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By Lee Enterprises 

Waverly’s Sydni Schernikau (5) fouls Norris’ Rylie Bryant (11) as they chase after a loose ball in the first half on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at Waverly High School.

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New Taco John's makes good time: Restaurant shell completed in about four days

If you’ve driven past Taco John’s in Beatrice this week, you might have noticed a second Taco John’s sprouting right up beside it.

The shell of a new Taco John’s was delivered by semi trucks earlier this week and, after only four days, the new building is almost fully erected on Sixth Street.

A Minnesota-based company, Fullerton Building Solutions, created the new Taco John’s in their fabrication shop. Fullerton came in after general contractor Caspers Construction of Beatrice tore down the old U.S. Cellular building just after Thanksgiving and laid a new foundation.

“They pack them up and bring them down here,” said Deanne Caspers-Moon of Caspers Construction. “They erect them on-site and it's about three or four days from start to finish. A little bit longer when it's cold weather like this, because your hands just don't move quite as well. It's a pretty quick process.”

The old Taco John’s building has been a work in progress since it was first erected in 1978, said owner Dave Ronso.

Like the new building, the original Taco John’s came on the back of a semi-truck—though it came fully constructed and stocked with equipment. The original site was what the company called a “taco hut,” a 20-foot by 30-foot building made strictly for tacos. Since those small beginnings, the structure has gone through regular upgrades and additions in the 40 years since it opened.

But the old building just isn’t efficient for the current volume of sales the restaurant is doing, Ronso said, so it was time to renovate.

“We will have 70 seats as compared to 52,” he said. “We'll more than double our parking in our parking lot. Obviously, an updated, new facility for everyone to enjoy.”

Starting on Monday, the curb lane of Sixth Street near the new Taco John’s will be closed, Caspers-Moon said in an email. The company will be performing work on the curb, gutter and sidewalk at the location and expect the work to be complete by Jan. 17.

Caspers-Moon said they expect the shell to be fully constructed by the end of this weekend, and then the inside work can begin.

“Next week, we're going to start putting on roofing and putting in windows and doors,” she said. We should be able to get heat in there by the end of the week.”

The new Taco John’s is expected to open in mid-March, putting the total construction time at around three and a half months, with minimal downtime between closing the old store and opening the new store, Ronso said.

“It'll all happen simultaneously,” he said. “We'll close the old store, we'll finish the concrete work, at least in the drive-through, move our existing equipment over and hopefully be back up and running within a couple of weeks.”

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Sen. Baker talks unicameral

Nebraska Sen. Roy Baker began his last legislative session on Wednesday, and it’s looking like the budget will be the predominant focus for the second session of the 105th Legislature.

Baker, who represents District 30 of Nebraska, which covers Beatrice and Gage County, as well as parts of Lancaster County, said that the Legislature was just getting revved up with proposed bills.

Over the past week and continuing through the first few days of next week, Nebraska state senators will be putting in new bills for consideration. Then bills will go to the referencing committee which will determine what legislative committee each bill will go to.

Sometime around Jan. 16, Baker said, the senate will start to hold hearings for bills on the floor, and senators will have an opportunity to take up some of the bills they weren’t able to get to last year.

Because of the revenue shortfall this year, Baker said there are some tough issues to decide on concerning what expenditures will be cut from the budget. Those decisions will be based on reports from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory board, whose next report is due out in February.

“At this point, it looks like there's about $173 million that would have to be chopped and, hopefully, the picture will be a little bit more favorable in February,” he said.

What stays and what gets put on the chopping block can be a contentious issue, Baker said.

“That's the one predominant issue, I guess, is budget,” he said. “And then we have people who will make a run again at income tax relief. Then you've got another segment of the legislature saying, 'No, not income tax relief. We want property tax relief.' So, there will be some good debates on the whole idea of tax relief and how you make that work in a year when you're short on revenue.”

Add to that the yearly debates on some of the ideological topics like gun control and Medicaid expansion, and the Legislature is in for a lively season.

With the last four years being both his first and last term in office, Baker said that he’s learned a lot from his fellow legislators. He came from a 43-year career in education, including a brief stint as interim superintendent of Beatrice Public Schools, which he said helped him in dealing with educational issues. Having a diverse set of backgrounds inside the Legislature is important, Baker said.

Legislators have to know something about everything because hundreds of bills are discussed every year, he said. Oftentimes, bills don't deal with your specific field of expertise. Being able to rely on people with medical backgrounds, legal backgrounds and farming backgrounds to name a few really provided for some good discussion, as well as arguments, he said.

“You have to learn how the system works,” Baker said. “How all the moving parts move together.”

At the end of his term next January, Baker said he’s planning on moving closer to his children and grandchildren. He and his wife will split their time and live near their son and grandchildren in St. Paul, Minn. during the warmer months and near their older son who lives near Phoenix, Ariz. during the winter.

“It's probably not an ideal situation what I'm doing, just going one term, but that's something that I determined, that when the time came, we were going to move to be closer to kids and grandkids,” Baker said. “Family's the most important thing to me. Unfortunately, that means I just serve four years.”

Being a member of the nation’s only unicameral system of governance and the smallest legislature in the United States means one person’s vote has a lot of influence, he said. When you’re one of 49 people, one person can make a difference, he said.

“Sometimes people ask me what the biggest surprise has been,” Baker said. “I'd have to say the biggest surprise for me has been how often my vote mattered. Whether a bill passed or didn't.”

Senators pushing for more progress in reducing crowded prisons

Senators are making another run at cracking the prison overcrowding problems in Nebraska with a stack of bills being introduced this week.

The justice system oversight committee report showed that while progress has been made in the Department of Correctional Services, more work needs to be done on significant overcrowding and understaffing, said Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz.

By law, prisons must declare a crowding emergency if prisons overall are not at or lower than 140 percent of capacity or lower by July 1, 2020. If the emergency is declared, the Parole Board must reconsider inmates for accelerated release until the population reaches 125 percent of capacity.

The Legislature has a duty to examine the issues and do everything it can to support correctional officers, reduce overcrowding and ensure senators are doing everything they can to address problems brought forward by an ACLU overcrowding lawsuit, Bolz said.

Several Lincoln senators have waded into the problem of crowded prisons because Lincoln has four major prisons including the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, Lincoln Correctional Center, the Nebraska State Penitentiary, and Community Corrections Center of Lincoln.

Omaha also has a couple of state prisons.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said the money exists in the budget to fix many of the problems, but it would need to be reinvested in certain ways. States that, like Nebraska, have had the Council of State Governments advise them on justice reinvestment are doing well and shutting down prisons.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus also hopes that before term limits push him out of the Legislature he can help the department in some way to get off "dead center" on overcrowding problems.

"You talk and you talk. And you study and you study year after year, and you find out you're going to study some more," he said. "Because that seems to be the universal answer when you don't have money and are unwilling to finance what you know you have to do."

One of his contributions will be to amend a bill he has in the Judiciary Committee that addresses double bunking, he said. It was "absolutely unconscionable" last year to put a young man who was in prison for a fairly minor offense into a cell with an inmate who had "nothing to lose."

Terry Berry Jr. was killed last year after he was put in a double-bunked cell at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Department Director Scott Frakes blamed Berry's death solely on his cellmate, Patrick Schroeder, who was serving life in prison for murder.

Frakes said in October he planned to continue double-bunking inmates in solitary confinement despite Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick's call for him to suspend the practice out of concern it increases dangers for inmates and staff.

The Legislature owes the men and women working in the Nebraska Department of Corrections a "deep gratitude and respect" for working in one of the toughest jobs that help keep the community safe, said Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart.

She and her staff did major research on prison issues over the interim she said, and it is clear the Legislature must prioritize staff retention to address high turnover, increased costs of overtime and the health of employees.

Senators are also concerned that inmates are languishing in prison because of a lack of programming.

All kinds of ideas exist to help increase programming for inmates, said Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. Think portable buildings like the schools use for classrooms, or the many volunteers in the community who are willing to help, she said.

"All of the bills we are talking about today are about preparation, planning and public safety," Pansing Brooks said. "Ninety-six to 98 percent of those inmates are coming back into our community. Do we want them safer or not?"

County honors veteran

A Gage County man who served in Korea was recognized this week by the Gage County Board of Supervisors.

The board commended Roland “Red” Timmerman for his service to the county during the board’s regular meeting.

Timmerman was introduced by County Board Chairman Myron Dorn, who described Timmerman’s service history to the board and those in attendance.

“Red was in the Air Force and he attained the rank of airman first class,” Dorn said. “He served from April 11, 1951 and he was discharged on Jan. 20, 1955. His awards were the Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.”

Timmerman thanked the board for recognizing him and presenting him with a plaque.

“What an honor for me to be here,” he said. “Thank you. I was pleased to have served.”

Timmerman was recognized as part of the Veteran of Honor Program, a monthly program in which the board takes time out of a regular meeting to pay tribute to those who have served.

The program has been ongoing since 2013.

Dorn said the program has been a highlight for the last several years and is something the board members have enjoyed doing.

“We thank you for your time of service and all that you’ve done for our country,” Dorn said. “We’ve had quite a few Korean War veterans here, and some of their stories have been pretty amazing. We appreciate what you’ve done and are extremely glad to honor you.”

Anyone interested in nominating a veteran is encouraged to contact the Gage County Veterans’ Service Office at 402-223-1342.