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Judge Strikes Down Nebraska's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A federal judge has blocked Nebraska's gay marriage ban, but the decision will not take effect until March 9.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon on Monday ordered the state to not enforce its ban. His decision comes after seven same-sex couples filed a lawsuit last year challenging the state's voter-backed ban. Last week, Bataillon heard arguments for and against a motion for an injunction to block enforcement of the ban while the lawsuit is pending.

The Nebraska Attorney General's office has said it will appeal any decision blocking or overturning the voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

Governor Pete Ricketts is weighing in on today's court decision. Ricketts issued the following statement this morning saying quote:

"The definition of marriage is an issue for the people of Nebraska, and an activist judge should not substitute his personal political preferences for the will of the people. I will continue to work with Attorney General Doug Peterson to uphold Nebraska's Constitution and the will of the people of our great state."

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 other states.

Hastings and Sister City Have Big Plans for 20th Anniversary

Big plans are ahead this year for the 20th anniversary of a sister city agreement between Hastings and Ozu, Japan.

According to the Hastings Tribune, a delegation of 41 Ozu residents plan to fly into Omaha on July 18th. They'll spend time at the Henry Doorly Zoo before heading over to Hastings on July 19. The event will also feature a banquet July 22 at Lochland Country Club.

The Hastings International Exchange Organization is looking to raise about $10,000 for the visit. About $3,000 is needed to charter a bus to bring the delegation from Omaha to Hastings and back. Tax-deductible donations will also pay for meals and other services when the delegation visits.

The organization is also searching for host families this summer. For more information, you can contact Jack Schreiner, the fundraising chair for the event at 402-463-3129.

State Will No Longer Bar Gay Foster Parents

The State of Nebraska will no longer consider the sexual orientation of a person seeking to become a foster parent.

A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts' office says the department of health and human services hasn't officially changed its policy, but it hasn't been following it either.

He says it's hard to pinpoint when the agency changed course, except that it came before Ricketts took office in January. The disconnect between policy and procedure has prompted the governor's office to ask department officials for a review.

The 20-year-old policy effectively prevents gay and lesbian couples from becoming foster parents by barring unmarried, unrelated adults who live together from having children placed with them. It also bars placing children with a single, gay person.

Beekeeping Proposal Sent Back

A Grand Island animal advisory board has sent a plan to allow beehives within city limits back to the drawing board.

An initial draft would have allowed one hive for every 1,500 square feet of property. With Grand Island lots starting at 6,000 square feet, the plan would have allowed even the smallest lot to hold up to four hives.

Brian Nilson, vice president of the Nebraska State Beekeeping Association, says most municipalities that allow beekeeping limit hive to two per lot.

As currently proposed, hives would need to be screened behind a 6-foot fence at least 15 feet from a neighboring property line and at least 50 feet away from any house, excluding the beekeeper's.

Police Investigating Possible Assault at Kearney High

Kearney Police are investigating an alleged assault that occurred Friday involving a Kearney High School administrator.

Kearney Superintendent Brian Maher has confirmed that the incident occurred after a student was removed from a study hall for disruptive behavior. Upon being brought to the office, the student allegedly became overly physical with Assistant Principal Kevin Madsen. At that time, a 9-1-1 call was made to the Kearney/Buffalo County Law Enforcement Center asking for police assistance to restrain the student.

Madsen was examined by the school nurse and remained at work for the remainder of the day. Jon Watts, president of the Kearney Public School Board indicated the board was aware of the incident and plans to further review the matter to determine any possible disciplinary action.

Local Cigar Bar Owner Pleased With Exemption

Governor Pete Ricketts has signed a bill designed to keep the state's cigar bars in business.

The new law approved yesterday authorizes cigar smoking in licensed establishments. Paul Hamelink, the owner of Paul's Cigar Bar in Hastings says work on the legislation began after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down a 2009 law that allowed patrons to smoke cigars in cigar bars and shops.

"It's been a long process. A group of cigar bar owners, of which I was a part, started lobbying and finding ways we could re-establish the cigar bar exemption. Since the Supreme Court overturned that law, it put everyone out of business. So a legislative solution eventually became necessary and frankly we're very pleased with the result," Hamelink said.


State lawmakers intended to create a legal exemption for those businesses so they could continue to operate. As a result, Paul's Cigar Bar in Hastings is scheduled to open in the next few weeks.

"We're hoping to have a soft opening soon. We're about to put in hardwood floor and do some of the finished carpentry work. It will speed things up a bit as we were wanting to be sure what was going to happen," Hamelink said.

The bill is written so it will stand up to the court's review.

Hastings High Students Participating in Technology Initiative

Hastings High is one of 40 Nebraska high schools to participate in the first Nebraska Microsoft Information Technology (IT) Initiative. The Initiative is a partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Career and Technical Education, Microsoft, and Certiport.

Through this Initiative, Nebraska high school students can earn certification in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access at the specialist and expert levels. So far, according to the district, 15 Hastings High students have already passed their Word Specialist Certification.

Becoming certified validates that Nebraska students have the information technology skills they will need for college and career in today's technology-centered job market.

CNRA Renews Contract With American Airlines

On Friday morning, the Central Nebraska Regional Airport announced it is renewing its contract with American Airlines.

The new contract will save the Grand Island airport more than $5 million from the previous contract. The contract will cost about $1.27 million, compared to the old contract which was around $1.8 million.

Executive director Mike Olson says American Airlines last year accounted for more than a third of the passenger boardings in 2014.

American Airlines was the only air carrier to submit a bid to the airport. Olson says that really wasn't any surprise, given the pilot shortage going on in the U.S. He says airlines are being cautious to not over-extend themselves.

The airport board will vote to approve the new contract March 11th and will then submit that contract to the Grand Island City Council on March 24th.

Grand Island Plant Cutting 136 Jobs

A farm implement plant in Grand Island will be eliminating the jobs of 136 more employees.

CNH Industrial America said Thursday that the indefinite layoffs result from market conditions and that they will begin in May and be finished by July.

Just last August, the company announced layoffs of 170 full-time company staffers and 68 agency employees, and in May the company said it would cut 200 third-party agency positions.

On Friday CNH North America spokeswoman Kathleen Prause declined to say how many workers still would be on the plant payroll after the 136 people are let go.

Bill to Expand Medicaid Family Planning Services Stalls in Legislature

A bill that would allow more women to qualify for Medicaid family planning services has stalled in the Nebraska Legislature.

Supporters fell two votes short Thursday of the 25 needed to advance it, while 21 lawmakers opposed it.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha says his measure would have prevented unwanted pregnancies, saving the state millions each year and significantly reducing the number of abortions in Nebraska. It also would have funneled some of those savings to the Every Woman Matters program, which funds cancer screenings and mammograms for women ages 40 to 64.

Opponents argued the bill's savings were only hypothetical, and described it as a partial Medicaid expansion. Abortion opponents said the bill was the incorrect way to effectively reduce abortions.

Lincoln Man Plans to Open Grand Island Area Strip Club

A Lincoln-based porn site operator is looking for the best spot near Grand Island to open a strip club.

Shane Harrington says the locations he's considering could be bought, remodeled and opened within four months.

Harrington says that he's been in the adult website business for about 14 years and has run other clubs.

He says his daughter has a scholarship to attend Hastings College, so having a business near Grand Island would make it convenient for him to visit her.

City regulations likely mean the club won't be located inside Grand Island, and Harrington says he understands objections people might have.

He says he's proposing an adult business and that he also doesn't want it next to schools and churches.

Kearney Non-Profits Receive Large Donations

Two Kearney non-profit health care organizations have received a major financial contribution. Plains Physical Organization and CHI Health Good Samaritan Hospital have teamed up to donate $436,000 to both the new Kearney HelpCare Clinic and Collage, an organization that provides a safe haven for women who have had unplanned pregnancies.

The checks were distributed as the final disbursement of funds by Sentinel Health Care, which recently was dissolved. Dave Sokolowski, Chairman of PPO explains how the donations were made possible.

"The original founders of the Sentinel Organization had some good ideas. They said to give the rest of the money to charitable donations," Soklowski said.

Good Samaritan Hospital President Mike Schneiders also spoke about how the donations will impact the two non-profits.

"These monies will give them a lot of stability as they begin and it gives them a firm foundation to stand on to meet the needs of those who truly need it in our community," Schneiders said.

The new Kearney Help Care Clinic is slated to open in April and will provide health care services to those uninsured in Buffalo and Kearney Counties.

United Way Surpasses Campaign Goal

More than a half-million dollars has been raised in the 2014-15 campaign for the United Way of South Central Nebraska. The campaign continues through June 30.

Michele Henke is the executive director. She says the United Way was happy to make the announcement this week.

"Right now we're sitting at just over $508,000. Our goal was set by our campaign chair Jay Landell at $465,000 last spring. This was a great and historic event for United Way," Henke said.

In 2014, the United Way was supported by thousands of individuals and 95 companies in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties. Their campaign cutoff is June 30th. Henke says funding applications are out right now, so anyone who would like to apply for United Way funding can do so from now until March 6th.

"This is where the difficult part comes in. Community volunteers and board members look at all the applications and really decide for the next year where the money is best invested, where it's spent and where we can reach the largest population," Henke said.

The United Way celebrated their success Tuesday at Lochland Country Club.

Kearney City Officials Hear Progress on Capital Improvements

The City of Kearney is moving forward on more than $12 million worth of street and capital improvement projects.

At a public hearing last night, City Engineer Bruce Grupe provided a description of the 25 different projects slated for completion during the year. One of the high priority areas is in the vicinity of the new Kearney High School.

In addition, the city council also recommended the cancellation of the liquor license at San Pedro Mexican Restaurant. A commission report found that San Pedro has sold alcohol to a minor at least three times in the last five years.

Special Election to Decide Fate of Hastings Street Closure

A special election will decide the fate of a thoroughfare through the Hastings College campus.

On Tuesday, the Hastings City Council voted 7-0 in favor of letting voters decide whether or not to repeal an ordinance that would shut 9th Street down from Elm to Ash Avenues.

The council decided to have the election go through a mail-in ballot, which they believe will ensure higher voter turnout. City officials said it will be a minimum of 50 days before the ballots can be mailed out.

City officials also say that Adams and Hamilton Counties have a 67 percent voter turnout rate when it comes to special elections.

Mayor Vern Powers said work on the special election will begin today.

Hastings Hotel and Convention Center Sold

After sitting vacant for two months, the Hastings Hotel and Convention Center was has been sold.

Well Street Capital purchased the building Monday and plans to have it back open real soon. The property was sold for just over $234,000. The price also will include any applicable fees, taxes and liens associated with the property, which is valued at nearly $1.5 million.

Well Street plans to open the hotel within the next 30 to 60 days. They are not releasing any specific details about the new hotel.

Nebraska Farm Bureau Seeks Extension for Farm Bill Sign-Up

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation is asking U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide farmers more time to evaluate and make decisions on farm programs associated with the 2014 farm bill.

Many of the changes facing farmers would be required to take effect by the end of February or early March. In a letter to Vilsack today, Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson asked for an extension to April 30th.

Nelson said in a release that Farm Bureau has been pleased with the help and support provided by the USDA's Farm Service Agency offices to Nebraska farmers. But he said several of the decisions that will ultimately affect farmers over the next five years need to be given ample time for farmers to make informed decisions.

Florida Woman to be Arraigned in Hall County March 17

The Florida woman accused of drowning a puppy last month at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport will be arraigned in Hall County District Court March 17.

Cynthia Anderson did not attend her preliminary hearing this morning. Hall County Judge John Rademacher received a written waiver of preliminary hearing from Anderson's attorney, Vicky Kenney. The Judge executed the order, excusing Anderson's absence and set the date for her arraignment.

Anderson was arrested at the Grand Island airport after a witness said she drowned the 3-week old puppy in an airport toilet. She was arrested on a warrant on Feb. 23 outsider her Florida home. She's awaiting trial there on a felony grand theft charge.

York Police Arrest Bomb Threat Suspect

Police in York say an 18-year-old high school senior is facing felony charges after threatening York High School last week.

Ryan Boyer is jailed on charges of making terroristic threats to the school. Authorities say Boyer was the student behind a bomb threat to posted to the social media app YikYak last Monday.

Police spokesman Michael Hanke says mobile electronic devices have been seized from the student's home using a search warrant police had obtained. Forensic investigators with the Nebraska State Patrol are checking the devices for evidence.

During their investigation, witnesses told officers that Ryan had previously said he had a handgun and a shotgun in his car. Officers searched Boyer's home, school locker, vehicle and no weapons were found.

Boyer was arrested Saturday morning and remains in York County Jail on $25,000 bond.

Grand Island Man Sentenced for Multiple Sexual Assaults

A Grand Island man charged with sexually assaulting two girls has been ordered to serve at least four years in prison.

30-year-old Noe Flores-Diaz was sentenced Friday in Buffalo County District Court to six to 10 years in prison for attempted felony first-degree sexual assault of a child younger than age 12 between May 23rd of 2011 and May 19th of 2013.

Diaz was also sentenced to two to five years in prison for felony third-degree sexual assault of a child 14-years-of-age or younger on June 9th of last year. Diaz was given credit for seven-and-a-half months already served in jail.

With good behavior Diaz could be eligible for parole in four years and discharged from jail in seven-and-a-half years.

Both sentences are to be served consecutively. Diaz was further ordered to register as a convicted sex offender.

Kearney Standoff Ends Peacefully

Kearney Police blocked off a southwest side neighborhood near a nursing home after a man barricaded himself inside a home while threatening to harm himself Sunday afternoon.

At around 2:30 p.m., the Buffalo County 9-1-1 Dispatch Center received a call from a woman who reported that the man had sent her a distressing text message. After officers responded, the man refused to communicate with the initial officers and would not come out of the house. The Buffalo County/Kearney Police Department ESU team was activated and hostage negotiators from that team were able to make contact with the man a short time later.

At 4:40 p.m. the hostage negotiators were finally able to talk the man into coming out of the house. He was then taken into custody without incident. No injuries were reported, although a nearby nursing home was locked down for a short time as a precautionary measure.

Cairo Woman Struck and Killed on I-80

A Cairo woman is dead after being struck by a semi-truck on Interstate 80 near Gibbon Sunday afternoon.

The incident occurred around 5 p.m. According to the Nebraska State Patrol, 79-year-old Darlene Harders had parked along the eastbound lanes near Gibbon when she got out of her vehicle and then walked into traffic. A short time later, she was struck by a semi truck. Authorities say the driver tried to slow down but did not have enough time.

Eastbound traffic was temporarily reduced to one lane near mile marker 285. Officials say the accident also helped contribute to another accident in the same area involving two semi trucks. The Buffalo County Sheriff's Office is investigating that crash.

Judge Accepts Request to Drop Pleas in Deckert Case

The man accused of dragging a Hastings police officer has won a hearing on his request to withdraw his pleas.

The hearing has been scheduled March 24 for 30-year old Marty Deckert. Deckert had accepted a plea deal on charges of second-degree murder and other crimes. Other charges were dismissed. Authorities say Deckert tried to avoid arrest in July by speeding away in a car while dragging a police officer.

At his sentencing hearing on Friday, Deckert told a judge that he wanted a new attorney and said, "I may be guilty of some things that happened that day, but not enough to go to prison." The judge denied Deckert's request for a new court-appointed attorney but set the hearing on Deckert's request to withdraw his pleas.

Hastings College To Build New Art Center

Hastings College has announced a press conference next week. Constructed in 1908 as the College's library, the current home to Hastings College's Art Department no longer serves the growing program's needs. President Don Jackson and other Hastings College officials are expected to announce the construction of a new art center on campus. The announcement will take place next Tuesday at 4pm at the grey center on the HC campus.

Heineman Grilled at First Testimony Hearing

The chairman of a legislative committee says 162 Nebraska inmates convicted of violent crimes were freed early under a furlough program. The program was revealed at a hearing yesterday as the chairman, Senator Steve Lathrop, questioned Governor Dave Heineman. The Republican governor was subpoenaed to testify under oath as part of an investigation into miscalculated prison sentences and other problems.

Ravenna Man Sentenced in Child Sex Abuse Case

A 33-year old Ravenna man who was convicted of incest and sexually assaulting a child has been given 15 to 25 years in prison. The incident happened in Kearney between Aug. 31 and Sept 2, 2013. The man's name is not being released in order to protect the identity of the young girl who was a minor under the age of 12 at the time of the incident.

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