Archive for March, 2011

Nevada Group Seeking To Create Yucca Mountain Energy Park Seeks Amendment To Legislation

By Sean Whaley | 4:15 pm March 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – An organization that wants to see Yucca Mountain used as a temporary nuclear waste storage site with a research center to explore reprocessing has proposed an amendment to a bill in the Legislature to move its Energy Park idea forward.

In a hearing Wednesday on Senate Bill 375 to create renewable energy corridors, John Dunn, one of the directors of Nevadans for Carbon Free Energy, proposed an amendment to the legislation to include nuclear energy as an option, and to change the term “renewable” energy, to “carbon-free” or “clean” energy.

The bill as written specifically excludes nuclear energy.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee, which heard the bill by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, took no immediate action on the proposed amendment or the bill itself.

Cegavske said today the committee indicated at the hearing it wants to keep the legislation as written. While putting Yucca Mountain to use as an energy related research facility is worthy of discussion, SB375 is not the vehicle for that debate, she said.

The organization presented similar testimony at a meeting of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects.

The group says Yucca Mountain is an ideal location to temporarily store spent fuel and host a research center to study reprocessing technologies for commercial application. When such technology becomes available, the fuel could be sold to re-processors or a facility could be built to do the reprocessing.

The $13 billion spent on Yucca Mountain infrastructure when it was being prepared to be a long-term disposal site for nuclear waste makes the site a good candidate for such a park, the group says.

Package Of Bills Regulating Independent Contractors Pushed Through Committee In Late Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 6:07 pm March 30th, 2011

(Updated at 9:23 p.m. on March 30, 2011)

CARSON CITY – A hearing room was packed today with labor and business representatives for a legislative committee’s consideration of a package of bills aimed at curbing the misuse of independent contractors.

The Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee reviewed a package of bills generated from an interim legislative study seeking to clarify when it is appropriate for Nevada businesses to employ independent contractors.

The inappropriate use of independent contractors is a concern because it does not require the payment of unemployment insurance, workers compensation and many other fees and taxes that must be paid by most employers.

The package of proposals in Senate Bills 147, 148, 207, 208 and 242 was supported by labor groups and some construction industry representatives, but opposed by others in the Nevada business community.

The panel recessed after taking about three hours of testimony. When the hearing resumed about 7 p.m., the conversation became strained as three bills were passed out on party-line votes over the objections from a number of business representatives.

The panel voted to pass SB208, which creates the task force to review misclassification issues, SB207, which would allow for the imposition an administrative penalty for employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors, and SB242, which clarifies the definition of who is properly an independent contractor.

The panel initially moved quickly to pass the legislation. Those who wanted to testify were asked to be brief.

This prompted Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, a member of the panel, to ask that if the committee was going to rush the votes on the measures, the public should be given all the time needed to testify.

A number of lobbyists representing the business community then testified against the bills. Labor representatives testified in support. The marathon hearing continued until just after 9 p.m.

When one witness suggested businesses would leave the state with the passage of SB207 because of the change in the definition of an independent contractor, panel Chairman Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, spent several minutes challenging the comment.

If businesses leave Nevada, they will pay corporate and other taxes they don’t pay now in Nevada, he said.

Corporations come in and “use and abuse us” and then leave on a whim, Schneider said.

“I’m getting really tired of it,” he said.

Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, who served as the chairwoman of the interim study looking at the issue, said when the hearing began earlier in the day that the misclassification of workers as independent contractors costs the state millions in uncollected taxes and gives those that engage in the practice a competitive advantage over other employers.

It also takes advantage of workers who should be classified as employees, she said.

“Employee misclassification happens when employers intentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors in order to avoid their legal obligations under federal and state labor employment and tax laws,” Breeden said.

These include minimum wage, overtime, temporary disability insurance, wage payment and federal income tax, she said. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that in 2006 it lost $2.7 billion in social security, unemployment and income taxes due to misclassification, Breeden said.

It is also costing millions in lost revenues to states each year, including Nevada, she said. There has been no specific study of the lost revenues to Nevada, but the state Employment Security Division, which oversees the unemployment insurance program, provided some data to the interim study panel based on audits and investigations, Breeden said. The data showed that 2.7 percent of audited employment was misclassified.

“This gives a conservative estimate of approximately 31,000 Nevadans that may be misclassified,” she said. “From these numbers, the estimated annual revenue lost to the unemployment trust fund alone may be as much as $8 million.”

Her concerns were supported by Dan Reilly, state legislative director for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who came to the capital from Washington, DC, to testify in support of the legislation. Misclassified workers are paid less and do not receive federal or state protections, he said.

“These bad-acting employers misclassify workers largely to save expenses and avoid liability in workplace injury and disability claims,” Reilly said.

Bruce King, a businessman in the construction business in Southern Nevada, said he does not support changing the definition of an independent contractor, but said the state needs to strengthen enforcement to prevent the misclassification of workers.

The issue of misclassification has been a “significant problem” in the construction industry in Clark County for more than a decade, he said.

But some business representatives questioned the need for much of the proposed legislation.

Gary Dunbar, lead counsel for the FedEx Corp., said the company is opposed to all five measures but for the task force proposal in SB208 for several reasons.

“The state’s current laws and regulations and enforcement mechanisms are more than sufficient to deal with this problem,” he said. “FedEx Ground’s experience with attorneys general has left us convinced they are neither too bashful nor lacking in statutory authority to protect the states’ interests.

“While no one should intentionally misclassify an employee as an independent contractor to avoid employment tax, workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, employee wage and benefit, and other legal obligations, the solution is not to enact legislation that discourages the use of this entrepreneurial business model,” Dunbar said.

The state director for the National Federation of Independent Business is also opposed to the measures: “I’d argue that independent contractors are the glue holding the state and the nation’s economic activity together,” said Randi Thompson. “Why would the Nevada Senate willfully want to harm our fragile economy and stifle any chance of recovery by limiting an employer’s ability to use independent contractors once in a while for only short-term work?”

Audio clips:

Sen. Shirley Breeden says misclassification happens when employers intentionally attempt to avoid their legal obligations:

033011Breeden1 :16 and tax laws.”

Breeden says thousands of Nevada workers may be misclassified:

033011Breeden2 :18 much as $8 million.”

Teamsters’ representative Dan Reilly says bad actor employers misclassify to avoid their obligations:

033011Reilly :07 and disability claims.”

FedEx representative Gary Dunbar says FedEx ground independent contractors are small business owners:

033011Dunbar1 :10 manage their businesses.”

Dunbar says current state laws are adequate to deal with the misclassification problem:

033011Dunbar2 :19 the states’ interests.”

Dunbar says entrepreneurial opportunities should be encouraged:

033011Dunbar3 :27 opportunities for business.”

Union Group Finds Support For Public Workers In Poll

By Andrew Doughman | 12:08 pm March 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A poll released today shows that most Nevadans hold government workers in high regard.

Nevadans for Nevada, a collective of largely public sector unions, hired Grove Insight to conduct the poll of 500 registered voters.

The poll, which was conducted last week, comes as the salaries, benefits and contracts of unions and public sector workers are increasingly in the public spotlight.

Nick Di Archangel, spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, said that public workers needed to gauge public opinion in lieu of high-profile legislative battles like the one still unfolding in Wisconsin.

“I’ve worked in news for 20 years,” Di Archangel said. “I’ve never seen labor covered like this. … With so much scrutiny on labor unions, it was crucial to find out where people fell.”

Nevada’s Legislature is considering several budget proposals that would reduce salaries for public employees. Legislators may also change how public employees bargain for contracts as well as what they pay into retirement and benefit plans.

Di Archangel said the poll shows that most Nevadans hold favorable views of public employees.

The pollsters for Grove Insight worded the question this way:

“Please tell me overall, do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, neutral, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable impressions of public employees?”

Among the 500 voters who answered, 61 percent held favorable views of public employees, 22 had a neutral opinion, 11 percent had an unfavorable view and 6 percent had no opinion.

In a press release from Nevadans for Nevada, the union group also highlighted that their poll supports raising taxes.

The question on the poll read:

“Right now, Nevada is facing a ONE-POINT FIVE billion dollar budget shortfall. Governor Brian Sandoval has refused to consider any compromise that includes raising some taxes – even if that means deep cuts to local schools. Do you approve or disapprove of Governor Sandoval’s position?”

While 12 percent remained neutral, 31 percent approved of the governor’s position while 57 percent disapproved.

The union poll follows recent polls from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Association of Nevada.

Read the union poll here.

 

Bill Would Require More State Data To Be Hosted Online

By Andrew Doughman | 10:31 am March 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – More of the state’s financial data would migrate online with a bill from Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas.

He would require the Controller’s office to post the state’s revenues and expenditures online with tables, graphs and explanatory descriptions for each account.

State Controller Kim Wallin already hosts financial on her website, as does Gov. Brian Sandoval. Conklin, however, said that the current data-displays lack charts, graphs and year-by-year comparisons that his bill would require.

Adding these things would not cost the state any money, he said, but would make arcane financial spreadsheets more accessible to the public.

Nevada Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, speaks in committee at the Legislature. Conklin is sponsoring a bill that would put more state data online.

“Information is not readily available,” Conklin said. “It is very hard to find. … As some of you know in my private capacity, I do some economic research from time to time. … I can tell you from personal experience, finding good, usable consumable data is very, very difficult.”

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the Assembly Government Affairs Committee that heard Conklin’s bill, said the bill would be like putting the state’s checkbook online.

Wallin testified in support of the bill.

“It’ll paint a picture,” she said. “A checkbook online, you look at your checkbook and it’s just a bunch of numbers … I think if we can start showing the trends of our expenditures, I think that paints a better picture.”

The committee took no action on the bill today.

 

 

Assembly Panel Hears Simplified Campaign Finance Reform Bill

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm March 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A simplified campaign finance reform bill that would require most candidates to file their contribution and expense reports electronically was given a generally favorable reception today during an Assembly Committee hearing.

The Committee on Legislative Affairs and Operations introduced Assembly Bill 452. The bill contains three key provisions from Secretary of State Ross Miller’s campaign finance bills, which the panel reviewed earlier this session.

But some provisions of the other legislation – Assembly Bills 81 and 82 – were criticized at the hearing earlier this month, including a proposal to increase filing fees for candidates for public office.

“And so the idea here was to strip out the three most important provisions that would really advance Nevada’s campaign finance measures and allow them to proceed as a single bill so that if people are hung up on certain provisions of AB81 or 82 these provisions would be allowed to go forward,” Miller said.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said the new bill was drafted to include those important reform provisions that appear to have the support of lawmakers and the public.

No one spoke in opposition to the campaign reform elements of the bill, although several amendments were offered by lawmakers and lobbyists. The bill will be reviewed later in a committee work session.

Miller testified in support of the bill, saying the current system of filing campaign reports by mail, and in a format that does not allow the public to search the information, is inadequate. Electronic filing would allow Miller’s office to create an online searchable database of the information.

AB452 also proposes to move up the filing dates of the campaign contribution and expense reports so the information is available prior to early voting. Reports would be filed four days before early voting and would be updated to reflect any additional contributions and expenses four days prior to the primary and general elections.

It would also make the Secretary of State’s office the central repository for the campaign reports for all elections, as well as for financial disclosure statements required of candidates and elected officials. These reports would also be filed electronically.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is in favor of the electronic filing requirement for campaign reports as well.

Miller said he is optimistic the bill will move forward, given that leadership in both the Assembly and Senate also support the reforms.

The bill also proposes to impose a two-year “cooling off” period before public officers, such as members of the Legislature, could be paid to lobby the body where they had served. For members of the Legislature, it would prohibit a former lawmaker from being paid to lobby at the Legislature in the next session following their leaving office.

Miller said this section of the bill is not within the purview of his office, but was sought by lawmakers.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, an attorney and member of the committee, expressed concern that the cooling off period could affect his ability to represent a client and indicated he may have to oppose the bill unless the provision can be amended.

Miller said he will continue to seek passage of AB81 and 82 because they contain important reforms needed for transparency in Nevada’s elections.

“These are the three major provisions that could dramatically improve transparency in the process, but AB81 and 82 have major provisions that put disclosure requirements on third-party groups and additional reporting requirements, and that is a significant area of concern every election, is who is financing these campaigns, these shadowy third-party groups,” he said. “We’ve got to get that under control.”

Audio clips:

Secretary of State Ross Miller says the idea was to take the three key campaign finance reform provisions and put them in one bill:

032911Miller2 :23 to go forward.”

Miller said he will still pursue the other measures because they contain important election reforms:

032911Miller2 :24 that under control.”

 

Governor’s Veto Looms As Democrats Showcase Suffering Schools

By Andrew Doughman | 3:39 pm March 29th, 2011

SUN VALLEY, NEVADA – When Sara Weatherford teaches at Sun Valley Elementary, she says frequent power outages and rattling pipes interrupt her lessons.

The 52-year-old school is a hodgepodge of a half dozen buildings erected intermittently over the past five decades. Noise bleeds through the walls between classrooms, making it difficult to concentrate, she says.

It’s schools like Sun Valley Elementary that Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, wants to fix. Smith has sponsored a bill that would allow school districts to dip into the piggy banks they keep for debt payments.

The extra money would help school districts like the Washoe County School District renovate old schools like Sun Valley Elementary.

If the state was flush with money, the plan might not be controversial. But big pots of money are scarce these days, and Gov. Brian Sandoval has another use for the same funds.

In what would be his first veto since assuming office in January, Sandoval plans to veto Smith’s bill, Assembly Bill 183. Sandoval has booked the same money into his budget for school operating costs.

Smith and the Democrats cannot override the governor’s veto since Republicans in the Legislature will not vote against the governor, who is also a Republican.

So Democrats today opted for the next best thing. They called a press conference.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison addresses the press at Sun Valley Elementary School, where he voiced support for Assemblywoman Debbie Smith's school renovation bill.

This morning, Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison, flanked by education advocates and a union representative, stood behind a lectern at Sun Valley Elementary and spoke in support of the bill as television cameras rolled and reporters scribbled notes.

“We’d like to welcome you to Sun Valley Elementary School, and we are here today to make sure we are raising our voices in support for Assembly Bill 183,” Morrison said. “It allows us … to have safe, inviting schools conducive for children to learn.”

Sandoval is expected to receive the bill today. His spokesperson, Mary-Sarah Kinner, said today that the press conference did not change the governor’s mind.

“Unfortunately the bill does create a $300 million hole in the budget with no plan to fund that,” Sandoval told the Nevada News Bureau last week, after the bill passed out of the Senate and Assembly on party-line votes.

Mark Stanton, chief capital projects and facilities management officer for the Washoe County School District, said Smith’s bill would let the school district take about $35 million out of its debt reserve account.

This would let the school district issue more bonds, which would raise the money necessary to renovate schools.

The governor, however, wants to sweep the debt reserves into the district’s operating fund. If he signed Smith’s bill, he would risk punching a hole in his own budget.

“It’s a philosophical decision about whether we want to use the construction dollars for operating costs,” Smith said today in her office.

She said she has not negotiated any compromise with the governor over his intent to veto her bill.

Nonetheless, the Assembly Democrats waited the maximum time permitted until they had to submit the bill to the governor.

Smith said they waited to “let things settle” and give the governor some time to think about the bill.

Smith, however, expects Sandoval to receive the bill today, meaning the governor will have until the end of next Monday, April 4, to either sign or veto the bill.

“We’ve had conversations about that and I think there was an understanding that I had a different position on that bill,” Sandoval said this past week.

The bill would be Sandoval’s first veto since he took office at the beginning of this year.

Public Pension Reform Debate To Proceed, But Without Bill From Sandoval Administration

By Sean Whaley | 10:31 am March 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Despite citing the need to reform Nevada’s public employee pension plan, Gov. Brian Sandoval did not introduce a bill seeking changes to the retirement system by a deadline Monday.

Even so, Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, said the administration will “be a part of the conversation” as other measures addressing potential reforms to the Public Employees’ Retirement System are considered in the 2011 legislative session.

“There are other bills that open up that chapter and so we want to be part of that conversation,” she said. “We just could not get agreement on the terms of the bill, and the process was so delayed at getting these bills out, that we ended up deciding we would look for another bill and be part of the discussion.”

Five measures relating to the retirement system for public employees have been introduced this session. One, Assembly Bill 405 by Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, proposes to eliminate call-back pay as compensation for retirement purposes for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2012.

Gansert said Sandoval’s original proposal, the details of which were described at a briefing with the press last month, does not have to be the solution to the issue of the retirement system, which faces a $10 billion long-term unfunded liability.

“That proposal was something that we put together looking at what was done in other states,” she said. “But we know there are other ideas out there, so we are willing to talk to everybody about it recognizing that we do have a large unfunded liability and we want to work on that.”

Sandoval said during his campaign he wanted to change PERS for future government hires to make it a defined contribution plan, where employers and employees contribute to retirement but the employees are responsible for managing their funds. This is in contrast to the current “defined benefit” plan where contributions are managed by PERS and the employee is guaranteed a set pension on retirement based on salary and years worked.

In the briefing in February, the proposal being considered by Sandoval would have maintained the current defined benefit system but at about half the contribution rate in effect now, in effect halving the pension payments as well as the future liability to taxpayers. It would have been complemented with a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan that employees could contribute to for a bigger pension on retirement.

The defined benefit plans offered by states and government entities around the country have sparked concern over the potential future liability to taxpayers if there isn’t enough money to pay the benefits. Some plans are much healthier financially than others.

Supporters of Nevada’s current system, which covers virtually all state and local employees, say it is well managed and will be fully funded over time. They argue no changes are necessary.

A recent study by the Pew Center on the States identified Nevada’s public pension plan as one of 19 where “serious concerns” about the long-term health of the plan have been identified.

Nevada’s plan was 70.5 percent fully funded as of June 30, 2010.

Gansert said there are numerous interest groups, including the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, which will be involved in the PERS reform discussions as well.

Sandoval has said the public retirement system needs to more closely mirror what is offered by the private sector.

Audio clips:

Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says the administration will pursue pension reform despite not having its own bill:

032911Gansert1 :16 of the discussion.”

Gansert says the administration will work with the Las Vegas chamber and others on reforms:

032911Gansert2 :14 work on that.”

 

Bill Would Remove Overtime Pay Provisions

By Andrew Doughman | 5:16 pm March 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Overtime pay for working more than eight hours per day would disappear under a proposal from Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville.

While employers and chambers of commerce supported the bill, Settelmeyer said he brought Senate Bill 332 on behalf of employees.

He said workers in his district told him they wanted more flexibility with their schedules. Currently, employers must pay employees overtime at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly wage any time an employee works more than eight hours in any 16 hour period or one calendar day.

The bill would keep the time and one-half rate for employees who work more than 40 hours per week.

Several restaurant owners testified before a Senate committee that Nevada’s current overtime law prevents flexible schedules beneficial to both employees and employers.

“The regulation in Nevada is onerous and ridiculous,” said Larry Harvey of John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino in Sparks.

Carole Villardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association testified that a survey from her group identified the daily overtime law as an “impediment” to creating jobs.

She told the Senate Labor, Commerce and Energy Committee, which heard the bill, a story from an Elko restaurant owner.

“If someone does not show up for her breakfast shift the next morning, if she calls someone back in who worked the late shift, she is on overtime,” Villardo said. “That is a major impact to a lot of small businesses.”

Villardo had earlier written that the senator’s bill would put Nevada’s law more in line with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Labor groups opposed the bill, saying it would not be fair to employees.

“There were people who were making minimum wage who were working 16 consecutive hours,” said Jack Mallory, lobbyist for Painters and Allied Traders International Union District Council 15. “And really I think that’s what the existing law is intended to discourage.”

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, asked Mallory whether there was any room for compromise.

“You’re hearing from two different sides of the story,” Mallory said. “You’re hearing from the industries and you’re hearing from groups of employees. I think we have a difference of opinion.”

The committee did not take action on the bill.

 

 

 

 

Legislative Democrats, Sandoval Administration Remain At Odds Over State Budget

By Sean Whaley | 4:32 pm March 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A two-hour review by the full Senate today of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget spent a lot of time on what his spending plan could mean well into the future.

A report to the state Senate, meeting as a Committee of the Whole to hear an update on the recommended budget, shows the danger of future budget shortfalls because of the use of one-time funding options by Sandoval to balance the upcoming 2011-13 budget that will start July 1.

The 2013-15 budget faces a nearly $1.1 billion hole because some of Sandoval’s proposed revenues will not recur in future budget years, according to data provided by legislative fiscal staff.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said it is not responsible for lawmakers to approve such a budget.

“This governor’s budget creates a $1.2 billion-$1.3 billion hole in the next budget in 2013,” he said. “That is irresponsible of us as legislators to create a hole for another Legislature to deal with.”

The Sandoval administration rejected the criticism, saying decisions have to be made about the budget every legislative session. The analysis was also based on no revenue growth, which is unrealistic.

“There are decisions that will have to be made next time in the budget just like there are every time we put a budget together,” said state Budget Director Andrew Clinger. “So to say that we’re going to have a $1.1 billion hole assumes you make no decisions and change nothing and that the economy doesn’t grow at all. And those are just two assumptions that are just not valid.”

The 2009 Legislature approved temporary tax increases to balance the budget. These expiring increases have contributed to the lower revenue projections for Sandoval’s budget.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said: “We need for the Legislature to start closing this budget.”

Today’s budget discussion made it clear the Sandoval administration and legislative Democrats, led by Horsford and his Assembly counterpart, Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, remain far apart on an acceptable spending plan.

“I’m not prepared to support the level of reductions that are proposed,” Horsford said at the conclusion of the budget review. “I think there is a lot we can still agree on.

“My hope is that as we talk about the cuts that we will have to make, the reforms that we’ve agreed should occur, that we will also talk about the revenue that is needed to responsibly balance this budget,” Horsford said. “And if we can do that in a cooperative way, then we should be able to close down the budget in a timely manner.

“If not, then it is going to mean doing business in a totally different way than we’ve ever done it before,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said the briefing was helpful but appeared to be designed to put a scare into his colleagues in an effort to advance the premise that additional tax revenues are needed to balance the budget.

“I think it was probably designed to scare us all a little bit,” he said.

Asked if it worked, McGinness said no.

McGinness said his caucus remains firmly opposed to any tax increases, or the continuing of taxes set to expire June 30, to balance the budget.

Sandoval has said repeatedly he will reject any budget that comes to his office with a tax or fee increase.

With Sandoval’s threat of a veto of any budget with tax or fee increases, Democrats in the Legislature face a tough sell to their GOP colleagues to gather enough votes to override a veto. Democrats would need three Republican votes in the Senate, and two GOP votes in the Assembly, to approve tax or fee increases over the objection of Sandoval.

The hole in future budgets was detailed in a report by Russell Guindon, a fiscal analyst for the Legislature, who said tax revenues would have to grow at 12.6 percent in 2014 and 2015 to make up for the loss of the one-time revenues included by Sandoval for the upcoming budget. Such levels of revenue growth are probably not attainable, he said.

Revenue growth for the state budget is officially set by a panel of private sector appointees called the Economic Forum.

One example of the future budget hole is a plan by Sandoval to borrow on the Insurance Premium Tax to generate $190 million to avoid cuts to various health and human resources programs. This would require payments of $53 million over four years starting in 2014 to pay for the revenue option for the upcoming budget.

Another is the proposal to use $300 million in school district bond reserve funds to fund public education operating costs.

Guindon acknowledged that the future budget hole estimated in his analysis would be less if tax revenues grow.

The hearing was cordial but a request by McGinness that Clinger be permitted to testify in the committee hearing was not granted. Clinger would have been able to provide information on a budget amendment submitted to the Legislature earlier in the day showing $120 million more in revenue for the budget than previously estimated, he said.

Horsford said the budget amendment came late and would have to be taken up at a future discussion.

In a statement announcing the revenue increase prior to the Senate budget update, Sandoval said: “I am pleased to announce that this amendment adds more than $120 million in revenue projections – the majority of which I have directed toward K-12 education.”

The budget discussion in the Senate did not include this new revenue, which is coming primarily from adjustments to the Net Proceeds of Minerals Tax and a higher level of federal support for Medicaid based on per capita personal income in Nevada.

The revenue increase does not mean more money in Sandoval’s budget, however. Instead, Clinger said the additional revenue will mean a reduction in the amount of bond reserve funds held by school districts needed to fund public education operating costs for the next two years.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, also said the insurance premium tax proposal is a last resort that will be used only if needed. Gansert also questioned the pay-back numbers discussed in the Senate hearing.

There was some modest cause for optimism about the budget. Clinger said he expects the Economic Forum to revise its revenue projections upwards when it meets May 2. Any additional revenue would be used by Sandoval and lawmakers to restore critical cuts to the budget.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says the hearing was intended to show the challenges facing lawmakers in balancing the budget:

032811Horsford1 :24 approve this budget.”

Horsford says the budget discussion needs to address new revenues as well:

032811Horsford2 :14 balance this budget.”

Horsford says if Legislature can have an adult discussion with Sandoval on the budget, it will be closed on time:

032811Horsford3 :13 done it before.”

Horsford says Sandoval’s budget creates a huge hole in future budgets:

032811Horsford4 :15 to deal with.”

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger says analysis of future budget hole is unrealistic:

032811Clinger :21 just not valid.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness says GOP not convinced tax increases are needed:

032811McGinness :08 don’t think so.”

 

“Noxious Odors” Would Be Investigated Under Senate Bill

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am March 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislators were asked yesterday to imagine an odor so rancid and vile that it requires evacuating the Legislature.

“You would not be able to work in this building,” Donna German, who lives near Fallon, told legislators at a Senate committee.

That is the type of stench residents near Fallon say they have lived with for years.

Sen. Mike McGinness, who represents the residents, has sponsored a bill to try to get some relief for his constituents.

Several of those constituents testified that a nearby oil-recycling plant is the source of the acrid stench. Some encouraged legislators to sniff the odor, a vial of which was in a car of a UNLV professor who had studied the issue.

Lobbyists from that oil-recycling plant, owned by Bango Oil, contended that independent, third-party tests have confirmed that their plant produces no odors that would spread hundreds of miles away.

Michael Elges, chief of the Bureau of Air Pollution Control at the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, said he has been to the site several times.

“Much like any industrial facility I’ve been to, there are odors associated with the products, systems and chemicals used,” he said.

He noted, however, that he has not noticed a similar smell in the nearby countryside.

Many groups testified against the bill.

“We are here to oppose the bill,” said Doug Busselman of the Nevada Farm Bureau. “We are not here to contend that the folks from Fallon are not having a problem. We are just here to contend that this bill is not the solution to this problem.”

Local governments from Washoe and Clark Counties asked to be exempt from the bill, saying its investigation requirements would force them to hire up to five new employees to chase after odor complaints.

Many said that the definition of a “noxious odor” was too broad.

The bill’s text states that a noxious odor “is objectionable to the senses of an ordinary person and interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property in any usual place of occupancy.”

The bill would place mandates on local governments to carry out investigations, hearings and issue written notices to people allegedly causing foul odors, lobbyists said.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources took no action on the bill.

 

 

 

Lawmakers Consider Bill To Improve Efficiency And Transparency Of Government Contracting

By Sean Whaley | 5:49 pm March 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Senate majority leader today advanced a bill intended to make state and local government contracts more efficient and transparent to benefit both taxpayers and consumers was reviewed by a legislative subcommittee on Friday.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 359 would require government contracts to be put out to bid rather than rolled over year after year to the same contractor. It would require all fees charged to the public in government contracts to be disclosed by the contractor. It would also require an annual report to the state on sole source contracting by agencies, which would then be provided to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

State agencies and local governments would have to report this information to the state Purchasing Division, which would compile the data and forward it to lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the measure could result in savings to state and local governments because contracts would be subjected to competition.

“This is a bill that goes to the heart of one of the things that we’ve been trying to accomplish this entire session: good government and government efficiency,” he said. “As we address the critical need for new revenue to support education and vital social services in this state, we also must face head-on the question of whether government is delivering services as efficiently as possible.

“Every dollar we save through efficiency measures is a dollar in new revenue we don’t have to raise,” Horsford said.

In a hearing earlier this session, Horsford expressed concern that recipients of jobless benefits and temporary assistance grants are being charged banking fees to withdraw funds from these government funded programs.

Evidence was also presented of sole-source contracts renewed year after year with no competitive bidding, he said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, a primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would also ensure fairness and opportunity for Nevadans seeking to provide contract services to the state and local governments.

A number of other lawmakers spoke in support of the legislation, as did speakers in both Las Vegas and Carson City.

A section of the bill that received a lot of favorable testimony would require more reporting regarding race, ethnicity and gender on public works projects let to bid by the state and local governments. The information would be made public and reported to the Legislature.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said the data collection required in the bill could provide a foundation to establish contracting opportunities for minorities and women. Neal is pursuing a related measure that was heard today the Government Affairs Committee.

Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the bill goes to the heart of good government and government efficiency:

032511Horsford1 :10 and government efficiency.”

Horsford says every dollar saved is a dollar in new revenue that does not have to be raised:

032511Horsford2 :21 have to raise.”

Horsford says the bill is about saving taxpayer dollars, but also about consumer protections:

032511Horsford3 :15 they are charged.”

Minorities And Women Could Gain Bidder Preference In Assembly Bill

By Andrew Doughman | 5:48 pm March 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A proposal in the state Assembly would give minority-owned or women-owned businesses a five percent bidder preference for state public works projects under $100,000

Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, advanced the bill in a Assembly Government Affairs hearing today.

Her bill, with amendments, would allow businesses that qualify under federal standards as a “small, disadvantaged business enterprise” would get the bidder preference.

Like the preference currently available for disabled veterans who own businesses, a 5 percent bidder preference would artificially make a bid lower by 5 percent, thus making the bid more competitive.

Neal cited 2002 ownerships statistics from Nevada that show few minority or women business owners in the construction industry.

Minorities and women comprise large numbers of the population, but their numbers are not reflected in the number of business owners in Nevada.

“We at least want to provide the opportunity for groups that may be able to bond collaboratively together to start to become part of public works in a real way,” Neal said. “…There may be a need at this point to level the playing field so they may equally participate.”

Nevada Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, talks with lobbyist Jack Mallory during a hearing at the Legislature. Photo by Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

Others, however, took issue with changing the bidding procedure to favor disadvantaged businesses, many of which are owned by women and minorities.

“I always thought you did a job based on the ability of the individual,” said Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko. “Nobody should take a precedent over anybody else.”

Ellison said that this bill would put others at a disadvantage.

“Maybe it’s a little simplistic, but we’d just like to be in an environment where it is a meritocracy,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley.

Neal, however, disagreed. She said that a meritocracy is theoretically ideal, but it is not what Nevada has now. She said her bill would level the playing field for small, disadvantaged businesses.

“There’s nothing in this bill that compromises the quality of the contractor here,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno.

The committee did not vote on the bill today.

***UPDATE 3/26/11: A mention of the  $100,000 cap for the bidder preference was left out of the original version and has been added.

 

Dual “Anomaly” Districts Likely To Disappear In Nevada’s Redistricting Process

By Andrew Doughman | 12:36 pm March 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ask people living near the strip in Las Vegas who their state senator is and, if they know, they might say Sen. Mark Manendo or Sen. David Parks.

They would both be right on both counts. Parks and Manendo represent one of the state’s two dual districts, which each have two senators.

They are a relic from a past era, and Parks says there is a “strong likelihood” they will soon be a thing of the past.

Parks is the chairman of the Senate committee that publicly works on drawing the boundaries.

“From a personal perspective, I’d sooner have a single Senate district because I would have fewer constituents to campaign to,” he said.

The Nevada Legislature will redraw political boundaries this year using data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

“It makes sense that the double districts go away,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, a Republican who represents Clark County District Five with Sen. Shirley Breeden, a Democrat. “What’s the rationale? If double districts are great, why aren’t double districts everywhere? It’s an anomaly. … I haven’t heard a single person argue for the merits of a double district.”

Clark County Senate Districts 5 and 7 have two Senators each. Those districts could disappear in the 2011 redistricting process. Legislative Counsel Bureau

About 475,000 Nevadans currently live in the dual districts that elect two senators each. Each dual-district senator technically represents half the district. The districts are double the size of districts that elect a single senator.

In the rest of Nevada, one district elects one senator.

Double districts are double the size to keep in line with national laws. National court rulings have established a “one person, one vote” rule.

Senate districts that are double the size of other districts must then have two senators. Or, the other way around, if a district has two senators, it must be double the size of districts that have one senator.

Campaigning in a double district is more difficult than in single districts. Roberson said that candidates have to solicit votes from double the voters, pay double the mailing costs and spend double the money in order to reach double the number of people.

In this century, the districts seem odd.

“Within the context of Nevada, it may be an anomaly,” said Guy Rocha, Nevada’s former state historian. “We don’t need it today.”

But it has not always been so.

The double districts came about as the United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the 1960s that changed the old way Nevada elected its senators.

Before, each of Nevada’s 17 counties elected one senator.

But as Clark County’s population grew, legislators in the north seemed to wield disproportionate influence since they represented fewer people than the Clark County legislators.

Nevada overhauled the way it elected its Senators and Assembly members in 1965 to use population, not county, as the base.

In 1971, Nevada had many districts where one district elected one assembly member or senator based on population. But Nevada also had one seven-member and one two-member district in Clark County and one four-member Washoe County district.

After 1971, these abnormal districts began to disappear.

By 1991, Clark County had five double districts. That number shrank to the current two double-districts in 2001.

Now it seems that they will all go away.

“It would end what I call a latter-day tradition,” Rocha said. “Perhaps, it’s served its purpose and served its time.”

DOJ Indicts Former Ensign Staffer Doug Hampton on Seven Counts

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:42 pm March 24th, 2011

Deep sighs of relief were heard all over Nevada when Senator John Ensign announced his decision not to run for reelection. Today the indictment of former Ensign staffer Doug Hampton will once again put many of the Silver State’s political players* on edge.

As reported by the AP and others, Hampton has been charged with illegally lobbying the senator’s staff on behalf of two companies for which he was working as a consultant.

Federal law prohibits former Senate aides from lobbying the Senate for one year after termination of employment.

Roll Call reports that Hampton is scheduled to be arraigned March 31 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Doug Hampton claimed in 2009 (first in a riveting interview on Ralston’s Face to Face and then on national television) that Ensign helped him find lobbying clients after he left the Senator’s office. Ensign has denied doing so.

When Hampton went public and effectively incriminated himself, he hinted he was in possession of more (read: damaging to Ensign) information than he was sharing. Presumably, that information will now be shared with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Hampton seeks to defend himself.

If found guilty, Hampton could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

The Department of Justice last year served subpoenas on numerous Las Vegas businesses, seeking documentation about Ensign, Doug Hampton, and various staffers and political operatives.

That documentation showed companies being contacted by Ensign’s office about possible work opportunities for Hampton, as well as emails from Hampton explaining how he could help them.

Ensign escaped sanction by the FEC and prosecution by the DOJ, but he is still the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation that started in the fall of 2009.

*Update: Ralston mentions, via Tweet, that key testimony could come from John Lopez, former Ensign chief of staff who is now with R&R Partners, and Mike Slanker, an ex-Ensign operative now heading up Dean Heller’s senate campaign.

 

Gov. Sandoval Signs Bill Addressing Proper Burial Of Unclaimed Veterans’ Remains

By Sean Whaley | 2:32 pm March 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today signed a bill requiring funeral directors to report to the Office of Veterans’ Services if they obtain possession of unclaimed human remains they know or reasonably believe to be that of a veteran.

Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 124 in a ceremony before a full house of veterans at the Kit Carson VFW Post 3726 in the capital.

Gov. Brian Sandoval talks with veteran Robert Primeaux following a bill signing ceremony today. Photo by Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

Sandoval was joined by Director of the Office of Veterans’ Services Caleb Cage for the signing ceremony, which came on Veterans and Military Day at the Nevada Legislature.

AB124 was sought by the interim Legislative Committee on Senior Citizens, Veterans, and Adults with Special Needs. Once a funeral director notifies the veterans agency of the possession of a veteran’s remains, the agency will ensure the deceased veteran receives a proper burial.

In testifying on the bill earlier this session, Cage said there are cremated veterans’ remains in storage at funeral homes because there is no family to claim them. Several other states, including Illinois, Missouri, and Colorado, have passed similar legislation.