- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. October 11, 2017

Nebraska’s meth problem continues to vex us

Nebraska’s methamphetamine problem that erupted in the early 2000s subsided for a time but never went away. The problem remains daunting. Law enforcement, courts, medical facilities and substance abuse counselors all carry a heavy load in working to address it.

Those are among the central conclusions from reporting this week by World-Herald staff writers Martha Stoddard and Natalia Alamdari.

Among their findings:

“ Meth-related problems were a factor in 40 percent of Nebraska foster children’s cases - involving more than 1,200 children - reviewed by the Foster Care Review Office in the first quarter this year. That percentage is up from 27 percent in a 2005 sample. Parental meth addiction can readily produce major problems involving child neglect, sometimes in horrendous fashion. Babies exposed to meth during pregnancy may be more likely to be born too early and too small.

“ Meth-related prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Nebraska for 2016 were nearly five times the figure for 2007.

“ From 2011 to 2016, the number of meth- related arrests by the Omaha Police Department more than doubled, to 668 last year.

“ This is a statewide problem, not one confined to major urban areas, and is more common in rural areas, based on child-removal numbers. Darin Thimmesch, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Omaha, observed, “If you were to drive west on I-80, every town is going to have (a meth) problem.”

Omaha is a center for meth trafficking, several in law enforcement said, because of its proximity to major Interstate routes.

A problem this complex and difficult has no swift and neat solutions, but Nebraska has important responses in place and should strengthen them as much as possible:

“ Drug courts, to divert users away from prison and into treatment. Nebraska has five family drug courts, 12 adult drug courts and two veterans treatment courts.

“ Law enforcement, to intercept suppliers and crack down on dealers. The Nebraska State Patrol seized 71 pounds of meth on the state’s highways last year. Although such interdiction efforts won’t entirely stop the flow from large-scale Mexican labs, every pound prevented from being peddled on the street serves the public interest.

“ Substance abuse programs, to provide treatment. The detox process for meth unfortunately is slow, and relapses are common. But the bodily harm wrought by the drug can be severe, making treatment all the more important. The physical harm can include abnormal heartbeat and repeated seizures, with the potential for failure of the liver, kidneys or heart. It’s sometimes possible to reverse some of that damage if the individual gets clean, medical staff explain, but much of it is irreversible.

Those who need help, or who know someone who does, can find out about treatment options for substance abuse by calling the Nebraska Treatment Referral Line at 800-648-4444.

Meth hasn’t gone away. Neither has the responsibility to tackle it energetically through smart, coordinated policies.


Kearney Hub.  October 12, 2017

NAFTA is smith’s stage to flex his muscle

U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith of Nebraska may be in the defining moment of his congressional career. As a member of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Smith and his colleagues have authority over trade, but the nation will be greatly harmed if Smith and his committee are unable to stop President Donald Trump from dismantling NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been in force 23 years, and it’s been a major aid to U.S. agriculture. Beneficiaries include the scores of Nebraska producers who count on foreign customers to buy their livestock, corn and other commodities.

American consumers also benefit from NAFTA, which encourages the importation of produce and manufactured goods from Mexico and Canada.

The positive effects of NAFTA, during its more than 2½ decades of existence, have been so interwoven into Americans’ lives it is difficult to imagine the world without it, but, incredibly, Trump wants the pact dismantled.

On Wednesday, he threatened to withdraw the United States from NAFTA if he can’t get what he wants in a renegotiation. But what he wants - from requiring that more auto production be made-in-America to shifting more government contracts to U.S. companies - will likely be unacceptable to Mexico and Canada.

In his campaign, Trump called NAFTA a job-killing disaster. And in a Forbes interview published Tuesday, Trump said: “I happen to think that NAFTA will have to be terminated if we’re going to make it good.”

Countering the president’s rhetoric, Smith said on Wednesday, “We know the importance of NAFTA to Nebraska agriculture. Canada is the largest export market for U.S. agriculture products, and bilateral trade between Nebraska and Canada totals $1.9 billion a year.”

Smith said NAFTA discussions underscored the importance of maintaining and strengthening partnerships.

His comments come as U.S. ag producers are fighting to defend and maintain their overseas markets. With commodities prices severely depressed, Smith’s constituents - Nebraska’s ag producers - can ill afford setbacks in global trade. It’s essential that the congressman from Nebraska’s Panhandle convince Trump that NAFTA is a job creator, not a job killer, as the president claims.


Grand Island Independent. October 12, 2017

A $2,500 signing bonus for taking a job at Nebraska’s prisons in Tecumseh and Lincoln.

A 2.5 percent pay raise for current employees with one to three years of service in a state prison.

A 10 percent raise for those with 10 years or more of service.

These are concrete steps the Nebraska Department of Corrections is taking to address the ongoing turnover and short staffing issues at its state prisons.

These are serious problems that have made working in a state prison extremely stressful and dangerous for years.

At the beginning of this month, when the bonuses and raises were announced, the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution had 89 unfilled positions and the Nebraska State Penitentiary had 44.

This lack of staff has resulted in mandatory overtime, which, along with a lack of recognition of longevity, has contributed to the turnover. It also has been costly for the state, with overtime at the Tecumseh prison costing the state nearly $1 million more per year than it would have spent if all the positions were filled.

So along come the pay raises that the state should have been offering months or even years ago.

The raises and bonuses are solid incentives that hopefully will make a dent in the state prison staffing shortage.

If they do help the state hire more corrections officials, that will make the staff happier, less overworked and stressed, and, theoretically, safer.

Two incidents at the Tecumseh prison over a two-year period led to the combined deaths of four inmates and caused widespread damage in housing units. There are also regular reports of incidents in which corrections workers are injured by inmates.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes has said adding new staff will make it possible to offer more rehabilitative programming and reduce violence.

The incentives apply to front-line corrections officers, mental health professionals and case managers, along with others who are determined to be essential.

Frakes said the corrections department should know by the end of this month how effective the signing bonus has been. He is looking for a decrease in the prisons’ turnover rate in three to four months.

His goal is for the turnover rate, which is currently about 25 percent, to drop below 20 percent for protective services staff.

It’s great to see the state taking these steps and it will be even better if the corrections department gets some positive results and follows this up with more steps to improve the work environment for its prison staff.

The current difficulties didn’t appear overnight and it will take time to make big reductions in turnover, stress and the length of time that staff positions are open.

And these aren’t the only problems that must be addressed. Our state’s prisons continue to be overcrowded and the presence of drugs in the prisons has resulted in recent prisoner deaths.

But it’s very encouraging to see the state taking these positive steps, even at a time when it has been struggling to cut its budget.


Lincoln Journal Star. October 11, 2017

Prep sports no place for racial taunts

One after another, people from Lexington told the Nebraska School Activities Association Board of Directors about behavior they witnessed from opposing fans at sporting events.

They told of the “across the border” chants at a volleyball match, the student who showed up wearing a Border Patrol T-shirt and shouts of “go back to where you came from” to athletes of a school that is 84 percent Latino.

In raising awareness of the latest ugly chapter of racial taunts in Nebraska high school - and, in this case, also middle school - sports, the Lexington contingent asked the NSAA to craft stronger policies to prevent and dissuade such behavior by classifying it as bullying in addition to unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NSAA board must crack down on its member schools to dissuade and prevent discrimination of student-athletes and fans. There’s no place for the actions Lexington brought to light in school-sponsored activities - or in Nebraska.

School administrators have apologized to Lexington, as they should. But this is no place for the “kids will be kids” defense. Today, hate crimes in America have risen sharply because of bigots emboldened by political turmoil.

NSAA Executive Director Jim Tenopir took a strong, necessary stance in the agency’s October newsletter: “Racial discrimination, innuendo, name calling and other hijinks in the name of school spirit need to cease and need to cease immediately,” he wrote. ” … It is necessary for school administrators and supervisors to rein in such inappropriate racial epithets and discriminatory actions.”

One school facing these taunts and actions is too many. Sports should be a force for yielding unity, not division. Unfortunately, other majority-minority schools have reported similar behaviors.

Schuyler’s athletic director penned a widely shared column this spring, detailing how athletes at his school, nearly 80 percent Latino, were subjected to taunts of: “Yeah, we are playing a bunch of Mexicans; it should be an easy game,” ”Those kids can’t even speak English” and “Wait until Trump sends them all home.”

The list goes on and on: Lincoln East’s 2010 state soccer title was marred by students’ faux green cards, insulting Omaha South. Ralston students threw tortillas onto the basketball court to mock Latinos at Omaha Gross in 1995. Both incidents made national headlines.

The four “Americana nights,” which Lexington’s athletic director reported that opposing students scheduled for when the Minutemen or Minutemaids visited town, can raise questions about potential underlying motives. Those events can be done tastefully and without racially fueled jabs.

By no means is this a majority of students or parents. Still, it’s a shame we have to remind this minority to be good sports without resorting to ignorance and discrimination. Accordingly, we encourage the NSAA to adopt tougher measures to discourage these kinds of actions.


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