Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers
Posted April 17
Omaha World-Herald. April 13, 2017
The clock is ticking. Nebraska must quickly find short-term solutions for its troubled Corrections Department
Gov. Pete Ricketts has less than 10 days to decide whether the State of Nebraska wants to declare a corrections emergency or be sued.
ACLU Nebraska pledged Monday to file a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Correctional Services if Ricketts stands pat.
Earlier legislative efforts identified and analyzed many of the concerns the ACLU letter cites about the prison system, including inadequate staffing, inadequate safety and inadequate inmate access to health care and counseling.
The state is taking steps that are expected, in the long term, to improve prison staffing, safety, counseling and health care. Officials also appear to be following through on pledges to improve the prison system's rehabilitation efforts rather than simply warehousing inmates.
Ricketts' two-year budget proposes spending another $20.1 million on prisons and staffing. He proposes spending $75 million over multiple years to add prison space for older inmates and those with mental illness. Those plans, if approved by the Legislature, would help set up the state's prison system to succeed.
But improvements on that scale will take years.
The state needs to outline what more it can do in the short term to address prison crowding and staffing problems.
Last weekend brought another reminder of urgency, with inmate unrest and a fire at Lincoln's Diagnostic and Evaluation Center. That follows previous trouble at Tecumseh, which has seen two deadly upheavals since Ricketts took office.
Progress has been slow in resolving such problems, as well as in hiring and retaining staff, despite efforts by the Legislature, the governor and court system.
Nebraska's prisons remain troublingly crowded. They hold about 2,000 more inmates than they were designed to house, above the 140 percent threshold that has triggered federal lawsuits in other states.
Ricketts, through a spokesman, expressed little interest this week in declaring a corrections emergency, which would require paroling eligible inmates until the state gets its prison population to a level the prisons director certifies as manageable.
Some state senators, frustrated with continued violence and staffing shortages, are considering yet another special committee on prisons. If they pursue that course, they should do so with a clear understanding of what they aim to accomplish.
One area worth probing: short-term options to buy the state time. What might ease crowding now? Could the state make more use of county jails? Does the Parole Board need to parole more inmates who are eligible but might pose moderate risk? Are there other steps that could bring relief quickly?
The state needs to find some answers for Corrections quickly. The clock is ticking.
Lincoln Journal Star. April 14, 2017
Lawmakers need facts on tax cut plan
Next week, the Legislature will begin debate on a package of proposed income and property tax cuts backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Hailed as tax relief for families, the true impact of the cuts has not yet been determined.
Instead, Sen. Jim Smith, the chair of the Revenue Committee that on April 7 advanced the package of a dozen substantial changes to the state's tax code on a 6-2 vote, said he will seek those details from the state Revenue Department.
That's hardly assurance that the questions of who will benefit from the cuts and what the impact the reductions will have on the state's economy will be answered before the bill is considered or even after the debate begins April 21.
As to the answer to the who will benefit question, one think tank has estimated that 74 percent of the income tax benefits would go to the top 20 percent of income earners, making the measure Nebraska's version of a tax cut for the wealthy.
That number may be high or low. But before it advanced the measure, the Revenue Committee didn't see fit to determine what the reality would be when the phased-in cuts to Nebraska's top individual and corporate income tax brackets are fully implemented, which wouldn't happen for at least a decade.
Nor did the committee make much of an effort at determining the impact of the cuts on the economy, other than buying into the notion that tax cuts stimulate economic growth that will bring more money into the state's coffers. A look to Kansas appears to dramatically disprove that notion.
A final complicated question that needs to be answered before cuts are approved is their impact on the future state budgets when taken in combination with cuts in state spending that are certain to come, to some degree, this year and likely in even greater amounts in 2018.
Those budget cuts would, in the words of Sen Dan Watermeier "reduce our base." The income tax cuts, triggered by growth, could prevent that base from returning to current levels, much less increasing, gradually strangling state government and, importantly, the University of Nebraska.
Tax-cut opponents in the Legislature are expected to mount a filibuster to stop the measure. While filibusters aren't an ideal way to legislate, putting a hold on the tax-cut package might be the only way to get the critical questions answered so the measure can debated with full understanding of its fairness and impact.
The Grand Island Independent. April 13, 2017
Feedlot smell concerns must be heard
The Regional Planning Commission is taking on a sensitive issue as it considers agriculture district zoning.
The proposal is to use a siting matrix that takes into account farmers' work to protect the environment and their livestock as well as neighbors' concerns about water quality and odor issues.
Our state's agricultural producers are very cognizant of the impact of their operations on the environment. In most cases, they live where they are raising their livestock, so they benefit from soil, water and air quality protection as much as their neighbors do.
And it's important to our state's economy that they be able to make a profit in operating their businesses.
Under the siting matrix proposal being considered by the planning commission, livestock operations would be permitted as long as they meet Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requirements, meet setback and operation requirements and ensure proper management of their operations.
The biggest issue so far as the commission has heard comments on the proposal has been with odor concerns raised by people living less than a mile from existing livestock feedlots.
Regional Planning Director Chad Nabity has proposed that operations with 1,001 to 3,000 head of cattle have a 3/8-mile setback instead of the current 1/2-mile setback requirement. Operations with 3,001 to 5,000 head would have to have a 1/2-mile setback on an open lot. For dairy and hog confinement facilities, the setback would remain at a mile, regardless of the number of cattle or hogs.
This is actually more strict than the Nebraska zoning matrix the state developed last year. But it is a reduction in the setback requirement for smaller operations.
Commission member Greg Robb said he believes the proposal is fair to everybody involved, holding livestock producers accountable but also recognizing the importance of their businesses' success as it takes into consideration neighboring landowners' concerns.
The commission needs to take it slow as it considers all the impacts of a switch to a siting matrix.
The commission heard comments at its meeting last week and chairman Pat O'Neill encouraged the public to submit written comments, which he said will be reviewed before any decision is made. People impacted by this process should take the time now to speak up.
The Regional Planning Commission, which is responsible for planning-related services for the city of Grand Island, Hall County and the villages of Alda, Cairo, Doniphan, and Wood River, meets at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month in the Grand Island City Council chambers. Comments can be submitted to Nabity's office at City Hall. Nabity can be reached by phone at (308) 385-5240.
McCook Daily Gazette. April 12, 2017
Don't be a bully, or ignore those who bully others
The teen years are always difficult, but the advent of electronic communication has ramped up the potential for accidental or deliberate harm.
A 13-year-old girl faces criminal charges after she allegedly faked her own death via a text, causing her 11-year-old boyfriend to kill himself.
Marquette County, Mich., Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said the unnamed girl posed as someone else and faked her own suicide via a text conversation.
Within two hours of receiving the text, Tysen Benze had hanged himself.
The girl has been charged with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention and using a computer to commit a crime, which can carry up to a year in jail. Both are misdemeanors.
The news carries examples of other similar cases every day — cyberbullying is suspected in the death of a Pennsylvania teen, a grand jury indicted two in connection with a Texas suicide and cyberbullying may have played a role in a double suicide in Kansas.
The best solution to bullying of any kind, of course, is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Kids should be taught to be respectful and kind to everyone and apologize if they have bullied someone.
Parents should help their children develop the self-confidence to stand up to bullies, and talk to an adult with the power to stop the bullying.
When online, always think about what you post, aware that someone might forward anything you send.
Kids should guard their passwords, but parents should insist on having their children's log-in information.
Parents should also insist on staying in the loop, not to interfere but to intervene when there's a real danger.
And, kids who see any type of bullying going on should let an adult know, and support the person being bullied.___