Omaha World-Herald. Sept. 26, 2015
Clean voter rolls matter.
The public deserves accurate voter rolls — in the Midlands and across the United States.
Having the names, addresses and eligibility of registered voters correct boosts public confidence that elections remain fair and resistant to fraud.
Most state and local officials do yeoman's work to keep the voter rolls reflective of the populations they serve. They peruse the real estate transfers to see which voters might have moved. They read the obituaries to verify that voters have died. They take their important jobs seriously.
That's why eyebrows raised last week across the Midlands when two national voting advocacy groups threatened legal action in Nebraska and Iowa over allegedly bloated voter rolls.
But people should give election officials in seven Nebraska counties and one in Iowa the necessary time to double-check their voter rolls and see that things are as accurate as possible.
Indiana-based Public Interest Legal Foundation and Texas-based True the Vote allege that the eight counties' number of registered voters outnumber each of their Census-estimated voting-age populations, as The World-Herald reported.
It is possible, as officials argued, that the voter rolls will be corrected over time, once more deaths and moves are verified. They say this is the natural flow of voter rolls, as influenced by federal law that tilts rightly toward maintaining easy voter access and slowing how names are scrubbed.
It's also possible Census population estimates are off, miscounting people away at college or in the military. All eight counties are rural, with small populations.
In any case, the living, resident registered voters of Loup, Wheeler, Kimball, Thurston, Hooker, Keya Paha and Thomas Counties in Nebraska and Fremont County, Iowa, deserve clarity.
It behooves election officials in each of the eight counties and in both states to look into the matter and investigate any meaningful discrepancies.
Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale is taking the right approach, urging calm, while taking the allegations seriously.
The state will work with county officials and look into the matter. "We're not anticipating anything alarming as a result of this," Gale said. "We're trying to have the cleanest, most current, most accurate voter database we can."
Regardless of the allegations' merit, it's reassuring to know that state and local election officials are on the case — and that if they find something wrong, they'll fix it.
The Lincoln Journal Star. Sept. 23, 2015
Sex education can benefit.
Teens in Nebraska are getting all kinds of sex education these days. Unfortunately too much of it is coming in the form of videos viewed on smartphones.
Think teens are not savvy enough to thwart parents who think they can check their child's browsing history? Think again.
The concept of sex education in schools almost seems quaint these days. But the topic is still enough to set off an explosion in the culture wars.
That longstanding reality was evident once again at a legislative hearing in the State Capitol on possible strategies, including sex education, to combat risky behavior by teens.
Dozens of Nebraskans showed up to protest vehemently against state mandates requiring schools to have classes in sex education. State law currently allows local school districts to determine their own policies. Sex education has been on part of the curriculum at Lincoln Public Schools for years.
Based on the history of attempts to mandate sex education in Nebraska, it's unlikely that any new proposal will gain much traction. Only 19 states require sex education.
The "purple penguin" episode in Lincoln demonstrated the incendiary potential of discussions related to sex and gender.
Nonetheless, there would be value in the establishment of state guidelines, even if they are only voluntary. The guidelines could show local school officials how sex education can be valuable.
For example, classes can teach students how to avoid peer pressure to engage in sexual activity, and how to recognize and cope with unwanted and inappropriate advances. The classes can drive home the point that it is wrong to take advantage or exploit another person. The classes can cover sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. Local school policies could also allow students to be excused from classes at the request of a parent or guardian.
Dr. Daniel Leonard, a Hastings pediatrician, said fifth graders in his community are already texting, chatting online and making jokes about sexual activity.
"I firmly believe that if we want to stop the epidemic of STDs, particularly in our urban areas, and also prevent unplanned pregnancies, that we have to have some sex education in place, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said.
Fortunately, at the national level the teen birth rate is dropping. In 2013 it dropped to a historic low of 26.5 births per 1,000 teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Nebraska ranked 25th among the states with a birth rate of 24.9. That's good, but with effective sex education classes in more Nebraska schools it could be even better, when combined with effective parenting at home.
The McCook Gazette. Sept. 24, 2015
Other drivers have special responsibility during harvest.
There are four pages of advice for farmers in the National Farm Safety Week edition in today's paper, but they are not the only ones who should be careful this time of the year.
As a matter of fact, those of us who use rural roads have a special responsibility to look out for those who are hurrying to get their crops out of the fields this harvest season.
"It's the time of year when we're bound to see an increase in agricultural equipment on state roadways," said Col. Bradley Rice, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. "We want motorists to be aware of and utilize caution when approaching, following or passing farm vehicles."
Drivers who are used to negotiating gravel roads tend to travel at higher speeds, but they can quickly overtake slower vehicles like combines, grain carts tractors, and other agricultural implements.
Such vehicles are at their best in open fields, but their drivers can be at a disadvantage when it comes to using rural roads. They can also be surprising to cars and pickup trucks that encounter them just beyond hills.
Changes in the farm economy over the years have caused the size of farm equipment to increase along with the size of farms, increasing travel distances between fields as well.
Large equipment such as combines and semi-trailers take a lot of space, so if you come upon a truck crowding the right side of the road, it might mean it is preparing to turn left.
Tall corn, narrow bridges, blind intersections, hills and other rural road hazards mean all drivers must be on the lookout for other vehicles.
Farmers are just as prone as every other driver to be distracted by cell phones, texting friends, checking weather or Facebook. All of us should lend our full attention to the road.
Plus, humans are only the most predictable creatures one can encounter on a road. Wildlife and domestic animals can create a hazard for rural drivers as well.
Farm machinery often use the shoulder of the roadway when it's available and should use Slow Moving Vehicle warning triangles and flashing yellow caution lights whenever they're on the road.
They should also buckle up if seatbelts are available, and take special care when turning left to avoid collisions with vehicles that may be attempting to pass.
You may have noticed the sun seems to align directly with east-west roads, making sunrise and sunset particularly difficult times to drive.
Col. Rice said, "Roadway safety is a shared responsibility. Let's all do our part to have a safe harvest season."
The Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Sept. 23, 2015.
In front of about 150 people at the Performing Arts Center in Sidney on Tuesday, the Natural Resources Committee of Nebraska heard testimony from experts and the general public about two legislative resolutions related to deep well wastewater injection.
The first resolution, 247, was drafted by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcom, which calls for eliminating the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
This idea received the most pushback from the crowd, many of whom were from the Sidney or Kimball areas and had some form of connection to the oil and gas industry.
The second resolution, 154, presented by Sen. John Stinner of Gering, called for an interim study regarding the authority of the NOGCC and its role in decisions regarding the disposal of salt wastewater.
According to the NOGCC's website, its mission is to foster, encourage and promote the development, production and utilization of natural resources of oil and gas in the state. It's also charged with preventing waste, protecting correlative rights of all owners, and encouraging and authorizing secondary recovery, pressure maintenance, cycling, or recycling, in order that the greatest ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained within the state while protecting the environment.
This twinning of promotion with regulation is the one clear area that needs to be redefined. We don't want to abolish the oil and gas commission. That's a step too far. The members of the commission are experienced, have deep institutional knowledge and were properly selected based on their backgrounds in the industry. They're passionate about and dedicated to their jobs. They've gone to great lengths to educate the public over this issue and have vehemently defended their organization.
But, for example, the director of the NOGCC should never have appeared in a Trans-Canada video advertisement promoting the Keystone XL pipeline. They can't be pushing development in the very same industry they're charged with monitoring. It's a clear conflict of interest.
We're not trying to stand in the way of industry. Oil production in Nebraska provides money for family farms, feeds into tax coffers and is a boon to the state economy. But we need to make sure we're progressing in a cautious manner.
Agriculture remains the paramount industry in the state. Without the natural resources that make it possible, our economy would be destroyed. The wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, while not necessarily labeled "toxic waste," could have a markedly negative impact on soil and groundwater if a leak or a spill occurs. That's why this is so important.
To date, we haven't had any major disasters from oil or gas production, and that can surely be partly attributed to the good work the NOGCC has done since it was founded in 1959.
Yet their dual roles remain troubling. They're obviously competent at their regulatory duties, at monitoring the wells, both producing oil and disposing of wastewater. Why not let someone else be charged with promoting the industry. Someone like oil companies, who have all the resources they need. They can field their own squad of cheerleaders.