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South Central Shickley V.I.P.S.

On July 30, V.I.P.S. members Aldean Pittman, Ruth Boswell, Leona Saltzman, Ray Johnson, secretary-treasurer Sharon Elznic and drivers, Bob and Debra Dawley went to Lincoln to attend a board meeting at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually-impaired.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the support groups status and how to help them continue meeting without the help from the federal or state level—since funding has been cut off for the aging V.I.P.S. When the V.I.P.S. support groups were started back in the early 90s, there were over 50 support groups across Nebraska—now the number is down to 20 or less. Some support groups are now meeting at senior centers or in private homes to help with expenses.

Also discussed was the 13-year-old computer that President Dave Johnson has. It needs to be updated to a newer one. Where can we come up with any money to buy a newer one or if the state might be able to help out with a good used one.

Workshops were also a topic on the discussion. No workshops have been held for three years—the last was held in Grand Island with over 200 in attendance. Unless a grant is available, there will be no 2014 workshops.

After a four hour meeting, all board members will stay and the support groups will still have to fund themselves. A spring meeting was planned for 2014—date depends on the weather.

The South Central Shickley V.I.P.S. appreciates the Fillmore County Foundation and the Shickley Community Foundation for their support and donations. This allows us to continue our monthly meetings on the third Tuesday of each month. Meetings are held in the Geneva State Bank -Shickley meeting room beginning at 1 p.m. All visitors are welcome to attend.



We Need Tax Reform – Not a ‘Money-Grab’

By Rep. Adrian Smith

The Last week, President Obama announced in a speech he would be willing to look at reforming the corporate tax code, but only if a sizeable portion of the savings would be used for more government spending.   While the President’s interest in corporate tax reform is a welcome sign, this plan does not address the underlying need for tax reform.

We need comprehensive tax reform, not because we need to free up more money to spend, but because the current code is a mess.  The last overhaul of the tax system was in 1986 – before the invention of the internet.  In the 27 years since the last reform, the tax code has ballooned to more than 10,000 pages of ever-changing provisions and loopholes.  There have been more than 4,000 changes to the tax code in the last decade alone – an average of one per day.

Complexity makes compliance with the tax code very difficult.  The average family spends 13 hours gathering all the paperwork they need to file their taxes.  Nearly 90 percent of Americans pay someone else to do their taxes, or use commercial software.  Tax compliance takes more than 6 billion hours and costs $168 billion every year – in addition to paying the actual taxes.

This overly burdensome policy not only makes our economy less competitive, but it also favors the politically well-connected who can afford to lobby for or against specific provisions of the code.  True tax reform would simplify the code for individuals as well as businesses large and small.  This version of reform would ensure transparency, lessen the costs of compliance, and make the tax code fairer and more competitive for all.

True tax reform would also be revenue neutral.  Any money raised by eliminating exemptions and special-interests loopholes should be applied toward lowering the overall rate.  I have spoken to many businesses in Nebraska who would be willing to give up their preferential treatment in the tax code in exchange for a lower overall rate.  Any tax reform effort which raises revenue is contrary to the idea behind comprehensive reform.

Comprehensive tax reform is not a partisan issue, and represents a all-too-rare opportunity for a major bipartisan agreement.   Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) of the House Ways and Means Committee and Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) of the Senate Finance Committee have laid the groundwork by establishing an open process to draft a bill with support from Republicans and Democrats.

The Ways and Means Committee has held 30 public hearings and roundtables related to tax reform, released three legislative drafts, and established 11 bipartisan tax reform working groups, including the Financial Services Working Group which I chaired, resulting in more than 1,300 submissions from the public.  You can still submit your ideas for tax reform at to help inform the House and Senate committees as we continue to write a bipartisan bill.

This open process represents the best chance to get true reform passed through Congress and signed by the President by engaging Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and the public.  Rather than demanding more government spending, the President should support bipartisan efforts to make the tax code simpler, fairer, and more competitive for all Americans.

Capitol View

During a lengthy legislative hearing some years ago, a reporter friend said, "Nothing screws up the public hearing process like the public showing up."

It was a joke of sorts. But the press corps understood that public engagement, while vital to the democratic process, could be cumbersome. An occasional proponent or opponent would offer some words of wisdom "a sound byte or a headline" but the majority of the presentations were canned. And the cans were often distributed by special interest groups.

Nothing against special interest groups. They serve a vital function to make people aware of things that might otherwise escape them. Nebraskans are bombarded with causes and messages and buy-it-now offers. Most of us pay attention to the things that matter to us. One would think that the subject of taxes would fall into that category.

Early in this year’s legislative session, Governor Dave Heineman offered two massive proposals to change the way Nebraska collects taxes. Hours and hours of public debate followed before lawmakers settled on a plan (Legislative Resolution 155) to put a committee on it. The Tax Modernization Committee was formed and it has held some preliminary meetings with Chairman Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney announcing that everything will be on the table.

The committee has announced public hearings: Monday, September 23 in Scottsbluff; Tuesday, September 24 in North Platte; Thursday, September 26 in Norfolk; Thursday, October 17 in Omaha and Friday, October 18 in Lincoln. The committee consists of 14 senators broken into three subcommittees: income tax, property tax and sales tax.

By J.L. Schmidt, Statehouse Correspondent

As with major statewide issues of late "read that Keystone XL Pipeline" the public interest groups have already formed. Websites and Facebook pages speak of a group called Rebuild Nebraska. The website touts "coalition of concerned Nebraska organizations and residents, known as Rebuild Nebraska, has mobilized to support stable, sustainable fiscal decisions that will benefit all Nebraskans".

According to its latest news release, members of Rebuild Nebraska include AARP Nebraska, The Center for People in Need, The Center for Rural Affairs, Community Action of Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, Nebraska Association of County Officials, The Nebraska Association of Public Employees/AFSCME, Nebraska Hospital Association, Nebraska State Education Association, Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, and Voices for Children in Nebraska.

The coalition's rhetoric speaks of Nebraska pride in a high quality of living with great schools, safe streets, and strong communities, which it calls the foundational fundamentals of "The Good Life".

They have issued a call to the Legislature's Tax Modernization Committee to make recommendations that safeguard the legacy for our children and grandchildren by maintaining our state’s ability to invest in key services that maintain Nebraska’s strong economy and high quality of life.

On its website, the coalition promises to "work with lawmakers and other residents to promote a fair and balanced tax code that lets us provide opportunities for all Nebraskans by adequately funding economic building blocks such as education and infrastructure." It cautions that "recent fiscal decisions have already caused significant issues but, working together, we can start to repair this damage by making decisions about our tax code that will move the state forward."

Given that tax debate is all about whose ox is getting gored, it seems shallow for any special interest group, lawmakers included, to promise that we'll all work together to make the best decision possible. But it sounds good and probably makes people want to be a part of the process.

One thing for sure, the coalition says, "the time has come to make these changes.‚" Let's hope that everyone concerned realizes that and is willing to cooperate. Lawmakers, the governor and the public must all accommodate change.

Working with Our Veterans

By Senator Mike Johanns

Many of our military men and women have honorably served our nation, putting themselves into harm’s way to defend our freedoms, only to return home to an anemic job market and unnecessary employment hurdles. Often, veterans, who have gained valuable skills and work experience while in uniform, face new challenges putting their talents to work right here at home, whether it be working a trade or starting a business.

Last week, I hosted a business roundtable with Nebraska veterans who own small businesses to discuss the challenges they face. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it’s important for me to better understand how programs in place for veteran-owned businesses are working, and identify opportunities for improvement. Our veterans have given so much for our country; we must strive to ensure they have the tools they need to be successful following their tours of duty.

Many at the roundtable shared stories of sifting through unreasonable paperwork and regulatory requirements from the federal government—a theme that is all too common for business owners. When seeking certification as a veteran-owned business through the Veterans Administration (VA), onerous bureaucratic requirements can prevent many qualified businesses from completing the process, hindering their chances when vying for contracts with the Pentagon, or other industry-specific opportunities.

Businesses are not the only ones who must deal with red tape. Individual veterans eager to apply their knowledge and experience from their service also face challenges getting certified for the same jobs as civilians. For instance, folks who may have served as medics or computer technicians in a demanding environment return home to find that they must undergo redundant training and testing to meet civilian certification requirements.

The endless red tape can be daunting for veterans trying to start a small business or find a job using their military training.  To ease the burden, I introduced legislation last year with Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to streamline certification requirements between the Department of Defense and state licensing offices. The HIRE at Home Act, was signed into law last year. This is a positive step toward reducing hoops our veterans must jump through to do a job they’ve demonstrated they can perform while on the battlefield. I have also cosponsored various other proposals to assist our veterans with a proven ability to fill civilian jobs.

For folks looking to work in a trade, I introduced a bill with Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to promote hiring veterans for apprenticeships or on-the-job training. This bipartisan legislation strengthens an existing program to help cover a portion of the salaries for veterans in training.

These legislative efforts are designed to improve the landscape for all veterans seeking civilian employment. For more specialized cases in which individual veterans need assistance with a federal program or agency, I have an experienced team ready to assist veterans. I encourage you to contact my office if we can be of assistance.

Veterans and their families have put so much on the line serving our nation, and it is a privilege for me to focus time and energy ensuring we, as a country, keep our promise to them.

Gov. Heineman: Parental Involvement In Education

This month is Parental Involvement in Education Month in Nebraska. The First Lady and I recently held an event at the Capitol to make the proclamation and encourage parents to be involved in their children’s education. When parents are involved, decades of studies have shown over and over again that children achieve higher grades, test scores, graduation rates increase, there's better school attendance, increased motivation and self-esteem and even decreased use of drugs, alcohol and destructive behavior.

My wife Sally is a former elementary school teacher and principal. She and I are strong believers in parental engagement. We believe that good teachers combined with strong parental involvement leads to good learning because we have seen firsthand the difference it can make. Sally and I were fortunate to be raised by parents who believed strongly in the value of education. It helped us to set priorities as we were growing up and later on as parents raising our own son.

The belief that parents play a key role in student learning is something Sally brought to the schools and classrooms where she taught for more than 30 years. By developing innovative ways to reach out to parents, stronger relationships are developed by parents, teachers and administrators that can help students accomplish their goals. These relationships also encourage better communication with school district leaders.

By Governor Dave Heineman

Involvement doesn't mean parents must become experts in math and science. It is the everyday interaction that is key. Reading to your child is the best way to increase vocabulary and language skills. Everyday enrichment activities will supplement what your child is learning in the classroom. Taking your child to the grocery store and asking them to calculate the cost and change due is another.

Nebraska is a state where people have a strong work ethic, feel connected to their local communities, and have access to excellent schools. Because of this, we believe that our state can be a national leader in promoting parent involvement. By bringing together schools, community organizations, and parents, we can help parents support their child’s learning as part of their everyday lives.

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation bring partners together on a statewide level to encourage more parent involvement through its Community Learning Center Network.

In just a few weeks, at the Nebraska State Fair, parents, teachers and students will have the opportunity to learn about the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that makes great events like the state fair possible. STEM education opportunities will be everywhere (near the food, rides, exhibits, agriculture, performance areas) and even in the parking lot. STEM will also be featured at Nebraska's Largest Classroom, held at the Fair on Monday, August 26 and Tuesday, August 27.

This initiative is a result of schools, colleges, parents, businesses, nonprofits, and afterschool professionals all working together to make STEM education accessible to families in a place where they’ll already be visiting.

Additionally, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) will be airing the August episode of NET's series "The State of Education in Nebraska" which looks at community efforts designed to build parental engagement. "The Challenge of Parent Engagement" airs Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. CT on NET2 World. The program will feature an interview with Sally and me.

The "State of Education in Nebraska" is a two-year initiative led by NET Learning Services and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. As a statewide effort, “State of Education in Nebraska” examines issues and connects Nebraskans to the important role that innovative school-community partnerships can have on improving student achievement.