Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 1, 2013.
Don't 'go big' on immigration
President Barack Obama might be able to dramatically overhaul U.S. immigration policy by unilateral executive action.
Possibly some of his actions might even survive a constitutional challenge in federal court.
That still does not mean he should go ahead with such a plan.
There's no doubt, as the Journal Star editorial board has said for years, that current immigration policy in the United States is broken.
But trying to fix the system with unilateral presidential action is the wrong way to fix it.
The range of options that the president is considering reportedly includes deferring deportation of anyone who eventually would have been eligible for citizenship under a bill passed by the U.S. Senate last year. Supposedly that would affect 9 million people.
Some reports say that those illegal immigrants would be granted work permit to give them legal status in the United States.
Legal experts differ on whether Obama's actions would pass constitutional muster. Proponents of the plan to "go big" say that such action would be justified under the concept of prosecutorial discretion, under which the executive branch traditionally has the authority to decide when to file charges.
A major problem with the plan to make a bold move to reform immigration policy is that it could be overturned by the next president, which would throw the system into even more chaos.
Another huge question is what the impact would be on the number of immigrants entering the country illegally. Would it act as an incentive that would dwarf the problem of unaccompanied children crossing the border?
Yet another concern is that unilateral action by the president would further inflame passions and divide Americans.
Polls suggest that most Americans would oppose a move by Obama to expand the deferral program. Only 31 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of immigration, according to a new AP-GfK poll. Forty-four percent of respondents blame Republicans for congressional failure to take action; 36 percent blame Democrats.
Frustrating as it is that Congress has not taken action — the Senate passed a bill last year but the House refused to allow the bill to come to a vote — that does not justify such sweeping executive action.
If the president gives temporary legal status to millions of immigrants, it would create more problems than it solves. Only Congress can truly reform immigration policy. Americans should demand action.
The Grand Island Independent. Aug. 3, 2014.
Independent probe needed into Corrections mess
No public official is above the law. That's an important part of American government that has existed since the country began.
However, it doesn't seem like officials at the Nebraska Department of Corrections ever got the message.
For years — more than a decade — Corrections officials ignored laws passed by the Legislature and ignored Nebraska Supreme Court rulings in calculating how much time should be served by state inmates.
An investigation by the Omaha World-Herald revealed the miscalculated sentences and emails uncovered by the World-Herald show that Corrections officials knew all along they weren't following state law. They just didn't care. They thought they knew better than the elected lawmakers and the courts.
How wrong they were.
It's time for an independent prosecutor to look into the matter to see if there was criminal wrongdoing and the Legislature needs to look into how this happened and how it can be prevented in the future.
Nebraska needs to be a state that follows laws; not where officials just ignore laws they don't like.
Several legislators have stepped forward and called for a probe into the Corrections Department and they are justified in doing so.
Although there doesn't appear to be any wrongdoing on their part, this case also involves the attorney general's office. It appears they advised Corrections about the rulings and the law but never followed up to see that they were followed.
This case also involves Gov. Dave Heineman's office because the governor is ultimately the executive who oversees the Corrections Department.
All of this points to the need for an independent investigator, someone from outside of state government who can give an impartial accounting of what transpired.
The governor, for his part, and Corrections Director Michael Kenney have hired the Jackson-Lewis law firm to conduct a personnel investigation.
That's not good enough.
At least 750 prisoners' sentences were shortchanged by 2,000 years. That's serious business. That endangers the public. That makes a mockery of the criminal justice system.
What was the motivation of Corrections officials in ignoring the law and court rulings? It appears it was to save money and to keep the prison population down. Those may be worthy objectives, but officials had no right to try to achieve them by not following the law.
Heineman has been governor for 10 years. This mess, similar to mismanagement earlier at the Department of Health and Human Services, came under his watch. He's been the one in charge.
The governor now needs to step forward with Attorney General Jon Bruning to name an independent investigator.
And then the Legislature and the new governor need to change the culture in the Corrections Department to one where they follow the law, even if they don't agree with it.
Omaha World-Herald. Aug. 3, 2014.
Biotech sector shows strength
When the recession struck with full force in 2009, one of its biggest impacts took the form of major layoffs. But in Nebraska, a high-paying sector stood out for avoiding that trend: the biotechnology sector.
Nationwide, biotech employment fell by 1.4 percent during 2007-10. But in Nebraska, it grew significantly during that period, increasing by 7 percent.
By 2010, total employment in Nebraska's biotech sector was just under 15,000. By 2012, the total had grown to 15,400.
These jobs cover a wide range, from highly sophisticated laboratory work to assembling of medical devices to transportation of medical equipment.
These also tend to be well-paying jobs. The average pay in the state's biotech sector in 2012 was $58,300.
Reports in recent years by Battelle, an Ohio-based economic analysis firm, have consistently concluded that Nebraska stands out for having notable concentrations of biotech firms in three specific niches: Agricultural feedstock and related chemicals. Medical devices and equipment. And bioscience-related transportation and storage.
All three of those sectors have seen healthy job growth. During 2007-12, employment in Nebraska's medical devices and equipment sector grew 28 percent, to nearly 4,000 positions.
The job numbers were up by 13 percent in agricultural feedstock and related chemicals, to 2,600 positions. And for bioscience-related transportation and storage, it was up 7.6 percent, to a total of 5,500 positions.
A report by the Nebraska Legislature in 2010 offered more encouraging news: Biotech jobs tend to be distributed across the state. The report found that 32 percent of Nebraska's biotech jobs were in Omaha, 25 percent in Lincoln and 43 percent over the rest of the state.
"The Lincoln metro area," the report said, "has a specialization in drugs and pharmaceuticals and is very close to having a specialization in research, testing and medical labs. Non-metro Nebraska has a strong specialization in medical devices and equipment."
Another plus is that academic bioscience research and development by Nebraska universities on a per capita basis exceeds the national rate ($156 per capita in Nebraska, $119 nationally).
Gov. Dave Heineman recently pointed to the state's biotech success and noted how Nebraska sent a considerable representation from the private sector, the University of Nebraska and government departments to an international bioscience convention in San Diego this year.
He also pointed to Nebraska biotech startups that are making contributions in areas including AIDS treatment, combating antibiotic resistance, and technology to simplify orthopedic surgeries.
Bioscience jobs are contributing well, then, to economic diversification in Nebraska, which is always a good hedge when an overall downturn strikes.
To maintain positive momentum in this sector, several fundamental steps are appropriate.
The state should regularly scrutinize whether its tax and incentive policies are the appropriate mix. Support for the University of Nebraska, which is making great strides in boosting its national research profile, remains crucial.
NU should continue to build on its well-structured efforts to commercialize its bioscience research. Schools should help students understand the rewarding opportunities in this economic sector. And BioNebraska, the trade association for the state's biotech companies, should keep working to maximize its profile on the national stage.
If Nebraska keeps building on its strengths, biotechnology can continue to be an impressive job creator, spurring new opportunities across the state.
McCook Daily Gazette. Aug. 1, 2014.
Industrial technology important weapon in educational arsenal
Think back on your education career.
How many classes did you take, and how many of them do you use in your daily life?
Someone in journalism is lucky — there is no subject he or she is unlikely to encounter in the course of a media career.
But day-to-day skills such as typing, grammar, spelling and composition are the nuts and bolts of the daily work routine.
For most of us, however, advanced academic classes are only a distant memory.
The rub is, younger students don't know, looking forward, which ones they will need.
Standards-based education — common-core and other examples of "teaching to the test" — have been attempted as a means for improving our learning system, but too often it's at the expense of "practical" classes such as life skills.
That's why it was encouraging to see the return of industrial tech classes to Cambridge High School.
They were dropped a few years ago in favor of expanded agricultural offerings, but both programs will, in truth, form a complementary education for CHS graduates.
"A lot of what I'm teaching are life skills, something kids can use to be more self-sufficient," Dexter Dodson told reporter Lorri Sughroue for Thursday's story.
How true that is.
Even someone with a job requiring an advanced academic degree needs to know how tires are rotated, what it takes to properly apply a coat of paint and which end of a circular saw is most dangerous.
Doctors and college professionals don't enjoy being held hostage by mechanics or plumbers. Too many women, unfortunately, feel like they are taken advantage of because of a perceived lack of technical knowledge, a problem Dodson hopes to help solve.
On the other end of the spectrum, skilled technicians and trade workers can expect to find themselves in increasing demand, with commensurate salaries as a result.
As manufacturing and service industries become more and more automated, qualified technicians and troubleshooters will become more and more important.
Dodson has the right attitude about his own profession as well, as reported in this week's story.
"There's a shortage of industrial tech teachers, so it would be great if I could inspire one or two to teach," he said.
We all depend on professionals who need a traditional academic education to qualify for their jobs.
But it takes skilled people at all levels to keep our homes and careers running smoothly, and we will be depending on them more and more.