- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

Omaha World-Herald. August 13, 2015

Wild-life habitat needs a boost.

It’s no surprise that the amount of Nebraska land under the federal Conservation Reserve Program has fallen considerably in recent years.

Acreage under the CRP program - by which landowners are paid to refrain from farming highly erodible and marginal soil - was bound to decline when corn prices were climbing well above $7 a bushel and soybean prices were reaching skyward, too. There was no way that CRP rental payments could compete.

Now that crop prices have fallen, conservation grasslands are becoming a practical option for more Nebraska farmers.

A tour promoting CRP in Nebraska this summer was sponsored by a group of government agencies and nonprofits: the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, federal Farm Service Agency, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

Nebraska has about 776,000 acres in CRP status at present. That’s down from the program’s high point in Nebraska in the early 1990s, when CRP topped 1.4 million acres.

CRP often involves land that is of marginal quality, floods regularly or is difficult to access. The central benefit is providing habitat for wildlife. There is growing interest, too, in adding flowers and milkweed to conservation grasslands as a way of boosting bee populations in light of stress on the pollinators nationwide.

Haying and grazing are allowed on some lands under CRP, making the program an option for some cattle producers.

The conservation need is especially important in the Great Plains, given the region’s overall decline in wildlife habitat. During 2006-11, around 1.3 million acres of grassland and wetland were converted to cropland in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Nebraska’s conversion to cropland during 2011-12 totaled nearly 55,000 acres, the most of any state.

The next CRP general sign-up starts Dec. 1 and runs through Feb. 26, 2016. Contracts run for 10 to 15 years, with rates varying according to the type of land.

It’s been a while since CRP received attention from a lot of Nebraska producers. This time, the price may be right.


The McCook Gazette. August 13 , 2015

New study shows link in safe driving, drivers education.

Thanks to the Internet smartphones and social media, obtaining a driver’s license isn’t the milestone it once was.

“Dragging main” is no longer the only way to find out what your friends are doing or catching the attention of that boy or girl you have a crush on.

But driving isn’t an option for some, rural teens especially, who need to be able to get themselves to a far-away school or job.

And, unless they’ve grown up driving farm machinery the way that used to be the norm for farm kids, many kids don’t build up the “windshield time” these days before obtaining that license.

The state has instituted a graduated licensing system to make the transition to full driving privileges more safe, requiring drivers education or logging driving hours under adult supervision, and driving safely for at least a year before they can get a full driver’s license.

Generally, the provisional permit forbids teens from driving without supervision after midnight. It also prohibits having more than one teenaged friend in the car during the first six months of driving.

Most schools don’t offer drivers education, including McCook public schools, which depend on third parties such as McCook Community College to provide that service.

High schools may want to reconsider that system, according to a new study conducted by the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Following more than 150 teen drivers over eight years, the study found that driver’s education significantly reduces crashes and traffic violations among new drivers.

If they don’t take driver’s education, young drivers are 75 percent more likely to get a traffic ticket, 24 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal or injury accident and 16 percent more likely to have an accident, according to the study.

Those results fly in the face of studies dating back to the early 1980s that found no benefit to driver’s education courses - studies that combined with tight government budgets to reduce state support for driver’s education classes.

About 53 percent of the teens in the UNL study took a state-approved driver’s education course to qualify for the permit, and the rest qualified by logging 50 hours of practice under supervision.

The study found:

- 11.1 percent of driver’s education graduates cohort was involved in a car crash, compared to 12.9 percent who did not take a course.

- 2.1 percent of the driver’s ed group was involved in an accident that caused injury or death, compared to 2.6 percent who did not take a course.

- 10.4 percent who took driver’s ed were ticketed for moving traffic violations, compared to 18.3 percent of those who did not take driver’s education.

And similar trends were seen for alcohol-related violations and for crashes and traffic violations during the second year of driving.

Granted, with the exception of the rate of ticketed violations, the difference between drivers-ed and non-drivers-ed teen drivers is not that great.

But if the purpose of education is to make our young people more successful and safer, perhaps driver’s education should return to the high school curriculum.


The Grand Island Independent. August 12, 2015

Shorter prison sentences to impact counties.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is ultimately the responsibility of the executive branch of government - the governor’s office.

Due to a lack of oversight and management in prior administrations, this costly arm of the state has developed a host of serious issues, not the least of which is lack of facilities, resulting in serious overreaching and lack of programs.

The Legislature has now focused upon the problems in this recent session by passing what is referred to as LB605. Facing a potential judicial mandate addressing the overcrowding, the choices were to set up a projected $270 million to build another facility or address the issue by lowering the population in state penal institutions.

The Legislature chose the latter by passing LB605, which reduced the sentencing options by shortening length of potential sentences for many felony convictions and establishing a mandated probationary structure for Class IV felony convictions unless courts find “substantial and compelling reason” to sentence a person to prison.

By revamping sentence structure, the Legislature, to its credit, has acknowledged that jail provisions of sentences will, in many cases, become the financial responsibility of counties instead of the state. LB605 allots $500,000 to the counties to offset the additional local jail population increases.

The future will tell whether the state funding of $500,000 is sufficient for the counties that will be absorbing the costs of this law in order to solve the state’s problems due to past DCS neglect. The counties have a much smaller tax base than the state and it bears watching whether local property taxes will have to be increased.

Public safety is one of the most important facets of government responsibility. Let us hope that this attempt to address past mismanagement will be a solution.


Lincoln Journal Star. August 13, 2015

A reprimand well-deserved.

Lancaster County District Judge Steven Burns gave the Lincoln Police Department a good scolding for falsely calling a Lincoln woman a crook in Crime Stoppers posts and videos.

LPD deserved every word.

Lincoln police were looking for someone who used a stolen credit card to withdraw money from an ATM. They asked the bank for video of the person who made the withdrawal. The bank gave them the wrong video.

The first mistake police made was that they made no attempt to confirm that the video showed the right person before they put a snarky post on the Crime Stoppers website on May 17, 2013, with a photo of Shayla Funk, an occupational therapist who was completely innocent. The post said, “This young lady doesn’t look like your typical crook, but she is!” Funk’s photo was also used in two broadcasts on KOLN-KGIN-TV.

Funk went to police on June 15, 2013, and informed them that she had taken money out of her own account at the ATM that night. She had committed no crime. She was wrongly accused. She was issued a citation anyhow.

Police did not get around to checking her story until July 10. Once they contacted the bank, it took only a few hours to establish that Funk, in fact, was innocent. “Police could no longer escape the conclusion that the Internet postings and 10/11 broadcast were false,” Burns wrote.

Police took down the post on the Crime Stoppers website, but a post on Facebook (which did not show her face or give her name) stayed up until the case went to trial two years later.

Funk was put on unpaid leave for three weeks when someone saw the video. She eventually left that job. Funk said when she goes back to her hometown of Ewing, people make jokes like, “Hide your credit cards. Shayla’s here.”

The only good thing to come of this unhappy experience is that it surely taught a lesson to police.

A jury decided that Crime Stoppers owed Funk $75,000. Burns said the city of Lincoln must pay her $259,000.

During the trial, police personnel said the post on Funk was intended to be interesting so that the website would attract more viewers and help solve the crime. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that motivation, but police have to take precautions to protect the reputations of innocent people.

To his credit, Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong accepted responsibility, apologized, and said that the department was “writing new guidelines to ensure this can’t happen again.”

That’s the best thing to come out of this experience. It would have been cheaper for taxpayers if the department had taken those precautions before it learned a lesson the hard way.

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