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Legislature
Legislators end session with property taxes, business tax incentives still unresolved

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.

The final day saw the Legislature pass a few bills, override the veto of a bill creating an Omaha-area transit authority and listen to some last words from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

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

  • A $9.3 billion budget will pay for new maximum security prison beds, payment increases for health and human services providers, and the launch of voter-approved Medicaid expansion.
  • Property taxpayers will share $275 million worth of tax credits in each of the next two years, up $51 million from this year. But they won’t see major changes in their property tax bills or a constitutional curb on local property tax increases.
  • State law will make clear that only large online retailers have to collect sales taxes from Nebraska customers.
  • A tax credit for angel investors will end, and the money will be used to expand a more successful program for startup ventures.
  • Nebraska will operate for one last year with its current business tax incentive program, with the future uncertain.
  • Military veterans will get no new tax exemptions on their military retirement benefits.

Health and welfare

  • Women getting medication abortions will have to be told about their options if they change their mind halfway through the abortion.
  • Nebraskans will have to be 19 years old to buy and use tobacco or vaping products as of next year.
  • Health insurance plans will have to cover the cost of children’s hearing aids, with some exceptions.
  • Medical marijuana will remain illegal but cannabidiol (CBD) products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will be allowed.
  • People convicted of drug felonies will continue to be barred from or limited in getting food stamp benefits.
  • Conversion therapy, aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, will continue to be legal.

Government and elections

  • Nebraska voters will be asked at the 2020 general election about removing a provision from the State Constitution that allows slavery as punishment for a crime.
  • The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District will have five more years to use bonds to pay for flood control projects in the Omaha area.
  • Gage County will be able to impose a county sales tax to help pay off a $28 million federal judgment owed to six people wrongly convicted of a 1985 murder.
  • Better notification will be required for delinquent property taxpayers who are at risk of losing their property because of unpaid taxes.
  • The state has money to buy new ballot counting equipment, as well as ballot marking machines for disabled voters.
  • Lawmakers will put off deciding what process to use in drawing new election districts after the 2020 census.

Crime and punishment

  • Revenge porn — threatening or harassing someone by distributing sexual photos and videos of them — will be illegal and could be the basis for a lawsuit.
  • Courts will have to hold hearings before dismissing applications for domestic violence or sexual assault protection orders.
  • Farmers would get some additional protection against lawsuits over dust, noise, odors and other nuisances created by their operations.
  • Drug courts and other problem-solving courts will expand and judges will be allowed to defer sentences where no such courts exist.
  • Nebraska’s death penalty will remain in place.
  • The courts will not be able to take away guns from people who pose an imminent threat, and schools will not be allowed to arm teachers and administrators.

Education

  • Nebraska students will have to meet new requirements for civics education under a revamp of the state’s Americanism law.
  • College savings plans will be opened for every Nebraska baby, and private donors will get tax benefits for boosting the college savings plans of low-income children.
  • State retirement officials will look at the cost and process needed for the state to take over the troubled Omaha Public Schools pension system.
  • No new tax benefits will be offered for donating to a scholarship fund for students at private K-12 schools.
  • Laws about disciplining students in public schools will remain unchanged.
  • The state school aid formula will remain as is while lawmakers work on a revamp for the future.

Making money

  • Fees for initial health care professional licensing will be waived for young Nebraskans, low-income people and military families.
  • Employers will have to give job applicants a chance to explain their criminal history and make a case for being hired, despite previous convictions.
  • New state laws will open markets for home-based bakers and mobile massage therapy providers.
  • Paid family and medical leave will continue to be offered only at the discretion of employers.
  • Waitresses, waiters and bartenders will not see any change in their state minimum wage.
  • No law will protect people from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This and that

  • Growing, harvesting, processing and selling industrial hemp and its products will be legal under a system of licensing and regulation.
  • Using fake telephone numbers to fool people into answering scam calls will be against the law.
  • Landlords will have to return security deposits to former renters without being asked.
  • Rules for the approval and installation of so-called “small cell” antennas will apply statewide instead of community by community. The antennas can be used for 5G, or fifth generation, wireless Internet.
  • New license plates will support military troops, promote prostate cancer awareness or feature sandhill cranes, bighorn sheep and ornate box turtles.
Meet the Nebraska state senators

Military
Navy vet, 95, who hunted for Amelia Earhart and survived Pearl Harbor attack, dies in Omaha

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.”

Melvin 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 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.

WORLD-HERALD NEWS SERVICE 

Bud Kennedy filled out this postcard shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack to let his family in Cedar Rapids, Nebraska, know he was safe. His relatives didn’t receive it for nearly five months.

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.

Notable Nebraska, Iowa deaths of 2019

National
breaking
12 people killed, suspect dead in Virginia Beach mass shooting
Kaitlin McKeown 

Virginia Beach Police Officers huddle near the intersection of Princess Anne Road and Nimmo Parkway following a shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Friday, May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

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.

Kaitlin McKeown 

Virginia Beach Police Officers huddle near the intersection of Princess Anne Road and Nimmo Parkway following a shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Friday, May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

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.

Photos: 12 people killed in shooting at Virginia Beach municipal center

Inspiration
'Without you, we wouldn't have her': Nebraska family meets donor who saved their baby girl

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.

ELSIE STORMBERG/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Alle Jilg, 19 months, sports a onesie that says “My donor is forever my hero.” Alle and her family met with her donor, Jacob Oswald, for the first time at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Friday.

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.”

A roundup of inspirational stories from Midlanders with heart