Omaha World-Herald. Feb 11, 2016
Vets courts worth trying.
Nebraskans owe a hefty debt to those who have sacrificed their time and their talents — and sometimes much more — in going to war.
So when some returning veterans end up in trouble with the law as they wrestle with the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression or other issues, it's time to lend a helping hand and not turn away.
Nebraska could do that by testing the idea of a special veterans court.
In such a court, veterans selected by prosecutors and defense attorneys would take part in court-ordered programs such as intensely supervised treatment, work requirements and frequent drug tests. The court also would work to address any mental health issues that might have contributed to a veteran's criminal activity.
Legislative Bill 915, offered by State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, would create a veterans court as a pilot program in Douglas County. The models are other problem-solving courts with a good track record in this state.
Currently, 24 special courts serve about 1,200 Nebraskans a year, most dealing with criminal behavior linked to drug and alcohol addiction. These are 1,200 people who would otherwise be in jail or prison.
A 2011 report found the courts effective for participants: Only 5 percent committed new crimes the first year they were released. The state's average recidivism rate is 26.5 percent. The courts are effective for taxpayers, too, costing $12 to $42 a day per person, compared with $92 a day to house them in state prison.
Those returning from war zones can struggle to identify with civilians and often respond better in treatment when surrounded or mentored by fellow veterans.
An attorney speaking on behalf of the Nebraska State Bar Association explained it well in testimony to state senators. Such courts, retired Air Force Col. Eric Dillow told lawmakers, "seek to tap into that part of a veteran that speaks to duty, honor, discipline and the unyielding sense of accountability that veterans share with each other."
These veterans answered the call to defend us. Creating a veterans court program is a smart way we can help them.
The Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 12, 2016
Sensible spending on maintenance.
Keeping the University of Nebraska's buildings up-to-date and in good shape is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
Lawmakers should approve the capital building plan presented this week by NU officials to increase the state's annual appropriation for deferred maintenance projects from $11 million to $22 million starting in 2018.
The university's facilities are worth about $4 billion, making up about 70 percent of the state's property assets.
Common sense calls for spending enough money on maintenance and occasional renovation to protect that investment.
The 12-year plan presented by NU President Hank Bounds would finance a $400 million bond with the increased state appropriation and a 1 percent tuition increase in each of the next four years.
Issuing the bond at current low interest rates will give taxpayers a lot of bang for the bucks.
The amount that would be spent on deferred maintenance projects is considerably less than the $80 million that NU officials say would be required to keep all buildings at a satisfactory level.
The plan calls for maintenance projects on 17 buildings scattered across NU's four campuses.
Bounds stressed that decisions on which buildings made the list were driven by data.
HDR, a Nebraska-based engineering firm, made an independent rating of campus buildings, rating roofs, heating and cooling systems, electrical and plumbing systems, safety concerns and other factors.
One of the lowest rated buildings was Nebraska Hall, the former Elgin Watch building purchased by NU more than a half-century ago. It received a score of 54 on a 100-point scale. Other buildings on the UNL list include Scott Engineering Center, Mabel Lee, Henzlik and Hamilton halls and the Food Industry building on East Campus. Also on the list is the College of Business Administration building at 12th and R, which would be repurposed after the CBA moves to new quarters at 14th and Vine next year.
The plan expands and extends the approach that is already being used for maintenance projects on NU campuses. In 1998 the Legislature agreed to annual appropriations of $5.5 million a year for a total of $79 million worth of projects. Ten years ago the Legislature upped the annual amount to $11 million, for a total expenditure of $163 million.
As Bounds said when the plan was announced late last year, NU is "operating in the most competitive higher education marketplace of our lifetimes."
The capital building plan would help NU continue to attract top students and faculty, and help sustain its role as an economic driver for the state and the region. It would be money well-spent.
The McCook Daily Gazette. Feb. 10, 2016
Ruling gives state some breathing room.
State officials are lauding a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision to delay President Obama's Clean Power Plan until legal challenges are resolved.
Nebraska joined 29 states and state agencies in challenging the rule, which would have a major impact on our electric bills because of the state's high dependence on coal for power generation.
"In the state of Nebraska, our public power entities have been proactive in recent years in developing ways to reduce carbon emissions, including developing several alternative renewable energy sources," Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said. "The EPA's rule change would disregard these efforts and exceeds reasonable standards," he said.
Opponents say the federal government can limit emissions from existing coal and gas plants, but not order states or electric power producers to use more natural gas, add more generators of renewable energy, or make additional energy efficiency investments instead of coal.
Nebraska has long benefitted from a public power system originating with McCook's Sen. George W. Norris, enjoying some of the lowest electrical rates in the United States, although some power districts have opted to purchase electricity from commercial sources in recent months.
The Obama administration's long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions is a noble one, but Nebraskans cannot afford the unreasonable rate hikes the Clean Power Plan would impose under a relatively short space of time.
Tuesday's Supreme Court decision could delay a final decision until 2017, after a new administration, which might or might not share Obama's views.
Nebraska should continue to develop alternative energy, and the distribution system it takes to deliver that power, but the Supreme Court ruling will at least give us some breathing room.
Kearney Hub. Feb. 12, 2016
People who are in the habit of drinking one or two too many alcoholic drinks are sowing the seeds of trouble. If they've had too much to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car, they're putting other motorists and themselves at risk.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most dangerous times to drive are at rush hour and when the most drunks are on the road.
In Nebraska, statistics tell us that after 9 p.m., one out of every 12 drivers is legally drunk.
According to the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, our state ranks fourth nationally among all states in DUI arrests per capita. The average blood-alcohol level for individuals arrested for drunken driving in Nebraska is .161. The legal limit is .08.
At a .08 alcohol concentration level, a driver's crash risk is 11 times higher than a nondrinking driver's crash risk.
The average financial cost of being convicted for driving while drunk is more than $5,000. About 90 percent of drivers who are arrested for DUI are convicted.
Even if you're not the type who drinks and drives, there are risks from consuming too much alcohol.
According to DHHS, consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in just one night can affect your brain and physical activities for up to three days. Your attention span is shorter for periods up to 48 hours after drinking. Alcohol slows muscle growth.
Downing five or more drinks on a single occasion to get drunk — binge drinking — slows your body's ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Coming from a family history of alcoholism, according to DHHS, increases your risk for becoming an alcoholic.
Eighty percent of young people feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol. Parental disapproval is the No. 1 reason why young people choose not to drink.
In Nebraska, a person age 20 or younger who is convicted of minor in possession of alcohol will have their driver's license impounded by the court for 30 days.
Don't flirt with trouble. If you drink, limit yourself to one. Overconsumption is extremely risky for you and for others and may result in unwanted consequences, including poor health, legal problems, family conflicts and more.