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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.
Back in March, Governor Ricketts issued a statement opposing “vaccine passports.” He said “This concept violates two central tenets of the American system: freedom of movement and healthcare privacy.” I couldn’t agree more. Whether or not someone has taken any medication is absolutely none of the government’s business. Government policies that force people to be injected with drugs they don’t want, is flat wrong.
I’m not an “anti-vaxer.” The Army has given me scores of vaccines over three decades. Vaccines are a blessing of modern medicine we should all be thankful for. Countless millions of people around the world are alive today because of them. What I am opposed to is government tyranny. The COVID vaccine (which I have taken after I recovered from COVID) is not for everybody. Many health professionals argue that the risk of vaccine side effects may be greater for some people, than being infected by the virus.
If you’re a person whose health situation makes you vulnerable to a bad outcome from the virus (like me) I hope you talk to your doctor and seriously consider getting vaccinated. On the other hand, forcing the vaccine on healthy children and young adults who have a virtually zero chance of a bad outcome from the virus is unprecedented. These decisions should be left up to parents and individual citizens.
The CDC’s data show that 99.97 percent of otherwise healthy people under fifty will survive the virus. Requiring the vaccine for people who have been inoculated naturally concerns me. Studies estimate as much as 50 percent of the US population is naturally immune from having survived the virus. In spite of this, government officials insist people with natural immunity be vaccinated anyway. Ignoring natural immunity has never been a public health policy in the USA until now. This kind of decision is not based on medical science whatsoever and raises serious questions about this decision-making.
The federal government’s confusing behavior towards the vaccines is not fostering trust and confidence in our public health institutions. There is no good reason to have a one-size-fits-all policy requiring everyone to get the vaccine. We’ve never fired people from their jobs for refusing a medication. This approach has never been used before in the US. I firmly believe the State of Nebraska should ignore federal mandates that are not addressed in Nebraska law.
I think Nebraskans should be provided the best information and recommendations our fantastic medical community in Nebraska can provide, but the decision to take a medication or give one to your children should be 100 percent left up to parents and individual citizens to decide without fear of penalty.
In the United States (and virtually nowhere else on Earth) individual citizens are sovereign and have autonomy over their own body because they have rights given to them by God. The federal government’s very first responsibility is to protect and guarantee those individual rights. I think the COVID virus has caused some folks to forget this.
I am happy to report the first special session of the 107th Nebraska legislature has adjourned sine die. Nebraska has successfully completed its redistricting process. The Governor signed the six bills (maps) on the last day of September. Now other subdivisions of state government can finish drawing their precincts and other maps. Each bill had the emergency clause attached so they became law when he signed them. Unlike quite a few states who intend to wait until January to finish this vital work, we have got it done. It’s important to remember this process was made much more difficult by the federal government’s failure to provide the census information in April. States didn’t receive the data until August. The bottom line is we cannot have another election until this important work is completed, and I am glad it is.
As has happened in every census in living memory, counties in western Nebraska continue to lose population. Thirty-eight (75%) of the forty-nine senators in the body have at least a portion of the Lincoln or Omaha metropolitan area in their district. When I was in high school in the 1970s, the demographic center of Nebraska was a north-south line running through York. Half of the State’s population lived on either side of the line. As new population continues to concentrate in the eastern end of the state, now that line is about 27th street in Lincoln, and it continues to move east.
Nebraska’s constitution requires only legal residents and citizens can be counted in the census. This did not happen. The federal census bureau counted everyone including illegal aliens. I am deeply troubled by this but know of no practical way to remedy this issue.
Because of these population changes, every legislative district boundary had to change. Some changed a little; some changed a lot. The 36th legislative district (Sen. Williams) was moved to Sarpy County. This district was divided up so five different rural districts in western Nebraska could be preserved. The 43rd Legislative District which I represent was part of this realignment as well. It is now eleven counties instead of thirteen. It has grown in size to almost 18,000 square miles. It remains the largest in the State.
Like every other senator in the body who lost counties in their district, it pains me to say goodbye to so many great friends and supporters. The counties no longer in the district are Grant, Hooker, Thomas, McPherson, Logan, and the portion of Box Butte containing Alliance. Almost 12,000 Nebraskans in these counties will have a new Senator representing them. I am glad my friends Sen. Mike Groene and Sen. Steve Erdman will be picking up these counties. They are both excellent senators who fight every day for western Nebraska.
The new counties in the 43rd Legislative District are Custer, Garfield, Rock and Boyd. I will be planning town halls in these new counties in the months ahead. I look forward to getting acquainted with my new constituents and hearing about the issues they face in these new counties.
LB 188 is a bill introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran in the first session of the 107th Legislature. It was referred to the Government, Military & Veteran Affairs Committee which I chair. This bill would prohibit any agent or employee of the State of Nebraska or any political subdivision from participating in the enforcement of any federal directive regarding a firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition that does not exist under Nebraska state law.
Of the eight members of the committee, four have opposed the bill so far, and four support it. The way our committee has been staffed makes this sort of deadlock likely. Both ends of the political spectrum work to create favorable committees. It is one of the clearest examples of why elections matter. The bill remains deadlocked in the committee.
Rule 3, section 20 of the Legislature’s rules permit bills in this situation to be “pulled” from the committee they are trapped in and advanced to the floor for debate. A vote of 25 is required to successfully pull a bill out of committee.
Pull motion debates are always controversial. Those who support the bill always say how wise it was for our predecessors to put this rule in the book. Those opposed always say how pull motions usurp the committee process. The chair of the committee the bill is being pulled from is often the loudest voice in the debate.
In the case of LB 188, I strongly support this bill and look forward to supporting the pull motion planned for next session. Almost every day we see a new example in the news of our federal government disregarding or out-right violating their constitutional responsibilities. I am very concerned about the direction our country is going. Our Second Amendment, the constitutional recognition of the individual right to keep and bear arms, is more important now than ever.
I cannot recall a time in my life where all of our constitutional rights were more in danger. Our First Amendment right of free speech is being actively obstructed by the media. Many are being forced to have new or experimental drugs injected into their body or risk losing their jobs. The United States Congress is talking about passing another assault weapons ban and federal red flag laws where your guns can be taken without due process of law. Countless people have expressed their deep concerns about these and many other things happening in Washington, D.C., and I share these concerns.
Nebraska is a sovereign state. In view of the federal government’s on-going abuses, I think it is very important our state sends a clear message. I wish we did not have to write a state law to protect constitutionally guaranteed rights from our own federal government, but that is what things have come to. LB 188 will be one of the first things discussed in January.
Last weekend I attended the funeral of one of my uncles, Mr. Pat Strasburger. He was an icon in the Sheridan County Sandhills ranching community. He passed just a few days shy of his ninety-eighth birthday. His funeral truly was a “celebration of life.” Imagine all of the things he saw.
His father (my great uncle) homesteaded the land in the early 1900’s. I didn’t realize it, but the Homestead Act didn’t officially end until 1976. Uncle Pat grew up with kerosene lights. Horsepower on the ranch came from actual horses. Electricity didn’t arrive until after World War II. It is mind boggling to think of the many innovations and technological marvels we have seen in the last ninety-eight years. But what will the next century hold? Will there still be ranching in Nebraska a hundred years from now?
One thing is for certain, Uncle Pat never had to try and raise five children and run a family ranch for most a century with the property taxes and corrupt beef industry we have today. Four big beef packing corporations control over 80% of the beef sold in the United States. This growing monopoly results in ranchers making about $100 from a steer they have to raise from birth and care for over two years. The big packers make about $600 a head after making a few saw cuts and putting the beef in a box. They have to care for the animal less than a month.
A modest family ranch in the Sandhills will produce about 600 cow-calf pairs. The calves are your “crop” but you have to feed the momma cow too. You make about $100 on each of them for a total of about $60,000. You have to pay about $55,000 in property taxes for a ranch large enough to make this many calves. Do the math. At the rate Nebraska is going, we’re not going to be the “Beef State” for very much longer. If land in Nebraska was still available to homestead, no one would move here to start a family ranch. The latest census proves my point.
Last May we came within three votes of putting Senator Erdman’s LR11CA on the ballot. This proposal would put a question on ballot for the voters to END income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes in Nebraska. The $10 billion in all forms of taxation collected in Nebraska every year would be replaced by a single consumption tax on all new goods and all services. Business transactions (farming and ranching) are not subject to this tax.
How can other States compete with zero? As Senator Halloran once said, “If this passed, we’d have to build a wall around Nebraska and get Colorado to pay for it.” Changing our failed tax system in Nebraska is how we re-populate our state. This idea will be the 21st century version of the Homestead Act. I strongly encourage every Nebraskan to take a look at LR11CA and encourage their senator to support it.
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.
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