- Associated Press - Monday, March 5, 2018

Omaha World Herald. March 1, 2018

Right move to strengthen reporting requirements of abuse allegations

Nebraska lawmakers made clear this week that they want the state to step up its efforts to address sexual abuse allegations involving children in state custody. This was an important move forward, backed by a strong consensus across the range of lawmakers.

State senators voted 37-0 on first-round debate Monday to approve legislation by State Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue to strengthen the requirements about reports of sexual abuse in the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The Legislature’s action comes in the wake of a report last year by Julie Rogers, the state inspector for child welfare. During 2013-16, she found, at least 50 Nebraska children suffered sexual abuse while in the state’s care or after being placed in an adoptive or guardianship home.

The actual number is likely higher, Rogers said, since some reports made to the state child abuse hotline were screened out incorrectly or not investigated properly. In addition, some cases go unreported.

Under Crawford’s Legislative Bill 1078, the state would require that Rogers’ office receive reports of alleged sexual abuse of a child in a foster home, private agency, child care facility or other program licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Services. Her office already receives reports of death or serious injury for such children under current law.

“It is critical that the department and (Rogers’) office have access to timely and accurate information about the frequency of these allegations,” Crawford said. “Those children who are in our care in the child welfare and the juvenile justice system are our responsibility.”

That information, she said, can enable interventions to help vulnerable children and help the state see patterns.

In addition, LB 1078 would require the state HHS to prepare an annual report on the number of sexual abuse allegations that occurred among children being served by the department and those placed at a residential child-caring agency.

HHS officials and staff met with Rogers regularly last year during preparation of the report, sharing information and input. The department has accepted most of Rogers’ recommendations. Steps taken by HHS include improved procedures for the state hotline and increased oversight of foster homes and residential facilities.

In looking at factors that contributed to the sexual abuse problem, Rogers emphasized the need for improved training of caregivers and child welfare professionals. In some cases, she said, allegations weren’t appropriately reported or screened for investigation. Another negative factor was the heavy workload and high turnover for child welfare workers.

Rogers said solutions lie in a broad-based response by not only HHS but also the juvenile justice system, licensed residential homes and law enforcement: “Preventing and responding to sexual abuse of children is not, and cannot be, the responsibility of HHS alone. It is a community problem, which will need solutions and action from many in our communities.”

The Legislature rightly put a spotlight this week on this need. LB 1078 deserves final passage into law, and the range of Nebraska organizations involved on this issue have a responsibility to increase their vigilance to keep these vulnerable children safe.


The Grand Island Independent. March 2, 2018.

Petition doesn’t have answer to tax problems

Property taxes for schools are a recurring topic in Nebraska’s Legislature, and this year is no exception. Among bills introduced with the intent to reduce property taxes is LB829.

The bill proposes a refundable credit against state income taxes equal to 50 percent of property taxes paid to support schools. The result would be a colossal blowout in Nebraska’s state budget . in the neighborhood of $1.1 billion!

LB829 isn’t gaining traction among lawmakers. And since the Legislature is unlikely to pass it, the bill’s supporters are turning to a petition drive to place the issue on this November’s ballot. As people are presented with the chance to sign this petition, we wish a robot was present to shout, “Danger, danger!”

Among its faults is the petition’s failure to include any provisions for replacing the $1.1 billion in lost tax revenue. State funding for education, (from K-12 through the University of Nebraska), public safety and other vital services would be thrown into horrible disarray without hurried changes in our sales or income tax structures. And such changes should not be made in haste.

These severe consequences should be enough to cause voters to decline to sign the petition.

We have sympathy for property owners who are experiencing the effects of a tax system that has grown out of kilter over the years. Taxes based on valuations, rather than incomes, are at risk of becoming burdensome to some economic sectors, and that has happened in Nebraska.

Another legislative proposal, LB1084, takes a more reasoned approach to the problem. It seeks to provide property tax relief and additional state funding for education by expanding the sales tax base and other measures. It has the support of both agricultural and educational organizations.

Is this bill the answer? Some say yes, others no. Supporters of the petition drive aren’t satisfied.

Perhaps a commission should be formed to recommend a course of action, with members chosen by the governor and Legislature. If this is done, there should be a strong commitment by the appointers to embrace the commission’s recommendations. We don’t need another study group to come up with ideas that will be ignored.

Funding K-12 education primarily with property taxes is a big, big problem for Nebraska. It is high time we deal with it.


Lincoln Journal Star. March 2, 2018

Nebraska Legislature missed chance by killing film fund proposal

When Omaha-based filmmaker Alexander Payne shot “Nebraska,” he used northeast Nebraska’s people and places to help tell the story.

That spared the Nebraska the embarrassment facing Missouri. Though the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is generating major Oscar buzz, the titular state wasn’t involved in the film. North Carolina’s scenery masqueraded as the Show-Me State.

Neither Nebraska nor Missouri offers any kind of incentives to filmmakers, while North Carolina operates a film grant program. However, a straightforward proposal to create a similar fund for Nebraska died last week in the Legislature, even though the measure requested no money and created no tax incentives.

Appropriations Committee members told the Journal Star that funding the proposed film incentive program wasn’t a current priority. In a year with a budget deficit, perhaps no legislators understand Nebraska’s fiscal state better than this body’s eight members.

But that explanation misses the point. Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, who also serves on the committee, even said that she knew that state coffers had no additional money to fill the fund. Instead, her bill aimed to merely create the Nebraska Film Office Fund to apply for grants or take private donations, in addition to any future legislative appropriations.

Anything would make the state more competitive than it is today.

Movies and TV shows are big business, and their production is expensive. While Nebraska has a diverse set of desirable scenery, the vast majority of the state’s recent appearances on the silver screen have been a result of Payne, a native son.

Since Nebraska doesn’t have a significant supply of professional production employees, filming in the state is more expensive than elsewhere. Without a means of recouping that cost, most companies fly right over Nebraska in pursuit of states with lower production costs or better incentives.

The aforementioned “Nebraska” is estimated to have injected $1.4 million directly into the Madison County economy, while an upcoming episode of the Netflix series “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” generated $1 million in business in the Scottsbluff area.

But these victories are the exceptions, not the norm, for Nebraska.

The program structure Wishart proposed also would have avoided the pitfalls that sank Iowa’s tax-credit program amid fraud and millions of dollars in wrongly awarded grants. In recent years, several states reduced, outright repealed or allowed their programs to sunset, amid concerns about excess cost to taxpayers that didn’t justify the returns.

Unlike most states with these programs, though, Nebraska wouldn’t have been relying on tax dollars to appeal to filmmakers.

And, until something changes, the Cornhusker State won’t draw many. That’s why killing the most recent incarnation, a responsible proposal that would have cost nothing, was a missed opportunity.


Kearney Hub. March 1, 2018

Run, hide, fight - know your options

Lord forbid it would happen in south-central Nebraska, but if you found yourself in an active shooter crisis, would you know what to do? According to a PowerPoint presentation the Norfolk Police Department has been sharing with the community, the first step is to be mentally prepared.

Norfolk residents who hear the NPD presentation learn about tactical thinking and mental preparation, according to a report earlier this week in the Norfolk Daily News. Sgt. Chad Reiman and Corp. Richard Frank, the NPD officers who deliver the active shooter presentation, say it is important for people to consider what they would do and where they would go - whether they are attending a sports function or are out shopping with their families.

No doubt the NPD active shooter presentation has many interested people in its audiences. Norfolk residents are all too well versed in gun tragedy. Their community lived through the horrors of a violent bank robbery in 2002 in which five innocent people were murdered.

That tragedy rocked the Norfolk community. Regrettably, it is just one in a long succession of mass shootings. Many are at unprotected schools and universities, some are at public venues such as the recent Las Vegas concert shooting in which 58 were killed.

“The very first thing someone needs to do,” Sgt. Reiman said, “is to keep an idea of your surroundings and what’s going on around you. The second thing is to know your location, know your exits, know where you can go to either leave the building or to hide. Be familiar with your environment.”

Some large organizations employ safety experts to assess their facilities and procedures, and to instruct groups about safety concerns when large numbers of employees gather. Such assessments might be before meetings and include reminders about exits - including the ones that are obstructed - so participants can mentally prepare for an active shooter situation.

The Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce has been helping arrange the NPD active shooter presentations.

Until emergency responders arrive, the best defense is to run or hide, but if you’re face-to-face with the shooter, there may be no choice but to fight.

“You have to prepare yourself for the unexpected, and prepare yourself for a situation that is so unbelievable that people really can’t take it in,” Sgt. Reiman said.


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