State takes risk on child welfare

State leaders were badly stung a decade ago when their attempt to privatize Nebraska's child welfare services threw the system into disarray. It took years to straighten out the problems and restore public confidence.

Now, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has selected a new, out-of-state private child welfare provider for Douglas and Sarpy counties, with the provider's low-cost bid a key consideration.

The current provider, PromiseShip (the only remaining private child welfare in Nebraska), scored higher than its competitor — St. Francis Ministries, a Kansas nonprofit — on service quality and management. But HHS awarded the contract to St. Francis, which bid $196 million over five years, far lower than PromiseShip's proposal of $341 million.

Child welfare service for Douglas and Sarpy counties is complicated, demanding work requiring a high level of competence. PromiseShip — a collaborative nonprofit that includes Boys Town, the Child Saving Institute and Heartland Family Service — currently handles 40% of the state's caseload, about 5,000 children, and some 59% of the cases requiring the most extensive intervention.

With this decision, the state is taking a major risk.

- Omaha World-Herald

Congress must upgrade FOIA

The U.S. Supreme Court just slammed the door shut on the public's right to know how businesses are fulfilling government contracts, reversing 50 years of precedents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Congress needs to reopen it again, even after reaffirming the availability of records that wouldn't "harm" businesses in the FOIA Amendments of 2016.

In fact, Congress was pretty specific in 2016 about its intent, including a requirement "that federal agencies disclose requested information unless the agency reasonably foresees the disclosure of requested records or documents resulting in harm to a protected interest under FOIA."

The high court decision has numerous ramifications about accessing pertinent information, particularly with the privatization of many government services — from prisons to Medicaid — or government contracts for voting machines, surveillance technology and facial recognition, database management and consulting on environmental, health and safety issues.

This isn't about disclosing the secret formula of Coca-Cola or other proprietary information. Instead, the Supreme Court decision raises the possibility that no outside entity — media or public watchdogs — could review the relationship of government and business interests, a step toward crony capitalism.

- Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier

1 trillion trees no silver bullet

A new report suggested that planting trees — 1 trillion of them — could be the least expensive and most effective method at humanity's disposal to deal with climate change.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide, which is a major factor in creating climate change, and a worldwide effort to expand the world's tree base would help clear the air, so to speak. Of course, a trillion trees is a lot. Scientists estimate this would require reforesting land area about the size of the United States.

What's more, more than this would be needed to combat the effects of climate change. A significant reduction in carbon emissions would still be needed in order to make the plan work. In a way, the trees would be something akin to a healing process for the planet while humans worked to pull back from burning fossil fuels.

There are those who are skeptical or dismissive of this idea as the most effective way of dealing with the global climate crisis. It could be only one front among many in addressing this issue, and probably not the paramount priority in dealing with greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, expanding the world's forests can have a healthy impact on this planet. While it's not a silver bullet, the concept can be a valuable piece of an overall approach.

  • - Yankton (S.D.) Press & Dakotan

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