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Legislature
editor's pick topical
Don Walton: Senators take one more trip around the track

School's out Wednesday for state senators.

You may see some of them running out of the Capitol; you may hear some tires squealing. 

It has been a tedious session full of filibusters and mini-filibusters, a lot more like running around the track again and again rather than setting off on a long-distance journey with a destination.

The Legislature is going to lose some heavy-hitters to term limits at the end of the year and it's not hard to imagine that the 2019 session could have a dozen new members or so.

Six senators are term-limited out; two senators are seeking other state elective offices halfway through their second terms; two are bowing out after a single term; a couple of appointed senators will be facing the electorate for the first time.

And at least two incumbents appear to face tough challenges in their bids for re-election.

Gov. Pete Ricketts might welcome election of Sen. John Murante as state treasurer and Sen. Dan Watermeier as a member of the Public Service Commission because that would give him the opportunity to appoint their successors if he is re-elected to a second term.

That's a big if, Sen. Bob Krist would say.

Krist, along with other gubernatorial candidates, has a different idea about who might have that opportunity as governor next year.

***

An interesting AP story on distribution of federal transportation grants under the Trump administration showed up this past week.

No money for New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago in the latest round of grants.  

But plenty of federal funding was allocated to rural areas and Trump-friendly states.

To the victor (and those who help) go the spoils.

Lincoln got a much-needed $25 million for construction of the South Beltway.

Nebraska was big-time Trump territory in 2016 and the state has a Republican governor and an all-Republican congressional delegation. And all of that may have helped.

Just don't talk about the Lincoln vote: Hillary Clinton, 56,868; Donald Trump, 50,997.

***

How about a shout-out for Trooper Bell as the 2018 legislative session approaches its final day.

Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Keith Bell is hard to miss.

The giant state patrolman is one of a corps of troopers who help keep a secure watch over the Legislature at the State Capitol and he, in particular, is a magnet for groups of visiting children.

Bell gladly spends time with them, encouraging them, answering their questions as they peer straight up, often wide-eyed, at this huge man in uniform.

"I enjoy kids," Bell said during a brief conversation after welcoming the latest bunch of visiting school children who gathered around him in the Rotunda.

"I wanted to be an officer, a teacher and a coach and I'm blessed to be all three today," he said.

Trooper Bell tops 6-3 and he's a 300-pounder; children gather around him open-mouthed. And they listen when he talks.

"I was a football player who played basketball," he says, a power forward at Columbia State in Tennessee. 

Bell has been a familiar figure at schools in Omaha, counseling and encouraging kids. 

"I enjoy children," he says. "They're the future,  I want to help them."

***

Finishing up:

* Among dozens of resolutions calling for interim legislative studies is one from Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks urging a look at the parking shortage near the Capitol. Some young workers at the Capitol also would like to see some provision for nearby bike racks. 

* What to make of President Trump's talk about getting back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that he swiftly and summarily abandoned? Not much.  This president does 180s like an ice dancer and that train probably has left the station.

* Odds on getting 33 senators to agree to summon a special session to consider property tax relief are right up there with the Marlins winning the World Series.

* Gov. Ricketts got a shout-out from Fox News for his re-employment plan that's designed to transition workers off unemployment benefits and into new jobs. 

* Looks like the university's near-death budget experience -- OK, OK, near-crippling budget experience -- has built a more active, organized and sustained statewide support system for the future.

* James Comey's very manageable 290-page book reminds me of the opportunity that's out there to form a 250-page book club. Our motto: "If it takes more than 250 pages, write another book."

* Question: But why would you want to vote this early when you don't know what might occur between now and the middle of May?

* Parking lots and sidewalks were icy and slippery Sunday morning, but most Lincoln streets were ice-free and good-to-go thanks to city crews. Another reminder that government is us, not them. 

* Long winter, drive-by spring.  

* Mets, Red Sox, Angels soar, but pennants aren't won in April when ahead there's so much more.  


KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Roshan Bengali takes a moment to breathe and get more colored powder during a Holi celebration Sunday on the sand volleyball courts at Selleck Hall. Known as a "festival of colors," the celebration is an Indian and Nepali tradition to welcome the arrival of spring and the end of winter. Temperatures in Lincoln on Sunday seemed more winterlike, with a high around 30. Warmer weather is expected Tuesday, with a high forecast around 60. More photos @JournalStar.com.


Nebraska
AP editor's pick
Appeal of Nebraska man serving life for killing son rejected

Henk

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected the latest appeal from a man who pleaded guilty to killing his 4-year-old son but now says a discredited crime scene investigator planted evidence to frame him.

The court ruled that a Cass County judge was right to dismiss 40-year-old Ivan Henk's post-conviction motion last year.

Henk had argued that former Douglas County CSI director Dave Kofoed planted blood evidence in a garbage bin to implicate him in the 2003 death of his son, Brendan Gonzalez. In 2010, Kofoed was convicted of evidence tampering in an unrelated murder case.

Henk argued in his post-conviction motion that without that blood evidence, he would not have admitted guilt in his son's death and would not be serving a life sentence.

But the state Supreme Court ruled "there was ample evidence that Henk would have accepted the plea offer, regardless of the blood evidence from the dumpster." 

Henk pleaded guilty to first-degree murder days before his trial was to begin in October 2003 in the death of his son, avoiding a possible death sentence.

The boy, who was last seen with Henk, vanished on Jan. 6, 2003. Despite an extensive, weeks-long search of the Sarpy County landfill, the young boy's body was never found.

During a court hearing in April 2003, Henk shouted that he killed Brendan "because he was the anti-Christ. He had 666 on his forehead." Court documents said Henk told investigators he killed the boy and threw his body in a Bellevue trash bin.

But in his appeal, Henk said that in deciding to plead guilty, he relied on DNA evidence that he now believes Kofoed planted. Henk argued that violated his right to a fair trial.

Kofoed spent nearly two years in prison for tampering with evidence in the 2008 slayings of Wayne and Sharmon Stock of rural Murdock. Kofoed claimed to have found the only physical evidence that tied two innocent men to the killings: a drop of one victim's blood. He claimed the blood had been found in a car driven by one of the innocent men that had already been combed over by another forensic investigator.

A man and woman from Wisconsin eventually pleaded guilty to killing the couple. They're serving life prison sentences.


Courtesy photo 

Henk


Govt-and-politics
editor's pick topical
Trump, Ricketts engaged in light-hearted banter at recent meeting

President Donald Trump and Gov. Pete Ricketts engaged in a light-hearted exchange during last week's meeting in the White House about the importance of agricultural trade to farm states.

Ricketts lined up in support of Trump's bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination only after Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was ousted from the race by Trump's decisive victory in the Indiana presidential primary election a week before Nebraska's primary.

Here's last week's exchange:

Trump: "Hello, Pete. Good job you're doing. Nebraska, folks. Doing a good job. He never liked me until we met. (Laughter) Right? He was a Never Trumper. And his family."

Ricketts: "No, that was my brother, Todd. (Laughter)

Trump: "No, the whole family. (Laughter) And then I flew to Nebraska -- a state I love -- I made a speech and he liked me.  And from then on, he called his brother -- he said, 'Trump is good. Let's be friends.' Then we became...

Ricketts: "Well, remember in that speech, Mr. President, you vowed to open up the Chinese market to our U.S. beef. And you delivered on that promise."

Trump: "And that's what we're doing, right? Did I deliver? I did that quickly."

Ricketts: "Yeah."

Trump: "In one conversation. So, good to see you, Pete."


The Associated Press 

Trump


GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star file photo 

Gov. Pete Ricketts