Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

Monday , July 02, 2018 - 8:01 AM

By The Associated Press

Omaha World Herald. June 29, 2018

MECA should be wary of claiming exemption from public records requirements.

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority has made progress in recent years in being more open about its finances and operations. This week, though, its blanket claim that it’s not subject to Nebraska’s open records law raises concern.

MECA made that claim came in response to a World-Herald request for the identities of the other companies that bid on the rights to rename the city-owned CenturyLink Center. CHI Health, a nonprofit health care entity, has received criticism for pledging a 20-year, $23.6 million naming-rights commitment for the convention center and arena.

“By contract with the City of Omaha,” MECA said in a letter Wednesday to The World-Herald, “we have agreed to follow the Open Meetings Laws of the State, but that does not cover the ‘public records’ statutes.”

Such a broad claim doesn’t square with the opinion issued in 2015 by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. That opinion stated directly that “we conclude that MECA should be subject to the Nebraska Public Records Act.”

The Attorney General’s Office reached that conclusion by citing a four-factor test that the Nebraska Supreme Court set out in a 2015 ruling to determine whether an entity is subject to Nebraska public records requirements.

“All four of the factors set forth in that test are applicable to MECA,” the Attorney General’s Office said, “such that it should be considered an agency, branch or department of the City of Omaha.”

In its response to The World-Herald this week, MECA said that even if it were subject to public records laws, the information requested by the newspaper would fall under an exemption covering trade secrets and proprietary information. If the information were made public, MECA said, it would “chill” companies and their willingness to spend money with MECA on future sponsorships.

There will always be disagreement and debate over how far the definition of proprietary information should extend, but MECA’s absolute claim to be free of public records requirements sends the wrong signal to the public. The claim pulls MECA away from steps it has taken and the messaging it has sent in recent years to signal greater openness.

Among those steps: posting its meeting minutes online; scheduling public meetings more regularly and with more advance notice; releasing a year-end report and conducting more of its business during the public portions of its meetings. These were positive, commendable changes.

“The fact is that MECA was created by government,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has rightly said. “It was put on the ballot and voted on by the people, and they were created to manage public facilities for the City of Omaha. Because of that I think the taxpayers have the right to know how the public facility is being managed.”

MECA — whose board is appointed by the mayor and the City Council — performs important duties for Omahans in managing the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park. Just as valuable, though, is maintaining the public’s trust.

MECA’s claims to be exempt from public records requirements risk squandering that public confidence.

The Grand Island Independent. June 26, 2018.

Court’s ruling on web purchases evens the field

The Supreme Court has spoken. States can collect the sales tax they’re owed when people make purchases online.

Nebraska currently only receives sales tax on online purchases from companies such as Amazon that are collecting the tax without being required to do so. State residents are supposed to self-report the rest of their online purchases on their state income tax forms, but few people do.

The Nebraska Legislature has repeatedly considered legislation that would have set up a way for the state to collect sales tax on all online purchases, but each year that legislation has been rejected.

Earlier this year, the unicameral reached a third reading on a bill that would have simply required retailers to send annual statements to their customers and to the state, showing how much sales tax is owed. But still, the bill faced a veto threat from Gov. Pete Ricketts and it didn’t advance.

A major criticism of Nebraska proposals over the years has been concerns about whether they were constitutional. The Supreme Court had ruled more than a decade ago that if a business didn’t have a physical presence in a state, it didn’t have to collect sales tax for that state.

But the Supreme Court has now overturned that ruling and specifically said that states can require businesses to collect their sales tax from online shoppers.

There now should be nothing keeping the state from collecting the sales tax it is owed once the Legislature convenes next January. More than a dozen states had already passed legislation to collect online sales tax before the Supreme Court ruling.

Opponents of such legislation in Nebraska have criticized it as creating burdensome red tape for businesses that make sales online, but Amazon has been collecting Nebraska sales tax for more than a year and technology should be sufficient that other retailers could do the same thing.

This will be a big boost to the state coffers and a boon for brick-and-mortar retailers as shoppers will no longer have an advantage of not having to pay sales tax when they make purchases online.

More than a year ago it was estimated that the state was losing out on $30 million to $40 million each year in sales taxes due to online purchases. That total is probably higher now.

This is not a new tax. It’s simply making sure that we in Nebraska pay the state the sales tax we’ve always owed.

Now is the time for the Legislature to stop doing without a major portion of the sales tax revenue it’s owed and begin requiring online merchants to do the same thing that main street businesses have always had to do.

Scottsbluff Star-Herald. June 27, 2018

Enjoy, obey and be safe

Over the next eight days, we Americans will spend about $1.09 billion on fireworks to celebrate our independence. It is a yearly ritual to shoot off fireworks, attend firework displays and try to make noise while having loads of fun.

The fun can quickly be dampened, even turned to horror if someone is hurt, you start a fire or find yourself ticketed for violating the law.

Fireworks can be a lot of fun, but be careful.

There are some simple, important tips to follow, according to the National Council on Fireworks Safety Inc.

First tip, obey the laws of your community. Some communities outlaw fireworks because of fire hazards. Locally, we do not have any communities outlawing them; however, there are times, in each community, when you can legally shoot off fireworks.

If you ignore the laws in your community, you give everyone enjoying fireworks a bad reputation. For example, in Scottsbluff, you have to stop shooting your fireworks at 10 p.m., but if you have a few left over and say, “What’s another 10-15 minutes?”

Those 10-15 minutes are a violation of the law. It is also very rude. Even if you don’t get caught, you will give those who would like to outlaw fireworks evidence to support their case.

Know your fireworks by reading the instructions before lighting the fuse. Also, alcohol and fireworks are a very bad combination, so wait to enjoy a cold one until after the last firework goes off.

Make sure there is a responsible adult around when fireworks are being used. Do not give fireworks to your kids and turn them loose on their own.

It seems obvious, but always use fireworks outside, light one at a time and never try to relight a dud. Wear safety glasses and always have a bucket of water or a water hose nearby.

Be careful around your pets. Never shoot fireworks at animals of any kind and keep pets away from firework shows. Many dogs are scared of the noise created by fireworks.

We will watch over 24.6 million pounds of fireworks, which will cost over $340 million, go off at community displays across the county, according to a 2016 USA Today story. Individual consumers will fire off 260.7 million pounds of fireworks, which will cost Americans around $755 million.

But that is not all the costs racked up this time of year. Independence Day is a huge picnicking day. According to the National Retail Federation, 64.5 percent of us will attend a Fourth of July picnic.

The Fourth also happens to be National Hot Dog Day, according to USA Today. So besides firing off tons of fireworks, we will also consume tons of hot dogs — about 155 million hot dogs.

One other thing that is very important: when you are done eating your hot dogs and shooting off all your fireworks, clean up your mess. Pick up and throw away all that left in the street after your last firework explodes.

The next eight days can be a lot of fun if you obey your city’s laws regarding fireworks, be safe and enjoy the time you spend with family and friends picnicking.

Make sure to also remember the reason you are celebrating — America’s, your, independence.

McCook Daily Gazette. June 27, 2018

A strong economy is best way to provide security for children

Nebraska is doing a good job taking care of its kids, according to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book just released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Based on health, education, economic security, family and community, Nebraska is second in the nation.

The report — http://bit.ly/2MuMkJR — shows improvements in the number of Nebraska children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, living in a household with a high housing cost burden, and in the number of teens not in school and not working.

Much of that improvement might be attributed to low unemployment and a relatively good economy.

Education is a hot-button issue, with controversy over the distribution of property taxes. the majority of which goes to public education.

And, while the study saw Nebraska losing ground in the number of young children (ages 3-4) not in school, it did show us gaining in fourth-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency and the number of high school students who graduated on time.

Some child advocates worry that children will be hurt by the count in the upcoming U.S. Census, especially if a question on citizenship is included.

Chrissy Tonkinson, research coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska, noted that the study warned of a potential undercount of young children, especially children of color and those from low-income and immigrant families.

“And, since many federal programs are dependent on the census data to determine funding, these are the exact children who are going to potentially be harmed most by being missed in those counts,” Tonkinson said.

While the state ranks high in overall ranking, almost 8 percent of Nebraska children live in high-poverty areas, putting the state near the middle of the pack in the Family and Community category.

Advocates are calling for getter state and local outreach to find people in hard-to-count areas, an effort needed to overcome a young-child undercount said to have missed a million kids in 2010.

The debate over how to best collect and use resources (read: taxpayer dollars) will never end, it does not have to be an either-or proposition.

Yes, we do need to make sure all children receive the services and opportunities they need and deserve.

But as the Data Book indicates, a strong economy, supported by policies that provide incentives for growth rather than penalties for success, is the best way to accomplish those goals.

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