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Associated Press

OGALLALA, Neb. (AP) — A proposal by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would drastically limit overnight campers and beachgoers at Nebraska's largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska. The North Platte Telegraph reports the proposed change follows complaints from last Fourth of July of overcrowding and rowdy behavior. Those changes are meant to lower attendance to address the overcrowding on the lake’s beaches. Under the plan, public access to boat ramps at McConaughy and neighboring Lake Ogallala would remain unchanged.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Federal authorities say an Arizona man was allowed to board his flight after a loaded handgun was found in his bag at a security checkpoint at Eppley Airfield in Omaha. A news release Friday from the federal Transportation Security Administration says the .45 caliber gun — loaded with six bullets, including one in the chamber — was found Thursday as the bag it was packed inside entered an X-ray machine. Omaha Airport Authority Police were contacted and the gun was confiscated. The man was detained for questioning before allowing him to catch his flight.

ELMWOOD, Neb. (AP) — Authorities in southeastern Nebraska say two Elmwood men accused of repeatedly throwing a dog into an ice-covered lake have been charged with animal cruelty. The Gosper County Sheriff's Office says 28-year-old James Pollock and 19-year-old Austin Vanburen were charged Jan. 7 after the office received calls reporting a video posted to social media showing Pollock throwing the year-old Labrador onto the lake, causing it to land on its back and break through the ice.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers suggests the economy is growing in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The survey released Thursday showed that the overall index for rural parts of the region improved to 55.9 in January from December's 50.2. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says hiring remains strong across the region. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

A new survey of bankers suggests the economy is growing in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The survey released Thursday showed that the overall index for rural parts of the region improved to 55.9 in January from December's 50.2. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says hiring remains strong across the region. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

Omaha police have captured an inmate who didn't return from a job hunt in Lincoln. The state prisons department says Anthony Durand had been given permission to leave the state's Community Corrections Center-Lincoln on Jan. 6. He didn't return. The department says he also had managed to remove the monitoring device he was wearing. He was found by Omaha officers Wednesday and taken into custody. Durand started serving his three-year prison sentence on Sept. 18 last year. He'd been charged with methamphetamine possession, theft and operating a motor vehicle to avoid arrest. 

Health officials in eastern Nebraska say they're investigating a string of tuberculosis cases in the Omaha area. Television station KETV reports that the Douglas County Health Department said Wednesday that 13 people have tested positive for latent tuberculosis, and one child has a confirmed active case of the lung infection. The department says it has tested 31 people since December, when it learned a person from out-of-state staying with family was diagnosed with TB. Common symptoms of TB include unexplained rapid weight loss, profuse coughing, night sweats and fever.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has proposed nearly $60 million in state assistance to help the state recover from last year’s record floods. That proposal includes a surprise $9.2 million boost for a dozen of Nebraska's hardest-hit counties. Ricketts unveiled the plan Wednesday during his annual State of the State address to lawmakers that lavished praise on the citizens and state officials who responded to the disaster. Ricketts says the flood response was “Nebraska's finest hour,” but the disaster put undue pressure on local governments.

Authorities say an investigation into reports of large drones flying in groups after dark since November has confirmed nothing unusual or criminal. They're mostly hobbyist drones, commercial aircraft, stars, planets and weather phenomena. Yet if history is any guide, the investigation involving flights of a heat-detecting plane in northeastern Colorado will settle nothing for many people. They've also been seen in Nebraska and Wyoming. Dan Carlson says drones have flown after dark near his Nebraska farm four times this year. He suspects military involvement. U.S.

The director of Nebraska's Medicaid program is stepping down in the middle of the state's effort to expand coverage under the federal health care law. Officials say Matthew Van Patton, the director of the Medicaid and Long-Term Care program, will leave his job effective Feb. 7. Van Patton had served in the job for almost two years and was a key leader in the effort to expand coverage for low-income residents. He was appointed by Republican Gov.

Military retirees in Nebraska will get to keep more of their retirement benefits under a bill that won first-round approval from lawmakers. The bill would exempt half of a military retiree's benefit from Nebraska state taxes, a key priority for Gov. Pete Ricketts. The measure advanced 46-0 on Monday through the first of three required votes. Sen. Tom Brewer, who sponsored the bill, said the measure would help Nebraska attract and retain military service members after they retire.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has prepared special Valentine’s Day offers for people who want to mark the day at a state park. Discounts and special packages are available at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Ponca State Park, Platte River State Park and Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area. A park entry permit is required.

Nebraska businesses that hire felons could get a tax break under a measure before lawmakers that’s designed to make it easier for them to get jobs and reduce the likelihood they’ll re-offend. Supporters say the bill would encourage employers to take a risk on potential employees whose criminal records limit their job prospects, although it’s not yet clear how they’ll cover the cost of the proposed tax deduction. The measure by Sen. Justin Wayne, of Omaha, would allow companies to deduct 65% of the wages paid to workers with a felony conviction during their first year of employment.

Nebraska prison officials say the hunt is on for an inmate who walked away from a low-level corrections center where he was serving up to 10 years for weapons and assault counts — including assault on a police officer. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services says in a news release that 35-year-old Richard Reynolds walked away from the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln on Wednesday after removing an electronic monitoring device from his ankle. Officials say Reynolds was a little more than two years into his six- to 10-year sentence when he escaped.

Nebraska voters who want to cast an early ballot in the upcoming primary election can request their ballot as early as next week. The Nebraska secretary of state's office says Monday is the first day to request an early ballot for the May 12 election. Secretary of State Bob Evnen says counties that receive requests for early ballots will maintain a list, and those ballots will be among the first ones mailed on April 6. Evnen says some counties also maintain a permanent early voting list, which allows counties to contact voters who have indicated an ongoing preference to vote by mail.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn't expect to eliminate from its reservoir system all the leftover water from last year's near record runoff that led to massive flooding along the Missouri River. Officials are raising the current releases in expectation of high spring runoff again this year. The Corps' John Remus told the Omaha World-Herald the system needs to make as much space as possible in light of forecasts for warmer than normal weather and higher than normal runoff.

A Colorado sheriff has rescinded his previous call for the public to be on the lookout for a command vehicle that may be operating the mysterious groups of drones spotted in recent weeks over parts of Colorado and Nebraska. The Phillips County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Wednesday that the request for public assistance is no longer relevant, without offering more details. A person who attended a closed-door meeting about the drones on Monday for law enforcement and government officials said authorities were never looking for such a vehicle.

Nebraska's attorney general says the state's ability to fight human trafficking has improved substantially over the last several years thanks to recent laws that increase penalties for traffickers. Attorney General Doug Peterson said Monday that Nebraska is now well-positioned to address the problem. His comments came after Gov. Pete Ricketts proclaimed Monday as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Nebraska received an “A" grade for its policies last year from Shared Hope International, a group that advocates on the issue of human trafficking.

The Lincoln City Council is cracking down on illegal dumping at the city's recycling collection sites. The council voted unanimously Monday to make it illegal to put recyclables anywhere but in the proper containers at the 19 collection sites available to residents. The new ordinance also bans dumping at the sites or in the recycling containers anything that can't be recycled. People have left garbage and other nonrecyclable objects at the sites, including hot tubs, tires, beds, televisions, wood pallets and pianos.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working with state and local authorities to determine who's behind a series of mysterious nighttime drone flights over northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska. A Colorado sheriff hosted a meeting with law enforcement agencies and government officials Monday to talk about the recent rural sightings. The drones reportedly have 6-foot wingspans and fly in grid-like patterns hundreds of feet in the air in groups of six to 10. The FAA says it's taking the sightings seriously and working to find out who's operating the devices and why.

Officials say three people have been arrested after a package containing tobacco, cellphones and synthetic marijuana were thrown over over a wall of the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. The Nebraska State Patrol says in a news release that an 18-year-old man was arrested around 8 a.m. Tuesday after he was seen walking near the penitentiary and throwing a package over the wall. Nebraska Department of Corrections officials say it contained two cellphones, tobacco and K2. Two other men, ages 22 and 21, found in a vehicle across the street from the penitentiary also were arrested.

Nebraska lawmakers have kicked off their 2020 session with an expected focus on property taxes, the state's flood recovery and a surplus of tax revenue after several years of tight budgets. The new, 60-day session will put senators in a time crunch as they consider fresh proposals in addition to legislation carried over from last year's 90-day session. The first proposals slated for debate include a tax exemption for military retirees and a bill that would allow teachers to physically restrain violent students in classrooms.

A state lawmaker concerned about overcrowding in Nebraska prisons plans to propose building a new 300-bed work release facility in Omaha. State Sen. Steve Lathrop says he'll introduce a bill calling on the state to begin planning a new community corrections facility. Building the new facility could cost more than $40 million, but Lathrop's bill would only require the state to plan for the new work release facility. Nebraska's prisons currently hold 2,006 more inmates than their design capacity of 3,535 inmates. The state's prison system is at 157% of its design capacity.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will attempt to lower taxes for homeowners, farmers and military retirees this year while setting aside money to help the state recover from the historic 2019 floods. The governor tells The Associated Press he'll present lawmakers with a property tax package during the new legislative session that begins Wednesday. He says he'll also continue pushing for one of his earlier priorities, a tax exemption for military retirees equal to half of their half of their benefit income.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A group representing Nebraska public-school teachers is pushing once again for a state law that would allow educators to physically restrain violent students who pose an imminent threat. The Nebraska State Education Association released a survey of its members Thursday in which teachers reported getting bruises, cuts, torn ligaments, a broken nose and concussions from students. At least one educator said she was hit in the stomach while pregnant. The group has repeatedly asked lawmakers for legal protections over the last few years, but the measures have stalled.

Electronic cigarette use is now prohibited in places of employment and indoor public places in Lincoln. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the ordinance change approved by the City Council Dec. 16 went into effect Wednesday with the start of the new year. Violation is a misdemeanor, but police and the county health department will not immediately issue citations. For the first few months of 2020, the health department will instead respond to complaints of e-cigarette violations by providing educational materials.

A minor earthquake occurred New Year's Day about 18 miles south-southwest of O'Neill. No damage or injuries were reported after the tremor. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake registered about 2.9 in magnitude. It was pinpointed about 5 miles underground near the Holt County village of Chambers. Paul Caruso is a geophysicist with the geological survey in Golden, Colorado, and he told station KNOP that an earthquake at that spot is unusual but not unheard of, given that small earth tremors are possible anywhere in the country.

Following devastating floods last March, the tiny eastern Nebraska town of Winslow is debating whether to move 100 feet higher to a nearby hilltop or face being washed away in future floods. It’s a choice more riverside communities may face as climate change increases flood risks. Since the creation of a buyout program in 1989, federal and local governments have poured more than $5 billion into buying tens of thousands of properties threatened by persistent flooding to avoid rebuilding.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has declared a fish salvage for Hackberry Lake on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge south of Valentine. The lake was scheduled to have its existing fish population renovated during 2019 to eliminate common carp on the refuge. But the renovation was not completed due to wet conditions and unsuitable water levels. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says length limits are rescinded during the salvage but daily bag limits are maintained. Fish may be taken only by fishing or archery.

Students may receive two bachelor’s degrees from two Nebraska colleges after four years in a new biology and agriculture program. Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced the program earlier this month. Students can earn a life sciences degree with a concentration in biology from Wayne and an applied science degree with concentrations in agriculture and natural resources from the Lincoln university.

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