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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

September 25, 2018

Omaha World Herald. September 21, 2018

Nebraska must address sexual abuse, suicide concerns for vulnerable youth

Even with notable improvements in some regards, Nebraska has much to do to improve the safety of vulnerable children under state care. A new report says a state inspector general received 45 reports of child sexual abuse during fiscal 2017-18, up from 29 the year before and 16 the year before that.

It’s true that this year’s number may be higher in part because the Legislature voted this spring to require that sexual abuse cases be filed with the Inspector General’s Office. But Rogers is right to call the trend “disturbing,” and the state’s obligation to strengthen its protection effort is clear.

Julie Rogers, the inspector general for child welfare, outlines needed steps in her new report. It’s positive that in many cases, the state is changing procedures for the better. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is improving training for state hotline workers and strengthening foster care licensing.

“A shortage of appropriate placements created pressure to put children in homes that may have met minimum standards for placement but had suitability concerns,” Rogers wrote.

The state needs to devote greater attention, too, to suicide prevention. The number of reported suicide attempts by youth under state care totaled 52 during fiscal 2017-18, up from 45 a year earlier and 21 the year before.

Of the 52 reported suicide attempts, 24 were state wards, 21 were supervised by juvenile probation, six were served by both Juvenile Probation and HHS and one was placed at a state Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center run by HHS. Three youths made multiple attempts.

HHS has added in-service instruction on behavioral health needs and suicide prevention as part of its training for new employees, Rogers reports.

At the HHS-run YRTC in Kearney, 47 “critical incidents” were reported last year, the majority of which were 19 escapes and 14 assaults. That is up from 22 critical incidents in fiscal 2016-17 but down from 117 the year before that.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee recently held a public hearing in Kearney to receive input from the community. Local residents expressed concern about threats to public safety from escaping youths. Several people spoke of low staff morale at the facility and the danger from assault to which staff members are vulnerable.

Rogers’ report emphasizes the importance of information-sharing by organizations as central to carrying out her reporting obligations. “Stakeholders share a responsibility to provide access to information and data,” she writes. This obligation extends to all relevant organizations, including HHS, the state Probation Administration and private providers.

Rogers noted the professionalism demonstrated by many state workers and nonprofit employees: “As has been historically true, of the 520 cases that the (Office of Inspector General) received as intakes this year, the majority have been handled competently by system professionals with no major violations of policy or law.”

This new report makes clear, however, that the state has vital work to do to reverse the troubling trends she has reported in regard to sexual abuse, suicide and conditions at the Kearney youth facility.

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Kearney Hub. September 19, 2018

Shields keep cops safe in mass shootings

A rose to ... Jacki and Bill Luke, who recently launched the Shield 616 campaign in Kearney to raise $100,000 so each of the 89 officers in the Kearney Police Department and Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department can be equipped with a rifle-rated bullet-proof vest. The officers have vests that can stop pistol fire, but the Shield 616 protects against long guns and rifles — the weapons officers and deputies would encounter in mass shootings.

On Monday, the Kearney Noon Rotary Club contributed $2,000 to the Lukes’ Shield 616 campaign. KPD Chief Dan Lynch and Sheriff Neil Miller accepted the money and thanked Rotarians for helping the Shield 616 drive. It means a lot to the men and women behind the badge to have the community’s support, and that goes double when their personal safety is concerned.

“Every day, our law enforcement officers’ spouses send them off to work, not knowing if they’re going to come back. They put their lives on the line every day for us, so we thought we really want to honor and show respect for our officers,” Jacki Luke said about the Shield 616 drive in a recent Kearney Hub interview.

Each Shield 616 vest costs $1,400 and is worn over the standard bullet-proof vest. The package includes a ballistic helmet, a plate-vest carrier, the rifle-rated armor and a gunshot wound kit.

The Lukes became interested in Shield 616 after attending one of the organization’s fundraisers in Colorado Springs, Colo. They’re also encouraging the public to be part of Unseen Backup, in which volunteers pray for law officers and firefighters.

To donate, log on to Shield616.org. Donors may select a specific agency and officer.

A raspberry to ... motorists who gun the throttle and speed through intersections when traffic lights switch from green to amber. Every driver knows that amber will switch to red in just seconds, but how many times do drivers risk a crash and serious injuries by speeding through rather than slowing to a stop?

If you are one of these drivers, cut it out. You have a dangerous habit that’s going to catch up to you — and probably someone else.

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McCook Daily Gazette. September 20, 2018

The backbone of the community

Retailers are the backbone of any community. Most people got their first jobs at a retail establishment, whether that was within the food industry or some other retail outlet. Retailers are the first ones we look to when garnering support for local charities or community events. Retailers make our communities vibrant and attractive for not only residents but also for visitors. In Nebraska, retailers account for 14 percent of our gross domestic product.

In McCook, say the word “retailer,” and Linda Taylor comes to mind. Linda has been a strong advocate for the retail sector of the community and region, using her persuasive influence to campaign for better roads and air service, attractive signage, community improvements, and strong commerce.

She has been honored on both the state and national level for her many contributions and tireless spirit.

Linda and her husband, Doug, took the plunge into the McCook retail scene back in 1983, when they opened a video rental store. Because there were no store-front properties available at the time, the Taylor’s renovated a house to look like a castle at 305 West 10th Street and rented movies under the name Video Kingdom. They also supplied movies to stores in surrounding communities, swapping them out on a monthly basis.

It only took three years before the Taylor’s outgrew the castle. By that time, they were also selling televisions, VCRs, and other electronic equipment. The move to West B Street allowed them to expand their electronics repair shop. They remained in that location for 26 years, and the name was changed to VK Electronics.

In 2012, VK moved once again, to their current location at 606 West B Street. This expanded location allowed them to add several lines to their home entertainment line-up. They now sell security systems, furniture, bedding, outdoor furniture, grills and grilling accessories, and seasonings and rubs.

It’s no surprise that what started out as a video rental store has taken so many twists and turns to evolve into what it is today. That ability to adapt and change has been the driving philosophy behind Linda’s business since its inception. In a 2012 interview, Linda told the Gazette, “You can never rest. In this business, you have to be ready for change every day.” That philosophy has been embraced by Linda’s son, Trevor Taylor, who now handles much of the day-to-day operations of VK Electronics.

In the same interview, Linda stressed the importance of serving, not only her customers, but also the community as a whole. That servant attitude is evident in how Linda invests her time and talent.

She has served on the McCook City Council from 1994 to 2002, serving as Mayor from 2000 to 2002. She has served on the Governor’s transportation committee and was the driving force for a $51 million upgrade of U.S. Highway 83 to a Super 2 Highway (construction to start in 2020). She has been honored by the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce with the Community Builder Award, Volunteer of the Year Award, Honor Business, and Heritage Days Parade Marshall. She was instrumental in establishing the REWARDS Committee that funds a grant writer to apply for federal grants to be utilized by local cities, counties and schools. She is a founding member of McCook Community Foundation Fund and member of McCook Economic Development Executive Board. She also serves or has served in a myriad of roles, including Chair of Southwest Nebraska Community Builders, Chair of Christian Women’s Club and Circuit Speaker, 4-H Leader, Leadership McCook, Nebraska Public Power’s Retail Customer Committee, McCook Cordials, Nebraska Development Network Applicator Award and Chair of McCook Volunteers Committee.

Thank you, Linda, for your many contributions to McCook and the surrounding area.

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Lincoln Journal Star. September 23, 2018.

Alcoholism is a disease, not tool for political gain

On the surface, the two biggest stories right now in Nebraska politics are about drinking.

The Nebraska Democratic Party called State Auditor Charlie Janssen the poster child of waste and said should resign his position after he admitted to spending long hours in a bar, drinking beer at a time most people would expect him to be working. A few days later, the Nebraska Republican Party slammed state Sen. Bob Krist, a candidate for governor, for what it called “his habit of heavy drinking.”

Dig a bit deeper, though, and nobody benefits from these partisan attacks. By tying alcohol consumption into why these elected officials shouldn’t serve the public, the state’s political parties are wading into an unacceptable place.

For one, there’s no evidence either man did anything illegal. But mere allegations of alcoholism - even if the word itself wasn’t specifically uttered - overlook and trivialize a disease that claims lives and tears families apart. Of all things, it’s not a weapon to be used in pursuit of electoral victory.

Instead, judge both men on their professional performances.

Janssen, a Republican, has served four years as auditor after his time as a state senator. From our perspective, he’s fairly carried out the responsibilities of his current office. Krist - who left the Republican Party last year before registering as a Democrat - was a committee chair who provided an important moderate voice during his tenure in the Legislature.

In particular, Janssen has apologized for his actions and promised to make needed “changes in my personal and professional life” following an investigation by the Omaha World-Herald. While legal, drinking on the job is a serious breach of public trust. If he truly means what he says and follows through on this pledge, what more can we ask of him?

Nobody trying to capitalize on these allegations of alcohol abuse knows the full story of what’s going on behind the scenes. That’s what makes the political nature of these claims particularly egregious.

Anyone who’s witnessed a loved one in the throes of alcoholism has seen a disease that doesn’t always manifest itself visually.

Those suffering can appear perfectly capable of functioning and performing work and family duties, only to struggle when nobody’s looking. After all, Nebraska often ranks among the states with the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

Chemical dependency is a serious illness with significant consequences. But Nebraska voters are hearing about “Tequila Bob,” as if it’s some kind of cartoonish joke. Meanwhile, the necessary pre-election discussions about policy for the offices of governor and state auditor are being overshadowed.

There’s nothing wrong with holding elected officials accountable. In fact, those in public should be judged with a high standard.

However, even the mere implication of the insidious disease that is alcoholism, with the ultimate goal of winning in November, should embarrass Nebraska’s political parties.

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