- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. October 21, 2016

A needed lifeline for those fighting drug, alcohol abuse.

Treatment for alcohol and drug addiction often doesn’t receive the priority it deserves in communities across the country. Catholic Charities helped Omaha in a big way in 1998 when it opened its Campus for Hope center north of downtown to strengthen local efforts to meet this crucial need.

Now at 93 beds, Campus for Hope provides three residential programs to help indigent and homeless clients move toward stability, providing substance abuse and mental health treatment.

“It’s a service that’s desperately needed,” Kenny McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew Health Center, told World-Herald columnist Erin Grace in her ongoing reporting on behavioral health needs in Omaha.

A major concern about Campus for Hope’s future arose this year when Catholic Charities said it needed to end its work at the facility in the wake of significant financial losses and conflicts between regulations and Catholic teachings.

Sherry Glasnapp, director of the Douglas County Community Mental Health Center, summed up the need to keep Campus for Hope going when she told Grace that “without such services, there are going to be more individuals showing up in emergency rooms and in the jail system.”

It’s encouraging that the Douglas County Community Mental Health Center and CenterPointe, a Lincoln-based nonprofit agency, have stepped forward to continue the services.

Administrators and staff say they’re working toward a smooth transition. Their success on that goal can bring important benefits to the clients and to Omaha as a community, continuing to fill the void that Catholic Charities saw nearly two decades ago.

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McCook Gazette. October 21, 2016

Make sure our homes are safe for cold weather.

It’s impossible to read the story of a family of six, including four little girls, killed in a farmhouse fire in southeast Nebraska without shedding a tear.

We can only imagine how the friends, family, neighbors and firefighters who responded to the scene in rural Nehawka early Thursday.

The family had just moved into the 111-year-old house this summer.

Destruction was so complete authorities hadn’t yet confirmed the family was killed, and it will take even longer, if ever, to determine what caused the fire.

With the first cold weather of the year arriving, it’s possible a faulty furnace was to blame in this case, as they are in many fires this time of year.

Whatever the cause turns out to be, now is a good time to make sure our homes are safe and ready for winter.

Make sure furnace filters are changed and the heaters and vents are in good working condition, discard faulty electrical cords and make sure portable heaters are kept away from flammable materials.

Change smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries at least yearly and replace the devices if they are more than 10 years old.

Fire hazards increase for the next couple of months, as holiday decorations are put up. Make sure lights are in good working conditions, take precautions with both live and artificial Christmas trees and use extreme caution with lighted candles.

Cooking fires are also too common over the holiday season, and extreme caution needs to be used when preparing turkeys with a deep-fat fryer, as well as conventional stovetop and oven cooking.

Let’s do our best to avoid future tragedies this winter.

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Lincoln Journal Star. October 19, 2016

SCC bond issue too ambitious.

There’s little doubt that expansion and improvements to Southeast Community College facilities would benefit students and employers throughout SCC’s 15-county area.

But the $369 million bond issue is too ambitious and would push property taxes up at a time when farmers in the region are coping with low prices for grain.

The plan would exacerbate a fundamental flaw with Nebraska’s tax structure, which relies too heavily on property taxes. The goal of reducing property taxes ranks No. 2 on the editorial board’s agenda for this year.

The proposal would add about $39 to the annual tax payment for a home valued at $100,000. It would add a tax increase of about $1.52 an acre to farm land, according to Craig Head vice president of issue management for the Farm Bureau. An average-sized farm would pay about $38,000 in new taxes over the 30-year life of the bond, according to Terry Keebler, a member of the Farm Bureau’s board of directors.

A coalition, including the Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Soybean Association and the Lincoln Independent Business Association, was formed to oppose the bond issue.

Credit the SCC board, however, for trying to come up with a solution to a chronic problem in southeast Nebraska - a shortage of skilled workers which is a drag on economic growth.

SCC has waiting lists of student who want to get into popular programs like welding and nursing.

The need to provide training for those workers was emphasized by the business and labor leaders who support the bond issue. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world just trying to find qualified applicants to fill positions so we can continue to grow,” said Matthew Wegener, founder of ISoft Data Systems and co-founder of Turbine Flats.

The bond issue proposed by the SCC board is a first for community colleges in the state. Since the system was created in 1971, no district has asked voters to approve a bond issue.

It calls for $127 worth of improvements to SCC’s Beatrice campus and $88 million at the campus in Milford. The remainder would be spent in Lincoln, and could include construction of a $120 million campus near the Telegraph District at 21st and Capitol Parkway.

Unfortunately the board has no alternative for paying for the bond issue other than relying on property taxes.

The Legislature should explore whether it could provide other options to pay for bond issues to expand community colleges in the state, which offer an affordable education for students. Perhaps the SCC board could do more to creatively fund its growth by seeking private donations or partnering more with the private sector.

However, given the current over-reliance on property taxes in Nebraska’s tax structure, the sizable property tax hike required by the SCC bond issue cannot be justified.

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Kearney Hub. October 21, 2016.

Disclosure laws give voters a money trail.

Voters have a valuable tool in election funding accountability rules, in particular, our system’s ability to tell us where the money is coming from that supports various candidates and issues. Our accountability rules tell us about Gov. Pete Ricketts’ financial stake in the death penalty opposition, and that he’s funding campaigns for the Nebraska Legislature in a bid to stack the senatorial deck in his favor.

He is financing legislative candidates who oppose legislators who voted against some of his ideas in the last session, and, by giving $300,000, he has out-donated everyone in the effort to restore the state’s death penalty.

We’re unaware of a Nebraska governor who has used his wealth in such a manner prior to Ricketts. Instead of using money to advance their agendas, former governors reached out to lawmakers to explain their positions and request their support. Such an approach is true to the intent of Nebraska’s unique one-house Legislature. It is meant to be non-partisan and represent the voice of the people.

Ricketts might believe his agenda is good for Nebraska, but there’s something bothersome about buying votes and petition signatures. Ricketts is well-spoken, works hard and commands a strong intellect. There should be no need for the man to reach into his pocket rather than reaching out to Nebraskans and their lawmakers to support his ideas.

Tool for coercion

More than 150 Americans have been found innocent of murder. Their stories of being freed from death row are among the best reasons Nebraskans should vote on Nov. 8 to retain LB268, the legislative measure which repealed capital punishment in our state.

Any Nebraskan who has followed the story of the Beatrice Six knows about one of the flaws in capital punishment, and that’s to use the threat of execution to coerce suspects into confessions. Five of the Beatrice Six suspects were threatened into false confessions because they feared death in Nebraska’s electric chair. Now Gage County must find a way to pay the Beatrice Six a $28 million settlement for false imprisonment.

Death penalty supporters claim it’s a “tool for law enforcement,” but tools can do great harm if they’re placed in unscrupulous hands. Investigators and prosecutors all want to bring killers to justice, but the Beatrice Six case represents a horrific injustice because the death penalty was misused.

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