- Associated Press - Monday, February 11, 2019

Omaha World Herald. February 8, 2019

Public access to grand jury materials in officer-related deaths is appropriate

Nebraska state law requires that grand jury records be made publicly available in cases involving law enforcement officer-involved deaths. That requirement underscores the importance of keeping the public informed about law enforcement actions involving the most serious of consequences.

The Nebraska State Attorney General’s Office had argued that the records should be sealed if a case was pending against an officer, but two district court judges and now the state Supreme Court have ruled otherwise, acknowledging the plain requirements under the relevant state law.

The case in question involved the testimony and exhibits that grand jurors reviewed before deciding on charges against officers in connection with the June 5, 2017, death of Zachary BearHeels, an Oklahoma man suffering from mental illness. That disturbing incident rightly spurred scrutiny of police procedures and operations. State law served the public interest by requiring transparency for the grand jury materials.



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Lincoln Journal Star. February 8, 2019

Child care initiative fill need in Lincoln

Which costs more in a calendar year: child care for an infant in Lincoln or a full course load at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

It’s the former, not the latter.

No, really - the estimated in-state tuition and fees at UNL is $9,246 for the current school year, while child care for infants averages $1,000 per month, or $12,000 a year, according to Prosper Lincoln.

While subsidies to cover some or all child care costs are available for families near the poverty line, a coalition of child advocacy groups has announced its plans to create a program that will offer assistance to many more families whose children attend qualifying providers in Lincoln.

Given the increased cost - and demand - for child care in the current economy, the Lincoln Littles Early Childhood Fund has identified an area of great need in the community. Their proposal to solicit private funding to make this noble goal a reality now and into the future deserves the capital city’s generosity.

As wage growth has slowed to a crawl, the necessity for two-income households, in which reports 78 percent of children live, per the U.S. Census Bureau, is now greater than ever. Yet the swift, steep falloff from income levels covered by federal and state subsidies to nothing can hinder - or even preclude - a parent’s workforce participation or advancement.

Those at or below the federal poverty line ($25,750 for a family of four) are eligible to receive assistance paying all child care costs, while those up to 130 percent of the level ($32,628 for a family of four) can have a portion the costs covered. Meanwhile, Lincoln Public Schools’ early childhood programs have a waiting list of 750 children.

To close the gap for those who exceed that threshold, Lincoln Littles aims to provide some subsidies to families making up to 200 percent the poverty level - $51,500 for a family of four. At that point, parents shouldn’t have to choose between their children and their jobs.

The additional benefit of the program, as it’s structured, is the creation of more quality child care in Lincoln.

Child care centers become eligible to receive Lincoln Littles funding if they’ve advanced beyond the first step of the state’s ratings system. That designation reflects the completion of additional training and other achievements that should spur more openings and more highly trained providers.

This initiative, a partnership between the Lincoln Community Foundation and the Nebraska Children and Family Foundation, is being powered initially by seed money from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and various other nonprofits.

But this investment in the community wouldn’t be complete without the community’s help. Fittingly, its inaugural giving day event falls Tuesday - Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In light of trends and reality in Lincoln, it’s worth a donation for those who are able to help advance this worthy cause.

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McCook Daily Gazette. February 6, 2019

Effort aims to keep more food dollars in state

With little effort, Southwest Nebraskans can enjoy choice, locally-sourced beef through a local locker plant, directly from a rancher or by placing an order at a steak house.

But how many of us actually care where that T-bone was born?

Fill up our shopping carts at the grocery or big-box store, and most of that food traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to reach our pantries or refrigerators.

Sure, no tomato that was picked green to ripen while waiting to be purchased can compare to a fresh-from-the-vine Big Boy, but we want our BLTs when we want them, not just when tomatoes are in season.

“When we spend food dollars outside of the state, that weakens our local economy and limits local access points,” said Sandra Renner of the Center for Rural Affairs and co-author of a new report, “Biting Into Food Access: A View of Nebraska’s Food System.”

That beef and veal? Nebraska is the top exporter, but where did that hamburger you plan to have for lunch originate?

While 1,300 Nebraska farms sell directly consumers, with sales of $5.9 million, that’s only 0.04 percent of the farm product sales in the state, according to the report.

During the 2017-18 school year, Nebraska Farm to School reported $2.7 million in total local food purchases, including melons, vegetables, chicken and milk.

Currently, only about 10 percent of the $4.4 billion that Nebraskans spend on food annually is expended on products grown and processed in the state.

Why so little? It’s a matter of simple economics; large, out-of-state producers and processors are set up to deliver product at lower prices, taking advantage of economies of scale and climates more conducive to fruit and vegetable production.

The report, which examines demographics, food production and land use, food consumption and access, and food waste, offers guidance for the newly-formed Nebraska Food Council.

That group has created a list of research topics, policy work and areas of focus that need to be pursued.

“We’re looking at how to better feed our population and how to shift toward creating opportunities for more food production aimed at human consumption,” Renner said. “By addressing key issues on food, farm, small business and community-level and institutional policy, there is potential to identify strengths, changes needed and gaps in the food system.”

Seed catalogs are already arriving, and gardeners are already planning this year’s efforts. Some of them plan to raise much more than their families need, and sell the rest at local farmers’ markets.

Those of us without green thumbs or time to pursue home vegetable production can support them by visiting those weekend gathering places, or buying vegetables from a local producer whenever we can.

Perhaps Nebraska can’t compete directly with vegetable production giants like California, Texas, Florida or Arizona, but with imagination, innovation and determination, we can shift more of our food dollars to friends and neighbors instead of sending them out of state.

Check out the report here: http://bit.ly/2TuGZGu

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