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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 47th 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. Steve Erdman
The behavior of extremist, left-wing professors is worsening at the University of Nebraska. Their behavior has grown much more bold and brazen, and today I would like to share some examples with you of how all civility has now been lost in the University of Nebraska System.
First, a mutiny led by extremist, left-wing professors has led to the overthrowing of the president of the University of Nebraska Faculty Senate. For the first time since its creation in 1974, the president of the Faculty Senate has been removed from office. President Jeffrey Rudy was voted out of office on Oct. 2.
So, what exactly did Rudy do? After Marco Abel and Julia Schleck received the James A. Lake Academic Freedom Award for defending the English Department against political attacks, Rudy spoke out against the decision and was accused of making “accusatory and defamatory judgments” about other members of the Faculty Senate. Rudy defended Kaitlyn Mullen by criticizing how extremist, left-wing professors bullied her as she tabled for Turning Point USA last year. And, for making these kinds of accusatory statements his academic freedom was overruled by the other members of the Faculty Senate.
Rudy was also accused of making “unilateral decisions without consultation.” After the AAUP censured the University of Nebraska for firing Courtney Lawton, the graduate teaching assistant who bullied and berated Mullen and called her a “Becky”, Rudy dared to form a committee to get the University removed from the AAUP’s censure list without consulting the extremist opinions of these same left-wing professors. And for that, he was dethroned.
Second, Andy Park and Ron Himes, two extremist, left-wing professors at the Johnny Carson School of Theatre & Film, have made it a point to deliberately insult Christian conservatives on campus. The Nebraska Repertory Theater recently performed, “An Act of God,” a play full of religious bigotry. While billed as a “History Maker,” the play is really nothing more than a sacrilegious attempt to mock God and those who believe in Him. The play is partially funded with Nebraska tax dollars and is performed in very poor and obscene taste. For instance, there is nothing funny about God creating Florida in the shape of male genitalia or God associating his Son with female genitalia, yet these statements describe actual lines from the play. The play is highly irreverent, but don’t take it from me; take it from the producers of the play, who advertised the play on their own website as being “irreverent.” Moreover, Jesse Green, writing for Vulture, a secular online theater magazine, described the play as “…one of the most vehement takedowns of the deity ever to reach Broadway.” The play was neither art nor comedy; it was offensive atheistic propaganda and mockery designed to offend religious students on campus.
Third, certain extremist, left-wing professors have begun asking students in class about their religious and political biases. When one student answered that he had no biases, the professor hounded him until he admitted that he had “a bias against liberal Democrats.” In order to punish or deprogram the student, he was assigned the task of following a liberal Democrat State Senator around the Capitol for several days; thus, violating the non-partisan spirit of the Unicameral.
Fourth, certain extremist, left-wing professors at the University of Nebraska continue to harass Kaitlyn Mullen more than a year after her incident of tabling for Turning Point USA. Chemistry Professor, Gerard Harbison, for example, continuously trolls Mullen online, leaving creepy and negative messages on her social media pages. Harbison trolls Mullen under the online alias, “Moloch’s bartender,” which is an obvious reference to the ancient Canaanite god known for child sacrifice. To be sure, Mullen’s death is exactly what he wants. For instance, in one post he referred to Mullen as a “junior Nazi di—– who will soon be underground.” So, Harbison made a death threat against Mullen, and yet nothing has ever been done to confront him or to reign in this kind of behavior, yet it has been going on for over a year.
As you can see, the University of Nebraska System has now devolved into the kind of place where freedom of speech means only that faculty members can do whatever they want, including harassing students, offending them, and even threatening their lives without any fear of consequence, and, those faculty members who dare to speak out against what these extremist, left-wing professors are doing are quickly purged from all positions of leadership.
Initiative 427 will appear on your ballot as the latest attempt to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare. Medicaid expansion has unsuccessfully come before the Unicameral numerous times, and the pros and cons your Nebraska senators have considered in previous years are relevant to Initiative 427. Like most issues, Medicaid expansion is not black and white. As your representatives in the Nebraska Unicameral, we feel obligated to share our concerns and urge you to consider the consequences Medicaid expansion would have on our state.
Expanding Medicaid through Initiative 427 would hurt our most vulnerable Nebraskans by removing the focus of Medicaid benefits from people with disabilities, children, and pregnant women and placing the focus on working-age adults without disabilities or children. The costs of expansion would make property tax relief nearly impossible, leave the state’s reserve funds at a dangerously low level, and put funding at risk for K-12 education, the University of Nebraska, roads, and current Medicaid recipients.
Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) requires the federal government to reimburse states for only a portion of Medicaid expansion costs. Initiative 427 would require the state to fund the remaining expansion expenses – a price tag projected to cost Nebraska taxpayers $33 million in 2019-20 and up to $768 million over the next decade according to Nebraska’s Legislative Fiscal Office and Department of Health and Human Services. Actual costs have far exceeded projections in nearly every state that has opted to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. For example, in the first year Iowa expanded Medicaid, actual costs totaled nearly $150 million more than expected.
In a study published this month, Nebraska was ranked number one nationally for financial wellbeing. We have accomplished this by using taxpayer dollars cautiously and keeping unpredictable financial obligations out of our state budget. Unlike Washington, we balance our state budget each year and remain debt free. Medicaid expansion would create an unpredictable financial obligation on Nebraska, as seen in other states, which could throw our balanced budget into jeopardy. If Initiative 427 passes, Nebraskans could be forced to choose between increasing taxes or cutting funds to existing programs, such as K-12 education, roads, or current Medicaid benefits. Tax increases would create an overwhelming financial hardship for most Nebraskans, and cutting funds to existing programs is an equally unappealing option.
As Nebraskans, we have always prided ourselves in looking out for our friends and neighbors who are in need. Our current Medicaid program provides health care benefits to people with disabilities, children, and pregnant women. We are one of the few states to offer all federally optional Medicaid services (such as prescription drugs, mental health services, and care for the developmentally disabled) in addition to federally required services. Although the federal government would fund a limited portion of Medicaid expansion, none of these funds can be used to support benefits for current Medicaid recipients. As a result, some states have been forced to cut optional Medicaid services to their most vulnerable citizens – a reality Nebraska would also likely face.
Current Nebraska Medicaid recipients are at risk of losing benefits for dental services, prescription drugs, treatment for specific diseases (such as breast and cervical cancer), vision care, mental health, speech and occupational therapy, and many more. Initiative 427 would put the needs of working-age adults without disabilities over the needs of our friends and neighbors with disabilities, children, and pregnant women who truly cannot afford to lose these essential services Nebraska provides.
Medicaid expansion would place a significant burden on Nebraska taxpayers that could hurt Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens. Before you cast your vote on Initiative 427, we urge you to consider the impacts Medicaid expansion would have on your neighbors, your family, your business, and your budget.
Senator Joni Albrecht; District 17 – Chair, Business & Labor Committee
Senator Lydia Brasch; District 16 – Chair, Agriculture Committee
Senator Curt Friesen; District 34 – Chair, Transportation & Telecommunications Committee
Speaker Jim Scheer; District 19 – Speaker of the Legislature
Senator Bruce Bostelman; District 23
Senator Tom Brewer; District 43
Senator Rob Clements; District 2
Senator Steve Erdman; District 47
Senator Steve Halloran; District 33
Senator Lou Ann Linehan; District 39
Senator John Lowe; District 37
The State of Nebraska is quickly going broke. Many State legislators have been spending money faster than revenue has been flowing, or should I say ‘trickling’, into the State’s coffers, and if we don’t do something about it soon the State will soon go broke. Nebraska has a spending problem and today I am going to show you why.
The State of Nebraska has been living off of its cash reserves, and those cash reserves are starting to dry up. Back in 2016 we had more than $680.6 million sitting in our cash reserves. But that situation began to change the very next year. In Fiscal Year 2017-2018 our estimated cash reserves were projected to fall to $562.5 million. Then, the cash reserves for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 were originally projected to be only $379.5 million; however, when the Revised Biennial Budget came out in May of this year the readjusted projections for our estimated cash reserves pushed them down to $296.4 million. Needless to say, the State is going broke.
In 2017 I advised the State Legislature to make $250 million in spending cuts from the State’s Biennial Budget. The loss of revenue from the State’s coffers turned out to be $223 million. So, my projection was very close to what actually came in. Had we made those spending cuts, we would not be in the dire situation we are in today.
The State of Nebraska has less money in its cash reserves than the University of Nebraska has in theirs. In order to maintain its AAA credit rating, the University of Nebraska maintains at least $330 million in its cash reserves. As you can see, that is more than we have in our State’s cash reserves. Consequently, we can no longer afford to continue funding an institution with a never ending appetite for more State money.
As I indicated last week, if the voters pass Medicaid expansion in November, the Appropriations Committee will have to somehow come up with an additional $45-$90 million to pay for it, and they will have to do this on top of solving our State’s current revenue problems. What this will mean for the voters is more money out of your pockets. State legislators will either have to make enormous cuts in the State’s Biennial Budget or open up new streams of revenue for the State, or do both.
Finally, Nebraska needs to fix its prison system, and it will likely cost the State millions of dollars to do it. Nebraska’s prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded. Back in April the State lost a labor ruling, forcing it to bring an end to its 12 hour work shifts. This means that our corrections facilities need to hire more workers, and that means even more money.
As you can see, with the trickling of our revenue sources, Nebraska is going broke. Once we go into the new Legislative Session in January, I will create a special file for those bills which come in with a positive fiscal note attached, and I will label that new file as “The Trash Can.”
On another note, I would like to encourage everyone living in Nebraska to register to vote. You may register in person or by mail. If you choose to register in person, you may do so at the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you choose to register by mail, you may download the application online by going to: https://www.dmv.org/ne-nebraska/voter-registration.php. If you register by mail, the envelope must be postmarked by October 19.
How do you know if you are eligible to vote? You may register to vote in Nebraska if you are a United States citizen, if you will turn 18 years old on or before Election Day, and if you reside in Nebraska. You are ineligible to vote if you have been declared mentally incompetent or are a convicted felon and it has been less than two years since you were discharged from supervised release.
One of the items that will appear on your ballot next month is a measure for Medicaid expansion. This ballot measure is the result of a successful citizen led initiative by Insure the Good Life, which collected more than 104,000 signatures for its petition drive. So, the time has come for us to ask: Is Medicaid expansion really good for Nebraska? Medicaid expansion won’t be good for Nebraska and today I would like to explain why that is the case.
The Medicaid expansion measure on your ballot would extend coverage out to those living at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which amounts to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans. While this sounds quite nice and compassionate, it would actually have the opposite effect on our State’s poorest citizens. Allow me to explain.
Under our current system with the Obamacare Marketplace those living at 138 percent of the federal poverty rate qualify for free healthcare plans or healthcare plans with $0 premiums. These are private healthcare plans which provide easy access to doctors, hospitals, healthcare clinics, and pharmacies. However, Medicaid expansion would force these same individuals into Heritage Health, which is our State’s Medicaid program. Under Heritage Health doctors, hospitals, healthcare clinics, and pharmacies become difficult to find. For instance, some of our Medicaid patients under Heritage Health have had to drive to Lincoln or Omaha just to find the services they need.
After an additional 90,000 patients get added into Heritage Health, benefits would necessarily be reduced for everyone in the Medicaid system. The reason is that Nebraska has no way to pay for the extra costs associated with Medicaid expansion. In order to keep benefits at their current levels, the Nebraska State Legislature would be forced to either raise taxes or to make huge cuts in its biennial budget or both. You might as well kiss any hopes of ever getting property tax relief good-bye!
Medicaid expansion always turns out to be more expensive than originally projected. The original cost for Medicaid expansion in Nebraska was projected to be $45 million per year, but that cost is more realistically projected to be $90 million. States that implement Medicaid expansion always find out that it is more expensive than originally forecasted. For example, in Iowa the per-member Medicaid costs have nearly tripled. Last year, for instance, Iowa’s per member cost rose 4.4 percent compared to the 1.5 percent for the previous six years. Iowa’s Medicaid expansion bill went into effect in 2015.
Medicaid expansion is unsustainable. While individual states provide 10 percent of the funding, the federal government is expected to provide the other 90 percent. Because our national debt already exceeds $21.5 trillion, it is safe to say that the federal government cannot afford to pay for Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion. For this reason, Governor Ricketts has expressed doubt that the federal government would be able to pay their portion of the costs. In fact, there is nothing preventing the federal government from shirking its responsibility to our State.
The success of a social welfare program like Medicaid should never be measured by how many people we can put onto it, but by how many people we can get off of it. For this reason, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise recently said, “…Medicaid is one of the most failed forms of healthcare,” and Ronald Reagan said during his 1980 presidential campaign, “I happen to believe that the best social program is a job.”
Should the University of Nebraska hire a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion? Today I would like to show you why this is a huge mistake.
Hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion won’t diversify the faculty. The only study ever completed on this subject was submitted in August to the National Bureau of Economic Research. After looking at 462 research institutions in the United States, James West along with his team of researchers concluded that they “were unable to find any statistically significant increase in faculty diversity after the creation of a chief-diversity-officer position.” So, Hank Bounds, Ronnie Green and the 17 member search committee are only fooling themselves into believing that hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion will somehow diversify the faculty at the University of Nebraska.
Hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion is too expensive. The salary for a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion would most certainly be in the six-figure salary range. For instance, James Moore III, who is the Vice Provost of Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio State University draws an annual salary of $197,272. Moreover, Donnie Perkins, who works as the Diversity Dean for Ohio State’s College of Engineering makes $265,044 per year. As you can see, the six-figure salary alone makes this a bad choice for Nebraska.
The cost of hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion runs much deeper than simply paying for his or her salary. The fact of the matter is that a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion will want to hire a staff. The Diversity office at Ohio State University has a staff of 88 employees with an annual payroll of $7.3 million. The Diversity office at the University of Michigan employs 100 staffers for an annual payroll of $11 million. So, the cost of hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion would likely cost the University of Nebraska millions of dollars in the end.
Contrary to the opinion of UNL’s administrators, diversity and inclusion programs never result in treating all students the same. The cold, harsh reality of all diversity and inclusion programs is that they attempt to prevent discrimination against certain groups by discriminating against other groups. The fundamental mistake in the diversity and inclusion worldview comes in the way they value results over opportunities. Diversity and Inclusion officers are always charged with the task of helping disadvantaged students succeed in college, but this practice only discriminates against those who are perceived or misperceived as having some kind of advantage. To the contrary, I believe the only way to make things truly fair at the University is to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to offer all students the same opportunities without guaranteeing them or offering them the false hope of results.
Whenever students are guaranteed the same results, instead of the same opportunities, the incentive to achieve is lost. It is no different than the Pee Wee League which provides trophies for everyone who participates; participants quickly learn that there is no need to practice, to study, or to try hard when the gift of a trophy or a college degree is always waiting for them in the end.
Diversity and inclusion undermines real academic freedom. While the proponents of diversity and inclusion view themselves as the torchbearers for tolerance, tolerance for opposing viewpoints is never what they really care about. Instead, they become walking contradictions. In order to help you see this, consider how NU President, Hank Bounds, responded to my first article against the hiring of a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion. Bounds said in a written statement: “…I’ve seen again and again that we are stronger when we serve alongside people who don’t look or think like us,” but, then he went on to contradict himself by expressing his intolerance for my point of view: “For any elected official to champion these kinds of dangerous views only serves to damage our great state…” Bounds cannot have it both ways: Either he tolerates differing points of view or he does not! Bounds and Green do not really care about diversity. If Bounds and Green really cared about diversity, they would begin by diversifying the English Department!
Dr. James L Moore III, Vice Provost of Diversity & Inclusion at Ohio State University
My number one goal in the State Legislature is to reduce your property taxes. Property taxes are out of control and have put our State on a trajectory that it can no longer sustain. Consequently, the Governor, state lawmakers, lobbyists, and concerned citizens have all begun looking at new ways for the State to generate more money for the Government to spend.
My experience in the State Legislature has taught me one very important rule: Whenever there is money in the State’s coffers to be had, there is a long line of politicians, lobbyists, and even concerned citizens waiting to spend it, and they all believe they know how best to spend it.
Last week a public opinion poll was released by the Holland Children’s Institute (HCI) showing that nearly 6 in 10 Nebraskans believe state lawmakers should “find new revenue streams to balance the state budget and bolster support for mental health programs, K-12 public education and infrastructure.” The grocery list of other goodies Nebraskans said they would like to see state lawmakers pay for include early childhood education, job training programs, Medicaid expansion, employment benefits, and higher education. Where is Santa Claus when you really need him?
To be sure, there are several ways the State can generate new sources of revenue. Some of these new revenue streams include the collection of online sales taxes, and the elimination of sales tax exemptions. But, keep this one fact in mind: Each of these new revenue streams is really nothing more than a new way for the government to reach deeper into your pockets in order to take more of your hard-earned money.
Of course, there are also the old ways of generating more revenue for the State. According to HCI’s survey, 60 percent of Nebraskans believe State lawmakers should raise taxes on corporations and 54 percent believe the State should raise taxes on our wealthiest citizens.
But, raising taxes is seldom ever a good idea. Raising taxes is the way of Socialism. Socialism kills competition, the incentive to work hard, and the desire to generate wealth. For instance, raising taxes only motivates corporations and wealthy citizens to move to other states where taxes are lower. As Winston Churchill said: “The main vice of capitalism is the uneven distribution of prosperity. The main vice of Socialism is the even distribution of misery.”
Nebraska does not have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. Nebraska has plenty of money in its coffers. The problem is that we waste money on programs which are either too fat or should be eliminated altogether. Allow me to illustrate.
Nebraska has too many State Government employees. Nebraska currently has 290 full-time State Government employees per every 10,000 residents in the state. By way of comparison, the U.S. average is 243 State Government employees per every 10,000 residents. Iowa has twice the population of Nebraska, yet it operates with a ratio of only 235 employees to every 10,000 residents. If Nebraska used Iowa’s ratio, we could save the State $500,000,000 annually. South Dakota’s ratio is 226 employees to every 10,000 residents. Using South Dakota’s ratio, we could save the State $680,000,000.
Nebraska continues to fund failed programs which ought to be eliminated. A perfect example of this is the Learning Community. In 2016 Gov. Ricketts signed LB1067, which added another 13.4 million in State funding to the Learning Community beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. But, study after study has shown that the vast majority of children catch up academically to their peers by the third grade. So, the State keeps throwing money at a program which has no proven track record of success.
As you can see, Nebraska does not really have a revenue problem at all; we have a spending problem. State lawmakers have not been dealing responsibly with your tax dollars, and this explains why Nebraska continues to be the second most highly taxed state in the Union. Only the state of Illinois taxes their people more than we do!
Nebraskans desperately need property tax relief. Over the past ten years property valuations on agricultural land have increased 252 percent statewide and taxes have increased 162 percent. Meanwhile, valuations on residential properties have increased 40-50 percent. The State of Nebraska currently ranks as the seventh worst state in the nation for property taxes. But, as bad as these state rankings seem, they do not accurately reflect the kind of desperation that so many Nebraskans feel once their property tax bill becomes due. The fact of the matter is that our State is on a trajectory which it can no longer sustain.
Last year my bill (LB829) was criticized because I offered no way to pay for the $1.2 billion in property tax relief mandated by the bill. In response to this, let me assert that any property tax relief bill which proposes a way to “pay for it” without making cuts in the State’s budget amounts to nothing more than a tax shift. What these critics fear more than anything else is making cuts to the State’s biennial budget. Moreover, any bill which identifies a way to “pay for it” by making specific budgetary cuts automatically picks a fight with that particular group, and nothing scares these critics more than a fight.
The fact of the matter is that State legislators will never make any significant budgetary cuts until they are forced to do so. Cutting any budgetary item amounts to political suicide for these kinds of weak politicians. Therefore, the only way to get the kind of property tax relief we need is to mandate property tax relief and force the Legislature to decide later where to make the necessary budget cuts.
To help you see this, consider what the Legislature did in 2016 to the property tax cash credit fund. The property tax cash credit fund was established in 2007 as a way to divert revenue from the State’s General Fund towards property tax relief. LB958 was passed in 2016 and shifted $20 million more from the General Fund to the property tax cash credit fund, increasing the State’s contribution to $224 million. But, when State revenues fell short that year, the Legislature decided to make property owners pay for it. Despite the mandate of LB958 to increase the State’s contribution to $224 million, they only increased it to $221 million. Instead of cutting other budgetary items to pay for the mandate of LB958, State legislators found it easier to transfer the burden onto the taxpayer by cutting their relief.
Politicians without backbone will continue to stand in the way of giving you the property tax relief you need. For instance, Governor Ricketts has refused to endorse any bill providing taxpayers with substantive property tax relief, and Bob Krist never introduced a bill for property tax relief during his nine year tenure in the Nebraska Legislature. Last year Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who served as chairman of the Revenue Committee, along with the other members of the Revenue Committee, refused to advance my property tax relief bill (LB829) out of committee, and Reform for Nebraska’s Future, led by former Lincoln City Councilman, Trent Fellers, suddenly ended the petition drive to put the same measure on the November ballot. These kinds of politicians only validate Benjamin Franklin’s old adage that, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
But there is hope for the future. In January I will introduce a Constitutional Amendment to permit property owners to get a 35 percent credit or refund of their property tax bill when they go to file their State income taxes. The Revenue Committee will have a new chair next year, so there is a ray of hope of passing this through the Legislature. I am also pleased to announce that Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom has begun a new petition drive to put this same Constitutional Amendment on the ballot for the 2020 election. Please be assured and know that property tax relief remains my highest priority in the Nebraska State Legislature.
Our national motto has come under attack. Last month the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling from last December, which ruled that the practice of putting “In God We Trust” on our nation’s coinage and currency violates neither a person’s freedom of speech nor their religious rights.
Atheistic groups, led by attorney Michael Newdow, have been relentlessly challenging public displays of our national motto and consistently losing their battles in court. Their fear that our national motto might somehow give rise to a state religion is simply unfounded. As Diana Verm, of the non-profit law firm Becket, said after the Eighth Circuit Court’s ruling, “The good news is you no longer have to be afraid that the pennies in your pocket are gateway drugs to theocracy.”
As in this most recent court case, New Doe Child #1 v. The Congress of the United States, the courts have consistently ruled that displaying the national motto does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In other words, displaying the national motto does not establish Christianity or any other religion as the country’s state religion.
The mere threat of a lawsuit is often enough to intimidate and deter school administrators and school boards from displaying the national motto in our public schools. They reason that displaying the motto simply isn’t worth risking a lawsuit which could potentially cost the school district thousands of dollars. Consequently, our public schools now need some help from state lawmakers.
Florida is the most recent state to afford protection to its public schools for displaying the national motto. Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, signed a bill in March mandating that all buildings used by Florida’s public schools display the motto in a conspicuous place. Moreover, similar bills have been passed in Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and in July the Scottsbluff County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to display a sign with the national motto at the County Administration Building. Therefore, I believe the time has come for the State of Nebraska to take a similar stand in regards to protecting our national motto.
In January I will introduce a bill mandating that our national motto be displayed in a conspicuous place in all of our state’s public schools. In order to further protect our public schools, my bill will require the State’s Attorney General to intervene on behalf of any school, school administrator, teacher, or school board member in the event of a lawsuit. Moreover, my bill will also allow school boards to accept donations to defray the costs associated with displaying the motto. School administrators and school boards will have freedom to choose how they wish to display the national motto, provided that it is written legibly in English and displayed in a location where students will be able see it and to read it on a daily basis.
The world is becoming fascinated with drones. Of course, I am speaking of the unmanned aircraft kind, not the stinger-less male bees who mate with the queen. Drones are leading the way in new technologies, and they are making discoveries we never even knew existed.
Such was the case down in Brazil. A drone equipped with a camera recently discovered a new tribe of indigenous people living deep within the Amazon rainforest. A camera attached to a drone took pictures of a tribe consisting of 16 individuals who were previously unknown to the Brazilian government. The tribe had had no previous contact with the outside world and used only primitive tools and wore only indigenous tribal clothing.
Last week IBM filed a new patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which will take the use of drones to a whole new level. IBM has invented new technology that will enable drones to deliver a cup of hot coffee, a cold soft drink, or even an alcoholic beverage to a patron. Imagine that you are sitting inside your favorite coffee shop or restaurant and your coffee cup has reached the point of being half-full or imagine that the coffee in your cup has become too cold to drink. IBM’s new drones would have the capability of monitoring the level of hot coffee in your cup and flying a new cup of hot coffee out to your table before you ever even think about waving down the waitress. Should you happen to get overlooked, you would be able to summon a drone to bring you a new cup of coffee without ever having to bother another human being.
IBM’s new patent also accommodates alcoholic beverages. IBM’s new drones will be able to monitor behavior to determine when a patron has had too much to drink. The drones would be programmed to observe behavior and not to serve alcoholic drinks to those exhibiting signs of drunkenness. The drones will also be programmed to read age. The drones would be prevented from delivering alcoholic drinks to those who appear to be underage.
In the technological age in which we live, we tend to get new technology long before we ever think about its moral and immoral applications. For instance, one of the places where this new IBM technology would be especially advantageous is during a Husker football game at Memorial Stadium or at some other outdoor sporting event. After all, who wants to get out of their seat, climb over entrenched and engaged fans, and wait in a long line at the snack bar during the fourth quarter of a closely fought football game? Instead, a thirsty fan would be better served by a drone. But, flying drones into open, outdoor stadiums could also have some grave consequences.
We need to remember who our enemies are. Unfortunately, we also live in an age of terrorism. A drone with this kind of IBM technology could also be used for evil purposes. How easy it would be for a terrorist to rig a drone of this kind with a weapon of mass destruction!
For this reason Congressman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., has been working to give anti-drone technology to government agencies other than the Department of Defense. Currently only the Defense Department can disable flying drones. While Johnson’s legislation is certainly good for the safety of American citizens, I don’t believe it goes far enough. I believe we need to get this kind of anti-drone technology into the hands of local law enforcement. Why? The reason is simple – because they are the first to respond when Americans get attacked.
The cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket out of control. For no one else is this problem worse than for our State’s Medicaid patients and for Nebraska taxpayers. Oddly enough, Medicaid expansion could potentially worsen the problem by making more money available to those who’ve been milking the system. One of the primary culprits of rising prescription drug costs are the Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). PBM’s are the middlemen who reimburse pharmacists for prescription drugs charged to Medicaid.
Many PBMs have been using a secretive process called “spread pricing” which generates a lot of extra revenue for them and the companies they work for. The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that PBMs rake in as much as $400 billion per year nationwide using spread pricing. While the role of the PBM was originally designed for claims processing, they now have a much larger role in managing healthcare benefits for Medicaid patients.
Spread pricing is a secretive process whereby the PBMs bill the State excessively more than they reimburse a pharmacist for filling a prescription. The difference is known as the price spread. PBMs, acting as the middlemen in these transactions, are supposed to get paid a straight administrative fee, which is usually less than $2.00 per prescription and gets charged to the State. But some PBM’s like to charge more than they should.
The state of Ohio is currently leading the fight against spread pricing. According to a recent report commissioned by the state of Ohio, in one year’s time PBM’s over-billed that state by $223.7 million. The study said that PBM fees in Ohio should fall within the range of 90 cents to $1.90 per prescription, but some of the PBM’s were billing the state $5.60 to $6.50 per prescription, which is three to six times higher than what they should have been charging. Consequently, Medicaid officials in Ohio have begun terminating contracts with those PBMs who they’ve caught practicing spread pricing.
Now that we know how the PBMs rip-off the taxpayers, the time has come for lawmakers in Nebraska and DHHS officials to begin demanding more transparency in regards to their fees. Those who milk the system for their own private and corporate gain need to have their contracts with the State terminated.
On a different note, the time has come for interested college students to begin submitting applications for working as a page at the State Capitol. I want to help qualified candidates from Western Nebraska pursue this job. So, if you will be studying in Lincoln in January consider working as a page. Pages are local college students employed by the legislature who respond to Senators’ requests for assistance on the legislative floor. Pages answer incoming calls to the chamber, and they also prepare for and assist with committee hearings. If you are a Political Science major or just interested in politics, this may be the perfect job for you. Those interested in receiving a job application should contact the Clerk’s Office at (402) 471-2271.
If you would like to know more about working as a page, or if you are a Medicaid recipient having difficulty getting your claims processed by your Managed Care Provider, or if you would like to sound off on some other issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My office phone number is (402) 471-2616. My e-mail address is: email@example.com.
Finally, if you are planning on visiting the Capitol this year, and you would like to see me or visit my office, please know that you will no longer find it in its usual place on the first floor. Due to HVAC renovation work at the Capitol Building my office has been relocated up to the 12th floor of the tower.