Omaha World Herald. September 14, 2018
Nebraska officials have much work to do to bring down state prison overcrowding
The clock is ticking for Nebraska officials to significantly reduce the severe overcrowding in the state's prison system.
If the inmate population is above 140 percent of design capacity on July 1, 2020, state law requires the governor to declare a prison emergency. The state would then need to begin paroling eligible inmates, although the State Board of Parole would still decide each case.
The system currently is at 157 percent of design capacity, the second-highest in the country. That's down 2 percent from 2017, but still well above the 140 percent threshold.
A new report from a state inspector general says the prison system has made improvements in some regards, but major challenges remain, above all with staff turnover and record-high overtime costs.
The state Department of Correctional Services is the primary player on this issue and has far to go in meeting the current challenge. The Legislature, in its oversight capacity, needs to continue to press for responsible action and to provide financial support for appropriate initiatives.
Doug Koebernick, the Nebraska inspector general examining the state prison system, authored a new, 121-page report describing the challenges. The state paid a record $13.3 million in overtime to prison personnel during fiscal year 2016-17.
Turnover for "protective services" staff, who guard the inmates, reached 59 percent. That rate is an improvement from the year before, when three of every four security personnel left their jobs.
Surveys of prison employees indicate continuing concerns over safety and the general direction of prison conditions, according to the report. At the State Penitentiary, only 26 percent of respondents said they felt "generally safe."
On the positive side, hiring bonuses of $2,500 have helped retain new employees at the Tecumseh State Prison and the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Koebernick reported.
About 71 percent of the 96 new employees offered the hiring bonuses have remained on the job.
Transporting 50 corrections officers a day from Omaha to Tecumseh in state-funded vans has provided some short-term relief, the report said, but a long-term solution has yet to be adopted.
The system should see some relief on the overcrowding front starting in January, when a $26 million expansion is expected to open at the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln. Operations at the Lincoln Correctional Center have improved under the leadership of Warden Taggart Boyd, appointed last fall.
Prison concerns are appropriately one of the main issues in this year's gubernatorial election, as Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, and State Sen. Bob Krist, a Democrat, make the case for themselves before voters.
It's imperative that Nebraska officials in the executive and legislative branches keep working to bring down the overcrowding as well as the prison staff turnover. July 1, 2020, isn't far away.
The clock is ticking.
Kearney Hub. September 13, 2018
Ricketts underscores trade's benefits
Wednesday was Agriculture Trade Awareness Day, as declared by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has worked hard to promote overseas trade for Nebraska's farmers and ranchers and ag manufacturers. Most recently, the governor introduced Nebraskans to Japanese trade officials. It was one of many face-to-face efforts that Ricketts believes will pay dividends as Nebraskans seek to expand the state's global presence.
Ricketts' declaration of Agriculture Trade Awareness Day came during Husker Harvest Days near Grand Island, a terrific venue to reinforce what Nebraskans believe about the quality agricultural commodities and ag-related products produced here.
Given the challenging times in which ag producers and manufacturers find themselves, Ricketts' declaration was a much needed shot of encouragement. Nebraska farmers and ranchers are battling a crippling slump in the ag economy. Markets for most of their crops leave little profit margin. Worsening that situation is the continuing trade war between the United States, China and even some of the United States' longtime trade partners.
U.S.-imposed tariffs on imported steel, aluminum and other products have been countered with retaliatory tariffs, many of which are targeting farm products because President Trump gained significant support in the 2016 presidential election from the U.S. Farm Belt.
The Chinese tariffs and retaliation by other nations are having a poisoning effect, making it exceedingly difficult for farmers and ranchers.
Not only are the tariffs making U.S. goods more expensive to potential foreign customers, the tariffs also are eroding goodwill between U.S. farmers and ranchers and the overseas buyers whom they've courted for many years. Building trust is a decades-long process, and tariffs and the unpredictable posture of U.S. leadership is undermining hard-won relationships.
Ricketts is correct to continue pressing for expanded trade for Nebraska farmers, ranchers and manufacturers. When the trade war ends, it will be efforts such as Ricketts' that place Nebraska in a more favorable position, prepared to proceed full steam ahead in recapturing customers and developing new relationships overseas.
McCook Daily Gazette. September 12, 2018
We have chance to strengthen 'community' in our local college
We've editorialized repeatedly about the importance of our local community college and the opportunity it offers for personal growth.
With Andy Long making a lateral move to the McCook Economic Development Corp. — and already leaving his mark in positive growth — his successor as MCC Vice President, Kelly Rippen, is looking forward to hearing ideas from the public.
McCook Community College and its parent Mid-Plains Community College are planning a series of community input sessions to learn about the needs of students, potential educational partners, employers an employees in its 18-county service area.
The ideas will be evaluated and distilled to become part of the 2019-22 Strategic Plan.
"We know that partnerships and collaboration are key to the vibrancy of our rural economy," said Tad Pfeifer, the college's area director of Institutional Effectiveness. "MPCC can play an integral role in tying together the individuals and organizations that are seeking to make their lives and their communities better through opportunities for higher education, community and economic development. We are hoping to see new faces and hear new ideas at these meetings in our communities."
To truly meet the needs of the community, educational institutions need to be flexible and responsive to changing conditions, and few eras have experienced more changes than the one in which we live.
McCook's session is set for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, in the McCook Community College Student Union.
Others are set for Sept. 19 in Broken Bow, Sept. 26 in Valentine, Oct. 9 in North Platte, Oct. 10 in Ogallala and Oct. 24, 5:30-6:30 p.m. MT on the MPCC?campus in Imperial.
Lincoln Journal Star. September 14, 2018.
Two wrongs don't make mayoral term limits right
Isaac Newton's third law of physics - for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction - is alive and well in Nebraska politics.
This summer, a collection of leaders within the Nebraska Republican Party filed a petition to retroactively institute mayoral term limits in Lincoln that would bar incumbent Mayor Chris Beutler from pursuing the fourth term he's actively seeking. The measure will be on this November's ballot.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Democratic Party will "seriously" explore placing some form of term limits on the Omaha mayor's office. Current Mayor Jean Stothert won a second term last year and doesn't face re-election until 2021, though she's expressed interest potentially running again.
Both parties are calling the proposals - one on the ballot, the other possibly in the works - unfair attacks targeted at their officeholders. Because the other party can't beat the incumbent at the ballot box, they're resorting to dirty tricks and changing the rules during the campaign.
Here's another truism - albeit less scientific than Newton's - that's certainly applicable to this partisan mess: Two wrongs don't make a right.
Remember, mayor's offices and city council seats in Nebraska are officially nonpartisan. Not that you'd know it from these recent actions, of course.
Instituting term limits that would prevent sitting mayors of different parties from seeking re-election is a shameful display of partisan politics at the local level that Nebraskans abhor from Washington. The Journal Star editorial board criticized the original idea when it was first filed in Lincoln, and rumblings of similar moves for Omaha make us redouble that stance.
People who want term limits for those positions should pursue them going forward for new mayors, not backward to affect those in office - just like when voters approved term limits for the Nebraska Legislature. Amending city charters to disqualify incumbents is akin to children changing the rules to a game they're tired of losing.
Term limits present a worthwhile discussion of political science, too, with our officially nonpartisan Legislature providing an interesting case study. Advocates on both sides make strong points on how to ensure elected officials are responsive to their constituents, whether it's through a statutory limit on how long one can serve or whether the ballot box is the check on term limits.
But this isn't the topic of debate right now in Nebraska. Sadly, like so many other political subjects, we've devolved into partisan games rather than conversing about the meat of the issue.
Instead, Nebraska's two largest political parties have retreated to tribalism and digging their trenches, reacting the wrong way to election losses by playing a needless game of chicken.