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KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Charles Wegner and his late wife Barb Mattley planted an oasis and decorated it with lights every December. 


GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star 

Nick Brotzel holds his son, Barrett Brotzel, as he takes a picture of the legislative chamber from the desk of his wife, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, on the session's first day.


GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star 

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer shakes hands after being re-elected Wednesday on the first day of the 106th Legislature.


Legislature
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106th Legislature convenes in a wave of hope

The 106th Nebraska Legislature convened for the 90-day session in a wave of optimism, bathed in the warm light of a January sun flooding the George Norris Legislative Chamber.

Senators, their families and friends exchanged handshakes and hugs, some meeting for the first time as a crop of 13 lawmakers took the oath of office for their first four-year term in the Legislature.

"Thank you for this beautiful day," said Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward in an invocation to open the session. "Thank you for the ability to come together as your elected servant-leaders to lead this state as legislative policymakers."

Kolterman, who took the oath of office for his second term representing District 24, reminded his colleagues that they gathered to serve the citizens of the state, "to pass well-thought-out legislation" as pleasing to God as to their constituents.

Wednesday morning proceeded with deliberation, as Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican administered the oath to new senators and officers of the Legislature.

Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk was re-elected by his peers as speaker of the Legislature, a position he promised to wield for the next two years with integrity and honor.

Upon his election, legislative pages carried boxes of doughnuts to senators row by row, a gift from Scheer -- not in thanks for his election to leadership, but in gratitude for a newborn grandson in Texas.

While the selection of committee leadership was a sore spot for the Legislature two years ago, Wednesday's mood was lighthearted, but cautious.

Ending his invocation, Kolterman asked that the session "be a fun experience for all involved."

"I want us to meet in the spirit of cooperation," he said. "It doesn't have to be a negative experience."

Will it hold?

"I hope so."

Photos from the first day of the session

Photos: Legislature's first day

McConnell


GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star 

Alice Homan, 8, works at the desk of Sen. Megan Hunt, her mother, as her grandparents, Dan and Mary Beth Hunt, visit on the Legislature's first day on Wednesday.


Washington
AP
Rosenstein, a frequent Trump target, to leave DOJ

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the most visible Justice Department protector of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and a frequent target of President Donald Trump's wrath, is expected to leave his position soon after Trump's nominee for attorney general is confirmed.

The departure creates uncertainty about the oversight of Mueller's team as it enters what may be its final months of work. But the attorney general nominee, William Barr, moved quickly Wednesday to quell concerns that his arrival could endanger the probe, telling lawmakers during Capitol Hill visits ahead of his confirmation hearing that he has a high opinion of Mueller.

"He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will question Barr next Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, Barr could be in place at the Justice Department by February. Rosenstein is expected to leave his position soon after that, though he is not being forced out, said a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

The departure is not surprising given that Rosenstein has been deputy for almost two years. It is common for new attorneys general to have their own deputies and Barr has told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2 as part of taking the attorney general job.

It was unclear who might replace Rosenstein, though Barr has some ideas for a selection, Graham said, without elaborating. The deputy position requires Senate confirmation. It was also not immediately clear whether Rosenstein's top deputy, Edward O'Callaghan, who has a prominent role overseeing Mueller's investigation, might remain in his role.

Rosenstein's departure is noteworthy given his appointment of Mueller and close supervision of his work. He's also endured a tenuous relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly decried Rosenstein's decision to appoint Mueller, and with congressional Republicans who accused him of withholding documents from them and not investigating aggressively enough what they contend was political bias within the FBI.

In September, Rosenstein went to the White House expecting to be fired after news reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. He was ultimately allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump and John Kelly, then chief of staff.

Trump also shared a photo on Twitter in November showing Rosenstein and others criticized by the president behind bars, calling for them to be tried for "treason."

Mueller is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein and his chief deputy have continued to maintain day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official told reporters last month.

Barr would take over control of the investigation, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted in November.

The White House cast Rosenstein's departure as his choice. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein had always planned to stay two years and wants to help with the transition to a new attorney general. The person familiar with Rosenstein's plans said Rosenstein told Barr in a private conversation around the time Barr was selected that he expected to depart after Barr was confirmed.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election. The appointment followed the recusal of Sessions because of his work on the Trump campaign and Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey.


ORLIN WAGNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein gives opening remarks at the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference on Dec. 5 in Kansas City, Mo.


National
AP
Phone apps could monitor teen angst

Rising suicide rates and depression in U.S. teens and young adults have prompted researchers to ask a provocative question: Could the same devices that some people blame for contributing to tech-age angst also be used to detect it?

The idea has sparked a race to develop apps that warn of impending mental health crises. Call it smartphone psychiatry or child psychology 2.0.

Studies have linked heavy smartphone use with worsening teen mental health. But as teens scroll through Instagram and Snapchat, tap out texts or watch YouTube videos, they also leave digital footprints that might offer clues to their psychological well-being.

Changes in typing speed, voice tone, word choice and how often kids stay home could signal trouble, according to preliminary studies.

There might be as many as 1,000 smartphone "biomarkers" for depression, said Thomas Insel, former head of the National Institute of Mental Illness and now a leader in the smartphone psychiatry movement.

Researchers are testing experimental apps that use artificial intelligence to try to predict depression episodes or potential self-harm.

"We are tracking the equivalent of a heartbeat for the human brain," said Dr. Alex Leow, an app developer and associate professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus.

At least, that's the goal. There are technical and ethical kinks to work out — including privacy issues and making sure kids grant permission to be monitored so closely. Developers say proven, commercially available mood-detecting apps are likely years — but not decades — away.

"People often feel that these things are creepy," because of the tech industry's surreptitious tracking of online habits for commercial purposes, said University of Oregon psychologist Nick Allen.

Using smartphones as mental illness detectors would require informed consent from users to install an app, "and they could withdraw permission at any time," said Allen, one of the creators of an app that is being tested on young people who have attempted suicide.

"The biggest hurdle at the moment," Allen said, "is to learn about what's the signal and what's the noise — what is in this enormous amount of data that people accumulate on their phones that is indicative of a mental health crisis."

Depression affects about 3 million U.S. teens, and rates have climbed in the past decade. Last year, 13 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had depression, up from 8 percent in 2010, U.S. government data show. One in 10 college-aged Americans is affected.

Suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34. Rates among teen girls doubled from 2007 to 2015, climbing to 5 per 100,000. And among boys, rates jumped 30 percent, to 14 in 100,000.

A recent study suggested a parallel rise in smartphone use likely contributed.

People with mental illness typically get treatment "when they're in crisis and very late in the course of an illness. We want to have a method to identify the earliest signs," in an objective way, Insel said.

If smartphones prove to be accurate mood predictors, developers say the ultimate goal would be to use them to offer real-time help, perhaps with automated text messages and links to help lines, or digital alerts to parents, doctors or first responders.