Archive for April, 2011

Assembly Hears Details Of Sandoval Social Services Program Cuts In Friday Budget Review

By Sean Whaley | 5:57 pm April 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Assembly worked late today meeting as a Committee of the Whole to review Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget for health and human services.

The review by the entire 42-member Assembly followed a similar session held in the Senate earlier this week.

The review took note of the nearly $50 million in “add backs” by the Sandoval administration to a number of programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the restoration of $5 per resident day in Medicaid support for elderly Nevadans living in skilled nursing facilities.

Sandoval had originally proposed a $20 per resident day cut in Medicaid funding to skilled nursing providers. The amendment reduces the cut to $15 a day.

Amendments to Sandoval’s two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget were sent to lawmakers earlier in the week.

In the Senate session on Wednesday, Majority Leader Steven Horsford noted that it will be up to lawmakers to determine where the $50 million in additional funding will be put to use in the budget.

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, questioned whether allocating $2.2 million in scarce funding to keep the Wells Conservation Camp open was a better choice than further restorations to mental health programs.

The funding for the Wells camp has been recommended by Sandoval, prompting Horsford to suggest the add backs are largely aimed at insuring support for the budget from rural Republican lawmakers.

Other restorations proposed by Sandoval include funding for autism, mental health triage centers, mental health residential supports and $2.2 million for elder protective services rather than shifting the cost of this program to the counties.

Even with the program restorations, Democrat lawmakers in the Assembly continued to focus on the cuts that are still part of Sandoval’s budget, such as funding to support the operation of mental health courts.

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said the mental health courts are not cut in the governor’s budget, but are proposed to be shifted to the counties to fund.

HHS Director Mike Willden said as he prepared his agency’s budget he focused on the retention of core services. The mental health courts, designed to keep mentally ill offenders out of jail, are valuable programs, but the funding from the state does not cover the operation of the courts, he said.

Mike Willden of the Department of Health and Human Services testifies in the Assembly today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Instead, the state funding first implemented in 2003 provides psychiatric case workers to work with those with mental health issues in the court system to keep them out of jail and from committing further crimes, Willden said.

If the counties choose not to fund these caseworkers, then the courts could cease to operate, but the individuals would still be eligible for the pool of services available from the department, he said.

Senior Washoe County District Judge Peter Breen testified in support of funding the courts in the Senate and Assembly reviews. He said the program is far cheaper to operate then sending the mentally ill to jail or prison, saving $10 to $12 for every $1 of investment.

Breen called Sandoval’s funding shift a “death sentence” for the mental health courts.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said Sandoval has talked of shared sacrifice, but the cuts in his budget will be borne disproportionately by people in need.

Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, urged the Sandoval administration to look at Nevada’s antiquated tax system, including the low taxes paid by the mining industry, rather than implementing some of the cuts in his budget.

The proposed budget is being balanced on the backs of those who can’t speak for themselves, he said.

Gansert said the budget will see some further revenues and restorations before it is finalized. The Economic Forum, a panel of private sector fiscal experts, meets Monday and is expected to forecast more tax revenues, she said. A separate review this week of the “minor” state tax revenues has already projected $72 million in additional funds, Gansert said.

 

Legislature Debates Cuts To Benefits, Overtime, Pay Increases For States Employees

By Andrew Doughman | 2:42 pm April 29th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State employees could face further pay increase suspensions as well as cuts to holiday pay under a bill proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

State employees would again face a pay freeze for the time the years they have worked with the state, as well as any potential merit pay. This is in addition to a proposed 5 percent salary cut.

The bill would also make changes to the benefits package for new hires, eliminating a severance provision worth five years of retirement benefits if an employee was laid off because of budget cuts. Instead, the employee would get six months of health benefits.

Representatives from the governor’s office testified that the proposals would put Nevada better in line with neighboring states.

They said new state employees earn a maximum of 104 hours and a minimum of 80 hours per year in paid sick leave among the states neighboring Nevada. In Nevada, new employees earn 120 hours per year in sick leave.

The governor’s proposal would reduce sick time for all employees more toward the Western state average of 98 hours per year.

“If you look at that as the high and low, Nevada was two days beyond the high of any of our neighboring states,” said Julia Teska from the state budget office.

The 5 percent salary reduction saves the state $379.7 million. The suspension of pay increases saves $212 million.

The state does account for paying out employees for accrued vacation and sick leave, so the budget office did not offer a direct savings number.

State employee unions lined up to testify against the bill in a legislative hearing this morning.

“This is another bill that seems to be attacking state employees,” said Vishnu Subramaniam, representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

State employees would also earn reduced overtime pay for hours they work on holidays. Changing holiday overtime pay would save an estimated $2.7 million.

Now, all state employees get paid on holidays, and working on a holiday earns an employee pay at 1.5 times the normal hourly rate. Altogether, that means state employees now earn money at 2.5 times the normal rate for working on holidays.

This proposal would lop off 0.5 of that rate so that state employees would earn double time on holidays.

“The proposals that you’re making are not intended as a budget cut per se, but to equalize us with what the market says when you look at the marketplace,” said Randy Kirner, R-Reno.

Public sector union representatives said that the cuts disproportionately affect the working class. They said that the state continues to pay out six-figure salaries to contractors and high-level administrators while balancing the budget with reductions in benefits and pay for the rank and file.

“This is just something of greed,” said Kevin Ranft, also from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

A legislative committee took no immediate action on the bill, but legislators are expected to address the proposal again as part of the governor’s budget.

 

Potential 2012 GOP Presidential Candidate Ron Paul Says He Will Decide On Race Before June

By Sean Whaley | 10:48 am April 29th, 2011

RENO – Texas Congressman Ron Paul said today he will decide “before June” whether to make another bid for president as a Republican candidate in 2012.

Paul, 75, in an interview before a breakfast at the Washoe County Republican Party office, formed an official exploratory committee on Tuesday in advance of GOP debates set for May.

“I personally have some reservations about what is required – the money raising; is the support there; do you sound credible; do people really want me to – and that’s why I’ve been going around the country and the reception has been pretty good,” he said.

Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party are scheduled to hold a debate May 5 in Greenville, S.C.

Paul, R-Tex., has run for president twice, first as a Libertarian candidate in 1988 and a second time as a Republican in 2008. He is one of several potential Republican candidates to visit Nevada recently, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, on Thursday, Donald Trump.

Nevada is an early caucus state for the Republican primary, with a date set for Feb. 18, 2012. It will be the third contest nationwide and the first in the West.

Asked what sets him apart from other potential candidates, Paul said: “The rule of law. That we ought to live within the confines of the Constitution. That we shouldn’t fight wars that are undeclared. We shouldn’t print money when it’s not allowed. We shouldn’t run up deficits.

“They say we’re on the fringe, but I think people who think we should have an empire, people who print money when they need it, and deficits don’t matter, I mean we’ve finally gotten to the point where everybody says, ‘hey, maybe we’ve over done it,’ ” he said. “I would say that they are the radicals and we are the moderates who just want to get back to common sense.”

Paul said it isn’t that the issues he raises are moving to the mainstream, but that “people are starting to recognize that what we are doing really doesn’t make any sense.”

Ralph McMullen, chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party, said he was pleased to have Paul visit in part to make up for the controversy at the 2008 Nevada Republican Party state convention.

The convention ended up in disarray after Paul supporters positioned themselves to win delegates to the national convention over GOP nominee John McCain. The convention ended up being shut down, and McMullen said the bad feelings from the incident likely played a role in Sue Lowden’s performance in the Republican primary in last year’s U.S. Senate race. Lowden was the GOP chairwoman at the time.

Sharron Angle ended up winning the primary but losing to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Asked about the “birther” controversy regarding President Obama’s birthplace, Paul said he would rather talk about more important issues. The release this week of Obama’s birth document should put the matter to rest, but Paul said the controversy never focused on the real issue, which is that Obama’s mother was a U.S. citizen and so his birthplace would not have mattered.

“I do think the war and the dangerous situation with the dollar and the debt, in perspective, those are much more important issues,” he said.

Audio clips:

Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul says he has some reservations about running:

042911Paul1 :13 been pretty good.”

Paul says his candidacy is about the rule of law:

042911Paul2 :10 run up deficits.”

Paul says his positions are not radical:

042911Paul3 :19 to common sense.”

Paul says people realize change is needed:

042911Paul4 :05 make any sense.”

Paul says there are far more important issues than Obama’s birthplace:

042911Paul5 :10 more important issues.”

 

Republican and Democrats Release Competing Political District Maps

By Andrew Doughman | 5:03 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State Republicans and Democrats today released their proposals for new state legislative political districts.

The competing proposals for state Assembly and Senate districts both keep the Legislature at its current size of 63 legislators.

The Democratic proposal, however, includes a new concept involving two Assembly districts nested within each Senate district. Democrats said they introduced “nesting” in order to simplify and harmonize how Nevadans are represented at the state level.

The proposal could also save thousands of dollars, said Larry Lomax, Clark County Registrar of Voters.

“The more the lines coincide … the less ballot styles you create,” Lomax said. “The fewer number of ballot styles you have, the cheaper it is to do your printing.”

Lomax said that his office printed 307 different types of ballots for the 2010 general elections in Clark County.

The Democratic proposal promises a 30 – 12 Democratic split in the Assembly and a 14 – 7 advantage in the Senate, according to voters registered Democratic and Republican in each proposed district.

The Republican proposal reflects a 26 – 16 Democratic advantage in the Assembly, which is the current ratio in the Assembly. The Republican plan for the state Senate would create 14 seats with more voters registered as Democrats and seven seats with a Republican voter advantage.

But the presence of large numbers of independents and third-party voters means many of these districts could swing blue or red.

About 470,000 Nevadans are registered as Democrats as opposed to about 405,000 registered Republican.

Republicans Release Congressional Plan, Hispanic Vote Proves Contentious

Republicans also released a plan for Nevada’s four congressional districts, one of which is new due to population growth between 2000 and 2010.

The districts include what Republicans say are two districts likely to elect Democrats and two districts likely to elect Republican candidates.

State legislative Republicans today released this plan for Nevada's four congressional district. Nevada earned one more representative to Congress as a result of population growth between 2000 and 2010. Please click here to see Clark County districts 1 and 4.

The proposals drew rapid criticism from Hispanic advocacy groups that called the proposals unfair to Hispanics. The proposed population of congressional district four contains 44.3 percent voting-aged Hispanics.

“This proposal does not enhance the ability for the Hispanic community to elect candidates of choice,” said Javier Trujillo of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, who said Hispanics are packed together to the extent that their vote is diluted in other districts.

Republicans, however, contended that a majority-minority district increases the likelihood that a Hispanic candidate will be elected to Congress.

Advocacy groups and legislators argued the same points about minority populations during a Democratic press conference today, touting the Democrat’s proposals as “common sense” and “fair” while disparaging the Republican proposals as unfair to their communities.

“There are several factors that we will discuss today that guided the development of this plan, including reducing population deviation, following county and city boundaries, fairly reflecting the diversity of our state and restoring common sense and reducing confusion,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

Proposed Maps Also Eliminate Seats For Two Incumbents, Eradicate Dual Senate Districts

Both proposals eliminate Clark County’s two dual-districts, which legislators and constituents alike had criticized.

Democrats and Republicans also offered similar responses to population shifts to Clark County. The two political parties agreed to eliminate the seats of Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Growth in the southern part of the state meant that current districts are imbalanced and one northern Senate seat and one northern Assembly seat became southern seats in the new proposals.

Brower recently declared his intention to run for Congress and Goicoechea is expected to run for state Senate in rural Nevada, where Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, must leave the Senate due to term limits.

In an odd maneuver, the Republican proposal also changes the numbers of every district. Nevada law prohibits someone from using the word “reelect” if the district number changes.

Democrats have also touted how their maps include Assembly districts that are, as much as possible, bounded by the borders of cities.

Both proposals, however, do not always follow county lines, especially in rural counties.

The Republican and Democratic plans represent two different takes in what could be a lengthy process to hammer out a compromise between a Republican governor and a Democratic-controlled Legislature. If the two parties cannot reach a compromise, the drawing of political districts could end up in the hands of Nevada’s judges.

Parties Constrained By Redistricting Rules

Democrats and Republicans drawing the boundaries of political districts have to follow rules culled from a variety of past court decisions.

All districts must be nearly the same size. Map drawers use the U.S. Census total population figures for Nevada and divide those by the number of districts so that each district has an ideal size. The ideal size for an Assembly seat is about 64,300 people and about 128,600 people for a Senate seat.

Republicans and Democrats must also try to follow as closely as possible the boundaries of cities and counties when drawing maps. Natural boundaries like rivers and man-made boundaries like highways can also serve as convenient boundaries.

The political parties are also generally prevented from drawing incumbent legislators out of their districts.

Finally, the two political parties must consider “communities of interest” when creating political districts. This could prevent rural Nevadans from suddenly being thrown in the same district as urban Nevadans, or keeping a distinct downtown community separate from a suburban community.

Audio Clips

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, says that the Democratic plan for redistricting:

042811 Horsford :20

 

Democrats Release Maps For Proposed State Assembly And Senate Districts

By Andrew Doughman | 5:03 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY — State legislative Democrats have released their proposals for state Senate and Assembly districts.

Democrats will debate the proposals together with Republicans during meetings of the Assembly and Senate tonight. Republicans released their proposals for new state Senate and Assembly districts, as well as Congressional districts, this morning.

The Legislature is required to redraw the boundaries of political districts every 10 years based on changes in population released through the U.S. Census.

Please click here for party registration numbers for each of the proposed districts — the numbers of which correspond to the current districts and those districts’ Senators and Assembly members.

The map can be viewed below or click here for the full-sized map.

 

Democrats today released this proposal for 21 Senate districts and 42 Assembly districts. In the proposal, two Assembly districts are nested within each Senate district.

The proposal has 30 Clark County Assembly seats, five seats in rural counties, six seats in Washoe County and one seat split between Washoe County and rural counties.

The Senate proposal has 15 Clark County seats, three seats in Washoe County and seat split between Washoe County and rural counties.

The Nevada News Bureau has obtained from Legislative Counsel Bureau staff large .pdf files of the Democratic proposals. They are available for download below.

 

A Clark County map with Assembly districts nested within Senate districts.

large Clark County Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

A large Clark County Senate district map with incumbent homes.

 

Washoe County map with Assembly districts nested within Senate districts.

large Washoe County Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

large Washoe County Senate district map with incumbent homes.

 

A large statewide (rural) Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

A large statewide (rural) Senate district map with incumbent homes.

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Appeal In States’ Challenge To National Health Care Law Set For June 8 In Atlanta

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Oral arguments in the ongoing legal challenge of the national health care law by 26 states including Nevada are set for June 8 before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga.

Lead Special Counsel for Nevada, Mark Hutchison, will represent the state at the hearing, which will consider the federal government’s appeal of a lower federal court ruling out of Florida which found a key provision of the health care law unconstitutional.

Florida Judge Roger Vinson ruled Jan. 31 that the provision of the law that requires all U.S. citizens and residents purchase a private health insurance policy is unconstitutional.

“The federal government’s appeal was expected,” Hutchison said. “We are confident that Judge Vinson’s decision is sound and that at the end of the day the states will prevail. Congress exceeded its authority under the Constitution by compelling Americans to purchase a product, in this case a health insurance policy, from a private company.”

In Vinson’s original ruling he reasoned: “It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place. If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain for it would be ‘difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power,’ and we would have a Constitution in name only. Surely this is not what the Founding Fathers could have intended.”

The federal lawsuit was originally filed in federal court in the Northern District of Florida on Mar. 23, 2010. Nevada joined the lawsuit on May 14, 2010 at the direction of former Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Gov. Brian Sandoval supports Nevada’s legal challenge of the law as well.

The state of Virginia filed a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Virginia on Mar. 23, 2010, making a total of 27 states challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Public court documents about the case can be found at www.hutchlegal.com/healthcare. Nevadans can also visit Hutchison’s blog for regular updates and information at www.obamacarelitigation.blogspot.com.

 

Republicans Release Population Numbers For Proposed Districts

By Andrew Doughman | 2:04 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Nevada Republicans have released data regarding their proposals for new congressional districts as well as state senate and assembly districts.

Please see below for the raw data. The Nevada News Bureau will be providing a full analysis of both Republican and Democratic proposals later this afternoon.

Click here for data regarding Republican proposals for U.S. Congress districts

Click here for data regarding Republican proposals for Nevada Senate districts

Click here for data regarding Republican proposals for Nevada Assembly districts

The corresponding maps are here.

Republicans In The Nevada Legislature Introduce Redistricting Plans

By Sean Whaley | 10:30 am April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislative Republicans today announced that they are introducing redistricting plans for the Assembly, Senate, and the state’s Congressional delegation that will “ensure fair representation for the people of Nevada.”

In a news release from Senate GOP leaders Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, they say they have crafted a plan that respects the current numerical strength of various regional, ethnic, partisan, and individual community groups without infringing on the rights of other Nevadans to effectively participate in the electoral process.

Images of the plans are accessible here:  http://www.nevadarepublicanlegislators.com/

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the ideal population for each of Nevada’s Congressional districts is 675,138; for state Senate Districts, 128,598; and for state Assembly districts, 64,299, and the Republican plans show minimal disparity from these ideal populations.

In the Congressional plan, district populations have an absolute deviation of zero people, except in one necessary instance due to Nevada’s total population being an odd, and not even, figure. In the state Senate plan, district populations deviate from the ideal population by less than one tenth of one percent (0.1 percent). In the State Assembly plan, district populations deviate from the ideal population by less than one half of one percent (0.5 percent).

The Republican plans will also fully and properly comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. As such, the Republican plans:

- Prevent “fracturing” of the Hispanic community by creating the following majority-minority districts: one majority-Hispanic congressional district; four majority-Hispanic state senate districts; and eight majority-Hispanic assembly seats.

- Prevent “packing” of the Hispanic community by keeping the total Hispanic population under 60 percent in all of the majority-minority districts.

According to the 2010 Census, Hispanics represent more than 26 percent of Nevada’s population. The Republican Congressional plan ensures that members of the Hispanic community will have opportunities to elect candidates of their choice to Nevada’s Congressional delegation. Additionally, the legislative plans create the opportunities for the Hispanic community to increase its representation in the Nevada Legislature.

The Republican plans also preserve historic African-American districts in the Nevada Senate and Nevada Assembly.

The Republican Congressional plan creates two districts likely to elect Democratic candidates and two districts likely to elect Republican candidates – one of which leans Republican only slightly.

In the Nevada Senate, the Republican plan creates nine districts likely to elect Democratic candidates, four districts likely to elect Republican candidates, and eight competitive districts.

In the Nevada Assembly, the plan creates twenty districts likely to elect Democratic candidates, eight districts likely to elect Republican candidates, and fourteen competitive districts.

Legislature To See Democratic Proposals For New Senate And Assembly Districts

By Andrew Doughman | 2:16 am April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State legislative Democrats will reveal their proposed maps for the political boundaries of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate districts at 5 p.m. today.

The unveiling of the maps represents the first public look at what promises to be a contentious debate about the state’s political districts, which the Legislature is required to alter every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census data.

Sen.David Parks, D-Las Vegas, has earlier said that the first maps will most likely show districts that reflect the Legislature’s current size of 21 Senators and 42 Assembly members.

Senate and Assembly Republicans have not yet said whether they will join Democratic leadership in presenting proposed redistricting maps on Thursday.

The Legislature has a number of challenges in drawing political boundaries of Assembly and Senate districts:

  • Growth in the southern part of the state means current districts are imbalanced and one northern Senate seat and one or two northern Assembly seats will become southern seats. This means some northern incumbents will no longer have a district to represent.
  •  

  • The Legislature must decide what to do with state’s two dual-districts, which Parks and others have earlier said will likely go extinct with this round of redistricting.
  •  

  • The Legislature must consider protecting “communities of interest” when drawing districts. This could prevent rural Nevadans from suddenly being thrown in the same district as urban Nevadans, or keeping a distinct downtown community separate from a suburban community.
  •  

  • The state’s Assembly and Senate seats also have wide disparities in population, which Assembly Republicans have said resulted from unfair maps the Legislature approved in 2001.

These challenges are compounded by the split between a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor. Both will likely have to agree on the proposal to pass the redistricting bill.

Members of both political parties want the maps to be fair, but there may be little agreement on actual proposals. Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he will veto any plan that is not “fair.”

So a showdown between a Republican executive and a Democratic-controlled Legislature could throw the matter into the courts. Some legislators think this is an inevitability.

“The court will be the ultimate decider,” Settelmeyer said.

Others contend that they can work out a compromise.

“You go out there, there’s fights, there’s fireworks … but at the end of the day why would politicians put their fate in seven justices [of Nevada's Supreme Court],” said Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

The Legislature will also have to draw new Congressional districts.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he expects the Legislature to unveil and debate proposed Congressional maps sometime next week. Those maps will reflect the addition of a fourth Congressional district added to Nevada due to population growth during the past decade.

At today’s presentation, legislators do not expect to debate the proposals. Legislative staff plan to present and explain the maps, after which Senate and Assembly committees will debate the merits and faults of each plan.

Reid: Senate Ethics Committee Must Release Ensign Findings

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:36 pm April 27th, 2011

As reported by Steve Tetrault, Senator Harry Reid said earlier today the Senate Ethics Committee is not only “obligated” to issue the findings from its 22-month investigation of Senator John Ensign but that it must also refer any potential criminal violations to the Department of Justice for their consideration.

Ensign will not be under the jurisdiction of the Senate as of his resignation on May 3, but his departure does not preclude the ethics panel from releasing information after he is gone.

 

Sandoval Releases Statement of Intent to Appoint Heller to Senate

By Elizabeth Crum | 12:10 pm April 27th, 2011

From the governor’s office today:

“The people of Nevada deserve a new senator who can begin work immediately.  Too many important issues face our state and our nation to name a caretaker to this important position; Nevada needs an experienced voice in Washington, DC.

“Dean Heller currently represents 16 Nevada counties in their entirety and parts of Nevada’s most populous county, Clark County.  Dean has served as a statewide Constitutional officer for 12 years, as a member of the Nevada Legislature, and is serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He has quickly risen through the ranks within the United States House of Representatives.  Dean is an experienced representative who is ready for the responsibilities of this office, and who will work hard, not just for Nevada, but for the entire nation.

“A fiscal conservative who believes in limited government, Dean will fight to keep taxes low and balance the federal budget.  He understands that the federal government spends too much money and places too many regulatory burdens on small business.  Just as Senator John Ensign fought for states’ rights and sound economic policies, Dean will speak out for the concerns of every-day Nevadans.  I am confident he will help get Nevada working again.

“Dean Heller is a compassionate man of deep personal integrity, with a down-to-earth approach to public service.  I have no doubt Dean will serve Nevada in the Senate for many years, and I look forward to working with him on behalf of the state we both love so much.

“Recognizing that this appointment will create a vacancy in the office of U.S. Representative from Nevada’s Second Congressional District, I pledge to work closely with Secretary of State Ross Miller on the timing of the upcoming transition and resulting special election.  I have asked Secretary Miller to provide me with information on the rules for conducting this election at his earliest convenience.”

 

Berkley Pollster Says Incumbent Advantage a Myth

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:33 am April 27th, 2011

On Sunday I wrote that Congressman Dean Heller stands to gain more than he risks losing should Governor Sandoval appoint him to John Ensign’s Senate seat this week.

Shelley Berkley pollster Mark Mellman yesterday disagreed, saying the incumbent advantage is somewhat of a myth when the subject is appointed rather than elected Senators. From his piece on The Hill:

It’s amazing how quickly some analysts jump to conclusions without any facts to break their fall. Discussions of Dean Heller’s potential appointment to John Ensign’s (R) Senate seat provide the latest example of fact-free commentary.

Talk about the “incumbent advantage” Rep. Heller (R) will gain by virtue of this appointment ignores the historical record, which makes clear that appointed incumbents gain no advantage. Telling titles of two academic treatises summarize the facts: “Treadmill to Oblivion: The Fate of Appointed Senators” and “The Electoral (Mis) Fortunes of Appointed Senators and the Source of Incumbency Advantage.”

Since popular election of senators began in 1913, 118 appointed senators sought election and just 62 — or 52.5 percent — won their seats. Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com confines his analysis to Senate appointments since 1956 and finds that 51 percent won election.

An appointed senator has about the same odds of winning a coin flip as (s)he does of keeping his or her seat: about the same odds as an otherwise evenly matched race for an open seat.

Nate Silver’s 2008 analysis included a nice chart showing the 49 gubernatorial appointees since 1956 and the results of the subsequent elections. Many lost, and Silver noted that the numbers are far below the usual benchmarks for incumbent senators:

Since 1990, about 81% of incumbent senators have sought re-election, and among those have sought it, 88% have won it. By contrast, among the 80% of gubernatorial appointees since 1956 who chose to seek re-election, only 49% survived both the primary and the general election.

Mellman goes on to list the reasons for the low ROA (Return On Appointment) including well-qualified, well-funded challengers (usually other members of Congress), the fact that appointed Senators do not have the advantage of having introduced themselves to and defined themselves with voters (as they would had they run a campaign), and the fact that voters tend to prefer elections to having “a single individual stuffing a U.S. senator down their throats in a process that appears questionable.”

Mellman also refers to the 17th Amendment, which provides for popular election of senators, saying the Constitutional language makes it clear that elections are the proper way to fill a vacancy. From his piece:

“When vacancies happen … in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.” A proviso was added to deal with the lag between the creation of the vacancy and the point at which an election was feasible: “the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election.” While some states require speedy specials or appointment of a caretaker, many take advantage of this loophole by waiting up to two years to hold the constitutionally mandated elections, but voters smell the rat and give no advantage to those acceding to office by appointment.

Analysts who thought Dean Heller would gain an advantage from his appointment would do well to consult a few facts in addition to their flawed assumptions.

I always pay data its due respect and did consult the statistics before writing my post, so my suggestion that Heller stands to gain from an appointment was not made in ignorance. Mellman is right that it guarantees the Congressman nothing and perhaps hurts him in the eyes of some voters, but those disgruntled voters–Democrats who this week clamored for an “open” selection process to include public hearings even though state law says it is the governor’s duty to choose Nevada’s next senator (and many of whom wouldn’t be complaining if the governor were a Democrat appointing a Democrat–were not going to vote for Dean Heller next year anyhow.

A recent PPP poll shows the Republicans will vote for Heller en masse (86%) and many independents (56%) say they are likely to do so as well. The survey shows Berkley has gained ground in the last four months — Heller is now up only 47-43 — but Heller’s favorables with independents and strong support from the GOP base are not likely to change much between now and next November.

In addition, Shelley Berkley is facing a primary challenge from the wealthy and outspoken Byron Georgiou who, unless he can be talked out of the race (and he says he cannot), is very likely to attack Berkley and drive up her negatives with the Democratic base as well as with independents. This will help Heller in the general election, presuming he is not also challenged in and damaged by the GOP primary next year.

Finally, as I said on Sunday, Senator Heller will gain more in the way of statewide name recognition than Congressman Heller (even without a campaign), not to mention the PR and fundraising advantage to be gained through use of the NRSC’s statewide mailing lists. In addition, Heller will open an office in southern Nevada which can then be used as a de facto campaign headquarters in order to build support in Clark County–where he needs it most.

If Heller is appointed and then loses to Berkley next fall, it will be less for the reasons Mellman mentions and more because the Nevada Democrats, who presently have a 60,000 statewide voter registration edge, did their usual bang-up job of getting out the vote with the added boost of energy that comes in every presidential election year.

 

Bill To Improve Accountability In State Contracting Wins Assembly Approval

By Sean Whaley | 8:33 pm April 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in state contracting passed the Assembly by a deadline today and will now be considered in the Senate.

Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, passed on a 40-2 vote.

“In these times of economic and budgetary challenges, it is more critical than ever that we take every step possible to use taxpayer revenue effectively, save money, and improve state services,” Smith said. “Bringing state contracting out into the open for all to see and establishing a cooling off period for state employees are great steps forward for accomplishing those goals.”

AB240 changes the definition of “consultant” to make sure the state contracting process is transparent and state agencies are held accountable for the contracts they award. The legislation would help prevent state contractors from receiving contracts in excess of what can be done in-house by state employees.  The bill would also extend the cooling off period before a retired state employee could contract with the state to two years.

AB240 would also explicitly permit auditing of all contracts in which persons are employed by the state. The terms of employment contracts would be publicly available, ensuring more transparency, holding the state accountable, and preventing abuses. The bill requires school districts to report their use of consultants as well. Additionally, the legislation would require that anyone who does business with the state must go through the business portal provided by the Secretary of State’s office to obtain a Nevada business license.

The legislation was prompted by an audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors. It identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

 

Campaign Finance And Election Reform Bills Win Approval In Assembly By Deadline

By Sean Whaley | 8:06 pm April 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two bills that would close loopholes and increase transparency in Nevada’s election and campaign finance laws won approval in the Assembly today with no time to spare.

Secretary of State Ross Miller is seeking the bills restricting the use of multiple political action committees to bypass campaign contribution limits and requiring electronic filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates.

Today was the deadline for the bills to win Assembly approval or see no further consideration in the 2011 legislative session. They will now be considered by the Senate.

Assembly Bill 452 contains the provisions requiring most candidates for public office to file their campaign reports electronically so the data can be entered into a searchable database. The bill also requires the reports to be filed before early voting so voters can see who gave money to candidates and where they spent their funds.

Assembly Bill 81 contains a provision restricting the creation of political action committees to circumvent limits on how much money can be contributed to a campaign as is now being reviewed in Rory Reid’s failed gubernatorial bid.

Miller’s office is investigating Reid’s use of 90 shell political action committees his campaign established to funnel $750,000 into his race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal. The use of the PACs was first reported by political commentator Jon Ralston.

The section of the bill had been deleted by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee after some lawmakers expressed concern that the language in the bill could be improperly applied to their caucus and leadership PACs as well.

New language that was acceptable to a majority of the Assembly membership was amended into the bill on the Assembly floor before the final vote sending the measure to the Senate.

Another section of the bill would allow for bigger financial penalties if a third-party group spends money in a Nevada campaign without filing the required disclosure information.

The proposed language is intended to clarify state law and allow Miller to count each activity, such as multiple ad buys, as separate violations that could bring civil penalties. The clarification would help ensure compliance with the reporting requirements.

“It’s always been our position that every TV buy was an actionable violation of the statute,” Miller said after the committee vote earlier this month. “We recognize that it could certainly be argued that, in the aggregate, all of those violations only constituted one violation.

“Obviously it is a poor policy because it would allow a significant out-of-state buy and somebody to say, ‘here is your $5,000 fine and that’s an acceptable cost of doing business for us,’ ” he said.

The bill passed on a 32-10 vote with the “no” votes from Republicans. Six Republicans voted for the measure.

AB452, which also contains a controversial provision requiring a two-year cooling off period before a former lawmaker could be paid to work as a lobbyist in the Legislature, passed on a 27-15 vote with a mix of Democrats and Republicans in support.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, an attorney, objected to the provision, saying it would prohibit him from representing a client in the Legislature if he left office.

Assemblyman William Horne confers with colleagues on the Assembly floor today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

“I have a fundamental disagreement with some of my colleagues that you should prohibit someone from doing what they’re gainfully employed to do,” Horne said after the vote.

He said “it’s a fiction” to imagine that two years spent away from the Legislature would erase the relationships he has built as an Assemblyman.

But Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said that the cooling-off period is all about public perception.

“We want to promote good governance and a process that is free from influence, even if it’s sometimes not,” she said.

Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Sparks, was a lobbyist before he became a legislator. He also voted against the bill because he said it would restrict a citizen from doing part of a job if that job required lobbying at the Legislature.

He said it would have been better to establish a two-year cooling-off period for a “hired gun” who lobbies at the Legislature as a contract lobbyist.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, commented on the unusual votes: “I think people are just voting their conscience. … I really don’t think there’s a problem, but the public perceives a problem … For me, it was a matter of principle and earning the public’s trust.”

AB452 would require campaign contribution and expense reports to 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.

The provisions for electronic filing and earlier filing dates for the reports are being sought  by Miller who has said Nevada’s current reporting laws result in the state getting a failing grade on campaign transparency.

Nevada has consistently received poor grades for its transparency on election reform efforts, including an “F” in 2008 from the Campaign Disclosure Project.

Nevada News Bureau intern Andrew Doughman contributed to this report.

$50 Million Budget Amendment Mitigates Cuts To Autism, Mental Health, Rural Counties

By Andrew Doughman | 4:29 pm April 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The governor has found $50 million that could erase some of the most controversial cuts in his $5.8 billion proposed budget.

The new revenue projections could mitigate an array of budget cuts to autism, mental health, emergency medical services and rural counties. Those services would have been eliminated or transferred to cash-strapped counties that may not have been able to fund them.

The money going to rural counties drew criticism from Senate Majortiy Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who called the governor’s recent trip to the Elko area a “blatant attempt to shore up a handful of votes from legislators whose districts will be crippled by this budget.”

“The governor is trying to cut deals to get votes,” Horsford said in a statement released this evening.

The budget amendment fulfills some of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s promises made to rural legislators. The amendment restores an additional $3.6 million to keep open Wells Conservation Camp in Elko.

The governor’s staff refuted claims that the budget amendment had to do with rural counties.

Sandoval’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, said they made the decisions through “a combination of listening to the [budget] hearings and listening to legislators, both urban and rural.”

Added to a Mar. 28 amendment of $25.8 million, that leaves the budget about $86 million larger than when the governor submitted it. Improved economic conditions also mean at least an additional $72 million available as economists change their revenue projections for the state.

Today’s amendment amounted to about $60.7 total, but $10 million was split between correcting earlier estimates and establishing reserve, unappropriated account.

“The governor’s been listening and we realized there were some significant cuts to some of the camps and to mental health services and autism,” said Heidi Gansert, the governor’s chief of staff. “So when this money was made available, we went back through and did a careful evaluation of where we should add back.”

Mike Willden, director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said he worked with the governor’s budget staff and his own staff to decide what programs deserved funding.

Democratic legislators suggested the possibility of changing where the money goes in the governor’s budget amendment.

“Now it’s in the hands of the Legislature to move things around,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “…I’m not a real fan of making promises in this budget. We have an obligation to the whole state of Nevada.”

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, echoed his colleague’s comments about the Legislature’s role in deciding how and where the state spends its money.

He said, however, that while the new money is good news, the Legislature still has to fill what he claims is a $1.2 billion shortfall in the education budget.

Legislators are still waiting until next Monday, May 2, when an official group of economists will revise projections for the amount of revenue the state will collect during the next two fiscal years. A nascent economic recovery could mean the Legislature will have more money with which to craft a budget.

Today’s amendment comes after the state found savings from revised federal projections for Medicaid matching funds, reduced costs due to rooting out fraudulent billing and a reduced number of cases.

The good news has a bitter downside, though, since the federal projections are based on how poor a state is. This past month, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report showing Nevada’s per capita growth in income was last in the nation during 2010.

That figure means the federal government will give Nevada more aid than the governor had projected when his staff crafted the budget earlier this year.

Some of the largest “add-backs” to the budget are below:

  • Nursing homes should receive back $5 per Medicaid resident per day, meaning a $15 per day reduction rather than a $20 per day reduction. A legal analysis provided one month ago suggested such a cut could violate federal law.
  • The state will provide $3.3 million to restore 75 percent of funding to a welfare program that assists parents with disabilities.
  • $9.2 million could go back to a variety of northern and southern Nevada mental health services.
  • About $5.3 million could be returned to services providing for rural child welfare.
  • $3.4 million would revert to an account for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

 

AUDIO CLIP: Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, Heidi Gansert, says $50 million is going back to cuts to autism and mental health services, which were decided through a careful process:

042611 Gansert :20