- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. December 2, 2016

Give state public input on death penalty protocol.

It’s up to the Legislature to decide whether to accept the governor’s proposal through legislation that would codify it or reject it. For now, the public is left to weigh the Corrections Department proposal.

Nebraska voters have spoken definitively in favor of the death penalty. Now the state needs a way to carry it out.

The last Nebraska execution was in 1997, when Robert Williams was electrocuted. The state hasn’t attempted an execution in the seven years since the method was switched to lethal injection.

Public opposition to capital punishment has been increasing, both nationwide and in Nebraska, and lawsuits filed against manufacturers of the drugs used to carry out the death penalty have made it harder for states to procure them.

Many American and European manufacturers no longer sell the drugs to states for use in carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection. Nebraska has spent thousands of dollars to buy the drugs internationally, yet failed to import them.

Some death penalty states have been able to obtain the needed drugs by passing laws or adopting procedures shielding the manufacturers’ names. The names are public under the 2009 Nebraska law that changed the state’s method of execution to lethal injection.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, saying he respects the will of the voters, backs an administrative change in the death-penalty protocol.

Ricketts and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services propose adding a pharmacist or pharmaceutical chemist to the state’s execution team. Prison officials say doing so would help the state obtain the drugs to carry out a death sentence, since the identities of execution team members are kept confidential under the 2009 state law.

Prison officials say death-row inmates would be notified about the specific drugs to be used 60 days before a scheduled execution and say that should provide time for appeals.

Advocates for open government and critics of Nebraska’s death penalty question the need to shield the manufacturer’s identity. Some state senators have discussed clarifying the intent of the 2009 law.

It’s up to the Legislature to decide whether to accept the governor’s proposal through legislation that would codify it or reject it.

For now, the public is left to weigh the Corrections Department proposal. The administration has scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 30 on its policy change.

Nebraskans should take the opportunity to offer comments on the new protocol. State leaders should receive as much feedback as possible on the protocol for an issue as difficult and divisive as the death penalty.

Death penalty politics in Nebraska are complex. The Legislature repealed the death penalty. Then the governor led and helped finance a successful effort to restore it. He also campaigned against senators running for re-election who voted to repeal the death penalty or allowed the repeal to advance.

Given the state’s difficulties in procuring execution drugs, officials may need to pursue some sort of protection for the drug manufacturers, whether in policy or law.

This discussion pits two important principles against one another: complying with the public’s expressed will versus government transparency. Let the debate begin.

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Kearney Hub. December 3, 2016

Don’t burn flag or curb freedom to speak out.

Thumbs down to flag burners. Also, thumbs down to anyone who believes flag burning ought to be outlawed and punished, including President-elect Donald Trump.

We don’t advocate desecration of our national symbol. Our flag represents all that is good and great about the United States. We cringe when we witness someone burning or defacing the flag. But we do support freedom of speech, and that means the right to speak out against our government, even when that means desecrating the flag.

The right to speak out could come in handy someday - lord forbid - if the activities of our leaders become so repugnant and un-American that we good people will need to speak out and protest in disagreement. Already some Americans are protesting their president-elect. They disagree with Trump’s discriminatory speech that singles out some groups of Americans and those who dream of becoming Americans.

n just a few short weeks Trump will be sworn into office, but before putting his right hand on the Bible and swearing to defend the U.S. Constitution, he should take a day off to study the document. He needs to know what beliefs our nation holds dear and what he’ll be defending.

Recently Trump advocated punishing flag burners. He criticizes journalists as the “crooked media.” Such attacks against freedom of expression and freedom of the press are no less than assaults on the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The language is simple and straightforward. Americans should pride themselves that our founders ensconced the freedom of speech in our constitution.

What’s disturbing about Trump’s ignorant blasts is not that some Americans choose to applaud and support his heckling against the people whose beliefs and occupations depend upon constitutional freedoms, but rather the deafening silence from Americans who should know better than to allow such behavior from our future president to go unchallenged.

Americans live in a nation where free speech and a free press are protected and guaranteed. We must challenge government when it errs, express our opinions, protest oppression and expose corruption, even when others might view what is said as disagreeable.

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Lincoln Journal Star. December 2, 2016

Don’t cloak executions in secrecy.

About six out of every 10 Nebraskans who voted in November wanted state government to continue to try to implement the death penalty.

So it’s no surprise that Gov. Pete Ricketts has taken a step toward that end.

It’s disappointing that the administration wants to make some parts of the execution process secret.

The Journal Star editorial board, we should quickly acknowledge, was among the four in 10 Nebraskans (and the majority of Lancaster County voters) who favored replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison.

We continue to think that it’s a sad day for justice in Nebraska that the death penalty is back on the books despite the irrefutable evidence that innocent people sometimes are put on death row and that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily.

The immediate question, however, is how the death penalty will be implemented now that voters have spoken.

The state of Nebraska has never executed a person using lethal injection. The last person executed here died in the electric chair, which was ruled cruel and unusual punishment by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The previous system proved to be unworkable. One of the three drugs it specified -sodium thiopental - can no longer be purchased for executions in the United States.

Now the Ricketts administration is trying devise a new system.

There’s no quick fix for the process. A drug now commonly used for executions is pentobarbital. But the only injectable form of the drug licensed for sale in the United States is Nembutal, made by the Danish firm of Lunbeck, which refuses to sell it to prisons. The firm said in a statement in 2011 that it “adamantly opposes the distressing misuse of our product in capital punishment.”

States, like Texas, use pentobarbital made in a “compounding pharmacy.”

The proposed new protocol would keep secret the source of the execution drugs, although Attorney General Doug Peterson has pointed out that it could be supplied “internally” by state government, which has pharmacists on its payroll.

The execution drug and a chemical analysis would be made public 60 days prior to an execution, according to the protocol that will be the subject of a public hearing on Dec. 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the State Office Building.

The ACLU of Nebraska has already promised to fight in court the Ricketts administration to keep part of the execution process secret from the public. “Regardless of how people feel about the death penalty, we should all agree that Nebraskans value government transparency and accountability in all matters, said Executive Director Danielle Conrad. She’s right.

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McCook Daily Gazette. December 2, 2016.

Don’t let winter weather take you by surprise.

Technically, it’s nearly three weeks until winter arrives, but we’ve already found our heavy coats now that “meteorological” winter arrived with Dec. 1.

Cold winds can be dangerous out here on the Plains, but they’re nothing like conditions thousands of feet above our heads, where jet streams can bring in snow, ice and whiteout conditions at 200 mph.

A cold front is expected to roll through early next week, but it’s anybody’s guess when significant amounts of snow arrive.

We made it through the Thanksgiving travel season safely, but Christmas can often be a dangerous time to drive.

About a quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, and 15 percent during snowfall or sleet.

More than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 are injured in such conditions every year, according to the Department of Transportation.

But drivers have more tools than ever to make sure their trip is safe.

NOAA Weather Radio and commercial radio are traditional sources of travel advisories, and should always be consulted.

Smartphones have opened up many new opportunities to be informed, and the 511 system is designed to make your travels safe. Visit https://mb.511.nebraska.gov/ne3g/ on your cell phone for links to information and an app, and similar information is available in other states.

Check the radar along your route to see whether it might be wise to stay home or find a motel until the storm blows over. Visit mobile.weather.gov and bookmark it on your phone to easily find weather information.

Of course, don’t check your phone while driving; let a passenger do that or pull over in a safe spot.

There’s time to get your car in for service to make sure tires, belts and hoses are in good shape and the cooling system is full of fresh antifreeze at the correct level.

Don’t fill your car with unnecessary clutter, but take a winter emergency kit with basic weather tools and safety equipment.

The first winter storm shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has spent time in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, but we all can use a friendly reminder as the calendar nears the end of 2016.

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