None of the newspaper columns I have submitted have generated more response than the one I wrote during the week of July 4th on LR 3. LR 3 is the Legislative Resolution introduced by Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha in January to redesign the Nebraska State flag. Besides what has been written in the newspapers, I have received more positive feedback from the public on this article than on any other. Nevertheless, I feel the need to respond.
Last week Sen. Harr said that he never orchestrated the flying of the Nebraska State Flag upside down at the capitol building in Lincoln. I have no reason to doubt Sen. Harr’s word, nor do I wish to judge his intentions on this matter. I believe he is telling the truth. I have always known Sen. Harr to be an honest and upstanding man, so I thank him for clarifying this matter.
When it comes to evaluating what constitutes a “fact,” however, I must take issue with Sen. Harr. By definition, a fact is something which has actual existence. In other words, something which is factual has a presence in physical reality. Legislative facts, then, exist within a written piece of legislation. This definition is important because Sen. Harr would have us believe that his immaterial thoughts and his good intentions somehow constitute legislative facts, but they do not. Let me explain.
Last week Sen. Harr accused me of getting “two facts wrong”. The first wrong fact was the issue regarding the flag flying upside down at the State capitol. While I did not get the fact of the flag flying upside down wrong, I was mistaken about who actually raised it. The second fact that Sen. Harr accused me of getting wrong, however, was the associated cost of redesigning the Nebraska State flag. Sen. Harr stated that the associated cost of $250,000 “would be a valid concern if only it were true.” Well, it is true after all.
I would now like to respond to Sen. Harr on a purely “factual” basis – his word, not mine. First, Sen. Harr said in his recent article that LR 3 “…only creates a task force to have a conversation about design.” This is not factually true at all. LR 3 states explicitly: “The task force shall develop a recommendation for the design of a new flag for the State of Nebraska which conforms to the flag design principles of established vexillologic organizations.” LR 3 says absolutely nothing about starting a conversation, nor does it say anything about the possibility of redesigning the flag. Furthermore, we should never be so naïve as to think that a task force of this kind would ever come back to the table with a recommendation of not changing the design of the flag. So, Sen. Harr would have us believe that his mental ideas or his good intentions about the task force possibly redesigning the flag should somehow count as legislative facts when they do not.
Concerning the cost of redesigning the Nebraska State flag, I want the constituents of Legislative District 47 to know that there is no substantive difference whatsoever between LB 954, which was introduced back in 2002, and LR 3, which was introduced by Sen. Harr last January. These two pieces of legislation are almost identical, save for the reasons Sen. Harr included for changing the flag design provided by the Vexilogical Association. Both LB 954 and LR 3 call for a task force to redesign the flag, and neither piece of legislation ever stipulated how the flags were to be purchased and distributed. Sen. Harr does not know how much LR 3 will cost the taxpayers of Nebraska because the fiscal note has yet to be released! However, when LB 954 was introduced back in 2002, the fiscal note estimated the cost of purchasing and distributing 5,000 to 10,000 flags at somewhere between $200,000 to $400,000. So, my estimate of $250,000 was a conservative estimate!
Once more, Sen. Harr’s idea of replacing the old flags with new ones on an as needed basis is found nowhere in LR 3, nor has he submitted any amendments to this effect. Conversations he has had with editors at the Omaha World Herald simply do not count as legislative facts. If LR 3 had been passed into law this year, the flags would not have been distributed on an as needed basis because no such language exists in LR 3 nor in any amendments. Furthermore, I do not believe that such an idea would significantly reduce the cost of purchasing and distributing 5,000 – 10,000 new flags over time. In 2002 the fiscal note attached to LB 954 put the individual cost of an all-weather outdoor nylon flag at $40.00 each. Today, these same flags retail at $55.00 each. Once you do the math you will see that I underestimated the lowest cost by $25,000 just to be fair.
The State does not pay to replace flags at our public schools. This expense would get added onto our property taxes. Therefore, I thank Sen. Harr for expressing his interest in lowering property taxes and I look forward to working with him to find a solution which will benefit both our rural as well as our residential communities. So, let us continue to honor the Nebraska State flag, which was designed by our forefathers back in 1925.
Last Thursday the Nebraska Department of Education released its new standards for science education in our Public Schools. These standards are updated every seven years. Because I serve on the Education Committee, these new science standards are of special interest to me. More than any other subject, science reveals our philosophy of education.
When I compared the new 2017 science standards to the old ones from 2010, two topics immediately jumped out at me. Both of these topics are hotly contested in the political arena. Before I share my analysis of the new science standards, let me say that students and families have the right to decide for themselves concerning the truth of all controversial topics in science. My issue is not with teaching these topics, but why these topics are no longer being treated as scientific theories.
The first topic I noticed was biological evolution. In 2010 the science standards specifically referred to biological evolution as a theory. In 2010 students were expected to “describe the theory of evolution,” and to “apply the theory of biological evolution to explain diversity of life over time.” The new science standards omit this language altogether. Instead of analyzing biological evolution as one possible theory among many for the origin of life, the new standards seem to turn students into apologists for biological evolution. For instance, the new standards will require students to “Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.” Elsewhere the new standards state that students shall “demonstrate understanding of how multiple lines of evidence contribute to the strength of scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.” To me, these kinds of statements communicate an unnecessary and preferential value judgment in favor of biological evolution.
The other topic which caused me concern was climate change. In 2010 the science standards merely asked students to describe the “natural influences” on the global climate. By way of contrast, the new scientific standards now ask students to “…illustrate the relationships among Earth systems to the degree to which those relationships are being modified due to human activity.” To assume that human activity can modify Earth’s systems is to choose sides on a politically charged and hotly debated topic in science. Again, these kinds of statements communicate an unnecessary and preferential value judgment in favor of climate change.
In the 20th Century Karl Popper championed the idea of falsifiability in science. He reasoned that good science does not simply try to prove its favorite theories to be true, but it also attempts to show its favorite theories to be false as well. If a scientific theory is not disprovable, it should not be considered good science. By choosing sides in controversial scientific debates, we rob our students of the opportunity to learn what good science really looks like. Instead of leading students to favor one scientific theory over another, shouldn’t we really be in the business of teaching students how to think scientifically for themselves by weighing all sides of an issue? Instead of indoctrinating children in the “strengths” of biological evolution and climate change, imagine what the outcome would be if we were to teach the weaknesses of these scientific doctrines as well. Philosophy of education is better when we teach students how to think, rather than what to think.
I am the chairman of the Building Maintenance Committee, which is a Special Committee of the Nebraska State Legislature. The Building Maintenance Committee consists of six Senators who oversee the work of the State’s Task Force for Building Renewal. Together, the Building Maintenance Committee and the Task Force for Building Renewal provide maintenance to many state owned buildings across the state. The list of buildings we service range alphabetically from the Abbott Visitor’s Center at Chimney Rock National Historic Site in Bayard, NE to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney, NE.
Last week the Building Maintenance Committee met and surveyed three different sites in southwestern Nebraska. After getting an update from the Task Force for Building Renewal, we reviewed the projects scheduled for the year, and then we set out to observe these three sites in need of renovation work. These three sites also reflect three of the greatest challenges to maintaining our State’s buildings.
Financing repairs is usually the biggest hurdle. The first site we observed last week was the Work Ethic Camp located in McCook, NE. The Work Ethic Camp is a minimum security prison which now houses twice as many inmates as it was originally designed to hold. This facility needs boilers, an HVAC system, a new fire sprinkler system, and new vinyl siding. Altogether these repairs for the Work Ethic Camp add up to $1,186,500.00. These repairs have been prioritized so that the greatest needs will get taken care of first while the others will have to wait for funding. Speaking of funding, all of the money used to make these repairs come from cigarette taxes.
Finding the right talent for the job can also be a challenge. The second site we visited was the historic home of former U.S. Senator, George Norris, who used to reside in McCook, NE before he passed away in 1944. The historic Norris home stands in need of stucco repair on some of the exterior walls of the house. Because this is a historical building, renovation work must be kept in stucco in order to restore the house to its original form. But, finding a contractor who works in stucco in the greater McCook area will likely be the most challenging part of this historical restoration project.
Sometimes building repairs simply take on a sense of urgency. Our final tour took place at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture located in Curtis, NE. Because the campus is a converted high school, many of the buildings are very old. During the tour we discovered a new problem that we did not know exists. Some of the walls in the library are cracked and are showing signs of water damage. Water and books are never a good mix. Rainwater has been collecting in and around the building. So, the personnel from the Task Force for Building Renewal instructed the college’s own maintenance crew about how to re-direct the rainwater; thus, providing an immediate and inexpensive solution to the problem.
These are just three of the highlights from the Building Maintenance Committee’s meeting and tours from last week. The Building Maintenance Committee and the Task Force for Building Renewal tackled many more problems last week than just these three, but space does not permit me to report about everything we observed. For now, the citizens of Nebraska should take some comfort in knowing that the state’s facilities are actively being cared for.
Pictured below is the historic George Norris House located in McCook, NE.
July and August mean it is county fair time! As the State Senator of Legislative District 47, I have the distinct honor and privilege of representing ten counties in western Nebraska. Legislative District 47 runs second only to Legislative District 43, where State Senator, Tom Brewer, represents twelve counties with fairs. While I enjoy attending all of the fairs and festivals in the district, walking in the parades, and visiting with so many of the folks, the end of summer usually means it is time for me to buy a new pair of boots.
According to the Nebraska Association of Fair Managers more than one million people will attend county fairs and festivals all across Nebraska this year. The reason so many people attend our county fairs and festivals is because there is always something for everyone who attends, no matter the age. Children love the thrill of the carnival rides, but old-timers like me just look forward to eating some tasty barbecue and watching a good tractor pull.
County fairs are a time to showcase the best of what Nebraska has to offer. Nebraska’s county fairs give farmers and ranchers the opportunity to show off the best of what is raised and produced by the agricultural and horticultural land in our state. 4-H, FFA and open competitions are how we train our next generation of farmers and ranchers. Industrial and home-life exhibits showcase new inventions and provide fairgoers with a wide variety of new foods to try.
In the final analysis, I think what makes our county fairs and festivals so enjoyable is that that they give us a chance to be a kid again. The older you get, the more you appreciate the preservation of our traditions and our culture, and exhibits of this kind help us older folks remember the days of our youth. While I am much too old to survive a bounce house, to go upside down, or to ride a bucking bull, I can still live vicariously through those who do. I still relish the ecstatic voice of the 11-year-old boy who says to his small group of friends, “That was awesome; let’s do it again!” Moreover, I hope I never get too old to appreciate mutton busting, teenagers cutting it loose on the dance floor, or a crazy demolition derby. God gave us life to enjoy, so let’s enjoy it at the county fair.
The economic situation in Nebraska has not improved. Revenues for the months of May and June were down significantly compared to the projections which were made back in late April. General Fund receipts for the month of May, for instance, were $480 million, which was 4.6% below the certified forecast of $503 million. The month of June will also fall well short of its projected tax revenue goal.
The budget adopted by the State Legislature this year was overly optimistic. As I asserted on the last day of the Legislative session, I believe the State Legislature will likely be called back for a special session this fall to deal with the State’s budgetary shortfall. Because the money in the State Treasury is insufficient to cover the State’s budget, more likely than not State Senators will be called back to Lincoln by the Governor to make deeper cuts into our State’s budget.
The time has come for the State to tighten its belt. When these kinds of financial crises hit us at home or in our businesses, we tighten our belts and find ways to reduce our own spending. For the State, it should be no different. We must find a way to live within our means without dipping into our rainy day fund.
For the month of May, the largest decrease in General Fund Receipts came from individual incomes, not corporations. Individual incomes fell 10.3% below their projected forecast. This means that Nebraskans are suffering financially. Analysis of the data also shows that over the course of the past few decades property taxes have been increasing at twice the rate as family incomes. So, it makes no sense to squeeze individuals and families for more tax dollars. Instead, what our citizens need is property tax relief.
For this reason, I have been working diligently this summer to lessen your property tax burden. I have been meeting with other Senators, lobbyists and concerned citizens to find the best property tax relief solution for the citizens of our State. We are rapidly approaching a consensus of opinion.
Once a consensus is reached, I will introduce you to the constitutional amendment I will introduce to the Nebraska Legislature in January. The constitutional amendment that I will introduce will be a Legislative Resolution which would put the measure, if passed, on the ballet for the voters to decide in November 2018; otherwise, we may use a citizen let petition drive to put a referendum of the same kind on the ballot. After 40 years of talking about property tax relief and doing nothing about it, I believe the time has come for the citizens to assert themselves at the polls on the subject of property tax relief.
In an effort to crack down on voter fraud the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity has requested the names, addresses, birth dates, political party affiliation, military status, and the last four digits of voters’ social security numbers from every state in the union plus the District of Columbia.
The request for releasing voters’ personal information has unleashed a firestorm of controversy across the country. As of last Friday 44 states had denied the commission’s request at least in part or in whole.
The request has also stirred up controversy here in Nebraska. Nebraska State Senators, Kate Bolz and Adam Morfeld, for example, immediately opposed the request, and they have both asked Secretary of State, John Gale, to deny the request. Four other Nebraska State Senators have joined them in opposing the request.
Generally, I oppose the releasing of sensitive, personal data, especially the kind requested by the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. However, Nebraska State Law actually allows for the release of this kind of information. According to John Gale, our Secretary of State, personal information gleaned from voter registrations may be used for purposes related to elections, political activities, voter registrations, law enforcement, and jury selection. Nevertheless, Nebraska State Law specifically prohibits the releasing of social security numbers. So, John Gale will never release your social security number.
Voter registrations are a matter of public record. Provided that the purposes meet the above criteria, anyone may request voter registration information. However, before you file your request with the Secretary of State, you may want to know that a fee of $500.00 is required and that you will also have to sign an affidavit saying that you will not use the data for commercial or any purposes other than those designated above. Because voter registrations are matter of public record, the Secretary of State is obligated by law to release this information.
John Gale should release Nebraska’s voter registration information. Given the fact that voter registrations are a matter of public record, and given the fact that the Secretary of State is obligated by law to release the voter registration information, and given that the purpose of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity is to use the information to crack down on voter fraud, I believe John Gale should honor the request of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.
John Gale has acted with wisdom and caution. Mr. Gale has asked the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity to provide him with two important pieces of information before releasing the voter registration information. First, Mr. Gale is requiring the commission to submit the required signed affidavit, assuring him that the commission will only use the data for the above stated purposes. Mr. Gale wants the commission to assure him that the data will be used in compliance with Nebraska State Law. Second, Mr. Gale would like the commission to explain how they intend to keep the information secure. For instance, the commission will not be permitted to publish your personal information on a website open to public viewing nor will they be permitted to store the information on an unsecured server. Consequently, I believe Mr. Gale has acted wisely and with caution before releasing your sensitive information to the federal government.
Jeanne Murray from Nebraska’s Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) will be in Alliance, Nebraska at the University of Nebraska Box Butte County Extension Office on Monday, July 10. You will find her at 415 Black Hills Ave. Jeanne Murray will be available to help persons new to Medicare in 2017, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries with Prescription Drug Plans, and to answer any Medicare or Medicaid questions you may have.
To schedule an appointment, please call Jeanne Murray at 308-632-6554. Please feel to leave a message.
Earlier this year Nebraska State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha introduced LR 3, which is a legislative resolution to form a task force to redesign Nebraska’s State flag. The resolution was referred to the Reference Committee and was laid over for next year’s Legislative Session.
Nebraska’s State flag has not been getting much love and appreciation lately from the North American Vexillogical Association. They are an organization which ranks flags, and they frequently rank Nebraska’s flag among the five worst state flags in the United States.
The North American Vexillogical Association has offered four reasons why our flag ranks so low. First, they say the Great Seal of Nebraska is too complex to be viewed from a distance. Second, they believe Nebraska’s flag is indistinguishable from 19 other state flags, which also use a gold seal with a blue background. Third, they think references on the flag to the 19th Century detract from the flag’s timelessness. Fourth, they say the writing on our flag detracts from its symbolism.
In order to help demonstrate his point that the Nebraska State flag stands in need of being redesigned, Sen. Harr had officials at the State Capitol building in Lincoln fly the flag upside down for a period of one full week. Apparently, nobody ever noticed that the flag was flying upside down.
Another reason Sen. Harr would like to re-design our flag is because he says nobody ever wears it. The Nebraska State Flag, for instance, is seldom ever displayed on baseball caps, T-shirts, or backpacks. Instead, Sen. Harr would like to re-create a new kind of flag, which would be contemporary, hip, and wearable. He also wants a flag which would distinguish our state from our surrounding states.
I am against LR 3. The main reason I stand against LR 3 is because the project of redesigning our State flag would cost the tax payers of Nebraska approximately $250,000.00. I believe the cost is simply too high. I believe this is a time in our State’s history when lawmakers ought to concern themselves with saving money and cutting spending, not looking for new ways to spend it.
To me, there also seems to be something superficially vain about a state spending a quarter of a million dollars of tax payer monies to redesign a flag. Is flag fashion really so important? LR 3 is nothing short of a bad episode of Project Runway, where the contestants are charged with the task of redesigning the Nebraska State flag and incorporating into their line of clothing for Fashion Week.
Does the opinion of the North American Vexillogical Association really matter so much? Sen. Harr cited their four reasons for redesigning the flag in his resolution. But, why must we cave in to these passive and subtle demands from North America’s #1 flag police?
According to Title 4, of the United States Code, Chapter 1, the American “flag should never be used as wearing apparel.” To wear the flag is to disrespect it. So, why is it acceptable to use our Nebraska State flag as wearing apparel? To the contrary, I believe it is disrespectful to our flag to redesign it so that it may be worn on hats, clothing, and even backpacks.
The Nebraska State flag is an honorable piece of handiwork handed down to us from our Forefathers. Instead of criticism, it deserves our deepest respect. As we salute and honor the American flag this Independence Day, let us also remember to admire and give homage to the flag which represents our great State, and let us continue to do so, especially throughout the remainder of this sesquicentennial year. One last thing, please make sure you never fly it upside down.
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the various power company employees who restored power to Bayard. After the storm cut off power to more than 80 percent of the city of Bayard on June 12th, it was restored in a very timely fashion. Thank you to all the power company employees for your dedication, hard work, and persistence in getting the job done.
As I have said before, next January I will introduce a constitutional amendment on property tax relief. I am currently working on forming the language for that amendment now. I have been working with several groups, some senators, and even a few select individuals on how to word this amendment.
There are two questions which need to be answered. The first question is a “how much” kind of question: How much property tax relief would be appropriate for our state? In other words, should this be a percentage or should it be a specific dollar amount? Until we know the answer to this question, we really cannot answer the second question.
The second question is a “how to” kind of question: How do we accomplish our goal? There are several options which we are exploring. Some states have gone down this road before us, so we are researching and looking at what these states have done and what the long term effects have been. If there is no need to reinvent the wheel of property tax relief, then we don’t want to waste our time and efforts trying to do it for Nebraska.
I will continue to explore options and hold meetings until we come to a conclusion. Our goal is to find the best solution for Nebraska, and we will press forward until we reach that goal. In the end, we want to make a significant dent in the amount of property taxes we all pay.
We have been talking about property tax relief for at least 40 years. Now it is time to actually do something about it. This is what my constitutional amendment shall accomplish, and this is my solemn vow to you as your representative in the Nebraska State Legislature.
I would like to update everyone about the recent tornados and storm damage that occurred in our Bayard community last Monday. First of all we are so thankful that no one was seriously injured. That is truly a blessing from the Lord. But, another blessing lies in how our community came together. That was amazing! The care and love for others was overwhelming, and I would like to thank all of you who thought of others and reached out to help them in their time of need.
The landscape in Bayard and northeast of town has changed and will never be the same. The storm that came through our community last Monday evening has changed the lives of many! Some have lost farm buildings and homes. Many of the center pivots that were in the path of the storm have been overturned. The debris from the storm that is left in the fields will have to be picked up and removed. Many volunteers have already stepped forward to help in that process, and I’m sure more will be needed as time goes by. Thank you to everyone who stepped in to help their neighbors! Nebraska is the good life, and that was proven last week in the Bayard community by everyone pitching in and helping one another!
My wife and I will never forget this experience. I, like many of you, have seen several tornadoes from a distance, but this was my first experience of having one pass through my yard. Our damage was minor compared to our neighbors. Our prayers are with them. Please be careful as you continue to clean up and move forward with your life.
You are currently browsing the District 47 News and Information blog archives for the year 2017.