Feb. 21: Sen. Groene resigns, Fortenberry request denied and Chuck Love suspended
Sen. Groene denies taking sexually inappropriate photos of legislative aide and resigns
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte denied accusations Feb. 18 that he took objectifying photos of a female legislative aide. A couple hours later, he offered to submit his resignation to Gov. Pete Ricketts, and Ricketts accepted. Two days prior, Groene announced his run for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. On Feb. 18, he said he was dropping out of that race. Groene addressed the accusations after Nebraska Sunrise News reported that Kristina Konecko, who worked for Groene on and off for six years, lodged a complaint that she found”‘objectifying and demeaning” photos of herself on Groene’s computer. The website said the photos appeared to be zoom-close-ups of provocative body parts. Groene told the Nebraska Examiner that he had taken photos of Konecko, but they were not zoomed in on specific body parts and were not sexual in nature. “In today’s world, if you want to take a picture of someone, you should say ‘I’m taking a picture.’ But I didn’t, and I apologized for it,” Groene said. He said legislative IT workers went through his computer and found nothing that would be considered sexually inappropriate. Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, the chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, said the complaint against Groene is being taken very seriously. On Feb. 19, Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha asked the attorney general, superintendent of Law Enforcement and Nebraska State Capitol Security to investigate Groene.
Nebraska suspends women’s basketball associate head coach and removes player from roster
The University of Nebraska Athletic Department announced Feb. 19 that Chuck Love, the associate head coach for the women’s basketball team, has been suspended with pay effective immediately. Hours later, a Nebraska spokesperson told KOLN that sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin was removed from the roster. Officials have not commented on the cause of Love’s suspension or Scoggin’s removal.
Federal judge denies Fortenberry request to move trial to Nebraska
The trial of U.S. Rep Jeff Fortenberry in connection with accusations of taking illegal campaign contributions and lying to federal agents about it will begin March 15 in Los Angeles. A federal judge on Feb. 14 denied a request to move the trial from California to Nebraska. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. seemed unconvinced the move would result in a quicker trial. He argued a new judge would need to become familiar with the case and understand the multitude of motions Blumenfeld has already heard.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln delays plans to close family designated housing units after student pushback
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s director of University Housing and Dining Services, Charlie Francis, had informed residents that UNL will be discontinuing its family designated housing units, located on 33rd and Starr Streets, 2224 U Street and 23rd and Vine Streets, where hundreds of married students and/or those with children live, by June 30. Francis said the university decided to sell two complexes and repurpose a third. Residents gathered on Feb. 13 to make a plan of action, with options such as enlisting the help of student-led groups or asking for an extension to the move-out date of June 30. On Feb. 15, UNL said it will delay its plans to sell or redevelop the units and apologized for the distress caused by the late delivery of the news. In an email, the university said it will include residents, faculty, the dean of Graduate Studies and the associate vice chancellor in planning the next steps.
UNL and LPS end mask mandate along with Lancaster County
Lincoln Public Schools and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced Feb. 18 that their mask mandates would expire that night, following an announcement from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department that the local Directed Health Measure was ending Feb. 18 at 11:59 p.m. All three entities are now recommending, but not requiring, that people wear face coverings indoors. The COVID-19 Risk Dial is in the elevated orange, indicating high risk, this week. Last week, it was in the red, indicating severe risk.“Thank you to all those who have taken the precautions to slow the spread of the virus,” Health Director Pat Lopez said. “Our collective actions are helping our community come through this surge.”
Sen. Lathrop will not seek re-election
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said Feb. 14 he will not seek re-election to the Legislature. Lathrop was first elected in 2006 and served two consecutive terms. He was re-elected again in 2018 after sitting out four years as required by term limits. Lathrop has been a leading advocate for criminal justice reform, serving as chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Health care vaccine mandate brings staffing challenges
Unvaccinated Nebraska health care workers reached the deadline for the federal vaccine mandate on Feb. 14. Jim Ulrich, chief executive officer of York General Hospital, said that while vaccines are effective, he also respects his staff’s beliefs. Ulrich doesn’t like the mandate because it forces hospitals to fire unvaccinated nurses, worsening the already existing shortage. Marty Fattig, the chief executive officer of Nemaha County Hospital, said the mandate is now unnecessary, coming nine months too late. Another setback comes in the forms of contractors – Nebraska hospitals are unable to provide vaccine exemptions to contractors, so Nemaha County Hospital had to delay construction on its lab and surgical sterilization room due to unvaccinated contracted construction workers.
Housing crunch halts new residents in rural areas
Nearly every mid-sized city and small town in Nebraska is struggling to provide enough houses for their residents, according to the Flatwater Free Press. Of the few houses that are available, most are aging and need restoration work. Flatwater Free Press said that rural areas are having a tough time filling jobs due to the lack of housing, and they rely on job creation to boost their economy and population.
Nebraska alumna named school psychologist of the year
April Turner, an alumna of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, received the 2022 School Psychologist of the Year award by the National Association of School Psychologists on Feb. 16. She was selected out of a pool of nominees from all across the country. Turner, who is now the school psychological services supervisor at the Maryland State Department of Education, holds a master’s degree in educational psychology and a doctoral degree in school psychology. She obtained both degrees from the UNL department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences.
Contributors: Ramey Vachal, Zach Wendling, Lauren Penington and Hanna Christensen