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The Legislature convened last week with very little rancor or acrimony. I do disagree with the ill-informed who believe that the previous year’s session, where hard stands were taken by those with differing political viewpoints leading to filibusters and stagnation on certain issues, was counterproductive to good government. Good government occurs when debate is not stymied by vote trading, block voting or hasty compromise. Due to last year’s successful session, senators now know exactly the boundaries each of their colleagues have placed on individual issues. I am optimistic that we are seeing more willingness between senators of different viewpoints to negotiate within the confines of a bill and less attempts of vote trading (you vote for my legislation and I vote for yours).
Past Nebraska Legislatures have fallen into the trap of taking the easy way to compromise: throw money at it, which leads to Nebraska having the second highest ratio of local/state tax burden to private income in the nation; only Illinois, which is hemorrhaging population and is on the verge of bankruptcy, has a higher tax burden. Nebraskans deserve better; last year was a good start to redefine collegiality in the Legislature from “let’s all get along” to “respect for each other’s ideas.”
Besides a few private exchanges with University of Nebraska administrators and regents, I have stayed out of the debate on harassment of a student by a university employee. The firing of the employee was warranted; individuals in positions of power over another (teacher/student) cannot be allowed to intimidate those they intend to educate. One has to wonder if the instructor involved believed it was appropriate to spew racial slurs against Caucasians and obstruct a student’s legitimate campus activity, what must have been the level of intimidation in the confines of her classroom. Sens. Steve Erdman, Tom Brewer, and Steve Halloran need to be applauded for addressing the conduct of the lecturer. They attempted to create dialogue with the top administrators, they presented solid evidence of campus bias against certain political ideas, and when necessary they involved the public through the press.
Should Nebraskans be concerned about the censorship of certain ideologies on UNL’s campus? When analyzing the political affiliation of the instructional staff of the English, teachers college, philosophy, sociology, psychology, political science and history departments, we find that out of 97 only seven are registered Republicans. A vigorous academic exchange of ideas cannot happen when one ideology is restricted from participating. This unbalanced situation happened under a previous administration. Now that the senators have brought this indefensible inequity to present President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, I am confident they will take steps to correct the sterile intellectual environment that now exists at UNL. Sen. Halloran is presenting legislation to remind students that their rights do not stop at the gates of a higher education establishment and will require the university to be accountable to the public on instances of free speech infringements. I will support him in his endeavor.
We are working on legislation to address NCORPE and TIF, and due to my position on the Revenue Committee, we have a front-row seat on proposals addressing taxation legislation. At present, it looks like the Education Committee, which I chair, will not have to cut state aid to public schools, due mostly to the increase in residential property valuations in equalized school districts. Those homeowners will pay more property taxes to support their schools but will receive less state aid.
When I ran for the Education Committee chairmanship after only two years in the Legislature, I was pleased to have the support of 15 eastern Nebraska senators, resulting in a 28-vote majority. So it was great to get the approval of a local editorial writer when they pointed out that when successful senators from western Nebraska show statewide vision and collaborative spirit, they are rewarded with Unicameral leadership positions, as I was with the election as Education Committee chair.
We are having a town hall meeting at Hershey Baptist Church on Saturday at 1 p.m. It will be an open discussion on what is happening in Lincoln.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.