Editorial Roundup:

Lincoln Journal Star. June 25, 2020.

Counties should determine mask policy

Gov. Pete Ricketts has earned generally high marks for his leadership through this pandemic. Not everyone has agreed with every directed health measure – implemented or relaxed – but Ricketts has generally provided reasonable explanations and taken common-sense approaches.

Until last week.

Holding federally provided CARES Act money hostage if counties wanted to implement a mandatory mask policy flies in the very face of Ricketts’ advice to wear a mask. Counties have been making consequential decisions that have gotten us this far. Counties understand their unique situations and risks. And counties should be given the opportunity to do what is right for their residents without fear of losing money that all American have contributed to (or will be paying off for decades to come).

“The governor encourages folks to wear masks in public.” The governor’s spokesman Taylor Gage said in the very same news story in which Ricketts’ directive to counties was announced. Some encouragement.

Imagine being a county employee. What message does this send? How inconvenient is it to require those doing county business to put on a mask for the 20 minutes or an hour it might take to take a driving test or do some other business that can’t already be done online?

Where city and county workers share buildings, cities can still make masks mandatory. How would you feel being a county employee working in an office across the hall from a city office that deemed the risks high enough that the city exercised its right to issue a mask order? Vulnerable, devalued?

Ricketts’ decision came on the same day he was in Washington, D.C., seated at the right hand of President Trump to talk about small business recovery.

Nothing would help small business recover more than putting the pandemic in our national rear-view mirror. And absent a vaccine, masks are the best and cheapest tool.

Beyond questions of safety and solvency, businesses large and small have justified legal concerns about their liability related to mask wearing. The potential consequences for a business not having a mandatory mask policy or not enforcing it could be disastrous if the disease spread is traced to them. And if you were an employee, would you rather work at place that had your back and required masks or a place wasn’t taking recommended precautions?

But we’re not asking for a blanket policy. We’re simply asking that counties be allowed to make the best decision for their circumstances without fear of financial reprisal.

Masks aren’t – and never should be – a political issue. It’s science. It’s medicine. Even Governor Ricketts has acknowledged their value and intends to work with local governments to get more masks to the general public. Let counties do what they need to keep their employees and their staffs safe.

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The Grand Island Independent. June 28, 2020.

USMCA will beef up our trade

The new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico going into effect July 1 is great news for Nebraska producers as it creates a new trade foundation for business being done between the three countries.

USMCA will provide opportunities for enhanced trade among Nebraska and its largest trading partners, Mexico and Canada. The two countries represent a market for more than 40% of the state’s exports.

In 2019 Nebraska exported $1.6 billion to Canada — 21% of the state’s total global exports. It exported $1.7 million to Mexico — 23% of the state’s global exports.

The largest portion of Nebraska’s exports to Canada was agricultural and construction machinery, something Grand Island has a major part in with the CNH plant here.

Oilseeds and grains, at $883 million, was Nebraska’s largest export to Mexico, with grain and oilseed milling products, at $364 million, second.

Meat products and meat packaging also are major portions of Nebraska’s exports to Mexico and Canada — $181 million to Canada and $202 million to Mexico

Nebraska’s grain and livestock producers clearly have benefited from our trade with Canada and Mexico in the past, but the hope is that with the USMCA in effect, those numbers will continue to increase.

Canada will provide new and expanded access for U.S. dairy product exports. The agreement also eliminates its tariffs on whey and margarine.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said as Nebraska pulls out of the COVID-19 economic doldrums, trade agreements such as the USMCA are important components in reviving the economy. It’s also important to our agricultural producers, who have been struggling due to low commodity prices and trade concerns connected to last year’s trade war between the U.S. and China.

As our entire country tries to rebound from the economic woes created by more than three months of quarantining, we need some good news and the USMCA is a major boost for agriculture, our state’s No. 1 industry.

Ricketts has gone on two trade missions to Mexico and one to Canada as governor.

“We have two great partners with Canada and Mexico, and the USMCA is a great way to take our relationship to the next level,” he said.

This is an accomplishment to celebrate and to fully take advantage of with increased exports of Nebraska products. __

Omaha World-Herald. June 28, 2020.

Omaha police focus on improvements, public accountability

Americans have turned their attention this month to a vital national question: How can our society provide justice?

Justice, that is, for all Americans — including, most importantly, people of color traditionally vulnerable to abuse by law enforcement.

Police have important duties to serve and protect. Officers are routinely placed in challenging circumstances, and almost always act responsibly. But the exceptions can be horrific. In the present day and historically, abusive actions by individual officers have taken a terrible toll on individuals and communities.

The killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer has triggered an earthquake of national debate over needed change for police operations. Cities have begun to respond, as they should. Justice demands this action.

In Omaha, the Police Department has improved its community relations over the past decade. The department has doubled its sworn black officers in seven years, now accounting for 10% of the force. It has gone from 11 police shootings 10 years ago to one last year to none so far this year.

At the same time, testifiers at a recent hearing by Nebraska state lawmakers offered multiple criticisms of Omaha police.

Last week, Mayor Jean Stothert and Chief Todd Schmaderer announced a set of changes for the Police Department in the wake of this national discussion. Their action shows that Omaha leaders have been listening to the public, studying recent police actions here and elsewhere, and weighing what changes can best promote professionalism, accountability and public trust.

Although the department did not train officers to use a knee-to-the-neck restraint, the department will now explicitly ban such a practice. That’s certainly appropriate, given its infamous use by a Minneapolis officer, resulting in Floyd’s death.

In another response to the Minneapolis situation, Omaha officers will be required to “intervene and report” when a fellow officer steps outside proper bounds in his or her actions. The change is absolutely needed to promote a police culture that deters officers from irresponsible action.

Next month, all Omaha officers will receive new mandatory training covering a variety of issues: Taser recertification. “Suicide by cop” training. A review of the Floyd case. The impact of biased policing. Changes to the use of force policy.

Positive, too, is Schmaderer’s statement that his department is conducting a review of recent Black Lives Matter protests in Omaha and the police response to them, at Stothert’s request. The more that the Police Department understands the factors behind what went right and what went wrong at recent protests, the better in planning responsibly for the future. And the release of the findings can build trust with the public.

The announcement that the city will revitalize a Citizens Review Board is an especially welcome step. Citizens can file complaints against officers directly to the board, instead of with the department’s internal affairs division. That promotes accountability, builds public trust and provides a deterrent to future reckless action by officers.

“A citizen-led board provides an independent review of complaints against officers,” Stothert said. “We agree with suggestions that the results should be more transparent, so we will make the changes we can, without compromising confidential personnel details.”

Through these changes, Omaha has an important opportunity to build on current progress and learn from recent situations here and elsewhere. It can set proactive measures in place to better prevent irresponsible police action and nurture improved relations with the public.

In so doing, Omaha can take needed steps toward the important goal at the center of national discussion: justice for all.

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