Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Jan. 15, 2021.

Editorial: Challenges are daunting, but Omaha area makes progress on mental health front

Omaha-area residents suffering from a mental health crisis face heavy burdens. So, in many cases, do hospitals and law enforcement officers who struggle to find an available facility to help those individuals.

The solution is to increase the Omaha area’s mental health assessment and treatment facilities to help these residents. This is one of our area’s longstanding, daunting challenges.

So, Nebraska Medicine deserves congratulations for taking a major step to help meet the need. This fall, it will open a psychiatric emergency center to help alleviate the pressure on hospital emergency rooms and law enforcement agencies. Thanks to its assessment and treatment capabilities, the center is expected to help keep some adult patients out of local inpatient psychiatric beds in the community.

Nebraska Medicine’s emergency room provides an example. From 2015-19, it experienced a nearly 80% increase in visits from patients with a psychiatric or substance abuse problem, The World-Herald’s Julie Anderson reports. That amounted to more than 3,000 such visits last year.

This trend is a national one. One in eight visits to an emergency room in the United States involves a patient with a psychiatric or substance abuse problem.

Because of the limited number of treatment facilities in the Omaha area, such patients often face lengthy waits, of even days, for transfer to an inpatient psychiatric facility.

Nebraska Medicine’s new psychiatric center will be only one of several facilities providing mental health assessment and triage, and the challenge to meet the demand will remain great. But this additional capacity is welcome. Local law enforcement agencies have long lamented the challenges their officers face, for example, in trying to help individuals in mental health crisis and find an available facility for them.

The Omaha area is seeing progress in other ways on the mental health front. A national organization has designated law enforcement agencies in Douglas and Sarpy Counties as innovators in coordinating with local mental health facilities. The distinction was given to only 13 counties nationwide.

Another plus: A centralized registry for the Douglas and Sarpy Counties shows the current status of local hospitals and facilities with inpatient psychiatric beds.

Positive, too, is the increase in the number of medical school graduates choosing psychiatry. Since 2013 the number of UNMC medical school graduates earning spots in psychiatry residency programs has more than doubled, to 13% of the class. At Creighton University Medical School, 7.4% of graduates secured psychiatric residencies last year. These figures are above the national average of 5.3%.

This progress is the fruit of Nebraska’s increased efforts to strengthen its mental health resources and build cooperative partnerships to maximize help for vulnerable people. Still, the need remains enormous. In Omaha and statewide, further government and philanthropic efforts are needed to expand services and build up the mental health workforce.

Let’s build on the current achievements for even greater progress.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Jan. 13, 2021.

Editorial: Winner-take-all, voter ID ideas would do more harm than good

As the State Board of Canvassers certified the results of the November election, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen told its members that his office received zero allegations of voter fraud.

His words were echoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts: “Hearing we had a record number of voters and everything went smoothly … is a great testament to” the state’s election system.

Evnen and Ricketts are absolutely correct. Despite a record-high 76% turnout fueled largely by mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nebraska’s election process indeed went off without a hitch.

Clearly, it ain’t broke – and, accordingly, there’s no need to fix it, no matter what Sen. Julie Slama of Peru says or introduces in the Legislature. Her proposed constitutional amendment (LR3CA) mandates voters show a government-issued ID at the polls, and bill (LB76) would end Nebraska’s unusual method of awarding Electoral College votes that has resulted in split votes in 2008 and 2020 are solutions in search of problems.

The Nebraska Legislature has defeated similar voter ID proposals nine of the past 10 years, and the newly convened 107th Legislature should make it 10 of 11.

You can’t have it both ways. If the voter fraud Slama says existed really did, one would imagine that information would be passed along to Evnen’s office.

The last documented case of ineligible voters attempting to cast ballots in Nebraska occurred in Dawson County in 2016. Two people who had cast early ballots were blocked from voting again in-person on Election Day.

Poll workers caught the discrepancy and rejected the provisional ballots, and it’s unclear whether the recently naturalized citizens – who later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor – intended to vote twice.

Again, the system in place worked, as it has for generations.

No onerous, expensive voter ID requirements – which have been used in some states to suppress minority voters – were needed to do so.

As for the winner-take-all system in place in 48 states, awarding votes by U.S. House district like Nebraska and Maine provides a more representative cross-section of the true desires of a state’s voters.

President-elect Joe Biden won 100% of the electoral votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin despite being selected by fewer than half of those states’ voters. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, claimed all of North Carolina’s electoral votes despite winning just 50.1% of votes.

Rather than joining the majority, Nebraska should encourage other states to follow its lead. This would make electoral results more closely match voters’ wishes and individual votes count more than they presently do in a number of states.

If these arguments aren’t convincing, refer back to the top of this editorial – and the words of Nebraska’s governor and top elections official. They say they haven’t the slightest evidence of fraud or disenfranchised voters, and, without these, Slama’s proposals serve no purpose.

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Kearney Hub. Jan. 13, 2021.

Editorial: Legalized marijuana spreading

Hey, Nebraskans, that tick, tick, tick you hear is the countdown to inauguration day for Joe Biden. His oath rings in a new era of government in which a Democrat majority now commands both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Add the White House, and the change on lawmakers ushers in an era with lots of new ideas that stand a greater chance of approval now than they did just a few weeks ago.

Coming down the pike are proposals to rescue the environment, make college a tuition-free proposition and legalize recreational marijuana — to name a few.

Each of those ideas would profoundly affect life in the Cornhusker State. Consider, for example, an environmental proposal that would outlaw or severely restrict cattle ranching because the animals create too much atmosphere-harming methane gas. How might free college tuition affect Nebraska, and more specifically, how would it affect college towns like Kearney?

And then there’s recreational marijuana. Nebraska’s old guard doesn’t want the stuff; however, there’s a groundswell of support for legalizing marijuana, and not just the industrial variety that was grudgingly approved in 2018.

As most Nebraskans know, industrial hemp doesn’t have the chemicals that produce a “high,” yet it was challenging to win the legal right to produce the stuff in Nebraska.

Ironically, recreational marijuana might face an easier path to legalization.

In 2020, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana collected 182,000 signatures — 110% of the needed number — to put a measure before voters legalizing medical cannabis. The ballot measure was torpedoed, however, because Nebraska law limits ballot measures to single issues. That’s why casino gambling proponents separated their proposal into three ballot questions, and all three won voter approval in November.

The medical marijuana measure was removed from the ballot, but a north Omaha senator in the Unicameral has introduced LR2CA, a constitutional amendment to legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, consumption and sale of cannabis in any form” on Oct. 1, 2023. Nebraskans would vote on Sen. Justin Wayne’s amendment in 2022. He said it’s important Nebraskans approve the marijuana proposal because businesses could make big money if Nebraskans legalize recreational marijuana before it’s approved at the federal level.

Does recreational marijuana — and the medical variety, for that matter, stand a chance in Nebraska? The success of last year’s petition drive suggests “yes.” So does South Dakotans’ approval of recreational pot in November. Fifty-four percent of voters in the traditionally conservative state supported the measure, and 70% OK’d medical marijuana. Now recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and South Dakota. Missouri has medical marijuana.

Will Nebraska ever join that club? Maybe we’ll see in two years.

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