- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

Omaha World-Herald. Jan. 4, 2015.

Heineman did as he promised

There are many ways to take the measure of a politician’s career. Is he a member of your party? Did you agree with her philosophies? Did she do something that benefited you? All are valid.

Here’s one more: Regardless of party, regardless of policy, did he do what he promised?

That may be the best way to look back on the record 10-year tenure of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who leaves office this week.

Heineman was lieutenant governor when Mike Johanns resigned to become U.S. agriculture secretary. In his first State of the State address, delivered just days after taking the oath of office, he provided guideposts for what was ahead.

“You can expect to find these four priorities - education, economic vitality, efficiency in government and the protection of families - woven into my decisions,” he told us.

So how did he do? Heineman largely maintained that focus, particularly in the areas of economic development and education.

He cut taxes. More than once. He leaves office having signed the two largest tax relief measures in state history.

Heineman advocated for business development incentives to improve Nebraska’s competitiveness with other states. Nebraska’s performance in many national rankings has risen. CNBC, the business news cable channel, puts Nebraska at No. 4 among the best states for doing business.

He leaves office with an unemployment rate that’s among the lowest in the nation and job growth that should see employment top 1.1 million this year, a record high. He’s traveled the world to sell the state’s agricultural output.

His focus on education was unwavering. He pulled together leaders from schools, government and business with the aim of boosting student success at every level, from preschool to college.

Heineman pushed for accountability in student achievement, cracked down on truancy and reminded school officials that if they can be ranked in football, the same can be done with math and reading. The state’s four-year high school graduation rate hit 89.7 percent. State funding for public schools, which had to be balanced with other priorities, nonetheless was strong.

As was funding for higher education, something many states slashed during the Great Recession. Heineman and former University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken forged a solid working relationship to keep NU moving forward.

Nebraska’s pay-as-you-go government navigated the recession better than most. The state’s cash reserve, its main savings account, today tops $700 million. Fiscally, Nebraska ranks among the nation’s best-run states.

The number of children in foster care, finally, is going down. The state ranks high nationally as a place to raise a family. And Heineman will go down as the most-traveled governor, visiting every corner of the state and making certain that those in government kept a statewide perspective.

Yet in any 10-year span, there will be lows as well as highs. Both the state prison system and the Department of Health and Human Services proved troublesome. The governor-elect is seeking new management for both.

The prison scandal - miscalculated sentences, inmates released too soon, Nebraska Supreme Court orders ignored - leaves much work ahead on crowding, rehabilitation, good time and other issues.

At HHS, abuse of patients and other Beatrice State Developmental Center problems brought prosecutions, loss of federal funds and withdrawal of Medicaid certification. A hurried effort to privatize child welfare services had to be largely abandoned. The state’s public assistance call center system has failed to function as expected.

Heineman chose two lieutenant governors who wound up resigning after incidents in their personal lives.

Rather than trying to balance success and setback, let’s return to Jan. 26, 2005, and that first State of the State address. “I will do everything in my power,” he said, “to earn the trust, respect and confidence of the citizens of Nebraska.”

A recent World-Herald poll found that 60 percent of Nebraskans approve of his job performance. After 10 years, that’s a strong show of confidence in Dave Heineman’s record of doing what he promised.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Jan. 4, 2015.

Fish farming far from the sea

Experts warn that more than 80 percent of natural fisheries in the world’s oceans are depleted.

Difficult as it may be to imagine, perhaps landlocked Nebraska can help fill the demand for seafood.

That’s the hope of fifth-generation farmers in northeastern Nebraska who have invested $1 million in a fish-farming operation. Their entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring and could be a model for the future.

Doug Garwood and his son Scott continue to farm about 1,400 acres of row crops, but now they also are fish farmers. They raise an Australian freshwater fish called barramundi - sometimes called Asian sea bass - in a series of 10,000 gallon tanks inside a warehouse-like building.

Their operation, called Cardinal Farms, was named Nebraska small business of the year for 2013 by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Various researchers think Midwestern fish farms could be the wave of the future. Agricultural economist Chuck Schroder, founding director of the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute, thinks that the Cardinal Farms operation “is absolutely a natural progression of agriculture and one that we need to embrace.”

Dr. Yonathan Zohar of the Department of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland told the Associated Press that operations like Cardinal Farms are needed to give wild fish stocks a chance to recover from overfishing.

“We don’t hunt and gather chickens and cows. Why do we still do it for fish?” Zohard asked.

Tank systems like the one used by Cardinal Farms can be placed almost anywhere. The technology means the fish are raised in a very clean environment that is optimized for their health, according to Steve Summerfelt of The Conservation Funds Freshwater Institute.

One appeal of such operations is that the fish is locally grown and can be traced to its source. Investigations by the conservation group Oceana and the Boston Globe have shown that a third to half of the seafood sold in the United States is mislabeled. America imports about 90 percent of its seafood and only 2 percent is inspected for fraud.

There’s little doubt that the Garwoods are swimming against the current in a state in which cattle outnumber people by more than 3-to-1, and where in August the corn and soybean fields stretch out across the landscape as far as the eye can see.

But some aquaculture operations have succeeded in Nebraska for decades. The Pleasant Valley Fish Farm in Frontier County has supplied trophy trout to fishing clubs and resorts since 1972. Blue Valley Aquaculture near Sutton has delivered trout to stores and restaurants since 1999.

The fictional Nebraska Navy, which had 100,000 admirals at last count, shows that the state’s residents like to joke about their landlocked location in the center of the country. It would be even funnier if the state’s fish farmers got the last laugh.

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The Grand Island Independent. Jan. 4, 2015.

Veterans home funding may be last blow

It was like getting a lump of coal for Christmas.

That’s how Grand Island felt when it was announced two days before Christmas that federal officials had approved partial funding for a new veterans home to be built in Kearney.

Ever since July 2013 when the state selected Kearney as the site of a new veterans home, Grand Island officials have rightly been fighting the decision, which came about through a flawed selection process.

When the Legislature failed to stop it, that left Grand Island turning to the feds. Touting the benefits of keeping the home in Grand Island and the savings that could be realized by renovating the existing home, officials took their case to Washington.

However, with the funding approval that avenue now also appears to have hit a dead end.

Grand Island officials were right to fight the move as much as they could. The move had nothing to do with Grand Island falling short in caring for veterans. In fact the Grand Island Veterans Home and its staff had gotten a perfect rating from federal health officials for their care of veterans.

For 127 years, Grand Island has cared for veterans on land that the city and its residents had donated to the state.

Any reasonable person could see that it only made sense to keep it in Grand Island. The state already had the land (which Grand Island had donated to it). It was in a beautiful park-like setting. The Veterans Affairs Medical Center was just down the road to the south. The Veterans Cemetery was just down the road to the west. The home has a great staff, providing excellent care.

No, the move isn’t about the veterans. It involved a personal vendetta by Gov. Dave Heineman against the Hall County veterans service officer and Hall County officials. Pitting Central Nebraska communities against each other to save the state money was the governor’s excuse for the bidding process.

But here’s the question facing Grand Island now: Is the fight over? Has the city done all it could to keep the home here?

Unless there is some kind of legal challenge, it appears that there is very little that Grand Island can do anymore to stop the move. And a legal challenge would be seen by many in the state as keeping veterans from getting the new facility they deserve.

Perhaps it’s time Grand Island did as new Mayor Jeremy Jensen has suggested and “make lemonade out of lemons.” That means developing a plan for the 640 acres that Grand Island gave to the state in 1887.

Unfortunately, the state owns the land now and controls it. However, the new governor, Pete Ricketts, may be sympathetic to Grand Island’s plight and be willing to work with the city. State senators also, understanding Grand Island’s loss, may be willing to pass legislation allowing the city to put that land to the best use for Grand Island and the state.

The state made a bad decision to put the home’s location out for bid. It was a huge error. Grand Island has tried, but failed, to get it corrected.

Now, though, it may be time to move on and make sure the city doesn’t get blindsided again on the use of that land in the future.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Jan. 2, 2015.

When it comes to flu, it may be best to ‘phone it in’

Get plenty of rest.

Drink plenty of water.

See your doctor.

That’s the usual mantra when it comes to colds and flu, but some health care providers are taking a second look at the third point.

It makes sense - flu is spread from person-to-person, so why increase the chances it has to be transmitted? If everyone in a community makes contact with a few health care providers, the chances are good those professionals will become sick themselves, and transmit the illness to other patients.

“If you’re really feeling crummy, and you have the symptoms of influenza, your chances of having influenza are very, very high - over 90 percent,” Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told ABC News.

Doctors are saying I don’t need to do a test because sometimes the test is negative even if you have influenza.

Instead, doctors in Tennessee and elsewhere are asking some patients with flu-like symptoms to stay home, check in remotely via telephone or computer and have someone else who is healthy, pick up any needed medicine at the pharmacy.

Tests can determine whether children actually have the flu virus, but they’re wrong 25 percent of the time in adults because adults don’t have as much of the virus in their bloodstreams when they’re sick.

Schaffner said the approach avoids the cost of the test and doctor visit, as well as avoiding the spread of the virus to other people in the waiting room.

The influenza virus is highly infectious and can be spread to people within 3 feet of a sick patient when that patient coughs, sneezes or talks.

Telemedicine is nothing new, it’s been around as long as the telephone and ham radio - perhaps even telegraph? - but the widespread availability of audio and video links over the Internet continues to open up possibilities.

Flu is a serious disease, but telemedicine can offer another important barrier to dangerous diseases such as Ebola, MRSA and others.

It also offers an advantage for patients who feel uncomfortable in a doctor’s office, who suffer “white-coat syndrome” and who might not have access to a clinic.

Besides telemedicine, new smartphone apps, smart watches and other technologies are being developed every day to make better health care available to more and more people at a lower cost.

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