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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 43rd 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.
Sen. Tom Brewer
The special session of the legislature for redistricting is here. We begin Monday the 13th. Every ten years after the census we redraw all the political maps, adjusting boundaries based on the new census. Even though our unicameral is called a “non-partisan” body, redistricting always creates the temptation for the Nebraska Legislature to make it a partisan fight. Redistricting in the next couple of weeks is going to be very politically contentious. For me, the fight is about making darn sure that we draw districts that are fair to rural Nebraska. Rural Nebraska is still the economic heart of this state. It is also the most beautiful place to be.
There are eight state parks in Nebraska. Four of them are in District 43, which I have the honor of representing. There are 283 Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in Nebraska. My legislative district has forty-three of them. We have some of the best hunting opportunities in the nation. We have beautiful waterfalls, natural lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands, not to mention the globally-unique geography of the Sandhills and the world-renowned rivers for float trips. All that beauty is also smack in the middle of the world’s best beef.
Since I have been in office, each year I receive a number of calls and letters about improving access to these natural treasures. In a number of places in western Nebraska, the public is used to using the “traditional” access to lakes and rivers. These places are not officially recognized or maintained by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), or the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT). They often pose a safety hazard on state and county roads. Vehicles end up stuck in places they should not have been, and trespassers often rile up private landowners.
In the days ahead the staff and I are going to work with NGPC and NDOT to improve these access issues. We may not be able to find a favorable solution for every case, but I want to try. The solutions will have to involve these two state agencies and private landowners at a minimum. I do not want to be forced to introduce a bill to achieve the level of cooperation we need, and I don’t think I will have to. I have had some success working with NDOT and NGPC on other projects, so I think we have what it takes to get this done.
If you have a suggestion to improve one of our state recreation areas, or have a “traditional” access point you would like to see made official and maintained, please send us an email describing the situation and explaining your reasoning and I will add it to the growing list of issues I will raise with these state agencies in the near future. Tourism for Nebraska continues to be a big economic driver for our district and state.
The first very nice, cool morning came to Lincoln this week. It reminded me that fall is just around the corner and colder weather is coming. I paused to remember the coldest winter in living memory last year, and Nebraskans’ power being shut off by people in other states. With this on my mind, I wondered why is the Nebraska Public Power District circulating a survey about “decarbonization” and green energy? It seems to me their priorities are out of whack again. They should be figuring out how to never again shut off power to Nebraskans when we have more than enough generation in Nebraska to serve our state’s electricity needs.
Back in 2009 when all three of Nebraska’s public power organizations joined the regional transmission authority called the “Southwest Power Pool” no one mentioned the fact we were entering a contractual agreement that gave some organization in another state the authority to shut off electricity to Nebraskans. Perhaps the choices made at that time would have been different had the public been informed of this fact. When my interim study hearing in the Natural Resources committee happens in the weeks ahead, I am hopeful that our public power organizations come prepared to address this concern. Contract revisions ensuring this can never happen again is the only correct answer.
“Renewable energy” is a term that is actually defined in state law. I am hopeful the legislature can add “nuclear” power to that definition in the next session. Instead of our public power organizations pursuing destructive and unreliable power generators like industrial wind turbines, they should be developing some of the new and exciting nuclear energy options like Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). These reactors are a key part of the US Department of Energy’s goal to develop safe, clean, and affordable nuclear power. These advanced reactors can vary in size from tens of megawatts up to hundreds of megawatts. They offer many advantages, such as relatively small physical footprints, reduced capital investment, ability to be sited in locations not possible for larger nuclear plants, and they can be easily expanded. They are built in a factory and delivered to the job site ready to plug-and-play. SMRs also offer distinct safeguards, and security features not found in the nuclear plants of the 1970s. These reactor designs have been safely and reliably operated in ships and submarines of the US Navy since the 1950s.
In other news, the special session for redistricting approaches soon. It is scheduled for September 13th through the 30th. I encourage citizens to follow the floor debate. This only happens once every ten years, after which we all have to live with the political district maps that are drawn during this process. I believe a liberal filibuster is likely. Conservatives control the redistricting committee by one vote, so there will no doubt be some spirited discussions that will be worth watching. The Committee will hold public hearings in each of the three congressional districts. The hearings will be held on September 14 in Grand Island, September 15 in Lincoln, and September 16 in Omaha.
The Nebraska Constitution is very clear about when the Legislature is to meet, and for how long. Article III, Section 10 states that the Legislature is to commence its business for each year at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. During even-numbered years, the Legislature has a maximum of sixty days to get our work done. During odd-numbered years, the Constitution allows us a maximum of ninety days, with the extra thirty days intended to give us the time we need to formulate our biennial budget.
Once a decade, part of our regular work is to redraw electoral boundaries based on the population statistics assembled in the most recent federal census. This year, for the first time in American history, the census results were late. Our ninety-day session would have afforded us plenty of time to complete redistricting if the numbers had been delivered on time, by April 1st. Unfortunately, states did not receive the 2020 census results until mid-August.
Besides setting the time and maximum length of regular legislative sessions, our state constitution also provides in Article IV, Section 8 that the governor may call a special session of the Legislature in “extraordinary circumstances.” I think it is fair to say that the unprecedented delay in receiving the census data is an extraordinary circumstance. Special sessions are not included in the constitution as a way for the Legislature to get more time to do its regular work. This constitutional provision strictly forbids the Legislature from taking up any business other than what the special session is called to conduct. This means that all bills in a special session are related to that same topic.
Special sessions still have bill introduction, referencing, hearings, and floor debate like regular session of the Legislature. However, these procedures occur on a much tighter timeline. Speaker Hilgers has informed us that the Legislature will be called into a special session on September 13th at 10 a.m. He has urged the body to be prepared to work quickly so that our job will be complete no later than September 24th. That is a quick turnaround, but it is necessary in order to give local elections officials and political subdivisions adequate time to redraw precinct lines and other local boundaries before candidates must file for office for the primary elections in the spring.
Redistricting is a big job, and it is one of the most important things that we do as senators. Whatever lines we draw, Nebraskans are going to have to live with them for the next ten years. As a member of the Redistricting Committee, I take that heavy responsibility seriously.
What a difference just one week makes. Last week I wrote about how quickly US Afghanistan policy was collapsing. The Taliban were reported fighting about ten miles from Kabul when I wrote this update last week. Now they are sitting in the Afghan President’s office. In the photograph is one of the terrorists Mr. Obama let out of prison in Guantanamo in trade for the deserter, Mr. Bergdahl. Tens of thousands of Americans, soldiers and civilians, European and NATO allies, and God knows how many Afghans who helped us are now trapped and surrounded at the Kabul airport. This will soon become Mr. Biden’s version of the evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII. The only reason an American is still alive in Kabul right now is because they are worth more alive. Before this is over, pallets of US cash money will be required for the ransom. The international prestige of the United States will not be restored in my lifetime. The President and many in the Pentagon should resign. This is going to get much worse.
Those who believe the army of Afghanistan cut and run need to clean their glasses and read the statistics again. Over 69,000 Afghan soldiers (and about that many civilians) have been killed in combat since the US combat mission ended in December of 2014. I remember seeing reports of hundreds being killed in a single day. I was part of the US assistance mission that trained many of these soldiers. When they graduated from my class they were sent straight into combat. Though many of their senior leaders struggled with corruption, the ordinary soldiers and non-commissioned officers fought with bravery and distinction that made this old Colonel very proud.
We have a one-of-a-kind treasure of knowledge about Afghanistan right here in Nebraska at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. There is building full of experts and a library full of many great scholarly works on Afghanistan. Over the years they have provided invaluable advice and assistance to the US mission in Afghanistan, and to me personally. Had anyone in the Pentagon taken five minutes to review their disastrous plan with the professors in this wonderful institution, they would have been thoroughly warned against this insane course of action. This iconic failure of our country’s entire national security team did not happen because we didn’t know any better. I cannot fathom the reckless and willful ignorance required to order a withdraw from Afghanistan the likes of which we are seeing.
I joined the Army in the late 1970’s. I saw first-hand what our humiliating defeat in Vietnam did to the moral and combat readiness of the US Army. Remember that the “all volunteer force” is a forty-seven year-old experiment. We haven’t had to draft people into the military since 1973 because we could recruit and retain an all-volunteer force big enough to defend our country without conscript soldiers. I’m not sure tuition assistance will replenish the ranks after this.
The US Afghanistan policy is collapsing with frightening speed. In recent days I have watched in stunned amazement as the Biden administration pleads with the Taliban to not attack our embassy in Afghanistan. I am reminded of my many friends I left in that tortured little country. The Tajik tribe in Afghanistan is of Panjishir Province. No invader has ever captured it in over a thousand years. The Tajiks are fierce warriors. There are countless unmarked graves in Panjishir containing a Russian or Taliban foolish enough to come there over the years. Of all the tribes of the Afghans they were our most loyal and strongest ally. They even warned us of 9/11 before it happened. We have betrayed our best and most capable ally at a moment in history when we need them the most. I am very worried this amateur-hour retrograde operation our military is doing is going to get a lot of people killed, and I’m just sick about it.
President Biden has ordered 3,000 soldiers and marines to evacuate the embassy in Kabul. I am very concerned about this mission. Our military presence, even with these additional troops, is a tiny fraction of the combat power we once had. We do not control the territory around an airfield anymore. I cannot fathom how this military force is going to provide for its own defense, let alone provide force-protection for the evacuation of over 4,000 civilians at the embassy. How long before a C-17 cargo plane at maximum passenger capacity (100-ish) is shot down?
While these woke military officers in charge are trying to figure out which pronoun or bathroom soldiers should use, the Chinese are about to give diplomatic recognition to the Taliban. Lets pray that doesn’t include a shipment of surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles. The people we have running things over there are about to put a lot of America’s sons and daughters in mortal danger.
The Taliban are utterly ruthless and barbaric. Their ancient militant species of Islam is incompatible with the modern world. They should’ve been destroyed by force of arms long ago.
Instead we decided to give breathtaking amounts of money to the military industrial complex to explore other reasons to continue our presence there. The briefest examination of human conflict teaches us that the absolute best way to put a swift end to armed conflict and set the most favorable conditions possible for lasting peace is by total, unconditional, victory. Close with and destroy the enemy by way of combined arms fire and maneuver until they unconditionally surrender. Peace is impossible without having a clear winner. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the national will to fight a war like that since WWII.
Victory is the one and only morally correct objective of warfare. Anything less, like trying to create a 21st century Jeffersonian Democracy in a tribal culture struggling to pull themselves out of the 12th century is just wrong. George Washington warned us to avoid “foreign entanglements” in his farewell speech.
Given the appalling leadership I’ve seen so far, there is a very real possibility things in Afghanistan could go horribly wrong in a big hurry. May the lord watch over and protect America’s military.
We face several challenges in filling law enforcement vacancies in Nebraska. This problem is growing and is something that I believe will require new legislation next session.
On the Nebraska Crime Commission’s website you can find job advertisements for law enforcement officer (LEO) vacancies around the state in city police departments, sheriff’s offices, and county jails. As of this morning, there were eighty-nine job announcements on this page. This list does not include the State Patrol or the Department of Corrections who are also critically short handed and have a significant number of vacancies as well.
The population demographics of Nebraska are a hard fact of life that we must address. The tax base that supports small-town police departments and sheriff’s offices in sparsely populated rural counties will not support paying LEOs a competitive wage. If these departments are lucky enough to find an interested, qualified applicant to fill a vacancy, they then have to wait months for a spot in a training cycle at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center. Nearly eighty applicants are on the waiting list right now.
Almost one in five applicants who start the course do not graduate due to sub-standard physical fitness, academic performance, and other reasons. The cost invested in this person is borne by the taxpayers in these small communities and counties whether they graduate or not. If the applicant graduates, roughly two-thirds leave the job within five years, many for more populated towns and counties who can afford to pay better. For many western Nebraska departments, the drive to this school is over three hundred miles one way. By the time a rural department gets a qualified LEO back from the academy, they already have ten to twenty thousand dollars invested in them before they serve a day on the job as a full-fledged officer.
The rules we follow in Nebraska need to be updated. Right now, a sitting district court judge cannot teach a law class in our law enforcement academy because they are not a certified instructor. Police and sheriff departments who recruit already qualified LEOs from other states require Nebraska state approval after these departments have already vetted the candidate. We need to address these rules that make it more difficult to hire officers in Nebraska.
We need to be doing all we can to make the task of finding, hiring and training new law enforcement professionals easier and cheaper. We need to give some serious thought to a Western Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center. We need to shift some of the financial burden off of these small towns and rural counties. More of this cost should be in the State budget.
The one-size-fits-all policy we have today needs improvement. Our small towns and rural counties are fast approaching the point where they do not have the resources to provide for the most basic and important function of government – protect the people. When a large populated city or county in Nebraska is short two law enforcement officers, hardly anyone notices. When a county in the Sandhills is short two law enforcement officers, that might be half of the department, and in some cases even more.
Last session, my good friend Sen. Steve Halloran introduced the Convention of States resolution as he has done in every legislature since we began our term in office in 2017. Once passed, this will be Nebraska’s “application” to the United States Congress asking that a convention of states for the purpose of proposing amendments to the federal constitution be called. I strongly support this legislation, and I will always co-sponsor it.
It will be before the Legislature again next session. I urge supporters to contact their state senator and urge them to vote for it.
Two-thirds of the states — thirty-four — have to make application for this convention to happen. Fifteen states have done this so far. Twenty-two additional states have passed the measure in one chamber of their legislature. Convention of States legislation has been introduced in forty-seven states.
The framers of the Constitution put two methods to propose amendments to the Constitution in Article V. Our country has used the first method — two-thirds of Congress — thirty-three times to ultimately create twenty-seven amendments to the constitution. The process clearly works. The second method in Article V is where two-thirds of the states have a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. Once the required supermajority of states have made application, Congress calls the convention (names the time and place). All states may send a delegation whether they applied for the convention or not.
Amendments to the Constitution are proposed at the convention. Each state has one vote. Amendments voted out of the convention are sent to congress to select a mode of ratification, and then they are sent to all fifty states for ratification.
Regardless of whether congress proposes the amendment, or the states do, it must be ratified by three-quarters (thirty-eight) of the states. That amounts to about seventy-six houses of state government just like our legislature. A majority of each have to vote to ratify an amendment. This works out to be about 2,500 state legislators (senators and representatives) who would all have to vote “yes” to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The framers of the Constitution required thirty-eight state legislatures to all agree on the same thing before it could become part of the constitution. They wanted there to be a way to change the Constitution, but they wanted to ensure the process was protected from frivolous political mischief. This extraordinarily powerful safeguard the framers put in the constitution protects us from that and has worked brilliantly the past two hundred thirty two years of our country’s history.
It is clear to me the federal government has become unmoored from the Constitution. Their pronouncements and directives grow more oppressive by the day. The states created the federal government. I believe the states need to use the constitution they wrote, and restore the federal creature they conceived to its limited constitutional role before it does more harm to the country. This is the context and principal reason the convention of states mode of proposing amendments was written into Article V.
Nebraska had only been a state for seventy years when the very first session of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature was held in January 1937. Every school kid in Nebraska is taught about our one-of-a-kind system of State government. Most of them also tour the capitol building at this time of year. As another mob of school kids trooped past our office door, the inevitable always happens. They see the buffalo head I have displayed in our office. Much to the frustration of their chaperons, they all want to see “Buffy” and our office is suddenly filled with wide-eyed fourth-graders brimming with questions. This has to be the most photographed buffalo mount in the state. They make you forget the often vulgar nature of politics, and remind you that we do things here that are going to out-live us. They inspire me, so I decided to write about them today.
We have a Unicameral Legislature in Nebraska because Nebraska is one of only twenty-six states that have a constitution that grants the power of “initiative and referendum” to the people. The Unicameral idea was a ballot initiative in Nebraska. The first one in 1923 did not collect enough signatures. In 1933 a second ballot initiative was launched. U.S. Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska was instrumental in the initiative’s success. He agreed to promote the idea only after the initiative organizers agreed to ensure the plan created a “non-partisan” Unicameral (not organized around the political party with the most senators in the body).
Three ballot initiatives put questions on the ballot in the 1934 election; changing to a unicameral, ratifying the 21st Amendment (ending prohibition), and a measure to legalize pari-mutuel betting (a style of betting used in horse racing) Nebraska historians have argued that the unicameral question being on the same ballot with questions about alcohol and gambling, in the middle of The Great Depression, was very lucky political timing. It’s worth noting the voters passed the gambling measure along with the Unicameral idea, but Nebraska was one of the eight states that did not ratify the 21st Amendment.
The first Unicameral had forty-three senators and has grown to forty-nine along with the population. Initially the terms for Senators were two years long, changing to four years in 1962. The legislature only met in the odd-numbered years until 1970 when the long (90 days) and short (60 day) sessions constitutional amendment was adopted. This was about the time Senators were given full-time staff as well. I’ll be writing more about our Unicameral in the weeks to come.
Inspiration for this weekly update, and many facts in this writing are taken from the brilliant work found in “A History of the Nebraska Legislature” by Dr. Michael Dulaney.
We are in “the interim” on the Legislative calendar. It is that time between legislative sessions. Most Senators have jobs, farms, ranches and businesses to attend to. It’s time to go home and reconnect with family too. It’s important to remember we have a part-time citizen legislature. Each of the 49 Senators are ordinary citizens with families, lives and professions. Many have re-election campaigns to run as well.
The interim is also the time to work on bill ideas and prepare for the coming session. This year the interim will be shorter than usual because we will have a special session in September. It’s purpose is to prepare the new political district maps. The constitution requires this to be done once every ten years after the census so political boundaries can be drawn according to the population counted in the census. Unfortunately, the federal government is in violation of federal law because they are delinquent in providing the states with this data. It was due in April but we won’t receive it until August. We cannot have another election until this is done.
The special session will be contentious because this process creates a map everyone will have to live with for the next ten years. Three short months after the special session, the second session of the 107th Legislature will meet. Second sessions are always more contentious than first sessions because of the looming election in 2022. It’s my sincere hope that the heated debates in the special session don’t carry over into the regular session.
Big ideas are won or lost during the interim. The groundwork senators do during the interim is a good indication of the type of bills you can expect to see them introduce in the coming session. The way that is done is called “an interim study.” These studies are done by the many committees of the legislature during the interim. Over a hundred interim studies were introduced by senators this past session. Each one is referenced (assigned) to a committee. It is up to the committee chair to decide whether or not the committee will hear the interim study. In the Government committee which I chair, we received several interim studies.
We are working with a very compressed timeline for interim study hearings this year because the redistricting special session happens in the middle of the interim. Most of the committee chairs apply a simple test to interim study proposals. If the idea was a bill being heard by the committee, and it’s clear the idea wouldn’t receive enough votes to advance from the committee to general file, it’s not very likely to be heard.
The Nebraska Legislature is going to be a very busy place for the remainder of this year and the next.
The President of the United States has ordered the US military out of Afghanistan by August 31st of this year. This withdrawal of troops is called a “retrograde” operation. It is the most difficult and risky of all tasks you can ask soldiers to do in combat. Retrograde operations are never pretty. They are prone to turning into another form of operational maneuver called a “pursuit” (the enemy chasing you as you try to leave). No President wants that on the evening news, which is why the press isn’t being allowed anywhere near this one.
My legislative aide and I have a combined total of nearly fourteen years of service in Afghanistan. We have skin in this game. We have mourned the death of a lot of friends there. My heart is heavy as I write this. A retrograde operation is not an American victory celebration. One is forced to ask, how is the United States of America better off that 2,452 of her citizens were killed in this tortured little country?
Like can be said for a lot of things the United States does, it was a good idea at the time. On 9/11 the government of Afghanistan was “The Taliban.” They practice the same primitive and brutal form of Islam of their guest, Osama Bin Laden. They refused to hand him over. Our subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban government was the right thing to do. Our mission was crystal clear and it was noble. We accomplished it with astounding speed and bravery.
Then we decided to stay after that mission was complete. No President wants to be the one who “loses” a war. What’s more, the US military industrial complex was making a breathtaking amount of money in Afghanistan. We have spent over $2 trillion dollars of borrowed money in Afghanistan. We tried to build a functioning representative democracy where none had ever existed before. Unfortunately, we were missing the single most important ally: Pakistan. We were also missing the single most important partner: Congress.
The government of Pakistan is supposed to be a US ally, but they are riding a tiger. If they fall off, they will be eaten. They clandestinely support the Taliban out of their own domestic self-interest. So long as the Pakistan government provides shelter and arms for the Taliban in Pakistan to conduct terrorist operations in Afghanistan, the Taliban do not attack them. Pervez Musharraf, a former President of Pakistan once said, “Afghanistan must be made to boil at the right temperature.”
I believe in the ancient truth that total, unconditional victory is the one and only reason that justifies spending American blood and treasure in some far away land. When the framers of the constitution gave the power to declare war only to congress, they did so using this same ancient wisdom.
If Afghanistan teaches us anything, we need to amend the “War Powers Act” which allows Congress to shirk much of this responsibility to the President. Before the first shot is fired, every member of congress should have a recorded vote next to their name. I don’t think it’s asking too much for them to have political skin in the game if they are sending people with actual skin in the game.
I pray this mission can be finished without any more casualties.