Welcome

January 8th, 2014

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 31st legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Rick Kolowski

Speaker priority bills

February 21st, 2014

I am thrilled to announce that two of my bills have been selected as Speaker Priority bills, which means they will be given a high priority this session.

LB 923 – which creates a state School Security Director to set minimum standards for school security and help schools address their safety and security needs and creates suicide prevention and awareness training.

LB 546 – which creates greater efficiency for post-secondary education revenue bond projects so that we make sure our universities and colleges are able to build the necessary infrastructure for our students in the most efficient and cost effective way.

Great news for a Friday!

Priority Bill Designation

February 18th, 2014

Today I have designated LB 276 as my personal priority bill. If this bill passes, we will likely be bringing in an additional $20 million dollars to our state to help schools pay for the important services delivered to their special education students.

http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/view_bill.php?DocumentID=18564

Great Plains Black History Museum Public Hearing

February 13th, 2014

Today is the public hearing for my bill to appropriate $8 million for the new Great Plains Black History Museum. I am honored to stand with influential leaders to support this new museum.

GPBHM

District 31 students visit the State Capitol

February 13th, 2014

Today the District 31 Student Advisory Council is visiting the State Capitol.

The Student Advisory Council (SAC) is comprised of students from every school in my district. The mission of the SAC is to educate students about local government, inform them about issues in their community, give students a voice in the political process, and to foster leadership and civic involvement.

The SAC as we envision it for this school year and legislative cycle is a pilot version of the program. In the future, we hope to expand to involve more of Nebraska’s students. District 31 schools are well-suited to take on this pioneering role and I am honored to work with these incredible students.

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March Town Hall

February 5th, 2014

Mark your calendars for our next town hall meeting on March 3, from 7 – 9pm at the Walnut Grove Retirement Committee – 4901 S 153rd St.

Looking forward to updating you on my work at the State Legislature and hearing your ideas and concerns.

Great Plains Black History Museum seeks a new home, fresh start

January 23rd, 2014

great plains black history museum

By Carol Bicak /World-Herald staff writer

The Great Plains Black History Museum has a board of directors, a website, volunteers, more than 400 members, artifacts and other treasures.

What it lacks is a home.

The building that used to house it on Lake Street is uninhabitable. It is full of leaks, mold and unstable stairs and floors. The museum closed its doors in 2004, putting most of its holdings in storage.

But don’t call it the missing museum around its president and chairman of the board, James Beatty.

“The building is closed,” he likes to say, “but the museum is open.”

The museum was founded by Bertha Calloway in 1976 in the Webster Telephone Exchange Building. Built in 1907 by architect Thomas Kimball, the building was designated an Omaha Landmark in 1980 and is on National Register of Historic Places. But it is also in desperate disrepair.

At the top of Beatty’s wish list is a place to exhibit the museum’s collection. Although he doesn’t rule out an existing building as a home, “we really want to build new,” he said.

The Legislature may help with that. State Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha’s District 31 introduced a bill last week that, if passed, would provide up to $8 million of state money toward a new facility. The money would go into a fund that the Nebraska State Historical Society would administer. For every $2 million the museum raised on its own, it would receive $1 million from the fund.

Kolowski, a former principal at Millard West High School, has been a supporter of the black history museum since the 1970s, when he taught social studies.

“A newly designed facility in a prime location will take this museum to the next level and become an important tourism and educational draw to our metro area,” he said in a press release.

Beatty, who joined the Black History Museum in 2010, admits that he and Terri Sanders, vice president of marketing and development, face challenges.

They hope to double membership and are trying to round up serious financial backers. Working from a sunny office near 31st and Dodge Streets, the two accept donations and look for new artifacts, visiting any attic or basement where they are invited to hunt for hidden bounty.

Neither is paid, yet they give frequent talks and take artifacts into the community and to schools so people, especially children, can see and touch history.

“Education is the absolute key and foundation to our mission and the success of the museum,” Beatty said. “We’ll go anywhere.”

The museum has an exhibit at the W. Dale Clark Library downtown that will be up through Jan. 31 and it will rent space for an exhibit in Crossroads Mall. Last week, a “Salute to Black Women” exhibit opened at the Omaha Community Playhouse to coincide with the opening of the play “Having Our Say” about a pair of sisters who fought for civil rights.

But there is only so much Beatty and Sanders can do with the vast part of the collection in storage. Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani, chairman of the black studies department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that’s why it’s so important for the museum to find a permanent space. Not only do white people need to see what black people have accomplished, he said, but black people also “need to see what they’ve done.”

“You need the building,” Imani said. “A museum has one thing a library does not: It has artifacts.”

One of the toughest jobs Beatty and Sanders face is getting the word out about the museum, Beatty said. Even before it closed, not enough people were aware of it.

One person who knew it well was north Omaha activist and businessman Preston Love Jr.

“I was a frequent flier,” he said. “I often marveled at the wide range of artifacts and collectibles Bertha had accumulated. You couldn’t see the whole place at once. I would get paralyzed by something that would catch my attention and stay for hours.”

When it comes to a new exhibit space, Beatty is thinking big. He sees a future where the Black History Museum competes with the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and the Durham Museum, for which he was once a board member. He sees not only a draw for tourism but also a great repository of information for researchers.

“We want it to be a destination point for Omaha,” said Rudy Smith, a museum board member. “We’re going in a positive direction. It will benefit the entire state.”

But there is much work ahead.

First, there is the building. A major capital fundraising campaign will be headed by civic leader John Gottschalk, former publisher of The World-Herald. Sanders estimates that the entire project, including land, will cost about $25 million. Beatty said that they are still working on when to hold fundraisers but that some possible big donors have already expressed interest in the project. If Kolowski’s bill, Legislative Bill 904, is passed, it would create somewhat of a deadline because it would put a two-year time limit on the state’s fund.

They do at least know what they want to build. Stanley J. How Architects, which has done extensive work at the zoo and Bellevue University, has drawn up renderings, and J. Greg Smith Inc. would be the designer. But they still aren’t sure where it would go. Beatty said the museum is looking at several possible locations around the city.

See the renderings and plans: 1, 2, 3, 4

Then there’s the collection. It needs to be cataloged, and much of it is undocumented and missing provenance or context. When the old museum closed its doors, it was not emptied systematically. Everything was jammed into boxes, which went to storage facilities.

And the storage units aren’t organized well. For instance, one unit Beatty showed The World-Herald was stuffed with hundreds of boxes full of papers and who-knows-what. There were signs and photographs, an old baby carriage, long-forgotten toys and articles of clothing, old military equipment and household items.

No one knows what all the museum has or what kind of shape it’s in. And “we just don’t know where some of this stuff came from,” Beatty said.

“I blame former management,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

That former management would be Calloway and her son James.

“In all candor and fairness, Bertha was not a curator,” Love said, “and the place needs a curator approach.”

Love agrees that Beatty and Sanders are facing “a huge job. But I commend them. I think they are going about it the right way. They are looking at a bigger picture.”

The process of sorting and identifying items and discovering sources is going to be long, exhausting and probably frustrating. But they won’t have to do it entirely on their own. Patrick Jones, associate professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his students have been helping sort through the collection.

Jones said that when people see what is in there, “they are blown away.”

In addition, the Omaha Public Library and the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center are assisting, Beatty said.

It seems a daunting task, but Love said the black community has been involved in the museum before and can be again.

“People felt responsible for the museum,” he said. “If you had something of value, you’d give it to her (Bertha) or loan it to the museum.”

When the new facility finally goes up, the name will be changed to the Great Plains Black History Museum, Science & Technology Center. Beatty said that’s to reflect not only the history of Nebraska’s black population but also what youths of all races need to study for the future.

The museum takes donations and applies for grants for operating expenses, which came to just over $113,000 in 2012, the latest year for which information was available. But those expenses, too, will grow as the project goes forward, Beatty said.

All involved agree about the importance of their work. The museum, they say, isn’t just about preserving the past.

“Misperceptions fill people’s heads about African-Americans,” UNL’s Jones said. “Seeing what’s in this collection helps them develop respect for the differences and helps them find common humanity.”

Property Tax Relief

January 15th, 2014

I have been mailing surveys across my district to hear what the people of District 31 want their representatives to prioritize.

The number one concern my constituents have is their high property taxes.

That is why I have introduced two property tax relief bills linked below.

http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/Intro/LB913.pdf

http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/Intro/LB912.pdf

Great Plains Black History Museum

January 15th, 2014

Today I introduced LB904, which would provide $8 million to assist the Great Plains Black History Museum to build their new facility.

I have been a supporter of this museum since its founding in the Mid-1970s. As a social studies teacher and department head in the Millard schools, my staff and students were encouraged to utilize and annually visit the museum at its North Omaha location.

This museum has been a tremendous resource both in Omaha and in the mid-west and has impacted students and other cities for decades. A newly designed facility at a prime location will take this museum to the next level and become an important tourism and educational draw to our metro area.

Recognition and Enforcement of Tribal Courts

January 13th, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers would ensure the state recognizes civil rulings made by American Indian tribal courts under a bill prompted by a dispute about whether an athlete could participate in a high school wrestling program.

The wrestling disagreement was resolved, but supporters of the legislation said it pointed out the need to make clear that tribal rulings should be enforced as other rulings would in Nebraska.

“It’s about the tribal laws and state laws, and how they coordinate so that there’s not a difficulty that would trip a family up and ruin a season or a competition,” said State Senator Rick Kolowski, of Omaha, who proposed the bill.

The matter began in 2007 when John Keen tried to enroll his son, Taylor, in a Nebraska high school wrestling program.

Keen, 43, was given legal custody of his son Taylor after he and his wife divorced in 1992. All of the proceedings took place in a Cherokee Nation tribal court in their native Oklahoma. But Keen, who is part-Cherokee and part-Omaha, said he encountered problems after his son returned to live with him in the Omaha area for his senior year.

He enrolled Taylor at Elkhorn High School in 2007 after he moved from his mother’s home in Oklahoma, where he had lived for the last year. John Keen said he presented school athletics officials with a tribal court order to show that he had legal custody of his son, Taylor.

“They said, ‘This isn’t a court,’” Keen said. “I said, ‘Well sure it is.’ That’s where I was born and raised. It’s where my son was born, and it’s where his mother and I divorced. Everything we did had to stay with that court.”

Keen and his attorney said his son was rejected because of NSAA rules that generally require student athletes to live with a custodial parent. The rules are designed to keep students from “school-shopping” for a particular athletic program.

The matter eventually was resolved, but Keens said it cost him more than $10,000 in legal fees.

Keen said a friend from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska called him recently and asked for money to help address a similar problem. Frustrated, Keen said he reached out to his attorney and Kolowski, who represents him in the Legislature.

Kolowski said he proposed the legislation is modeled after a state law in Iowa that recognizes civil judgments in tribal courts and allows the state to enforce them.

Taylor Keen was eventually allowed to wrestle once his father showed that he had legal custody of his son and that the two were living together. Velder said the association has recognized tribal-court rulings for decades, but officials weren’t able to confirm right away that Taylor Keen met the eligibility requirements. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality rules.

“In Nebraska, we would accept the tribal court as a court of competent jurisdiction,” she said. “I’ve been here for 33 years, and that’s always how it’s been.”

John Keen’s attorney, Ben Thompson, said the association initially refused to recognize the order but did so “after a lot of convincing” in a meeting with the group’s attorneys.

Thompson said the Nebraska bill includes several procedural safeguards to ensure that litigants in tribal court are given due process, and that the court was the proper authority to hear a case.

“Here in Nebraska, I think we’re a bit behind the curve on these issues,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping we can catch up and join the 21st century.”

Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the proposal represents an important step in ensuring tribal courts are acknowledged by the state.

The courts have gained recognition in recent year, “but it’s a really slow battle,” gaiashkibos said. “The status quo wants to remain the status quo.”