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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

August 20, 2018

Omaha World Herald. August 17, 2018

Lincoln ponders a major decision on a possible MUD water connection

City governments have an important duty to plan for the future, making sure that long-term needs are met. A key example: ensuring that residents have an adequate drinking water supply.

Lincoln city leaders are examining that question now as they study the best way to maintain sufficient water access once the viable short-term steps (adding several more wells along the Platte River near Ashland) are taken.

Lincoln has two long-term options, The World-Herald’s Aaron Sanderford reports: 1) Build and staff a water plant of its own along the Missouri River, along with the associated piping, at a preliminary estimated cost of $1.2 billion in 2040 dollars, or 2) Buy water from the Metropolitan Utilities District, which serves Omaha and much of the nearby area.

The same amount of water is likely to be drawn from the Missouri River regardless of which option Lincoln chooses. The key factor for Lincoln, then, will be to compare the cost and other considerations of the two options.

Lincoln’s City Council will hold a public hearing Aug. 27 on a jointly funded $97,539 feasibility study done by HDR Inc. on the MUD option.

MUD would benefit from serving Lincoln, since the demand could spread the costs of maintenance and upkeep over a broader pool of customers. Meeting Lincoln’s need would not strain MUD, since the utility’s capacity could adequately cover the demand.

MUD has the capacity to generate up to 328 million gallons daily, but the most ever needed on a single day was 224 million gallons. Lincoln’s daily demand would be up to 30 million gallons a day.

It would make considerable sense, in general, if an Omaha-based regional utility could extend just down the road to serve Lincoln’s water needs long term, but city leaders in the capital city can make that decision only after serious analysis of and deliberation over the details.

Whatever choice Lincoln makes, it will need to be a practical choice based on the city’s best overall interest. HDR’s findings and estimates, to be discussed at the upcoming public hearing, will be a major consideration.

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Kearney Hub. August 16, 2018

Farmers want fair trade, not handouts

We Nebraskans are fortunate because unlike the bulk of Americans, we know where our food comes from. It comes from the fields that stretch across our countryside. They’re the same fields tended by farmers and ranchers who work hard, keep up on their taxes, and generally just want a fair shake.

As Nebraskans, we not only know where our food comes from, many of us also are acquainted with a farmer or rancher. From our country friends we’ve heard the statement, “Farmers do not need to go into a casino to gamble. They do it every single day, just going to work.”

How true that statement is. The biggest gamble is the weather. Harsh droughts, late spring snowstorms, downpours and hail storms — they all bring perils to the farmer who invests a lifetime of labor planting each new crop.

Weather has traditionally been a farmer’s largest worry, but that has changed this year as American agriculture is being played as a pawn in the game of international trade.

U.S.-inflicted tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum and other products have resulted in harsh and painful retribution. Our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, had been our best trade partners, but U.S. tariffs have cooled that warm relationship. Additionally, one of the primary targets for U.S. tariffs, China, has been remarkably surgical in its response, announcing its refusal to import U.S. ag commodities. China’s decision is intended to economically harm the conservative voters who propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.

Rural Americans feel the pinch from a sputtering ag economy, but the backfire from tariffs has worsened the situation.

Trump recognized the hardship farmers are experiencing and called for $12 billion in assistance. Given the circumstances, hard-pressed farmers certainly could use a hand, but they are viewing Trump’s gesture as a handout.

Farmers do not want a taxpayer bailout. They want to be able to sell their products at a fair price, and they want to compete for customers around the globe.

The president has told rural Americans to be patient. They’ll see positive results eventually. For now, there can be only worry. Pork and soy producers have seen profits evaporate. Milk is bottoming out. Some states are beginning to lose farms, while agricultural competitors such as Brazil are delivering to former customers of U.S. commodities.

Farmers are not asking much of Washington. Mostly they’re just asking Uncle Sam to stay out of their business. What a relief that would be.

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Lincoln Journal Star. August 15, 2018

Transparency imperative as Lincoln Diocese looks into allegations

Three priests within the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln have resigned or been removed from their parish assignments amid investigations in as many weeks.

Swift measures were needed. They followed a controversy that has exploded around the diocese’s actions - or lack thereof - over the years regarding allegations of abuse that recently went public, as accusers felt their complaints went unheeded.

Given Bishop James Conley’s public apology for his “lack of transparency” in handling a pastor’s inappropriate, nonsexual relationship with a 19-year-old man, the Lincoln Diocese must be as forthcoming as it can with the public amid a rash of highly publicized complaints.

To be clear, most of the allegations appear to predate Conley’s nearly six-year tenure, with many dating back more than two decades. But the recent suspension of that Lincoln priest, who returned to his duties after what was publicly framed as medical treatment, came on his watch - and its mishandling gives added importance to the diocese’s next steps.

Ultimately, the present bishop is responsible handling the operations of the diocese and the status of the priests who serve within it. Conley’s admission that he hadn’t been as transparent as he should have been in at least one case is refreshing in its honesty - but one that needs not be repeated.

Convening a panel of advisers is a good start. Furthermore, the diocese’s roughly 97,000 Catholics deserve their bishop to be as forthright as possible about the nature of the investigation as he’s been in the last week. In that time, he’s penned a letter, addressed affected parishes and held a handful of listening sessions.

Only one of four instances reported so far involves sex abuse of minors. This point is important, given that allegations of impropriety aren’t necessarily criminal or even sexual in nature, in light of the unfortunate stereotype of Catholic priests preying on children. Immoral behavior that isn’t necessarily illegal still violates priests’ vows.

Worth noting is that then-Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz refused for years to participate in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ sex abuse audit, making Lincoln the nation’s only diocese that failed to take part. Perhaps it would have uncovered some of the older allegations that surfaced in recent weeks and yielded appropriate action. To his credit, Conley reversed that controversial stance in 2015.

At the time, Conley wrote the following of participating in the survey: “It can help bishops hold themselves accountable, and it can offer the virtue of transparency - an assurance that the church takes child protection seriously.”

Those words remain as true today as they were then. The Lincoln Diocese must ensure that, as it continues investigating these claims, it presents the facts to its parishioners while guaranteeing their safety moving forward.

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The Grand Island Independent. August 17, 2018.

Vote-by-mail a great idea for Nebraska

Nebraska is one of 22 states that allow counties to apply to conduct all-mail elections.

Garden County was the only county to take the state up on the option for the May primary election. Its results should have election officials across the state eager to get on board.

Turnout in Garden County for the primary was 59 percent, more than double the 24.3 percent of registered voters who cast ballots statewide.

The vote-by-mail system places ballots in the hands of voters several weeks before Election Day. Rather than going to a polling place, registered voters fill out ballots, place them in a special envelope, sign affidavits on the back of a mailing envelope, then mail the ballot back to election officials.

The county would have the expense of mailing the ballots, but would not have to run all the polling sites, so this appears to be a significant cost-saving measure, as well as a simplification of the process.

The one hitch in Nebraska is that state law only allows counties with fewer than 10,000 people to opt for vote-by-mail elections and they have to do so by applying to the secretary of state’s office. The Legislature would have to act for larger counties, such as Hall, to participate.

In an Aug. 8 report, Civic Nebraska concluded that more counties should move to vote-by-mail. The organization urged state legislators to amend Nebraska statute to allow more populous counties to apply to take advantage of the process.

The report cited a 2017 secretary of state’s office task force on election systems that referred to an all-mail voting model as “the best long-term, county-friendly, and least-expensive choice for Nebraska.”

That task force said such a system has many advantages. It would:

Eliminate the cost of recruiting, training and paying more than 8,000 poll workers statewide.

Reduce the need to find suitable Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant polling sites.

Allow Nebraskans to focus on a single, simple voting system instead of the confusion between early voting, by-mail voting, and in-person voting on Election Day.

Nebraska has a reputation as being a state that runs its elections very well. There were very few problems statewide during the primary election. A move to vote-by-mail would streamline the system and make it even simpler for voters to cast their ballots.

One thing learned from the experience Kansas had with its recent primary election should be considered, though. Nebraska should always require that ballots be mailed early enough to arrive at the county election office by Election Day. Kansas just required a postmark by the date of the election for absentee ballots and that left officials waiting for the mail.

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