Omaha World-Herald. March 11, 2015
Iowa shows a better way on redistricting
Every 10 years, Iowa does something impressive. It redraws its political maps using a system that avoids the partisan scrambling and rancor that inevitably erupt in Nebraska at redistricting time.
Iowa's general approach, in use since 1981, is one that Nebraska should give serious consideration as lawmakers look at how they draw lines.
Under the Iowa system, the legislature's nonpartisan staff uses general, legislative-directed parameters to draw redistricting maps that then go before the state's lawmakers for approval.
The response from Iowa's elected leaders has been quite positive, regardless of party. The votes in 2011 were striking. The Iowa House, in a display of bipartisan consensus, approved the new maps 90-7. The Iowa Senate said "yes" with a vote of 48-1.
The maps received a thumb's up from Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, who praised them for encouraging a healthy competitiveness between the two parties.
In Nebraska, a worthwhile proposal has been introduced this session for an independent commission to draw Nebraska's redistricting maps. The final decision on the maps would rest with the Legislature.
About 21 states use some form of a commission to draw their district lines, although some states have made themselves vulnerable to legal action by taking their legislatures out of final approval.
The Nebraska proposal, Legislative Bill 580, provides a worthwhile starting point for further discussion and refinement. The Legislature's Executive Board has held a hearing on the bill, and tweaking of the measure is expected this session and perhaps into the 2016 session.
The sponsor is Sen. John Murante, of Gretna, a Republican who chairs the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Sen. Heath Mello, an Omaha Democrat and supporter of the redistricting-commission concept, is a co-sponsor of Murante's bill.
The two senators, well informed on the details of the redistricting process, pledged a year ago to work together to develop legislation for a Nebraska redistricting commission.
Under the bill in its current form, the Legislature would appoint members of a bipartisan commission that, after each Census, would oversee the drawing of new maps for six contests: U.S. House of Representatives; Nebraska Legislature; University of Nebraska Board of Regents; Public Service Commission; State Board of Education; and the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The map-drawing would be guided by requirements set by federal court precedents and the Voting Rights Act. The commission would receive no information about the partisan affiliation numbers in prospective districts.
Once it created maps, the commission would hold four public hearings in different parts of the state. The end of the process would come with votes in the Legislature on each of the six maps.
A variety of points are still being discussed, but the give-and-take already has yielded important benefits. For example, the bill attempts to nail down agreed-upon definitions of redistricting-related terms that in the past have sparked disagreement and rancor between Republicans and Democrats.
During an Executive Board hearing, Mello referred to LB 580 as "a good first step." That's exactly right. Let the discussions continue, with the focus on the important end goal: moving away from the tumult of the partisan redistricting tradition and toward a sober, nonpartisan approach.
Our neighbors in Iowa have demonstrated convincingly for three decades that such a mechanism can work well.
Lincoln Journal Star. March 10, 2015
Backup plan is prudent
Legal analysts offer differing predictions on how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the lawsuit that could strip the federal government of authority to provide subsidies to those who bought their health insurance on federal exchanges.
However, everyone agrees that if the court eliminates the subsidies, the impact would be massive.
Credit Sen. Ben Sasse for trying to do something to soften the blow.
Sasse last week introduced legislation to provide transitional financial assistance to those who lose their coverage. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Sasse said his bill uses as a model the existing "Cobra" law that allows those who leave their jobs to keep their health coverage for 18 months.
Make no mistake. Sasse remains an implacable foe of the Affordable Care Act. He wants to provide the assistance on the grounds that without it, the holdout states and their governors will fold under political pressure to adopt what he refers to as ObamaCare.
"If governors cave, ObamaCare is never going away. ObamaCare's command-and-control regime will reduce families' choices, thwart innovation and chart a path of European-style debt and rationed access to health care," Sasse wrote.
The Obama administration says it has no backup plan in place for losing the lawsuit.
Sasse thinks the lack of a plan might be a cynical political ploy. Perhaps the administration is betting that the prospect of 7 million people losing coverage will make the pressure irresistible to set up state exchanges.
But it's a reckless way to govern.
Think of the thousands of people being treated for cancer. They have enough to worry about without the uncertainty of knowing whether they can afford their chemotherapy.
The effects would shudder through the entire health care system. Insurance companies would have to raise premiums by as much as 47 percent, according to a study by the RAND Corp. An estimated 70 percent of consumers would cancel their policies.
Hospitals would lose revenue. Layoffs would loom. The chaos in the health care system would affect the broader economy.
Sasse is not the only senator to offer a plan to cope with the aftermath of a ruling. Sens. Lamar Alexander, Orrin Hatch and John Barrasso have also promised to offer financial assistance. Since Sasse has been in the Senate for only about two months, it's likely the plan offered by the more experienced senators would be considered the favorite.
In any event, having a backup plan ready if the court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would be the responsible thing to do. Sasse has the right idea.
The Grand Island Independent. March 10, 2015
EAS success story should continue in G.I.
If you have a good thing going, why change it.
That's the thought concerning the Essential Air Service (EAS) carrier and flights at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island.