water pools or flows only during precipitation events (i.e. areas that are not wetlands or do not normally flow unless it is raining/snow melt). The rule could have serious consequences as this authority would give EPA the power to require you to have a permit for things like applying manure, fertilizer or pesticides; possibly even planting seeds; and even activities as commonplace and essential to farming as building a fence - but more frightening, the ability to deny a permit for you to do these things on your land. To many farm organizations this rule is about EPA controlling land use and taking away private property rights! You might read some analysis at http://www.fb.org/ and  http://www.beefusa.org/  or get the take from many other farm organizations. The public-comment period for the proposed rule begins as soon as it is posted in the federal register! Be sure to study up on this and then use your rights as a citizen to give your comments towards this new rule!

The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or UNL Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, UNL Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email to: dlienemann2@unl.edu or go to the website at: http://www.webster.unl.edu/home 

Governor's Column

Dave Heineman

Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
One of the best ways to grow Nebraska is to provide job opportunities for our young people so they remain in Nebraska. Our task is to prepare our sons and daughters to compete in today’s knowledge-based, technology-driven, global, free-market economy.
More than ever before, jobs require higher reading and math skills. One of the most valuable tools that we can give to today’s students is the opportunity to earn a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year college degree. If we want to keep Nebraska’s economy strong, we need to encourage high school and middle school students to pursue a higher education.
Nebraska students and families are fortunate that our state has made the accessibility of an affordable, quality education a priority. Nebraskans have many outstanding colleges and universities to attend.
Recently, I had the honor of addressing over 200 middle school, high school, and community agency professionals, at EducationQuest Foundation’s College Access Symposium. These dedicated professionals help our young people prepare for success in school, college and a future career.
Through the hard work of these school and agency professionals, and the efforts of Nebraska’s education-related entities, we have made great strides in education. Our high school graduation rate has risen from 87.6 percent to 88.5 percent – the second best in America. Our college-going rate has improved to 69.5 percent, placing Nebraska seventh in the nation in the number of students who continue on to college after high school.
While we can be proud of our top 10 ranking, there is still room to improve. In order to meet the workforce demands of the near future, we will need even more college-educated workers in Nebraska.
EducationQuest Foundation is a Nebraska-based nonprofit organization that helps make college possible for many of Nebraska’s students. Their locations in Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha provide free college planning services for thousands of Nebraskans each year. They also share their services statewide by conducting financial aid programs, college planning programs and college fairs.
Each year, EducationQuest Foundation awards $1.4 million in need-based scholarship funds to Nebraska’s nonprofit colleges. Their Reaching Your Potential scholarship program has helped hundreds of students overcome obstacles to attend college. 
Since 2006, 51 high schools have shared over $2.5 million through the College Access Grants program. They have helped these schools develop programs that are helping more students get on the path to college.
I encourage you to learn more about EducationQuest and find out how they can help you fulfill your educational goals. You can learn about their free services at www.EducationQuest.org.

- Dave Heineman
    Governor of Nebraska
 

Good Paying Jobs

Sen. Deb Fischer


Whenever I speak with Nebraskans looking for work, they always tell me one thing: they want a good-paying job so they can provide for themselves and for their families. Rather than holding back economic progress with an outdated tax code, burdensome regulations, and government-driven uncertainty, Congress should pass policies that actually help the unemployed obtain good-paying jobs.

The Senate recently considered legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed. This extension would make retroactive payments from January 2014 through next month – a total period of five months.

I believe that unemployment insurance provides a needed safety net for Americans struggling to find work in a very tough job market. However, the best way to truly help the unemployed is to pass policies that create jobs and get people back to work.

Extending unemployment benefits without addressing job creation is simply putting a band aid on the symptoms. If we’re going to actually tackle the underlying problem of unemployment, I believe we need to pass measures that encourage employers to hire new workers, grow existing businesses, and start new companies.

I filed an amendment to the Senate unemployment insurance extension bill that would promote entrepreneurship and strengthen job-training services for the unemployed. My amendment would require the Department of Labor to establish a set of standards that in turn would allow job training centers to provide entrepreneurial services. Currently job training centers do not provide such training and there are thousands of individuals nationwide who would benefit from understanding how to start their own businesses. The job training centers would then be able to count those who create their own business as a “successful employment outcome.”

The funding each job-training center receives is based on its ability to actually help the unemployed find work. Giving centers the ability to measure the success of entrepreneurial training would encourage them to offer these valuable services – services that are already authorized under current law. Additionally, it would give more men and women the ability to not only find a job, but to also pursue their passions by opening their own businesses.

This is just one of the many ideas my colleagues and I have offered in the Senate. There are 3.8 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. These Americans deserve a Congress that makes it easier, not harder, to create jobs.

Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once again shut down the amendment process, preventing a vote on my straightforward, non-controversial amendment. Despite this frustration with the party in power, I remain committed to working with all of my fellow senators, Republican and Democrat, to find ways we can make it easier and less expensive for employers to hire new workers.

Another great way we can get Americans back to work is the Hire More Heroes Act, a bill introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that I am proud to cosponsor. This bill removes a burdensome requirement of Obamacare that is discouraging small businesses from hiring our nation’s veterans. The law’s costly employer mandate requires all businesses with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a fee. The legislation I’m cosponsoring exempts veterans who already have health insurance through the Department of Veteran Affairs or TRICARE from being counted towards this requirement.  This exemption will incentivize employers to hire these highly qualified men and women who have dutifully served our country and possess valuable skills and training to offer employers in Nebraska and across the country.

I will continue to work to pass policies that help unemployed men and women find good-paying jobs, and as always, I welcome your suggestions and ideas to help get our economy moving again. Thank you for participating in the democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Tax Day Quickly Approaching

Rep. Adrian Smith

        

Tax Day – April 15 – is quickly approaching and many Americans are still working to complete and file their 2013 tax returns.  This year, I have heard from many Nebraskans not only about the complexity of the tax code, but also about concerns of being targeted for an audit, delay, or additional questioning because of political beliefs.
Individuals are concerned because they know the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted political organizations with additional scrutiny, inappropriate questions, and delays when applying for tax-exempt status.  As confirmed in the IRS Inspector General’s report, additional scrutiny was disproportionately applied to conservative organizations.
While my colleagues and I on the Ways and Means Committee continue to thoroughly investigate the agency’s conduct, this issue is not resolved.  We have held numerous hearings and continue to review thousands of documents.  All of the public documents in this case are now available online at: http://gop.gov/irs.
If you feel you have been unfairly treated or targeted by the IRS, or are having problems with this or any other federal agency, I encourage you to contact my office.  As your representative in Washington, I am committed to helping you navigate the bureaucracy, cut through the red tape, and resolve problems.  Each case is different, but in dealing with the IRS my office may be able to connect you with a taxpayer advocate, or contact the IRS to request more information or an update on your problem.
Many of the problems Nebraskans have with the IRS are a direct result of the immense complexity of the tax code – more than 10,000 pages of ever-changing rules.  The code is so outdated and complicated nearly 90 percent of Americans choose to pay someone else to do their taxes or use commercial software.  Tax compliance costs the American economy more than 6 billion hours and costs $168 billion annually in addition to actually paying the tax burden.
Simplifying the code would ease this burden on taxpayers, make our tax structure fairer, and be a significant boost to our economy.  After years of work, dozens of hearings, and a series of bipartisan working groups, Ways and Means Chairman recently released a comprehensive draft tax reform proposal.  This draft is intended to generate discussion and feedback and I hope you will take the time to review it at http://tax.house.gov

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gov. Heineman Approves More Than $400 Million in Tax Relief for Nebraskans

 

 
(Lincoln, Neb.) , Gov. Dave Heineman announced that Nebraska taxpayers will receive more than $412 million in tax relief over the next five years. He signed several tax relief bills into law at a news conference where he noted the relief as responsible, meaningful and significant.
“I am pleased that Nebraska taxpayers will be receiving more than $412 million in tax relief, which is responsible, meaningful and significant tax relief,” said Gov. Heineman.
Governor Heineman has clearly stated that the priority for this legislative session was providing responsible and meaningful tax relief. In his State of the State address, Gov. Heineman demonstrated how Nebraska could accomplish tax relief between $370 and $500 million citing state financial reports holding the line on state spending, utilizing a portion of the record high state cash reserve fund, and citing Nebraska’s growing economy.
Bills signed into law that affect tax relief include:
LB 987 will index Nebraska’s individual income tax brackets for inflation, as well as exempt portions of social security and veteran retirement. Specifically, the bill will exempt social security income for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less for married persons filing jointly, and $43,000 or less for all others. This bill also allows a veteran to make a one-time election, within two years after separation from military service, to exclude portions of military retirement benefits. The exclusion may be to either exclude 40 percent of the military retirement benefit income for seven consecutive years or to exclude 15 percent of the military retirement benefit for all taxable years after the person turns 67.
LB 96 eliminates sales tax on the sale, lease, rental or storage of repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment that are used in commercial agriculture.
On March 29, Gov. Heineman signed LB 905 into law.
LB 905 increases the Property Tax Credit Program by $25 million on an annual basis, in addition to the current $115 million ongoing funding. In 2007, the Governor worked with the Legislature to create the Property Tax Credit Program to offer property tax relief in Nebraska. The amount contributed has stayed flat over the last few years while statewide property values have increased.
LB 986 will expand Nebraska’s homestead exemption program so that more Nebraskans could qualify. This bill increases amounts of household income limits. For a 100 percent exemption from property tax, single filers can earn up to $26,900. As household income increases up to a maximum of $39,500, the exemption percentage is phased-down incrementally. For a 100 percent exemption, married filers can earn up to $31,600. As household income increases up to a maximum of $46,900, this exemption percentage is phased-down incrementally. This bill also creates a new eligibility category under the homestead exemption program to include certain individuals with developmental disabilities.
LB 1087 will expand eligibility for the current property tax homestead exemption to include a 100 percent property tax exemption for honorably discharged veterans. To qualify, veterans must be drawing compensation for a 100 percent service-connected disability from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, beginning in 2015. This bill also gives a 100 percent exemption to unremarried widows or widowers of honorably discharged veterans who died as a result of a service-connected disability, as well as to unremarried widows or widowers of servicemen and servicewomen whose death on active duty was service connected.
Additionally, Gov. Heineman outlined an additional bill that just reached his desk Monday that he plans to sign.
LB 867 will exempt sales and use taxes on purchases made by historic automobile museums, and would exempt sales and use tax on the sale, lease or rental of gold or silver bullion and U.S. postage charges. The bill would exempt non-profit corporations that make charitable donations of land from the documentary stamp tax and accelerate the sports arena sales tax turnback payments to the Ralston arena. It would also exempt retail sales of compressed natural gas that is used for motor vehicle fuel.
 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fischer Cosponsors Hire More Heros Act

     

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today announced she is cosponsoring legislation introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to encourage small businesses to hire veterans. The Hire More Heroes Act (S.2190) provides incentives for small businesses by exempting veterans who already have health insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs or TRICARE from being counted towards ObamaCare’s employer mandate requirements. The mandate requires all businesses with more than 50 full-time equivalents to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a fee.

“Our nation’s veterans have valuable skills and training to offer employers in Nebraska and across the country,” said Fischer. “The Hire More Heroes Act fosters job opportunities for those who have dutifully served our country by removing one of the burdensome requirements of ObamaCare preventing small businesses from hiring. This legislation provides a reprieve for job creators hurting under ObamaCare while also helping to ease the transition of our men and women in uniform back to civilian life, and I’m proud to support it.”
 

Identical legislation, H.R. 3474, overwhelmingly passed the House last month with a vote of 406-1.
 
The Hire More Heroes Act is supported by the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS), the only military service association representing the interests of every enlisted soldier and airmen in the Army and Air National Guard, and the Retired Enlisted Association, a Congressionally-charted veterans’ service organization and the largest association in the nation of enlisted retirees and veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces.

Johanns Sponsors Bill to Encourage Hiring of Veterans, Reduce Obamacare Burden for Job Creators

 

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb) cosponsored legislation, the Hire More Heroes Act, to exempt veterans receiving health care through TRICARE or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from being counted toward a company’s 50-full-time worker equivalent requirement under Obamacare. Once that threshold is met, the costly employer mandate in the health care law applies.
“This is a win-win for both job creators and veterans,” Johanns said. “It provides employers with some relief from a costly requirement they’ve told me personally has prevented them from growing.  At the same time, it encourages the employment of highly-trained, highly-skilled veterans.  Our stagnant economy and job-seeking military heroes will both benefit from this commonsense legislation.”
The legislation previously passed the House of Representatives, 406-1.

Dona Lee Metzgar Krueger March 30 1925 - March 30 2014

Dona Lee Metzgar Krueger was born in Hastings, Neb., on March 30, 1925, to Hazel McCleery Metzgar and Don Metzgar. Dona's great great-grandfather, Marion Fouts,  was one of the first settlers in Adams County Nebraska.
 Dona spent her childhood in Hastings and graduated from Hastings High school in 1943.  She attended Kearney College on a regents scholarship and taught at a country school in Adams County. 
Dona met Paul Krueger On October 11, 1942, just three months before he left to serve in World War II. For the next three years, as Paul served in the South Pacific, the two corresponded through letter writing. Paul credits Dona's letters with providing him the hope and encouragement he needed to get through the war without a leave home.  The two were engaged while Paul was stationed on the island of Saipan.  Paul returned on December 24, 1945, and the two were married in Hastings on January 17, 1945. 

Together they operated a farm near Bladen, Nebraska and raised their four children.
 Dona was an avid gardener, amazing cook, and prolific quilter, making scores of quilts by hand for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Above all Dona loved and adored her family and they loved and adored her in return.
Dona passed away on her 89th birthday,  March 30, 2014 in Blue Hill, Nebraska.
  Dona is survived by her husband of 68 years, Paul F. Krueger, of Blue Hill; children, Pamela Kinney (Dan) of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Nancy Curry (Bill, deceased) of blue Hill, Nebraska, Peggy Sloey (Dan) of Greeley, Colorado, and Paul D. Krueger  (Barb) of Blue Hill, Nebraska; Grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Daniel Kinney (Jennifer) and children, page and Riley of Fort Dodge, Iowa; Bill Curry (Tiffany) and children Luke, Katelyn and Mia of Shelby, Nebraska;  Megan Taylor (Bob) and Collin of Gretna, Nebraska; Laura Thornburg (Brock) and children Jack and Lauren of Omaha, Nebraska; Leigh Bloomquist (Matt) and Wade of Wausa, Nebraska; Sean Sloey (Cara) and Stockton of Greeley, Colorado; Taylor Sloey of Lafayette, La.; Sam Krueger of Blue Hill, Nebraska (fiancée Megan); and Jared and Mitch Krueger of Bladen, Nebraska.
Also surviving are her brother, Don Metzgar and family Stroudsburg, Penn; brothers and sisters in law, Lucille Krueger, Red Cloud; Les and Betty Krueger, Hastings; Mariel Krueger, Wendel and Janice Krueger, Blue Hill; Glen and Kay Krueger, Hastings; Bill and Elaine Beezley, Red cloud; Nancy Krueger, Hastings; Jim and Marilyn Krueger, Norfolk' and numerous nieces and nephews.
.
Services are Thursday, April 3, 2014, 10:30 a.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Blue Hill, Nebraska, with Rev. Joshua Lowe officiating.
Burial will be at Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Blue Hill, Nebraska.
 Visitation will be Wednesday, April 2, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Merten-Butler Mortuary in Blue Hill, Nebraska.
Memorials can be directed to the church.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Gov. Heineman Signs Online Voter Registration Bill into Law

 

 
(Lincoln, Neb.) Today, Gov. Dave Heineman signed LB 661 into law which will allow Nebraskans to register to vote or update their registrations online. This bill was introduced on behalf of the Secretary of State John Gale, who oversees the state’s elections.
“I’m pleased to sign online voter registration into law,” said Gov. Heineman. “This bill reflects Secretary Gale’s continuing efforts to modernize the process of voter registration through technology. It is important to keep the voting process accessible to Nebraskans, and having this option available through the Secretary of State’s website is a positive step.”
“Nebraska’s new online registration will be unique since we are the first state to combine these processes,” said Secretary Gale. “Online registration has been our goal for some years, but it took the combined efforts of our Governor and the Department of Motor Vehicles to work out the technology challenges, and the support of several key senators to move the bill to passage. I appreciate the efforts of Rhonda Lahm, Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, who was instrumental in helping to combine and streamline our systems.”
LB 661 provides an additional opportunity for citizens of Nebraska to register to vote while increasing the accuracy and enhancing the maintenance of the voter registration database. The registrations would incorporate copies of signatures provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles for driver’s licenses or state identification cards.
Nebraska joins 17 other states that have implemented online voter registration.
The adaptation of the online system is expected to be completed by 2017.

Gov. Heineman Vetoes $65 Million in Budget

 

Calls for additional property tax relief with taxpayer dollars vetoed from budget
(Lincoln, Neb.)  -  Gov. Dave Heineman highlighted many areas of agreement in state funding priorities. He also issued his line-item vetoes in LB 130, LB 905 and LB 906, which constitute the Legislature’s adjustments to the mid-biennium budget for fiscal years 2013-2015. Gov. Heineman noted that by vetoing millions of dollars of new spending, those taxpayer funds could instead be used for property tax relief for Nebraska’s citizens, including homeowners, farmers, ranchers and small business owners.
“For the past year, Nebraskans have been very clear in telling the Legislature’s Tax Modernization Committee that their biggest concern is high property taxes, and I believe that providing property tax relief is a more important priority than funding fountains at the State Capitol,” said Gov. Heineman. “For more than 80 years, the capitol building has existed without fountains and we don’t need them now. Providing an additional $25 million in property tax relief for Nebraska homeowners, farmers, ranchers and small business owners can be accomplished in the remaining days of the Legislature if State Senators make it a priority.”
In total, the Governor issued approximately $65 million of line-item vetoes to trim the budget that was passed by the Legislature. General fund reductions accounted for $26 million of the total vetoes.
Gov. Heineman noted that developing a budget is a challenging process and that he appreciates and understands the related challenges. While the Governor and the Legislature agreed on many funding priorities, there were areas of respectful disagreement where the Governor used his line-item veto to make spending reductions.
“I want to thank and acknowledge the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature for prioritizing water sustainability funding, Game and Parks deferred maintenance funding, developmental disability waiting list funding and early childhood education funding.”
Governor Heineman approved the following funding:
  • $10.5 million for the Natural Resources Development Fund.
  • $19.9 million for the Water Sustainability Fund in fiscal year 15.
  • $19.8 million for the Water Sustainability Fund in fiscal year 16 and 17.
  • $10 million for the Game and Parks Maintenance Fund, including the funding for Ponca State Park and Arbor Lodge at Nebraska City.
  • $4.7 million for the Developmental Disability Aid Program and
  • $3.2 million for the Early Childhood program.

Governor Heineman also indicated that he will sign LB 814 into law next week that will provide Game and Parks an additional $3 million annually for deferred maintenance.
Key vetoes issued include the following:
  • $7.4 million in general funds provided to the Nebraska Supreme Court for a Juvenile Services Project Contingency Program. This appropriation represents an additional 37.4 percent over the total amount of general funds already provided to the Courts in the current biennium budget. This funding is unnecessary. An analysis of the year-to-date spending through Feb. 28, 2014, the Supreme Court’s Office of Probation – Community Corrections Program reveals the Supreme Court is estimated to underspend current general fund appropriations by approximately $8 million by June 30, 2014.
 $2.5 million in Nebraska Capital Construction Funds for the construction of four courtyard fountains. The State Capitol was completed in 1932. The decision was made at that time not to install fountains because it was not a priority use of taxpayer money. The governor noted that the citizens of Nebraska have managed well without fountains at the capitol building for more than 80 years.
  • $11.7 million in Nebraska Capital Construction Funds to renovate the heating, ventilation and air condition system in the State Capitol. The Capitol Commission did not request funding for this project during the mid-biennium budget process. Additionally, LB 905 only provides funding of $11.7 million of the $77.8 million currently estimated total cost of this project. That would leave the balance of $66.1 million to future Legislatures to resolve in their budget process. It was noted that a long-term project of such magnitude should be presented and considered during a regular biennium budget process alongside other capital improvement projects, with full consideration and a commitment to recognize and fund the entire cost identified for the project, if that is deemed a priority at that time.

  • $10 million cash fund appropriation and the $10 million general fund transfer provided to the Department of Economic Development for the Job Training Program. No increase was requested nor is it needed by the Department of Economic Development for immediate program needs.
  • $1.5 million in general funds and $1.5 million in federal funds for the proposed state ward permanency pilot project. A request to establish a state ward permanency pilot project was withdrawn by the Department of Health and Human Services because the request was more appropriate to address during a regular biennium budget process. After the veto, adequate funding remains to serve state wards.

  • $5.4 million for increased provider rates. The Developmental Disability Aid program received significant increases when the biennium budget was developed during the 2013 Legislative Session, including $5.9 million for provider rates and $42 million for a new rate methodology for paying providers. The new rate methodology was adopted during the 2013 Session to pay providers based upon actual costs of providing services in the state with provisions for future adjustments for inflation.  The additional new funding is premature before the new methodology is implemented.
  • $10 million in general funds redirected from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contingency fund program to the Behavioral Health Aid program at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The $10 million represents a portion of the anticipated savings to the state behavioral health program. These savings should be captured as intended to help offset other ACA related costs to the state.
 
  • $1.1 million from the Water Sustainability Fund that was earmarked for the Omaha Sewer Separation project. This project is a local project and should be paid with local funds.
  • $250,000 from the Department of Education for a specific vendor identified by name, potentially violating Article III, Section 18 of the Nebraska Constitution. This is described as unconstitutional and is an inappropriate expenditure.

The additional line-item vetoes are outlined in the LB 130, LB 905 and LB 906 veto messages.

April Birthdays

April 2 Bertha Lamborn (RIP).Terri Golter, Ron Lampman
April 3 Mark Kumke , Dick Schmidt, Jr.
April 4 Christa Alber , Terry Jordening, Lori Toepher
April 4 Jan Wells, Nina Colburn, Shalene Medina
April 4 Wanda Wright
April 5 Patty Uden
April 6 Jordan Mack
April 7 Pat Kort
April 8 Penny Witte
April 9 Matthew Schwab
April 10 Kristen Ostdiek
April 10 Jean Heinrich (RIP)
April 11 Clair Duval , Deb VanBoening, Jesse Alber, 
April 12 Rodney E Hartman (RIP)
April 13 Ruth Elaine Goodrich
April 14, Jennifer Gaede
April 15 Jill Coffey , Rodney Buss, Ken Skarin
April 15 Wayne Strasberg
April 18 Judy Grandstaff
April 23 Tami Kort
April 23 James W. Mackin (RIP)
April 24 Peggy Meyer  Colleen Karmazin  Kristin Rose Kohmetscher
April 25 Cody Bland
April 26 Lamira Karsting,  Marah Leigh Jensen
April 28 Charlene Feeley
April 29 Larry Gianokas, Marvin Harrifeld,   Gary Stertz
April 29 Kevin Toepher,  Beverly A. Meyer
April 30  Dick Schmidt, Sr

Jean Heinrich April 10, - March 27, 2014

Blue Hill resident Jean Heinrich, 88, died Thursday, March 27, 2014, at her home in Blue Hill. Rosary will be Sunday, March 30, 2014, 7 p.m. at Merten-Butler Mortuary Chapel, Blue Hill, Nebraska.
Mass of Christian Burial will be Monday, March 31, 2014, 10:30 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Blue Hill, Nebraska, with the Very Rev. James Schrader officiating.
 Burial will be at the Blue Hill Catholic Cemetery. Memorials can be directed to the Holy Trinity Altar Society.
Visitation will be Sunday, March 30, 2014, from 1-8 p.m. at Merten-Butler Mortuary.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Religious Freedom Must Be Protected

The United States was founded in part on the idea of religious freedom.  It is no coincidence the First Amendment to the Constitution ensures the ‘free exercise’ of religion.  However, two cases argued before the Supreme Court this week will test whether this basic right truly extends to all Americans, or if the federal government now has the power to force individuals to violate the tenants of their faith.
The cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius will decide the constitutionality of a provision of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which forces employers to provide their employees government approved insurance plans or pay a tax.  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are contesting this provision because they object on religious grounds to some of the coverage the law requires them to provide such as abortion-inducing drugs.
These minimum coverage requirements are enforced with a significant penalty which actually encourages employers to offer no insurance at all rather than offer insurance without provisions they find objectionable.  The tax on employers for violating this provision of the law is $100 per day, per employee, or $36,500 per year.  For Hobby Lobby this tax would amount to $475 million per year.  If the company offered no insurance coverage at all to their employees, they would pay a $26 million tax; a massive fine for simply having a conscience objection.
While many Americans disagree on the morality of certain drugs and procedures, we should all be able to agree no one should be forced by the federal government to do something they find objectionable.  After considerable controversy and public attention, the department of Health and Human Services agreed to give non-profit religious employers such as Catholic churches and schools, an exemption from these provisions.  The Department inexplicably did not extend the same consideration to private employers with strongly held beliefs such as Hobby Lobby.
All Americans are entitled to freedom of religion and to rights of conscience - even if they are a private sector employer.  This principle is why I signed an amicus brief in support of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases against Obamacare.  I am also a cosponsor of the Rights of Conscience Act which would repeal this mandate.  It is only fair to give private sector employers the same flexibility to ensure religious freedom, as the Administration has already given to non-profit employers.
One-size-fits-all, government mandated health care plans are also bad business.  The insurance market works better when employers and individuals are given the choice to purchase plans which match their unique needs, budgets, and beliefs.  The market should be driven by options, not government mandates.
These cases also further demonstrate the problems which arise from the ever-expanding role of the federal government.  As government grows more powerful and tries to regulate more aspects of our economy and daily lives, conflicts will inevitably arise between personal freedom and the interests of government.  The founders of our nation understood this concept, and intentionally set up our system of government to protect the God-given freedoms of individuals.    
Conscience rights are among the most basic American ideals, and must be preserved.  I am hopeful the Supreme Court will strike down this mandate and uphold religious freedom for all Americans.