- Associated Press - Monday, March 22, 2021

Omaha World-Herald. March 19, 2021.

Editorial: Let’s develop a cooperative state plan to tackle Nebraska’s climate challenges

If any state has strong, convincing grounds to develop and implement its own comprehensive strategy to deal with climate change, it’s Nebraska.

Consider three key factors for our state:

• Ag sector strength. Climate obviously has far-ranging effects on agricultural production. Nebraska’s ag commodities, raised on the state’s 45,700 farms and ranches, generate some $21.4 billion in cash receipts annually. The state’s sprawling Sand Hills and other rural areas are home to 6.8 million head of cattle. Nebraska’s ag sector depends on strong access to overseas markets, and the state’s $5.8 billion in farm exports spurs an additional $7.4 billion in economy activity for the state. Farm production connects to a broad network of related activity, including farm equipment sales, bank financing and retail consumer demand for communities.



• World-class research capability. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to some of the country’s most knowledgeable experts on climate science and its wide-ranging connections to agriculture and natural resources management. These experts are found at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and in the university’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

• History of climate challenges. Nebraskans have confronted major weather challenges over the generations, but the magnitude and frequency of these challenges raise growing concern. Recent examples include the drought of 2012, the catastrophic flooding of 2019 (stemming from the fury of a cold-weather “inland hurricane”) and the fierce derecho wind storm last year that started in Nebraska and carved a path of destruction across Iowa. Damages from the derecho in multiple Midwestern states totaled some $11 billion.

Given these factors, it’s eminently sensible for Nebraska to develop a climate plan that sets out practical, coordinated strategies for reducing the state’s vulnerability to climate-related harm. Legislative Bill 483, introduced by State Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha, provides the vehicle for that prudent action and deserves passage.

Nebraska state government took steps toward that goal several years ago, but then failed to follow up: After UNL scientists completed a comprehensive study of Nebraska climate challenges, a legislative task force voted unanimously in 2015 to create a climate action plan. But it was never developed.

That was a needless failure. This time, Nebraska leaders mustn’t repeat that mistake. The obligation to plan ahead and develop cooperative strategies for climate mitigation is clear. Consider some of the central conclusions of the UNL study. Climate models indicate that by 2100:

• Nebraska summers will have 13 to 25 days with a high above 100 degrees.

• The number of nights over 70 degrees will increase by 20, to 40 days per year.

• Soil moisture is projected to decrease by 5% to 10%.

Such trends raise clear concerns for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, as well as communities of all sizes. As the UNL report notes, “Early adapters will be better able to cope with changes as they occur.”

That’s all the more reason for Nebraska - now - to develop a practical road map on this issue. LB 483 deserves approval, with strong cooperative follow-up, to meet this pre-eminent challenge.

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Lincoln Journal Star. March 18, 2021.

Editorial: Ricketts’ statements on marijuana fail to advance discussion

By virtue of his position, Nebraska’s governor has great power to shape and lead a constructive discourse, but Gov. Pete Ricketts’ remarks last week on the dangers marijuana did just the opposite.

“This is a dangerous drug that will impact our kids,” the governor said at a press conference before a hearing on the state’s latest medical marijuana bill. “If you legalize marijuana, you’re going to kill your kids.”

These words didn’t elevate the discussion. Rather, his oversimplification of the topic ignored the pleas of parents with sick children – and that the legislation being debated later that day was specific to medical uses.

A medicine derived from cannabis that’s been studied at the University of Nebraska Medical Center showed promise in treating intractable seizures in children. In every state but Nebraska and Idaho, Americans suffering from other devastating, debilitating medical conditions have the ability to see if medical marijuana might be the right treatment for their symptoms, rather than prescription painkillers or other drugs.

Instead, the governor has proclaimed – wrongly – that no gray area exists.

He’s right that medical studies have showed regular marijuana usage can affect the development of young brains. But, again, the high-potency recreational cannabis sold in Colorado – which Ricketts frequently cites – is a far cry from the medical marijuana several Nebraskans, during tear-filled testimony, sought to treat severe illnesses.

THC, the compound responsible for the “high,” is found in much lower concentrations in marijuana used medically than recreationally. Furthermore, states have specifically banned consumption of medical marijuana by smoking or edibles.

In fact, that’s exactly what Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart has done this year with LB474 – and every time she’s introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana – by proposing to tightly control distribution and access in very specific terms.

Furthermore, the legalization of recreational marijuana – that proposal was debated last month, not the day of Ricketts’ remarks – is far more likely to occur first at the federal level than at the state level in Nebraska.

Yet, rather than actually governing on this topic by taking an active role in crafting the regulations to define medical marijuana use in the state, lawmakers remain content to punt on the issue. There’s little doubt that a second initiative effort – the first in 2020 was tossed on a technicality regarding language – will succeed and open up a far more permissive environment for medical marijuana than Wishart’s bill.

If the governor and his allies were truly concerned about marijuana abuse by minors, they should actively work with medical marijuana proponents to address these worries, instead of stonewalling needed legislation at every turn and relying on hyperbole and mischaracterization as a scare tactic.

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Grand Island Independent. March 18, 2021.

Editorial: Passage of Ray Aguilar’s casino bill is key for Grand Island, Nebraska

As the Nebraska Legislature has demonstrated strong support for LB371, a bill to allow casino gambling during state and county fairs in the state, it should quickly pass the bill through second and third readings and get it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

This legislation, the priority bill of state Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, is needed now that Nebraska voters have passed a ballot measure that allows casinos at state-licensed horse racetracks. It’s especially important to Grand Island as Fonner Park is pursuing plans to open a casino near its racetrack, which is also on the Nebraska State Fair grounds.

Currently, state law allows gambling on horse races, bingo and raffles during fairs, along with the sale of pickle cards, but casino gambling isn’t on that list.

The discrepancy between current law and what the voters approved last year must be reconciled.

Aguilar told the Independent Tuesday that the 38-5 passage on the bill’s first reading gives him confidence that LB371 will be approved. He said without this bill, there would be a situation where people who worked at the Fonner Park casino would have to be sent home for two weeks during the Nebraska State Fair, as well as the week of the Hall County Fair.

As Aguilar said this week, passage of LB371 would be “a big economic boost for Grand Island.”

Some conservative opponents of gambling have argued against Aguilar’s bill, but the Nebraska voters made clear their overwhelming support for casino gambling in the 2020 general election. Casino gambling is coming to our state and we should take full economic advantage of it by getting rid of any impediments to casino operators.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has argued against casino gambling, should also get that message and sign this bill into law.

The Legislature is also considering LB561, introduced by state Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, to limit sports betting in the state and regulate casinos. It’s important that our state government clears up how casinos will operate in the state. With clear regulations for the casino operators to follow, the state can ensure that gambling is operated responsibly in Nebraska, as it has been with the Nebraska Lottery, bingo, keno and pickle cards.

Gambling is not new in Nebraska.

But with the casino gaming that voters overwhelmingly supported last year, the state can reap the economic benefits that Iowa and other neighboring states that allow gambling have been taking away from Nebraska for years.

END

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