- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

Kearney Hub. Feb. 8, 2014.

Legal path a challenge for aliens, economy

According to the Kauffman Foundation, 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups were “immigrant founded.” The list includes Google and Yahoo, Intel and Instagram. That finding, along with scores of other studies and snapshots of the U.S. economy, shows that some immigrants are job makers, not job takers.

That fact is lost on many Americans who have tough stands on immigration, but don’t acknowledge our problems involve two different groups.

One group - the 11 million people who are in the country illegally - gets most of the headlines. The illegals pose a more intractable and volatile problem, and what to do about them is a political hot potato, which was demonstrated this week as Republicans backed away from their willingness to pursue immigration reform with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The second group of immigrants gets less attention. It’s comprised of foreigners who have entered the United States legally and must contend with federal immigration rules that drag out an expensive and nerve-racking process to finally achieve citizenship.

President Obama once described the second group as “the folks who try to come here legally but have a hard time doing so.” Republicans who are sheepish over the illegal immigrant issue should note that tending to legal immigration reform is far less contentious and reinforces the GOP’s image as business friendly.

Although many studies tell us that immigrants are vital to the U.S. economy, a large number of Americans remain suspicious about all newcomers. Americans forget that one of their nation’s strengths is its diversity. We ought to be welcoming immigrants, especially the scientists and researchers whose contributions can either help our nation create new jobs - or they can help create jobs in other nations because it’s too hard to immigrate to the United States.

Ironically, brilliant young foreigners are earning degrees in engineering, computer science and other technological fields at U.S. universities, but because it is so challenging to become a U.S. citizen, they’re taking their diplomas and their skills elsewhere. Countries like Canada, Germany and Austria are draining away the brain power we helped legal immigrants to acquire.

Those countries offer rapid residency and citizenship. They’re taking advantage of U.S. inertia on immigration policy. What’s worse, some U.S. corporations have no choice but to follow the talent and shift some of their operations overseas.

It’s time to shrug off outdated attitudes and reform our policies, beginning with how we handle legal immigrants.

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The Grand Island Independent. Feb. 9, 2014.

Legislature to consider limits on executive orders

Sen. Mike Gloor’s priority bill, LB935, if passed into law, would certainly put to rest a dark chapter in the storied history of the Grand Island Veterans Home. More importantly, LB935 would protect communities across the entire state of Nebraska from being materially harmed by an executive order issued by the governor.

The central issue concerns the economic justification and political motivation behind Gov. Dave Heineman’s decision to initiate a process in which neighboring Nebraska communities were forced to compete against one another for a very large prize - namely, the Grand Island Veterans Home (GIVH).

Kearney, the supposed, and some would say “presupposed” winner in this contest, would become the site of a new veterans facility estimated to cost $121 million. The large initial investment would be accompanied by hundreds of new jobs and long term economic benefits that would stretch well beyond $2 billion over the 50-year minimum lifespan of the replacement facility.

One community’s gain would be another’s loss. Grand Island would lose a 127-year-old institution, a 640-acre community landmark, and, more importantly, a legacy of caring for generations of U.S. veterans that has been an integral part of the community almost from the time Grand Island planted its roots.

No consideration was given to the human and emotional toll that would result from the displacement of the GIVH’s fragile, elderly residents or from disrupting and relocating the jobs of the home’s dedicated staff.

As a matter of fact, there is no economic case to be made or requirement that the new GIVH be offered up for bid in the first place.

Sen. Gloor’s bill, co-sponsored by Senators Kate Sullivan and Annette Dubas, would add layers of justification, accountability, and transparency by establishing a legislative process that would have final authority over the proposed relocation from one jurisdiction to another of any state service estimated to cost $15 million or more. Many other states including Kansas and Missouri have laws in place to serve as a check and balance against capricious, excessive, and politically-motivated largess manifested through executive order affecting state services.

LB935 has been set for hearing before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 1:30 p.m. The importance of this law extends far beyond parochial interests or the controversy surrounding the governor’s process. Language in LB935 does, however, make the law retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, to allow vetting of any qualified relocation project for which all funding is not in place or conditionally approved upon the effective date of the law’s enactment.

The essence of the bill provides footing for sound policy and necessary oversight for a serious vulnerability that could undermine another Nebraska community in the future and once again cause a permanent rift in relationships between good neighbors.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 7, 2014.

Wrong turn on texting

If Sen. John Harms’ bill to crack down on texting while driving makes it to the full Legislature - which appears uncertain - senators would launch into the wrong debate.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee say a nationwide study they conducted suggests that in order for a ban against texting to be effective, it must be part of a ban against use of all handheld cellphones.

Only 12 states ban the use of all handheld devices.

In contrast, LB807 proposed by Harms would allow drivers to continue using cellphones while they are at the wheel. The bill would crack down on texting while driving by making it a primary offense, meaning that police could stop someone for texting without having another reason. The legislation would also make other driving violations a primary offense, including failure to use seat belts in the front and back seats.

Questioning by state senators at the public hearing on the bill focused on the difficulty police might have in deciding whom to pull over. Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said that if a driver told a deputy that he or she was dialing a cellphone - which is legal under state law - rather than texting, the deputy would have to let the driver go.

Left unaddressed by the legislation is texting by voice, when a driver might use voice commands to have a text message read, or to dictate and send a text message.

The first nationwide study of texting laws and fatalities, conducted by Wisconsin researchers Rahi Abouk and Scott Adams, showed that making texting while driving a primary offense has only a short-lived effect. In the first four months after the laws went into effect, fatalities dropped by about 8 percent. Then the fatality rate rebounded to previous levels.

There’s little doubt that texting while driving is dangerous. Researchers at the National Safety Council say that, on average, drivers take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds to read a text message. At 55 miles an hour, a car will travel the length of a football field, plus ends zones.

At the same time, the nation’s roads are far safer than they were in the pre-texting era. Thanks to safer cars, less tolerance for drunk driving, better highway design and other factors, the rate of traffic fatalities per 100 million miles plunged from 2.08 in 1990 to 1.14 in 2012.

The proposal in the Legislature increases the likelihood that innocent drivers will be stopped and possibly hauled into court, where they will be forced to defend themselves. Critics have also raised the possibility that making texting and failure to wear seat belts primary offenses will lead to more racial profiling.

The stories told by witnesses at the public hearing of death and injury caused by texting drivers were heart-rending.

If senators really want to reduce those tragedies, they may need to go further than LB807. To propose a total ban on handheld cellphones would probably touch off a firestorm. But if the safety advocates want to have a lasting impact on safety, that’s the debate they need to start.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Feb. 6, 2014.

Drought causes unprecedented drop in groundwater levels

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that also goes for the glass of water that comes with it.

Entities dealing with downstream demands for water have hit on a solution that may not really be a solution at all, judging by the 2013 Nebraska Statewide Groundwater Level Monitoring Report.

When Kansas demanded more Republican River water from Nebraska, and Colorado faced the same demands, one of the solutions they found was to convert groundwater into surface water, such as the Rock Creek project in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, the N-CORPE project in the Middle Republican NRD and a similar project in Colorado.

By pumping water into the river, the agencies hoped to meet their responsibility under the Republican River Compact to deliver water to downstream users.

The problem is, groundwater is just as limited a commodity as is the water already flowing in the river.

The new groundwater report showed significant groundwater level declines throughout Nebraska.

From spring 2012 to spring 2013, every county in Nebraska, with the exception of Grant, Hooker and Thomas, experienced a water level decline greater than a foot. Some parts of Nebraska, including a spot in northern Perkins County, showed a one-year water decline of nearly 25 feet.

“That is unprecedented since we have been keeping records for water-level changes,” said Aaron Young, groundwater resources coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Almost the entire state - with the exception of a small area in the Sandhills - saw declines last year, and even then, I would suspect that in the next year or two, we’re going to see some substantial groundwater level declines in the Sandhills as well.”

On average, one had to go 2.54 feet farther down into wells before hitting water in spring 2013 than a year before, Young said, because of increased groundwater pumping and decreased recharge from precipitation.

“An average one-year decline of this magnitude has never been recorded before in the state,” Young said.

Nebraska experienced the worst drought ever during 2012, 12-16 inches below normal precipitation in Nebraska, as well as the highest average temperatures.

“The extreme drought resulted in dry wells, municipal water shortages and water restrictions throughout the state,” Young said.

If drought continues, as it shows every sign of doing, there is no way we can continue to pump water out of the ground at the current rate.

Whether it’s for our personal use, swimming pools, lawns and gardens, or to support the agricultural endeavors that are vital to our Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas economy, water is an irreplaceable ingredient that we must learn to use wisely.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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