- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

Omaha World-Herald. Dec. 13, 2015

Compromising on the juvenile justice system is the solution

State leaders need to make sure final agreement is reached, with firm buy-in from all sides.

Two branches of Nebraska government - the Legislature and the state court system - have fallen into a heated dispute in recent months.

The argument, over which state agency should have responsibility over juvenile offenders, involves honest differences.



Negotiations have been progressing of late to try to settle the matter constructively - exploring, for example, how to provide needed monitoring and accountability while respecting parents’ privacy rights.

State leaders need to make sure final agreement is reached, with firm buy-in from all sides.

The dispute centers on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Administrative Office of Probation, which has been given responsibility for juvenile offenders as part of a much-needed reform of Nebraska’s juvenile justice system.

State lawmakers, surprised by the higher-than-expected costs, questioned the amount of money the probation office is spending.

Senators also express concern and frustration that the probation office isn’t providing the transparency necessary so that its juvenile justice spending and programs can be properly scrutinized. The Legislature’s inspector general for child welfare has jousted for months with the probation office over the matter.

The court system replies that the transition of these duties away from the state’s sprawling Department of Health and Human Services to the probation office has been a massive undertaking and that costs at this stage often are higher. The probation office has had complete charge of juvenile offenders since July 2014.

Court officials note, too, that the children helped by Probation are wards of their parents, and by law those parents have privacy rights. This makes the monitoring of individual cases more difficult in terms of what information can be made publicly available than when the children are wards of the state.

The fact remains, however, that the state is providing millions of dollars to Probation to provide these services. There has to be some sort of agreed-upon monitoring process to ensure accountability to the public.

On top of these disagreements have come sharp exchanges at times between individual officials or staff members, plus stout defenses of institutional prerogatives.

Some lawmakers have said the Legislature next year should move responsibility for juvenile justice back to the state HHS. But after all the upheaval since 2009 in Nebraska’s child welfare system, does it really make sense to make sweeping, complicated changes yet again?

That doesn’t appear to be in the best interests of the children or their families.

The transfer of duties from one large state agency (HHS) to another (Probation) has been complicated enough. To launch yet another bureaucratic shuffle, moving duties back to HHS, is hard to understand. The need is system stability, not another round of upheaval.

It’s no surprise that some experts in the field have been calling for calm heads to prevail.

Thomas G. McBride, executive director of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association, writes: “I don’t believe we should move so quickly on changing a program that has shown good work and promise in just the first 16 months.”

“Reforms of this magnitude impacting the future of many of Nebraska’s youth often take time and patience,” says John A. Tuell, executive director of a Boston-based center focusing on juvenile justice issues. “I implore the leadership in Nebraska to demonstrate patience and compromise in the resolution of high-level infighting unrelated to the on-the-ground positive practices and outcomes that have emerged as a consequence of Nebraska’s original statutory reforms.”

Negotiators for the judiciary and the Legislature appear to be listening, working toward a practical resolution.

That’s the right approach. It’s time to end the recriminations and stalemate and move on to solutions.

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The Kearney Hub. Dec. 11, 2015

Guard earns selection for cyber unit.

Our nation’s war against terror has dramatically altered the role of the National Guard, and the next chapter in that evolution has begun with this week’s announcement that a new National Guard cyber security unit will be based in Nebraska.

These units are designed to address the cyber threats facing the United States, so the Nebraska Army National Guard personnel assigned to the unit will be performing a vital role in protecting their homeland. Imagine the havoc terrorists could spread if they are able to hack domestic computer systems.

It is with that threat in mind that on Wednesday, the Nebraska National Guard announced it has been selected as one of seven new Army National Guard cyber protection teams. Nebraska will partner with Arkansas and Missouri to host 39 soldiers for this unit between the three states.

Where the new Nebraska unit will be located is yet to be announced. Nebraska is an especially good location, considering our past and current roles in the defense of our nation, primarily through the former Strategic Air Command based at Offutt Air Force Base and today through the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).

Nebraska Air and Army National Guard units also support aerial refueling services and various logistical and military support functions which played active roles overseas during the Gulf War, the war in Iraq and in other conflicts.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, campaigned for Nebraska’s selection for one of the new Army National Guard cyber protection units.

After Wednesday’s announcement, Fischer said, “I’m happy to see Nebraska’s Guard will be able to apply the talents of our state to this new and innovative mission. I will continue to work with the Army National Guard as it moves closer to implementing its plan.”

Fischer worked closely with Gen. Daryl Bohac, the new leader of the Nebraska National Guard, and previously with former Sen. Mike Johanns, in support of the decision to establish a cyber security unit in Nebraska.

We support that decision, and look forward to learning more about the plans. The Nebraska Guard has the mettle and intelligence to support the added responsibility of cyber security. The unit will begin training with its partner states in 2018 and be ready for action in 2019.

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The Lincoln Journal Star. Dec. 10, 2015.

Listen to faculty on guns.

The views of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty senate ought to be given due respect in pending debate over a bill to ban gun-free zones in Nebraska.

In a show of hands more than 30 members of the senate voted to endorse the current ban on weapons. Only two members opposed the move.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue said he would introduce legislation to eliminate gun-free zones after the mass shooting at an Oregon community college.

“The gun-free zones are what’s killing us,” Garrett said.

The initial reports that guns were banned on the Umpqua community college campus turned out to be wrong, however.

Oregon is one of a small number of states that allow people on college campuses to carry concealed weapons.

A court of appeals ruled in 2011 that university officials had no authority to ban guns on campus. That same year the Umpqua Community College board of directors was told that it could not restrict anyone on campus from carrying a weapon if they had a “concealed weapon card.”

In fact at least one student on campus had a concealed weapon. John Parker Jr., an Air Force veteran, was in the campus veterans center about 200 yards from the shooting. Parker said he told a police officer about his gun when officers conducted a sweep of the building. The officer took his gun, escorted Parker to his car, and gave the gun back.

In a television interview, Parker pointed out that the police SWAT team wouldn’t know who he was. “If we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think we were bad guys,” he told MSNBC.

The push to force colleges to allow guns on campus was started in 2008 after mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois. A model bill was proposed by the National Rifle Association and endorsed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Gun bans on college campuses apparently date back to the days of the founding fathers. The Guardian, a British newspaper, unearthed records of an 1824 meeting of the University of Virginia board of visitors, which decreed that “no student shall, within the precincts of the University (…) keep or use weapons or arms of any kind”. Those at the meeting included Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the newspaper reported.

There are many compelling arguments against allowing guns on campus. For example, college students are renowned for engaging in risky behavior. Almost half of college students say they binge drink or use illegal drugs at least once a month. That type of behavior is not compatible with responsible gun use. This fall a University of Georgia student pleaded guilty to firing a handgun in an argument between fraternities.

The specifics of Garrett’s bill won’t be known until it is introduced at the next session of the Legislature.

But it’s already clear that state senators should pay more heed to the UNL faculty than to the NRA.

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The McCook Daily Gazette. Dec. 10, 2015.

Congress comes together for the good of children.

Congress has taken relentless criticism for its inability to do anything, but when it came to rewriting No Child Left Behind, there was no problem getting all three branches of government to work together.

President Obama was expected to sign the bill today, which will change some of the most objectionable aspects of NCLB.

It keeps some of the best parts of the original legislation, passed through the efforts of President George W. Bush and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2002, but de-emphasizes federally required statewide reading and math exams.

They will still be taken, but the time involved will be limited and stakes won’t be so high for underperforming schools.

The same goes for teachers, who still may be evaluated according to their students’ performance, but there won’t be any federal mandate to do so.

Like Nebraska already does, all states and districts will now be responsible for setting their goals for schools, designing their own measures of achievement and progress and deciding independently how to turn around struggling schools.

Tests may be a factor, but other factors such as graduation rates and educational atmosphere can be figured in as well.

With the de-emphasis on testing, children from low- and moderate-income families will have access to preschool through a new grant program using existing funding through states.

States will still be required to step in to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, in high schools with high dropout rates and schools with persistent gaps in achievement.

Common Core, one the most controversial federal ideas, cannot be mandated or incentivized by the federal government. Strong academic standards for college and career-ready curriculum guidelines were also part of Obama’s Race to the Top program, but states are already backing away from such standards.

The Education Department will no longer be able to tell states and local districts how to assess school and teacher performance, and end the waivers like the one granted to Nebraska, which exempt the states from difficult requirements such as having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Democrats, Republicans and Independents can, and do, quibble about all manner of issues, from the earth-shattering to the trivial.

When it comes to the future of our children, however, it’s good to know they can come together to resolve their differences.

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