At first glance, you might not see any connection between reaction to reports of abuse at the Beatrice State Developmental Center and the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. But at a news conference this morning, Gov. Dave Heineman made that connection.
He did so in answer to a question about criticism from state Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha. Lathrop told the Omaha World-Herald that BSDC appeared to be slipping back into a pattern of relying on forced overtime, adding, quote "It is a management issue. Ultimately it is a Health and Human Services issue, and it is the governor's job to oversee the agency.
The governor was asked about that in a Friday morning news conference. "Let me be very clear overtime doesn't have anything to do with this. Secondly, Sen. Lathrop's playing political games. This is all about the Keystone XL pipeline," Heineman said. "I called him out a few days ago: Sen. Lathrop where do you stand on the pipeline? Are you for or against it? Are you for or against the route? Are you for or against the special session?' Heineman continued. "I've yet to hear from him."
Some observers have suggested Lathrop and other Democrats are reluctant to take sides between labor union supporters, who favor pipeline construction as a source of jobs, and environmentalists, who oppose it as a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer.
Asked about the governor's comments, Lathrop issued a statement saying "I am not getting into a tit for tat with the Governor on this. My focus is on providing answers to the families whose loved ones were abused at BSDC."
n a Friday afternoon hearing, Lathrop reiterated his criticism of overtime. "The outcomes get worse when the overtime goes up, and that's not just Steve Lathrop's conclusion," he said. "I come to that conclusion because the experts have said that."
Lathrop cited the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Department of Justice, whose scathing 2008 report on BSDC led to a loss of federal funding for the center.
Since then, the state has since made steady progress toward regaining federal certification in stages.
Jodi Fenner, director of the state's division of developmental disabilities, said overtime has increased because of reorganization efforts, but it's not as bad as it was before 2008. She said the state will continue to work on the issue.
Following the hearing, Lathrop said he is continuing to study the pipeline issue. He added that he's not against a special session, because he thinks Nebraskans deserve to have the issue debated.