Omaha World-Herald. Feb 5, 2016
Leave judges out of politics.
Alexander Hamilton, in penning one of the Federalist Papers, was eloquent about the need for judges to be free of outside influences.
"...The independence of the judges," he wrote, "may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society."
A proposal in the Nebraska Legislature is one of those ill humors.
Legislative Resolution 398 CA, introduced by Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, calls for election of judges rather than appointment under the state's current merit selection system.
Lawmakers would be wise to remember Hamilton's advice and reject this idea. Electing judges would move Nebraska away from that needed independence, tying them to political campaigns and campaign donors.
Nebraskans added merit selection to the state constitution in 1962. The current system works.
A judicial nominating commission of four lawyers, four non-lawyers and a nonvoting Supreme Court justice holds a public hearing to interview candidates who apply. The panel submits at least two names of qualified attorneys to the governor, who makes the final choice. That judge faces a retention vote after more than three years in office and then every six years.
This system eliminates concerns about the impartiality of a judge who would be trying to raise campaign funds while also hearing cases.
The strongest argument for directly electing judges is to make them accountable to the people. But in Nebraska, the people are twice-represented in the process. The people's choice for governor makes the appointments, and voters get to decide periodically whether judges stay on the bench.
As voters were considering this question back in 1962, a Nebraska Law Review article laid out several arguments for merit selection, including: eliminating "the necessity for a flurry of political activity at election time;" providing for a more knowledgeable selection of judicial nominees and better-qualified candidates; and freeing judges to concentrate on justice, not politics.
All good arguments then. All good arguments now. The verdict on LR 398CA should be "no."
The Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 4, 2016
Be realistic on traffic flow.
The "Green Light Lincoln" initiative that is being promoted by City Hall may have conjured visions of platoons of vehicles zipping across the city without a red light in sight. Let's hope that public expectations don't rise too high.
The city's traffic experts are optimistic and enthusiastic. One predicted that Lincoln will start seeing driverless cars in five to 10 years.
A segment of the driving public seems to think that it should be an easy task to synchronize traffic lights across the city. It's actually a tremendously complex challenge because traffic flow is constantly changing.
A slow-accelerating semi-trailer will affect traffic flow, for example. A stalled vehicle, a crash or construction can throw multiple streets out of synchronicity. Traffic flow that is higher or lower than average will affect the system's ability to coordinate with traffic on cross streets.
In 2013 Los Angeles became the first major city in the world to synchronize all of its 4,500 traffic signals at a cost of $400 million. Implementation did result in faster traffic flow and a reduction in delays, but L.A. still ranks as the one of the worst cities in the country for traffic, second only to Washington D.C.
Mayor Chris Beutler said that the initiative will use smart traffic control system, presumably with the help of a $40 million federal grant.
"For the same amount of money it costs to pave three blocks of a new arterial roadway, we can implement new smart traffic technologies at all of the 430 traffic signals across the City," said Mayor Chris Beutler.
By reducing the number of crashes, Lincoln drivers will save an estimated $30 million a year, he said.
"Traffic delays force drivers to pay more for increased fuel consumption and lost time," Beutler said. "Reducing delays will save drivers an estimated $20 million. That's a $50 million return on investment, or nearly $200 a year that will go directly into the pockets of every Lincoln resident."
When it comes to meeting expectations, city officials do have one thing in their favor.
The system is in shambles. The current software was installed in 1999. The developer has not offered support since 2011. It can only operate on a Windows XP computer. Translation: It's something out of the Jurassic era.
Moreover, the detection system that is supposed to tell the computer that a vehicle is approaching a signal is full of holes. About 30 percent of the signals have faulty detection, city officials said.
So it's definitely possible for the city can improve traffic flow. That's a realistic goal. We think Lincoln residents will have the patience to wait a few more years for driverless cars.
The Scottsbluff Star Herald. Feb. 4, 2016
Hog bill has the state on both sides of the fence.
Sometime on Friday, Feb. 5, the Nebraska Legislature will take a vote on a bill that could have a major impact on our state. LB 176, or what we've been calling in the newsroom the Hog Bill, would "change the Competitive Livestock Markets Act and provisions relating to contract swine operations."
As it stands now, the law prohibits Nebraska packers who process more than 150,000 animals per year from practicing vertical integration. Vertical integration in this instance means ownership of an animal from birth to slaughter.
The ban came about in 1999, when the state passed the Competitive Livestock Markets Act to try to protect farmers after livestock prices collapsed.
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala introduced the bill for the third time in January of 2015.
So why is this bill so significant?
Nebraska's pork production gross state product is $665 million a year. Pork production supports more than an 11,000 jobs. The state makes more than $80 million a year in pork exports. Nebraska's swine consume nearly 4 million pounds of corn per year.
The impact of pork production on our agriculture economy, and therefore our entire state economy, is substantial.
Proponents of the bill point to our neighbors to the east, Iowa, who have a hog inventory of 20 million; Nebraska's hog inventory is a little over 3 million. They complain that Nebraska's hog production is not keeping pace with our regional neighbors, as our state doesn't allow vertical integration. Nebraska transports 1.25 million feeder pigs to other states to be fed for slaughter because of the ban.
They assert that from 1997 to 2007 Nebraska lost 63 percent of its hog farms and another 25 percent from 2007 to 2012. Our state has fallen from 6th to 8th in pork production. Iowa ranks number 1. Another key point from proponents is that if packing plants in Nebraska closed and moved to Iowa, Kansas or Missouri, they could own hogs in Nebraska.
Proponents say it's a matter of economic development and a boost to the agriculture industry.
The bill is supported by Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers and Nebraska Corn and Soybeans Associations, among others.
On the other side, opponents of the bill say the increase in pork production will threaten the state's water resources. They attribute water problems in the Des Moines area to high nitrate levels caused by hog farming.
They say that the bill would hurt small farmers who are already struggling to compete with major corporate operations. This would also hurt small towns that are already hurt by corporate farming, they say. Those in opposition also say that not allowing the farmers to own hogs will allow the corporations to control prices.
Smithfield, the largest pork packer in the world and one of three major corporate operations in Nebraska, is now owned by a Chinese company, and some are uncomfortable with a foreign company owning U.S. livestock.
Others worry that the bill would lead to a similar fate for the cattle industry.
The bill is opposed by the Center for Rural Affairs, the Nebraska Farmers Union and Bold Nebraska, among others.
If the bill passes, it ends up on Gov. Pete Ricketts desk for his signature.
Farmers are divided. Nebraska state senators are divided. It's a thorny, complicated issue. That's why this column is all about the opposing views and not an opinion. There are too many competing factors to say one or the other will be better for the people of this state.
Nebraska's environment is crucial, but so too is its economy.
The McCook Gazette. Feb. 3, 2016
Marie Coffey's legacy reaches far beyond her music.
Psalms 150 says, "Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."
Marie Coffey is most certainly making a joyful musical noise in heaven today, as those who mourn her passing remember the beautiful and elegant lady who graced the McCook community with her talent and wisdom for almost 70 years. Teacher, director, accompanist, encourager, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend — Marie, 95, passed away last week in McCook. A Celebration of Life will be held Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Memorial United Methodist Church, where she had served as choir director until her retirement in 2014.
Marie had found her passion in life, and that passion was music and playing the piano. She told the Gazette in 2014, "Music is in my DNA, it's who I am."
She started playing the piano at age four and she never stopped. She majored in music with a piano emphasis at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, followed by ten years of teaching at Brewster, Kansas, Gothenburg and Maywood, Nebraska. She moved to McCook in 1947 with her husband and their two children. When her children were older, she returned to teaching music and taught at McCook Public Schools for 24 years. Retiring from teaching in 1985, she continued to accompany students for music contests and play for musicals staged by Southwest Nebraska Community Theatre Association, as well as serving her church as organist, pianist, and choir director.
Through the years, thousands of students, church attendees, and musical show crowds have been treated to the piano and organ expertise and insights of Mrs. Coffey.
Kathy Latta, who had the tremendous task of filling Marie's shoes as choir director after her retirement, said that Marie loved all music, but was especially fond of strong, emotional music, which she referred to as "schmaltzy". She said that Marie never wanted to give up playing the piano and she never did. Kathy also appreciated Marie's humble modesty. "Whenever she would say something kind of mixed up, she would tell us, 'take a Dutchman for what he means, not what he says'."
According to Janet Hepp, who served in the choir and through SWNCTA with Marie, her musical enthusiasm was deep-seated. Janet conveyed that Marie had back surgery a few years ago in Colorado. "After the surgery when she was just coming out of the anesthesia, Marie was highly doped up. She had such joy, and she would snag anyone who walked by and insisted that they join her in singing 'This is the Day that the Lord Has Made'. Doctors, nurses, interns — everyone — was in the recovery room singing with Marie. You couldn't say no to Marie when she wanted you to sing with her."
Marie's dedication to SWNCTA performances was admirable. During a six- to eight-week practice schedule for a performance, many of the on-stage actors are often given a night or two off from rehearsals. Not Marie. She attended every practice as accompanist during her more than 25-year association with SWNCTA.
Marie's compassion and gentleness has touched many lives. Her kind-hearted concern for people and her love of life will serve as an example to all of us. Marie loved music and she loved the people who appreciate it. We all love you back, Marie.