- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. January 27, 2017

Legislature tackles work on 667 bills

Nebraska lawmakers started this week with a floor debate that showed the importance of debating legislative proposals and thinking through the details.

Legislative Bill 45, for example, would make Nebraska military reservists eligible to receive military honor license plates. It’s a worthy idea. Some state senators urged caution about one aspect of the bill, though.

The senators argued that the legislation, as written, would make it too easy for nonveterans to obtain the specialty plates. The measure advanced after senators adopted an amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Watermeier, that struck a contentious provision.

Our point isn’t about the particulars of the bill but, rather, to call attention to the Legislature’s duty to proceed deliberately and carefully in refining legislation.

Nebraska lawmakers will hold hearings this session on some 667 bills and five proposed constitutional amendments. Some of those proposals will be relatively simple. Others will be quite complex.

Some - on tax policy, school funding and public power, for example - can have major, long-term effects on Nebraska. And crafting the state budget in the face of a revenue shortfall approaching $900 million will require detailed deliberation and a careful weighing of priorities.

Nebraska lawmakers are generally aware of all this, of course. But amid the whirlwind of handling more than 600 legislative proposals and the flurry of lobbying and maneuvering by interest groups and bill sponsors, the needed detail work can be a challenge.

Additional factors are term limits and the major changes this year in the Legislature’s operating culture. Seventeen of the Legislature’s 49 members are brand-new, and 18 others have only two years of experience.

Freshmen senators head two committees (Urban Affairs, and Business and Labor) that handle legislation. In addition, freshmen hold a majority of seats on two other committees: Natural Resources and Government, as well as Military and Veterans Affairs.

These freshmen in general come to the Legislature with records as capable professionals and, in some cases, public servants. But there’s inherently a learning curve for anyone taking on a new job.

Bill introducers have an obligation to draft their legislation carefully, but the most important work on that score falls to the Legislature’s committees. They have a responsibility to provide extensive filtering.

Committee members need to examine the specifics of legislative language and understand each bill’s real-world ramifications. Deliberations among committee members need to be focused and efficient.

When committees fulfill their obligation, the state is well served. Amid the frenzy of the legislative session, senators have no fewer than 667 good reasons to keep that duty in the forefront of their minds.

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Lincoln Journal Star. January 27, 2017

To meet NU goals, pick right leader

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents should choose carefully when they select a new leader this week.

In coming years NU faces challenges including deep budget cuts, tuition hikes and challenges in meeting enrollment goals.

NU needs a leader who can help position the university as a place where all students, including minorities, are welcome, and who understands and supports the role of the university as a place where dissenting opinions and debate are appreciated.

Regents are slated to pick a new vice chairman this week. The vice chairman would move up to chairman of the eight-member board the following year in accordance with established tradition.

So far the only announced candidate for the spot is Hal Daub of Omaha, who would be less than ideal in either of those roles.

Daub was on the wrong side of the issue in a controversy over three Husker football players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem prior at several games this year as a form of protest.

Daub’s knee-jerk reaction was to tell a Journal Star reporter that the players should be kicked off the team. He later denied making the statement, but he continued to criticize the protests and Husker Coach Mike Riley for supportive statements about the protests.

Daub’s criticism put him at odds with NU President Hank Bounds, who said in an open letter to NU students and staff that the right of free speech was “the privilege of living in the greatest country in the world.”

A National Guard veteran himself, Bounds said he understands love of country and the flag. “But let me be clear. The University of Nebraska will not restrict the First Amendment rights of any student or employee. Our position on this is abundantly clear,” Bounds wrote.

Daub’s selection for a leadership spot on the board of regents would send the wrong message to minority students - or anyone seeking a campus where robust discussion of differing points of views are accepted as part of the college experience.

Nominations for the leadership positions on the board of regents traditionally are worked out in private. Elections are made by secret ballot at the public meeting.

The Journal Star editorial board hopes that another regent steps forward to offer an alternative to Daub.

Nebraska needs someone to lead the board of regents who has a better grasp of fundamental American freedoms. As Regent Kent Schroeder, the board’s current chairman, wrote, “There is perhaps no more appropriate space for open and honest dialogue - even dialogue which some of us may find uncomfortable or offensive - than an institution of higher learning.”

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Kearney Hub. January 26, 2017

Going green: Kearney on renewable energy map

Not too many years ago, towns and cities took pride in being designated as a “Tree City U.S.A.” The label from the Arbor Day Foundation said something positive about the communities that earned it because they were focused on maintaining the leafy canopy that added comfort and attractiveness to streets and parks.

Today’s equivalent of the Tree City designation is becoming a green city, meaning the community is focused on sustainability through recycling, conservation and other programs that protect the environment and its resources. This week, the city of Kearney stepped out as a green city in a very conspicuous way by approving an agreement that will bring green energy production to the city’s tech park.

The pact with Nebraska Public Power District and Chicago-based SoCore Energy will result in Nebraska’s largest solar array, capable of producing 5.8 megawatts of electricity. On a hot summer day, Kearney consumes about 110 megawatts, so the capacity of the $11 million SoCore facility isn’t as important as how the new green energy installation will benefit the community in other ways.

First, residents and commercial consumers will be able to buy the solar energy, if powering their homes and businesses with green power is important to them.

Second, and perhaps more important, the project will serve as a giant billboard for Kearney’s Tech oNE Crossing to aid in recruiting technology firms to the city’s tech park. Kearney lost the bid a few years ago for a $1 billion Facebook data center not because we offered sharply reduced electrical rates for the power-gobbling data center, but because the winning bid from Iowa included renewable wind energy. With an $11 million solar array in the works, Kearney is now a player in the technology recruitment game.

Third, the city, school district, county and other taxing entities will get a bump in their tax draws as the solar array and new tech firms fill the Tech oNE park.

Populating the park with new businesses and jobs continues Kearney’s momentum as a progressive, growing community.

We like how Mayor Stan Clouse described Kearney leadership’s buy-in on the SoCore development. City Council members and officials, for more than a year, weighed the risks and rewards of proceeding with the solar array and enthusiastically elected to go green. Why?

As the mayor put it, “You have to have vision to live in Kearney.”

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McCook Daily Gazette. January 26, 2017

Public will play important part in college’s future

You should always have a plan in mind, even when you can’t immediately see a way to accomplish it.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has proposed a 3 percent cut in funding to community colleges, but that doesn’t mean officials and the communities they serve should stop planning for the future.

In fact, tough times make it even more important for tax-supported entities to focus on their primary mission and find ways to provide their services most effectively.

A number of ideas for Mid-Plains Community College area facilities were offered at a work session before Wednesday’s meeting of the board of governors.

Possibilities include converting McCook’s old Elks Club building into a “Protective Services” facility for programs such as nursing, criminal justice, fire, EMT and paramedic programs; establishing softball and baseball fields on the former Broken Tee Par 3 golf course around the building; improving and expanding spaces for music, fine arts and graphic design programs; modernizing the von Riesen Library and other projects.

An indoor arena like McCook’s Kiplinger Arena was one of the ideas for North Platte, and expanded classrooms and other upgrades for the Imperial campus could be included.

College President Ryan Purdy emphasized that these are internal ideas only, and the college will begin conducting town hall meetings over the next months to help determine which of them will become part of the college’s facilities master plan.

And, like much of the McCook Community College campus, many of the improvements would result from the generosity of donors grateful for the services Nebraska’s oldest junior college has provided over years past, and their desire to see the tradition continue.

If you, a friend or family member attended McCook Community College, plan to do so, or just want to see this important resource continue to thrive, we hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to have your ideas heard.

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