Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers
Omaha World Herald. June 21, 2019
Sister city connections, now set to expand, have proven worthwhile for Omaha
The world in the 21st century is remarkably interconnected.
People exchange messages and photos instantly across continents.
Businesses and agricultural producers sell and import goods and services from around the globe. Universities have expanded their international outreach and studies.
Add it all up, and people are more aware than ever of global connections through economic, cultural and environmental linkages.
Omaha has special international connections of its own, through its longstanding sister city program. Omaha’s current six sister cities are Shizuoka, Japan; Braunschweig, Germany; Siauliai, Lithuania; Naas, Ireland; Xalapa, Mexico; and Yantai, China.
Now Omaha is adding another, and it’s an eminently appropriate choice: In the wake of this month’s 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing, Omaha has announced that it will have a sister city relationship with a region along the Normandy coast of France, including Omaha Beach.
“History connects us,” Mayor Jean Stothert said in making the announcement, “and the future will provide many opportunities for cultural, educational, business and, most importantly, the personal relationships which are fundamental to all sister cities.”
Five Normandy mayors visited Omaha in March, and a delegation from Omaha visited Normandy the following month. All sister city affiliations are approved by the Omaha City Council and the mayor. The Sister City Agreement will be signed in France in October.
Omaha’s experience shows that the sister city program can open up rewarding opportunities for cultural understanding and exchange. Our city’s connections with Shizuoka, Japan, provide a key example.
In 2015, Omaha and Shizuoka marked their 50th year as sister cities and held a three-day celebration, including an International Friendship Banquet and a joint performance by the Omaha and Shizuoka Symphony Orchestras. The Omaha Sister Cities Association sent Shizuoka a sculpture by Omaha artist Jun Kaneko.
Over the decades, teachers, Scouts and hospitals have participated in exchanges between Omaha and Shizuoka. The University of Nebraska at Omaha has a student exchange program with Shizuoka University. And Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has exchanged animals with Shizuoka’s Nihondaira Zoo.
Omaha’s upcoming sister connection with the Normandy region will no doubt open up equally worthwhile opportunities. Let’s make the most of the connection.
McCook Gazette. June 20, 2019
Legalized weed will deliver new highway dangers
Way too many people are driving high on marijuana, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey.
Worse, way too many of them think they won’t get caught.
Fair warning: Authorities are working hard to prove them wrong.
An estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within an hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, despite the fact the effects of marijuana take one to four hours to take effect.
Drivers high on marijuana are twice as likely to be involved in a crash.
“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment. Yet, many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving,” said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is important for everyone to understand that driving after recently using marijuana can put themselves and others at risk.”
Your attitude about driving and marijuana depends on who you are — 14% of millennials age 25-39 are most likely to report driving within an hour after using marijuana in the last month, followed by 10% of Generation Z, ages 14-19.
Men (8 are more likely than women (5%) to report driving shortly after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
“Driving while impaired by any substance is unacceptable,” said Rose White, Nebraska Public Affairs Director, AAA-The Auto Club Group. “Law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk.”
Law enforcement is stepping up to the challenge, training 87,000 officers in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement — ARIDE — program and another 8,300 in the 50-State Drug Evaluation and Classification program.
In addition, the number of trained Drug Recognition Experts has increased 30% since 2013, and these officers report that marijuana is the most frequently identified drug category.
Since 2015, the number of drivers arrested by DREs for using marijuana has increased 20%.
Nebraska has more than 800 law enforcement officers completing ARIDE training the in the past three years, and there are 100 DRE-qualified officers in the state, plus another 24 scheduled to complete training this year.
“With the increase in drugged driving fatalities, law enforcement agencies across Nebraska are challenged to elevate their training efforts in this area and increase the number of law enforcement officers trained in ARIDE,” said Mark Segerstrom, Highway Safety Administrator for the Nebraska Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office. “It is imperative that we are proficient to detect, arrest, and prosecute drug impaired drivers to address this critical traffic safety issue.”
The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,582 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days. The AAA Foundation issued its first Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2008, and the latest report is online at www.AAAFoundation.org.
As Nebraska and other states debate the legalization of recreational marijuana, it’s important that the cost in lives and property damage caused by impaired drivers has to be taken into consideration.
Kearney Hub. June 22, 2019
LPS budget reasonable amid cuts in state aid
By expertly playing the long game, Lincoln Public Schools insulated taxpayers from a marked decrease in state aid.
Although the district reaches new record enrollment levels year in and year out, its state aid for the coming year will fall by 9%. But that drop won’t reach property tax statements, as LPS has proposed keeping its levy flat for the 2019-20 school year.
Rather than going back to the well once more to hit up taxpayers who, as board member Don Mayhew correctly noted, are “getting clobbered by property valuations,” district leaders deserve praise for building up reserves to avoid a tax hike for the coming year.
Previous decisions by LPS to maintain its levy at the maximum allowable rate of $1.05 elicited heavy criticism from taxpayers two years ago. But school officials had placed money in reserves for the last two years to offset an expected decrease in state aid, based on past trends with both the state and Lancaster County’s cycle of revaluing property, even dropping the tax rate by a penny last year.
That prediction was spot on. And the district’s foresight prevented the levy from being increased back to its lid for the upcoming school year.
Many homeowners will be paying more in taxes next year, but that can be attributed far more to rapidly rising home values in Lincoln than any single taxing entity.
It should go without saying that more students means more money is needed to educate them. Despite an expected bump of 310 additional students enrolled next fall — equivalent to adding an Eastridge Elementary School in just one year — LPS doesn’t need to squeeze district residents.
Instead, it can fund the $14.8 million increase, nearly all of which will be directed to pay and benefits for teachers — including newly created positions — without raising the tax rate, despite this decrease.
Though it varies significantly from year to year, state aid remains critical, representing almost 30% of the 2019-20 budget for LPS.
Such a steep drop raises the question: Why would a district gaining more students than some rural districts serve in all grades lose $13.3 million in state aid from one year to the next?
With how inextricably linked property taxes and school funding are, perhaps this jolt should fuel the call for elusive tax reform at the state level. The burden for funding education should be carried more by the state than local taxpayers than it presently is.
Cash reserves must be used sparingly to cover expenses when revenues fall below expectations. This instance certainly qualifies, but LPS must be sure to replenish its funds in the coming years when enrollment and state aid are expected to grow, so as to stave off budget cycles where steep levy increases become unavoidable.
LPS taxpayers should be thankful such a crunch won’t occur next year, with a reasonable levy and budget proposed under these circumstances.