Omaha World-Herald. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Clear the way for DACA workers to get the jobless benefits they have earned

In some areas, Nebraska wants to go its own way — our efficient, transparent one-house Legislature, our public electric utilities, Memorial Stadium’s sellout streak.

We should, though, avoid being the outlier in things critical to our residents’ well-being. For example, for several months last year, at Gov. Pete Ricketts’ behest, Nebraska was the only state not taking advantage of maximum food stamp benefits extended by the federal government because of the pandemic. Thankfully, Ricketts relented in November as virus cases surged.

Today, because of a statutory ban, ours is the only state that deprives unemployment benefits to workers covered by DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. About 300 workers laid off from their jobs because of the pandemic were affected last year.

State Sen. Mike McDonnell is working to change the Nebraska law that bars these younger immigrants from receiving jobless benefits if they are otherwise eligible. State Labor Commissioner John Albin said this week at a hearing that wording of McDonnell’s bill would put Nebraska afoul of federal law, but promised to work with the Omaha senator on acceptable language.

Once again, though, Ricketts wants Nebraska to stand alone among states in depriving pittances of aid for which fellow human beings are qualified.

“The governor does not support providing benefits” to people in the country illegally, his spokesman Taylor Gage told The World-Herald. “He would not support a compromise.”

Ricketts is wrong about this. DACA recipients are legally authorized to work in the United States, and collectively pay an estimated $1.2 billion per year in federal, state and local taxes.

Now an average age of 25 to 26, these 650,000 immigrants (nearly 3,000 of them in Nebraska) fill a number of roles, including military service, teaching, medical and tech work, and much more. Their employers pay unemployment insurance taxes on their behalf.

McDonnell’s bill is merely a Band-Aid to cover a small corner of a large wounded policy.

DACA was created by an executive order from Barack Obama in 2012. It suspended deportation proceedings for people brought illegally to the United States by mid-2007 before they were 16 years old. It sets education requirements, bars those who have committed crimes since arriving and requires frequent renewals. While Ricketts is right that these people entered the country illegally, they mostly were brought by parents, have known no home but America, have come forward to be vetted and met all qualifications of the program.

Because Congress, despite broad support for these so-called Dreamers, has failed through these years to act, DACA remains in place despite court challenges. President Joe Biden just issued an executive order to “preserve and fortify DACA.”

The real solution, of course, is for Congress to finally find a way for these young people to stay in the United States permanently. But unless and until that happens, Nebraska should offer them benefits they deserve.

Said McDonnell: “These are the employees of employers who have done everything correct. It’s not something that’s handed out to them; it’s something they earned.”

Despite Ricketts’ opposition, McDonnell and Albin should find the right wording for the bill, which lawmakers should then pass. Anything less would simply be doctrinaire and mean-spirited punishment of productive Nebraska workers.


Lincoln Journal Star. Jan. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Secret ballots for committee chairs vital for independence

George Norris, the father of Nebraska’s one-house Legislature, envisioned a state legislative branch unlike any other with his plan for an officially nonpartisan, unicameral body.

The events that transpire within the chamber at the state Capitol bearing his name would no doubt frustrate Nebraska’s foremost crusader for good governance. But last week’s bipartisan support among lawmakers to retain the secret ballot for electing committee leadership certainly embodies the ideals Norris championed for the Legislature.

Among the many threats to the Legislature’s officially nonpartisan structure, perhaps none is as persistent as the inevitable proposal to implement a roll-call vote for leadership. However, in an encouraging sign, nearly even numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats alike voted to thwart the proposed rule change that would have brought partisanship into the open.

In particular, several prominent Republican senators voted for the good of the chamber rather than the good of their party. With a nearly 2-to-1 majority, the GOP would own the committee chair posts. These powerful positions influence which bills make it from committee to the floor for debate before the full Legislature – and one-party rule would dramatically alter how Nebraska’s unique unicameral functions.

Instead, conservative voices such as Sens. Mike Flood, Matt Williams, Mark Kolterman and Robert Hilkemann helped lead the charge to preserve the status quo.

It was Flood, the former speaker of the Legislature who returned to the body after being term-limited out in 2016, who provided the strongest condemnation of the effort: “This is less about transparency (and) absolutely about dismantling this Unicameral. … You’re going to change this to something that is partisan.”

Because of its setup, state senators in Nebraska are more responsive to their constituents than party affiliations – and the freedom to make votes and statements like these is a direct result of that system.

One of the great ironies of this debate, which surfaces every two years, is that many of the same senators who support tossing out the secret ballot for leadership votes in the name of transparency have opposed measures that promote transparency in government for the average Nebraskan.

The other is that, in this one instance, a lack of transparency is better for the state as a whole.

(Yes, you read that right.)

You’re unlikely to ever see the Journal Star editorial board making this point on any other topic, but the ability for senators to vote their consciences – rather than along the party lines easily apparent in the Legislature – helps distance the body from partisan politics as usual while improving its effectiveness.

Norris championed the structure that makes the Nebraska Legislature, even with its flaws, the best statehouse in the country – and a major, but often overlooked, part of that is the secret ballot for committee chairs.


Kearney Hub. Jan. 30, 2021.

Editorial: A chance to fight for homeless

Emotional opposition erupted nine years ago when Jerry Bumgardner and a handful of local supporters announced plans to open a homeless shelter in Kearney. Those who were against the plan warned the shelter would be a magnet for undesirables, including drunks, addicts, panhandlers and others who would litter our streets with human misery.

Bumgardner fought back. He cited the successful track record at his rescue mission in Hastings, where clients had received a hand up for a number of years.

Local supporters chimed in. They countered the Kearneyites who blissfully maintained there was no legitimate need for a shelter. After all, naysayers said, there were no homeless people in the Kearney, other than the loner named “Dennis” who wheeled his bicycle, piled high with his only possessions, up and down our streets.

The naysayers were wrong about Kearney’s homelessness. There were many, just not as visible as Dennis. They included folks who had been forced out by their families or who simply couldn’t afford lodging. Rather than sleeping beneath the overpass they squatted on friends’ sofas.

Supporters reminded Kearneyites there are numerous ways to be homeless, and that for most of us, we are just one paycheck short of being homeless ourselves. The supporters were convincing, and Crossroads Rescue Mission gained the go-ahead to expand from Hastings into Kearney.

When Crossroads opened on Feb. 1, 2012, near 39th Street and Avenue N, the mission had a 42-bed emergency shelter, thanks to $1.42 million in community support. Today, nine years later, Crossroads provides shelter, meals and life skills classes to help the homeless and needy get back on their feet.

In December 2017 Crossroads added a $1.07 million thrift store and warehouse. Revenue from those facilities helps support Crossroads’ programs.

Now the mission is going public with a $3 million campaign to add transitional housing needed by local probation offices. Bumgardner and Crossroads’ new executive director, Dan Buller, report the campaign already has gathered $2.5 million. When the drive is complete, the Kearney community and other sources will have poured $6 million into Crossroads’ campus and its efforts to expand, enhance and stabilize its faith-based mission.

Somewhere there’s a formula to measure the value — in dollars — how much Crossroads benefits our community. Tougher to determine is the value of Crossroads’ assistance to each individual in its care. In 2020, the mission served 365 individuals, including 38 children. To many of those lives, Crossroads has made an immeasurable difference.

The capital campaign is an opportunity for all of us to join in Crossroads’ good fight to help people down on their luck. You can learn more about volunteering or donating by calling Bumgardner at 402-462-0210 or Buller at 307-921-8657. Remember, for many of us, we could be just one paycheck short of being homeless ourselves.