Voters’ Guide: Nebraska State Legislature

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

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Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 4

Shannon Croyell (D):  http://www.coryell4legislature.com.  Education: Westside High School University of Nebraska Omaha Iowa Western Metropolitan Community College.

Bob Hilkeman (R): http://hilkemannforlegislature.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: Legislature District 4 – January 2015-present.  Past Public Office, dates held: None.  Education: Randolph, Ne High School BS Nebraska Wesleyan University DPM Illinois College of Podiatric Medicine.  Military experience: None.  Volunteer experience: Numerous positions in local church. Volunteer medical missions.

LD4 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Shannon Croyell: Yes. It is not evenly distributed by population.

Bob Hilkeman: As Nebraska’s demographics change and our population becomes more concentrated in several counties, we will need to change our boundaries to assure equal respresentation for all our citizens. This historically has been left to the legislature and I believe should remain with that body.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Shannon Croyell: Yes

Bob Hilkeman: No.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Shannon Croyell: They should not take money and resources away from public schools

Bob Hilkeman: I am a strong believer in our public schools. I want to use the limited resources we have to improve the educational opportunities for ALL Nebraskans. I do not support charter schools in Nebraska

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Shannon Croyell: Income based bonds. Decriminalize cannabis.

Bob Hilkeman: This is going to be a slow painful process. With our decades of “getting tough on crime” we have filled our prisons to overflowing. Our efforts to change sentences, etc with LB605 have been slow to occur. We have built additions on to our facilities but they are not going to reduce numbers quickly. We now have an aging population of prisoners which creates demands and challenges as well. I still believe we need to make every effort to improve our mental health facilities and our education system to prevent people from getting into prison in the first place. We need to assess the best way to correct and punish non-violent people for the crimes they have committed. Programs such as Defy Ventures, now in our prison system, need to be encouraged and expanded to stop recidivism and prepare our population for life after prison.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 6

Machaela Cavanaugh (D):  http://cavanaughforlegislature.org.  Current Public Office, dates held: NA.  Past Public Office, dates held: NA.  Education: Masters degree in Public Administration from UNO.  Military experience: NA.  Volunteer experience: Inclusive Communities, Child Savings Institute.

Theresa Thibodeau (R):  http://www.votethibodeau.org.  Current Public Office, dates held: Nebraska state Senator Legislative District 6 October 19, 2017 – present.  Past Public Office, dates held: City of Omaha Personal Board  2016 – 2017. Education: B.A. Psychology, University of Nebraska Omaha, 1998.  Military experience: N/A.  Volunteer experience: La Vista Community Foundation board, Big Brothers Big Sisters board, Sarpy Chamber Women of Wisdom, Leadership Sarpy, Leadership Omaha, St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, St. Robert Bellarmine school, Christ Child Society, EPS, Rose Theater Guild.

LD6 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Machaela Cavanaugh: I would support the establishment of an independent bipartisan commission to conduct redistricting under well defined and articulated standards to assure districts are not drawn to advantage any political party or to discriminate on race, religion, gender, race or national origin.

Theresa Thibodeau: No. I do not agree with proposals to place an unelected group of people who are unaccountable to Nebraska voters in charge of something as important as redistricting. Maintaining public trust in our election system is too important.  If elected in November, I will serve in the Legislature during the next redistricting in 2021. I am committed to ensuring the nonpartisan process that has been used successfully to redistrict for decades works effectively in 2021 without partisan influences. I will seek a seat on the redistricting committee to ensure the voices of all citizens are heard as decisions are made about the maps that will be considered by the entire Legislature.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Machaela Cavanaugh: Nebraska needs to participate in the Affordable Care Act coverage offered to all Medicaid eligible individuals known as Medicaid Expansion. In Nebraska we have up to 120,000 people who meet the eligibility standards of the ACA but are not currently covered because the State of Nebraska has refused to participate in the program for expanded Medicaid coverage. This denies coverage to eligible people and cost both healthcare providers compensation for the healthcare they provide and adds to the cost of every Nebraskan’s healthcare.

Theresa Thibodeau: Unfortunately, Nebraska does not have a surplus of general fund tax dollars available to support an expansion of Medicaid without jeopardizing funding for existing state obligations. I am specifically concerned about the Legislature’s ability to adequately fund K-12 public education, the University of Nebraska, public safety, including state prisons and the State Patrol, and, the state’s existing Medicaid program, which serves our most vulnerable. If we expand Medicaid, we will imperil its stability for those who already rely on it and force painful funding cuts even deeper than those we worked to avoid this year.  I believe the state can do more to encourage access to quality, affordable health care for lower-income adults and families. In the next Legislature, I will be a strong voice working to improve health care, mental health services, and public health across our state.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Machaela Cavanaugh: I support strengthening and improving public education over providing public funding to private charter schools. Issues such as expanded instruction time for students in need can be accomplished within the public education system and the needs of every student can and should be met by public education.  We should take the best practices developed by charter schools and apply them in public schools

Theresa Thibodeau: I oppose private, for-profit charter schools and support making sure our children have every opportunity to succeed. Families should be able to choose schools that best meet the needs of their children – public, private, parochial, and home school.  Parents, administrators, and teachers must be given the tools they need to ensure children succeed in the classroom. Regardless of setting, our state has an obligation to ensure every child receives a quality education that prepares them for the challenges and opportunities of our 21st-century economy. I will work to ensure our state keeps its commitments and properly resources excellence in public K-12 education.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Machaela Cavanaugh: We have far to many people incarcerated and should work to reduce the numbers of people sentenced though mandatory minimum sentences and people incarcerated for non violent crimes. We must also work to reduce recidivism rates and prepare those incarcerated to successful re entry to society.

Theresa Thibodeau: Nebraska’s prison system has been in crisis for five or more years and that’s not going to change quickly. However, the suggestion that Nebraska declare a state of emergency in Corrections is a bad idea. That would result in opening the doors and releasing offenders before they have served their term and finished their rehabilitation programs. We must continue to create more space for inmates, and we must make we have adequate programming so these individuals are ready for re-entry into society.  I have voted to fund the construction of a new 100-bed dormitory within the Nebraska State Penitentiary and increase overall funding for the Department of Correctional Services, including additional resources for probation, community corrections, and vocational and life skills programming. In the long-term process of transforming our Corrections system, we must never forget that the safety of Nebraska families always comes first.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 8

Mina Davis (D):  http://www.minadavis2018.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: Not applicable.  Past Public Office, dates held: Not Applicable.  Education: Bachelors of Business Administration – Business Intelligence and Analytics – IT Focus.  Volunteer experience: I have volunteered with the Seven Oaks of Florence and Siena/Francis Homeless Shelter during my time as Service, Faith and Justice Coordinator at Creighton. I also volunteer from time to time helping refugees with volunteer ESL classes.

Megan Hunt (D):  http://www.meganfornebraska.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: None.  Past Public Office, dates held: None.  Education: B.A. Dana College, Intercultural Communication and German, 2010.  Military experience: n/a.  Volunteer experience: Board service: Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project, Omaha Area Youth Orchestras. Trustee of the Business Ethics Alliance. Volunteer: Girls, Inc., Women’s Center for Advancement, Girl Scouts.

LD8 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Mina Davis: Yes, we do. Redistricting needs to be unbiased and independent of the political will of current sitting senators  and other interested parties. By doing this, we allow for the most fair way of dividing geographical areas for political representation.

Megan Hunt: Every legislator should agree that effective redistricting needs to be fair and equitable in order to make sure that everyone is represented. In the legislature, my priority will be to ensure that any basis for redistricting legislative districts, Supreme Court districts, and all political subdivisions be inclusive of the total population, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. Legislators should consider using an independent commission to give recommendations for redistricting in 2020 to safeguard against gerrymandering and protect against the biased influence of special interest groups in drawing voter maps. I believe that redistricting should be used to level the political playing field, not to give an advantage to any interest group or party.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Mina Davis:  Yes, we should. There are too many Nebraskans that fall into the gap. Expanding Medicaid ensures that each person who qualifies can live and work with dignity.

Megan Hunt:  As an uninsured person in the Medicaid gap, I understand firsthand what a burden it is to have to make a decision between groceries and a doctor’s appointment. I understand the anxiety of putting off appointments or delaying buying medication because there just isn’t enough money to go around. I also know from speaking to thousands of voters that everyone from the children, to young professionals, to the elderly are struggling to receive access to healthcare, and that expanding Medicaid is an important first step toward keeping our communities healthy, productive, and economically secure. I have experience organizing support and testimony in the Nebraska Legislature on issues including Medicaid expansion, access to healthcare services, and funding for clinics, and I am proud of my long record of supporting healthcare for all Nebraskans.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Mina Davis: Charter schools should not have any role in the Nebraska educational system.  They do not work for Nebraskan children. We should focus on fully funding our schools, raising teacher pay and taking care of the support staff.

Megan Hunt: I am against the use of public funds for private education, full-stop, period. That includes vouchers, tax credits for private education, and public funding for charter schools. Tax dollars should only be made available to schools that serve every child, regardless of who they are, what neighborhood they come from, or their parents ability to pay. While I support every parent’s right to choose a private education for their children, as a state legislator I promise to fight for a public education system in Nebraska where every parent feels proud to enroll their children. Until that point, public funds from taxpayers should only be used to further improve our excellent Nebraska public schools.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Mina Davis: We can start by investing more in veterans courts, drug courts, etc. and expanding the use of such courts. We need to review and reform the criminal justice process as a whole from arrest to release and invest in crime prevention and reduction. We should develop and implement constructive non-custodial measures and sentences. We also should develop opportunities for parole or other forms of early release and assist prisoners on release to prevent their return to prison. We also need to start from the beginning and work to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to support community policing efforts as well. All of these efforts can help to reduce prison overcrowding in the short and long term.

Megan Hunt: Nebraska is fast approaching a prison overcrowding emergency, and lawmakers need to pragmatically consider how to keep members of our communities safe as inmates are released. But we have to understand that overcrowding doesn’t begin and end with the Department of Corrections. The issue begins with the connections to community and foundations of support people have both before and after they become incarcerated. I would fight for opportunities for incarcerated people to maintain connections with their families, for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated to develop civic connections to their communities through the right to vote, and for developing avenues to education and employment after release, which helps prevent recidivism. It’s also time for Nebraska to begin reconciling our failed war on drugs and its negative effects on communities of color by legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, and by allowing people with marijuana convictions to clear or modify their records.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 10

Matt Deaver (R):  No response received.

Wendy DeBoer (D):  http://wendydeboer.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: None.  Past Public Office, dates held: None.  Education: B.A. Hastings College, J.D. Nebraska Law, M.A. U.N.O., M.A. Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Ph.D. in dissertation stage through Syracuse University.  Military experience: None.  Volunteer experience: Poll Observer 2016 General Election. Sunday School Teacher/Adult Education Teacher at Holy Cross Lutheran Church/other local churches. Volunteer/ speaker/organizer for many years for The Compassionate Friends, a self-help group for bereaved families.

LD10 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Matt Deaver:  No response received.

Wendy DeBoer: In order to uphold the freedom of our democratic system, we need to keep partisan politics out of our redistricting process. I believe Nebraska should move towards an independent non-partisan redistricting commission. Transparency and fairness are important to me and I would work towards these goals for our redistricting process.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Matt Deaver:  No response received.

Wendy DeBoer: Since Medicaid is largely funded through federal dollars, not passing Medicaid expansion in Nebraska sends money from our Federal taxes to other states. Therefore, I support expanding Medicaid coverage for the most vulnerable among us, particularly because preventative healthcare can help avoid future financial liability to the state taxpayers. Nebraska can’t afford to miss out on the millions of dollars that would go back into our economy and keep health insurance costs down for everyone.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Matt Deaver:  No response received.

Wendy DeBoer: I believe in supporting and continuing to improve Nebraska’s public education. I went through Omaha’s public schools and am proud of how it prepared me for my academic life. Charter schools would pull funding from public education and they aren’t always successful. Especially in a time when the budget is tight, we need to work together to make our existing public schools better, not fund a new system.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Matt Deaver:  No response received.

Wendy DeBoer: We must support our correctional system and provide the financial resources necessary to keep it strong and our communities safe. We might be able to keep some non-violent offenders out of jail through diversion programs and drug courts, but this won’t solve the problem alone. We must strengthen our rehabilitation programs after prisoners are released to prevent repeat offenders.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 12

Steve Lathrop (D):  http://stevelathrop.com.  Past Public Office, dates held: State Senator District 12.  2007-2014.  Education: High School: Roncalli Catholic.  Creighton University B.S.B.A. 1979. Creighton University J.D. 1981.  Volunteer experience: Previously coached youth sports in Ralston and Mary our Queen.  St. Gerald Men’s Club.

Merv Riepe (R):   No response received.

LD12 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Steve Lathrop:  Yes.  Across the country redistricting has become an issue because legislative bodies inject partisan politics into the process. (Pennsylvania and Maryland are recent examples.) I believe that redistricting should be done by a nonpartisan panel of citizens from across the state.  The panel should be given criteria for establishing districts that are free of party affiliation considerations.  Criteria such as community of interests (keeping communities in a single district rather than splitting up towns or cities), convenience of elected officials’ offices to the voters they represent (not having a congressional district which stretches across the entire state so that the voters can’t practically meet with their representatives) and having the districts contiguous (no districts that snake around in an attempt to secure voters with certain party affiliations) should guide them in their efforts to draw maps that serve the interests of the voters and not the politicians and parties.

Merv Riepe:   No response received.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Steve Lathrop:  Nebraska should join the 33 states which have provided health care coverage to those who work but simply cannot afford health insurance.  The high cost of health insurance has put this coverage beyond the reach of many working Nebraskans.  The cost of care for those who cannot afford insurance is already shared by those who have insurance in an inefficient way.  Those with no coverage typically get their care in the ER which is the most expensive place to get the care.  The cost is then spread among those with private insurance which is one reason insurance is becoming so expensive. Nebraska taxpayers already pay for this program with their federal tax dollars yet our tax dollars are used to pay for coverage in 33 states which have adopted this program. Adoption of this program for those who work will ensure that our neighbors have access to health care while slowing the increase in cost of insurance for those with privately purchased policies.

Merv Riepe:   No response received.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Steve Lathrop:  The idea of charter schools that set high academic standards is commendable and sounds appealing.  Charter schools, if they came to Nebraska, would be funded with tax dollars that are currently used to fund public education and that is where the problem arises.  Ralston and Millard school districts have been adversely effected by recent cuts in state aid which, in the case of Millard Public Schools, has led to a levy override and eventual property tax increase. Very simply put, the state is not adequately funding the “free and public education” the Nebraska Constitution guarantees every student right now.  Financing a second school system with the same tax dollars will only lead to larger classroom sizes and lower achievement in our public schools. Residents in Ralston and Millard need and deserve one school system which maintains the highest academic standards.

Merv Riepe:   No response received.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Steve Lathrop: The problem of prison overcrowding is a public safety issue.  Overcrowding in our prisons is primarily caused by repeat offenders. They do their time, get out, re-offend and are then sent back to prison to do more time.  It is a cycle that must be addressed if we are to deal with overcrowding without building a new prison that would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars to construct and many more millions to operate year after year. The solution to this public safety problem is in rehabilitating those who are incarcerated and supervising them for the first year after their release.  Rehabilitation would address the underlying causes of criminal activity such as drug addiction, mental illness, domestic violence tendencies and so forth.  Supervised release for the first year holds an offender accountable when they are at the highest risk to re-offend. Other states which have followed this approach have experienced lower crime rates, reduced prison populations and actually saved money.

Merv Riepe:   No response received.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 18

Brett Lindstrom (R):   http://votelindstrom.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: State Senator, Legislative District 18 2015-current.  Past Public Office, dates held: none.  Education: Bachelor of Science, UNL.  Military experience: none.  Volunteer experience: co-chair 2017 Project Harmony Halfway to St. Patty’s Day.

Scott Winkler (D):  http://winklerfornebraska.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: None.  Past Public Office, dates held: None.  Education: BS Business/Accounting MA Management from UNL.  Military experience: None.  Volunteer experience: Serving on the board of Inclusive Communities, Citizens for Equal Protection, OAYO, and was appointed to the Omaha Police Department committee with responsibility to administer a federal grant for hate crimes.

LD18 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Brett Lindstrom:  No. The current system we have is not perfect, however it works well in making sure that every part of the state has representation.  Many issues ultimately end up being divided among rural and urban interests.  I believe we in the body do a good job of compromising on bills regardless of our geographic representation.

Scott Winkler: Yes, I believe that the current redistricting process allows for manipulation of district boundaries for the benefit of political gain. Redistricting needs to be a nonpartisan and apolitical process. I’d be open to considering the idea of hiring an independent commission to handle our state’s redistricting process.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Brett Lindstrom: No. The issue with expanding Medicaid is the reliance on federal funding.  There have been other instances in which the Federal Government has promised to pay, but ultimately the state ends up being on the hook to pay for the program.  We cannot rely on the Federal Government to continue funding Medicaid Expansion at 90% when they are 12 trillion dollars in debt. There needs to be compromise in figuring out how to create affordable health care for all Nebraskans, however Medicaid expansion is not the solution.

Scott Winkler: Yes, I believe Nebraska needs to expand Medicaid in order to provide adequate access to health care to thousands of Nebraskans. Failure to do so leaves over 90,000 people in Nebraska without access and leaves millions of federal dollars unused.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Brett Lindstrom: I am certainly an advocate for school choice, however I would be apprehensive about using taxpayer money to fund private charter schools.  If charter schools can self-fund to operate I would have no issue with them. We need to do whatever we can to ensure Nebraska children are proficient in the core subjects. I believe we have excellent teachers doing the best job they can with the resources allocated to them.

Scott Winkler:  Nebraska has a great public school system available to our families and students. We need to fully fund state aid to public education and I would strongly oppose allocating funds to charter schools. It is my firm belief that public dollars given to private schools are public dollars taken away from our public schools.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Brett Lindstrom: I am not in favor of building a new prison which would be unduly burdensome on our taxpayers. We need to have training and services that lower the recidivism rate and help integrate prisoners back into society with the tools to become productive citizens. We also need to identify and address mental health issues in our corrections system.

Scott Winkler: We have a clear problem with prison overcrowding in our State and I would commit to working with the special investigative committee to find real solutions. We need to take a look at the way we sentence non violent offenders in order to reduce overcrowding.

Candidates for Nebraska State Legislature (Unicameral), District 20

Jackie Collett (D):  http://www.jackiecollett.com.  Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology Master’s Degree in Public Administration.  Volunteer experience: Previous board member of Crime Victims First, member of the League of Women Voters, Loveland Neighborhood Association, ACLU, and the Omaha Metro Area Humanist Association, Hattie B. Munroe Pavilion, Austin Marathon, CFF, MiniDonations, AFP.

John McCollister (R): http://www.votemccollister.com.  Current Public Office, dates held: State Senator – 20152018.  Past Public Office, dates held: Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD) 1979 – 2008.  Education: Bachelor of Science – Business Administration.  Military experience: none.  Volunteer experience: The Mid America Council – BSA, One World and the American Diabetes Assn..

LD20 Candidates’ Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Jackie Collett: Nebraska needs to change its methods of restricting to promote a more transparent and accountable process.  I support an independent citizens commission tasked with drawing the maps defining governing districts. Public hearings should be held in each district before redistricting plans are finalized. The State must comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act that blocks district lines that deny minority voters an equal opportunity “to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”  Technology must be utilized to make maps based on equal population size, and the legislature should no longer vote to approve districts.

John McCollister: LB 216 from the 105th Nebraska Legislature provides an open, transparent and nonpartisan guide for redistricting in Nebraska. Much like Iowa’s highly-regarded process, LB 216 would: 1. Establish a nonpartisan citizens’ advisory committee, 2. Require the Legislative Research Office to create politically neutral maps using state-issued software, 3. Cause the legislature to consider and then adopt a map(s) subject to the governor’s veto, 4. Provide hearings throughout the state, and 5. Delegate oversight of the process to the Legislature’s Executive Board. Nebraskans deserve a fair and nonpartisan mechanism for 2021 redistricting, and using the provisions of LB 216 would make that possible.

Should Nebraska expand Medicaid?

Jackie Collett: The 100,000 Nebraskans who still cannot get health insurance, would probably agree with my support of expanding Medicaid.  More than 30 other states elected to expand Medicaid, and we should follow their direction.  Expanding Medicaid would not only ensure coverage for our hard-working friends and families, but it would also allow us to use federal tax funds we are already paying into.  Studies surrounding Medicaid expansion concluded that Nebraska would enjoy significant financial benefits, and expansion also passes a rigorous cost/benefit analysis.  Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.  Let’s stop legislating like it is.

John McCollister: The American healthcare system is seriously flawed. In this country healthcare currently represents 18 percent of GNP vs. just 12 percent in the major developed countries with better health outcomes. Outmoded information systems, uncontrolled pharmaceutical costs, large price and quality variations among providers and a host of other factors make healthcare much more expensive than necessary.  Nebraska needs to join the 32 other states that have expanded Medicaid. (Two more states, Virginia and Utah with Republican legislative bodies are on the verge of expanding Medicaid.)  With the federal government paying 90 percent of the cost, over 90,000 hard-working Nebraskans could have health care coverage. Insured individuals can have a longer and improved quality of life. Expansion would also reduce insurance rates by reducing provider uncompensated care.  Also, revenue to the state from expansion would be significant – $175 million.  It’s time – Nebraska should expand Medicaid now.

What role, if any, should charter schools have in the Nebraska educational system?

Jackie Collett: Nebraska cannot afford to finance charter schools, and therefore, they do not have a place in our state. Tax dollars should be spent on investments in public schools, and the best way to help under-performing students is by addressing individual learning problems directly.  Parents already have a number of choices within our public schools providing for all students. Our school systems must also operate by evidence-based practices, and charter schools have yet to provide significant data on their success.  Voucher schools run the risk of creating even greater divisions between the poor and wealthy, and I have a vision for a more equal and inclusive state, which includes reducing inequity in our education system. The Nebraska Legislature should focus on making our public schools safer, stronger, effective, and accountable.

John McCollister: Publicly funded charter schools can be found in 42 states and enroll about 3 million students.  The record on charters is mixed. According to Change.org, “Charter schools get overwhelmingly positive press and make a lot of claims about their success. But, numerous studies actually confirm that their achievement is indistinguishable from that of traditional public schools.”  School choice, the primary allure of charter schools, is currently available for all students in the Omaha area. Students can transfer to any of the 11 school districts in the Learning Community. And the offerings are diverse – Core Knowledge, International Baccalaureate and Montessori.  There is no question that Nebraska public and private schools are among the ten best in the country. I represent three fine public school districts – Omaha, Millard and Westside Community Schools. Without more valid reasons, I don’t believe it’s necessary to organize charters in Nebraska.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Jackie Collett: Reduce the number of non-violent offenders currently in and being sent to the prison system.  Reduce the amount of time non-violent offenders serve.  Give judges more discretion over sentencing and get rid of any mandatory sentencing.  Reduce sentences for prisoners who participate in drug or other rehabilitation programs.  Invest in programs that reduce recidivism rates through career training and reintroduction assistance.  Invest in longterm staffing solutions, including reduced staff pressure and stress support, continuing education and training, competitive wages, and better benefits.  Incorporate extended leave and house parole programs.

John McCollister: The prison situation in Nebraska is intolerable. A serious problem with dire consequences, Nebraska is second only to the state of Alabama in terms of overcrowding. At 155 percent of capacity, our state faces a 2020 court deadline to reduce the overcrowding to below 140 percent. Without more progress to reduce the prison population, Nebraska will be forced to release more inmates on parole before they complete important education and reentry programs.  The overcrowding problem could be more easily resolved with increased efforts to make inmates eligible for release. The lack of timely programming availability means offenders languish in prison longer than necessary. Currently, Nebraska is housing 1,900 more inmates than the 140 percent capacity limit. To date, the progress has been inadequate. The legislative and executive branches in Nebraska’s state government need to work together to resolve this major issue.

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