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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

September 2, 2019

Omaha World Herald. August 28, 2019

Nebraska universities step up to help students understand alcohol concerns

Instruction is resuming on college campuses in Nebraska and Iowa, and it’s important for schools to help students develop a responsible understanding of alcohol use.

Drinking can raise big risks for students, especially when taken to the extreme. Irresponsible alcohol use can short-circuit a student’s academic or athletic performance. It can create situations leading to unprotected sex and accusations of sexual assault. It can lead a student to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when it’s dangerous to do so or put a student at risk of alcohol poisoning.

Such consequences are shattering to a young person’s life. Here are statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

“ Nationally, more than 1,500 college-age students die each year from alcohol-related injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, and 599,000 are injured.

“ Some 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

“ Alcohol is a factor in 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape annually.

“ Nineteen percent meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence.

“New students appear most likely to initiate or increase alcohol use during their first six weeks of college, as they adjust to new social and academic expectations,” the state Department of Health and Human Services cautions.

Students, whether freshmen or seniors, are not passive agents in this matter. They have an important obligation to act responsibly, for the sake of themselves and others. This includes showing respect for others. The complaints in the Gifford Park area about loud outdoor partying provide a local example.

Parents can help by talking to their child beforehand about alcohol issues.

Colleges and universities commendably put a spotlight on alcohol issues. Creighton University, for example, requires all first-year students to take an online session with information about its alcohol and sexual misconduct policies, alcohol use and abuse, illegal substance use and dating violence.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha provides parents with information about alcohol-related discussions and explains its alcohol policies to students. Omaha police regularly patrol the campus and, as needed, issue tickets for minors in possession.

“When students realize that they’re not alone in either abstaining from alcohol or, at the very least, controlling their drinking,” UNO says, “they feel more comfortable declining the invitation to drink at social events.”

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has made a concerted effort to address alcohol issues, providing students with a wide range of information. A UNL task force in 2016 developed a set of strategies for a stepped-up effort. “No matter your role, you can help,” UNL says. “Faculty, staff, parents and peers can influence alcohol use.”

Surveys indicate progress in student awareness at UNL. Some examples:

“ More than 24% of UNL students say they have never used alcohol.

“ Nearly 47% of students set a number in advance of drinks they plan to consume.

“ More than 84% of UNL students use a designated driver when they party or socialize.

Alcohol use has been a challenge for universities worldwide for centuries. Each new academic year brings a new opportunity to understand and address it, including at institutions in Nebraska and Iowa.

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McCook Daily Gazette. August 27, 2019

Recruiting, retaining teachers must be a priority

“Grow your own” is a good idea, and we’re not talking about any illegal substance.

The medical community has long found the strategy to be successful, providing rural students with scholarships and other incentives to return to their home towns or similar regions that are experiencing a shortage of trained professionals.

The educational community is facing the same crisis, and applying the same tactic to recruit and retain qualified educators.

Jenni Benson, president the Nebraska State Education Association, visited McCook last week to make the point: we have a serious shortage on our hands.

There’s been a 50% decrease of college students planning to head into education, about 3,000 today as compared to 7,000 a decade ago. And, nearly a third of those who do become teachers drop out of the profession within three years.

That’s a dire situation considering the number of Baby Boom-generation educators ready to leave the classroom.

It’s especially true in rural areas, where schools are vital to the economic health of small communities, and declining populations make it difficult to keep schools open.

In some instances, schools have literally held key positions open by bringing teachers out of retirement on a temporary basis while upcoming teachers complete their training.

According to the Nebraska Department of Education 2018-19 teacher vacancy report, 302 positions were unfilled with fully qualified personnel, with 36 of those left vacant. Of those 302 positions, 27% were in schools with less than 500 students, and 37 percent were in systems with more than 10,000 students.

The growing student debt problem certainly contributes to the problem, Benson said, and the shortage isn’t just certified teachers — 45 paraeducator positions were open in Omaha for the current term.

Incentives can certainly help improve the teacher shortage problem, but so can organizations like “Educators Rising,” an organization with 30 chapters around Nebraska working to help students on their way to becoming professional educators. It recently sent 50 student members to a national competition.

Funding for public schools is one of the main items to be affected by any changes that result from the ongoing debate over property taxes in Nebraska.

Keeping dedicated, qualified educators in the classroom must be a priority in any legitimate debate.

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Lincoln Journal Star. August 27, 2019

Keystone XL will wait despite court’s sound ruling on PSC

After years of debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, both in courtrooms and the public forum, Nebraska’s highest court has given a green light to the route approved by the Public Service Commission.

However, in this case, green doesn’t mean go. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Before the oil can flow from Canada through Nebraska and onto points farther south, the pipeline must first be built. And before the pipeline can be built, a trio of pending federal lawsuits must first be resolved - which there’s no guarantee will happen in a timely fashion.

It’s unclear whether any developers beyond TC Energy harbor ambitions to locate another pipeline in Nebraska, but the standards are now enshrined in a court decision. Regardless, a decision that largely closes the chapter on the state’s role provides some relief in a saga that has spanned 11 years and three presidencies - thus far, we should add.

Allowing the PSC to amend a route to best serve the public interest of Nebraskans, as the Nebraska Supreme Court did, ensures that state regulators have local control to make decisions.

The Journal Star editorial board applauded the PSC for its surprise 2017 decision to push Keystone XL east of the Sandhills away from areas of shallow groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer and reduce the number of river crossings. The new route also bypassed a wellhead protection area in Seward County.

Given that a major concern of a possible leak was tar-sands oil seeping through the ecologically fragile Sandhills and into the state’s underground bounty, the PSC’s choice will make a world of difference if an accident occurs, presuming the pipeline is built. A spill would no doubt devastate the immediate vicinity, but its choice should presumably avert the catastrophe that would occur had oil polluted the aquifer.

Thorny questions still linger on topics such as individual property rights, the use of eminent domain, environmental safety and preservation of cultural sites sacred to Native tribes, among others. Though these matters fell outside the purview of the court’s decision, developers must be cognizant and respectful of those who would be affected by the Keystone XL’s construction.

As an editorial board, we’ve long backed the pipeline because it represents a far safer means of transporting oil than the alternative of rail. Promises of jobs and money infused into the wallets of counties and landowners, too, are appealing, but construction on Keystone XL must begin before that tantalizing dream becomes a reality.

Again, however, all of these things wholly depend on the pipeline coming to fruition, which remains no sure thing.

Nebraskans eager for its completion must pump their brakes. The ultimate fate of Keystone XL now lies outside our state’s borders and in federal courts, now that Nebraska has done its part.

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