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As we round the corner from 2019 into 2020, let us reflect back on the year we just completed. 2019 was a very difficult year for many residents of Nebraska. We had a long, snowy winter followed by spring floods and even more blizzards, which resulted in some of the worst weather to hit our state since 1949. The snow and rain during the month of March left some Nebraskans without a home and others suffering great economic losses. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see how people stepped up to help those in need.
As I review the events of 2019 some of the bills I introduced helped make the lives of our citizens better off. For instance, I introduced LB 482, a property tax relief bill for those with destroyed properties. Little did I know when I introduced this bill how important it would become for those with destroyed properties. This legislation eased the burden of property owners who had their properties destroyed by the year’s natural disasters by allowing them to apply for a reduction in their property taxes so long as their property was damaged by at least 20 percent before July 1.
Looking ahead and into the future, anytime that a natural disaster occurs in our state before July 1, property owners will be able to get some much needed property tax relief by having their properties reassessed. This legislation has already saved Nebraskans millions of dollars in property tax relief.
Another bill that I am celebrating the passage of this year is LB 372, a bill which allows massage therapists to use mobile units. Because there was no opposition to this bill at the public hearing, it qualified for the Consent Calendar and passed unanimously with no opposition votes. Consequently, massage therapists can now take their practices to where their clients live, work, study and play. I introduced this bill on behalf of a constituent who works as a massage therapist.
During the interim period, when the Legislature was not in session, I had the opportunity to visit with many folks throughout Legislative District 47, which includes ten counties in the Panhandle of Nebraska. The concerns and issues they expressed are very important to me. Visiting with people and hearing their concerns tells me that there is a lot of work left to be done.
Recently I was visiting with a constituent who made the following comment to me, “It is a breath of fresh air to have someone that represents us and who really cares!” These are the kind of words that I cherish the most, because unless I am listening to the people and representing their best interests in the Legislature, I am not doing my job as a State Senator. Therefore, I want you to feel free to call my office with any of your ideas or concerns. That telephone number is (402) 471-2616.
When I was asked why I want to seek another four years in the Legislature, the answer I gave is the same answer I gave four years ago. And that is: Because I care about the people in my Legislative District and the people of Nebraska and I want them to know that I will continue to care!
Thank you for allowing me to represent you and thank you for reading my articles. May you have a happy and blessed New Year!
This week I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. As we come together as families to celebrate the holiest day of the year, my wife, Cathy, and I would like to offer our best wishes to you and your family.
Let us also pause to remember our brave men and women who are serving in the armed forces and who may be unable to be with their families for Christmas this year. Because of them, we may worship freely and enjoy all of the other liberties granted to us under the Constitution. To them we offer gratitude and recognition for all of the sacrifices they are making for us this year.
I would also like to extend my prayers to all of the farmers and ranchers across our State and thank them for all of their hard work this year. It is their hard work which drives the economy here in Nebraska, and so they make us very proud.
In addition, I also want to recognize all those who run our small businesses, teach in our schools, police our roads, and who respond to our emergencies because they are the glue which holds the fabric of our society together. And to everyone else living in Legislative District 47, let me extend my wishes for a blessed holiday to you as well.
Finally, I recently saw a meme which I believe reflects the true meaning of Christmas. The meme depicted a manger with a caption which read, “One unplanned pregnancy saved us all.” Of course, the caption was referring to the virgin birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
May your Christmas holiday be filled with love, peace and good cheer, and may God bless you richly!
The people of Western Nebraska are some of the hardest working and most values driven people in America. Whenever disaster strikes, we come together as a community and rebuild. We help our neighbors, we are civic-minded, and we work together to make our communities strong.
Perhaps the best evidence of what I am talking about is the resurgence of the city of Sidney after the 2017 sale of Cabela’s Sporting Goods Store to Bass Pro Shops. When Tucker Carlson of Fox News exposed the vulture capitalism of Paul Singer for orchestrating the sale of Cabela’s through his Elliott Management hedge fund, he cast the city of Sidney in a negative light as if it has remained in a perpetual state of hopelessness and despair ever since the merger, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The people of Sidney never took the sale of Cabela’s lying down. Even after losing two thousand jobs, the city has rebounded. Instead of caving into a spirit of hopelessness and despair, the people came together and rebuilt their own town. The people who live in Sidney today, live there because they want to live there. Nobody is stuck or being held captive by the housing market in Sidney today. Contrary to the opinion of Tucker Carlson, more than one thousand new family units have moved into the city and today there are only 72 houses for sale in the city.
The citizens of Sidney are a resilient people who have overcome these kinds of obstacles several times throughout their history. The city faced similar problems during the Black Hills gold rush, the oil boom, and when the military relocated its fort and its weapons depot, and every time the city has found a way to recover.
I believe Sidney will become an even stronger city than when Cabela’s was headquartered there. Since the sale of Cabela’s 24 new businesses have moved into the city. Sidney is becoming stronger because it no longer has to rely upon one primary employer. As more and more small businesses move to Sidney, the city will only grow stronger and more resilient to economic changes.
Despite the loss of some two thousand jobs, the school system in Sidney has done remarkably well. Attendance in the schools has remained steady and academics have excelled. Sidney High School, for example, was recognized this year as one of only six high schools in Nebraska to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award. The award is given to schools for academic performance and for closing the achievement gaps among various student subgroups.
I believe it is important for the nation to see how Sidney has recovered from the sale of Cabela’s. In many ways, Sidney has become the model for cities with similar circumstances. Instead of throwing in the towel, the resilient people of Sidney took back their city and have transformed it into a jewel of Western Nebraska.
The HVAC renovation work at the Capitol Building in Lincoln is proceeding nicely. As many of you know, my office was temporarily relocated up to the twelfth floor of the Capitol Building’s tower during the first phase of the HVAC renovation project. However, the first phase is finally coming to an end. So, my new office will be in Room 1124, which is located on the south side of the first floor of the Capitol Building. Whenever you come to Lincoln, please feel free to stop by and say, “Hello.”
November is usually the month we reserve for giving thanks. Thanksgiving is an American tradition that we usually trace all the way back to the first pilgrims, who had much to be thankful for, especially after enduring a long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on rough seas, a harsh winter, fatal diseases, and even starvation due to lack of food. In spite of all of their suffering, they chose to give glory to God and return thanks for his abundant provision. Above all else, they considered themselves to be blessed for finally having the freedom to worship God in their own way.
I have chosen to write on the subject of giving thanks early this year because I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in the Bible when he said, “Be thankful” (Colossians 3:15) and “Give thanks in all circumstances,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Just as I wrote last week about honoring our veterans throughout the year and not just on Veterans Day, I believe giving thanks is also something that should be done throughout the year and not just on Thanksgiving Day. A truly thankful person gives thanks all year long.
So, give thanks no matter the circumstances. In spite of whatever fate we may be facing this year, especially due to the recent blizzards, floods, or loss of crops, let us remember to give thanks for all that we do have. Like the pilgrims, let’s remember how God has blessed our nation with liberty and justice for all. We have successfully repelled all foreign invaders, and we have been the voice of freedom throughout the world. Our economic prosperity, our freedoms, and even our right to own a gun all remain the envy of the world.
While the right to life is guaranteed to us in the Declaration of Independence, life itself is only temporary. God is the giver and taker of life, and only two things are really ever guaranteed to us in this life, namely death and taxes. So, let’s enjoy what we have while we still have the time to do so and before the government takes it away from us. The pilgrims had a favorite proverb which said, “We live and then we die.” The point of the proverb is to enjoy life and to celebrate all that God has blessed you with while you still have the time and the means to do so.
Finally, I am thankful many things. I am thankful for my wife, my three sons and their wives, and my nine grandchildren. I am thankful for my staff and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve and represent all of the folks of Legislative District 47.
The Grave Stone of Mr. John Ogden
The winged skull means, “You live and then you die.”
In Western Nebraska the term, “Big Mac,” often refers to something much bigger than a hamburger. Lake McConaughy, or Big Mac, is the aquatic pride and joy of the Panhandle, and, yes, it is much bigger than a hamburger.
I recently attended a fundraiser at Lake McConaughy that was sponsored by the Ogallala Rotary Club. In fact, this year marked the fourth time I attended the Kayak Big Mac. Kayak Big Mac is the Rotary Club’s annual fundraiser for water projects.
This year the Ogallala Rotary Club set out to raise money to pay for swimming lessons for needy children. Water safety is essential in watery places like Big Mac, so it is important that all kids know how to swim.
Kayak Big Mac brings in people from out of town and gets them outdoors to enjoy the lake during the offseason. Participants prepare ahead of time by getting people to sponsor them. Then, when the big day arrives they start the day off with a pancake breakfast, then they paddle their kayaks three miles across the lake. Once they reach their final destination, they get to warm up with a hot bowl of chili.
The event was a big success and no one fell out of their kayak. This year the Kayak Big Mac had 46 participants, approximately 80 spectators and brought in $1,800. Not bad for a day of kayaking on a cold and blustery day!
Next spring the Ogallala Rotary Club will be partnering up with the Goodall Recreation Center to talk to school children about water safety. They plan to give kindergarteners a copy of the book, Josh the Otter, and talk to parents about how to sign up for free swimming lessons.
Finally, I would like to remind everyone to continue to remember our veterans beyond Veterans Day. If you think about it, every day should really be Veterans Day. Is there ever a day when we should not be thankful for their service to our country?
Veterans Day is a day we set aside to intentionally honor our veterans. But, just as it means more to a parent when their child expresses thanksgiving for a gift without being coaxed to do so, so also it means more to a veteran to hear those words of gratitude for their service and sacrifice from American citizens on days other than Veterans Day. So, let’s be intentional this year about thanking veterans throughout the year and not just on those days when we are supposed to.
May we never forget that all gave some, but some gave all. Thank you veterans.
This week I would like to thank all those who do volunteer work across our state and celebrate some of their accomplishments. Last week I attended the awards ceremony of ServeNebraska, an organization which seeks to strengthen communities by promoting volunteerism. Needless to say, I met some amazing people and heard some of their stories. So, today I would like to tell you about three award winners who stood out to me.
The first was Wolf Auto in Ogallala. Wolf Auto won in the Small Business category for their numerous volunteer work. Employees at Wolf Auto volunteer in several service organizations and host a variety of fund-raising events for local causes. During the March floods, for instance, Wolf Auto sent semi-truck loads of cleaning supplies and hay to the affected areas. Dave Wolf, the CEO even donated a mobile home to a family in Fremont. Isn’t it nice when folks from Western Nebraska get recognized in the State for the tremendous work they do?
The second person who stood out to me was Molly Kammerer of Sutherland. Molly is a 15 year-old high school sophomore. Besides being involved in high school sports, Student Council, drama, TeamMates, and making the academic honor roll, Molly was selected for the National FFA Honor Choir and sang the National Anthem at several Memorial Day programs and even played Taps on her trumpet for the Color Guard as they retired an American flag. In addition, her community service also included working at a local food pantry, serving at a pancake feed on the 4th of July, and working as a leader in her church’s Vacation Bible School Camp. Molly set such an outstanding example of volunteerism in her small town that she won the Youth Volunteer Leadership award.
Finally, Alyssa Spartz, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, stood out to me because of the way she helped our flood victims this year. Alyssa put her studies in Emergency Management and Psychology directly into action by volunteering with the Red Cross in Fremont. She then started an emergency housing facility, set up cots, and organized donations for disaster relief. After the flood waters receded, Alyssa stayed around to assist in the clean-up effort by cleaning the homes of flood survivors. She also helped to restore the Washington County Fairgrounds by power washing, sanding, and painting buildings in preparation for the County Fair.
These are just a few examples of how volunteers have made a difference in our communities and made life better for many people. However, scattered throughout Nebraska is an army of volunteers who work in our fire departments and who serve as EMTs. Others serve in our schools and hospitals. The list goes on of those who sacrificially give of their time and resources to keep our communities safe, well, and moving forward. Without these volunteers our lives would be much more difficult, especially in rural Nebraska.
Thank you to all of you who volunteer your time and talents. It is truly amazing how much time and effort volunteers contribute throughout our state. In fact, I believe our volunteerism is something which sets Nebraska apart from other states and makes us such an attractive place to live and to raise a family. So, the next time you cross paths with a volunteer be sure to thank them for their service to the community, and if you know someone who stands out for their community service, consider nominating them for a ServeNebraska award by visiting their website at www.serve.nebraska.gov.
Earlier this month I was in Lincoln for several hearings with the Legislature’s Rules Committee of which I am a member. This committee reviews the rules that the Legislature operates by. The purpose of the hearings was to gather input on possible rule changes and make a recommendation to the full Legislature.
The Rules Committee reviewed and took testimony on several possible rule changes, but one rule change in particular stood out to me. LR 217 was a Legislative Resolution introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha which contained the rule change I want to talk about today. Vargas’s proposed rule change would require that each new bill come with a racial impact statement. I’m still trying to figure out what value this kind of rule change would have for senators. So, here are some of the comments I made during the hearing.
Concerning Corrections, I asked Sen. Vargas, “If minorities don’t want a Corrections bill to impact them, shouldn’t they just not break the law?” Again, I asked Sen. Vargas, “So should we have two different types of laws: Those for minorities and those for not-minorities?” And, “Once we get the information, what determination do we make as to what law should we pass? The law is the law. If you don’t want to be affected, don’t break the law.”
We, as a country, have for a long time been dwelling on our differences. Every day we are inundated with reminders about these many differences. We hear about this group or that group and how they are different and how we need to bend our laws to accommodate this sector of our society or that group of people in the community. Whatever happened to the idea that we are all Americans? We may have come here in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now. We are all Americans!
Please don’t miss understand me. Discrimination is an unjust evil. But, discrimination will never be completely eradicated. The reason is that racism and discrimination are evils which reside in the hearts of people. Moreover, having a racial impact statement will never solve this particular problem. No amount of Legislation will ever change a person’s heart.
Herein lies the greater concern that I believe needs to be addressed. It is what the Bible calls a divided house. Jesus said in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” So, unless we learn how to stand united, we will eventually fall as a nation.
The more we concentrate on our differences, the more divided we become as a society. We are a country that is becoming increasingly more and more divided every single day. So, instead of dwelling on our differences, shouldn’t we be rallying around what unites us as Americans? Our unity as a nation depends upon our shared American values, yet these values are the very things which get attacked every time we dwell on our differences.
Let me be clear, when equal justice under the law gets redefined to mean that the concerns of the few must be allowed to override the rights of all the citizens, such things as religious liberty, freedom of speech, and bearing arms, all suddenly become compromised. Yet, these are some of our most sacred shared American values that should bind us together in perfect unity.
So, let us be reminded today about what the American concept of equal justice under the law really means. The highest authority in our nation is not any person or any group, but a document called the Constitution, which we believe reflects those rights which God has bestowed upon all people. Therefore, equal justice under the law means that the rights of all must be upheld and protected against the special interests and concerns of the few. If we ever lose sight of this fundamental concept of American jurisprudence, we will most assuredly become a house divided.
God bless America!
Today I would like to address a couple of subjects which have had a great economic impact on our State, especially in the Panhandle.
The irrigation tunnel collapse in July effected over 50,000 acres in Western Nebraska and has devastated a number of farms. I have been working with legislators in Wyoming and Nebraska and officials in the irrigation district to do everything possible to secure funding for the necessary repairs as well as maintenance on these tunnels.
Wyoming State Senator, Cheri Steinmetz, from Torrington has been very instrumental in securing funding on the Wyoming side for the Gering to Ft. Laramie-Goshen irrigation tunnel. Here in Nebraska, we need to do likewise. I have been working with our own State’s congressional delegation to encourage the Bureau of Reclamation to step up and pay for the repairs and the maintenance on the tunnel.
Those farmers affected by the interruption of the irrigation water have sustained great economic losses. It is estimated that those losses could be as high as $87 million. These folks stood by while their crops withered under the hot summer sun and there was nothing they could do about it.
Since mid-July there have been several hail storms in Western Nebraska. Some started near Mitchell and traveled all the way to Ogallala. Certain areas near Alliance endured as many as six hail storms this summer. It is likely that the economic losses from these hail storms and weather events will exceed those estimated by the canal collapse.
Just when we started to believe we were past the hail storms, and we could breathe freely again, a winter storm moved through the area bringing in a cold front, which dropped the temperatures down into the teens for several nights in a row. Temperatures so low have been devastating to the sugar beet crop which remains unharvested in the field. Because these sugar beets have been subjected to freezing temperatures, they will be very difficult to harvest and to store.
So, let us pray that those involved in agriculture can accomplish and complete their harvest.
This has been a very difficult year for agriculture in the State of Nebraska, but especially for folks in the Panhandle. When the farmers and ranchers suffer, everyone else suffers with them. Because agriculture is the engine which drives our State’s economy, the slogan rings true which says: “As goes agriculture, so goes Nebraska.”
So, let us all pull together to support each other and become stronger together! God bless you all!
The subject of elk seems to be following me wherever I go these days. For those of you who may not be aware of the problem, the elk population in the Panhandle has grown out of control in the last few years and they are causing a lot of damage to property.
My position has always been to manage the elk population through responsible hunting. Every year that I have been in office as a State Senator, for example, I have asked the Game & Parks Division to increase the number of elk tags for hunters. I have never once asked Game & Parks to issue depredation permits. Depredation permits allow landowners to thin out the elk herds on their land by shooting animals deemed to be a problem.
Unfortunately, the unfounded rumor has spread all across the State of Nebraska that I somehow leaned on the Game & Parks Division and pressed them to release depredation permits to landowners. I have done no such thing. This rumor is false. So today I would like to set the record straight.
The decision to issue depredation permits to a certain landowner in Morrill County was made by the Game & Parks Division on September 19. Eight days later, on September 27th, I sent aerial photographs of the property damage via email to the Game & Parks Division along with a request to give this particular landowner some “help” very soon. Now, I hope you can see that the word ‘help’ does not connote the words ‘depredation permits’. Had I been asked about the solution to the problem, I would have recommended increasing the number of elk tags, just as I have done every year that I have been in office.
The decision to issue depredation permits was entirely a decision made by the Game & Parks Division the day after their public hearing in Scottsbluff on September 18. The Game & Parks Division decided to issue depredation permits to this particular landowner on September 19. Below is a slightly edited version of the email response I received from the Game & Parks Division showing how they talked to the landowner shortly after the public hearing. I have edited the email only to remove names and personal information:
“Senator, We have attempted to contact Mr. — and offered via his wife to provide kill permits. Our local District Manager talked to him about depredation permits after the hearing last week. Please have him call — regarding issuance of kill permits, which we will provide. We will also be letting our staff in the area go to his place with kill permits and ready to shoot elk if he wants them allowed.”
Now, this whole scenario could have been avoided with proper elk management by the Game & Parks Division. Had the Game & Parks Division issued greater numbers of elk tags in the past, as I had urged them to do, the size of the elk herds never would have increased to the level of necessitating 50 depredation permits for a single landowner.
The lack of proper wildlife management by the Game & Parks Division has led to the kind of situation in the Panhandle where everyone has now lost. The landowners have lost because the elk have eaten their crops, destroyed their fences, and defecated on their hay. Meanwhile, the issuing of depredation permits means that hunters will lose their opportunity to pursue more of their game of choice.
While I cannot control where people get their news, I hope you will understand that I have never asked the Game & Parks Division to issue depredation permits. Please know that my solution to the elk problem has always been better elk management by the Game & Parks Division, especially through the issuing of more elk tags for hunters. While I have been wrongfully accused of politicizing the elk problem in Nebraska, the truth is that had I acted for political gain, I would have chosen to do nothing. This issue will only be resolved through a collaborative effort by everyone involved. Therefore, I am looking forward to resolving this problem collectively.
Finally, if you have concerns about the issuing of depredation permits, I encourage you to call the Game and Parks Division.
This week I would like to thank the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee for holding a public interim study hearing at the Harms Center in Scottsbluff on September 18.
Some of you may have seen an article that appeared recently in the Scottsbluff Star Herald regarding this hearing. First let me explain that, contrary to what was reported in the article, I am not a member of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee. While I had every intention of attending this hearing, I was unable to attend due to a conflict I had with being the chairman of the Legislature’s Building Maintenance Committee. I had to be in Kearney, NE, not Lincoln, at the same time as this hearing.
Although I did not attend the hearing, I have spoken with many who testified. So, I would like to elaborate on some of the testimony from the Natural Resources Committee’s hearing which never made the papers. There were numerous landowners throughout the Panhandle who shared their stories about the damages and the lost revenue that wildlife have caused to their farming and ranching operations.
What was never reported were the thousands of dollars that wildlife have cost local farmers and ranchers living in Western Nebraska. Farmers and ranchers feed the wildlife which roam freely throughout our state. One landowner, for instance, shared how wildlife costs him over $100,000 per year in lost revenue. Other ranchers testified about how the carrying capacity of their ranches was cut in half because of the elk population. Still, other ranchers talked about how they lost livestock due to mountain lions, some even to the tune of over $20,000 per year.
Several folks from Sioux County came to speak in opposition to the Game and Parks Commission purchasing another 1,520 acres of land in their county. The State of Nebraska pays little or no restitution to farmers and ranchers who feed these animals which graze on private property. The director of Game and Parks told me that the majority of the people of Nebraska believe wildlife preservation is very important. I agree. But, the problem is that the majority of people who support these kinds of land acquisitions live in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties in the eastern part of our state. These metropolitan folks never bother to ask the question about who has to feed all of the wildlife across our state and who has to pay for all of the property damages. If the majority of Nebraskans want wildlife preservation in our state, then doesn’t it just make sense for them to send us some money to feed and care for all of these animals? It is estimated that to feed the deer population state-wide on an annual basis costs landowners $60 million.
When a person buys property, one would think that it should be their property to do with as they wish. As was shared by many who testified at the hearing that is not the case, because wildlife are free to invade anyone’s property.
I am not against hunting or outdoor activities. Lest you think I am opposed to these activities, please know that that is not the case. So, as a side note, I ask you not to send emails or call or write letters to the editor like the one that the economic development people sent last week explaining or trying to explain how I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was right on the mark about the Nebraska tax incentive programs being a form of corporate welfare!
I understand their point of view, but I also understand how high property taxes make it all the more difficult for landowners to feed the wildlife of our state. If this was an issue in the metropolitan areas of our state, this problem would have been resolved a long time ago!
The article that appeared in the Scottsbluff Star Herald made it sound like the Natural Resources Committee’s hearing was non-eventful. That was not the case. Many landowners showed up to share their stories. We can no longer continue to ask these folks the bear the full burden of feeding these animals on a daily basis. Therefore, I will continue to press forward on this issue, to create more awareness of the problem, and to work towards a positive resolution. Thank you to all who took time to attend and who shared their story at the hearing.
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