Ricketts revokes ex-staffer’s Nebraska Navy admiralship after racist comments

Admiralship revoked. A former campaign staffer of Gov. Pete Ricketts who was tied to some racist posts on a white supremacist chat room has lost his commission as an admiral in the mythical Nebraska Navy.

Ricketts revoked the honor on March 13, two days after the governor said he was “shocked and horrified” by anti-Jewish, homophobic and racist posts attributed to the former campaign worker, Bennett Bressman.

It wasn’t the first time the Republican governor has defrocked an officer in the Great Navy of Nebraska.

In 2018, he took away the honors from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and a graduate student/lecturer who had confronted a UNL student who was recruiting for a conservative group.

TIF for “extreme blighted areas.” State Sen. Justin Wayne got some static during debate Monday over his proposal to provide more generous tax-increment financing benefits to those who develop in “extreme blighted areas,” such as portions of his north Omaha district and other areas of Nebraska where unemployment exceeds 200 percent of the state level.

Wayne’s proposed constitutional amendment, Legislative Resolution 14CA — if approved by voters in 2020 — would allow cities to extend TIF benefits for up to 20 years in certain “extreme blighted areas,” instead of the standard 15 years. (TIF devotes the increased property taxes generated by a new building or complex to repay some of the development costs.)

The senator said it is wrong to provide the same TIF benefits to “my community” as to a development at 72nd and Dodge, like the Crossroads Mall.

But Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who believes that TIF is an unnecessary government giveaway, opposed the proposal during floor debate and predicted that cities would use funny business to make projects qualify.

Monday’s debate on LR 14CA ended before a vote on its advancement could be taken.

Sen. Stinner urges Nebraska Legislature to increase Medicaid payments to nursing homes

LINCOLN — Nebraska nursing homes are being put in danger by a growing gap between Medicaid payment rates and operating costs, a key state lawmaker said Monday.

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, told fellow committee members that the situation has reached a crisis level.

“We as senators are responsible for the safety and well-being of the State of Nebraska. Let’s live up to it,” he said. “If we don’t increase rates, we’re going to fail.”

Stinner argued in support of Legislative Bill 403, his proposal to change how Medicaid nursing home rates are calculated. With an amendment he offered Monday, the bill would increase funding for those rates by an estimated $21.3 million a year. The state share of that increase would be $9.6 million.

Nursing home representatives backed the bill, saying the payment gap is a critical factor in homes’ struggles to survive.

Compounding the payment gap, there are fewer private-pay residents, and Nebraska’s tight labor market has driven up costs. Occupancy rates have fallen, in part because of a push toward less costly options, including in-home care.

In 2014, Nebraska Medicaid paid homes about $25 less per day than their costs, according to information compiled by the American Health Care Association. By 2017, the gap had increased to about $36 — or 17.6 percent of costs.

Kari Wockenfuss, administrator of the Louisville Care Community, said her facility does not limit the number of Medicaid residents, even though Medicaid lowered its payment rates for the facility by $2 for the current year, compared with last year.

She said that 76 percent of residents are on Medicaid and that the facility has lost $169,000 since Oct. 1.

But state Medicaid officials opposed the bill, saying they are working on a new method for calculating nursing home rates. They said LB 403 was unnecessary and would just tweak the calculation method, when a bigger change is needed.

Jeremy Brunssen, a deputy director of Medicaid and long-term care services, said he understands that operating conditions for nursing homes are “extremely difficult.”

“I don’t see this as us-versus-them issue,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to address the current methodology.”

Brunssen said a first step in that process was unveiled earlier this month.

The state is looking at a methodology that sets a base rate for all homes, instead of the current method in which some homes get paid as much as $80 more than others. The state also wants to include incentives for quality of care, along with factors for rural homes and homes with larger proportions of Medicaid residents.

Thomas “Rocky” Thompson, another deputy Medicaid director, said the goal is to implement the new rate methodology by July 1, 2020.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed budget included $10.6 million next year to increase nursing home payment rates, with another $10.8 million the following year. The state share of that increase would be $4.8 million next year and $4.9 million the following year.

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