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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.
As we reflect on our nation’s birthday, I would like to talk about something near and dear to my heart: Offutt Air Force Base. During my military career I was fortunate to have been stationed there for three years assigned to the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC). This group carries out an extremely important mission that is essential to our national defense. Offutt is something that we should all be proud of as patriots.
This past week Offutt provided a tour to the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee along with other Senators. While I was not able to attend, I would still like to extend my thanks to Admiral Charles Richard, Rear Admiral Wheeler, and the many other personnel who made this tour possible. I also want to thank Senator Rita Sanders from the 45th District for being instrumental in setting up this tour. It comes as no surprise, given her steadfast commitment to the Offutt community over the years as the mayor of Bellevue and now as a freshman state senator from that area.
Located right next to Bellevue, Nebraska, Offutt is the home of United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), as well as the 595th Command & Control Group, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and the 557th Weather Wing. These units bring a lot of personnel and materials to Nebraska. Offutt was estimated to have had a $2.3 billion economic impact on the Omaha metro area in 2018. I am pleased at the warm welcome we offer military personnel stationed here, and I know our service members are grateful.
In March of 2019, a historic flood covered one-third of the base. That flood put more than 3,000 feet of the runway underwater along with 137 structures. The 55th Wing leadership stepped up with a team to oversee an extensive rebuilding project. While the runway is being replaced, the aircraft have been diverted to Lincoln. The mission will return to Offutt in October 2022 when the new runway and flood recovery is projected to be complete.
Another part of Offutt that was included in the tour was the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) housed in the historic Martin Bomber Building. They are one of a few facilities around the country whose mission is to recover the remains of United States military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from past conflicts. There are still 89,000 missing since WWII. They currently have the solemn responsibility of identifying remains of sailors and marines lost aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as those from Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts. DPAA works closely with UNO and they identify approximately 200 veterans a year.
USSTRATCOM is leading the world in keeping us safe, and we are very fortunate they are located here in Nebraska. Their mission is securing the objective of peace. Rest assured it is carried out with precision and diligence. They did not miss a beat during the 2019 flood — in fact everything went as planned. That should tell us that we are in very good hands.
The 4th of July is right around the corner. I think we should all take a moment and review what it is to be an American citizen. Around the turn of the last century, the “American Creed” was written.
“I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies.” (Written by William Tyler Page, 1917, passed by Congressional Resolution April 3, 1918)
Decades ago, the “American Creed” was in common use. Along with George Washington’s farewell address it was often found printed in the back of school textbooks. We don’t hear too much about it anymore.
Up until the United States came along, the governments of every country on Earth for roughly the last five thousand years of human civilization were all based on the divine right of kings. The idea was God’s power passed to one man who then would “rule” over his “subjects.” The founders of the United States were all educated during the “enlightenment” period (most of the 1700s) where philosophers throughout Europe questioned traditional government authority.
Ideas like the rule of law (instead of the whims of a king), separation of powers, the importance of small government, limited to a short list of specific powers, and above all, a constitution that protects the sovereignty of the individual citizen by ensuring God-given rights are guaranteed and protected by the government. The many writings and testimonies of the founders are full of these thoughts and sentiments.
Our founders created a special form of federal constitutional republic, with democratically-elected representatives whose number-one job is to protect the rights of the citizens. Then they separated the powers of this new “federalism” style of government into three pieces; Local, State, and Federal government, each with its own specific powers. They created a three-headed beast and empowered any two of these parts to join forces and gang-up on the third, checking its power.
As I see counties and states around the country passing resolutions and laws to check the power of the federal leviathan; states pushing-back on the Fed’s 30×30 land grab; counties passing 2nd Amendment sanctuary resolutions; states joining forces to secure the border and citizens speaking against deviant sex education standards at school board meetings. These examples are happening all over the country and they are growing more frequent and numerous.
I smile inside because that is two-hundred year-old genius on display. That is our three-headed system actually working as it was designed. We have good reason to be proud we are Americans this 4th of July.
It has come to my attention from many constituents in the 43rd District along with others across Nebraska that there is an issue with the new proposed Health and Human Development Standards being evaluated by the Nebraska State Board of Education. This current draft parents, grandparents and teachers seem to have issues with is the implementation of learning about gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and gender stereotypes as early as first grade.
The State Board of Education’s members met in Kearney on June 4, 2021 and allowed some public comment at this meeting. There were over 350 people present, 150 signed up to speak and approximately 75 people were allowed to testify with the overwhelmingly majority opposed to the new standards.
Superintendents, and local school board members across the state are speaking up against the current draft version. Parents, grandparents and retired teachers are also attending local school board meetings expressing their displeasure with these standards. Currently the State Board of Education will present the second draft in August for review. They have set a date of August 6, 2021 but the location has not yet been determined.
There is very detailed language in the current draft proposal which many feel is too explicit for young children. Also, if the standards were passed as written, it would be difficult for parents to opt out due to the complexity of how the standards will be presented. To view these standards they are available on the Nebraska Department of Education website: https://www.education.ne.gov/.
If you feel this is too explicit and/or also an overreach of parental control, please contact your local school board members and also your State Board of Education representative. In our district that would be Robin Stevens. He represents the western half of Nebraska which is District #7. His contact information is: email@example.com or (402) 615-4095. As your representative, you have the right to let him know how you feel about the standards. You may also contact any other members of the State Board of Education and/or Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, Commissioner at the Nebraska Department of Education at Matt.Blomstedt@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2295 to voice your concerns.
The State Board of Education will begin accepting written public comment on July 29th for the August meeting. website. https://www.education.ne.gov/stateboard/ Also I want to note that the State School Board members are elected by the people and the Board directly oversees the Nebraska Department of Education and it’s Commissioner.
Myself and twenty-seven other Senators. My office is closely monitoring the situation and looking into possible legislation if necessary. I stand in support of the many families across our district and our state who oppose teaching sexual deviance to Nebraska’s school children.
This week I will continue talking about the bills that either passed or failed in this legislative session. One that passed was LB 147. The Governor correctly vetoed the bill, but the legislature voted to override his veto. I voted against the bill. LB 147 is a very bad idea for the taxpayers of Nebraska. Let me explain.
The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) pension system is in trouble. LB 147 is a bill designed to bail-out this pension fund by merging it into and transferring the management of the School Employees Retirement System to the Public Employees Retirement Board. This bill will eventually make the State of Nebraska responsible for all the liabilities in the OPS pension fund.
This is taxation without representation. A citizen in Cherry County, for example, shouldn’t have their income and sales tax dollars used to bail-out a school district they have absolutely no control over. District 43 voters cannot vote in the election of the board members who made these bad decisions. I think the veto override vote is a good indicator of just how much money and power the education lobby has in our legislature.
One of the legislature’s rules stipulates that a bill cannot “bind the hands of a future legislature.” I think LB 147 breaks this rule. There are $848 million dollars of unfunded liabilities in the OPS pension system and the people of Nebraska are going to get stuck with the tab. As written, future legislatures will not have a choice and will be forced to pay that enormous bill.
It’s worth considering that nationally, about forty percent of K-12 public education is paid for with property taxes. In Nebraska, that number is greater than sixty percent, and many rural school districts are over seventy percent. My resolution (LR13CA) which would have proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit to 33 percent of how much a school district could use property taxes to fund its operations. The liberal-controlled education committee indefinitely postponed (killed) LR13CA because they knew if it was ever put on the ballot and left up to the people to decide, it would pass.
If LR13CA had passed, the other 66 percent of the funding for public schools would have to come from the general fund. The legislature would have to find about $670 million dollars to make up the difference. This money would go directly into the pockets of the property tax payers of the whole state of Nebraska. Instead, we’re going to give at least $848 million to a single school district’s mismanaged pension fund. Which one is more important to you? I believe LB 147 takes away our ability to deliver property tax relief.
The education lobby spends millions of dollars on campaigns to make sure there are never enough votes to limit how much property taxes our Nebraska schools can levy, collect and spend. A review of the mandatory filings at the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission is a real eye-opener. Does this money directly translate into green lights (votes) on the big board that tallies the Senator’s votes? Nebraskans need to pay close attention to what their elected representatives are doing in their name.
This past session, a number of good bills failed to pass. LB 364 is a bill from Senator Lou Ann Linehan called the Opportunity Scholarship Act. Senator Linehan and I both came into the legislature in 2017. She introduces this bill every session. In her bill individual and corporate taxpayers would qualify for a non-refundable tax credit equal to the amount the taxpayer contributed to a scholarship-granting organization. No taxpayer would receive a tax credit exceeding 50 percent of their state income tax. The idea is pretty simple. Nebraskans could donate money to a scholarship-granting organization and lower their income tax liability a little. Low income families with children in a public school would have the option to apply for a grant to send their kids to a private school.
The bill was controversial because of its “fiscal note.” In the forecast prepared by the Department of Revenue, the bill would mean $10–15 million in lost income tax revenue in the next four years. The bill was filibustered and to end the debate a vote of thirty-three ayes was needed. The vote fell short again, with twenty-nine voting yes, eighteen voting no, and two present and not voting.
I was very disappointed to see senators who have their own children enrolled in private schools voting against this bill. It showed their hypocrisy. Another reason this bill failed is because of the wrong-headed philosophy of someone not paying their “fair share” in taxation, even when the money being spent is going to pay for a charitable purpose. This kind of thinking is anti-American. Promoting this sort of class warfare comes right out of the Communist Manifesto. Some of the senators voting against the bill will argue “we can’t afford it” suggesting the lost income tax revenue will “cost” the legislature money they would prefer to see spent on something else.
I am amazed by the number of senators and a lot of regular citizens who think they can be generous with other people’s money. For something to cost you money, first the money needs to actually belong to you. The tax revenue the Legislature spends does not belong to the senators — it belongs to the Nebraskans who got out of bed and went out and worked for and earned it. Government in all its forms doesn’t produce a penny of wealth. It has nothing it did not first take from the citizens by threat of force. There are too many senators who believe allowing some Nebraskans to keep more of what rightfully belongs to them is “costing” the Legislature money. In order to think this way, you have to believe a politician knows how to spend the money you worked for and earned better than you do. That thinking is immoral and it has caused Nebraska to be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation.