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This Week's Editorial
Proposed changes on robocalls stalls out on the Legislative floor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 26 January 2012 20:04

Telephone conference report held on Tues., Jan. 24

By Russ Pankonin

The Imperial Republican


Regulation of those automated phone calls land-line users get, especially during election season, will remain split between two state agencies.

Presently, the Nebraska Public Service Commission and the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) share the responsibility.

LB 418 sought to move all of the regulation of robocalls, as they are often called, to the NADC.

Senator Heath Mello of Omaha led a filibuster against the bill last Friday, which continued into Monday.

When the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Nelson of Omaha, tried to end the filibuster, he needed 33 votes. He only got 26 votes, which all but kills the bill for this session.

The only way the bill could come back up for debate is if Nelson makes it one of his priority bills.

Alcohol compliance bill

Senators started debate Monday on LB 60, a bill that would prohibit minors from lying about their ages while working with police on alcohol sales compliance checks.

Christensen said honesty is always a good thing and “that’s where I’m falling on the bill.”

Enticing young people to lie during a compliance check sends the wrong message, he noted.

Under the bill, if a clerk or bartender asks the youth if they are underage, or if they are working with police, they must tell the truth.

The bill would also prohibit undercover officers from drinking if they were in a bar doing a compliance check.

Debate was scheduled to continue Tuesday.

STD treatment

Christensen said much of the remainder of the week will be spent on LB 304.

This bill LB304 would allow Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) for the treatment of sexually-transmitted disease (STD).

EPT is the practice of allowing a physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse who diagnoses a STD in a patient to prescribe medications to that patient’s partner(s) without examination of said partner(s).

LB 304 also specifies that a pharmacist or physician may provide or dispense such medications along with any instructions for use or medication guides where applicable.

Christensen said he questions whether it’s a good idea to dispense drugs without first seeing the partner.

Input on inheritance tax

Christensen said he’s seeking input from constituents on Gov. Heineman’s proposal to eliminate the inheritance tax.

Right now, cities and counties collect the tax, which is often used to pay for projects that could not be paid for from the general budget, i.e., infrastructure.

Last year, the Legislature discontinued any state aid to counties as part of a cost-cutting move to balance the budget.

Christensen said he wants to hear how people feel about the issue.

Some fear that if the inheritance tax goes away, it could result in higher property taxes.

He said the City of Lincoln receives about $6.7 million in inheritance tax. They budget for that money and don’t know where they could make it up, other than higher property taxes.

Christensen said there’s also some discussion of lowering the respective tax rates as opposed to eliminating the tax altogether.


SEN. MARK CHRISTENSEN holds weekly teleconferences at 7 a.m. MT/8 a.m. CT each Tuesday morning. The public is invited to attend the conference calls. Hosts of the conference calls are Imperial Republican in Imperial, Southwest Public Power District in Palisade and Midwest Electric in Grant. Christensen can be reached at 402-471-2805, or by mail at P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 January 2012 20:05
Heineman proposes package to lessen tax burden PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 26 January 2012 20:02

Capitol View

By Ed Howard


It’s too soon to guesstimate whether the initiative will be economically feasible, but Gov. Dave Heineman has proposed measures that would reduce your state income tax burden.

In his State of the State address, Heineman offered lawmakers, and the citizenry, observations that would have been welcomed by taxpayers 100 years ago and every year since:

“Our hardworking taxpayers are tired of government taking too much of their paycheck.”

We would go a step further and proffer that taxpayers who don’t work hard are tired of government taking so much out of their paychecks, too.

Whether some of us or none of us get to keep a little more of our earned income will depend in part on how the state analyzes and forecasts the Nebraska economy in coming weeks.

Heineman’s package includes reductions in corporate income tax rates, centering on smaller businesses.

A reminder that not everyone loves a tax reduction: Heineman wants to eliminate the county inheritance tax – and county officials are objecting. The tax, collected by individual counties, throws off about $42 million.

A peace pipe will be offered down the road.

President Obama’s supporters figure he will have time to offer a political peace pipe to some of those angered by his denying a permit for the TransCanada XL pipeline. The one that would have hauled Canadian tar sand oil across the Sand Hills and a portion of the economically important and ecologically sensitive Ogallala Aquifer.

His critics naturally enough blasted the decision not to grant the permit for the route requested. They made it sound as though everyone in the middle of the country was, by virtue of the decision, deprived of a high-paying, long-lasting job.

Central to the president’s decision was his assertion that he was denying the permit because of the route it would have taken. He all but announced that if a more environmentally friendly path were to be selected, the pipeline could be carrying that coal tar stuff to the Gulf Coast of Texas in a couple of years.

Of course, that move would cause consternation among the scientists and others who say the mining and use of tar sands is, in itself, an assault on the environment.


ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 January 2012 20:04
Unicameral is back PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 13 January 2012 23:56

 A Capitol Commentary


By Mary Kay Quinlan


The Nebraska Unicameral is back in town for its 60-day legislative session, creating new opportunities for citizens to influence the men and women who make decisions about how our state government will function.

But some citizens have louder voices than others.

That’s because they’re able to hire lobbyists to promote their interests at the Capitol.

To be sure, you don’t need to be connected to a high-priced lobbyist to make your case. The recent special session, it could be argued, was a victory for grassroots interests who got the ball rolling on efforts to keep the proposed Keystone XL pipeline out of the Sandhills.

But the importance of lobbyists is a given to many interests in the state, including, it would appear, the City of Omaha, whose city council recently voted to hire a prominent Lincoln lobbying firm to augment the voice of its existing full-time lobbyist.

Supporters of the proposal argued that an additional paid voice for the state’s largest city was necessary because of anti-Omaha sentiment in the statehouse. The mayor’s office also reportedly argued that the state’s urban areas needed strong representation in Lincoln.


Let’s see now.

Douglas County alone has 14 state senators. That’s nearly 29 percent of the Legislature’s 49 seats.

Throw in Sarpy County’s five senators, and the proportion comes to nearly 39 percent.

Lancaster County, Lincoln’s home, has nine lawmakers, or 18 percent of the total seats.

When you add it all up, the state’s two major urban areas hold 57 percent of the votes in this traditionally rural state’s one-house Legislature. That’s because roughly 57 percent of the population now lives in those two major urban areas.

To be sure, those 28 urban districts are hardly monolithic. Much of Lancaster and Sarpy counties and western stretches of Douglas County have significant farmland and related agricultural concerns.

And, of course, even in the urban core of Omaha and Lincoln, lawmakers—like the people they represent—are seldom unanimous in their views of anything, except perhaps agreeing that the sun rises in the East.

Nonetheless, it would appear that the one-man-one-vote principle has assured that the state’s urban areas already have strong representation at the Capitol. Were they of a mind to do so, lawmakers from just three of the state’s 93 counties could steamroller any proposal that came their way.

Fortunately, it would be difficult to argue that people in urban and rural areas of this or any other state have mutually exclusive interests. In fact, it can be argued that the economic health and vitality of the state’s urban areas relies considerably on the health of rural Nebraska.

But to suggest that somehow the state’s urban interests are under-represented in Lincoln is just plain silly.


Mary Kay Quinlan is the Bureau Chief for the Nebraska News Service. She can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2012 23:58
What are those two stars? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 13 January 2012 23:49

What's Up

By Vernon Whetstone


I received a request last week inquiring about the two bright stars just above the eastern horizon before sunrise.

Seems the questioner was out walking the dog and observed the two objects and wanted to know which stars they were.

The answer to that question is, one is a star and the other one isn’t.

The two are quite visible about an hour to an hour and a half before sunrise about 40 degrees (four fist length held at arms length) above the southeastern horizon. The one on the left is the planet Saturn and the one on the right is the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, the Maiden.

If you received a telescope for Christmas, now is a good time to go check out Saturn and its rings. It is well placed above the horizon for good viewing. Just be sure to be outside about an hour before you plan on viewing to give your scope the opportunity to cool down so there won’t be any warm air currents inside which could cause difficulty in seeing.

This is a great week for the opportunity to find one of the outer gas giant planets that is otherwise difficult to locate. We will be able to use the planet Venus and the moon as locators.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, be outside with your binoculars about 6 p.m. local time looking southwest. Locate bright Venus just above the horizon. Just above it is the blue planet Neptune.

If you put Venus on the lower edge of the field of view, Neptune will be about in the center.

The evening of Friday, Jan. 13, is the best as the pair will be at their closest. Continue watching each evening as Venus pulls away and moves further up and left.

Another pairing will be on the morning of Monday, Jan. 16, when a third-quarter moon will be parked close to Saturn and Spica. Look for the planet just above and left of the moon and Spica above and to the right.

Best time for viewing will be about an hour before sunrise.

During the second week of February we will be able to again use Venus as a locator help, only this time we will be looking for a gas giant closer in, Uranus.

Okay, now I want you all to mark your calendars for May 20. Put a big red circle around it and write ìpartial solar eclipseî inside the date box.

On that date there will be a partial eclipse of the Sun which will be visible from southwest Nebraska, northwest Kansas, and northeast Colorado. On that date the moon will cover about 75 percent of the Sun’s face at eclipse maximum.

Unfortunately, eclipse maximum occurs after local sunset so the end of the eclipse will not be visible to those in southwest Nebraska. More about the eclipse as the date draws closer.

SKY WATCH: Full moon Monday, Jan. 9. The full moon in January was often called the ìFull Wolf Moonî by native Americans, probably from hearing the wolves howl at the moon. In case you haven’t noticed, Friday of this week will be one of the three dates in 2012 that fall on the 13th day of the month. The other two are in April and July.


Vernon Whetstone of Benkelman is the “stargeezer” who compiles “What’s Up.” He can be reached at thestargeezer@

Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2012 23:51
When did compromise become a 4-letter word? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 06 January 2012 20:57

A Capitol Commentary

By Mary Kay Quinlan


Nebraska political junkies got a new fix this week when Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announced he would not seek re-election, setting off speculation about who the state’s Democrats might find to run for the open seat against a field of well-heeled and long-running Republicans.

One of the possibilities, former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, was quoted as saying she’d consider running, but that the political divisiveness in Washington, D.C., was a less than attractive feature of the job.

Think about that for a minute.

Robak, like all political figures, no doubt has supporters and detractors. But she is an intelligent, respected Lincoln attorney, and surely is an example of the type of people whose credentials plausibly fit them for public office.

But if the intensely partisan atmosphere in Washington turns off too many such potential candidates, who do we have left to choose from?

Just the people who like to hear themselves talk?

The people who just like to argue in front of television cameras?

The people who are gifted at crafting sound bites — or hiring staff who can do so?

Current events watchers who pay attention to government, especially at the national level, have been treated in recent months to a seemingly never-ending display of line-in-the-sand partisan standoffs on jobs, taxes, Social Security, spending cuts, you name it.

The rhetoric inevitably features one side or the other adamantly rejecting the mere notion of compromise on the issue du jour.

When did compromise become a four-letter word?

Perhaps our elected officials would do well to return to their local high school’s American history class. Most Nebraska youth take it in 11th grade. That’s where they learn that our very system of government was born in compromise and is predicated on the notion that people with intensely held views can find common ground.

It was at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia when representatives from Connecticut proposed what became known as the Great Compromise, breaking a deadlock that threatened to derail the entire process.

Under the proposal, each state would be assigned a number of votes in House of Representatives proportional to its population while all states would have an equal voice in the Senate.

The Great Compromise passed by just one vote. But it passed. And the blueprint laid out in 1787 has kept us going for more than two centuries.

American history is full of such compromises, of greater and lesser magnitude. Indeed, most Nebraskans are familiar with, if not always satisfied with, compromises in all aspects of community — and family — life.

Civic clubs, Scout organizations, student councils, garden clubs, church groups, merchants’ associations and all manner of other groups in every Nebraska community survive because their members know how to find compromises on the issues they face.

The ones that refuse to compromise and routinely freeze out people with new ideas eventually wither and lose effectiveness. So why have we allowed political agenda setters to decry compromise when we all know from our firsthand experience that it takes compromise to make things work?

Perhaps if more voters let their elected officials know they care about solutions to problems facing the nation, and not just rhetoric that panders to political extremes, policy makers would be inclined to reconsider the value of compromise and thereby change the nature of discourse on Capitol Hill.

A lot to hope for?


But if the delegates to the Continental Congress managed to craft a compromise when the formation of a nation was at stake, surely we can expect no less from our 21st century lawmakers — and ourselves.


MARY KAY QUINLAN is the Bureau Chief of the Nebraska News Service. She can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated on Friday, 06 January 2012 20:59
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