Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

By

Kearney Hub. Aug. 9, 2014.

Pilot crisis needs help from Congress

Cities that operate smaller regional airports ought to be grateful for Rep. Adrian Smith's attention to the pilot shortage crisis. However, the legislation Smith introduced in July only places a Band Aid on the challenges facing smaller airports, such as Kearney's, and fails to address longer term issues, including reliability, safety and sustainability.

Those three issues are critical because, in the long run, regional airports must develop the traffic volume necessary for commuter airlines to operate without subsidies. Federal $100-$200 per ticket subsidies are a big help today, but Congress frequently has targeted the Essential Air Service program, and eventually the costly subsidies that help remote, rural airports will be eliminated.

When that happens, if airports such as Kearney's haven't developed adequate passenger volume, they can kiss commuter air service goodbye.

Although Smith's Small Airport Regulation Relief Act of 2014 is far from being a comprehensive answer to the pilot shortage dilemma, it would at least help some smaller airports qualify for $1 million annually in Federal Aviation Administration incentives to increase passenger volume.

In the past, when boardings reached 10,000 per year, airports received $1 million from the FAA. Kearney's airport has used its $1 million incentives for a variety of improvements — firefighting equipment, runway lighting, and others — that enhanced safety and expanded the airport's ability to serve larger aircraft.

If Smith is successful, his bill would continue the stream of $1 million annually to Kearney and other airports that in 2012 achieved 10,000 boardings. However, the pilot shortage likely will continue, and that means smaller rural airports face a nearly impossible challenge to maintain reliable commuter air service.

Kearney has reported a 25-percent decline in boardings this year because the pilot shortage has caused so many flight cancellations.

What's needed more than a guaranteed $1 million per year from the FAA is for Congress to lower pilot experience expectations, or implement incentives to help would-be pilots acquire the air time and training for their licenses.

Before new federal regulations took effect, co-pilots had to have 250 hours in the air. Now they must have 1,500 — a daunting figure for young people contemplating careers in which their starting pay is about $20,000 per year. No wonder there aren't enough trainees in the pipeline to stem today's pilot shortage and fill vacancies when an estimated 18,000 pilots retire.

Nebraskans appreciate Smith's help, but the situation needs a lot more attention from all of Smith's colleagues in Congress.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 9, 2014.

A hard call to make

No one likes getting a phone bill. Usage charges, taxes and fees, it all adds up.

Inmates at the Lancaster County jail face even higher fees.

The $2.50 inmates pay per local call is just the beginning. The money to cover the cost of the call is drawn from an online account, which has a fee to set up. There are also fees to deposit money into the account. If you do it in person at the jail, you'll pay $1. If you add money to the account online, which is the only option for out-of-state family members, you'll pay state tax, sales tax and credit card fees. A $50 online deposit costs almost $13 in fees, according to defense attorney Korey Reiman.

That's a hefty amount for families already struggling, and Corrections Director Mike Thurber told the Journal Star that Lancaster County's phone costs are lower than those at most other county jails.

We feel the rate and disparity of these fees is unfair to the inmates and their families.

We aren't alone in our concern.

In November, Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced a resolution (LR276) to examine inmate phone rates.

"They use it as a money-making operation to supplement the budget of the specific jail," Chambers said. "And I think that is absolutely wrong."

In Lancaster County, 70 percent of the fees collected go to ICS Solutions, a private company that manages the inmate phone system. The remaining portion goes to the county.

The county uses these funds to support programs at the jail. However, many inmates can't afford these fees, making it difficult for them to stay in contact with their families, who serve as a vital support network once inmates are released. In a state struggling with prison overcrowding and inmate recidivism, keeping these family connections strong is especially important.

When the Legislature returns to session in January, senators should look at the communication barriers these costs create for inmates and their families as well as the disparity in costs from one facility to the next.

Serving a jail sentence is designed to be a burden on the offender, and rightfully so. But that burden should be based on a person's crime, not on what facility the inmate finds himself or herself in.

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North Platte Telegraph. Aug. 10, 2014.

The real question: Who do you trust?

Pardon our skepticism, but reassurances this week that two Ebola virus patients can be treated safely at Emory University in Atlanta bring to mind two news stories from earlier this year.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control admitted that two active samples of anthrax were mistakenly sent to researchers at labs which are not capable of handling the deadly bacteria. Then in July, the CDC reported that two vials of the deadly smallpox virus were found in a lab in Bethesda, Maryland. The vials had been there since 1972.

Those reports were from June and July. And yet, here we are in August, and we are being told — as some suggest that those two Ebola patients should not have been brought to the United States from Africa — that the virus can be safely treated here.

We are not scientists, and we suspect that under the harsh glare of the global spotlight, the Ebola patients can be safely treated here. But the anthrax and smallpox revelations demonstrate the limitations over time of huge government bureaucracies.

Furthermore, this is but one example of the credibility crisis that grips this country. The question of who we can believe has never, in our memory, been so at issue.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that our southern border with Mexico "is secure." Meanwhile, the leader of Reid's own party, President Barack Obama, was asking Congress to approve a $4 billion appropriation to address the emergency situation on the border, as thousands of young people streamed into our country. Is that Reid's definition of "secure?"

Who on earth are we to believe?

Meanwhile, the debate rages over global warming or climate change — take your pick — and the president's efforts to kill the coal industry in this country. Believers say the "case is closed" on the issue of climate change and brand skeptics as "deniers." Skeptics are equally adamant that man is not the cause of the vicissitudes of the climate.

Who on earth to believe?

Who can blame Americans for not trusting the words of our leaders when they recall promises that under the new health care law, they could "keep their insurance policies" and "keep their doctors?"

In the movie "Cool Hand Luke," the famous line was, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Today, we have a vast oversupply of communication — it's like trying to take a sip out of a fire hose— but a very real crisis of credibility. For every argument, there is a counter argument. For every expert, there is an expert with the opposite opinion. For every opinion poll, there is an opposing poll. Who, in the final analysis, can we trust to give us the truth?

Not, apparently, these guys.

And we fear that some day in the future — perhaps now, with this Ebola crisis brewing or maybe regarding terrorism — the question of who to believe could become a matter of life and death.

When we can't believe what we hear from the likes of the CDC, the Senate Majority Leader, the scientific community and the President of the United States, that, fellow Americans, is a real problem.

A credibility crisis.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Aug. 7, 2014.

Officials goaded into action on sentencing flap

Heads have begun to roll now that the prison sentencing scandal has resulted in a criminal investigation, announced today.

Local observers were not surprised when it turned out that higher-ups weren't exactly going out of their way to keep prisoners in an overcrowded correctional system any longer than necessary.

Nearly 600 sentences had to be recalculated after the problem came to light earlier this summer, and while most of the prisoners were still in prison, dozens had to be tracked down after being released early.

The case of Nikko Jensen, who was among those released too early, and went on to commit four brutal murders, focused attention on the issue.

After internal emails were obtained by the Omaha World-Herald and Nebraska Watchdog website showing that officials knew sentences weren't being calculated correctly, despite two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings, officials were finally goaded into taking action.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services director Mike Kinney wouldn't release names or say how many employees were being suspended as a result of the revelations.

Besides disciplinary actions, Kinney said other steps would be taken:

— Future court orders will be brought to the director's "personal attention."

— All judges' sentencing orders for each current inmate will be reviewed to make sure the prison's records "match."

— The National Institute of Corrections will conduct an independent review of the Nebraska Corrections Department.

There was a reason Kenney's release was timed as it was.

On Friday a special legislative committee was to hear from former Corrections Director Bob Houston, who was in charge when the sentencing snafu was in full swing.

Speaking in McCook a few years ago, Houston told local authorities, in effect, "send us people you are scared of, not people you are mad at."

Now that the details of his tenure have come out, citizens may have someone else to be mad at.

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