- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. Feb 26, 2016

Right choice: Public review.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a frequent critic of prosecutors and police, has joined with Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Omaha police union president John Wells to support the same bill.

All favor creating a public window into the secret grand jury process that follows any death while in Nebraska police custody.

Although grand jury proceedings themselves would remain closed to the public, Legislative Bill 1055 would make public any testimony and evidence presented. That information would be released when a grand jury finds that police acted with justification.

It would, as Kleine says, demystify the process.

The bill also would require the team investigating an in-custody death to include officers from outside police agencies, to ease public concerns about police investigating their co-workers.

Passage of LB 1055 would serve the public interest by shedding light on a secret government process. Credit Chambers, prosecutors and police for working together on this sensible legislation.

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The Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 27, 2016

Selling water rights online.

The new online market proposed for leasing water rights for a single season in the Central Platte Natural Resources District would be an intriguing use of today’s technology.

Done right it, the new “Groundwater Exchange” could ensure that water is used more efficiently to irrigate crops. It could even make more water available for river conservation and to benefit endangered species.

As many Nebraskans know, their state has more acres under irrigation than any state in the country. Yet in most of the state water tables have remained steady. It’s a matter of state policy that use of groundwater should be restricted to sustainable levels.

The borders of the Central Platte NRD encompass more than a million acres of irrigated farm ground, and about a 175-mile stretch of the Platte River. About 80 percent of the district is fully appropriated. No new irrigation can be instituted unless irrigation is stopped somewhere else.

In the remaining 20 percent the NRD and state officials are working on ways to reduce consumption to sustainable levels and return water to the Platte.

The new virtual market might help officials achieve that goal because they could use the exchange on a short-term basis, rather than trying to buy water rights on a permanent basis.

What distinguishes the Groundwater Exchange, which also use computers to match buyers and sellers, is that it works as an auction site. The computer algorithm ensures that all deals meet local rules and won’t negatively affect the river system, according to Central Platte NRD officials.

The algorithm (the term simply means a set of rules to be followed. In a sense a recipe is an algorithm for preparing a meal) was developed by Duke University economics professor David McAdams.

“When a farmer takes water out of the aquifer, they also impact streamflow, and different locations have different stream impact,” McAdams said.

At its worst the sale of water rights can result in barren expanses like the one that exists currently in Colorado, where permanent sale of water rights to municipalities has put thousands of acres out of production and haboobs, or dust storms, occasionally blacken the skies.

In Nebraska hopes are for a more benign result from the short-term sales in the Groundwater Exchange. Farmers with subpar land, for example, might be financially ahead by selling their water rights to other farmers, or conservationists.

Jerry Kenny of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program said his organization hopes to buy rights the first year to 5,000 acre-feet of water for enhancing, restoring and protecting habitat for endangered critters, including the whooping crane, piping plover, pallid sturgeon and least tern.

The question is whether the $300,000 the organization has budgeted will be sufficient.

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The McCook Daily Gazette. Feb. 26, 2016

May ‘pit bulls’ really aren’t, according to study.

It’s all too common a story.

A pit bull attacks someone, maiming or even killing them, and has to be put down.

The breed has such a bad reputation that some municipalities have banned the breed - It is illegal in Miami-Dade County, Florida, to own or keep “American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers” or “any other dog that substantially conforms to any of these breeds’ characteristics” according to Miami-Dade County Animal Services.

Other communities have created similar restrictions, but exactly what is a pit bull?

That question isn’t that easy to answer, according to a new study from the University of Florida.

Researchers evaluated breed assessments made on 120 dogs by 16 staff members at an animal shelter, all of whom had at least three years of experience.

Blood samples were taken from the dogs, and researchers compiled DNA profiles for each animal to see how accurate the shelter workers were.

Researchers found that true pit bulls were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which employee did the assessment.

On the other hand, dogs with no pit bull DNA were labeled as pit bulls as much as 48 percent of the time, also depending on the employee.

Florida state law now bans breed-specific laws, but the Miami-Dade law was passed before the state restriction.

It’s true that certain breeds tend to have certain characteristics - shepherds like to herd, terriers like to kill small animals, pointers like to hunt, etc. Any dog owner, however, can tell you pets’ personalities are as varied as the coloring of their coats.

Plus, not all of the 70 percent of dogs that wind up in shelters, labeled as pit bulls, are actually that type of breed. Follow the DNA back far enough, in fact, and nearly all modern dogs are descended from types of wolves.

Regardless the type of dog or its behavior, the final responsibility for its behavior rests on the owner.

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The Grand Island Independent. Feb. 26, 2016

Fonner Park good for G.I.

“And they’re off …”

That will be the cry today as Fonner Park starts its 63rd year of horse racing in Grand Island.

The Fonner racing season is one of the highlights of the year in Central Nebraska. Not only is it a sign that spring is near, but it also brings visitors from across the state to the area. Those visitors are not only horse racing fans, but also horse owners, trainers, jockeys and others who care for the horses.

Horse racing and Fonner Park are good for Grand Island. Over the years, Fonner has donated more than $3 million to community causes.

Fonner Park has been a vital building block of Grand Island and Central Nebraska for more than six decades. Because of Fonner, other events have come to Grand Island. Its grounds have become home to the Heartland Events Center and Nebraska State Fair.

Fonner Park and horse racing also are a part of Grand Island’s identity. When others think of Grand Island, horse racing and Fonner Park often come to mind. Many have memories of coming to the races with their family and then going out to eat. Many are now making memories of their own and spending a day or weekend at the races.

Horse racing has faced difficult finances during the last couple of decades. As lotteries have grown and casinos have sprouted up in many states, the competition for the gambling dollars has grown and horse racing has received a smaller slice of the pie.

While other tracks in the state and elsewhere have closed, Fonner Park has continued strong. Sure, there have been struggles, but because of good leadership Fonner has thrived while others have died.

Longtime Fonner CEO Hugh Miner Jr. deserves much of that credit. Miner retired last June after leading Fonner for 32 years and the Fonner leadership has now passed to Bruce Swihart, who has worked at Fonner for about 40 years.

Swihart was an excellent choice to lead Fonner. He knows its history and the ins and outs of the place. In fact, his father, Al Swihart, is a racing legend who led Fonner for 28 years.

Bruce Swihart knows the traditions. He also knows the challenges. It won’t be easy, but Fonner is in good hands.

The weather should be good, with the temperature in the 50s and 60s this weekend, so the season should have a rousing beginning. On Saturday night, fans can also enjoy a Nebraska Danger game at the Heartland Events Center.

Here’s wishing Fonner another successful racing season as the horses burst out of the starting gate today for the 63rd year.

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