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Jun 13
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...With Liberty and Justice for All

Flag Day. What’s that all about? There’s a nice little history of the day that can be found here. The dates have shifted a little over the years, and it wasn’t until President Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as the “official Flag Day” that we settled on that date.

Flag Day seems an appropriate time to think about the Pledge of Allegiance that we all learned when we were in Elementary School. Specifically, I want to talk about the last six words: “with Liberty and Justice for all.”

As a person who has always had libertarian tendencies, it has sometimes seemed to me that the last six words of the Pledge have been forgotten by those who demand unwavering respect for the flag. Perhaps that’s because we don’t talk about what the WORDS of the Pledge actually mean, anymore. 

I could write a long discussion about each element of the Pledge, but let me focus on two words: “Liberty” and “Justice.”

What is Liberty? Do we as a nation still believe in it? Here’s the definition form the Merriam Webster online dictionary:

“Liberty”: the quality or state of being free:

a : the power to do as one pleases

b : freedom from physical restraint

c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control

d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges

e : the power of choice

As a Libertarian, I would add one caveat to all of these things: “provided that exercise of liberty does not directly harm someone else.” Hence, with liberty, comes self-responsibility (or as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “with great power, comes great responsibility”). If you want to drink alcohol, or engage in other risky behavior, most libertarians would say you should be allowed to do so—PROVIDED that you are not harming someone else in the process.

Of course in today’s society, “harm” (or “potential harm”) to others is often used as an excuse for limiting the liberty of others. This leaves us having to define what “harm” is, and where lines should be drawn, and those inevitably become political battles based on the preferences of those debating. If the liberty is one that a legislator doesn’t personally agree with, the common reaction is to want to restrict the liberty for all, on the grounds of it being “dangerous”—for society, or for the individuals themselves.

In Nebraska, every year that I’ve been in the Legislature, the question of our motorcycle helmet law comes up. Many motorcyclists would like for us to do away with the helmet law, and restore their liberty to ride without a helmet.

Whether riding without a helmet is a WISE thing to do, the question really comes down to whether individuals should have the liberty to choose for themselves. Potential harms—such as psychological trauma for first responders who answer a rescue call for someone who has been in a serious motorcycle accident, or the potential of spending more taxpayer dollars on long term care for those with traumatic brain injuries—are often raised as objections to getting rid of the helmet law. But what risks should adults be able to take upon themselves? Should government be able to punish you for taking those risks? Do we live in a state of liberty when government is exerting control over our behavior when it doesn’t directly and regularly harm someone else?

There are, of course, some actions which place others in very real physical danger—driving under the influence, for instance. But what real danger is someone who is riding a motorcycle without a helmet likely to place you or me in, when we're driving down the road in our SUVs?

There are tons of other examples government—whether at the national, state or local level—restricting the liberty of individuals to do what they please. Let’s have that conversation sometime!

What about “Justice”? There are varying definitions on the concept of “justice” as well, but I believe that in the context of the Pledge of Allegiance, Nebraska’s State Motto—“Equality Before the Law” pretty well covers it. We are a nation based on the rule of law, and our goal should be equal (and fair) treatment before the bar of justice.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that in an effort to be a nation of laws, we have gone down the road of having too many laws. Certainly we need laws that allow us to determine how to punish people who have done harm to others; we need laws to address how to handle civil disputes between neighbors. But sometimes I wonder if we haven’t taken it a little too far—and that in creating more laws, we’ve diminished our opportunities for real justice. I’ll expand on that thought in some commentary regarding criminal justice efforts that are underway, at a later time.

In the meantime—fly your flag, on Flag Day, and any other time. Not because you have to (we have the liberty NOT to do things, as well as TO do things), but because you WANT to. And at the very least, contemplate the meaning of the pledge that most of us have recited many times, to that flag.

Jun 08
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Immigration Related Issues in the State--Clearing the Air

One of the suggestions made during the Primary campaign was that I have been disproportionately favorable to “illegal immigrants.” So let’s try to clear some things up there, and have a conversation.

  • The Nebraska Legislature has nothing to say about immigration policy. States RESPOND to the things that the national government decides to do with respect to immigration policy.
  • In 2015 and 2016 there were a couple of bills designed to provide some opportunities for those young people who had been granted DACA status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)—in other words, for those young people who had been brought here by their parents without documentation.
  • DACA is an Obama-era program which was designed to give those young people a “deferral” on any deportment actions, as well as to give those who had otherwise obeyed our laws the opportunity to work legally.
    1. There was, admittedly, some question about the constitutionality of the executive order which created the DACA program. However, to date, the Supreme Court has not ruled on it, and the question of constitutionality seems to be more of a political one—with those for it arguing that it IS constitutional, and those against it arguing that it ISN’T.
    2. Regardless, it was/is policy (the Trump administration is apparently not renewing expiring DACA certificates), and those who were certified received work authorization—making them (albeit temporarily) “documented.” Another form was created, but in many ways, these young people had similar status to foreign students with visas as far as the federal government was concerned.
    3. In order to get the certification, the young people had to be able to prove all sorts of things—how long they’d been in the country, that they’d had no brushes with law enforcement (they submitted to fingerprinting and background checks, and even relatively minor misdemeanor convictions would disqualify them from certification). (NOTE: Some people refer to these folks as DREAMER’s and then point out heinous crimes that some “DREAMER’s” have committed. THE REALITY: DREAMERS is a broad classification of younger folks, and some have certainly gotten into trouble with the law. DACA recipients are a subclass of DREAMERs—a subclass that has had to submit to criminal background checks, etc. Here’s a good primer on the differences: http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/370367-the-difference-between-daca-and-dreamers-a-primer
  • The question then became one of whether or not—once they had become certified and had authorization to work from the FEDERAL government—the state should allow them the opportunity apply for a driver’s license. We have a number of alternative federally issued forms that are acceptable for non-American citizens to show in order to qualify for a Nebraska driver’s license. (See here: https://dmv.nebraska.gov/sites/dmv.nebraska.gov/files/doc/dls/verificationdocs.pdf). The DACA form was merely added.
  • Key to remember here: they still had to pass both the written and driving test; they still had to pay for the licensure. A driver’s license is not an entitlement, or something “given” only to citizens—it is an earned right, which does not require citizenship—and not all citizens can get one, if they can’t pass the test. Indeed, Nebraska allows a number of “legal alien” statuses to apply for and receive a driver’s license.
    1. Because the DACA recipients were documented on a different form, however, the law in 2015 authorized that form as being adequate for proof of eligibility to test for a driver’s license. We have a number of alternative federally issued forms that are acceptable for non-American citizens to show in order to qualify for a Nebraska driver’s license. (See here: https://dmv.nebraska.gov/sites/dmv.nebraska.gov/files/doc/dls/verificationdocs.pdf). The DACA form was merely added to the list.
    2. Common sense would suggest that if someone is going to be working in Nebraska, that they’re going to need to get to work, and won’t always be able to depend on someone else to get them there. Nebraska was one of the LAST state to authorize driver’s licenses for DACA recipients. I considered it good public policy to have people who might have a need to drive to be able to prove their proficiency at driving.
  • In 2016, a similar bill, for the same group of DACA recipients, was proposed to allow for them to apply for “occupational licenses”. Nebraska has an abundance of occupational licenses—as I found out as I was working LB299 this past year. Many of those licenses are in the trades—where we seem to be experiencing a shortage of workers.
    1. This bill didn’t give any “special rights” to DACA recipients. Again, it just says that IF you are legally authorized to work in the U.S., and IF you otherwise have the qualifications for licensure, the licensing boards may allow you to be licensed to practice your occupations—but you still have to pay any licensing fees, and for any training required to get the licensure.

The question of immigration is highly contentious and we can disagree about what the appropriate policy for the FEDERAL Government should take is. But constitutionally, immigration is a federal policy, not a state one. We just respond. The federal government could (theoretically) grant permanent legal status to anyone in the country today—or could say that any person not a citizen in the country is subject to deportation immediately. In either instance, the state would follow the lead, and have to adjust laws accordingly.

My general philosophy with respect to immigration is this: I wish people would respect our borders, however I understand that the vast majority of people who come here--both with and without documentation--are searching for opportunity. I don't think that immigrants should get "special deals" (and indeed, if we didn't have a "welfare state", much of the argument about immigration would dissipate, I believe). But in the case of DACA recipients, they have kept their noses clean legally; they have been granted temporary lawful status by the federal government, and I believe that if they are going to be here, and are able to work, we shouldn't make it tougher for them. 

The positions I took on DACA were supported by both business and business ag organizations--organizations which are generally quite conservative--because they believed that this was a "workforce" issue. Employers are looking for employees.

As always, I’m happy to talk with anyone about any questions about these or any other votes. Just shoot me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. OR give me a call at 402-540-6510

Jun 03
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What About This Libertarian Thing?

NOTE: I’ve had a number of people ask questions—either to me, or someone in my family—about the party switch to Libertarian two years ago. Mostly, people are just curious what a Libertarian believes. So here’s a shot at trying to start the conversation….

As many of you know, in 2016, I officially switched my party registration from “Republican” to “Libertarian.” There were many reasons for doing this, but I want to remind you (by way of direct quotes from that letter) of what I sent to many of you back in 2016:

My view of conservatism has always been a Goldwater-Reagan based view: smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, respect for constitutional rights—and on the national scene, a strong military, but not an overly aggressive one.  In other words, I believe in a constitutionalism which looks to the principles of our founders as a guide….

  1. I am happy to discuss and take responsibility for the votes I cast with my constituents…We will not always agree, but you deserve to know why I voted the way that I did.  But the pressure—sometimes near bullying—by some of my colleagues, and outside forces—to vote a particular way because “that’s the Republican way” has disheartened me.  There is no discussion about ideas, and little negotiation—if a bill is controversial, the teams are supposed to split up, and everyone is expected to “fly right.” I believe that’s lazy policymaking.
  2. As a Republican, the pressure to vote with the Republican governor is significant.  The truth be told, on the vast majority of issues I agree with Governor Ricketts, and will continue to agree with him.  But the notion that the Governor should be able to tell legislators how to vote because they are registered in the same party—or that “good Republicans” would work to keep something “off of the Governor’s desk”--does a disservice to the role of the legislature and to the intention of the founders when they created a republican form of government with separate branches--and guaranteed state governments would be the same. I have no objection to conversations between the branches of government—in fact, I suspect that better policy would be made if there was more conversation and fewer demands of partisan loyalty.
  3. I consider myself a “movement constitutional conservative ”—and while not all libertarians are conservative constitutionalists, many are; and those who would be considered “movement conservatives” almost always have a strong stream of libertarianism running through their veins.  As President Ronald Reagan said, “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”  As the Republican Party has seemed to ignore constitutional governance; as Republicans have failed to make good on their promise of smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal control…this decision to make a break from the party that I’ve been registered with for 36 years, and active in for most of the 18 years before that, began to weigh heavily on my mind.
  4. My decision to change my registration has nothing to do with a changing philosophy on my part. It has little to do with any particular candidate or candidates. It has some to do with life in the State Capitol, but it has a lot to do with a growing sense that I’ve had that the Republican Party of 2016 is fundamentally different than the Republican Party that I grew up in

 

So WHAT IS A LIBERTARIAN?

 

That’s not an easy question to answer, because it assumes that every Libertarian thinks the same things about everything. We can identify elements of the Libertarian platform, but that doesn’t mean that every Libertarian agrees with every element of the platform—any more than it means that every Republican or every Democrat agrees with every element of THEIR party platforms.

Likewise, even in a body like the Nebraska legislature, where something like 32 members are registered Republicans, it would be impossible to provide any comprehensive “every Republican” list of agreed upon principles.

So let me make a few brief statements:

  1. Libertarians are generally skeptical of government power, and want to see less of it.
  2. They generally believe that less government will mean lower taxes for everyone.
  3. Their skepticism of government power causes them to value civil liberties—to limit the potential for government to infringe upon individual liberties without cause and due process.

Do these words sound familiar?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Although there are some Libertarians who would take this even further, these words—from the Declaration of Independence—help define what most Libertarians stand for at its base level:

  1. Whether you are religious or not, there are "natural rights", endowed upon us by our very humanness. Those rights include the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
  2. Governments are not created to GIVE rights (or take them away), but rather to protect and secure the rights that are ours by our nature.
  3. Protecting and securing our rights means preventing others from doing harm to us—not protecting us from all potential harm we might do to ourselves in the exercise of our natural rights.

How these things are defined by specific Libertarians can differ. How they are applied can differ. But ultimately, I think that’s the direction that most Libertarians tell you they want to go.

 

Party Identification and Ideology

 

In many states, voters don’t even register with a political party. In some places, for partisan primaries, they just go in and “declare” themselves with a particular party in a particular election. If we didn't have party registration in Nebraska, this whole question about a party switch would be non-existent.

Party affiliation is an imperfect definer of ideology. We’re all familiar with the notion (perhaps becoming less common, as people flee the traditional two parties and become “Independents”) of “liberal/moderate Republicans” or “conservative Democrats.” Self-defined identification as a “conservative” or a “liberal” can be based primarily on one set of policy issues, as well—for instance those who are pro-life/traditional family values may identify as “conservative”, but may in fact be quite “liberal” on economic issues; likewise, those who are pro-civil liberties “liberals” may also be very prudent fiscal “conservatives”.

The assumption that everyone who identifies with a particular party (or tags themselves with a particular ideological label) agrees with all others who wear the party or ideological label, is silly, at best. We are all individuals, capable of individual thought. The labels we tag ourselves with are voluntary; the labels others tag us with are based on their perception, not necessarily objective truth.

Party and ideological labels are shortcuts for trying to explain who we are to others; they’re not comprehensive definitions for who we are or what we believe.

I spent the first 54 years of my life identifying as a conservative-libertarian Republican. Those of you who have reached that advanced age know that we don’t usually change our basic political views after that. I don’t believe my views have changed all that much, either; what’s changed, is the label that I wear when I go in to vote in primary elections.

As always, please feel free to ask me more questions about this. My cell phone number is (402) 540-6510 (leave a message if I don’t answer right away); or you can email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you’ve got too many question to answer via email or phone, I’m happy to set up a time for an extended conversation.

Feb 03
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A Week in the Life...

When I meet with students--but even occasionally with adults--I'm sometimes asked what my days look like during the session. During the week of January 26-February 3, I tried to track my activities a little more closely than usual, and thought that I'd share an overview of my week with you. 

A couple of notes: My husband and kids are great. They put up with barely seeing me some days, and they chip in to keep the house in at least reasonable condition most of the time. Likewise, as will be clear from the schedule, I sometimes miss out on things in our communities because of the obligations of being present for committee hearings into the evening. I regret that, and wish that I could be at more Chamber dinners, or other events in the district during the January-April time frame. I do try to bounce around the district as much as I can on recess days, and on weekends when there are no other obligations--but sometimes it's just not possible for me to be in two places on the same day.

So, here's an outline of my week's schedule. Want to know what I do during the week? This is a pretty typical week, although they vary somewhat.

 

A week in the life….Sunday, January 28-Saturday, February 3.

Sunday—a Day of rest?

  • Clean the house, wash laundry, go to church (the annual congregational meeting).
  • Meet with campaign staff from 2-6.
  • Spend a little time in the evening watching a movie with my husband and kids.

Monday—a “recess day” (no session):

  • Leave house in for Geneva (daughter in tow) @ 8:30 a.m.
  • Arrive in Geneva, 9:30. Visit with constituents, set up some campaign events. Talk with other constituents, shoot some campaign photos.
  • Leave for Hebron @1:15 (daughter still with me). Arrive in Hebron 1:50. Visit with constituents, arrange a campaign event. Show daughter the World’s Largest Porch Swing
  • Leave for Fairbury, 2:30. Arrive @3. Visit constituents. Take a few photos. Deliver campaign paperwork to my treasurer.
  • Leave for Wilber @3:45—arrive about 4:25. Brief stopover.
  • Leave Wilber for Lincoln with daughter about 4:40. Get hair cuts and run a few quick errands. Return home in Crete about 7:30.
  • 7:30-11--answer emails, review the plan for Tuesday

Tuesday—back in session

  • Leave house @6:30 a.m.
  • Meeting/Breakfast with Nebraska LEAD folks @7:30 a.m.
  • Meet w/interest group @8:30
  • 9 a.m.—on the floor, in session, until 11:40 a.m.
  • 11:40-1—attend a fundraiser for a colleague who is also running for re-election.
  • 1-1:15—walk back to the Capitol
  • 1:30 p.m.-6:15 p.m.—Education Committee hearings
  • 6:30-8:30 p.m.—Attend Nebraska Rural Electric Association Dinner (multiple constituents present).
  • 8:30-9:15—Return home to Crete
  • 9:30-11:30—Answer emails sent during the day, review the next day’s agenda

Wednesday

  • Leave house @6:30 a.m.
  • Meeting/Breakfast downtown @7:30
  • Committee Chairs Meeting with Speaker @ 8:15 (I was a few minutes late)
  • 9 a.m.-11:50—on the floor, in session most of the time
    • o 9:30-10—went to office to meet with Cancer Advocacy Group about bill they’re interested in this year
    • o 11:30—meeting about a bill that will be in my committee this afternoon
  • 12-1:15 p.m.—Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska Luncheon at Governor’s Mansion (I’m the guest of a constituent)
  • 1:30-7 p.m.—Chair Judiciary Committee hearings
  • 7-7:45—Drive back to Crete
  • 8-11:30—Answer emails, prepare for Thursday’s committee hearings.

Thursday

  • Leave house @ 7 a.m.
  • 8 a.m. call-in report on KUTT/KGMT
  • 8:30-9—Meeting with ESU 6 Administrators
  • 9-11:45—On the floor, in session
  • 12-1:30—a few drop in meetings, catching up with staff, working on letter that will be sent to papers on Friday, preparing for hearings
  • 1:30-6 p.m.—Chairing Judiciary Committee Hearings
  • 6:15-7—drive home to Crete
  • 7-8 p.m.—catch up with family, throw a load of laundry in the washer
  • 8 p.m.-10:30—respond to emails, review hearing schedule and floor agenda items for Friday (and go to bed “early).

Friday

  • Leave house @ 7 a.m. (drop son off at the high school)
  • 7:30-8:45—multiple breakfasts at the Capitol with different groups—I swing by a few for a cup of coffee and to say “hi”
  • 9-11:50 a.m.—On floor, in session
  • 11:50-12:25—quick bowl of soup warmed up in my office, preparation for Judiciary Committee business.
  • 12:30-1:25 p.m.—Judiciary Committee Executive Session  (where we discuss bills we’ve hear the last week or so, and decide if there are any to advance to the floor for debate).
  • 1:30 p.m.-7 p.m.—Chair Judiciary Committee
  • 7 p.m.-7:30 p.m.—gather up things that will be needed for the WEEKEND to take home to work on.
  • 7:30-8:15—drive home
  • 8:15-10:00—family time, late dinner.

Saturday

  • 7:30-11 a.m.—get up (I slept in)—check emails, make breakfast, plan the day with my daughter (we have some errands to run), get ready to run said errands.
  • 11 a.m.—3:30—drop daughter off for a lunch appointment she’s got, pick up some things at a local department store, drop by Barnes and Noble, head back home.
  • 3:30-4:15—(guilty admission—I needed a power nap)
  • 4:15-5:15—grocery store—we were out of milk, bread, and a number of things (we usually try to do a big grocery trip on the weekends, but my husband picks up the things we’ve forgotten, or run out of, during the week)
  • 5:30-6:30—email, dinner, dishes, another load of laundry
  • 6:30-8:15—watched a movie on Netflix with my daughter (my son was at the Crete Speech Meet, and my husband was doing some of HIS work).
  • 8:30-10:30—work on emails, eNewsletter….

 

Jan 12
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Published in LD32 Updates

Re-Election Campaign Announcement

 

Senator Ebke to Seek Re-election

 

Crete, NE, September 3, 2017– State Senator Laura Ebke announced her intention today to seek re-election in 2018 to the legislative seat that she was elected to in 2014.

It has been a great honor for me to serve the citizens of the 32nd Legislative district for almost 3 years now. During that time, I’ve conducted 34 town hall events in 18 different towns and villages in the district, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people and places of the district even better than I had before.

During the session, I’ve sent out near-weekly eNewsletters, and I’ve submitted semi-regular letters to the newspapers in the district. This past session, I began an every-other-Thursday call in on KUTT 99.5 Radio, as another means of communication—in addition to maintaining an active social media presence and speaking to civic organizations and school groups throughout the district. I hope to be able to continue doing that through 2022, with a re-election in 2018. 

Sen. Ebke noted that while her political leanings include smaller, more efficient government which she believes can mean lower taxes and economic development, she has attempted to take a pragmatic approach to politics while in the Legislature, and to find areas of compromise with those across the political spectrum. In July, she began a monthly event—The Political Brew—in Crete, in which she brings together colleagues in the Legislature and other political figures, to join in a public conversation as an effort to demonstrate that political opponents can be collegial, and have good conversation about political issues without engaging in name calling.

Ebke (the former Laura Schwab) was raised in Fairbury, graduated from Fairbury High School (’80), and married her high school sweetheart, Dr. Russ Ebke (FHS ’79).  The Ebke’s have 3 children, and became grandparents for the first time in March.

Senator Ebke currently serves as the Chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, as well as Chair of the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee (JROC) and the Legislature’s Special Oversight Committee for Corrections.

In addition to those positions, she also serves as a member of the Education Committee.

During the interim, Ebke—who has a PhD in Political Science—teaches as an adjunct instructor for Doane University’s Professional Studies Program.

# # #

If you would like more information please contact Senator Laura Ebke at 402-540-6510 or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mar 06
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Published in LD32 Updates

Links to Corrections Reports

I mentioned in a recent newsletter, and a letter to the papers, that I would post a link to all of the reports that the Legislature has generated or received regarding the Corrections system over the last few years.  Below are the links:

LR 424 (2014) Final Report, LR34 (2016) Final Report; Documentary Information for both

http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/reports/lr424.php

Ombudsman’s Report on May 2015 TSCI Riot

http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/public_counsel/2015ombud_tsc_riot.pdf

Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System—first report (newly created position), Fall, 2016.

http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Agencies/Inspector_General_of_the_Nebraska_Correctional_System/600_20160915-141014.pdf