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It’s that time of year when we all should pause a moment and consider the very long list of things that we all have to be thankful for. I’ve seen much of the world, and a lot of it wasn’t a pretty sight. Americans for the most part fail to grasp how blessed we all are to live in this country. I realize our federal government has some very serious problems that are so numerous I could write a book about it. But this is the time of year where I want to write about all we have to be thankful for.
I would like to thank all the Nebraskans who give of themselves so the rest of us can take so much for granted. Our law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical personnel who make dialing 911 something we can all rely on. The soldiers and airmen of our National Guard who stand ready to answer the call of the Governor or the President. Our incredible healthcare workers who stand on the front line in the emergency room every day. The citizens who raise their hand and run for elected office on the city council or the county commissioners or the school board. The unpaid volunteers who staff rural fire departments or volunteer at their local school or church. The many veteran groups and organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars who give so much back to their communities. Civic organizations like the Eagles Club or Rotary Club or Shriners who support so many charitable causes. Even the neighbor who looks in on the elderly person who lives alone next door. The dad that agrees to be the Cub Scout pack leader, or the parent who agrees to help chaperon the fourth grade class that visits our very unique and beautiful Capitol building every spring.
These amazing citizens are the fabric of our community. They are the stitches that hold our coat of many colors together. They make living in Nebraska and the United States the special thing that it is. There is no ‘good life’ without good people, and we have an abundance of them.
The list of people and groups that make America great is very long. The willingness of ordinary people to volunteer and give back to their communities is a singularly unique aspect of American life. You just don’t see this degree of civic involvement in other countries. The biggest blessing we have in the United States is the large number of ordinary citizens willing to give of themselves to make their community better. A lot of people in other countries are not as free as we are. They look to the government to improve their lives. Americans look to themselves. The people know our government does not make America great. Our people do. Working for them has been the greatest honor of my life. From all of us on my team here in the capitol, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
As many of you know last month I embarked on a journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Mount Kilimanjaro, also known as the Roof of Africa, is the highest free-standing mountain in the world and ranks #4 on the list of the Seven Summits at 19,340 feet. I was joined by 11 other climbers for this adventure, including four other senators. Those who joined me were Senator Ben Hansen of District 16, Senator Dave Murman of District 38, Senator Justin Wayne of District 13, Senator Anna Wishart of District 27, Dalton Boden, Hunter Armstrong, COL (Ret.) Van Joy, Michael Ferguson, Jeff Bolton, Blaine Bolton, and Mike Wilkinson.
Our climb began on Friday November 12th. We had a team of 53 Tanzanians aiding our accent up Kilimanjaro, consisting of six guides, two camp masters, two chefs, two servers, and the remaining team members were porters to help carry equipment from camp to camp. We selected to take the Machame Route, which is the second hardest route up the mountain. At about midday we stepped off from the Machame gate, elevation 5,905 feet and hiked 6.8 miles to Machame Camp, elevation 9,875 feet. This hike took us through the beautiful rainforest of Tanzania.
Day two consisted of a 3.1-mile hike from Machame Camp to Shira Camp, elevation 12,614. This day we saw the charms of the rainforest fall away as we entered the alpine zone of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our view turned from trees stretching high over our heads to seeing out for miles looking at the Shira Plateau.
The third day of our adventure featured a challenging 6 mile hike to the Lava Tower, elevation 15,190 with many accents and descents. Lava Tower is a 300-foot tall rock formation that formed when Kilimanjaro was still and active volcano. Our crew had lunch at Lava Tower and continued to Barranco Camp, elevation 12,992 feet.
We began day four by scaling Barranco Wall. This was the most technical portion of our climb. After reaching the top of the Wall we continued to Karanga Camp, elevation 13,238 feet. The hike for the day was 3.1 miles long. The trek from the top of Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp was another stretch that featuring many ups and downs on the trail.
On the fifth day we climbed to the summit base camp, Barafu Camp, elevation 15,223 feet. It was 3.7 miles from Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp. After reaching camp we immediately turned in to relax and get some sleep before we began our summit hike the next morning.
Summit day was day six of our trek. The crew woke up at 10:30 pm. After a meal and getting dressed we stepped off for the summit at 12:40 am. It was a seven-hour hike to Uhuru Peak. Our accent was difficult, the wind and freezing temperatures fought us every step of the way. Our guides sang and lifted spirits while we marched on and we reached the peak at 7:45 am. For an hour we stood on the Roof of Africa taking in the beauty of God’s creations. There were many hugs, handshakes and fist bumps congratulating one another on reaching the summit. When our time at the summit had concluded we began the decent to Millennium Camp, elevation 12,532 feet, covering a total of 9.3 miles for the full day.
Day seven concluded our mission to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. We hiked 7.4 miles to Mweka Gate, elevation 5,380 feet, where we exited Kilimanjaro National Park. That evening we were able to have dinner with our guide team where we were presented with certificates of completion and medals to commemorate our journey. The journey was filled with many great discussions, laughs, and smiles. I am thankful to have done this climb and for the team I had with me doing it. It was an amazing experience.
Since the past election, there have been an increasing number of what I call “state expressions of sovereignty.” Things such as multiple States passing resolutions declaring a second-amendment sanctuary, for example. In our federalism system (Federal, State & Local, The People) I see the States doing this to remind the federal creature (they created) to mind it’s place, declaring themselves not obliged to obey the ever more numerous and oppressive edicts of Fedzilla.
Now comes the Nebraska National Guard into the middle of all this, forced to capitulate to the proclamations of the federal military industrial complex, either take the vax or be discharged.
I think it’s time for another expression of State sovereignty.
The commander in chief of the Nebraska National Guard, army and air, is the Governor while the soldiers serve under title 32 USC. Only if activated by competent federal authorities will the Guard serve under title 10 USC federal authority, such as overseas deployments, the active guard, and so forth.
It is worth noting that this duel command structure between a state and a superior government is quite good. It has proven to be one of the most durable relationships there is to be found in government. December 13, 1636 the first militia regiments in North America were organized in Massachusetts. The guard and the federal military work fine together every day of the year around the world.
But when the Guard is home, there is a State chain of command that is every bit as powerful as the federal chain of command, or at least that was the framers intention. I therefore believe the soldiers and airmen of the Nebraska National Guard should not be subject to compulsory Covid vaccination while under Title 32 status. I believe the exact boundary between the Title 32 state and the Title 10 federal authority needs a new survey drawn by the courts to see where one’s authority stops and the other begins.
Eventually, there will come a state who’ll take this matter through the District Courts of the United States. I’ll not hazard a guess which state may be best suited for this occasion, but I do know our Attorney General has been batting a thousand lately.
The last couple of years have been tough on the Guard, yet our Nebraska soldiers and airmen continue to deploy globally and serve local communities and make us proud. Combat Readiness and recruiting and retention are the heart and the blood of a military unit. They are the two biggest challenges faced by any Army or Air National Guard commander.
And now we’re going to saddle them with this wrong-headed vax mandate. The soldiers and airmen of the Nebraska National Guard are in that category of young, healthy and fit human beings who have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning than dying of Covid.
I believe the DoD vax mandate is detrimental to the moral, good order and discipline of the Nebraska National Guard, and is injurious to the combat readiness of it’s units. Nebraskans will not tolerate the federal leviathan mistreating the people we depend on when big emergencies happen in our State. They are Nebraskans, not groveling subordinate minions to the federal military.
As the next legislative session rapidly approaches (5 January), senators will be busy trying to find ways to spend over $1B in federal funds for the so-called federal “infrastructure” package.
Politically conservative people have a hard time with a task like this. We believe government redistribution of wealth, and the business of doling-out money by picking winners and losers is a fundamentally bad thing for government at any echelon to be doing. Money does its very best good for society when it is left in the hands of the people who earned it. The only way Congress can get a dollar to spend is to take that dollar from Americans who worked for and earned it, or borrow that dollar from Americans yet unborn, or inflate that dollar from Americans. Over 25% of all the US dollars in circulation have been created out of thin air in the last six months. Dumping this fake money into the economy has caused the worst inflation in over thirty years. I am very concerned pouring even more fake money into our economy will make inflation worse.
All that being said, we face a situation where “if we don’t spend it, someone else will.” Farmers and Ranchers are the beating heart of Nebraska. I am going to work hard to ensure as much of this money gets spent on projects that help agriculture in western Nebraska. One in four jobs and one in five dollars created in Nebraska come from agriculture. That tells me a substantial percentage of this money belongs to the people who create nearly a fourth of Nebraska’s economy. I urge county boards, school boards, chambers of commerce, city and town councils, Sherriff offices, folks in tourism, natural resource districts, local economic development groups, and concerned citizens to make their wishes known. Now is the time to contact my office and explain your ideas for this spending this money.
The bill will spend $65 billion in expanding broadband access. It will put $55 billion into water and sewer systems. It will spend $110 billion on roads, bridges, and other major projects while directing $66 billion toward passenger and freight rail improvements, and $39 billion into public transit. Here is a detailed description of the how the money in this bill has been prioritized: https://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/publications-and-resources/infrastructure-investment-and-jobs-act.aspx
To close on a happy note, I read in the Omaha World Herald about “…the state’s most prolific six-man (football) team in history.” I would like to extend my congratulations and a hearty ‘well-done’ to the players and coaches of Cody/Kilgore Cowboys’ 65-37 victory over Potter-Dix, and their first-ever State Championship. I would also like to extend my congratulations to the Sandhills Thedford Knights class D2 football team who was the runner up in their heart-breaking 46-40 loss in their State Championship game against the Kenesaw Cowboys.
This past summer, President Biden announced a series of federal vaccine mandates. In July, the first mandate was issued covering federal employees and contractors. The next mandate applied to workers at healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid dollars. In early September, the president announced a massive mandate for all employers of more than 100 employees. That final mandate is meant to be enforced by OSHA.
Our constitutional republic has three different branches, each with specific powers. Presidents are not supposed to be in the business of writing laws. We have an elected Congress for producing legislation. These vaccine mandates are not the result of Congress passing a law. They are tyrannical executive actions by the current administration. They are stark examples that clearly show the dangers of a federal takeover of healthcare. They show that past lawmakers have given too much power to unelected bureaucrats.
These federal mandates will cost millions of jobs and hurt countless people. One report showed that five percent of unvaccinated adults have already lost a job over these mandates. I am not anti-vaccination. I have had COVID. I have also been fully vaccinated. That was my decision, and I support the right of other adults to decide for themselves, too. I support the right of parents to use their own judgment to make the best choices for their children. I do not believe the government should be forcing people into unemployment if they do not wish to receive an injection.
My objection to the mandates is also based on the fact that they are going to badly damage healthcare in rural Nebraska. My understanding is that Medicare and Medicaid dollars make up sixty to seventy percent of the revenue at many of our healthcare facilities in District 43. If these mandates are implemented, these facilities will be forced to close or severely limit available services. We cannot afford to lose any healthcare workers or facilities in rural Nebraska.
I was one of twenty-eight senators who signed on to a call for a special session of the Nebraska Legislature on these vaccine mandates. We needed thirty-three senators for the legislature to call the special session. Governor Ricketts did not use his authority to call a special session because he did not see a filibuster-proof coalition coming together in the Legislature to solve the problem.
I am pleased to see that Governor Ricketts and Attorney General Peterson have taken action to protect Nebraskans and all Americans from these unconstitutional mandates. They have joined leaders from many other states in suing the federal government over the healthcare and OSHA mandates in particular. They are already having some success in the courts. The staff at the Attorney General’s office have been working long hours on a tight timeline to make the best legal case against federal overreach and in favor of the individual’s right to refuse unwanted treatment. Nebraskans should be proud of that effort.
This has been a busy legislative interim. The Government Committee has held several interim study hearings, we continue to hold meetings about potential legislation, and of course we spent much of September in a special session for redistricting. Relationships matter a great deal in politics, and relationships between some senators have gotten pretty raw over the past year. I was elected to promote conservative principles in the Nebraska Capitol. I cannot do that job well without building relationships with as many of my colleagues as possible.
As you read this, I along with four other Nebraska senators will be in Tanzania climbing one of the seven great summits of the world, Mount Kilimanjaro. We come from different parts of the state. We come from different career backgrounds. We do not all look the same. We often disagree on legislation. We are not all members of the same political party. In spite of these differences, we agree on something very important: Nebraska works better when we work together.
It is no simple task to go from the highly structured daily grind of the Legislature to the wild, unpredictable weather, terrain, and difficulty of the mountain ascent. Climbing Kilimanjaro is physically and mentally challenging. We have trained hard to prepare for those challenges. What we set out to accomplish is bigger than the feeling of standing on top of the world. We believe that enduring this trial together will ultimately pay off as we strive to serve the people of Nebraska in the Legislature.
Doing something very hard as a team, where everyone is dependent on one another, is the single best experience to build trust among each other. We are all in agreement that we need more trust in the Legislature, so we are going to do this climb together and, quite literally, take the first step upward to build a better Nebraska. We are using our own private resources for this trip and will not be spending a dime of taxpayer money.
We are traveling in Africa, but this trip is a uniquely Nebraskan experience. It is our hope that the teamwork that we put into this adventure will be something that pays off when we are back on the job in Lincoln. While we are away, our staff members are still working hard on constituent issues and preparing legislation for the 2022 session. I am excited to see what we will be able to accomplish for Nebraska when we return.
One of the unspoken assumptions that many Nebraskans make every day is that we can call 911 and get an ambulance dispatched quickly if there is a medical emergency. Outside of the major population centers, this is not always true. Ambulance crews in Lincoln and Omaha do not have to hold fundraisers to provide the revenue they need to maintain their vehicles and equipment and operate their rescue squad. In rural Nebraska however, the local volunteer rescue squad is often all there is. If you get hurt and have to dial 911 in much of my legislative district, you are in for a long wait, over an hour sometimes. We had better MEDEVAC coverage in Afghanistan.
It is very hard to find volunteers in rural Nebraska for anything. The ongoing labor shortage is making something that’s already bad even worse. Rural Nebraska’s population is increasingly more elderly, so the pool of citizens to draw from is shrinking as well. Most of our rural counties have little in the way of public resources, and no one can afford a property tax increase to help fund these services. The Legislature should make sure that there are not unnecessary obstacles to those seeking to serve as volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMT).
Any expense associated with becoming and serving as a volunteer EMT should be tax exempt. These costs borne by individuals should result in an income tax credit. Right now, a volunteer rescue squad is reimbursed about half of the cost for a new volunteer’s training and national test. Only after the test is passed and the person is licensed in Nebraska can the costs be submitted for reimbursement. In the meantime, the only way for the rescue squad to pay for these expenses is through fund-raising, or collecting fees from patients they transport, assuming the patient has insurance to collect from.
The trek from Gordon to Valentine is about one hundred miles. There is only one EMT along this stretch of road, in the small town of Merriman. If this person is not available, the nearest ambulance is in Martin, South Dakota. This crew has taken it upon themselves to become licensed in Nebraska so they can respond to calls in our state. I hope that others will answer the call to serve in this way. But the Legislature has a role to play in fixing this problem, too. Much has been done with occupational licensing in the legislature. Our law needs to ensure there is a reciprocity agreement between surrounding states and Nebraska’s licensing authority so these volunteers can quickly and easily respond without bureaucracy slowing this down.
This is one illustration of the need for Senator Tom Briese’s LB 263, which would mandate a streamlined occupational licensing process in Nebraska for folks with professional licenses in other states. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee recently held an interim study hearing on the topic of “universal certification.” I am optimistic that we will act quickly to move LB 263 along in the legislative process when we reconvene the Legislature in January. The way we treat first responders in rural Nebraska must change. We are flirting with a tragedy if we don’t.
Last Friday the 22nd of October, Southeast Community College in Lincoln hosted the Advanced Nuclear Forum. The forum highlighted the many emerging technologies in nuclear power, and the role nuclear power will have in delivering reliable, affordable energy to Nebraskans. About a dozen senators were in attendance.
The Governor provided opening remarks and then we heard from numerous industry representatives over the course of the day. A wide variety of advanced new nuclear power technologies were presented. These included small modular reactors, next generation reactors, micro nuclear generation, and the new FAST reactor (fast neutrons) that actually uses nuclear waste for fuel. Many new advancements in radioactive waste management were also presented.
I do not agree with the idea that our electrical utilities should promote the goal to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions, the so-call “net-zero” standard. The ”climate change” argument is far from settled. The amount of carbon dioxide put into our atmosphere by humans’ amounts to about a twelve ounce can of soda poured into an olympic-size pool. It is not dangerous. It is not a green-house gas. It doesn’t heat the planet. It is not pollution. It is vital for life as we know it on planet Earth. Just the corn alone grown in Nebraska already consumes several times the amount of carbon dioxide that human activity in Nebraska produces. We have already achieved the “net-zero” goal. We need our electrical utilities to understand that tens of thousands of families in the communities of Alliance and North Platte utterly depend on the coal burned in our power plants. These coal power plants are our primary source of always-on, base load electricity. They cannot be replaced by unreliable wind turbines or solar panels.
That said, the new nuclear energy technologies I saw at this conference are poised to provide the foundation for a carbon-free energy future. So long as it is reliable and affordable, we can all come together and agree on this goal. I think Nebraska should lead the way with these exciting new ways to make dependable electricity.
There were presentations by several of the nuclear businesses in the US, including Terra Power, NuScale, Oklo, General Electric, X-Energy, and Orano. Presenters from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute also contributed to this educational Forum.
Before this conference Jan Bostelman, forum program chair said, “This first-of-its-kind forum will highlight reliable, resilient energy solutions. Several of the technologies to be discussed are being deployed in Washington, Utah, and Wyoming. Nebraskans will hear from the best and the brightest in the industry.” She was spot-in.
Today the Natural Resources Committee held the hearing for my interim study to examine the facts behind last February’s power black outs. The bottom line is people in another state ordered Nebraska’s public utilities to shut off power to Nebraskan’s to prevent a catastrophic failure of the national power grid. I’m glad the grid was protected, but it has cost us our State sovereignty over the power we generate here in and for Nebraska.
My friend and colleague Sen. Ben Hansen, along with twenty-five other senators, has sent the Secretary of State a letter asking that senators in the legislature call a special session to pass a bill that outlaws vaccine mandates in Nebraska. Our constitution and state laws allow this if thirty-three senators agree and sign a letter.
Each of the forty-nine senators were sent a registered letter by the Secretary of State. They have until 5:00 p.m., Monday the 1st of November to reply. If we get seven more signatures needed to reach thirty-three, a special session to debate vaccine mandates will happen soon after. I tried this method in 2018 for property taxes and received fourteen signatures. I’ve received numerous calls and messages about this subject. I strongly oppose vaccine mandates, but calling this special session is far from a done deal.
So far, the following twenty-six senators have signed the letter: Senators Ben Hansen, Albrecht, Arch, Bostelman, Brandt, Brewer, Briese, Clements, Dorn, Erdman, Flood, Friesen, Geist, Gragert, Groene, Halloran, Hilgers, Hughes, Lindstrom, Linehan, Lowe, McDonald, Moser, Murman, Sanders and Slama. As I see it, we are short seven votes among the remaining twenty-three senators in the body. Citizens interested in this important issue should contact their senator if their name wasn’t listed.
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee that I chair recently held an interim study hearing brought by Senator Aguilar about the challenges facing the Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home in Kearney. This facility is incredibly important to our veterans. Unfortunately, they are not immune to the labor shortage every business in Nebraska is facing. This facility only has about two-thirds of the staffing needed. One entire wing of rooms are closed while we have veterans on waiting lists. What staff we do have are doing a heroic job working incredible overtime hours every week. The problem is made much worse by the fact that staff are paid about a third less than the prevailing wage, and the overtime is burning them out.
This is totally unacceptable. Next session I will introduce a bill to increase the pay of the staff of our veteran homes. The legislature simply must address the fact we have over 50,000 vacancies in the skilled trades in Nebraska. For example, we have some of the best healthcare facilities in the world in our state. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on our university, our community colleges and our state colleges, yet we face a critical shortage of healthcare workers in Nebraska each year. We can do better than this and we simply must. We owe a debt to these Nebraskans. They are depending on us to keep our promise and I intend to see that we do.
The dedication ceremony for the Central Nebraska Veterans Memorial is at 2:00 p.m. on Veterans Day, Thursday, the 11th of November. I think this is the best monument to honor veterans there is in Nebraska. If you are in the area, I urge you to visit. The memorial is located next to the veterans home at 4510 E 56th Street in Kearney.
The Nebraska Legislature runs on a two-year cycle. The first session starts in odd-number years and is generally 90 legislative days long. The second session is generally 60 legislative days and starts in even-numbered years. Right now, senators are preparing for the second session of the 107th Legislature.
Second sessions are different from first sessions. There is no budget to debate in a second session. Although this year there will be a debate over how Nebraska will spend the $1.1B we have received from the federal government’s coronavirus relief fund. There are no rules to debate because they were adopted in the first session. There are no elections to hold as committee chair positions were filled in the first session of the two-year legislature.
First sessions begin with new bill introduction during the first ten days. Second sessions continue with additional bill introduction in the first ten days along with bills already on general file from the first session. There are 112 bills on general file right now. Some of them may be designated priority bills by the senators and if so, could be heard on the floor very early next January.
Second sessions are always right before an election and generally end sometime in April. The first of March is the deadline for registering to run for most elected offices, so during the second session is when we learn who is running to replace the term-limited senators. Given the many active political campaigns that are underway at that time, second sessions can become be more political.
Short sessions are generally not a good time to introduce a big, controversial bill. There simply isn’t enough time to navigate the politics necessary to get big idea bills out of committee, let alone passed on the floor during a second session. That said, there are a number of reasons why a senator introduces a bill. Passing it is just one reason. Second session bills are often introduced in order to get a “fiscal note” from our fiscal office. This is the cost to the taxpayers of implementing a bill. This can only be acquired by introducing a bill. There are no fiscal notes prepared for just ideas. Sometimes a senator will introduce a bill to see who shows up to testify in support or opposition during the hearing.
Sometimes Senators introduce bills to begin the process of eating the elephant. The subject in question is far too big for just one bill. Perhaps three or four bills will be needed over the course of six or eight years. Having the benefit of experience, senior senators often start a campaign to make a major change in state law that will carry on long after they are gone. They understand better than most that “big idea” bills are things that will have to be done incrementally in the Nebraska legislature. There just isn’t the votes needed to do them in one big step. In our unicameral, first downs are often just as important as touchdowns.
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