- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. March 10, 2017

Omaha shows solid progress on gun crimes

Crime in Omaha made a slight comeback last year, but the broader trend remains positive for local public safety, the city’s 2016 crime statistics show.

Reports of violent crime in Omaha last year were up 6 percent. Reports of property crime were up 3 percent. Some increase was to be expected after 2015, when the city recorded its fewest rapes, robberies, burglaries and serious thefts in more than a decade. Last year’s reported increases could signal stricter enforcement, an uptick in crime or both. It’s too soon to tell.

The stats did produce good news for Omaha, such as a continuing trend toward fewer people getting shot. Criminal justice experts describe the number of annual shootings as a more reliable indicator than homicides of gang violence. Fewer people - 135 - were shot in Omaha last year than in any year over the previous decade. Local homicides fell to 29 from a record 50 in 2015.

There’s room to celebrate both of those declines. They reflect strong work by police and the involvement of neighbors, helping police do their jobs. Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, credits community groups, local jobs programs, churches and volunteers for more than a decade of work. He told World-Herald reporter Roseann Moring, “It’s not one thing or the other, it’s all of it working together.”

The worst news in this year’s stats was a 40 percent spike in reported forcible rapes. While some advocates said that reflects a rise in reports, not crimes, the number remains one to watch.

The long view, however, is that Omaha has become safer over time thanks to its police force and its people.

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Lincoln Journal Star. March 7, 2017

Anti-refugee legislation is badly skewed

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon apparently wants state employees to do homework for people who want to demonize the refugees that church groups and other good-hearted Nebraskans are trying to help.

In the name of transparency, Brewer has introduced a bill that would require the state to collect information and compile it into a report.

But Brewer wants to collect only negative information - nothing positive about the contributions that refugees make to Nebraska, and nothing about the horrors they are fleeing. And he wants to make that cherry-picked negative information easily accessible on a state website.

If senators think that state resources ought to be used for that purpose, they ought to at least require the legislation to undergo major revision so that it presents information in an even-handed fashion.

Brewer’s bill (LB505) would require resettlement agencies to report the number, age, gender, family status and nation of origin for all refugees settled in Nebraska.

Apparently Brewer didn’t do his own homework, because much of that information is already available.

Last year, for example, 1,782 refugees found a safe haven after fleeing bullets, bombs, torture, rape and, in many cases, the black-masked beheaders of the Islamic State. Lincoln welcomed 591 of those refugees. Of that total about 440 came from Iraq. Many of them are Yazidis who had been targeted for extermination by IS.

Brewer also wants the state to collect and report details on any state and federal benefits refugees receive.

If Brewer were really interested in transparency, he ought to also ask for information on how much in taxes refugees pay, and other positive contributions they make to Nebraska.

As written the bill goes out of its way to characterize refugees in a frightening way, with no positive references. Paragraph after paragraph of the bill uses language referring to purported “infiltration” of the refugee population to establish “terror cells.”

No mention is made of the months of extensive vetting that refugees must undergo before they are allowed to enter the United States.

Lincoln and other parts of Nebraska have been helping refugees for years, with Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Social Services playing a prominent role. Lincoln is home to second and third generations of Vietnamese who came here in the 1970s and 80s. In 2013 Lincoln was designated as one of the top 10 most welcoming cities in America by the nonprofit Welcoming America organization.

As written Brewer’s bill is a nasty piece of work that is an insult to the generosity and kindness shown to refugees by thousands of Nebraskans. The Legislature should either kill the bill or insist that it be thoroughly rewritten to present information on refugees to be collected and presented in a fair and accurate way.

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McCook Daily Gazette. March 9, 2017

Check with state, IRS to see if you have money coming

If you haven’t filed your tax return yet, perhaps it’s because you know you’ll have to pay the IRS instead of collecting a refund.

While you’re collecting forms and thinking about your financial situation, we’ve got one more chore you should add to your list.

Point your web browser to https://treasurer.nebraska.gov/up/ and enter your name. Perhaps you’ll have a pleasant surprise - the state is holding unclaimed property for you.

Entertainer Dick Cavett found that out during a visit to his home state last month when the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office presented him a check for about $600 that belonged to his parents’ estate.

He is the son and stepson of Alva and Dorcas Cavett, well-known Nebraska educators honored by the name of Cavett Elementary School in Lincoln.

Cavett, a Gibbon native who grew up in Lincoln, was set to perform at the Lied Center in Lincoln, Wayne State College and in Hastings when the state took the opportunity to spotlight the $170 million in unclaimed property held by the state. Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg wants to return it to some 350,000 Nebraskans, former Nebraskans and heirs.

It’s commonly uncashed paychecks, refunds, rental deposits, utility deposits, stocks, dividends, insurance payments, savings bonds, trusts, matured CDs and lost IRAs.

Nebraskans aren’t the only Americans who don’t always keep track of funds they are due.

The IRS announced it is holding more than $1 billion in refunds for about a million taxpayers who didn’t file a 2013 federal income tax return.

More precisely, the median expected refund would be about $763, and that doesn’t include any unclaimed tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or education credits.

Altruistic taxpayers can sometimes be heard to exclaim that paying taxes is the price we pay to live in our free society.

That said, there’s no reason not to accept funds or property to which we are rightly entitled.

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The Grand Island Independent. March 8, 2017

Felons should be able to vote once they complete their sentences

It often takes baby steps to make changes in state laws and that’s what former state Sen. Lowen Kruse was doing when he co-sponsored a bill in 2005 that resulted in the current law that allows convicted felons to regain their voting rights two years after they have completed their sentences, including parole or probation.

Now it’s time that the state take another step and drop that two-year waiting period, restoring former prisoners’ right to vote immediately after they complete their sentences.

That’s what Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha has proposed in LB75, which has been advanced by a legislative committee and is awaiting debate on the floor of the Legislature.

It’s estimated that, if this bill is passed, it would affect about 7,800 felons in the state, not counting all the prisoners to be released from state prisons in the future.

During the legislative committee hearing on Wayne’s bill, Kruse said that his bill from 12 years ago was a political compromise that was made in order to get it passed. He supports the effort this year to allow convicted felons to vote as soon as they have completed their sentences.

Nebraska law now requires parole after a prisoner is released with nearly all sentences, and even with this bill, they would still have to complete their parole before being allowed to vote.

If LB75 becomes law, the state would become the 25th to restore felons’ voting rights immediately after they have completed parole or probation. Another 13 states and the District of Columbia allow ex-cons to vote as soon as they are released from prison.

When people leave prison, it can be difficult for them to adjust to life outside prison walls. The high percentage of criminals who return to prison is a serious problem that Nebraska must continue to work to address and this bill is one way to encourage community involvement. If former prisoners are encouraged to speak their minds about community and state issues, that could help them find their place in society and live law-abiding lives.

With Nebraska’s continued issues with prison overcrowding, the Legislature should embrace this chance to encourage convicted criminals to leave their lives of crime behind them. LB75 is one way that the state can tell people who have served their sentences that they have paid their debt to society and are now full members of their communities.

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