Archive for October, 2011

RNC Ad Takes Issue With Harry Reid’s Public vs. Private Sector Jobs Claim

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:00 pm October 20th, 2011

The RNC is out with an ad highlighting remarks made by Sen. Harry Reid on the floor yesterday (I have provided the context for the clip right below the ad):


Here’s the link if your browser has trouble with the embed:

Reid’s unedited remarks:

“The massive layoffs we’ve had in America today — of course they’re rooted in the last administration — and it’s very clear that private sector jobs are doing just fine. It’s the public sector jobs where we’ve lost huge numbers, and that’s what this legislation’s all about. And it’s unfortunate my friend the Republican Leader is complaining about that. I would also note that my friend said the House passed another bill. Well, they pass lots of bills, but they rarely go anyplace.” (Sen. Reid, Floor Remarks, 10/19/11)

Couple notes, Dear Readers (some of these numbers gleaned from this analysis):

According to the most recent estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 21,985, 000 government employees. The last time we were near that number was 2006. The number of public employees peaked at 22,980,000 in May of 2010, some of it due to Census-related hiring (estimates at the time were that the Census would create roughly one million temporary jobs). The total was estimated at 22,582,000 when Obama took office. Bottom line, over the past few years, the total number has hovered right around 22-23 million with differences of no greater than one million between the high and low points. By percentage, that’s about a 4.5 percent loss from peak to low.

The most recent total number of private-sector employees (from September) was 109,349,000, with a peak in January 2008 at 115,610,000. The most recent low was 106,772,000 in February of 2010. So:  the difference between the most recent peak to the most recent low: 8,817,000 (and presently we are about 6 million away from the peak). By percentage, that’s about an 8.2 point loss from peak to low.

Politifact dug up some numbers and weighed in on this, too, if you want to take a look at their assessment.

Update/note:  Reid’s remarks relate to a jobs bill you can read about here.


New Medicaid Contractor Misses Deadline After Controversial Bid Award

By Sean Whaley | 12:54 pm October 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A firm hired in January to take over operation of the state’s Medicaid billing and information systems has failed to complete the first key step in the process by an August deadline and has been given an extension to Dec. 5.

The Medicaid contract with HP Enterprise Services is one of the biggest for the state at a cost of $177 million over five-plus years, and proved controversial when it was approved by state officials in January.

HP had originally committed to transferring the existing Medicaid Management Information System now being operated by Magellan Medicaid Administration by Aug. 1, a five-month process that began March 1.

But Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, said this week the work was not completed by the deadline. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to an extension to Dec. 5 to complete the transfer, he said.

The issue was HP finding the number of qualified staff it needed to complete the transfer on time, Duarte said.

The company is on track to complete the transfer by the new deadline, an assessment shared by a separate independent contractor called Public Knowledge hired by the state to oversee the work, he said.

“So far what we’ve seen with HP is they have been very willing to live up to their commitments and we’re going to hold them to that,” Duarte said.

An HP executive involved in the transfer said today the new deadline will be met.

“We’re definitely firing on all cylinders to make that date,” said Stu Bailey, general manager for state and local government health care in the Western U.S. for the company. “We meet with the state on a regular basis to ensure that. The IV&V (independent validation and verification) has been heavily involved to validate that what we’re saying and what we’re doing is on track, so we’re feeling comfortable that that date will be met.”

Bailey said two issues, one involving the scope of the project not being precisely as it was described in the request for proposal, and the other being staffing issues, led to the delay. The company is transferring its California Medicaid contract to a competitor and the process has taken longer than expected, making staff unavailable for the Nevada transfer, he said.

The HP contract was approved by the Board of Examiners, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, in January, but not without controversy. The second lowest bidder, ACS, raised numerous concerns about the negotiations that resulted in HP winning the contract, including $30 million in additional value that brought the cost of the HP bid close to that of ACS.

Because of the cost involved in filing a formal protest, including a $245,000 non-refundable charge to post a bond, ACS elected not to challenge the award, however.

ACS elected not to comment for this story.

Duarte said the delay in completing the transfer is resulting in some missed savings to the state, but the amount of money lost so far has not yet been quantified. State officials do expect the company to make up those lost savings once the transfer is complete, he said.

“There are other ways of achieving those savings through the contract term and we’re going to leave that open for discussion after the transfer,” Duarte said. “All of our focus right now is making sure that that goes off smoothly so there is no interruption in provider payments and authorization of services for Medicaid recipients.

“But I will be intently working with them after the takeover to make sure that we can achieve those savings that we said we were going to achieve – and that they said they would,” he said.

The Medicaid information system is critically important to Nevada and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which share in the costs of delivering medical services to the approximately 300,000 low-income Nevada recipients, typically families, seniors and the disabled.

Source: U.S. Government.

Nevada health care providers, including doctors and dentists, suffered major financial difficulties in 2003 when the state transitioned to a new Medicaid information system operated by First Health Services Corp. that encountered numerous problems when it first started up.

Bailey said he has been made well aware of the concerns, not only by Duarte and his staff, but by Nevada lawmakers and health care providers as well.

The company has been meeting with state officials and the current contractor on a weekly basis for the past six months to ensure a smooth transition, he said.

Duarte said the HP contract is not for a new system, but what he calls a “lift and drop” where the existing system is transferred to the new contractor.

The transfer process is now in the stages where both systems are being tested in parallel prior to finalizing the transfer, he said. The timely transfer of the system is important because some of the Magellan staff is going to work for HP, and so the company won’t be able to continue to provide the services required indefinitely, Duarte said.

“There is going to be a point in time in which Magellan can’t continue full operations, and so again, that is another driving reason why we want to get this done Dec. 5,” he said.

HP Enterprise Services will serve as the fiscal agent for the state’s Medicaid program when the transfer is complete, managing the state’s Medicaid system, including the processing of payments to medical providers, for the life of the contract.

Duarte said the state does have the ability to seek damages for a failure of the company to deliver on the terms of the contract, but that the decision at this point was not to “lawyer up” but instead to get the work done.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services is also involved in ensuring HP and the state get this work done, he said. When certified, Nevada will get enhanced federal funding, he said.

The Medicaid program is one of the costliest in the state budget, accounting for $1.6 billion this year, with $500 million of that coming from the state general fund. Federal support and other sources make up the rest of the budget.

HP Enterprise Services is the largest provider of Medicaid information system services in the country, operating in 21 of 38 states that have outsourced their programs. It processes about 1 billion provider claims each year.

Bailey said the company is successful because it works to ensure client satisfaction.

“I’ll tell you it’s not enough for us to have the business,” he said. “Beyond that we need to have clients that are happy. Client satisfaction is big on our radar screen.”


Audio clips:

Nevada state Medicaid Administrator Charles Duarte says the focus now is completing the transfer on time and without disruption:

101911Duarte1 :22 for Medicaid recipients.”

Duarte says he will be working with HP to ensure projected savings are achieved:

101911Duarte2 :11 said they would.”

Duarte says HP so far has been willing to live up to its commitments:

101911Duarte3 :08 them to that.”

Duarte says the current contractor won’t be able to continue to provide services indefinitely:

101911Duarte4 :11 done Dec. 5.”

HP Executive Stu Bailey says the company is confident it will make the Dec. 5 deadline:

102011Bailey1 :22 will be met.”

Bailey says client satisfaction has been important to the company’s success:

102011Bailey2 :33 doing for them.”


Yes, Really: Nevada Republicans Poised to Move Caucus Date

By Elizabeth Crum | 8:58 am October 20th, 2011

Hey, guys:

If the ruby-slippered girl from Kansas had capitulated to the demands of the wicked witch (“SURRENDER DOROTHY“) and her flying monkeys, poor Toto might still be stuck in Oz.


As reported by Ralston last night and confirmed by numerous sources inside the state party, Nevada Republican leaders are going wobbly and reconsidering their Jan. 14 caucus date.

Many forces are at play here:

– The ire of New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner who has been threatening to move the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary to December if Nevada does not move its date back

– Firm but friendly pressure from the Iowa GOP

– Pressure and promises of future benefits from the Republican National Committee

– The threat of a boycott of Nevada’s caucuses by a number of presidential candidates who heart New Hampshire and have no chance in Nevada

– The worry about perceptions amid accusations from some party members that Team Romney influenced the executive board’s decision to move the caucus date into January (the earlier date did help Romney and put other candidates at a disadvantage because his campaign has the greatest amount of existing infrastructure)

– Concern with a whipped-up faction of the central committee who were already unhappy with an attempt by the executive board to adopt same-day voter registration rules for the Republican caucus

– Anger among party members that these decisions were made by the executive board behind closed doors and without consulting the general membership of the party

– The worry about an expected challenge to newly elected GOP chair Amy Tarkanian at this Saturday’s central committee meeting in Las Vegas

It remains to be seen whether party leaders will just go ahead and pick a new date before Saturday, or whether they will wait until this weekend when more than 200 Republicans are presently expected to vote on the matter.

Amy Tarkanian has repeatedly said Nevada will not hold the caucuses on a Tuesday, which means the most likely new date is Feb. 4.

As one embattled and audibly exhausted state party official told me in a phone conversation, Nevada “will still be first in the west” and will “still matter” — but with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida all preceding the Silver State, it sure won’t matter as much as if the the Jan. 14 date had stood.

The Nevada Dems yesterday hassled the GOP about their reconsideration via a scathing press release (and an appearance by their memorable chicken mascot). Here’s their statement:

“Nevada Democrats moved our caucus date to bolster Nevada Republicans’ courage to stand up to Florida, who has violated rules agreed upon by both national Parties and is jeopardizing our hard-fought status as a presidential early-voting state. We are disappointed Nevada Republicans are now willing to risk Nevada’s status as an early voting state because they are afraid to stand up to the Republican National Committee’s empty threats and hollow promises. And since their threats against Florida proved toothless, the Beltway-minded RNC isn’t in the best position to honor promises like the ones they have reportedly made to the Nevada Republican Party. No matter what they have told in-state Republicans about securing Nevada’s third-in-the-nation status in future elections, Florida demonstrated the RNC is powerless to stop such actions. Since it would be a deep embarrassment to the state if Nevada Republicans wave the white flag on keeping our early voting status, we therefore strongly urge Gov. Sandoval and state Republicans not to retreat in this fight.”


CNN Debate Recap — Contention, Condescension, Dissension

By Elizabeth Crum | 6:42 pm October 19th, 2011

Now that the dust has settled, Dear Readers, thought I’d recall a few memorable moments from last night’s CNN debate at the Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas:

Best Zinger

My pick for the best one-liner of the night:

In his self-introductory remarks, Perry said he was was “an authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience.”

(Yes, he was talking to you, Mitt.)


For the first 25 minutes of the debate, it was Pick on Herman Cain night, as follows:

Rep. Michele Bachman:  “Anytime you give the Congress a brand-new tax, it doesn’t go away.”

Sen. Rick Santorum: “Herman’s well-meaning, and I love his boldness. I give him credit for — for starting a debate, but it’s not good for families.”

Gov. Rick Perry: “Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don’t need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out. Go to New Hampshire, where they don’t have a sales tax, and you’re fixing to give them one.”

Rep. Ron Paul: “Herman. It’s not going to fly.” And: “It’s very, very dangerous. And it will raise more revenues.”

Gov. Mitt Romney: “The analysis I did, person by person, return by return, is that middle-income people see higher taxes under your plan.”

Cain repeatedly defended his plan, insisting that it was being misrepresented and would not raise taxes on poor people.

“The reason that our plan is being attacked so much is because lobbyists, accountants, politicians — they don’t want to throw out the current tax code and put in something that’s simple and fair,” responded Cain.

Team Cain’s spin room take? The attacks proved he’s considered the frontrunner. They also said he would be releasing more details in the near future.

Health Care

Romney and Santorum got into a shouting match over the Massachusetts health care measure passed when Romney was governor of the Bay State.

Santorum: “You just don’t have credibility. Your consultants helped craft Obamacare.”

Attacks on “RomneyCare” aren’t going away, as much as the former Massachusetts governor might wish they would.

Romney’s best defense is probably the one he’s lately been sticking with and did again last night:  What he did in MA was good for that state given the situation. And states, not the federal government, should be legislating health care solutions tailored to the needs of their residents.

Illegal Immigration

Perry attacked Romney on a story that recently surfaced: “Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”

A shouting match ensued as the two governors took turns interrupting and talking over one another.

At one point, Romney condescendingly said to Perry, “This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that. And so you’re going to get testy.”

(Romney did acknowledge that a landscaping company he hired employed illegal immigrants, but he said he fired the company when he found out.)

Also notable: During an exchange of barbs, Romney at one point put his hand on Perry’s shoulder. Aggressive.

Looking Forward

There are 12 more Republican debates scheduled in the upcoming months (yes, really).

Most of the campaigns have not started running a full menu of TV ads. Once the field is culled (a factor of campaign dollars), the remaining contenders will have many more chances to rip their opponents on these and other issues.


Nevada AG Masto, 36 Others, Support Nominee To Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:32 am October 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has joined with her Utah counterpart Mark Shurtleff  in asking the U.S. Senate to take up consideration of Rich Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Masto, a Democrat, and Shurtleff, a Republican, were joined by Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council, in discussing the request in a telephone conference call Tuesday with the media.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

The National Association of Attorneys General on Tuesday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supporting Cordray, a Democrat and former Ohio attorney general, for the position. Both Masto and Shurtleff signed the letter.

“The CFPB is intended to make basic financial practices such as taking out a mortgage or a loan more clear and transparent,” says the letter signed by 37 attorneys general. “It is also charged with ferreting out unfair lending practices.

“As head of the CFPB, Mr. Cordray will be an honest broker and strong advocate for both businesses and consumers that are committed to following the rules,” the letter said. “Some of us may disagree with aspects of the Dodd-Frank legislation. But we are united in our belief that Mr. Cordray is very well qualified to carry out the responsibilities of this position.”

Twenty-nine Democrats and eight Republicans signed the letter.

Cordray’s confirmation has been held up in the Senate over concerns about the new agency voiced by some Republicans.

Ron Paul’s Big Announcement: Big Cuts to Big Government

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:03 pm October 17th, 2011

America’s favorite libertarian Texas congressman is proposing nearly $4 trillion in cuts and a fully balanced budget during his first term as president.

Ron Paul addresses supporters and press at The Venetian

In what was hyped as a “major announcement”, Ron Paul today introduced a plan to slash the national deficit and abolish entire departments of the federal government. The thrust of the proposal is what Paul describes as “constitutionally-limited, smaller-government”.

Some highlights of Paul’s “Plan to Restore America“:

  • Cuts $902 billion in spending during the first year of the Paul presidency (compared to current spending levels)
  • Eliminates five federal departments:  Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior
  • Lowers the corporate tax rate to 15 percent
  • Makes a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce
  • Eliminates all U.S. foreign aid
  • Allows younger citizens to opt out of Social Security
  • Converts the federal Medicaid program and other social programs into block-grants distributed to states

“A lot of people will say, ‘Cutting a trillion dollars in one year? That sounds radical,’” Paul said to a crowd of approximately 240 (plus staffers) at The Venetian resort in Las Vegas. “I operate on the assumption that the radicals have been in charge way too long.”

Paul emphasized that his plan does not cut from veterans’ programs and defense. As in previous appearances, he drew distinctions between military spending on foreign wars and “true” defense spending to protect the U.S. homeland from attacks.

“The other candidates have not offered this,” Paul said of his plan. “I don’t believe they think it’s very serious. They think they can just tinker around the edges, but the American people are ready for some honest thinking and some honest reforms.”

When asked how he can win the hearts and minds of neo-conservatives and defense hawks who believe America’s present foreign military operations are worthy, Paul quipped, “Being a conservative used to mean not spending money.”

Paul went on to explain that he thinks there has been “a change” in the American outlook on the effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere due to the approximately four billion spent on foreign wars in the past decade.



Nevada Selected For Policy Academy To Improve Higher Education Performance Measures

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:00 pm October 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The National Governors Association (NGA) announced today  that Nevada has been selected as one of six states to participate in a Policy Academy on strengthening post-secondary education performance measures.

The NGA defines a Policy Academy as a highly interactive, team-based process for helping a select number of states develop and implement an action plan to address a complex public policy issue.

In announcing the project, the NGA said: “States must have a strategy for getting more career-ready graduates for the dollars they have, and the NGA Policy Academy will focus on helping states build that strategy.”

Photo courtesy of UNLV.

“Having good performance metrics is important, but it is not enough,” said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center for Best Practice’s Education Division. “Governors and other policymakers must be equipped to use performance measures, whether in developing budgets, approving or evaluating programs or deciding how or whether to regulate administrative and academic services. This Policy Academy will help states focus on those measures.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval said: “Nevada is diligently working to improve accountability systems and measures throughout the K-12 system and this Policy Academy will enable us to expand that work through the higher education realm.”.

The work will complement the Legislature’s interim funding study, he said.

“As always, higher education’s goals have been focused on continuous improvement in how we educate our students and how we help Nevada’s economy prosper,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. “I’m excited we were selected for the Complete to Compete Initiative and I am looking forward to working with the governor and representatives of the Legislature to define accountability metrics that will support our ongoing initiatives related to student success and effectiveness and efficiency.”

NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich.

The NGA Policy Academy is aimed at improving post-secondary education accountability systems and consists of two workshops, technical assistance from NGA Center staff, and grants of up to $30,000 per state for additional expertise.

The academy is designed to help states strengthen their post-secondary education systems by focusing on efficiency and effectiveness metrics in their accountability systems and incorporating those metrics into their decision making processes.

The NGA Center will help selected states in their efforts to review and revamp their existing state post-secondary accountability system. States will also work with the NGA Center to identify ways to use efficiency and effectiveness metrics as part of the state’s higher education policy agenda.

Funding for the academy is provided by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nevada’s governor-appointed state team consists of: Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval; Julia Teska, a budget analyst from the Department of Administration; Denice Miller, vice president of government relations, MGM Resorts International; Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas; Klaich; and Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Challenges With Unemployment Insurance Funds Could Lead To Reforms, Tax Foundation Report Says

By Sean Whaley | 3:54 pm October 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A report from the Tax Foundation on unemployment insurance taxes says 34 states have had to borrow $37 billion from the federal government to pay jobless benefits, and employers around the country face the prospect of higher tax rates as a result.

“Businesses are in danger of facing higher UI (unemployment insurance) taxes at a time when private sector hiring is already at a low level,” says the background paper by Joseph Henchman titled “Unemployment Insurance Taxes: Options for Program Design and Insolvent Trust Funds” released this month.

Henchman, vice president of legal and state projects at the Tax Foundation, said the adverse conditions currently existing within the unemployment insurance programs could be an impetus for reforms, such as experimenting with individual accounts to encourage saving.

“These changes can enhance the program’s ultimate goal of ensuring a viable safety net for transition periods between employment,” he said.

Nevada is one of those states borrowing from the federal government to pay benefits, an amount that totals $773 million so far. Even so, the Nevada Employment Security Council voted earlier this month to recommend against raising the tax next year from its current 2 percent average rate. The taxes are assessed on the first $26,400 of an employees’ wages.

The rate was raised in Nevada for this calendar year to 2 percent from 1.33 percent. Concerns over stifling job creation led to the recommendation to maintain the 2 percent tax rate into next year, even though it means the federal loans won’t be paid off until 2018. The rate will be formally set later this year by the state Employment Security Division.

The Tax Foundation report shows that Nevada was one of nearly 20 states with a healthy trust fund when the national recession began in December 2007. But Nevada’s highest-in-the-nation jobless rate depleted the fund and required the state to borrow from the federal government beginning in October 2009.

Of the 34 states that have borrowed to pay benefits, seven have repaid the loans, either by dipping into general funds or by borrowing instead from the private sector, Henchman said in his report.

Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation.

The idea of having Nevada borrow money on its own to pay benefits instead of relying on loans from the federal government was considered by the Nevada Legislature but was not pursued.

States that have repaid their federal loans are Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas.

States have to pay interest on the borrowed federal funds starting this year. Nevada was the only state to get an extension on its $22.5 million interest payment until June 30, 2012, due to the state’s high unemployment rate. Other states had to make their interest payments by Oct. 1 of this year.

In addition to raising taxes on employers, several states have opted to reduce unemployment benefits.

Nevada pays benefits for 26 weeks as do most states, although federal funding has allowed payments to be extended for up to 99 weeks during the recession.

States reducing the number of weeks of benefits are Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina. Three states, Florida, Rhode Island and South Carolina, also implemented reforms to their unemployment insurance programs.

The Tax Foundation reports that in Florida, reforms include an expansion of what constitutes misconduct that would make someone ineligible for benefits, and making laid-off employees who get severance pay ineligible for benefits.

“Lawmakers have an opportunity to take a new look at benefit levels, program requirements, and whether such programs should be expected to accomplish additional fiscal and social policy goals,” Henchman said.

Nevada has not thus far considered reforms to its unemployment insurance program.

The Tax Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan tax research organization based in Washington, DC.


Nevada Veterans’ Home Audit Identifies Billing Problems, Other Concerns

By Sean Whaley | 12:04 pm October 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – An audit of the Nevada State Veterans’ Home identified more than $600,000 in late and inaccurate billings, primarily to Medicare and Medicaid, a panel of lawmakers heard today.

While the late billings won’t affect the ultimate payments received from these programs, the audit identified late billings to residents of the Boulder City skilled nursing home who are paying their own way that could mean a loss of revenue.

Veterans Services Executive Director Caleb Cage, right, testifies before the Audit Subcommittee today. On his left is Audit Supervisor Rocky Cooper. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

The audit identified one “private-pay” resident who was not billed for 10 months. When he finally received a bill it was for $53,000. He passed away still owing $50,000. The veterans agency is attempting to recover the amount owed from his estate.

The billing problems occurred in part because of staff turnover that resulted in new employees not having adequate guidance to ensure timely and accurate billing, the audit said.

The audit by legislative auditors was reviewed by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee.

The audit also found that the veterans’ home did not actively pursue the collection of delinquent accounts for private pay residents. Staff did not send collection letters for 11 of 14 residents reviewed by auditors, all of whom owed between $10,000 and $50,000.

The 180-bed facility had over $230,000 in outstanding debt between one and two years old as of December 2010.

The audit also found that trust funds held on behalf of residents are not properly safeguarded. The average total balance in the funds of $181,000 is administered by employees without proper segregation of duties.

The agency accepted all eight of the audit recommendations.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, a member of the subcommittee, said accepting the recommendations is not enough; agency staff needs to move aggressively toward implementation.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, listens to testimony at the Audit Subcommittee today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“It looks just from what we have seen over the last couple of meetings that there is a very definite lack of control,” he said. “Do you feel that we’re getting our arms around this because it could be a huge problem, not only for the veterans in the home but for the state as well.”

Grady was told the agency will be required to submit a corrective plan of action within 60 days, and the issues will be reviewed again in six months.

Caleb Cage, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, said the agency is taking corrective action and was doing so even before some of the problems were identified by auditors.

“The report refers to high turnover which is something that we have been dealing with,” he said. “We do continue to have turnover, which is a function of many things, including the economy, but we do have a team that’s in place and has been in place for about a year now and is addressing these issues aggressively at this time.”

Cage said his agency’s top priority is the proper care of the residents.

“It remains a first class facility and one of the best in the state, in my opinion and others,” he said.


Audio clips:

Assemblyman Tom Grady says the agency needs to act on, not just accept, the audit recommendations:

101711Grady : 24 state as well.”

Veterans Affairs Executive Director Caleb Cage says the agency is taking corrective action:

101711Cage1 :18 at this time.”

Cage says turnover has been a problem but he has a team in place working on the veterans’ home issues:

101711Cage2 :17 at this time.”


Halloween Spending Trend Should Help Nevada Retailers

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:45 am October 17th, 2011

Two trends could make Halloween a treat for Nevada retailers this year.

Halloween vintage postcard (circa 1920)

The National Retail Federation (“NRF”) estimates 68.6 percent of Americans 18 years and older will celebrate Halloween this year, the most in the NRF’s survey history.  Additionally, those celebrating are expected to spend approximately $72.31 on decorations, costumes, candy and other holiday items, up $6.03 from the $66.28 reported last year.

Assuming national trends aren’t playing tricks on Nevada, 1.4 million residents 18 years and older will spend money on the spooky holiday this year. If each Nevadan celebrating the holiday spends the expected average of $72.31, total spending in the state will reach $99 million.

The current year estimate represents an increase of 17.3 percent compared to last year when an estimated 63.8 percent of the population celebrated the holiday, spending $66.28 on average.

According to the NRF’s survey, 43.9 percent of Americans plan to dress up in a costume this year, up 3.8 percentage points from last year. And dressing up is not limited to humans. The concept of dressing pets continues to rise in popularity, and 14.7 percent say they will dress up their pet in a costume, up 3.2 percentage points from the 11.5 percent reported last year.

In addition, the survey reported that 22.9 percent of Americans will visit a haunted house, 73.5 percent will hand out candy, 47.8 percent will carve a pumpkin and 32.9 percent will take their children trick-or-treating, all up more than 1.0 percentage point from 2010.

However, the state of the U.S. economy continues to have a negative impact on the holiday for some, with 32.1 percent of Americans saying it will affect their Halloween plans, up 2.0 percentage points from last year.

The NRF noted that as a non-gift holiday, people can do more to celebrate Halloween without having to tighten their budgets too much.

Special Masters File Report, Maps, With Carson Judge – Propose Urban Las Vegas Congressional District

By Sean Whaley | 5:35 pm October 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The three special masters appointed by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell to redraw Nevada’s political boundaries wasted no time on the charge, filing their report and proposed maps with the court today.

The proposed maps show that the masters opted to draw a congressional district for urban Las Vegas, an area with a high Hispanic population.

Attorneys for the Republican Party wanted such a district. Attorneys for Democrats had proposed districts that divided this area up among three congressional districts. The district as drawn is 42.8 percent Hispanic.

The proposed boundaries for urban Congressional District 1 are sure to provoke strong reaction from Democrats.

In their report, the special masters – Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson – said: “The special masters in creating a map with four United States Congressional districts carefully considered the issues associated with treatment of minority groups. The Special Masters considered the facts presented, testimony, argument and the law as they understood it.

Special redistricting masters, from left, Bob Erickson, Thomas Sheets and Alan Glover. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“The Special Masters to the extent practicable have drawn the districts to avoid dividing groups of common social, economic, cultural, or language characteristics where it was not otherwise necessary to do so,” they said.

The special masters also released proposed maps for Nevada’s 63 legislative districts. The map for the state Senate reflects the shift of population south since the 2000 census. The maps include detail of the Las Vegas area.

The maps for the 42 Assembly districts shows a similar shift. The masters also provided detail of the proposed Las Vegas area Assembly districts.

In filing their report, the special masters noted that: “The state’s Supreme Court will likely ultimately determine legal, jurisdictional and procedural requirements and whether the work that has been done by the special masters is of assistance in seeking that redistricting issues were expediently considered.”

The panel wasted no time. Public hearings on the redistricting issue just concluded on Tuesday. The proposed maps were not due to Russell until Oct. 21. Russell indicated in a previous order he would decide by mid-November on whether to accept the maps as proposed or send them back for refinement. But a new order issued today says he will hear the matter on Oct. 27.

The Nevada Supreme Court is already involved in the redistricting controversy. It has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 14 on questions raised by Secretary of State Ross Miller on whether it is the responsibility of the Legislature to draw the political boundaries, not the courts.

Special Masters Release Nevada Congressional Map

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:45 pm October 14th, 2011

Here’s the link to the Vegas close-up of the map as drawn by the three court-appointed special masters:

Congressional map


And a directory of links of all the other maps:

State maps

Here’s the court doc:

Judge’s Order

And the report:

Special Masters’ Report 1-9

And the demographic data:


Will post other supplemental info and notes soon so check back for updates, Dear Readers…





Legal Challenges Filed To Halt Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

By Sean Whaley | 4:06 pm October 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two initiative petitions filed with the Secretary of State’s office that would amend the state constitution to outlaw abortion by declaring that life begins at conception are already facing legal challenges from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

The petitions were filed in September by Personhood Nevada and the Nevada Prolife Coalition.

A pro-life group is symbolically gagged during a vigil in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC. / Photo by Ben Schumin on February 1, 2006.

Supporters of the measures would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19 to have them placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. The measures would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Personhood initiative. The second legal challenge was filed today against the Nevada Prolife proposal. The lawsuits argue the initiatives are vague and misleading.

Nevada law allows petitions to be challenged before signatures can be gathered.

Personhood Nevada tried to circulate a petition for the 2010 general election ballot but the effort did not survive a similar court challenge. Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell ruled the proposed petition was too vague. The Nevada Supreme Court later rejected an appeal saying the issue was moot.

Opponents of the measures say that if approved, the initiatives could ban vital health services by granting legal protections to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

“We see over 50,000 patients each year in our Nevada health centers. They rely on Planned Parenthood for a wide range of health care, including basic preventive care that could become illegal if this ballot initiative becomes law,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “In these tough economic times, we shouldn’t be taking away access to lifesaving preventive health care.”

Chet Gallagher, who is heading up the Prolife Coalition effort, said he is not surprised that the groups are attempting to defeat the initiatives even before signature collection efforts can begin. But it is disappointing that the groups are trying to keep voters from having a say in the debate, he said.

“We want to give the voters an opportunity to vote on whether or not abortion should end in our state,” he said. “So I’m a little perplexed when groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, who profess to be pro-choice, would attempt to disenfranchise the voters, keeping them from actually voting on it.

“We’re not real happy that we’re being sued in court by people who should be protecting our freedoms instead of disenfranchising voters,” Gallagher said.

The two ballot groups are working together, Gallagher said. Voters haven’t had a say on the abortion issue since 1990, when a constitutional amendment keeping abortion legal in Nevada was approved by voters.

Gallagher has been a long-time anti-abortion advocate after losing his job as a Las Vegas police officer in 1989 for participating in an anti-abortion rally while on duty.

“We believe children in the womb are persons,” said Gallagher, who also noted that Nevada is one of 38 states that have a law against fetal homicide. “The duplicity has to be exposed.”

Candy Best of Las Vegas, the spokeswoman for the Personhood petition drive, expressed similar concerns about the legal challenge.

“That has been, apparently, the strategy, to just run out our time clock according to the deadlines in place by the initiative process, but we’re going forward,” she said. “There is an initiative process in place with the state of Nevada. And we, as citizens of the state, should be able to follow that process without constantly being shut town.

“We’re merely trying to get the initiative on the ballot and let the people of Nevada make a decision on their own,” Best said.

But Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said it serves no one’s interest to move forward with initiative petitions that are clearly unconstitutional.

“It’s a waste of everyone’s resources to present voters with a choice that would be invalidated later if not sooner,” he said. “This notion that voters should be able to sign petitions for an ‘unconstitutional’ constitutional amendment is just kind of silly. We need to respect the voters of Nevada more than that. We need to respect their time, their intelligence and the entire process.”

The new initiatives have the same flaws that were raised successfully in the last election cycle, Claussen said.

“And now there are two defective initiatives instead of only one,” he said.

An effort by a separate ballot advocacy group to challenge Nevada’s processes for qualifying initiative petitions following the 2008 election cycle failed to get the rules changed in any significant way. Because of the rules, legal challenges to petition drives are commonplace in Nevada before signatures can even be collected.

No groups were successful in getting measures on the ballot in 2010, the first time that had happened since 1992.


Audio clips:

Prolife Coalition spokesman Chet Gallagher says voters should have a chance to weigh in on the abortion issue:

101411Gallagher1 :18 voting on it.”

Gallagher says he is being sued by groups that are supposed to be protecting voter rights:

101411Gallagher2 :07 disenfranchising the voters.”

Personhood Nevada spokeswoman Candy Best says the strategy is to run out the clock by using legal challenges:

101411Best1 :12 we’re going forward.”

Best says citizens should be able to put a measure on the ballot:

101411Best2 :19 on their own.”

Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, says it is a waste of resources to present voters with a choice that will be invalidated:

101411Claussen1 :11 if not sooner.”

Claussen says the idea that voters should be able to sign petitions for an unconstitutional amendment is silly:

101411Claussen2 :23 the entire process.”

State Employee Contracting Controversy Addressed With Administrative Changes

By Sean Whaley | 3:37 pm October 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ten months after a legislative audit first raised serious questions about current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, the Board of Examiners earlier this week approved administrative changes to prevent future abuses.

The changes approved Tuesday bring closure to the issue of “double dipping”, but not before it spawned legislation and a serious examination of the state employee contracting process.

The audit, released in December 2010, identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a current state employee earned $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.

The Board of Examiners is composed of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

In addition to the administrative changes, Masto’s office was asked by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee to review the information for potential criminal violations.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said today the requested review was completed on June 10 but no action was taken against any current or former employees referenced in the audit.

“The case was declined due to insufficient evidence primarily related to the fact, as pointed out in the legislative audit, that no positive controls were in effect to document or record the time state contractors were actually engaged in their state duties,” she said.

The new rules added to the State Administrative Manual implement the changes mandated by Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

Smith said she is pleased with the voted by the board.

“I think we’ll see a lot better accountability and reporting on the use of consultants because of this,” she said. “I’m glad. It may be the type of thing that we need to keep sort of tweaking each session until we have it where we need it to be, but so far, so good.”

“I think we demonstrated it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who serves as chairwoman of the Audit Subcommittee, said she was pleased that the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously. They are overdue, she said.

“There were a few instances that either were very sloppy record keeping or might have been more suitable for prosecution, so I hope somebody is following up on those,” Leslie said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“If citizens are going to have confidence in government, they need to be assured that everyone is playing by the same rules,” she said. “The audit raised a lot of red flags about whether there were state employees who were getting sweetheart contracts.”

The administrative changes approved Tuesday will go a long way to correcting any such abuses, Leslie said.

The administrative changes come as yet another state employee contracting controversy involving a new member of Sandoval’s cabinet was recently reported in the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper reported Sept. 29 that Frank Woodbeck, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.

Woodbeck told the newspaper he worked 60- to 70-hour weeks to fulfill the demands of the two jobs.


Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the law may need tweaking, but she is pleased with the changes:

101311Smith :10 far, so good.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says she is pleased the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously:

101311Leslie1 :20 the same rules.”

Leslie says the audit raised red flags about whether there were state employees getting sweetheart contracts:

101311Leslie2 :26 the Audit Subcommittee.”

Leslie says there were a few instances that may have risen to the level of prosecution:

101311Leslie3 :11 up on those.”

Horsford Announces Congressional Run, Says He Has “Very Effective” Campaign Team

By Elizabeth Crum | 8:49 pm October 12th, 2011

As expected and as reported a couple of hours ago by the AP, state Sen. and Democratic majority leader Steven Horsford (SD-4) will tomorrow formally announced he is running for Congress in CD-1, Rep. Shelley Berkley’s seat.

The public announcement will come at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, inside the Westside Bistro, tomorrow, October 13, at 2 p.m. (The address is 710 West Lake Mead Blvd in North Las Vegas.)

I chatted with Horsford this afternoon about his candidacy. A few snippets:

Horsford said he has so far tapped the following pros for his team:

– Campaign manager Geoff Mackler who last cycle worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Independent Expenditure office. He was in charge of strategy (polling, mail, media, radio, field coordination) for ten congressional campaigns, including challengers Jim Himes, who beat Christopher Shays in Connecticut, and Mike McMahon, who won a Republican open seat in New York.  Prior to that Mackler spent six years at MSHC, a direct mail firm, and has also worked on campaigns in Massachusetts, Michigan and Texas.

Cornell Belcher to do media strategy and polling (same firm that did Obama polling in Nevada in 2008)

GMMB for media research and strategy (note the President’s smiling photo, top left)

Chadderdon Group as his direct mail house

State Sen. Steven Horsford

When listing his reasons for running, Horsford mentioned his commitment to his constituency — including his residency in that community for 38 years — and said he sees people there as “family” and feels an obligation to go to Washington for those who are “frustrated with how broken D.C. is.”

Horsford said that Nevada and its gaming industry “can’t recover and grow until the national economy recovers” so he believes he can do his best work inside the Beltway to help the country get on track.

When asked about district lines and a possible primary challenge, Horsford said:

“Right now there is no primary in this district. No other candidate has announced. My state senate district is contained within this congressional district and covers one-third of its area. I have served this community; people here know me; and I care about them.”


Horsford, now 38, was elected in his North Las Vegas district in 2004 and became senate majority leader in 2008.

He has served in six special sessions and four regular sessions of the Nevada Legislature. In the most recent session, he served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and also served on the Senate Committee on Revenue and the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

Horsford serves as a national Democratic committee member and co-chaired the campaign for Obama in 2008. He is also a member of the DNC’s Rules & Bylaws Committee.

Horsford is the CEO of the Culinary Training Academy, a joint management and labor partnership between participating gaming companies and the Culinary and Bartenders Unions.

If elected to Congress, Horsford plans to step down as CEO.

He is married to Dr. Sonya Horsford, a professor of educational leadership at UNLV. They have three children, Benjamin, Bryson and Ella.

Possible campaign issues

Horsford’s tenure as an elected official has not been without controversy.

In November 2009, KTNV Channel 13 observed Horsford illegally parked, his SUV with his senate license plate visible in a handicapped parking space at a park for a number of hours. He quickly apologized for the “inconvenience.”

In August 2010, in an attempt to raise money, Horsford sent out an email to potential contributors offering access to himself and other Senate leadership in exchange for contributions of between $1,000 and $25,000 to a Democratic victory fund. The day after Nevada News Bureau broke the story, Horsford said it was a “poor action” and told KRNV he was pulling the plug on the program.

Also, this past April, web poker giant PokerStars treated Horsford to a paid “junket” to the Bahamas immediately prior to the introduction of internet poker legislation in Carson City. Horsford said the company asked him to attend a Nassau conference and that he “went to learn more about Internet gaming policy before federal and state governments.” However, Horsford later reimbursed the poker lobby group for the cost of the trip.

(In the original version of this post, I did not not mention that Sen. Horsford later paid Poker Stars for the trip because I was not aware of it. I regret the error.)

Subsequently, it was reported that Horsford had received $37,500 in campaign contributions from the then-federally indicted PokerStars. Forty-eight Nevada legislators in total took some amount of PokerStars money, including some PAC cash. Horsford (and others) later returned the money.

Recent Legislative work

During the 2011 Legislative session, Horsford was a vocal advocate for closing mining tax loopholes. He also requested emergency legislation to conduct a performance audit of the revenue collection functions of the Department of Taxation following questions about the thoroughness of that agency’s review of mining tax payments.

Despite being an outspoken education advocate, Horsford also at one point during the session pressed Nevada System of HIgher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich as he spoke in support of considering higher education campus closures as part of necessary budget reductions.

Horsford was part of the final-days dealmaking between Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leaders from both parties in which a budget agreement was announced that included tax extensions and restorations of funding to public and higher education in exchange for significant policy reforms in education and collective bargaining.