- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

Lincoln Journal Star. May 20, 2016

Cool the transgender fight.

On the spectrum of human sexuality, transgender kids are probably the smallest, most vulnerable minority.

It’s sad to see that they have become ground zero in the nation’s ongoing culture war.

Gov. Pete Ricketts wasted little time jumping into the lead of efforts in Nebraska to shut down the effort to accommodate transgender youth in the nation’s public schools.

Schools should “reject this bullying by the Obama administration,” Ricketts said, referring to a directive sent to school districts across the country.

The letter, signed by a couple of underlings in the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, says, “Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including transgender students.”

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson fired back a letter to federal officials saying that his office would do “everything in its power” to fight the guidelines.

That’s a harsh response for a segment of the population that is so stressed that more than 40 percent at some point in their lives will attempt suicide, according to a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Not surprisingly the statistics improve for transgendered individuals who have supportive families and a nondiscriminatory environment.

Social conservatives make the mistake of thinking that transgender issues are an outgrowth of a permissive society.

Instead of blaming liberals, they ought to blame Mother Nature, or any higher power, for confusing the issue. It’s a verifiable fact that a small percentage of babies are born with genitalia that are not clearly male or female - about 1 in every 1,500 to 2,000 births, according to the Intersex Society of North America. And that’s only one facet of transgender issues.

The righteous who thunder that boys should be boys and girls should be girls are ignoring the reality that confronts parents whose children are transgender. A column elsewhere on this page describes one parent’s fight to protect her child in a cruel world.

To be sure, one can have some empathy with a school board member whose prior experience with transgender issue may be limited to hearing about Olympic hero Bruce Jenner transitioning to become Caitlyn. Most school board members signed up for an unpaid job expecting to deal with tax rates and budgets; now they’re confronted with a “Dear Colleague” letter about sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms with the threat that federal funds are at stake.

However, the opposition from Ricketts and Peterson is not universal in Nebraska. The Lincoln Public School System says the guidelines will pose no problem. It’s not an impossible task for schools to offer a supportive and nurturing environment for transgender students. We urge them to get to work on it.___

McCook Daily Gazette. May 19, 2016

Conservative voters face choice of lesser of two evils.

Franklin Graham offered some good advice to Nebraskans during the Lincoln stop on his Decision America Tour Wednesday.

Get involved, he said, don’t be afraid to apply Christian values to government and participate in this year’s election, even if they have to vote “for the lesser of two evils.”

Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, urged a crowd of thousands on the Capitol’s front steps to run for office and support candidates who follow biblical principles.

The same advice holds for citizens of all stripes, who have the chance to influence the direction of their country through the democratic process.

But Franklin Graham’s audience would do well to heed the admonition of Jesus himself, who warned his followers he was “sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Pro-life Nebraska voters should have learned that lesson a decade ago when David Hergert used their passionate views on a single issue to gain office.

Hergert violated campaign finance laws to deprive long-time University of Nebraska Regent Don Blank of campaign funds and agreed to a $33,512 settlement.

He ignored a 31-0 legislative resolution calling for him to resign, was impeached on a 25-22 vote and was finally tried before the Nebraska Supreme Court and removed from office in 2006.

Socially conservative voters will have a difficult presidential choice this fall, between one who holds many positions they oppose, one who may be only offering those positions lip service, and who both have serious moral failings.

Making the right choice this fall will challenge even the shrewdest of snakes and most innocent of doves.___

Omaha World-Herald. May 19, 2016

Times, energy mix change.

Omaha’s public utility is weighing whether to shutter the nation’s smallest nuclear power plant and get out of the nuclear energy business.

Omaha Public Power District’s decision next month on whether to close Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is the latest development in a national trend.

Power from cheap, fracking-fueled natural gas and subsidized alternative energy make it hard for nuclear power to compete on price.

The problem is particularly acute in the Midwest and Northeast. Competitive gas prices led to the closing of a Vermont nuclear plant in 2014. Nuclear power plants are being decommissioned in New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Wisconsin, California and Florida.

The smallest, least-efficient plants - such as Fort Calhoun - face the greatest risk. They cost the most per kilowatt hour to operate. At these smaller plants last year, electricity cost more to produce than the power at some natural gas plants and wind farms.

OPPD CEO Tim Burke cited the trend in making his economic case for closing the Fort Calhoun plant, which employs nearly 700.

OPPD spends about $250 million a year to produce electricity at the plant. Burke says that’s no longer cost-effective. As in Vermont, flat electricity demand, low natural gas prices and increasingly cost-effective and often subsidized alternative energy sources have spurred OPPD officials to rethink the district’s future energy approach.

Burke has committed to keeping electricity rates level until at least 2022 if the OPPD board closes Fort Calhoun.

As the OPPD board considers this proposal, ratepayers no doubt will have questions.

Management’s new plan would replace Fort Calhoun’s 478 megawatts of power-generating potential with natural gas and renewable sources. Would that hinder the effort to meet federal clean air regulations as OPPD moves from carbon-free nuclear energy to gas? And what happens if natural gas prices rise?

There is also the matter of how to pay the $511 million difference between what OPPD has saved to shutter the plant and the estimated cost of doing so. And with the federal government’s failure to provide a national site for disposal of nuclear waste, it would be reassuring to hear clearly how that material would be handled.

The timing of the proposed move also complicates matters. Since 2011, OPPD has spent nearly $200 million to protect the plant from flooding and to make federally ordered repairs and safety improvements. It’s spent $20 million a year to have Chicago-based Exelon Corp. manage the facility.

OPPD’s mission is to “provide affordable, reliable and environmentally sensitive energy service to our customers.”

The time is right for Burke and the OPPD board to assure ratepayers that closing Fort Calhoun would help achieve that.___

The Grand Island Independent. May 19, 2016

State must clarify issue on tax exemption.

The Hall County Board of Supervisors made the right decision in unanimously voting to deny a property tax exemption request from the Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust.

The board and Hall County Assessor Jan Pelland stuck to the guidelines they have used in the past in determining exemptions. Mainly, county policy is that property used for income by nonprofits isn’t tax exempt.

The crane trust was seeking to have exempted 34 acres, much of which is leased out to farmers for row crops and grazing. Because the land is generating income, the board denied the request. That is following the law and following precedent.

The county’s decision, though, doesn’t settle the issue. The crane trust plans to appeal the decision to the Nebraska Tax Equalization and Review Commission. An appeal is within the crane trust’s rights, and it should appeal.

State law is fuzzy on the issue of what constitutes educational uses of property, qualifying it for an exemption. The state commission and the Legislature need to bring some clarity to the issue.

The crane trust says that the farming and grazing help conserve the land and habitat for the migratory birds, and that is the trust’s mission. The trust also says the land is used for educational purposes as scientists, researchers and students study the habitat and the impact on the birds.

So what takes precedence over the other - the income generation or the research being done on the land? That’s a question for the state to decide.

The answer will have a big impact on taxing entities throughout the state. The crane trust land is valued at more than $10 million and would reduce tax revenue by $134,000, mainly for school districts.

There are certainly other groups in the state that would follow the lead of the crane trust, so the impact on the tax base is a consideration.

Mainly, though, state officials need to clarify what constitutes educational uses of property that qualifies it for a tax exemption.

Until they do, county boards and assessors are going to be confronted with difficult exemption issues and there is likely to be inconsistency and confusion in the decisions. The state must provide some clarity and leadership on tax exemptions to make sure they are applied fairly and consistently across the state.

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