Lincoln Journal Star. May 25, 2014.
Integrity is at a premium
State and local officials have been working for years and spent upwards of $75 million in an attempt to improve statewide emergency communication.
It's been a tough slog, with a few mistakes along the way.
The latest setback happened this month, when state officials decided to cancel two contracts worth $9.6 million for a statewide network of microwave towers to connect emergency call centers.
In a final notice last week, state officials said they had concluded that there was "inappropriate communication" between the firm that won the contracts and the Douglas County 911 director, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The newspaper said that the Douglas County official, Mark Conrey, who was a member of a committee evaluating proposals to build the network, forwarded the committee's scoring tables and a list of potential questions for bidders to Communication Services Inc., of Omaha.
The communication could have provided an advantage to CSI, if not an actual benefit, the letter said. "The state must protect the integrity of the procurement process to ensure transparency and fairness for both taxpayers and vendors," said the letter from Bo Botelho, materiel administrator in the Department of Administrative Services.
Conrey insisted that he did not get a penny for passing along the information.
But the 911 center director, who has been in his position for 16 years, certainly should have known better.
The project, which will allow 911 centers to receive photos and text messages as well as phone calls, already was months behind schedule. Cancellation of the contract will mean more months of delay on construction of the Nebraska Regional Interoperability Network.
The network was 65 percent complete when work was stopped due to cancellation of the contract.
This is the second time that the bidding process has been derailed. In 2009, a contract was initially awarded to CSI, but the bids were rejected after another bidder complained.
A looming problem is that $1 million in federal funding is set to expire in September. State officials have asked for an extension.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska State Patrol has opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
Nebraska's emergency communications have been plagued with all sorts of problems. In 2012, for example, during a standoff with a gunman armed with an AK-47, officers from different agencies were unable to communicate using their radios. They resorted to delivering written messages by hand, sprinting across a street in Alliance, and using their cellphones.
The latest incident shows there are many ways for a project to go off the rails. As the project is restarted — again — every individual involved will need to adhere to high standards to keep the bidding process honest and open.
Omaha World-Herald. May 24, 2014.
How much to pay state lawmakers?
Nebraska isn't the only state that faces headaches in deciding when to give its state lawmakers a raise.
The Stateline news service reports that although nine states increased pay for lawmakers in the past 12 months due to automatic increases or independent commissions, most of the rest of the states stumble along in regard to the issue.
That's probably unavoidable, since taxpayers are understandably leery of letting legislators determine their own salary.
A few states tie lawmakers' salaries to inflation or other measures. Some have an independent commission to either set the salary or propose one to go before the lawmakers themselves.
Nebraska's Legislature is intended to be a citizen legislature, with 60- and 90-day sessions and lawmakers expected to see themselves as regular folks rather than as a political elite that works full-time on state business.
One result of that approach is a salary kept at a modest level (currently $12,000 a year) with increases determined by a vote of the people.
Not surprisingly, increases rarely happen. The last time Nebraska lawmakers had a pay raise was 1988. In 2012, a state ballot measure to raise the salary to $22,500 was decisively defeated; the proposal didn't carry a single Nebraska county.
The reality about the "citizen legislature" concept is often more complicated than the simple concept, though. The preparation of legislation — certainly for major proposals — happens in large measure prior to a session's opening. Lawmakers' duties can stretch over the year. Plus, the $12,000 salary means that some Nebraskans forgo running for the Legislature due to the relatively low salary.
Two states, New Hampshire and New Mexico, don't pay their state lawmakers anything, Stateline reports. The state with the highest salary is California, at $91,000. The high salaries tend to be in California, the industrial Midwest, several Northeastern states, plus Alaska and Hawaii.
One reason for the variation is that some legislatures see themselves as requiring full-time attention by lawmakers. Other states take a far more casual approach.
Thirteen states including Nebraska fall in the salary range from $9,600 to $17,820. Starting at the top of that range: Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, Idaho, Arkansas, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Vermont, Utah, Nebraska, South Carolina, Mississippi and Maine.
Iowa pays its lawmakers $25,000 a year. Both Nebraska and Iowa pay a daily rate to lawmakers during the legislative session, varying by the distance they live from the state capital. Nebraska lawmakers can be covered by state health insurance but have to pay full premiums.
There's no magic formula for determining what's an appropriate salary for state lawmakers. The debate will go on.
McCook Daily Gazette. May 20, 2014.
One more reason to get kids to bed on time
It's always hard to get kids to go to bed when it's still daylight outside at 9 p.m., but there is a reason other than they'll wake up grumpy.
Eventually, they may wake up lumpy, according to a new study that linked childhood obesity to chronic sleep deprivation during infancy and early childhood.
Using data from Project Viva, a long-term study of environmental factors and lifestyle choices of mothers, the study led by Dr. Elsie Taveras of Mass-General Hospital for Children, found "convincing evidence that getting less than recommended amounts of sleep across early childhood is an independent and strong risk factor for obesity."
Researchers interviewed mothers and their children at about 6 months, 3 years and 7 years old and from questionnaires completed when children were 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 years old.
Height and weight measurements were recorded, and insufficient sleep was defined as less than 12 hours per day from age 6 months to 2-years-old, less than 10 hours a day for children ages 3 and 4, and less than 9 hours a day for children ages 5 to 7, and were assigned a score.
Children with the lowest sleep scores had the highest weight and body mass index in all measurements, including abdominal fat. They tended to come from racial and ethnic minority families with lower incomes and less education, but sleep and obesity were still linked after adjusting for such factors.
Of course, obesity isn't the only potential problem; other studies link poor sleep habits to behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
So, if you didn't already believe that sending kids to bed on time is important, the idea that you may be sentencing them to obesity problems is one more incentive.
Of course, it's not just children who benefit from getting enough sleep — long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to dementia, heart disease, mental illness and other chronic health conditions.
But to help your child avoid being lumpy and grumpy:
Set a consistent bedtime.
Limit caffeinated beverages late in the day
Cut out high-tech distractions in a child's bedroom.
Kearney Hub. May 23, 2014.
There's a lot more to a job than just working
Here's a pat on the back and a shot of encouragement to every young person who is reporting for work this week. With the spring semester ended at colleges and high schools, thousands of young Nebraskans are shifting from work in the classroom to laboring in the workplace.
Among the throng of young workers, some youths are reporting for their first jobs. To them, entering the world of employment is far more than the opportunity to earn a paycheck. It's an opportunity to learn about expectations outside the environments of home and school, where their boss wants things done a certain way and customers also have their own sets of standards.
A first job can be tedious for many youths, but if they approach their new responsibilities with the correct attitude, they'll take away far more than a mere paycheck.
They will learn the value and necessity of punctuality. Showing up on time is a must in the real world. So is teamwork. To contribute to the team means being kind to coworkers and customers, and pulling your share of the load — sometimes more.
It's OK if youths happen to learn something about patience, kindness and respect while they're on the clock.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor, but save some of your earnings. It comes in handy on rainy days, and at college enrollment time. It's nearly impossible to save enough for college, but having some money to fall back on makes a difference, especially if it reduces the need to borrow for college.
If they learn to do their best at every task and go above and beyond what is expected, youths will have the keys to success in whatever careers they pursue.
The final lesson: Get some joy out of the job. Don't fall for the line that work is demeaning drudgery. Work is what you make of it, and nothing feels better than doing well, developing friendships with coworkers, discovering a mentor on the team and working your way up the ladder to new responsibilities and opportunities.