March 3, 2015

Study gauges impact of Nebraska’s “safety net” programs

AECF photo

AECF photo

The private philanthropy group that puts out the “Kids Count” survey every year is releasing a new report detailing the state-by-state impact of so-called “safety net” government programs on children.

Laura Speer, with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says their findings indicate programs like food stamps and housing subsidies are significantly improving lives in Nebraska and nationwide.

“We looked at the child poverty rate which we know is one of the most critical indicators we check,” Speer says, “not only because it has a major impact on kids, it can affect their health and their educational achievement, but really has an impact on the country as a whole.”

In Nebraska, she says the impact of government safety net programs is very evident.

“Without any government intervention, about 22% of children in Nebraska would be living below the poverty line,” Speer says. “With intervention, it’s 11%, so, the rate has actually been cut in half in the state of Nebraska. That means about 48,000 children in the Nebraska were lifted above the poverty line.”

In addition to food stamps, government interventions being gauged by the report include the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit parents can claim annually on their tax returns.

She admits the findings aren’t a big surprise, however: “It’s important to know that and to understand that those programs are making a difference and they need to be sustained,” Speer says. “Also, we know these programs are helping families keep their heads above water and filling the gap that low-wage jobs are leaving for families to make ends meet.”

Speer is the foundation’s associate director of advocacy and public policy.

See the full report at the Annie E. Casey Foundation website.


Gov. Ricketts, AG Peterson defend Nebraska definition of marriage (AUDIO)

Attorney General Doug Peterson answers questions along with Gov. Pete Ricketts during Capitol news conference

Attorney General Doug Peterson answers questions along with Gov. Pete Ricketts during Capitol news conference

Governor Pete Ricketts stands by his support of Nebraska’s definition of marriage, despite a federal judge’s ruling overturning it.

Attorney General Doug Peterson has appealed the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal judge Joseph Bataillon has struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage, though he made his ruling effective a week from today, giving the state time to appeal the decision.

Ricketts and Peterson held a joint news conference at the governor’s Capitol office today.

Ricketts said if the state definition of marriage is to be changed, it should be changed by the voters.

“And while I know this is a difficult issue for many families, including my own, I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be decided by the preferences of one judge; that this is an issue for the people of Nebraska and that I will work with the Attorney General to continue to uphold the constitution,” Ricketts told reporters.

The Attorney General’s office filed its appeal immediately after Bataillon issued his ruling, hoping for an outcome similar to 2006. That year, Bataillon issued a similar ruling against the constitutional amendment approved by Nebraska voters in 2000. The appellate court overturned Bataillon and let the law stand.

Peterson said he expects the United States Supreme Court to rule later this year on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, a point the judge did not address.

“I think it’s important to note in Judge Batallion’s opinion, he chose not to make a decision as to whether or not marriage between a same-sex couple was a fundamental right and I think that’s the key legal issue,” Peterson stated.

Peterson said his office has asked the 8th Circuit to prevent the Bataillon ruling from going into effect until it decides the issue.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court will go a long way toward clarifying the issue this summer.

“Our position is that under good, appropriate constitutional analysis and good constitutional law for this issue it is to be decided by the states and for the states to decide it they need to go through the very process that we went through in this state back in 2000 where 70% of Nebraskans found that marriage should be constitutionally determined to be that just between a man and a woman,” Peterson said.

AUDIO:  Gov. Peter Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson react to ruling on Nebraska definition of marriage. [4 min.]

Federal judge strikes down Nebraska same-sex marriage ban

GavelA federal judge has struck down Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The state attorney general has appealed the ruling.

Federal Judge Joseph Bataillon has struck down the state definition of marriage, but delayed the effect of his ruling until next Monday at 8am, presumably to give the state enough time to appeal the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Attorney General Doug Peterson has filed an appeal and asked Bataillon to delay any action for at least two weeks.

Seven same-sex couple brought suit against the state, seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The ACLU of Nebraska argued on behalf of the couples before U.S. District Judge Bataillon during a court hearing in Omaha. The Attorney General’s office defended the state law, placed in the state constitution in 2000 by the voters.

In 2006, Bataillon ruled the state law unconstitutional, but the ruling was overturned on appeal.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld constitutional amendments defining marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee; definitions similar to that in Nebraska. The 5th and 7th Circuits have struck down same-sex marriage bans.

Lincoln legislator targets school budget issue as “priority” bill

Sen. Roy Baker

Sen. Roy Baker

State Senator Roy Baker of Lincoln is apparently the first legislator to name his priority bill for this 90-day session.

Senator Baker, who represents southern Lancaster County and all of Gage County, has chosen LB 431, which would adjust the formal bid process threshold school districts face on construction or repair projects. The current level at which a formal bid process must be used is $40,000.

“That $40,000 figure was set in 1979,” Baker says. “(The bill) would bring it up to $100,000. The exact translation from 1979 is more like $130,000, so it doesn’t even bring it up to the level of the purchasing power of 1979.”

Baker says the legislation has a built-in measure that would call for a reset every five years to boost the figure alloting for the cost of living.

Each state senator is allowed to designate one bill they sponsor as their priority, or can name another senator’s measure as a priority bill.

Baker said naming LB 431 as his priority early, should increase chances of moving quickly toward passage. The bill has been advanced from committee to the first round of floor debate.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


FCC gives green light to net neutrality

The Federal Communication Commission implemented more rules in place for internet service and cable TV providers and cell phone companies. It is called net neutrality and it basically classifies the internet as a utility, like gas and electric services.

Thor Schrock is a computer – technology expert and owner of Schrock Innovations in Omaha and says net neutrality is a hard issue to address.

Schrock says, “I can see both sides of this argument because if I invested a whole bunch of money and put together my own internet network, I own it, and somebody wants to transmit through my network what role does the federal government have to tell me what I can charge to use my network? On the other hand the current regulation, you and I pool our funds and start our own cable company. We can’t do that because of regulations.”

Schrock says there will be other implications. FCC’s decency standards will now apply to anything seen or heard through the internet and huge fines would apply as in TV and radio broadcasting. Schrock says there will be new taxes and bills will go up for cell phone, cable and internet use. He estimates $10 to $15 a month for each service or device.    

Due to lawsuits Schrock says nothing will happen immediately and it will take up to four years to work through the courts.