LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers headed home Friday from a session marked by relatively easy passage of a $9.3 billion state budget but major disappointments over property taxes and business incentives.
“There was a general consensus that there were things left undone,” said State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha.
In his speech, Ricketts touted the record amount in the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund. The state budget increased the fund by 23%, which boosted the total to $275 million a year. The credits offset a portion of each property owner’s tax bill.
“We have continued to make good progress,” Ricketts said, noting that the credit fund total has nearly doubled since he took office.
But many lawmakers, especially rural ones, had pushed for bigger reductions in property taxes. As in past years, they came up empty in their search for a solution that could win majority support.
The governor fought the two major property tax proposals, both of which would have increased sales and other taxes and used the revenue to cut property taxes. The proposals also faced opposition from groups that would have been affected by the increases. One drew additional concerns over its complex revamp of the state school aid formula.
In frustration over the property tax proposals, rural senators joined with some progressives to sink a new business tax incentive program pushed by state business groups. Nebraska’s current incentive program expires at the end of next year.
Some rural lawmakers also voted against the motion to adjourn for the year to emphasize the issues left unresolved.
But the session saw lawmakers pass 262 bills and two proposed constitutional amendments, despite being cut short six days. They debated all but five of the measures named as priorities.
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Lawmakers took steps against prison overcrowding by approving the construction of more prison beds and the expansion of problem-solving courts. They put money into health and human services provider rates.
They legalized industrial hemp and revamped state requirements for civics education. Legislators raised the age to buy cigarettes and vaping products and required that women getting medication abortions be told they may be able to change their minds partway through.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk praised colleagues for a long list of accomplishments. “The citizens of Nebraska were well served,” he said.
But Scheer said the session had not been “all blue skies” and there were “too many personal attacks and vilification.” He admonished his colleagues to spend the months before the next session learning to trust and work with each other.
Here is a summary of what the Legislature did — and didn’t do — during the 2019 session:
Taxes and spending
Health and welfare
Government and elections
Crime and punishment
This and that
Melvin “Bud” Kennedy was Nebraskan to the core, a Big Red football fan who farmed, drove trucks, built a dairy barn, and could fix cars, tractors and washing machines no matter what ailed them. He and his wife, Bernita, raised 10 kids.
But that was only after he participated in a boatload of historic moments while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1941-47.
Kennedy aided in the search for evidence of the missing aviator Amelia Earhart. He plucked drowning survivors from the oil-soaked waters of Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. He fought in the battles of Midway and Coral Sea, ferried supplies to the beleaguered Marines at Guadalcanal, and was on a firing team that shot down two enemy planes near the Japanese-held Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
Then he came home to farm and raise a family.
“He was one of my heroes,” said Nancy Kennedy-Hackney of Omaha, Bud’s daughter.
Kennedy died May 22 in Omaha at the nursing home where he had moved just a few months ago from Grand Island. He was 95.
Kennedy had been one of only two known Pearl Harbor survivors still living in Nebraska. His passing means that Ed Guthrie, 100, of Omaha is the state’s last known eyewitness to the Japanese surprise attack on the Navy’s Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7, 1941. The raid brought the United States into World War II.
“Just a couple of years ago, there were several survivors and it seems surreal that only one could be left,” said Peg Murphy, Guthrie’s daughter and leader of the state’s chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. “So very sad.”
Kennedy was born near Cedar Rapids, Nebraska, one of nine children in a Depression-era farm family.
He enlisted in the Navy in January 1941, at age 17, and was assigned to the USS Rigel, a destroyer tender used to repair other ships. He was one of 10 sailors detached to the USS Phelps for a round-the-world training cruise.
The ship patrolled near the Marshall and Mariana Islands ostensibly to investigate sightings of the wreckage from Amelia Earhart’s plane, which disappeared in the area four years earlier. It might have been a pretense to observe Japanese troops in the area. No wreckage was found.
Kennedy returned to the USS Rigel, which was in the repair yard at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. That morning, he was operating a 40-foot motor launch ferrying sailors between the shore and their ships.
Then the Japanese torpedo bombers swooped low over the bay. Within minutes, Battleship Row was in flames. More than 1,100 men died in the attack on the USS Arizona, and another 429 perished with the destruction and sinking of the USS Oklahoma. Three other battleships sunk.
“God, the planes were just there,” Kennedy told a Grand Island television station in 2018. “Where (did) they come from?”
Through multiple waves of air attack, Kennedy and another sailor motored around the harbor, fishing sailors from the oil-soaked water. Many were alive. Some were not.
“We’d get them onto a raft or something, so they could get out of the dang oil,” he said. They kept at it until nightfall.
Three days after the attack, Kennedy filled out a postcard for his family informing them that he was safe. The Kennedys didn’t receive it for nearly five months, when a mail carrier on his bicycle came to their farm, waving it in his hand, according to family lore.
A month later, Kennedy was reassigned to the destroyer USS Clark. It steamed all over the Pacific during 1942, including anti-submarine patrols near American Samoa, air raids against New Guinea, and convoy escorts to New Zealand. He manned an antiaircraft gun near the bridge. Later the ship patrolled for German raiders off the coast of South America.
Kennedy completed his first enlistment in 1944 and returned home on 30-days leave to marry his sweetheart, Bernita Jean Schoening. He returned to duty aboard the Clark, this time in the Atlantic escorting convoys to Europe. Bernita had given birth to their first two children by the time he left the Navy in 1947.
After the war, he drove an oil truck coast to coast before returning to Cedar Rapids to farm.
The family lived there until 1957, and in Clarks until 1967, before making a home in Grand Island. For a time, he ran a service station, Kennedy-Hackney said, but he sold it to work as a mechanic, which is what he really loved doing. He retired in 1988.
“He was a very hardworking man,” Kennedy-Hackney said.
He had a soft spot for puppies — especially his own dog, Sammy — and children. It’s a good thing. He had 26 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren.
He was devoted to his wife. After she died in 2013, Kennedy moved to a retirement home in Grand Island. Kennedy-Hackney said he was in good health until a recent fall.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Livingston Sondermann Funeral Home in Grand Island.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — A longtime city employee opened fire in a municipal building in Virginia Beach on Friday, killing 12 people on three floors and sending terrified co-workers scrambling for cover before police shot and killed him following a "long gun-battle," authorities said.
Four other people were wounded in the shooting, including a police officer whose bulletproof vest saved his life, said Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera. The city's visibly shaken mayor, Bobby Dyer, called it "the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach."
The shooting happened shortly after 4 p.m. when the veteran employee of the Public Utilities Department entered a building in the city's Municipal Center, and "immediately began to indiscriminately fire upon all of the victims," Cervera said. Authorities did not release the suspect's name, instead choosing to focus on the victims during a news conference.
Police entered the building and got out as many employees as they could, then exchanged fire with the suspect, who was armed with a .45 caliber handgun, the chief said.
Police initially said the gunman shot and killed 11 people, including one who was found inside a vehicle outside the municipal building. Cervera later said one more died on the way to the hospital.
The shooting sent shock waves through Virginia Beach, the state's largest city and a popular vacation spot in southeastern Virginia. The building where the attack took place is in a suburban complex miles away from the high-rise hotels along the beach and the downtown business area.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement he was devastated by the "unspeakable, senseless violence," and is offering the state's full support to survivors and relatives of the victims.
"That they should be taken in this manner is the worst kind of tragedy," the governor said during the news conference.
The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring the situation.
Megan Banton, an administrative assistant who works in the building where the shooting happened, said she heard gunshots, called 911 and barricaded herself and about 20 colleagues inside an office, pushing a desk against a door.
"We tried to do everything we could to keep everybody safe," she said. "We were all just terrified. It felt like it wasn't real, like we were in a dream. You are just terrified because all you can hear is the gunshots."
She texted her mom, telling her that there was an active shooter in the building and she and others were waiting for police.
"Thank God my baby is OK," Banton's mother, Dana Showers, said.
At a nearby middle school, friends and relatives were reuniting with loved ones who were in the building when the shooting happened. They included Paul Swain, 50, who said he saw his fiancee from across the parking lot, clearly in an agitated state.
"I think she knew some of the people," he said.
Outside the school, Cheryl Benn, 65, waited while her husband, David, a traffic engineer with the city who was in the building where the shooting happened, gave a written statement to detectives.
She said her husband initially called her from a barricaded room and said it sounded as if someone had been working with a nail gun. Then he saw the bodies.
"This is unbelievable for Virginia Beach," Cheryl Benn said. "By and large, it's a pretty calm and peaceful place to live."
Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Washington, D.C.; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; and Tom Foreman Jr. in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
The only thing Jacob Oswald heard when he answered the phone was “match.”
He hung up.
The happily married man assumed his buddies were playing a prank, setting him up with a Match.com dating profile.
But Oswald was wrong. And luckily, the caller was persistent.
It turned out that Oswald, who had signed up to be a bone marrow donor years earlier, was a potential match for a patient in need.
The Dubuque, Iowa, man went through with the procedure last year in February and donated marrow to a Nebraska baby.
And on Friday, he met the little girl he helped save.
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Oswald, with his wife, Kendra, and two daughters, met Alle Jilg and her family as they descended the escalators in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center’s lobby.
It was a bashful introduction between Alle and Oswald’s daughters, Hailey, 3, and Emma, 1. But Alle warmed up quickly.
Sporting a pink T-shirt reading “My donor is forever my hero,” the little girl gave Oswald a fistbump. Then she set up shop on a table to open a gift from her donor. The families circled around Alle as she ripped out pink tissue paper and tugged a pink elephant from the bag.
The two couples swapped stories about car rides and nap schedules. And Alle’s parents, Tia and Mike Jilg, expressed their gratitude.
“We don’t know how to thank you enough,” Tia Jilg said. “Without you, we wouldn’t have her.”
Seeing Alle in person brought the journey full circle for Oswald. She cruised the lobby, growling and squawking.
“For me to spare a three- to four-hour procedure for somebody who’s got a lifetime, it’s easy,” Oswald said. “Being a dad myself, it pulls the (heart)strings quite a bit. It’s hard to really put into words.”
Alle, now 19 months, was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID, when she was seven days old. The rare disorder means that Alle was born without key components of her immune system. That makes her more prone to illness and infection, said Dr. Sachit Patel, a pediatric bone marrow transplant physician with Nebraska Medicine. A common cold, bacteria, mold or fungus could prove fatal for Alle.
“Most of us could wash our hands and be done with it,” said Patel, who treats Alle.
Shortly after she was born, the Jilg family left its Broken Bow, Nebraska, home to take Alle to the Nebraska Medical Center. The baby had to be in complete isolation. To be around their newborn, mom and dad had to suit up in masks, gloves and gowns. Alle, born in November 2017, stayed at the Omaha hospital until Christmas.
Alle’s bedroom was scrubbed and bleached before she came home. They installed air purifiers and put up signs saying they weren’t accepting visitors. It was key that Alle stayed healthy before a transplant.
Alle didn’t have a match in her family, so she was put on the transplant list. In early February, the family learned about a possible match.
Oswald, 31, signed up to be a donor about eight years ago at a booth in college. It was a simple process. He filled out some papers, submitted a cheek swab and went on his way.
In December 2017, he got the call saying he and a handful of other donors were possible matches.
After preliminary tests, Oswald learned that he was the best match. At the time, he had a 1-year-old daughter and his wife was pregnant with a second. Would side effects from the procedure hang him up? Would he still be able to play with his little girl?
Then he learned that the donation was for a baby.
“I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes, going through these struggles and somebody not helping. To be able to give that gift, as a dad, it was second to none,” Oswald said.
Oswald was in and out of the hospital in less than a day for the procedure. He was put under general anesthesia while doctors extracted bone marrow from the crest of his hip bones. He felt a dull, achy pain for about a month.
It was about nine months before he learned that the transplant was a success. In April, more than a year after the transplant, Oswald heard from the Jilg family via social media.
“(Oswald) will forever be in our family. We cannot thank him enough,” Tia Jilg said.
Alle’s doing well after the transplant, but mom said there could still be bumps in the road.
Alle’s body can fight off germs now, but she still misses out on some typical kid activities, like playing in grass, sand or dirt. A nurse visits the family’s home every couple of weeks to check Alle’s blood counts, and Alle has monthly checkups at the Nebraska Medical Center.
“She gets to play at home like a healthy kid, but you’ve still got to remember that she could get sick,” mom said.
Doctors hope that Alle won’t need future transplants. They also hope to wean her off some immune suppression medications in coming months.
“She’s got everything ahead of her. School and no boys until she’s 35,” Patel said. “The point of this is not to buy her time. It’s to give her a wonderful life.”