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(NRG)- A $2 million gift to the University of Nebraska at Kearney is destined to help Nebraska children and families for years to come. University of Nebraska alumnus Ron Williams of Denver and his wife, Cille, provided the gift to the Campaign for Nebraska to establish two permanently endowed funds at the University of Nebraska Foundation that will provide annual support for UNK's early childhood education and development programs. A $1 million endowment will provide annual support for the UNK College of Education and its academic and outreach programs related to children from birth to age 8. The endowment will also support UNK's efforts to help develop a highly qualified early childhood education workforce in the state. Another $1 million establishes the Cille and Ron Williams Community Chair for Early Childhood Education. The endowment will provide annual support to enable UNK to recruit and support distinguished early childhood education faculty members. A primary role of those who are selected to receive the chair will be to serve as faculty mentors to undergraduate and graduate students while serving as a resource to other education professionals in the community. The faculty members will also work collaboratively with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, a statewide research, practice and policy institute of the University of Nebraska. Ron Williams said providing this gift is an important investment, as there are many bright young people who do not have an adequate support system. Chancellor Douglas Kristensen said the university is profoundly moved by the generosity of Ron and Cille Williams. "They are the perfect donors: thoughtful, flexible and willing to invest in the long-term future of the University of Nebraska at Kearney," he said. "Ron and Cille see the tremendous benefits of early childhood education and understand the needs that must be met in order to reach the next level. Their support will elevate our early childhood program like no other previous gift to our campus has done and will provide opportunities for UNK's already high quality program to further expand and improve. We look forward to leveraging this gift with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute to produce world-class early childhood educators right here in rural Nebraska." The gift from the Williams family provided support to the university's Campaign for Nebraska, a nine-year fundraising initiative that ended on Dec. 31. UNK received gifts of more than $60 million during this campaign, surpassing its goal of $50 million and providing support for students, faculty, programs and facilities. Ron Williams received a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1967 from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a master's in business management in 1969 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Williams is self-employed and serves as chairman of the National Western Stock Show of Denver.


 

(AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is calling on lawmakers to lower property taxes statewide while expanding tax breaks for farmers, ranchers and military retirees. The new Republican governor unveiled his tax plan Thursday along with job and education initiatives in his first State of the State address since taking office on Jan. 8. In a speech focused heavily on the economy, Ricketts recommended a slowdown in state government spending increases to pay for the tax reductions. The governor unveiled initiatives designed to boost career-training options for young people and an increase in college tuition assistance for members of the Nebraska National Guard. He also used the speech to highlight his support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and urged President Barack Obama to approve it.


 

(AP) - Lawmakers who investigated Nebraska's prison system will seek an expansion of mental and behavioral health services and sentencing reform to address overcrowding. Members of a special prisons committee vowed Friday to act this year, saying the problem needs to be fixed before civil liberties groups or the federal government sue the state. Senators have introduced seven bills and other measures. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha says lawmakers will work with Gov. Pete Ricketts' new corrections director, Scott Frakes. Krist says Frakes, who starts on Feb. 2, may have new ideas that lawmakers haven't considered. Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings says Nebraska's criminal code hasn't been reviewed since 1970, and needs to be updated. Nebraska's prison population reached more than 159 percent of its design capacity last month, with 5,221 inmates.


 

(AP) - Nebraska gun control advocates and opponents are squaring off on a series of new measures in the Legislature. The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Thursday on three pieces of legislation that would expand gun owner rights and one bill that would limit reckless firing. The bills would allow for security teams at private schools to carry guns; for lawful aliens and military spouses to meet state residency requirements when applying for a handgun application; and for legal gun owners to store a gun in a vehicle parked outside a business where they're employed. A bill by Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo would increase penalties for reckless shooting near buildings or property in smaller towns. The penalties are higher in Omaha and Lincoln.


 

(AP) - An updated, long-term forecast says Nebraska will experience modest but steady economic growth over the next three years. The forecasters expect 32,000 more Nebraska jobs will be created through 2017, an increase of about 1.1 percent a year. A forecast released in July predicted 1 percent annual job growth. Construction is expected to provide many of the new jobs. Forecasters predict an upswing in residential, commercial and road construction. Farm income is expected to continue dropping because of lower commodity prices. The forecast was released Thursday by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which produces it in conjunction with the Nebraska Business Forecast Council.


 

(NRG)- The Kearney Chamber of Commerce's 96th Annual Meeting is set for Monday night at the Younes Conference Center. The Meeting is an event for Chamber members and is an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the year's hard work and the dedication of the Kearney community. Shawn Eichorst, Athletic Director of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, is this year's featured speaker. The event will also recognize the retiring board members as well as the new Chairman of the board. The Chamber will name their annual award winners, including the Friend of Kearney and Youth Friend of Kearney honors. The social hour starts at 5:30 with dinner to follow at 6:30 with the program set to begin around 7:30. Single Tickets are $50 with a table of 10 available for $500. For more information, contact the Chamber at (308) 237-3101.


 

(AP) - Lawmakers who investigated Nebraska's prison system will seek an expansion of mental and behavioral health services and sentencing reform to address overcrowding. Members of a special prisons committee vowed Friday to act this year, saying the problem needs to be fixed before civil liberties groups or the federal government sue the state. Senators have introduced seven bills and other measures. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha says lawmakers will work with Gov. Pete Ricketts' new corrections director, Scott Frakes. Krist says Frakes, who starts on Feb. 2, may have new ideas that lawmakers haven't considered. Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings says Nebraska's criminal code hasn't been reviewed since 1970, and needs to be updated. Nebraska's prison population reached more than 159 percent of its design capacity last month, with 5,221 inmates.


 

(AP) - A national advocacy group has ranked Nebraska and Iowa among the nation's worst in enacting safer driving laws. The Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group released its annual report Thursday rating each state based on their laws meant to increase safety. Nebraska and Iowa are among nine states to receive the lowest rating. The group has identified 15 laws it believes ensure safe driving. Both states have just five of the laws on the list. Jacqueline Gillan, the group's president, says these states' secondary offense laws, such as texting while driving and not wearing a seatbelt, allow unsafe behavior. Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska Office of Highway Safety administrator, tells the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1uobDOh ) the low rating doesn't mean the state isn't a safe place for drivers.


 
Photo courtesy of UNK Communications

(UNK)- A new classroom and laboratory will create a better learning environment for students studying athletic training at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The recently renovated athletic training space features a classroom and lab with therapy tables, therapy and rehabilitation equipment, taping tables, a treadmill, stationary bike, therapy whirlpools and ice machine. A student lounge/study area has also been added to the area. "It creates a better learning environment for students," said Scott Unruh, professor of kinesiology and sport sciences. "That's what it's about." The athletic training area is located in the former Human Performance Lab, now called the Physical Activity and Wellness Lab, which moved to the new Wellness Center that opened in August. Between 65-70 UNK students declare athletic training as their major each year, and 30-35 students are accepted into the competitive entry program at the end of their freshman year. Athletic training classes were previously taught in the basement of the Health and Sports Center. where football players received therapy. When the football stadium was renovated in 2005, athletic training classes moved to the building located at the north end zone of the football field. The building, which houses a meeting room and athletic training area, is used by athletes during football season. But kinesiology and sport sciences classes such as biomechanics and exercise physiology are also taught there. Unruh said the end zone athletic training room wasn't functional for teaching because of the separate meeting room and lab, and classes had to be planned around the football schedule. "Everything that we do - from a lecture to a lab to a clinical practice - everything is in one space now," Unruh said. The new classroom and lab, which is on the south side of Cushing Coliseum, will also function as an athletic training room for indoor track meets and intramural activities. "We wanted to create a space to do clinical-based learning," Unruh said. Construction and renovation of the new space began in the fall of 2014 after the new Wellness Center was completed. The athletic training classroom opened in January 2015. Other improvements include upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting, flooring, electrical and fire alarm systems.


 

(AP) - Nebraska lawmakers could debate a proposal this year to legalize medical marijuana. Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue introduced a measure on Wednesday along with four co-sponsors. The bill, dubbed the "Cannabis Compassion and Care Act," would let doctors prescribe the drug for debilitating diseases such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C. Recreational use would remain illegal. Former Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a lawsuit last month to stop Colorado from selling marijuana recreationally, arguing that it's created problems for Nebraska. The legal challenge by Nebraska and Oklahoma argues that the decision by Colorado voters runs afoul of federal drug laws.