- Associated Press - Monday, April 25, 2016

McCook Daily Gazette. April 22, 2016

Civil forfeiture law helps keep authorities honest.

Cops and courts are there to keep the rest of us honest, but who keeps them in line?



In this case, it’s the Nebraska Legislature, which passed LB 1106, and Gov. Pete Ricketts, who signed the bill Tuesday to reduce the opportunity for abuse of due process and private property rights through civil forfeiture.

Under the law, Nebraska requires a criminal conviction for illegal drugs, child pornography or illegal gambling to lose their cash, vehicles, firearms or real estate.

The ACLU points to abuse such as $14,000 seized from a Peruvian pastor during a traffic stop and $63,000 in savings seized from a decorated Air Force veteran even though he was never charged with a crime. A federal appellate court upheld that forfeiture.

The law makes it harder for state and local agencies to receive up to 80 percent of civil forfeitures by participating in a federal program known as “equitable sharing” banning state and local agencies from transferring seized cash and property under $25,000.

Between 2000 and 2013, Nebraska law enforcement collected more than $48 million in federal forfeiture funds, according to a report by the Institute for Justice. The Washington Post identified 889 cash seizures in Nebraska “from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued” since 9/11.

But a constitution amendment would be required to remove the state’s incentive to seize property from people who have never been charged with a crime.

Nebraska voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 1984 to allocate 50 percent of drug forfeiture funds to law enforcement and the other half to schools.

Since 2011, agencies have received more than $3 million in forfeiture from state law.

There’s no doubt that property forfeiture is appropriate in the majority of cases, and the process is an important tool for law enforcement and prosecutors.

And it’s true that the new law may allow criminals to keep more of their ill-gotten gain.

But occasionally allowing guilty people to go unpunished is the price for preserving freedom for the rest of us.___

Omaha World-Herald. April 23, 2016

Water interests need fair shake.

Nebraska lawmakers in 2014 debated whether to create a commission to address state water issues. The contentious effort came close to collapse when senators couldn’t resolve their differences.

Water issues - safeguarding water quality, conserving water supplies, enhancing flood control - involve a wide range of interests across Nebraska.

Senators had a hard time crafting a law to ensure that all of those needs would be respected once the proposed Natural Resources Commission began distributing funding for water sustainability projects.

What saved things in the end was language emphasizing that the water initiative would be a genuine statewide effort.

The process, senators decided, would take the full array of needs into account. With that agreement, the bill passed with support from both rural and urban lawmakers.

But now that the commission has awarded its first round of funding for water projects, questions are being asked about whether the initiative is living up to its promise.

This week, the 27-member commission approved $11.5 million for projects while leaving about $17 million unallocated in the Water Sustainability Fund. The commission rejected funding requests for five large projects - including two Papio-Missouri River NRD flood-control dams - despite having money available.

A key point of contention is the commission’s scoring system for evaluating proposals. Defenders of the scoring approach say it’s just following what the state law says. Critics say the scoring doesn’t square with the Legislature’s intent.

Meanwhile, the fund is set to receive another $8 million in July, on top of the unallocated $17 million. Funding for additional projects won’t be decided until next year, however.

Although disagreement on water matters in Nebraska never comes as a surprise, the current situation raises legitimate concerns that should be addressed.

The Legislature can help by considering this matter during its 2017 session and looking for possible adjustments. A public hearing before the Natural Resources Committee, for one, would give all parties a needed opportunity to explain their points of view.

With that input in hand, lawmakers could explore the most sensible way forward.

The central goal should be making sure the commission lives up to its statewide mission. That was the intent all along.___

Lincoln Journal Star. April 19, 2016

A veto that should not stand.

The 33 state senators who voted to allow a few thousand young immigrants in Nebraska to get professional and occupational licenses to work as nurses, electrician and other jobs should stick to their positions.

They came to the right decision in a complex situation.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who vetoed the bill, is wrong.

LB947 would allow young Nebraskans brought to the United States illegally as children, and given legal status in 2012 by President Barack Obama, to reap the rewards of their hard work in schools, universities and trades.

Let’s get one thing straight.

If Ricketts’ veto sticks, these young residents of Nebraska won’t be shipped back to Mexico or wherever they might have been born. They can move to another location in the United States where they can get a license.

Nebraska will lose the talent, tax payments and economic benefits from the young Nebraskans who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

In his veto message Ricketts presented two recent immigrants who claimed that it would be unfair to allow the young immigrants known as “Dreamers” to get the licenses they worked for.

Lawrence Asare-Danquah of Omaha, who came to Nebraska from Ghana, and Eser Graham-Marski of Chadron, who came to Nebraska from Brazil, deserve congratulations for their achievements.

But as Arturo Spindola of the Latino American Commission pointed out, trying to compare their situation and that of the Dreamers is comparing apples to oranges.

The DACA immigrants were brought here as kids. Now they’re ready to join the workforce in the state where they grew up. For many of them it’s really the only home they’ve ever known.

“How is this unfair to the governor’s guests when LB947 doesn’t affect them at all? Spindola asked rhetorically.

Let’s make more thing clear.

When Ricketts claimed in his veto message that President Obama’s action “usurped congressional authority,” that’s merely his personal opinion.

It’s not his place to make a decision that is legally binding.

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments Monday about Obama’s 2014 executive actions, lets stand a lower court ruling against them, that action would not affect the 2012 DACA program, according to McClatchy News.

The original DACA program was not part of the lawsuit. It was not blocked by a preliminary injunction in the case and it continues to be in effect.

In the meantime LB947 should be on the books in Nebraska because it is in the best interest of the state. The thirty-three senators who voted for the bill got it right the first time.___

The Grand Island Independent. April 22, 2016

The Earth is ours; protect it.

As the U.S. and close to 200 other countries across the planet observe Earth Day today, this is a time to celebrate the ways that we have protected our environment, but it’s also a time to rededicate ourselves to continue the work to sustain our natural resources and reduce the damage done to our air, water and the life-giving soil the producers of Nebraska use to help feed the world.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. Events are planned worldwide today to demonstrate dedication to protecting the environment.

Here in Central Nebraska, renewable energy has been a big component of efforts to protect the environment. A powerful example of the ways Nebraska is boosting energy efficiency and use of renewable energy is the community solar garden in Central City.

The “garden,” which includes eight 25kW solar arrays, produces 292,000 kWh of energy annually, enough to power 24 homes or power electric vehicles for more than 900,000 miles.

This central location is helping the people of Central City band together to cut their electricity expenses. With the city being the community’s electrical provider, conversion to solar energy is a loss of power sales. But the city recognizes the benefits of this use of solar energy.

There are also three Central City businesses, Central City Scale, D Bar K and Mesner Development Co., that have used $56,250 in USDA Rural Energy for America Program funds to replace their existing energy source with solar systems. They recognized that by producing their own energy, they could use the money spent in the past on energy for other day-to-day operations.

Recycling is another way that we can all help protect the environment, keeping waste products out of landfills.

In Grand Island, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter has recycled 28 million aluminum cans collected by local residents since 2001 with its Cans for Habitat program. Through its Habitat ReStore, business and private donations of home improvement products have added up, with more than 700,000 pounds of products given more usefulness and kept out of the landfill.

Also, the Clean Community System has been very effective in recycling larger electronic items. It will be accepting electronics, from cellphones to keyboards and even computer monitors, from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at its facility at 3661 Sky Park Road.

USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have an Earth Day focus this year on reducing food loss and waste. This is something that we can all dedicate ourselves to do.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that 133 billion pounds of food in the available food supply goes uneaten each year. The estimated value of this food loss is $161 billion using retail prices.

A big part of reducing food waste is control of how much food is stored in your refrigerator and how long it’s there. Every year, billions of pounds of food go to waste in the U.S. because consumers are not sure of its quality or safety. Last year, USDA launched its FoodKeeper app to help combat this cause of waste. The FoodKeeper is available for Apple and Android devices and allows users to set up automatic notifications when foods and beverages are nearing the end of their recommended storage date.

Also, an overpacked refrigerator cannot properly circulate air, meaning some storage zones may not be keeping proper temperature. If food is not stored at the proper temperature, it can increase your risk of illness and cause your refrigerator’s motor to run constantly, increasing utility bills.

We can’t overemphasize how important this Earth on which we live is. If we want it to continue to sustain our families for decades and centuries to come, we must not be complacent.___

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