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Legislature
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Motorcycle helmet repeal debated: 'Personal liberty … one of the fundamental tenets'

Nebraska state senators opposed to the state law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets will get more hours to debate the bill Wednesday.

After three hours of debate on Monday, sponsor John Lowe of Kearney told Speaker Jim Scheer that proponents have enough votes to advance the bill on first round. Scheer confirmed it would be back on the agenda Wednesday afternoon.

The bill has been introduced and debated numerous times in recent years, and last year Lowe took up the responsibility of trying to get it repealed. He and other proponents said it's a matter of personal liberty.

"Opponents speak of the societal costs and ask when does the cost outweigh the need for personal liberty?" Lowe said. "And I say to them: Personal liberty and the right for an individual to run their own life, as long as it does not direct harm to others, is one of the fundamental tenets of our founding documents."

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist joined in support of the bill as he has for his entire time in the Legislature, he said, saying he believes in civil liberties.  

"Do all of you that participate in rodeo want the bull riders to all have to wear helmets?" he said. "Do all of you who ride a WaveRunner want to be told to ride with a helmet?" 

Omaha Sen. John Hilkemann, a retired podiatrist, was a major opponent of the repeal. He introduced an amendment that would change the age of a passenger allowed on a motorcycle from a minimum of 6 years old to 16 years old. 

"Any child who hasn't grown to full adult size would be defenseless in a motorcycle accident," Hilkemann said. 

Nebraska last year had 27 motorcycle fatalities, including four people who died in July in a crash south of Lake McConaughy when a vehicle crossed the center line on Nebraska 26 and hit two motorcycles head-on. In his district, he said, 78 percent of the more than 300 people who responded to a survey believe the Legislature ought to keep the helmet law in place. 

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said statistics related to motorcycle crash injuries are compelling, including that four years after getting a brain injury the majority of those injured are neither working nor back in school.

"And colleagues, that has a significant economic and social impact for our society," she said. 

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte talked about the economic benefits of repealing the helmet law. 

"We need more people to see our beautiful state," he said. "And we need more people coming through this state driving Highway 2."

It's the road that takes motorcyclists right to the Black Hills and Sturgis, he said. 

Lowe said everything about riding a motorcycle is a risk, from the first decision to buy one.

"Let's give these motorcycle riders what they want," he said. "They play by the rules. They want the rules to change."


Nebraska
top story topical
Moldy Milford City Hall: Employees forced to work at library; bond vote could build new office

MILFORD — Milford’s city employees are a special election away from getting a new, modern office building — or living in the library.

Black mold and structural problems chased them out of their 1880s City Hall last month, forcing them all to share the library’s party room, with the city clerk conducting her business on one side of a cubicle wall, the police chief and building inspector conducting theirs on the other.

But that could start to change in February, when Milford residents will be asked to approve an $800,000 bond issue to build a 5,600-square-foot City Hall. If approved, construction could start this summer.

If it isn’t, city employees face an unclear future, said Gerry Dunlap, who’s on the education committee pushing for the bond issue’s approval.

“There’s not really another building in town they can move into,” he said.

The City Council has spent about a year working on the project, he said. But the old City Hall’s problems have been known for more than a decade.

In 2006, a structural engineer found evidence of widespread moisture damage, and recommended extensive work to keep the building stable — replacing walls, floor joists and load-bearing headers.

In 2014, another structural analysis concluded the roof needed to be replaced, and it’s deteriorated since, according to the city. The membrane developed a tear, sending water into the front office, the garage roof also leaks and one of the front window panes is slipping into its rotting frame.

“I haven’t been in there when it rains,” Dunlap said, “but they tell me they put buckets out.”

Not just buckets, said City Clerk Jeanne Hoggins. "We went and got our grandkids' baby pool and stuck it in the front."

Also, the old City Hall isn’t accessible to people with disabilities. It isn’t energy efficient. It doesn’t have enough storage space, according to a brochure produced by Dunlap's education committee.

But it was the presence of mold that moved city employees a couple of blocks away to the Webermeier Public Library in early December. It was a bittersweet day, Hoggins said. Milford’s City Hall has moved several times, but it’s occupied the old bank building since the 1970s.

“This has been our second home. This building has a lot of fond memories,” Hoggins said. “But it doesn’t meet our needs anymore.”

The library’s meeting room used to host family reunions. Now, five to six employees at a time — depending on how many police officers are on duty — are learning how to work alongside each other. Officers still conduct suspect interviews and test for blood-alcohol levels at the old City Hall because of privacy concerns, Chief Forrest Siebken said.

The plan to build a City Hall moved forward in late November, when 133 residents — nearly 50 more than needed — signed a petition allowing the City Council to schedule a special election for the bond issue. The vote is Feb. 13.

The city is prepared to spend $300,000 on the project, and the Community Betterment Committee has pledged $250,000, Dunlap said. The bond issue, which wouldn’t exceed $800,000, would pay for the balance — and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $55 a year if the bond is repaid in 20 years.

If approved, the city would build its new offices about a block east of the old City Hall. The building would be twice as large, with a city council chambers, offices for the clerk, building inspector and police, and a police garage, evidence storage and breathalyzer and interview room.

Dunlap and the education committee are trying to promote the project, he said, producing pamphlets and poster boards, and planning to appear at meetings and basketball games.

Siebken and Hoggins have answered questions about the proposal, though they hadn’t heard of organized opposition.

But Milford is a small town, Hoggins said.

“It’s one of those things that people aren’t going to say directly to us.”


Washington
AP
US ends protections for Salvadoran immigrants, sparking fear

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration's decision to end special protections for about 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants filled many Salvadoran families with dread Monday, raising the possibility that they will be forced to abandon their roots in the U.S. and return to a violent homeland they have not known for years, even decades.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen gave Salvadorans with temporary protected status until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave the United States or face deportation. El Salvador becomes the fourth country since President Donald Trump took office to lose protection under the program, which provides humanitarian relief for people whose countries are hit with natural disasters or other strife.

The decision, while not surprising, was a severe blow to Salvadorans in New York, Houston, San Francisco and other major cities that have welcomed them since at least the 1980s.

Many immigrants hope Congress can deliver a long-term reprieve by September 2019. If that fails, they face a grim choice: return to El Salvador voluntarily or live in the U.S. illegally under an administration that has dramatically increased deportation arrests.

The action presents a serious challenge for El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people whose economy counts on money sent by wage earners in the U.S. Over the past decade, growing numbers of Salvadorans — many coming as families or unaccompanied children — have entered the United States illegally through Mexico, fleeing violence and poverty.

In September 2016, the Obama administration extended protections for 18 months, saying El Salvador still was suffering the lingering effects of earthquakes in 2001 that killed more than 1,000 people. The administration said the country was temporarily unable to absorb such a large number of returning people.

Nielsen, who faced a Monday deadline on another extension, concluded that El Salvador has received significant international aid to recover from the earthquake, and homes, schools and hospitals there have been rebuilt.

"The substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake" no longer exists, the department said in a statement.

El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren spoke by phone Friday with Nielsen to renew his plea to extend status for 190,000 Salvadorans and allow more time for Congress to deliver a long-term fix for them to stay in the U.S. The country's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez, said Monday's decision underscored a need for Congress to act.

Democratic leaders and immigrant advocacy groups sharply criticized the move. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called it "a heartbreaking blow to nearly a quarter of a million hard-working Salvadorans who are American in every way." Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said it was "just the latest in a string of heartless, xenophobic actions from the Trump administration."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called it "heartbreaking" and said "many families will be devastated."

However, groups advocating immigration restrictions called it an important step for the humanitarian program's credibility.

"The past practice of allowing foreign nationals to remain in the United States long after an initial emergency in their home countries has ended has undermined the integrity of the program and essentially made the 'temporary' protected status a front operation for backdoor permanent immigration," said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA.

The decision comes amid intensifying talks between the White House and Congress on an immigration package that may include protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the country as children and were temporarily shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program. Trump said in September that he was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, but gave Congress until March to act.

The U.S. created temporary protected status in 1990 to provide safe havens for people from countries affected by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, war and other disasters. It currently shields people from 10 countries, more than half from El Salvador.

The benefit, which includes work authorization, can be renewed up to 18 months at a time by the Homeland Security secretary.

In November, Nielsen's predecessor, acting Secretary Elaine Duke, ended the protection for Haitians, requiring them to leave or adjust their legal status by July 22, 2019, and for Nicaraguans, giving them until Jan. 5, 2019. She delayed a decision affecting Hondurans, leaving that decision to Nielsen.

Last year, the Trump administration extended status for South Sudan and ended it for Sudan. Other countries covered are Nepal, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.


911
topical top story
Nebraska couple accuse late-term abortion doctor of malpractice at Colorado trial

A potentially divisive and emotional jury trial began Monday in a federal court in Denver, pitting a Nebraska couple against a Boulder clinic and doctor who performed a late-term abortion and allegedly missed part of the fetus' skull — found embedded in the wall of her uterus more than a year later.

A doctor performed a hysterectomy to remove it, and now she can't have children.

In 2015 the couple, from a small town in Southeast Nebraska, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver, accusing Dr. Warren Hern and the Boulder Abortion Clinic of medical malpractice.

The couple is seeking money damages for medical care, physical pain and mental suffering, as well as permanent injury, including the loss of her ability to conceive children.

Their attorney, Terry Dougherty of Lincoln, alleges Hern had failed to warn her of the increased risks and negligently misrepresented that the fetus had been entirely removed.

Hern's attorney, Amy Cook Olson, was expected to argue at trial it was the decision to perform a hysterectomy by the woman's own primary doctor that caused her injuries, not him, according to a trial brief filed in the case.

In September, U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer denied a defense motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to move toward trial.

Court staff confirmed in a phone call that the trial began Monday.

The Journal Star has chosen not to name the couple due to the private nature of the medical information at issue. 

In court records, Dougherty said the couple's doctor told them in November 2013 that an MRI had shown their baby boy was missing a part of his brain and would live less than a year if he even survived the delivery. Delivery also posed significant health risk to the mother, they were told.

"After difficult conversations with each other and their medical providers, (they) determined that it was in the best interest of (her) health to terminate the desired pregnancy," the attorney wrote.

Dougherty said the couple traveled to the Boulder clinic where Hern performed the abortion on Dec. 6, 2013.

At the time, she had been in her 25th week of pregnancy.

That following spring, when she had break-through bleeding, her regular doctor changed her birth control, thinking it was a hormonal imbalance, Dougherty wrote in a trial brief. 

He said when the bleeding continued a gynecologist ordered an ultrasound that revealed the cause: a 4-centimeter long object, consistent with the curved portion of a fetus' skull, cutting into her uterine wall.

Dougherty alleges Hern breached his standard of care by not warning her of an increased risk that fragments of bone could be left behind if he proceeded even though she failed to dilate more than 1 or 2 centimeters. He says it was medical malpractice.

Hern's attorney, Cook Olson, denied it, but spent much of a pretrial brief raising concerns about jury selection.

"Abortion is a controversial issue in United States culture and politics," she wrote. "The right to an abortion in the second term of pregnancy is of particular controversy ... resulting in various state legislative restrictions."

Nebraska law bans abortions after 20 weeks.

Cook Olson proposed that potential jurors be questioned privately by the attorneys and judge on their positions on abortion and experiences with it, rather than in open court.

Potential jurors were given questionnaires asking their views and whether they or anyone close to them has had an abortion and if they could be fair and impartial to both sides.

Trial is expected to last 10 days.