Kearney Hub. March 27, 2015.
Chambers went too far, but he often does
State Sen. Ernie Chambers was ill-advised and irresponsible to compare Omaha police to Middle East terrorists and talk about shooting police. The comments during a March 20 hearing in the Legislature certainly won't advance relations between the police and Chambers' North Omaha constituents, and they raise questions about Chambers' effectiveness in the Legislature.
By now, most Nebraskans are familiar with the controversy.
During debate on a bill to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons into bars and restaurants, Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett said the conceal-carry legislation was in response to Nebraskans who feel insecure about crime and the radicalized "world situation."
Chambers responded, "My ISIS is the police." He then criticized authorities for not prosecuting an Omaha police officer for shooting a robbery suspect, and talked about the "injustice" involving other police-related shootings.
"My home isn't threatened by ISIS, it's threatened by the police," Chambers said. "The police are licensed to kill us. Children. Old people."
Later, Chambers said that he didn't have a gun and wasn't "a man of violence," but that if he were, he would use it as protection against the police: "I would want to shoot him first and ask questions later, as they say the cop ought to do."
Many of Chambers' legislative colleagues have routinely dismissed such comments. They say it's just "Ernie being Ernie," but the talk about ISIS and shooting cops struck a nerve, and on Thursday a number of senators called for Chambers to apologize. Some said it was a reason for him to resign.
Chambers didn't back down, and if the heat continues, we don't expect he'll recant his ISIS and cop-shooting references. And we don't expect he will rein in his habit of off-the-cuff comments, even though they may be disruptive or require further explanation, as was the case on this go-round.
If, as Chambers contends, police violence and other issues have caused a chasm of distrust, the rancor of the past few days has created an opportunity for progress. Chambers should pursue positive and responsible solutions to the problem that's now in the spotlight. And, out of respect for the legislative process, he should confine his comments to the matters at hand.
Lincoln Journal Star. March 24, 2015.
Help against human trafficking
Legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk would strengthen Nebraska's laws against human trafficking in important ways.
LB294, which Scheer has designated as his priority bill, would increase penalties for keeping a house of prostitution, pandering and solicitation of prostitution.
The bill also would allow victims of human trafficking to seek restitution for a minimum of $150,000, plus legal costs.
However the bill also contains provisions which are problematic. For one it would roll back a change approved two years ago which eliminated criminal penalties for victims of human trafficking. Minors, for example, would be placed under the supervision of juvenile authorities.
The change was made in 2013 so that victims would not fear prosecution if they turned themselves in to authorities.
Law enforcement authorities say the change has not helped. Amber Schlote of the Omaha Police Department said every minor that law enforcement placed in out-of-home care has run away.
Rather than reversing course, senators might consider other alternatives, like setting up treatment programs for victims.
Another troubling provision in the bill would permit authorities to seize assets of those convicted of trafficking. This dubious approach is too similar to laws that authorized police officers to seize assets of suspected drug traffickers. The program has morphed into a money-making scheme for police agencies.
Of one thing lawmakers can be assured, human trafficking does take place in Nebraska.
Scheer reported that no fewer than five state senators had questioned him on whether human trafficking was a problem in Nebraska.
There should be no doubt that the problem is real, and growing. Authorities have been saying so for years.
A governor's task force reported in 2013 that every agency it interviewed had experienced cases of human trafficking. "The existence of Interstate 80 coupled with internet sex advertising makes Nebraska vulnerable to trafficking. With ease of travel and internet sex advertising available 24 hours a day, trafficking does occur on a regular basis in Nebraska," the report said.
At a hearing earlier this year Schlote told senators that human trafficking ranks second only to illegal drugs as a criminal enterprise. Pimps can make up to $1 million a year.
Although LB294 may need some pruning and revision, it has valuable provisions that would improve law enforcement efforts to prevent human trafficking in the state. Scheer should be commended for picking up a cause that was championed by former Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln.
North Platte Telegraph. March 29, 2015.
Freedom comes with responsibility
If ever there was an example of the potential ramifications of an unthinking moment, it was the March 16 grass fire that burned 100 acres on the east side of town.
A 26-year-old man has been arrested, accused of setting off an artillery shell firework device during an afternoon picnic near Cody Park. The shell started numerous small fires, which the man attempted to put out, but the flames quickly got out of control in the hot, dry, windy conditions that have marked this early spring in North Platte and surrounding areas.
The man reportedly left the area when the fire got out of control. Ultimately, 70 firefighters, personnel from North Platte and surrounding communities and two airplanes were needed to put out the fire. A number of homes in the area were threatened, but except for several outbuildings, no structures were lost and there were no injuries.
Easier to understand was another fire the following Saturday that was sparked by a cutting torch. That fire, also whipped by high winds, threatened several homes before it was extinguished. A number of other fires, some of them large, have been reported around the area.
We know of few communities that embrace the use of fireworks so enthusiastically at the Fourth of July than North Platte. We have written on this page that this noisy celebration of our nation's independence is one of the things that makes North Platte special.
With freedoms, however, come responsibilities, and except during the days leading up to Independence Day — and in some cases, not even then if extreme fire threat warrants — fireworks are either forbidden or allowed only in strictly-controlled conditions. The fire on March 16 is a perfect example of why.
It doesn't take much common sense to know, in the face of pre-greenup conditions, warm, dry weather and gusty spring winds, that this is no time to be setting off fireworks. People could have lost their homes, and firefighters could have been injured or worse, over one unthinking moment.
For the time being at least, these fires are dramatic proof that our area is under a significant threat of fire. Our firefighters are busy enough putting out fires caused by legitimate activities without having to deal with one sparked by fireworks. So we all need to do our part, use our heads, forget about fireworks until July and help get through this fire-prone time.
What we really need is one of those wet spring snowstorms to reduce the fire danger. While there's no such relief in the current forecast, anyone who has experienced springtime in the West knows that a foot of wet snow could arrive at any time.
In the meantime, let's all pray for rain or snow.
McCook Daily Gazette. March 27, 2015.
Airline crash puts mental heal issues back in spotlight
If you're planning any airline trips soon, we've got a little advice.
Don't spend all your spare time watching air crash investigation videos on YouTube. And, don't read the rest of this editorial.
Authorities were shocked to learn that a plane flown by Lufthansa's budget airline, Germanwings, had dove into the French Alps shortly after reaching cruising altitude.
Some thought it might have been terrorism, but details are emerging that are even more frightening — the co-pilot seems to have locked the pilot out of the cabin and deliberately killed himself and the other 149 people aboard.
Today's news brings indications that the young pilot was hiding his heavy depression from his employers, and may have suffered a breakup with his girlfriend.
Airlines are scrambling to change rules to prevent pilots from being left alone in the cockpit, behind doors strengthened following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
They're also reassessing screening procedures, to see if there are ways to prevent something like this from happening again. It's a delicate balance; airline pilots worry that every physical might uncover something that might end their career; a factor that may have led to the Germanwings' co-pilot to conceal his problems.
One can only imagine the panic felt by the pilot responsible for the plane and passengers, or the horror of passengers as they watched the ground approaching while their captain tried to break down the cabin door, lasting the eight minutes it took for the plane to hit the mountains.
One man's mental health issues will snowball to afflict thousands or millions more, as surviving family members, friends and even viewers and readers try to cope with the loss of so many innocent people.
It reinforces the need for each of us to acknowledge that we as individuals or family members, friends and co-workers may need help from time to time. It's not a sign of weakness to reach out for help when we really need it.