Kearney, Grand Island come in full force for Vets Home hearing

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Updated: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 07:37:01 CST

Thursday was a historic day for the Tri-Cities-- the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held its hearing for LB935, better known as the bill that takes a look at the Veterans Home move. 

All the way back in July we learned the Veterans Home would be moving from Grand Island to Kearney.  Since then Kearney has been working to welcome the Veterans while Grand Island has been fighting to keep the moving from happening.  Finally, 7 months later both communities came face to face at the Capitol.

With a room full of residents and veterans from both Grand Island and Kearney, there’s one thing they can agree on.

"We’re here for Veterans," said Dick Pierce, co-chair of the Nebraska Veterans First group in Buffalo County. 

But it’s what is best for those veterans where the two communities differ.

"Their input, the residents of the Grand Island veterans home, which was not solicited, should have carried more weight than the voices of the proponents and opponents of this move combined," said Keith Fickenscher, a former Home Administrator who testified in support of LB935. 

"We can understand Hall County’s point of view, they’ve had the home for a lot of years.  But it’s probably an outdated facility and we need to be looking at other things," said Pierce, who came in opposition of the bill. 

For opponents of LB935— there’s one resounding criticism. 

"This to me is a little bit of an after the fact, being upset.  Because the process was open," said State Senator Galen Hadley, District 37, in his testimony against the bill. 

Grand Island and Hall County residents and leaders say the bill goes far beyond the veterans home decision. 

"Greater transparency, greater public trust and more understanding will occur so we never, so we never have to endure what we’re experiencing in otherwise proud, and outstanding communities," said Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek, while testifying in support of LB935. 

But it isn’t the first part of the bill— that aims to get the legislature involved in such decisions— that brought crowds of people to the Capitol.  It’s the retroactive look on the Veterans Home decision.

"The process was very transparent from the beginning.  And every entity from the legislature on down to the cities involved agreed on the process," said Bob Harpst, co-chair of Nebraska Veterans First.

But Grand Island maintains, in their fight for LB935 and against the Veterans Home move-- the decision is simply taking resources from one community and giving them to another. 

"The economic consequences will have a ripple effect throughout the city and it’s surrounding areas when jobs are lost," said Duane Hodge, a former Home Administrator in his proponent testimony.  

No decision has been made yet.  In the coming weeks, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee will meet in Executive Session to discuss the bill.