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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

March 18, 2019

Omaha World Herald. March 15, 2019

Warm weather just ahead, and with it, great tourism options across Nebraska

Tourism brings major benefits to Nebraska. It’s a $4.9 billion industry with more than 47,000 employees and tax-revenue generation of $705 million. Plus, Nebraska tourism is a statewide phenomenon — visitors enjoy the amenities and spend funds in communities large and small.

The Nebraska Passport program has proved a success in pointing to Nebraska’s broad range of tourism options, incentivizing visits across the state. The program features 70 sites (the list changes each year) divided into themes such as shopping and dining options, retail choices, history and outdoor treks.

Visitors collect a free Passport stamp at each site and vie for prizes (no purchase necessary). Last year, more than 50,000 travelers — from 418 Nebraska communities and 46 states — visited Nebraska locations to collect the stamps. Participants collected an average 31 stamps — indicating an impressive collection of visits to Nebraska communities.

The number of people visiting all 70 sites has steadily increased: 168 in 2016; 469 in 2017; and 749 in 2018.

“This program has grown year after year,” said John Ricks, the Tourism Commission’s executive director. “To have 749 people make it to every corner of Nebraska and to see participants from 46 states is absolutely remarkable.”

Some of the most-visited sites during 2018 were the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dairy Store; the Archway, Kearney; Platte Valley Antique Mall, Greenwood; Mahoney State Park, Ashland; Passageway Gallery, Omaha; Gene Roncka Willow Point Gallery, Ashland; Milady Coffeehouse, Fremont; Bottle Rocket Brewing Co., Seward; and Shopping Tripps, Kearney.

“The Passport program was a wonderful experience and brought so much awareness to our small business,” said Cyndie Schoof, owner of Sugar Shack Country Candles in Edgar. “We had hundreds of Passport visitors each month. We had such a great time visiting with them and hearing stories about their Passport travels.”

The Passport program runs from May through September. The 10 categories for 2019 are Beautiful Nebraska; Bite of Nebraska; Family Fun; Happy Hour; History Alive; Nebraska Stories; Not-At-All What You Thought; Quirky Nebraska; Rural Gems; and Shop Nebraska.

Here is a small sampling of the 70 sites on the 2019 itinerary, showing the variety of options for visitors:

“ Museum of the Fur Trade (Chadron).

“ Golden Spike Tower (North Platte).

“ Sandhill Rivertrips/Ewoldt’s Grocery (Thedford).

“ Kinkaider Brewing Co. (Broken Bow).

“ Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Cafe (McCook).

“ On the Brix (Red Cloud).

“ Neligh Mill State Historic Site (Neligh).

“ Loup River Distilling (St. Paul).

“ Cottontail Vintage (Clarkson).

“ Fort Atkinson State Historical Park (Fort Calhoun).

“ Kregel Windmill Factory Museum (Nebraska City).

“ The Bluebird (Brownville).

“ Crystal Forge at the Hotshops Art Center (Omaha).

The Nebraska Passport booklets for 2019 can be ordered at http://nebraskapassport.com/tours/requestyourpassport/.

Warm weather will be here soon, and with it a fun travel season. Great options across Nebraska are beckoning.

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Lincoln Journal Star. March 15, 2019

If Legislature can find funds, NU could use boost after cuts

Money is tight at the Legislature this year, amid forecasts that tax receipts will continue to fall short of expectations.

If lawmakers can shake the couch cushions at the State Capitol to find $5 million in the nearly $4.6 billion proposed budget by Gov. Pete Ricketts, though, diverting it to the University of Nebraska - which has endured more than its fair share of cuts recently - would pay off in the long run.

Make no mistake: Ricketts’ proposed budget offered a major boost to the university system. His initial suggestion to bring NU’s annual state appropriation to $609 million by the end of the biennium next marks a significant improvement after three rounds of cuts in the previous two years.

But, if at all possible, lawmakers should find a way to close the gap between his suggestion and the university’s funding request, roughly $614 million in FY2021.

The difference between the two is $5 million. As the Journal Star editorial board wrote last August, the university submitted a “modest, responsible” number that should be met. While the proposed figure would address increased wages and benefit for staff, by far NU’s largest expense, President Hank Bounds stated in January that it wouldn’t fully close a $55 million recurring budget gap.

State appropriations haven’t kept up with current economic trends. The last two years, for instance, have seen funding below FY2017. In that time, the university has undergone three rounds of budget cuts - ranging from academic and athletic programs to research efforts - while raising tuition.

The university also dipped into its reserves to keep operations running as smoothly as possible, falling to 173 days of cash on hand - well beneath the Big Ten Conference average of 273 days. Fortunately, Bounds didn’t have to use the emergency power approved by the Board of Regents to unilaterally raise tuition midyear.

That path was not sustainable. Nor was it a sign of a state adequately funding higher education - particularly in as it experiences a workforce shortage.

The last thing Nebraska needs is college to be less attainable. Though tuition at NU compares favorably with its Big Ten peer institutions, many Nebraskans remain priced out of higher education - with the competition steep to keep students needed to fill many in-demand, high-skill jobs in the state.

Again, the governor deserves credit for recognizing this. Part of the funding boost he’s proposed included creating Nebraska Talent Scholarships - which also encompasses the Nebraska State College System and community colleges - for areas of study needed within the state.

For the first time in several years, Nebraska is having the right conversation about funding its public universities: “How much do we need to spend to reach our goals?” rather than “How much do we need to cut?”

Our answer to that first question would be for senators to find $5 million to fully fund NU’s request.

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Kearney Hub. March 13, 2019

Goodbye, red tape, hello better jobs

These are bad days if you’re in the red tape business. That’s because Nebraska lawmakers have declared war in red tape, and they’ve been cutting through it with a vengeance. This week Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that he had signed LB77, a bill backed by the Real Property Appraiser Board that reduces the time needed to obtain appraiser credentials.

The bill also reduces educational requirements from a post-secondary degree to a high school diploma or GED, and authorizes residential credential holders to upgrade their credentials in a more streamlined manner. Lawmakers voted 44-0 to pass LB77 as yet another successful effort to cut red tape. More specifically, LB77 is one of the recent efforts to bring down government barriers to acquiring certification for certain professions and the good paying jobs that go with them.

Considering the excellent progress achieved so far, we can’t imagine Nebraska legislators lifting their foot off the gas pedal. Here are other examples of red tape being eliminated, and clearing the way for more rapid and reasonable certification:

- LB346, by Sen. John Lowe of Kearney, eliminates licenses for motor vehicle salespersons. The bill also eliminates the $20 licensing fee that served as a tax on employment in the industry.

- LB342, introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, provides reciprocity for military spouses all over the country by updating language for adoption of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows nurses to have one multi-state license.

- LB88e, by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, breaks down barriers for military spouses with occupational licenses. The bill authorized the Department of Health and Human Services, with the recommendation of the appropriate board, to issue temporary licenses for occupations regulated under the Uniform Credentialing Act to military spouses. The bill also incorporated elements of LB 343 by Senator Merv Riepe of Ralston, which eliminated the requirement for audiologists to obtain an additional license in order to sell hearing equipment.

- LB341, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, it’s the first bill from Ricketts’ occupational licensing reform bills passed by the Legislature in 2017. This reform allowed banks to opt out of licensing their executive officers.

- LB345, from Sen. John Murante of Gretna, eliminates the need for one year of land title-related experience for issuance of a certificate of registration or a temporary certificate of registration for Nebraska license abstracters.

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