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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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SIDNEY, Neb. (AP) — A Canadian company has made a deal with Bass Pro Shops to buy one of Cabela's corporate buildings in Sidney — a deal that could provide 150 or more local jobs.

The sales price and other financial details about the MMP Enterprises purchase have not been released. MMP is a logistics management company based in Toronto.

Sidney economic development director Melissa Norgard says MMP wants to have the sale wrapped up within 90 days and begin hiring. Norgard also says the number of MMP jobs in Sidney could grow as the company develops the business model for its first expansion outside of Canada.

Cabela's employed more than 2,000 people at its sprawling Sidney headquarters before being purchased by rival Bass Pro Shops.


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Scottsbluff – Arby’s Foundation presented a very generous donation of $4,000 to United Way of Western Nebraska, specific to helping fight hunger in our communities and to help sponsor the 6th annual Day of Caring Food Packaging event to be held October 2019.  


Due to the rising numbers of food insecure families requesting assistance in our communities the past two years, United Way plans to increase the number of meals they package during the 2019 packaging event in order to meet more of the community’s needs. Each year approximately 200 community volunteers have packaged 60,000 meals (10,000 packages) of shelf-stable, microwaveable, fortified meals that all stay here in our communities to help feed food insecure families.   


The generous $4,000 donation from Arby’s Foundation is a great start to the United Way’s efforts of raising the funds needed to host the 2019 Day of Caring Food Packaging event and will pay for approximately 18,000 of the 70,000 meals they plan to package this year. All meals packaged at the event stay in our communities and are distributed by local programs who are serving families in need. The meals are distributed through 5 local school district backpack programs, local food pantries, soup kitchens and disaster relief programs like Firefighters Ministry and Diaper Depot.  


Funding for this event is raised through grants and donations specific to the project so as not to affect the annual United Way campaign fundraising efforts which helps support non-profit partner agencies providing services to families in need in our communities.



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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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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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Adanijah Gonzales, a sophomore at Scottsbluff High School, has been named the January 2019 “Rising Star.” Nebraska EHDI along with Nebraska Hands and Voices Guide By Your Side, recognizes Deaf and Hard of Hearing students who stand out as positive role models to their peers and in their communities with the Rising Star award. Adanijah was nominated for this award by one of her teachers who wrote the following: "I would like to nominate Adanijah Gonzales as the rising star for Nebraska hands and voices. Adanijah is a phenomenal leader, always going out of her way to help other students. She is a role model for all students in the Nebraska Regional Programs. She takes time to connect with younger students at activities, takes a leadership role during bus and van travel, and younger students are always excited to see her. Adanijah helped plan and lead a club for last year’s Camp Anderson, and she is already collecting ideas for the coming years camps. She is a 2 year Academic Bowl Team member for Nebraska West and has been an active participant in the Nebraska Regional Programs for over 7 years.

As a sophomore, she is already planning for college, has researched programs, and knows how to finish her high school career to set her on the path to being a Crime Scene Investigator. She is a focused student and participates in many clubs at Scottsbluff High School. She founded her school’s American Sign Language club and has led it since middle school.   

Adanijah always has a smile on her face and spreads laughter and positivity wherever she goes. She can see when someone is having a rough day and she takes time to connect with them and cheer them up. An all around awesome young lady, I believe Adanijah is very deserving of this award. The staff at Scottsbluff and her family are all very proud of her and know her future will be fantastic. "

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Grand Island, NE - Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol arrested two people following two pursuits in the early morning hours Sunday on Highway 11 in central Nebraska.

The first pursuit occurred at approximately 1:00 a.m. in Hall County when a trooper stopped to check on a Chevrolet Impala that was parked on the shoulder of Highway 11. As the trooper approached, the vehicle fled the scene and the trooper initiated a pursuit. After a few minutes of driving at around 40 miles per hour, the vehicle stopped.

The driver, Hendrik Torres Rodriguez, 35, of Grand Island, was arrested for felony flight to avoid arrest, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and tampering with evidence. He was lodged in Hall County Jail.

The second pursuit occurred at approximately 5:00 a.m. when a trooper observed a Chevrolet Silverado traveling at 95 miles per hour on Highway 11 in Howard County. When the trooper attempted a traffic stop, the vehicle increased its speed and traveled through Cairo at more than 110 miles per hour. At one point during the pursuit, the vehicle was traveling at more than 130 miles per hour.

A short time later, the vehicle came to a stop after its engine caught fire. The driver, Jacob Sautter, 22, of Ord, was arrested for willful reckless driving, felony flight to avoid arrest, speeding greater than 36 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, and numerous traffic violations. He was lodged in Hall County Jail. 

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Nebraska State Patrol Release 
The suspect of an officer-involved shooting incident is in custody following a multi-agency search in rural Howard County in the overnight hours of December 31 into January 1.

The incident began in the evening hours of December 31 when the Howard County Sheriff’s Office attempted a traffic stop near the intersection of Dannevirke Road and Page Road north of Elba. The suspect, identified as Luke Lefever, 30, of Broken Bow, then engaged the deputies with a handgun. During the exchange, Lefever was able to gain access to a Sheriff’s Office vehicle and fled south on Page Road. The suspect also gained access to a shotgun stored in the cruiser. The cruiser spun out and a second exchange of gunfire took place. The suspect then fled on foot. Officers from the St. Paul Police Department were also involved, but did not discharge their weapons.

At that point, troopers from the Nebraska State Patrol, deputies from the Howard County, Merrick County, Valley County, and Sherman County Sheriff’s Offices, St. Paul and Scotia police officers, and others arrived on scene and set up a perimeter. NSP SWAT was called in and the NSP helicopter was deployed to assist in the search. Using an NSP light armored vehicle (LAV), SWAT began searching the area.

With information gained by the NSP helicopter, SWAT was able to track the suspect into a creek bed east of Page Road. Upon locating the suspect, an NSP K9 was deployed to help take him into custody. The shotgun was found at the scene. Lefever was found with a gunshot wound to his left forearm and was showing signs of hypothermia. He was transported out of the area using the LAV and then transported to the St. Paul hospital for treatment. He was then transported by medical helicopter to St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln.

No officers were injured at any point throughout the incident. At the request of the Howard County Sheriff’s Office, NSP is leading the investigation. A determination of charges is pending and the suspect will be in custody while at the hospital.

Elba Fire and Rescue and St. Paul Rescue also assisted in the incident.

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