- Associated Press - Monday, December 17, 2018

Omaha World Herald. December 14, 2018

BearHeels death highlights need for Omaha area, Nebraska to bolster behavioral health services

The jury has rendered its verdict, finding former Omaha Police Officer Scotty Payne not guilty in the 2017 death of Zachary BearHeels. It’s a painful moment, no matter what one’s reaction to the verdict. The case should spur the Omaha area to consider how behavioral health services can be strengthened and how police can best prepare for dealing with such difficult situations.

Omaha has many hard-working nonprofits focusing on behavioral health issues, but it’s long been noted that additional facilities and services are necessary if our community is going to meet the need. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer addressed the issue in a press conference Tuesday.

“At some point in time, law enforcement officers across this country cannot bear the sole responsibility for mental health in this society,” he said. “In the aftermath of an incident, it’s not enough - in fact it’s relatively narrow-minded - to just look back and say, ‘Gee, we need to train more.’ Because that doesn’t address the root cause of mental health in our society. And the root causes need to be addressed before there’s contact with law enforcement.”

BearHeels was an Oklahoman in transit, it’s true, but the vast majority of mentally unstable individuals encountered by Omaha police are local residents. The lack of facilities to help these individuals adds complication and frustration to the police efforts. This shortage of behavioral health services is a problem across Nebraska. A related statewide need is screening and services for youths, to catch problems preventively.

These challenges aren’t news to the government officials and philanthropists who set funding for behavioral health services, but greater attention and action are necessary in the wake of this Omaha tragedy.

At the same time, in the wake of BearHeels’ death, the Police Department has an obligation to send the message it’s doing all it can to promote and ensure the needed standard of conduct in dealing with the mentally unbalanced.

A tragedy has occurred. It’s imperative to reassure the public that the mental health community and the police are maximizing their efforts to meet the challenge.


Lincoln Journal Star. December 14, 2018

Farm bill shows Congress can compromise

Contrary to popular belief, compromise isn’t a dirty word in politics.

Generally speaking, it’s the only way to achieve any legislative outcome. The farm bill, approved this week by both houses of Congress, several months after it originally expired, proved that this forgotten art can yield success in Washington.

This piece of legislation typically served as an exercise in give a little, get a little. Because there was something in there for everyone - farm safety net for rural areas and food assistance in urban areas - its passage was rarely politicized or even in doubt until recent iterations.

Two years past its initial expiration date and two failed House votes later, the 2012 farm bill was passed - in 2014. Assuming the president signs the 2018 version into law, at least this farm bill was passed in the right calendar year despite an unrelated House fight over immigration torpedoing the initial measure back in May.

It’s worth noting that once the provisions meant to appeal strictly to hard-line partisans were removed, the farm bill passed easily.

Take the most controversial portion: increased work requirements for Americans seeking nutrition assistance. Once that passage, which led every Democrat to vote against the initial bill in May, disappeared from the final bill, it passed the House overwhelmingly. That’s no coincidence.

What resulted strikes the Journal Star editorial board as an acceptable piece of standalone legislation. Was it perfect? No. Nobody got everything they wanted. But nobody left entirely empty-handed, either.

That was evident in the reactions of Nebraska’s congressional delegation, as each member highlighted different aspects of the bill. Crop insurance, food safety, renewable fuels, research funding, trade promotion and a livestock vaccine bank, among others, were all hailed as important achievements for Nebraska.

One common refrain was stability for the state’s leading industry, agriculture. The passage of this $867 billion behemoth was vital to provide some clarity for the farmers and ranchers who have seen their incomes halved this decade and futures affected by property taxes and trade uncertainty.

In the end, finding a palatable solution to benefit these Nebraskans, these Americans, is far more important than the politics that derailed the bill once before.

Times have changed since the 2014 farm bill was belatedly approved. Accordingly, the United States’ most important piece of legislation related to agriculture and food programs needed to be updated, even though it took until the lame-duck session to be accomplished.

We encourage Congress to ditch the partisan brinkmanship and missed deadlines. Instead, they’re better served by heading straight to the middle ground - it’s more productive there, as we were reminded once again by this week’s progress on the farm bill.


McCook Daily Gazette. December 12, 2018

Proposed WOTUS rollback welcome change for Nebraska

Critics are decrying the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to change the definition of the “Waters of the United States” as leaving “vast amounts of wetlands and thousands of miles of U.S. waterways” without federal protection.

What’s not often mentioned is that the definition has only been in effect for three years and if tightly enforced, could cripple states like Nebraska, where a majority of the population lives in areas where many activities could require permission from Washington.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 originally protected “navigable” waters from pollution, but over the years, despite the best efforts of Congress and administrations, the Army Corps of Engineers and courts interpreted the act different in different regions of the country.

The Obama administration tried to settle the disputes with the 2015 rule, which greatly expanded WOTUS and brought many isolated bodies of water under the jurisdiction of the EPA and U.S. Corps of Engineers, affecting some of the most desirable lands in Nebraska.

In June of that year, attorneys general from Nebraska and 12 other states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Corps to restore regulation of land and water resources to the states.

Tuesday, the EPA announced a proposal which would define the “waters of the United States” to major waterways, their tributaries, adjacent wetlands and a few other categories.

That still included much of the Cornhusker state.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the change is designed to “provide states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies.”

He said it would allow farmers to avoid expensive and time-consuming permits that amounted to an Obama-era “power grab.”

“Thank you President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler for your continued commitment to repealing President Obama’s onerous WOTUS rule,” said Gov. Pete Ricketts. “This new proposal returns more power to the states and private landowners where it belongs. From family farms to commercial developers, this certainty is critical for the job creators who provide opportunities and grow Nebraska.”

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said “the new proposed rule provides landowners with long-term certainty, clarity, and straightforward guidance with consistency across all states.”

“As the original conservationists, our farmers and ranchers want to ensure we have high water quality without overbearing government oversight. We expect the proposed new WOTUS rule to restore the rule of law and draw a clear line between state and federal jurisdiction.”

“The 2015 WOTUS rule had far-reaching consequences that would have hurt every single Nebraskan,” said Sen. Deb Fischer. “The proposed rule announced today provides clarity and will ensure the federal government stays in its jurisdictional lane.”

“This is good news,” said Sen. Ben Sasse. The Obama-era WOTUS rule was textbook Washington hogwash: unelected federal bureaucrats were trying to unconstitutionally regulate puddles here in Nebraska. I’m grateful for today’s new approach - Nebraska producers need predictability and common sense. Here’s the truth Nebraskans have known all along: nobody cares more about our land and water resources than we do - our farmers and ranchers don’t talk about conservation, they do it.”

Water has always been a major issue for McCook and Southwest Nebraska, from the Republican River flood of 1935, to the area Bureau of Reclamation projects that followed, to nitrate and solvent contamination of city water sources, construction of a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and agricultural restrictions resulting from the Republican River Compact dispute with Kansas and Colorado.

We’ve navigated many difficult waters successfully so far and appreciate any effort that clears dangerous shoals and widens dire straits.


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