The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022.
The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Almost one month after a Flatwater Free Press investigation revealed the state’s nitrate problem is worsening, a new article has found state and local regulators lack authority to address the situation.

The article states that many farmers use nitrogen fertilizers responsibly. However, “there’s little way to enforce rules already in place” with some nitrogen seeping into groundwater and increasing the presence of nitrates.

Nebraska’s water is increasingly laced with nitrate, and elevated nitrate has been linked to pediatric cancers, according to the Flatwater Free Press’s reporting.

Read the initial Oct. 27 article from Flatwater Free Press reporter Yanqi Xu here and the Nov. 18 follow up here

Pandemic learning loss evident through new release of state K-12 test scores

Amid a national dip in student test performance nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nebraska’s newly released test scores show learning loss that will soon need to be addressed.

The state’s K-12 test scores from 2021-22 were released on Wednesday, Nov. 23. Compared to pre-pandemic test scores, statewide scores fell across all subjects except science. Science proficiency scores remained at two-thirds or 66% of all students.

English language arts scores fell from 52% to 47% and mathematics scores fell from 52% to 46%.

Retiring Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt said the results show the pandemic is still affecting educational outcomes, so the state will need to look at early literacy.

Read more here from Aaron Bonderson with Nebraska Public Media.

Pillen inaugural ball planned for Jan. 7 in Omaha

Governor-elect Jim Pillen’s inaugural ball as the state’s 41st governor is set for Jan. 7, with a theme of “Day by Day, Better & Better.”

The theme borrows from the prayer Husker football players say before the Tunnel Walk, one Pillen himself knows from his time as a Husker under Coach Tom Osborne.

The ball will take place at Omaha’s CHI Health Center on Jan. 7, with tickets available on the ball’s website: nebraskadaybyday.com. Term-limited Gov. Pete Ricketts hosted both of his inaugural balls in Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

Seats must be reserved by Dec. 19.

Read more here from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Chris Dunker.

Student loan repayment pause extended amid legal challenges

The federal Department of Education on Tuesday, Nov. 22, announced it will again extend a pandemic-era pause on federal student loan repayments until June 30, 2023, as legal challenges play out.

The pause could end sooner, with the payments planned to resume 60 days after the department can implement the student debt relief program or the litigation is resolved. If that is not done by June 30, payments will resume 60 days after that.

President Joe Biden tweeted the extension will give “the Supreme Court time to hear the case in its current term,” and that he’s confident his debt relief plan is legal.

Read more here from States Newsroom’s D.C. Bureau reporter Ariana Figueroa.

Hilgers, Nebraska’s next attorney general, to resign from Legislature on Jan. 3

Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, whose district includes Northwest Lincoln and the Northern part of Lancaster County, will resign from the Legislature on Jan. 3.

Nebraskans elected Hilgers as attorney general in November, and his submitted resignation on Tuesday, Nov. 22, states Hilgers will exit his District 21 seat at midnight on Jan. 3, 2023. 

The 108th Legislature will meet the morning of Jan. 4.

Hilgers said he believes Gov. Pete Ricketts will have plenty of time to find someone to finish Hilgers’ term. The decision could include consultation with Governor-elect Jim Pillen.

Hilgers won a four-year term in 2020, and an appointment to the seat would last through that term. The person would then be eligible to run for reelection for the seat in 2024.

Ricketts confirmed in a statement he will work with Pillen’s administration to appoint a senator prior to the start of the next legislative session.

Read more from here from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Chris Dunker.

Lincoln mayor formally announces reelection bid

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird formally announced on Monday, Nov. 21, she will seek reelection to a second term.

Gaylor Baird, a Democrat, was first elected in 2019. Two Republicans have already announced their own campaigns: State Sen. Suzanne Geist and Stan Parker, a former Husker football player who runs a nonprofit Christian ministry.

The primary election is April 4, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the May 2 general election. 

Read more here from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Margaret Reist.