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.
The current EAS carrier, American Eagle, has had extremely successful flights from Grand Island to Dallas-Fort Worth since they began in 2012.
And, fortunately, American Eagle is interested in continuing the flights. They were the only airline to bid for the airport's EAS service contract.
While many times one might be disappointed in receiving only one bid, that's not the case here. The American Eagle and Dallas-Fort Worth flights were a master stroke made three years ago by the Hall County Airport Authority and airport Executive Director Mike Olson.
Connections to almost anywhere can be made in Dallas, making it a popular initial destination for central Nebraska air travelers.
"Dallas is a very good multidirectional hub. You can connect to the West Coast, to Florida, to the Southeast and to the East," Olson told the Independent. "And it's a great international connection to South America, Asia and Europe."
In addition, American Eagle has provided reliable and excellent service to Grand Island that will be enhanced even more when the new terminal project is completed. Occasionally there will be weather delays such as last week's ice storm in Dallas, but for the most part the American Eagle flights are on time, which is important when making connections.
Last year nearly 24,000 passengers boarded American Eagle flights in Grand Island, which was an increase from 22,468 in 2013. The flights have been filled to 80 to 90 percent of capacity.
Those figures show that the flights are very popular with air travelers and the numbers will continue to grow when the new terminal project is completed.
American Eagle asked the federal government for a $1.27 million subsidy to continue the flights for two years. They will continue to use 50-seat regional jets. The airline is actually requesting $565,000 less in subsidy than the current contract.
The U.S. Department of Transportation should see this as an EAS success story: popular flights and a lower subsidy. Federal approval should be a "no-brainer," as Olson said.
This also would continue the tremendous success for the Central Nebraska Regional Airport, which saw a record number of passengers last year. The American Eagle flights to Dallas and the Allegiant Air flights to Phoenix/Mesa and Las Vegas attracted 60,947 passengers last year.
That is a huge number, and the flights have been a great benefit to Grand Island and central Nebraska.
With approval of another two-year contract with American Eagle, the airport will be in good shape to continue that growth.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. March 10, 2015.
One of the mysterious archaic devices that reporter Irene North encountered the other day on a visit to the Cheyenne County Museum was a video cassette recorder, fondly recalled as a VCR.
For the very young, the VCR was a machine that you could rent from an archaic mercantile known as "the video store," along with a tape cassette containing a movie that would play on your TV. The stores became popular by offering movies that featured recreational activities that you rarely see on the big screen any more.
In its day, it was quite a thing. You didn't have to depend on programming from the dozens of cable TV channels, and you didn't have to wait very long for popular films to become available. Best of all, video stores had employees who were often very well-versed in the latest films and could recommend something to add to your stack if you were in the mood for a movie marathon.
Eventually, everyone began to buy VCRs for home use — just about the time the DVD, itself an upgrade from the CD, rendered them obsolete. Nonetheless, making a museum display of the VCR probably seems a bit coldly premature for folks of a certain vintage.
Irene's story brought to mind a recent post making the social media rounds. It showed an ad from a once well-known electronics store that's also going the way of the VCR. What made people chuckle was that every gadget in the ad is now part of the digital pocket multitool still known as a cellphone: typewriter, fax machine, weather phone, video game console, cassette tape player, tape recorder, camera, and on and on ... even the list of products can now be had in the form of an app that allows you to order and pay right from the gadget. The joke's on your sharp-tongued old elementary schoolteacher who told you needed to learn math because "you won't be carrying around a calculator in your pocket everywhere you go."
On the heels of that comes a study from Verizon called "15 Things Consumers Will Never Need Again, Thanks to Their Smartphones and Smart Devices." It follows a similar theme, focusing on the array of in-pocket gadgetry that Americans are getting from their smartphones and other smart devices.
Its survey found:
— Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed say they'll never buy a map again.
— A third of those surveyed use their smartphone to get information that used to be found in reference books such as encyclopedias and dictionaries.
— 20 percent do schoolwork on a mobile device instead of from a textbook.
— 24 percent choose to keep family images on their device instead of an album on their coffee table.
Still own a camera? You might be among the five in 10 consumers who own one but use their smartphone camera just as often. Nearly three in 10 use their smartphone to shoot video even though they own other video recording equipment.
It was refreshing to hear that plenty of people still rely on the paper version of newspapers, although in many cases they also rely on newsroom websites and social media for breaking news updates.
Among other casualties of the digital age: board games, music players of all types, radios, reference books, brochures and guidebooks, tape recorders and textbooks. And in most cases, one "smart" device isn't enough. More than 41 of respondents use at least four devices. Almost 90 percent say using mobile devices makes their lives easier, and nearly half consider themselves tech savvy.
That's probably little consolation to the folks who enjoyed a relatively brief but rewarding career in the video store, or to those who worked in the factories and warehouses that filled our Christmas stockings with all those other gadgets. One day, perhaps sooner than we imagine, a smartphone will rest in that same museum alongside other innovations of our fast-moving society. Even now, they're coming up with watches that will monitor our health and open the garage door at the same time.
As Grandma might ponder, what will they think of next?
Our reporter found a VCR on display in a museum. Too soon?