- Associated Press - Monday, October 7, 2019

Omaha World Herald. October 3, 2019

Americans disagree over beef, but don’t doubt Nebraska producers dedication

It’s unfortunate to see, but beef is now one more item on the growing list of political disagreements dividing Americans. TV host Ellen DeGeneres is among the public figures linking the cattle sector to environmental harm and urging people to eat less meat. Gina Pospichal, the wife of a Nebraska rancher, has responded to DeGeneres on Facebook, defending beef producers and receiving a surge of supportive online comments.

On this matter, the goal needs to be peaceful coexistence. A considerable segment of Americans want to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, and that’s fully their choice to make. People deserve sovereignty over their personal lives. At the same time, many Americans remain enthusiastic fans of a traditional steak or burger - also their choice to make. And there’s no need to paint ranchers as callous in their environmental stewardship. Many Nebraska producers stand out for their concern for sound environmental management.

Cattle production makes a major contribution to Nebraska’s economy - not surprising, given Nebraska’s traditional “Beef State” moniker. Nebraska’s beef sector has a total economic impact estimated at $12.1 billion. In Iowa, the figure is $6.8 billion.

The cattle sector is an enormous part of Nebraska’s Sand Hills economy and culture, of course. The 3rd U.S. House District is home to more than 15,000 cattle operations with annual sales of $8.4 billion - more than for any other House district except one in western Kansas. Many Nebraska ranching operations have roots that go back to the 1800s.

In Iowa, the 4th U.S. House District also ranks high for cattle production among U.S. House districts. It’s No. 6 in that regard, with more than 7,000 beef operations.

But as Pospichal, a school counselor in Chambers, Nebraska, noted in the letter she posted on Facebook, many beef producers face stiff challenges. Record amounts of rain over the past year have prevented many ranchers from harvesting enough hay for their animals.

Each year Pospichal’s family “usually puts up thousands (of bales), but has done just 800 so far,” The World-Herald’s Marjie Ducey reported.

As a result, ranchers face the difficult choice either to buy feed, adding considerable production expense, or else sell a significant number of their animals. That is exactly what Pospichal’s family experienced this year, she wrote on Facebook: “This summer, I watched in tears as my husband and my father-in-law loaded up our fall-calving herd and sold them at market because we have no feed to help them survive through the winter. My father is faced with constant financial struggles as he just tries to keep the ranch afloat.”

Cattle prices haven’t reached the historic low points seen in 2016, Ducey reported, but they are still $7 below those seen last fall. “The market is stabilizing, prices are stabilizing and prices will kind of rise again,” said Cassandra Fish, an Omaha beef industry expert and consultant. “However, we are still at the peak supply from rebuilding the herd.”

Americans should be free to make their own choices about beef. But amid that debate, there’s no reason to doubt the dedication, amid great challenges, of Nebraska’s cattle producers.


The Grand island Independent. October 4, 2019

Who should choose election commissioners?

When Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson called the state’s method of choosing election commissioners for its most populous counties “constitutionally suspect,” he shined a light on a situation of which few people across the state were aware.

Peterson released an opinion on the issue after it was questioned by state Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln. In his opinion, he said the Nebraska Constitution requires that election commissioners and chief deputy election commissioners be elected to their positions.

Currently, in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties election commissioners are appointed by the governor, as was set up by a law adopted more than a century ago. This practice raises concerns about the positions being politicized and the commissioners favoring the party of the governor who appointed them.

This issue is also important in Hall County because Hall is one of four counties with populations between 20,000 and 100,000 in which the election commissioners are appointed by the county board of supervisors. That practice also comes into question with Peterson’s statement.

Hall County Election Commissioner Tracy Overstreet was appointed by the Hall County board in October 2017 and took the position on Jan. 1, 2018.

When the previous commissioner, Dale Baker, announced she was retiring after holding the position for more than a decade, the county board sought applicants, interviewed them and decided to appoint Overstreet. That process was transparent, so the public knew how Overstreet was chosen.

The process is similar in Buffalo, Cass and Platte counties. In the state’s smaller counties, the elected county clerks also serve as the election commissioners.

Overall, elections are well run throughout Nebraska. There have been very few issues over the years. This is also the case in Hall County.

So the current method of choosing election commissioners has worked.

But still, election commissioners are county officials who represent the public when they’re doing their job and it is preferable for the voters of the county to have a vote on who represents them. Also, there’s a concern that the practice is not the same in each county in the state.

Peterson said he believes if the state law was challenged, the Nebraska Supreme Court would rule that the practice of appointing election commissioners is unconstitutional. Civic Nebraska, a Lincoln-based group working to promote civic involvement and protect voting rights, has said it will challenge the law if the Legislature doesn’t act.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen, on the other hand, has said there were “sound policy reasons” for the state’s decision to appoint election commissioners and he isn’t so sure the Supreme Court would call the practice unconstitutional.

Hansen has said he plans to introduce legislation during the next legislative session to change the state law and set up a process for electing all counties’ election commissioners in time for the elected officials to take office before the 2020 election.

The Nebraska Legislature should give this issue thorough consideration and determine what is best for continuing to have fair and accessible elections throughout the state.


Lincoln Journal Star. October 4, 2019

Nursing home closures hurt rural Nebraska in several ways

Projections indicate the fastest-growing segment of Nebraska’s population by far is - and will be for some time - the elderly. The state’s rural counties, many of which have struggled for years with a shrinking number of residents, are graying at an even faster rate.

Complicating matters is that the number of long-term care facilities that tend to the needs of older Nebraskans has rapidly declined. Since 2015, 27 nursing homes have closed, with a Kansas-based company announcing last week that it plans to shutter four more in the state. Nearly half of the closures took place in 2019 alone.

Many factors have contributed to the recent rash of closures, but losing money on Medicaid reimbursements - which cover 53% of nursing home residents in the state - has been cited in nearly every instance.

This perfect storm arrives at an imperfect time for Nebraska. And though its costs directly affect the lives of older Nebraskans, the ramifications extend much further.

As Nebraska attempts to phase in what senators have called a “flat rate” for Medicaid payments, it runs the risk of penalizing providers that offer high quality of care - which must always be the top goal for the state’s seniors.

A Cambridge nursing home that closed in 2019 reportedly lost $143 per patient per day. Such financial losses aren’t sustainable for any business. As a result, older residents may have to move several miles away - out of their comfort zone and hometown - to find the nearest facility that can accept them.

This diminished access places a strain on remaining operations both in rural and urban areas. Concerns about capacity statewide have only been exacerbated by the hundreds of beds no longer available for Nebraskans in need of this type of service.

Hundreds of workers required to care for them, too, are now out of jobs. In many smaller Nebraska communities, nursing homes frequently rank right alongside schools as the largest employer in town - both types of jobs with the important potential to lure young, college-educated Nebraskans back home.

For instance, the facilities - in Blue Hill, Columbus, Milford and Utica - whose impending closures were announced in late September employed a total of 240 workers. Losses of nursing homes are felt acutely in communities such as Sidney (51 employees), devastated by losing Cabela’s corporate headquarters, and Wausa (39 employees), home to just 634 people.

Nebraska is grappling with a looming workforce shortage, fueled largely by a wave of baby boomer retirements. Yet, at a time when more of these people will need the services provided by nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the number of beds and workers has trended sharply downward.

Again, the ripple effect of these closures touches every corner of Nebraska. While the closures have been announced in bits and pieces, the cumulative impact is great - particularly in rural areas - and must be addressed at a broader level.


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