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Ricketts outlines legislative priorities, including replacing State Penitentiary 'Its walls are crumbling'

Posted at 7:42 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 20:42:30-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Gov. Pete Ricketts told the Legislature the state is in good shape, but can also improve, listing off a number of priorities he wants to see accomplished this session.

While he started with lowering taxes, he quickly got to the topic of replacing the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

“Its walls are crumbling, and its infrastructure has aged beyond simple repair,” said Ricketts.

Afterwards he explained to the media that putting prisoners in a new building, while also adding programming, can help inmates after prison, and is a no-brainer.

“Who wants to be against the quality of life for inmates? If you’re against modernizing the facility, you’re against the quality of life for inmates,” said Ricketts.

Sen. Terrell McKinney, a vocal opponent of a new prison, responded later on, saying Ricketts and his administration could have improved quality of life for inmates sooner.

“If they actually cared, they would have allocated resources to make up the maintenance inside the Nebraska State Penitentiary, but instead they put off the maintenance in the hopes senators would vote to build another prison.”

While the Legislature is tasked with spending the over $1 billion of American Rescue Plan money, Ricketts has a few ideas.

That includes $165 million in workforce development, $160 million for shovel-ready projects and site and building development, and $60 million for low-income education assistance.

Plus, $284 million for water projects announced this week that include a large lake near Ashland and a canal from Colorado through Nebraska, which would help secure water for state residents.

“To be able to do that, we have to build a canal and a reservoir system to be able to store that water,” said Ricketts.

That drew push back from Senators Justin Wayne and McKinney, who are looking to use $450 million of that federal money to revitalize North Omaha through a variety of projects.

“It’s about economic development, it’s about having a high-quality education, affordable housing and a community where people want to live. If you get the model right for North Omaha you can take the model and plug it into any small city,” said Wayne.

Wayne says the state can’t legally use those federal dollars for water projects, citing treasury department guidelines. He didn’t rule out a lawsuit.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I will make sure I will use all political and legal ramifications to make sure we have a fair and full debate on this body on the uses of these ARPA funds,” said Wayne.

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