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PSC Seeks Applications For 911 Wireless Advisory Board

The Nebraska Public Service Commission is accepting applications for two vacancies on the Nebraska Wireless E911 Advisory Board. Vacant positions include a municipal official or employee and a member of the public.

Advisory board members serve three-year terms and are reimbursed for expenses. Members meet quarterly with additional meetings held on an as needed basis.The function of the Advisory Board is to advise the Commission concerning implementation, development, administration, coordination, evaluation and maintenance of the Enhanced Wireless 911 Fund.

The advisory board has 11 members comprised of one sheriff; two county and municipal officials or employees each; one representative each from the wireless and local telecommunications industry; one manager of a 911 center; one member of the public; one Public Service Commissioner; and the Nebraska Chief Information Officer. Public Service Commissioner Jerry Vap of McCook currently serves as the Commissioner on the Board.

Persons interested in the vacancy should submit a letter of interest to P.O. Box 94927, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4927. Correspondence should be sent to Sue Vanicek by December 16. An application should also be submitted electronically at: http://www.governor.nebraska.gov/bc/board_comm.html

The Nebraska Wireless Enhanced 911 Fund is supported by a monthly 45-cent surcharge on each wireless telephone.

You Drink & You Drive, You Lose

The Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) began participating in the nationwide You Drink & You Drive You Lose crackdown on August 16. The campaign continues until September 2.

During this period, increased patrols will be made possible due to a Nebraska Office of Highway Safety (NOHS) grant. This grant will allow FCSO deputies to work extra time in order to increase the enforcement of traffic laws and specifically increase patrols for DUI enforcement.

The extra patrol time for FCSO deputies will be paid for by NOHS grant funds. With the goal of increasing DUI enforcement, the FCSO hopes to decrease the number of injury accidents which occur in the county. A no-tolerance stance on alcohol-related violations will be taken by FCSO deputies during this special enforcement period.

Expanding Opportunities Through Trade

By Rep. Adrian Smith

Expanding international markets for American goods and products has benefitted Nebraska producers, manufacturers, and consumers.  Trade also represents an all-too-rare bright spot for bipartisan cooperation in Washington at a time when politics often trumps pragmatism.

Despite widespread complaints of “political gridlock,” we have made substantial progress in opening new markets and reducing barriers for American exports.  In my opinion, the enactment of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama was the best bipartisan accomplishment of the President’s first term.

This week, I held three public forums across the Third District to help individuals and businesses better understand the value of global trade and provide information on expanding market access for local products.  The meetings were attended by a variety of Nebraskans interested in selling their goods to new markets and those with stories of how they have benefited from expanded trade, as well as representatives from state and local resources involved in helping individuals and businesses begin or expand exporting.

Preferred Popcorn in Chapman is one of the best examples of a Nebraska company utilizing the new trade agreements.  On the day the Colombia trade agreement entered into force, Preferred sold ten shipping containers of popcorn to a buyer in the South American country – enough for about 9 million people.  This sale was a direct result of the free trade agreement and is a benefit to the company, its employees in Nebraska, the producers who grow the popcorn, and the local economy.

Before the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement entered into force, the average U.S. tariff on Colombian goods was 3 percent, while Colombia’s average tariff on U.S. goods was 12.5 percent.  Tariff rates on most products, including popcorn, have now been eliminated.

This trade also helps build positive connections between our two countries.  Colombia is an American ally in a region where several nations, including Venezuela, are not always friendly to American interests.  In the last decade, Colombia has made vast improvements to their national security and in their fight against international drug traffickers.  Increased trade will help solidify these gains, and maintain good relationships while benefiting consumers and businesses in both nations.

This week I also heard examples of Nebraska companies expanding their footprint in Asia, home to some of the fastest growing economies on Earth.  The United States is currently involved in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement among several nations representing more than 40 percent of global trade.  The last round of TPP negations in July was very successful; Japan joined half way through the talks.  With 95 percent of U.S. beef now qualifying for import to Japan, the island nation could once again become our number one market for beef exports.

We are also in the early stages of negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union, which the President announced earlier this year.  TPP and TTIP both have the potential to greatly expand free trade and grow economies around the world.  They also have the potential to exclude some Nebraska agriculture goods if we are not careful.

As we negotiate new trade agreements around the world, we must continue to address tariff and non-tariff barriers, and promote enforceable, science-based regulatory systems.  As a member of the Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over tax and trade issues, I will continue to insist on these standards to ensure Nebraska products are treated fairly in the international market.

While we must avoid these potential pitfalls, the future remains bright for increased international trade.  I am optimistic these robust agreements will benefit Nebraska exporters and consumers around the world.

Tearing Down History to Make Way for Progress

By J. L. Schmidt, Statehouse Correspondent for The Nebraska Press Assoc.

Another Nebraska community has demolished an historic brick school building so it doesn’t stand in the way of progress. Despite recent efforts to save the building and its twin across town, local officials said hallelujah when the dilapidated property was purchased from a stubborn owner after years of negotiating.

A section of the school that had the name carved in elegant terra cotta will be incorporated into the new neighborhood being created and will pay homage to the past, according to the mayor. That’s a familiar bone thrown to preservationists who have failed in their attempts to convince those in power of the economic sense behind adaptive re-use that has proven, time and again, that renovation costs much less per square foot than demolition and building new.

It’s also a way to cover up the fact that those same city fathers failed to address the deterioration early on by prohibiting or, at least, punishing those who did inappropriate things with the massive structures. In this case, the owner stored grain in part of the building at one point and that attracted countless vermin that exacerbated the deterioration process. Time and inattentiveness did the building in.

Here’s a call to elected officials and citizen watchdogs alike to start paying attention to Nebraska’s historic built environment and exploring ways to creatively re-use it at best. At the very least, how about deconstructing it instead of demolishing it. There is value in using old brick and wood and steel and glass. Recycling building materials. Saving the environment and energy.

Across the state, it’s hats-off to the Wayne County Fair Board, which saved the 52-stall horse barn, which stood for four decades at State Fair Park in Lincoln. The structure was purchased a couple years ago when the University of Nebraska took over the state fairgrounds after the fair was moved to Grand Island. It was in place for the Wayne County Fair last month. The 40-foot-by-260-foot open-air facility was purchased to replace old wooden horse barns that were deteriorating. New life for an old structure. Total cost, not counting volunteer labor and in-kind donations, between $60,000 and $70,000.

What about that former state fairgrounds in Lincoln? Work progresses on the remodeling of the old 4-H Building and a new addition. Work also continues on the deconstruction of part of the Industrial Arts Building, which will have a new second floor addition but retain its iconic trapezoidal shape and elegant Palladian windows on the first floor. Note the new structures at the Grand Island State Fair campus feature brick facades with that same window style.

Saving the Industrial Arts Building was a rallying point for preservationists who rarely win in battles with major universities. A website, a Facebook group, a designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 11 most endangered buildings in 2011 and a sympathetic developer all helped save the structure. Architect’s estimates at the time said renovation of the IAB would cost $90 to $125 per square foot. Demolition and building new would cost $175 to $250 per square foot. Makes economic sense.

New life will allow the IAB to stand for years into the future as a tribute to the elegant exposition style architecture that was the Nebraska State Fair. Imagine, incorporating history INTO progress.

Keeping Education Homegrown

By Senator Deb Fischer

Across Nebraska, August is a busy time for parents, children, teachers and communities as schools open and the new academic year begins. From those starting their very first year of school to those who will be applying to colleges this year, students fill classrooms with the anticipation of new teachers, new books, and new assignments.

Over the summer, parents have helped their children prepare for the school year by purchasing supplies and required reading. Students have worked to complete their summer reading lists for upcoming classes.  Teachers have spent much of their summer planning their curricula for the year.

We owe so much to our nation’s hardworking educators. Many of them become role models for our children and provide them with invaluable life lessons that go well beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Nebraska is fortunate to have strong schools with wonderful educators that equip our students with the tools they need to succeed. Before I served in the Nebraska Legislature, I was a longtime school board member and served as president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards. These positions helped shape my views on education policy as a state lawmaker and now as a United States Senator.

Nebraska – like every state – has unique strengths and challenges specific to its schools and students. Parents, teachers, school boards and communities best know the needs of their students. That is why I believe education decisions are best made at the state and local level, rather than by Washington bureaucrats.

As I’ve traveled the state this month, many Nebraskans have voiced their concerns with efforts to set national education standards through the Common Core program. This program was launched initially at the state level by governors as a voluntary effort for states to adopt a single set of educational standards for English language arts and mathematics – essentially a costly, one-size-fits-all education agenda.

Nebraska is one of five states that have not adopted the Common Core standards. As you may know, Nebraska has developed its own education standards through the critical input of our educators. And to that end, we are always open to new ideas.

Our state education board approved a motion to hire a contractor to assess Nebraska’s standards compared to those of Common Core. The report on language standards showed Nebraska’s were closely aligned with, and in some cases more rigorous than, Common Core. Analysis comparing math standards will be released in September.

In an essay featured in “The State Education Standard,” former state education board members Bob Evnen and Jim Scheer explained why Nebraska has not followed the lead of other states adopting Common Core standards.

In their report, Evnen and Scheer commended the original nature of the process for adopting these standards as voluntary. They rightfully noted, however, the process was “hijacked” by the administration’s announcement “that anyone who wanted federal money had better adopt [the standards].”

Recently, the awarding of federal education waivers and grants has favored Common Core states, which backhandedly encourages the adoption of these multi-state education standards. That’s just not fair.

Nebraska should have a level playing field on which to compete for education grants and waivers without being compelled to adopt multi-state education standards like Common Core. In April, I sent a letter to leading Senate appropriators against these unfair incentives. In the letter, we argued in favor of restoring the state’s primary role in determining our education curriculum. 

I don’t believe the Department of Education should be indirectly forcing states to adopt their expensive federal guidelines.

Instead, the federal government should promote policies that improve the ability of individual states to best meet the needs of specific communities.

As this new school year begins, our focus in Nebraska remains providing students with strong, well-rounded educations. We must ensure our public policy enhances the classroom experience and helps place students on the path for bright, successful futures.