- Associated Press - Monday, March 11, 2019

Omaha World Herald. March 7, 2019

Innovative approach led to Omaha VA clinic and can serve as a model

The new VA clinic being built in Omaha shows how new thinking can break deadlocks and open the way to progress. The clinic could have failed to launch, out of fear it would follow in the footsteps of the Aurora, Colorado, VA project that became disastrously mired in multi-year delays and huge cost overruns.

But an innovative approach that was developed in Omaha, plus strong work by Nebraska lawmakers in Washington, helped clear away the federal roadblocks. It’s encouraging to see the construction proceeding in a timely fashion.

“We’re on time, we’re on schedule, we’re on budget,” says Sue Morris, president of Heritage Services, a nonprofit that channels philanthropic support into major Omaha civic projects. The Omaha VA project has moved forward through a public-private partnership in which Heritage Services is contributing $30 million toward the $86 million project.

Congress needed to change federal law in order for such a partnership to be used. Second District Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican, pushed for the approach during his time in Congress, and his successor, Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford, continued the effort, working closely with Omaha business leaders and across the partisan aisle to get congressional leaders to allow a vote. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., lent support, and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., directed the legislation to Senate approval and continues to monitor the project.

A private-sector design review method reduced the construction timeline by almost four and a half months, according to a Government Accountability Office report mandated by the legislation.

The 157,000-square-foot ambulatory care clinic will include new exam rooms, an outpatient-surgery suite and a women’s health clinic, allowing about 400 additional outpatients to visit the medical center each day. Patients for the women’s clinics will have their own waiting area and service area. Specialty clinics currently are on multiple floors in the existing hospital, which opened in 1950; this new project will place them together in the new clinic.

Innovative thinking, public-private collaboration, effective navigation of legislative hurdles - such are the elements that have come together to produce this Omaha success. It’s a model other U.S. communities can benefit from studying and emulating.


Lincoln Journal Star. March 8, 2019

Valid points on all sides of civics bill should lead to compromise

In an era where political contention seems to lend itself to dichotomies of right and wrong, without gray areas, it’s worth remembering that disagreeing sides can both have valid points.

The latest version of the Americanism bill before the Nebraska Legislature provides a perfect example.

Proponents of the legislation to reform civics education, introduced by Peru Sen. Julie Slama, are correct when they point out shortcomings in the 70-year-old state law, adopted during the Red Scare, governing the topic. Meanwhile, opponents raise salient concerns, fears of papering over of dark chapters in American history.

Accordingly, lawmakers can strike a compromise that ought to satisfy both camps. The law should be updated to ensure Nebraska students have a better grasp of this country’s founding while fairly and accurately portraying unpleasant facts about our nation’s past.

Social studies education must be about far more than rote memorization. Nebraska’s youth must learn the critical thinking necessary to become informed citizens in our democracy while understanding the impact of history - for better and worse - that continues to shape our nation and world.

Nothing makes lessons on the grand American experiment and our Constitution incompatible with lessons on slavery, internment camps, the dismantling of Native culture and other ills. In fact, both must factor into curricula across the state to ensure Nebraska students have the broadest possible knowledge and application of our nation’s complicated history.

The last thing this country needs is for ignorance of history to allow past actions to be repeated. Already, emboldened self-proclaimed Nazis march on American soil and tensions with Russia rise, among other events. Sanitizing our country’s story does no favors.

Amendments to the bill have allayed some lawmakers’ fears that the achievements and struggles of minority groups and women will be overlooked. Enough common ground exists in this area to where LB399 can be tweaked sufficiently to suit all senators.

Much of the remaining discord revolves around wording some senators feel mandates patriotism. Their concerns have merit, given some - but not all - language to that end has been struck from the bill.

Nothing is more American than the freedom to choose our own beliefs without fear of punishment.

As patriotic Americans, we want students to come to that same conclusion on their own - without a state law requiring it. Recent news about a Florida boy arrested after refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance highlights the dangers of heavy-handed legislation as Russia bans “disrespect” of government.

When it comes to social studies education, free inquiry and unvarnished truth are of the utmost importance. Nebraska can - and should - achieve both in revising this dated state law in a way that more fully educates students about and immerses them in civics and history.


Kearney Hub. March 7, 2019

Arbitrary limits hurt Neb. Cottage industries

Our state’s cottage industries can run into a jam if they attempt to broaden their customer base and deepen their profits. Nebraska law already allows their homemade food products to be sold in general, with the disclaimer that they are not prepared in a commercially regulated kitchen. However, the law limits sales to farmers markets, creating an unnecessary hurdle for the growth of these small in-home businesses.

The problem with limiting cottage industries to farmers markets should be obvious. The season for farmers markets is late spring, summer and early fall. Those are the fat times, but under current law cottage industries starve the rest of the year.

A solution to this problem is included in a measure heard this week by the Nebraska Legislature’s Agriculture Committee.

LB304 aims to open the gate for cottage industries to grow their profits. The proposal would allow individuals to sell to consumers directly from their homes or online all year long if their jams, jellies and non-perishable baked goods already are authorized for sale at farmers markets.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford introduced the bill to amend Nebraska’s Pure Food Act. In a nod to food safety, LB304 would require that cottage food producers selling from home comply with food safety requirements in the county where they prepare their products, such as obtaining a food handler permit.

For entrepreneurs who have discovered a viable niche and are developing their products to appeal to a wider market, growing annual receipts is key, especially if they’re applying for a small business loan.


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