- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. May 4, 2017

Goodwill takes initial steps to restore public trust

Goodwill Omaha has begun taking steps to review and revise its policies and procedures as it seeks to restore community trust.

It has been six months since The World-Herald exposed corporate-style executive pay for Goodwill Omaha’s leadership, a profit-driven internal culture and a number of questionable practices.

The scrutiny triggered a significant drop in donations to the charity. Goodwill CEO Frank McGree and at least three other executives resigned, lost their jobs or retired.

The charity has now begun a process that could help it to refocus on its basic mission and improve its governance.

Goodwill recently hired a Washington, D.C., consulting firm to review the agency’s operations, including its board and senior leadership.

Interim CEO Pauli Bishop said the agency no longer pays some disabled workers less than minimum wage and previously discontinued a program in which Chinese-made hair rollers were repackaged and labeled “Made in U.S.A.”

The charity has begun holding ethics workshops for staff members. Last month it contracted with a firm to conduct a national search for a new CEO.

The co-founder of Quantum Governance, the Washington consulting firm, said agencies undergoing such controversies can emerge as “stronger and better” organizations. He said Goodwill’s effort “will be about transparency and understanding what really were the issues here.”

The agency has significant work ahead in its soul-searching - as well as its transparency.

Bishop acknowledged that changes have occurred on the board but declined to provide specifics about current board members.

The agency turned down an offer of free assistance from the local Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, choosing instead to spend an undisclosed sum on an outside consultant.

Goodwill is waiting for results of an operational review by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. And the external review will last several months.

Omaha is lucky to be home to a robust and generous philanthropic community, and Goodwill Omaha performs an important function as part of that community. Preserving and nurturing such charities is critical to our city’s future.

It’s good to hear that Goodwill has taken some initial steps toward reform. The hope is that more will follow.


The Grand Island Independent. May 5, 2017

Legislature should override Ricketts veto

With Nebraska’s continued issues with prison overcrowding, state government should be embracing Sen. Justin Wayne’s bill to do away with a two-year waiting period for convicted felons to regain their voting rights after they have completed their sentences.

LB75 is an opportunity for our state to make a strong statement to convicted criminals that they can leave their lives of crime behind them. If enacted into law, it would tell people who have served their sentences that they have paid their debt to society and are now full members of their communities.

The bill has been passed three times by the Legislature, but Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed it last week and now Wayne is seeking to override the veto. An override vote is imminent.

Any step we can take to help people who have served their sentence return to society is worthwhile. The high percentage of criminals who return to prison is a serious problem that Nebraska must continue to work to address. If former prisoners are encouraged to speak their minds about community and state issues, that could help them find their place in society and live law-abiding lives.

It’s estimated that, if this bill is passed, it would affect about 7,800 felons in the state, not counting all the prisoners to be released from state prisons in the future.

Nebraska law now requires parole after a prisoner is released with nearly all sentences, and even with this bill, they would still have to complete their parole before being allowed to vote.

If LB75 becomes law, the state would become the 25th to restore felons’ voting rights immediately after they have completed parole or probation. Another 13 states and the District of Columbia allow ex-cons to vote as soon as they are released from prison.

In vetoing the bill, Ricketts claimed that doing away with the two-year waiting period for felons to vote would be the equivalent of giving them a legislative pardon.

But that reasoning is flawed.

Merriam-Webster defines pardon as “the excusing of an offense without exacting a penalty.” This bill only applies to felons who have completed their prison sentences and completed any parole to which they were sentenced. They have already paid their penalties. They have been living and working in their communities but have no say in the local, state and federal government.

It takes 30 votes in the Nebraska Legislature to override a veto. The three times that LB75 was passed, it received 28, 32 and 27 votes, so it can be expected that the vote to override will be close. But each time the bill came up for a vote, there were several senators who did not vote.

Wayne said Wednesday that he was confident at least 30 senators will vote to override the veto.

Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island and Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson have both voted for the bill. We encourage them and the rest of their fellow senators to stand up for a bill that would send a clear message to convicted felons who have completed their sentences that their opinions are valued and they can return to a law-abiding life.

LB75 should become law and the Legislature can make it happen.


Lincoln Journal Star. May 5, 2017

Time was wrong for tax cuts

When the controversial tax reform plan pushed by Gov. Pete Ricketts failed to garner enough votes this week to break a filibuster, the measure was declared dead for the year.

While reductions in taxes are certainly appealing, such acts can’t be done irresponsibly - particularly in light of the deficits that preceded steep spending cuts in this first year of the biennial budget.

Lawmakers convened in January, with Nebraska needing to trim $900 million from the state budget. Even at first glance, a plan that would increase that deficit by millions deserved skepticism. And, as the session wore on, it became clear Ricketts’ goals weren’t compatible with the grim reality of tax revenue forecasts that fell by tens - or hundreds - of millions of dollars at seemingly every update.

Critics often pointed to the grim financial picture faced by Kansas after its lawmakers cut taxes too much, too soon. The state dropped income tax rates so dramatically in 2012 that government revenues have fallen sharply while expenses have increased - leaving a forecast $1.1 billion shortfall by 2019.

The aftermath has been messy, with a shutdown of all public schools a real possibility last summer. In response, some taxes, including Kansas’ sales tax, have been raised to meet fiduciary responsibilities. Other proposed increases loom on the horizon.

Nebraska doesn’t need - or want - that mess. Instead, citizens deserve a Legislature that is responsible with its finances for their sake.

The passion about what’s best for Nebraska taxpayers is good. However, the bitter postmortem that followed this measure’s defeat was not.

Proponents of the bill argued that a minority of the Legislature voted against taxpayers’ best interest in killing it, while groups like Americans for Prosperity vowed senators responsible for the legislation’s demise would “be held accountable.”

The bill’s opponents, such as Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, told reporters they instead said “no to a bad bill.”

A robust debate on the state’s tax situation is good, but the sniping afterward was disappointing. The Legislature will likely debate a similar measure in 2018, and we hope it’s accompanied by a rosier outlook on the state’s finances. At that time, a more modest version of the reform sought by the governor may enter the realm of possibility.

But, in the end, the reason for the tax reform bill’s demise this week was simple: Nebraska simply couldn’t afford this legislation at this time.


McCook Daily Gazette. May 5, 2017

New IRS rules not needed for acts of kindness

President Donald Trump said he was giving churches their “voices back” with an executive order, issued on the National Day of Prayer, directing the IRS to limit restrictions on political activity by churches.

The order affects the Johnson Amendment of 1954, sponsored by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson, which bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit. IRS policy does allow advocacy on a wide range of advocacy on political issues, however, and only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status as a result of the rule.

Trump is also directing federal agencies to consider new regulations to accommodate religious groups that object to paying for contraception under Obamacare as directing the attorney general to issue guidance on religious liberty.

The American Civil Liberties Union initially threatened to sue, but then called Trump’s action “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

While many of us view a place of worship as a sanctuary from political conflict, it’s unrealistic to expect churches to keep political, social and moral issues completely isolated.

Any effective sermon will invariably affect the way parishioners make political decisions.

While politics and religion can be taboo table topics, there’s no argument with an act of kindness - there’s no record of any of the 3,000 or the 5,000 turning up their noses at the loaves and fishes.

Along those lines, a couple of McCook churches are putting that principle to work this Saturday.

McCook Christian and McCook Evangelical Free Church are cooperating on Project Impact, helping dozens of people with home improvements and other projects to help make their lives better.

The project was originally planned for last Sunday, but the blizzard forced a postponement.

Memorial United Methodist Church does a free weekly meal for all comers, and check with most local faith groups and you’ll find other examples of service.

Churches, service groups and individuals don’t need IRS permission to work to improve the lives of their fellow man, and we’re thankful that they do.___

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