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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.