Omaha World-Herald. Sept. 29, 2013.
Compromise tops crisis in Congress
With Congress lurching toward a possible shutdown of the federal government, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate began Friday's session with a prayer that included this plea: "Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis."
In times like these in our democracy, it's good to revisit the work of the Founding Fathers, those smart old birds who met in Philadelphia in 1787 and created a system intended to do just what the chaplain prayed for.
In Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States, they said it plainly: "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
They split legislative power between two chambers; they did not give all the power to one.
Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution further requires that: "Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the president of the United States."
That gave presidents a role in turning legislation into law as well.
Should the Congress and president disagree, Section 7 also says that legislation presented to the president "shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives."
That was another careful balancing of power. Lawmakers do not govern alone. The chief executive can approve or reject legislation, but he can be overruled if enough of the people's representatives agree.
Simply put, the founders devised a system that often requires compromise.
The Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress and signed by the president.
This law has flaws. Obamacare's champion in chief already has delayed implementation of big pieces of the law. And just days ago, he acknowledged that all will not go smoothly when the insurance marketplaces begin operating on Tuesday. "Like any law, like any big product launch, there are going to be some glitches as this unfolds," the president said.
Republican critics have raised legitimate questions about the law and its costs. Ideally, the legislative process should offer remedies, allowing Republican lawmakers to propose suggestions for improving the law and obligating their Democratic colleagues to fairly consider those ideas.
Our current gridlocked Congress can't find this path. That doesn't change the fact that this law was passed by the House. It was passed by the Senate. It was signed by the president. Just as the Constitution prescribes.
Obamacare opponents do not have their hands on enough government levers to repeal it at this time. The democracy the founders gave to us also included an avenue for these situations.
If you don't like a policy or a law and don't believe you're getting a fair deal in Congress, then convince enough voters that change is needed. Elect enough House members and enough senators to make those changes. Elect a president who agrees, and those changes can be signed into law.
Americans in 2008 elected the Congress that passed the health care legislation and the president who signed it into law. Last year, despite Republicans' best efforts to make Obamacare a pivotal election issue, voters re-elected the president and elected enough Democrats for them to retain control of the Senate. Those voters also decided to give Republicans control of the House.
Which means that neither party can govern without the other. And that's the key word to remember right now: govern.
Obamacare isn't the only difficult issue lawmakers are facing. Everything from farm policy to oil pipelines to the best way to balance the budget is on the agenda.
Every tough problem cannot become doomsday.
Congress repeatedly has shown its inability to stop spending money it doesn't have, and taxpayers now are saddled with a $16.7 trillion debt. Sometime in October, the government's ability to borrow money will run out unless Congress raises the debt ceiling again. This is not borrowing for new spending, mind you, but borrowing to pay for things that Congress already passed and presidents already signed.
If agreement can't be reached, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that the U.S. government won't have enough tax revenue coming in to pay 32 percent of its bills. Reneging on the government's obligation to pay its debts is dangerous.
Finding solutions to the nation's difficult problems is the job of "governing," a job that the politicians of both parties asked voters to allow them to do.
That requires compromise, an often messy and ideologically impure way to govern. But as the Senate chaplain's prayer made clear, it's better than governing by crisis.
Lincoln Journal Star. Sept. 28, 2013.
Minors don't need e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional tobacco ones, but the purpose is the same — getting nicotine into humans.
So if a planned interim study hearing by the Legislature's General Affairs Committee helps lawmakers come to the conclusion that the sale of e-cigarettes to minors should be banned, so be it.
But make no mistake about it, the sale of e-cigarettes to minors should be banned.
There are most certainly regulatory and scientific questions that still need to be answered. And a study and vigorous debate might buy some time while some of those get sorted out.
But we can't afford to take too much time.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 10 percent of high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012, up more than double from the 4.7 percent figure of 2011. There was almost a doubling among middle school students during that same time, jumping to 2.7 percent from 1.4 percent.
Because e-cigarettes use battery power to heat a liquid, turning it into vapor rather than smoke, it's not as noxious as traditional cigarette smoke. Nicotine can be added to the liquid, as can any number of kid-friendly flavors.
Despite the health risks, cigarette smoking always has had a certain allure for youth. This possibly healthier and currently unregulated alternative will only pull in more experimenters.
Nicotine is addictive. E-cigarettes aren't as efficient as tobacco cigarettes at getting nicotine into the body, so it's not hard to image e-cigarettes being the entryway to tobacco use when the nicotine e-buzz starts to dull.
In an era when we've acknowledged the high costs to health — and health care — associated with tobacco use, and we've made smoking in most public places against the law, it seems odd to allow minors an unimpeded path to potential tobacco use through e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes may be an effective way to kick the tobacco smoking habit. If the science bears it out, they may be a better alternative for adult smokers than tobacco smoke in any form.
But inhaling anything with nicotine — smoke or vapor — is less healthy than inhaling nothing but pure air.
Minors don't need access to e-cigarettes. There's plenty of time after they're 18 to pick up adult habits. For now, the state would be wise to act as soon as possible to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
McCook Daily Gazette. Sept. 27, 2013.
What mother hasn't said that, at one time or another, when her frustration with an unruly child was just beginning to peak.
It's a lesson that needs to be reinforced, according to the latest Civility in America national survey.
"For the first time since the survey began in 2010, the Internet/social media has risen into the top ranks of perceived causes of incivility," according to the survey.
The Internet certainly is an effective pipeline for bad behavior, with users able to vent with relative anonymity and wildly disparate levels of accuracy and honesty.
According to the survey, more than a third of all Americans have personally experienced incivility at work, 26 percent of them to the point that they quit their job.
Another 33 percent believe the tone of their workplace is uncivil, 81 percent believe incivility is leading to more violence, and 95 percent believe we have a civility problem in this country.
And it's not just the Internet, of course. Just tune into talk radio or cable news talk shows with a critical ear. Compare, for example, the delivery of current talkshow bullies with the late gentleman conservative, William F. Buckley.
Perhaps today's bad behavior could be traced to the reaction of today's mother, restrained by modern social norms, and mothers of the past, who were more likely to deliver a quick swat on the bottom.
Then again, the advent of concealed carry laws, where one never knows who is packing, will create a new level of civility in society.
Read an executive summary of the survey here: http://bit.ly/1dNPpxX
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Sept. 29, 2013.
NSBA raising awareness about unlicensed practice of law
The state of Nebraska has seen an increase in the number of unauthorized practice of law complaints.
To go after the issue, the Nebraska State Bar Association has formed a commission on the unlicensed practice of law and worked with the Nebraska Supreme Court to adopt a set of rules to stop the unauthorized practice of law.
The NSBA is also focusing on improving awareness about the issue. Not because they are worried about competition — but because of a major problem — the unauthorized practice of law can have devastating effects for clients of persons representing themselves as attorneys.
"We really didn't know quite what we would see when we formed the commission. We thought we would see title insurance officials going too far, in house attorneys going too far, persons from out of state passing law," said Marsha Fangmeyer, president of the Nebraska State Bar Association.
One of the areas the NSBA has been focusing on increasing public awareness is in the area of immigration law. The legal community is seeing victims fall prey to illegal practice in this area, Fangmeyer said. People will charge large sums of cash to provide unauthorized legal advice.
It's a problem nationwide. The debate surrounding immigration reform has added to the issue in such states as Colorado, where a rise in "notarios" has come under scrutiny. Notarios, or notaries of the public, can be document preparers and verify legal signatures. In some of the worst cases gathering media attention, notaries have been acting as attorneys, providing clients with legal information on everything from titling a car to criminal matters, and at costs higher than a practicing attorney. Anyone can be a notary of the public, which has added to the issue.
Paralegals and interpreters have also been involved in cases of illegal practice of law, NSBA officials said.
Immigration law is a highly-specialized area. A conviction for a minor traffic or criminal violation such as shoplifting can put an immigrant at risk of deportation. Unfortunately, the same populations being victims of the unlicensed practice of law are less likely to come forward.
"For whatever reason, the very population being victimized is unlikely to report that they have been victimized," Fangmeyer said. "If there is something we want to get out to that group, it is that you are absolutely not at risk."
Fear lies behind the most common reasons, with the victims fearing they will be arrested or deported. That's simply not true, Fangmeyer said, and the NSBA has been working to encourage other attorneys, county attorney, law enforcement and family members or friends of victims to report to the NSBA when they have questions about whether someone is practicing law legally.
The NSBA has made information on the unauthorized practice of law available on its website. Materials are both in Spanish and Vietnamese. Materials are available at http://tinyurl.com/UnlicensedPractice. Brochures and a complaint form are available under "downloads."