Archive for December, 2011

Happy Holidays & See You in 2012

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:05 am December 25th, 2011
As 2011 draws to a close, we’d like to wish you Happy Holidays and thank each of you for your readership, support, comments and story ideas.

This week the Nevada News Bureau (NNB) closes out  another great year of bringing you statehouse and political news. We are pleased to say we attracted more than 98,000 unique visitors to our website in 2011.

Also, many of the Silver State’s rural and small town newspapers, as well as numerous news and talk radio stations, publish and/or broadcast our free stories as a service to their followers, so we reach thousands more throughout Nevada.

Unlike most media outlets, which carefully guard their content (and sometimes even sue for copyright infringement), Nevada News Bureau has a “Steal Our Stuff” policy under a Creative Commons license that allows anyone, anywhere to use our content with proper credit. In the spirit of Christmas all year round, we consider our content a gift and a public service. (Please just mention our name and link when you post a story!)

As for the future…

We hope to hire another reporter in early 2012 so we can write more stories including some investigative and/or “watchdog” reporting and more multimedia content.

We’ve submitted a number of grant requests to charitable foundations that support non-profit journalism, and we are also relying on the generosity of our readers to help us meet this goal. In fact, one generous donor has offered to match any donation made by the end of the year (that’s Dec. 31, one week from today)!

So please, if you can spare a few dollars to support non-profit, enterprise journalism in Nevada, take a moment to donate to our cause. And, if you’ve already donated this year, thank you for helping us stay in business.

Our main page is now on hiatus until Monday, January 2, but we’ll continue to keep an eye out for major stories and breaking news which we’ll put up on our blog if/when it occurs.

Best wishes in 2012!

With warm regards,

E. Crum

Editor

&

Sean Whaley

Capital Bureau Chief

Election Rules Approved by Secretary of State Despite Concerns

By Sean Whaley | 3:02 pm December 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A Clark County Republican Party official and concerned Nevada voters Friday continued their assault on regulations proposed by Secretary of State Ross Miller to guide the 2012 election process.

More than a dozen speakers expressed concerns with different sections of the proposed regulations at a second public hearing.

Following the sometimes contentious hearing, the Secretary of State’s office adopted the regulations, which will now be considered by a legislative panel next week. Lawmakers have the final say on the new rules.

Photo courtesy of Joebeone via Wikimedia Commons.

Miller, a Democrat, was taken to task for attempting to move forward with the regulations at such a late date and without adequate time for public review. He was also accused by some Republican speakers of engaging in partisanship with the proposed changes.

But Miller said the changes are in line with Nevada statutes now on the books and that there was plenty of time for public comment before the first hearing.

“The meeting was posted 19 days prior to being held, and during that time, public comment could be submitted but we received only one submission,” Miller said in a statement last week.

Woody Stroupe, vice chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, said the proposed changes would open the electoral process to voter fraud, and he along with other speakers urged them to be tabled.

The Legislature, not a single state agency, should consider the proposed changes, he said.

But the Secretary of State’s office has said the proposed regulations do primarily relate to changes associated with Assembly Bills 81 and 82 as well as Assembly Bill 100, all passed by the Legislature this session.

The changes are not intended to erode the electoral process but rather to strengthen safeguards, contends Miller’s office.

“It is unfortunate that these individuals apparently haven’t taken the time to fully read the proposed regulations or completely digest their impact,” said Deputy Secretary of State Bob Walsh.

Concerns about the regulations include objections to changes to the process for allowing active members of the military to cast absentee ballots, the process for allowing inactive voters to cast ballots, the discretion given to election workers to decide whether a form of identification is valid, and election board discretion as to when polls will close and whether and when any late comers will be permitted to vote, Stroupe said.

“We should all be for fair elections, and we should all be for drafting regulations that ensure we have fair elections,” Stroupe said.

“The Nevada’s Voters Bill of Rights guarantees a fair vote for legal voters. Mr. Secretary, that is all we are asking,” said Stroupe during testimony.

Walsh said the claims that Nevada’s electoral process is or will now be susceptible to widespread fraud are unfounded and “erode confidence in our electoral process.”

“If these individuals have any actionable evidence of election law violations in prior elections, they should report it immediately to our Election Integrity Task Force so that we can aggressively investigate,” said Walsh. “Without any evidence, it is simply irresponsible to broadcast unsupported claims challenging the integrity of Nevada’s electoral process.”

The regulations are scheduled to be considered for approval by the Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Consider Regulations on Dec. 29. If adopted, they will govern the 2012 election process.

Elizabeth Crum also contributed to this story.

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Audio clip:

Woody Stroupe, vice chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, says the proposed changes will lead to voter fraud:

122311Stroupe :22 we are asking.”

Gov. Sandoval Issues Holiday Executive Order to Cabinet

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:45 am December 23rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval this morning issued this executive order to all members of his Cabinet. He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.

Nevada’s GOP House Reps Disappointed At Short-Term Deal On Payroll Tax Cut, Jobless Benefit Extension

By Sean Whaley | 7:55 pm December 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s two Republican House representatives today said politics won out over policy on the newly announced deal for a 60-day extension on a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extension.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said: “I will apologize in advance for what people are going to be going through 60 days from now because we have resolved nothing. And I predict the discussion 60 days from now will not only mirror this one, but you will also have a large revenue package which will be a condition to approving any sort of extensions for a year or two years.

“Nothing has changed, and it’s sad,” Amodei said. “We have done nobody any favors. As many commentators have said, you’re right on the policy but you’re wrong on the politics. Hopefully there will be a day when the policy rules the roost and not the politics but that’s probably a naive thing too.”

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he was prepared to remain in Washington to reach a long-term solution to the extensions.

Courtesy of Kmccoy via Wikimedia Commons.

“The whole time my primary concern was making sure that we had a one-year extension for the folks back home,” he said. “That was the No. 1 priority. And it seems that in typical Washington fashion that politics trumped out over doing the right thing.

“I don’t think folks back home should suffer because Washington wants to get home for the holidays,” Heck said. “I made no secret about my desire to stay and get the job done. I’ve been away from my family; I’ve been deployed over the holidays; it’s not fun. But doing the right thing isn’t always fun or easy.”

Despite his disappointment at the short-term fix, Heck said Congress worked collaboratively in approving the Defense Authorization Act, and he has confidence in the House conferees appointed to work on a more permanent solution to the tax cut and unemployment benefit extension by a Feb. 29, 2012 deadline.

Heck said that if the Senate sends over members who are willing to look at the policy reforms approved by the House in its Dec. 13 bill, “that we will be able to come to a conclusion hopefully by the end of January.”

Both Amodei and Heck are now back in Nevada for a recess that will run through mid-January.

Amodei said he is still in the process of assessing the deal announced earlier today that will lead to the House endorsement of the Senate measure to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits. Amodei said he plans to issue a formal statement tomorrow after he is confident about the details of the deal.

The House may be able to approve the Senate legislation by a process called unanimous consent, which will not require House members to return to Washington, DC, for a formal vote.

The deal means the continuation of both a payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and a 99-week unemployment benefit for two million jobless Americans.

Other comments on the deal came from President Obama and other members of Nevada’s representatives in Congress.

President Obama issued a statement that said in part: “This is good news, just in time for the holidays. This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy, and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people’s lives.”

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who supported the 60-day extension, said: “I am pleased the House is moving forward with the Senate’s bipartisan compromise. Extending the payroll tax and unemployment insurance will benefit Nevadans greatly. Now that Congress has moved beyond this impasse, we can work on a year-long extension.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: “I am grateful that the voices of reason have prevailed and Speaker (John) Boehner has agreed to pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise.

“Year-long extensions of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and Medicare payments for physicians has always been our goal, and Democrats will not rest until we have passed them,” he said. “But there remain important differences between the parties on how to implement these policies, and it is critical that we protect middle-class families from a tax increase while we work them out.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. said: “While its good news this massive middle class tax hike has been averted, this is one more example of why Washington doesn’t work. This should have been a no-brainer, but instead Tea Party Republicans held Nevada’s middle class families hostage to their extreme Wall Street agenda. The middle class should not be a bargaining chip for DC political games.”

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Audio clips:

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., says the deal resolves nothing:

122211Amodei1 :32 or two years.”

Amodei says he believes a large revenue package will be part of the next round of discussions:

122211Amodei2 :27 naive thing too.”

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., says his goal all along was a one-year deal:

122211Heck1 :15 the right thing.”

Heck says Congress should have got the job done:

122211Heck2 :14 fun or easy.”

Heck says he is hopeful the conference committee will reach a deal by the end of January:

122211Heck3 :32 month of March.”

 

Carson Judge Rules Against Personhood Petition Seeking To Define Life As Starting At Conception

By Sean Whaley | 6:08 pm December 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A Carson City district judge today ruled an initiative petition to amend the state constitution to define human life as beginning at conception was too vague and so could not be circulated to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson ruled from the bench after an hour of argument from attorneys representing Personhood Nevada and the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the proposal in court.

“It looks to me like this is unnecessarily broad,” Wilson said at one point in the hearing. He also said it was vague and did not clearly state what its intent was. The description of effect required for such ballot measures was also unclear and could not be rehabilitated, he said in his ruling.

Olaf Vancura and Candy Best with Personhood Nevada talk about their proposed initiative petition before a court hearing today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Attorney Gary Kreep, with the United States Justice Foundation based in California, represented Personhood Nevada. He said the proposal to amend the Nevada constitution to define a person as starting at “biological development” was clear and did not violate the requirement that ballot proposals deal with a single subject.

He acknowledged that the effects  of the proposed change to the constitution to include the phrase “the term ‘person’ includes every human being” could be numerous, however, as the definition was applied to various areas of state law.

But Kreep said the ramifications of the proposal would become clear to voters as the measure was debated before election day.

ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, representing Nevada voters opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment, argued that registered voters would not have a clear understanding of what the effect of the proposal would be if asked to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot.

Opponents of the proposal were happy with Wilson’s ruling.

“Obviously we’re pleased that the court agreed with us that it’s important that voters fully understand the sweeping impacts that these initiatives would have and we’re pleased to see that this one cannot go forward,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Kreep said after the hearing the group will have to assess whether to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Personhood group lost on similar grounds in 2010 when it tried to circulate a similar petition to Nevada voters.

Personhood Nevada could potentially file a revised initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office, but then the legal review process would begin all over again.

“The abortion providers, according to Congressional testimony by former employees, make millions and hundreds of millions of dollars off of selling body parts,” Kreep said following Wilson’s ruling. “They get hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. And it feeds the attorneys who litigate for them to keep the death machine going.”

Wilson on Monday ruled that a separate proposed constitutional amendment submitted by the Nevada Prolife Coalition to outlaw abortion did not violate a rule for ballot measures requiring them to address only a single subject and he allowed the petition to go forward.

Cafferata said opponents are still evaluating whether to appeal that decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Groups seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19. The measure would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

Before the hearing, Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, said the proposed amendment is simple: “The sole purpose of this initiative is to clarify the definition of what a person is in the state of Nevada. And that’s why it is a simple seven words, ‘the term person includes every human being.’ ”

The Personhood effort is a national one, with measures being sought for placement on the ballot in several states. One test of the measure came in Mississippi in November, where it was rejected by voters.

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Audio clips:

Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, says opponents of the Personhood petition are pleased with the ruling:

122111Cafferata :16 cannot go forward.”

Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, says the proposals is simple:

122111Vancura :12 every human being.”

Attorney Gary Kreep, representing Personhood Nevada, says abortion supporters make millions on the practice:

122111Kreep :15 death machine going.”

Nevada Among States With Lowest Spending On Health Care And Least Number Of Insured

By Sean Whaley | 2:35 pm December 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada ranks 46th among states on spending on health care per capita, according to a report released this month by the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services.

Nevada spends $5,735 per person on total personal health care as of 2009, the report says. The national average is $6,815. The highest per capita spending was found in Massachusetts at $9,278.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, said Nevada’s low spending on health care is a reflection of the large number of residents who don’t have health insurance.

U.S. Census data released in October shows that Nevada is the third most uninsured state per capita in the U.S as of 2009.

“On first blush it’s good news that we’re not on the high end of spending per person,” Matheis said. “But a more balanced look at the data says we have a lot of warning signs in this pool of data. It renders a number that looks like we’ve got costs under control. It actually just means we have a big access problem.”

The report found that eight of the ten top states for total health care spending per capita, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, are also ranked in the top third in the nation for annual personal income per capita.

Photo by James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Income appears to have an important and positive relationship with health spending,” the report said.

Matheis said the study provides much-needed information as the country moves forward with full implementation of the national health care law.

“They need much better baseline information about how much they are spending and on what with every population and in every part of the country, because a big part of the reform proposals are aimed at trying to, if not reduce costs, reduce the things that lead to higher costs,” he said.

Report also looks at Medicare and Medicaid spending

The report shows that Nevada is in the middle of the pack in terms of Medicare spending per enrollee at $9,692, and ranks toward the bottom of the states on Medicaid spending per enrollee at $6,003. The national averages are $10,365 and $6,826, respectively.

But in terms of the percentage of health care dollars spent on Medicaid, Nevada is lowest among all states at only 8.6 percent. Nevada is the only state where spending is in the single-digits. The highest is New York, where 29.2 percent of all personal health care spending is via Medicaid.

Medicaid is the health care program for low income seniors, disabled and families, the cost of which is shared by states and the federal government.

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, said Nevada’s spending is low because of the policy decision to restrict eligibility. The program also doesn’t offer many optional services that can increase costs.

“We’ve made decisions as a state that we’re not going to expand the program from an eligibility perspective,” he said. “And so in other states Medicaid makes up 14, 15, 16 percent of coverage for people in the state. In some states it is as high as 30 percent.

“We don’t cover as many people in our public programs, but our employers are kind of right in the middle there, slightly above the national average,” Duarte said. “And what the means is the uninsured group are those that could be covered by Medicaid if our rules allowed it.”

Federal health care law expected to affect Nevada Medicaid spending

This situation is expected to change as the Medicaid program expands beginning in 2014 as part of the implementation of the federal health care law, he said. As many as 100,000 new residents could be eligible for Medicaid. There are residents eligible for Medicaid now who are not participating in the program who will have to be covered as well, Duarte said.

The cost of the newly eligible residents will be covered almost entirely by the federal government, but the state will share in the cost of those who are eligible now but who have not signed up for the program, he said.

This Medicaid expansion is one reason Nevada joined with many other states in challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the law. Former Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2010 estimated the Medicaid mandate will cost Nevada $613 million over six years beginning in 2014. Gibbons initiated Nevada’s participation in the challenge to the law which is being continued by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Matheis said there is a strong feeling in the Nevada medical community that the state is under-spending on this population, which will have to change with the implementation of the health care law.

“Nevada is going to go from where we are now, which is a very low spending per Medicaid patient; we’re going to jump a huge amount because there are going to be so many people that will be identified for the new Medicaid expansion that is coming under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

This rapid expansion will create budget challenges for state lawmakers, Matheis said.

Policy-makers need to seriously consider the data and build it into the state’s planning efforts, he said.

“At some point we do have to invest in a health care system that we want,” Matheis said. “Right now we’re doing that in Nevada minimally and that’s what this report really shows.”

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Audio clips:

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, says the report provides much needed baseline information:

122011Matheis1 :24 to higher costs.”

Matheis says Nevada will see a big jump in Medicaid spending because of the new health care law:

122011Matheis2 :25 Affordable Care Act.”

Matheis says the news looks good at first, but it suggests there are concerns:

122011Matheis3 :19 pool of data.”

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, says Nevada’s Medicaid spending is low because eligibility is restricted:

122011Duarte1 :15 high as 30 percent.”

Duarte says the uninsured group in Nevada are those who could be covered by Medicaid if eligibility was expanded:

122011Duarte2 :18 rules allowed it.”

 

Rep. Mark Amodei Says House Republicans Will Reject Short-Term Senate Payroll Tax, Jobless Benefit Fix

By Sean Whaley | 9:09 pm December 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said today that Republicans in the House do not believe a 60-day stopgap response to expiring tax breaks and unemployment benefits as approved by the Senate is a workable solution.

Amodei, in a telephone interview this evening with the Nevada News Bureau, said the temporary fix is unworkable for the business community and creates too much uncertainty that could threaten job creation efforts. Congress needs to approve legislation resolving these issues for a full year, he said.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.

As a result of the concerns, Republicans in the House are going to reject the Senate version of a compromise bill approved Saturday to extend jobless benefits and ensure a payroll tax break continues for 160 million working Americans, Amodei said.

The House passed a bill addressing the issues earlier this month that would resolve the issues for a full year.

“Why would you put people through this again 60 days later?” he asked.

The result will be to send the two different versions of the payroll tax and unemployment benefit fix to a conference committee to resolve differences, Amodei said. Whether the Senate returns to the Capitol to work on a compromise bill remains to be seen, he said.

If a compromise is not reached by the end of the year, working Americans will see a payroll tax hike, and five million unemployed workers will face a loss of jobless benefits starting Jan. 1.

Amodei, elected in September to fill out the term of now-U.S. Sen. Dean Heller in Congressional District 2, arrived home Saturday only to turn around and fly back to Washington, DC, on Sunday, to take up the issues. Amodei has not yet served 100 days in office.

The Senate, after voting to amend the House bill to deal with the issues for two months, has adjourned.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the Senate won’t negotiate further until the House passes the 60-day extension.

In a statement, Reid said: “Speaker (John) Boehner should allow an up-or-down vote on the compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated at Speaker Boehner’s request, and which was supported by 89 Republican and Democratic senators.

“With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, it would be unconscionable for Speaker Boehner to block a bipartisan agreement that would protect middle-class families from the thousand-dollar tax increase looming on January first,” he said. “It is time for Speaker Boehner to follow through.”

But Amodei said House Republicans want to follow the proper procedure to iron out differences in the conflicting versions of the legislation. That means a conference committee, he said.

“By the way, yes, it does happen to be December, but . . . the issues are important enough, you need to work on them until you get it worked out,” Amodei said. “And by the way, you haven’t got a heck of a lot of time, and yes, there is Christmas and New Years in there, but so be it.”

Amodei said the House is expected to vote to take the Senate version of the bill to the rules committee for its review. The full House will then vote Tuesday to appoint its representatives to a conference committee.

“This is going to be an interesting thing to see whether or not policy prevails or politics prevails,” he said.

There are other concerns with the Senate version of the bill as well, including the proposal to charge a fee on Federal Housing Authority loans to help pay for the expense of the extended benefits and tax cuts, which would be a particularly hard hit on Nevada’s real estate industry, Amodei said.

The House bill also set the number of weeks of federal unemployment to 57, and allowed for means testing for unemployment and food stamps for the wealthy as a state option, he said. It also put in a pay freeze on federal employees and members of Congress to help pay for it, another provision that did not survive in the Senate version.

“Another two-month extension is another exercise in, can you hold your breath for another two months if you are a senior, if you are a veteran, if you’re an employer, if you work for wages or if you are on unemployment,” Amodei said. “I mean, I just think it is absolutely tone deaf to the reality of people looking for work, people who are working, seniors, veterans, home buyers. I mean, it’s like how can you talk about this with a straight face.

“The Senate’s amendment was amending the bill in whole, and basically kept everything the same except made it 60 days, and you’re like, what is the magic in 60 days?”

Nevada’s Republican representatives in Congress are not in complete agreement on how to proceed. Heller, R-Nev., voted for the two-month extension in the Senate.

“There is no question we need to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year,” he said. “The American people deserve long-term, forward-thinking policies. However, there is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out.

“What is playing out in Washington, DC, this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people,” Heller said.

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Audio clips:

Rep. Mark Amodei says the Senate needs to work with the House to resolve the issues:

121911Amodei1 :15 so be it.”

Amodei says another two-month extension does not deal with the realities being faced by Americans:

121911Amodei2 :26 a straight face.”

Amodei asks what is the magic in 60 days:

121911Amodei3 :11 in 60 days.”

 

 

NPRI to Regroup Due to Denis Resignation

By Elizabeth Crum | 8:04 pm December 19th, 2011

As first reported by David McGrath Schwartz of the Las Vegas Sun, state Sen. Mo Denis said he plans to resign from his job with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC), possibly rendering moot the recently filed lawsuit challenging his ability to be employed in two branches of state government.

Denis, who is the heir apparent to Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, told the Sun he’d already been looking for a new job with more flexibility in preparation for his Senate leadership role. He said the decision is not related to the lawsuit from conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI).

The NPRI suit contents that Article III of the state constitution clearly defines the separation of powers between the three branches of government, and that Denis’ job in information technology for the PUC was a violation of that clause.

Analysts had speculated that if the suit was successful, as many as 10 other lawmakers who are also public employees could have been affected.

However, it is now unclear whether the NPRI lawsuit can proceed as filed or whether a new suit would have to be filed against another legislator.

 

Nevada’s Jobless Rate Falls To 13 Percent In November, First Drop Since May

By Sean Whaley | 4:31 pm December 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s unemployment rate fell in November for the first time since May, to a seasonally-adjusted 13 percent, a state agency reported today. The rate is down nearly two percentage points from the same time last year, pushing the estimate of jobless Nevadans down to 171,800 from 198,200.

The rate dropped four-tenths of a percentage point from October’s 13.4 percent rate.

“This month’s unemployment number, while still unacceptably high, shows that we are starting to see steady increases in hiring,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “In addition to a trend of adding jobs on a consistent basis, we are beginning to see increased signs of growth. While the recovery remains fragile, it appears economic growth will come at a modest and steady pace.”

Photo courtesy of Jay from Cudahy via Flickr.

In Las Vegas, the unemployment rate fell to 12.5 percent in November from 13.1 percent in October. The jobless rate dropped in the Reno-Sparks area, falling from 12.1 percent in October to 11.6 percent in November. In Carson City, the unemployment rate fell to 11.7 percent from 12 percent in October.

The unemployment rate in the Elko area fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.6 percent.  Elko’s unemployment rate is two percentage points below the national average and more than five percentage points lower than the statewide rate.

“Nevada’s economy continued on a path of stabilization in November, while showing modest improvement overall,” said Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). “Employment grew for the fifth consecutive month, adding 1,300 jobs in November based on a seasonally adjusted basis. In all, employers have added 7,800 jobs since June.”

The news is not all positive, however, he said.

A broader scan of workforce indicators suggests deeper structural weakness than the unemployment rate suggests, Anderson said. While the publicized unemployment rate (includes unemployed workers actively seeking employment) has fallen significantly in the last year, a broader measure of unemployment has not followed suit.

When you account for the discouraged (includes the unemployed who would like a job, but are not seeking employment) and the underemployed due to economic reasons, the unemployment rate is running at 23.3 percent based on a four quarter moving average.

“I’m certainly encouraged by the decline in the unemployment rate; I’m encouraged by some modest growth on the employment front; but I just think it’s important to qualify those positives by noting that we still have a long way to go,” Anderson said. “We have a big hole to dig out of.”

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Audio clips:

Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR), says the November report is arguably the best in quite some time:

121911Anderson1 :21 to make up.”

Anderson says there is still a lot of ground to make up, however:

121911Anderson2 :19 dig out of.”

 

Nevada Delegation Split on Latest Payroll Tax Cut Bill

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:08 pm December 19th, 2011

Nevada’s congressional delegation is currently split 3-2 on the latest bill temporarily extending the payroll tax cuts.

Rep. Shelley Berkley favors the measure passed by the U.S. Senate (by an 89-10 vote Saturday) and supported by Sen.s Harry Reid and Dean Heller.

However, both Rep.s Joe Heck and Mark Amodei say they oppose the two-month extension of the payroll tax cuts on the basis that it is too short-term.

House Speaker John Boehner this morning said Republicans will most likely vote down the measure, objecting to the temporary fix and saying he favors the year-long extension approved last week. He now wants to establish a conference committee to negotiate a different deal.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement earlier today that he is not going to call the Senate back into session:

“My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today. If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators including 39 Republicans, their intransigence will mean that in 10 days, 160 million middle-class Americans will see a tax increase, over 2 million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians.”

Sen. Heller said there was “no question” that the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits should be extended for one year, but that there was “no reason to hold up the short-term extension” while a longer-term deal is worked out.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, Heller’s Democratic opponent in the U.S. Senate race, also spoke in support of the short-term Senate measure on the House floor today, saying the hold-up is “thanks to the Tea Party extremists in the House of Representatives.”

But Rep. Joe Heck this afternoon put out a video statement explaining his strong opposition to the two-month measure, part of which is based on his objection to returning to this same debate in February.

Rep. Mark Amodei, the newest member of Nevada’s congressional delegation, also put out a statement saying, in part:

“To enact a 60-day extension of these important programs instead of a year, which would give doctors, patients, seniors, taxpayers and those looking for predictability and stability in their personal lives and jobs, is a can-kick of Olympic proportions. I have yet to hear of a reason for 60 days instead of 12 months. Conclusions for political sport are all that I see so far.”

If House Republicans do not pass the measure and the Senate does not return to Washington D.C. to negotiate a new bill, the payroll tax cuts will expire on Dec. 31.

 

 

GOP Political Operative Sig Rogich Says Earlier Presidential Caucus Would Have Benefitted Nevada

By Sean Whaley | 3:54 pm December 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Long-time Republican political operative Sig Rogich today disagreed with comments from former Gov. Bob List that Nevada is better off with a Feb. 4 GOP presidential caucus rather than the January date that had been proposed initially.

“Why in the world would you want to step back, and we’re not going to be rewarded for such a thing, all things being equal,” Rogich said in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program. “I just don’t think that it makes any sense to be that far back when you have an opportunity to be up in play.”

Sig Rogich.

Rogich was responding to a question from host Sam Shad about List’s remarks in an interview on the show last week when he said Nevada is better off with the Feb. 4 GOP caucus.

List, a Nevada State Republican Party national committeeman, said the primary contest won’t be over before Feb. 4, making Nevada a key battleground for Republican candidates.

Nevada was embroiled in a controversy earlier this year over when to hold its caucus because of Florida’s decision to move up its primary date. Nevada Republican Party officials ultimately agreed to the Feb. 4 date for the “First in the West” GOP caucus.

During the NewsMakers interview, Rogich predicted that Romney will win Nevada’s caucus. He won handily here in 2008.

But he also said the Romney campaign has failed to clearly define the former Massachusetts governor.

“And I think that’s their big problem in this campaign,” Rogich said. “He’s articulate, eloquent, certainly a good looking guy, he’s got a great accomplished history of a lot of things. But if you ask the average person what do you think about Mitt Romney and what he stands for, you’d probably get mixed reviews. People just don’t know where to categorize him.”

Rogich, who worked with Newt Gingrich during his time at the White House, said the candidate is on message and has momentum, but he has the ability to “create chaos from order.”

But Rogich predicted Gingrich will win in Iowa, is tightening up the race in New Hampshire and will win in South Carolina.

Rogich also said he still believes President Obama is the favorite to win, if the election was held today.

“All things being equal, if you count the electoral map, he may win very narrowly,” Rogich said. “But if he carries some of those states that he is likely to carry, at this juncture today, then I still think he is still a favorite to win.”

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Audio clips:

Sig Rogich says Nevada would have been better off with an earlier caucus:

121911Rogich1 :14 up in play.”

Rogich says the Romney campaign has failed to define their candidate:

121911Rogich2 :19 to categorize him.”

Rogich says President Obama is the favorite to win if the election was held today:

121911Rogich3 :20 favorite to win.”

Carson Judge Rules Anti-Abortion Initiative Petition Can Go Forward

By Sean Whaley | 1:26 pm December 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A district judge today ruled against pro-choice advocates seeking to stop an initiative petition that proposes to outlaw abortion by declaring that life begins at conception.

An appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court is likely.

The 12-page judgment from Carson City District Judge James Wilson said the proposed constitutional amendment submitted by the Nevada Prolife Coalition does not violate a rule for ballot measures requiring them to address only a single subject.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson.

“Prolife’s initiative may have effects in various areas including common birth control methods, the treatment of ectopic pregnancy, in vitro fertilization treatment, and stem cell research,” Wilson said. “But those effects flow from a single subject and purpose, prohibiting the taking of prenatal life.”

Wilson did find that the “description of effect” required for imitative petitions, which sets out what would happen if it was approved by voters, was inadequate. Rather than reject the proposed petition, however, he ordered a new description to be used as the group gathers signatures to qualify the measure for the 2012 general election ballot.

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

The Carson District Court will hear oral arguments in the challenge of a second anti-abortion measure on Wednesday. The Personhood Nevada initiative would also declare that life begins at conception and place the definition in the Nevada constitution.

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.

Opponents of the proposal, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, highlighted the fact that Wilson changed the wording of the measure in a press release.

“This misleading initiative could have tricked voters into supporting a measure that would have banned a range of vital health services,” said Dane S. Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We’re relieved that the court refused to allow proponents to deceive voters in this manner.”

The Personhood effort is a national one, with measures being sought for placement on the ballot in several states. One test of the measure came in Mississippi in November, where it was rejected by voters.

Nevada’s Health Ranking Improves In New National Report, But Obesity, Smoking Remain Serious Concerns

By Sean Whaley | 2:55 pm December 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s overall health improved five spots this year compared to the rest of the nation but still ranks in the bottom 10, according to the 22nd edition of America’s Health Rankings.

Nevada’s health improved from 47th in 2010 to 42nd in the new report.

The good news: Nevada has a lower prevalence of obesity than other states, ranking 4th with 23.1 percent of the adult population identified as overweight.

Smoking has also decreased significantly in Nevada, from 29 percent to 21.3 percent of the adult population in the last ten years.

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki via Wikimedia Commons.

But these positive developments mask just how serious these health issues continue to be, said Dr. Steven Evans, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Nevada.

While Nevada’s obesity rate may be lower when compared with other states, the reality is that in the past ten years, obesity has increased from 17.9 percent to 23.1 percent of the adult population. There are now 470,000 obese adults in the state.

And while Nevada’s smoking rate has declined due in large part to voter approval of tough smoking restrictions in 2006, there are still 434,000 adults who smoke.

“Obesity has actually increased in the past 10 years,” Evans said. “So although we, compared to the rest of the country, have done better, there is still a significant portion of our population that is obese.

“We definitely have not turned the corner on that health issue and it has probably become our No. 1 health issue we need to start worrying about,” he said.

“I almost don’t even want to celebrate the fact that we are less obese than the rest of the United States because we still have significant issues with that,” Evans said.

The report was released earlier this month by the United Health Foundation in collaboration with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

“America’s health rankings from United Health Foundation is an incredibly valuable tool for us to clearly understand health trends facing us as a nation and here in Nevada,” Evans said. “By identifying the key opportunities we face as a state we can pursue innovative solutions to those opportunities.”

The report shows a few other positives for Nevada.

The state has a low incidence of infectious disease, ranking 4th with 4.8 cases per 100,000 of population. Nevada also has a low rate of preventable hospitalizations, ranking 15th at 58.6 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.

But there is more bad news as well.

Nevada has a low high school graduation rate, ranking 50th with only 56.3 percent of incoming ninth graders graduating within four years. Evans said those with higher education levels tend to have access to health insurance and take better care of their health overall.

Nevada also has a high violent crime rate, again ranking 50th with 661 offenses per 100,000 population, and a low immunization rate, ranking 49th with 84.6 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months covered with the appropriate inoculations.

In the past year, the percentage of children in poverty increased from 17.9 percent to 23.6 percent of persons under age 18. And in the past five years, diabetes increased from 7.1 percent to 8.5 percent of the adult population. There are now 173,000 Nevada adults with diabetes.

The report shows that for the fifth year in a row, Vermont was the nation’s healthiest state. States that showed the most substantial improvement include New York and New Jersey, both moving up six places. Idaho and Alaska showed the most downward movement. Idaho dropped 10 spots, from number nine to 19 in this year’s rankings, and Alaska dropped five places.

It also shows that the nation’s overall health did not improve from 2010 to 2011 because gains in one area were offset by worsening conditions in another.

One example of this stagnation is improvements in the number of smokers being off-set by worsening rates of obesity. The rankings found that, for every person who quit smoking in 2011, another person became obese.

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Audio clips:

Dr. Steven Evans, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Nevada, says obesity has actually increased in Nevada in the past decade

121611Evans1 :17 that is obese.”

Evans says Nevada’s obesity ranking compared to other states is no cause for celebration:

121611Evans2 :14 issues with that.”

 

 

State Job Creation Efforts Move Forward With Funding Of New Economic Development Office

By Sean Whaley | 6:00 pm December 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Efforts by Gov. Brian Sandoval and state lawmakers to encourage new business creation, relocation and expansion in Nevada took a major step forward today when the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved nearly $3.5 million to fund a new economic development office.

The funding will enable Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development, to develop a state economic development plan and hire the staff needed to move forward on private sector job creation efforts.

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The state plan, relying in part on research performed by the Brookings Institution and SRI International, is expected to be released in early February. The report identified seven economic sectors, some already in existence such as gaming and tourism, and some emerging, such as clean energy, where Nevada should focus its efforts.

Lawmakers peppered Hill with questions ranging from the measures that will be used to determine the success of his agency’s efforts at job creation to the proposed salaries of the eight positions that will be filled with a portion of the funding.

Positions approved for his office include three industry specialists at a maximum salary of $110,000 each, an industry analyst with a maximum salary of $90,000, a communications manager with a maximum salary of $80,000, and a technology commercialization director with a maximum salary of $110,000. There are also two support positions with maximum salaries of $40,000.

The new approach to economic development is the result of Assembly Bill 449, a measure sponsored by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. The bill also established a $10 million Catalyst Fund to help firms relocated or expand in Nevada. The money will be used to provide grants to local governments for economic development projects.

“I am in the process of finishing my 10th week on the job,” Hill told lawmakers. “And I think I can provide very solid reasons for the request that we’re making today. But we’re also learning as we’re going along. We understand that resources are tight, not only throughout Nevada but through the country, and we want to spend this money in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

In response to lawmaker questions, Hill said the state plan will include ways to measure the success of the new effort.

“There will be a detailed description of how we will measure progress in economic development and in the development of our economy in the state,” he said.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the IFC, asked Hill if the funding request is premature since the state plan has not yet been published.

“So I think the question is, without the state plan, where is the confidence level in moving forward with all of these positions and this work without the state plan being done, kind of relying solely on the Brookings report?” she asked.

Hill said the budget request will be in alignment with the state plan.

“And finally I think we all sense, the governor and the Legislature, everybody involved in economic development throughout the state, and the citizens of Nevada, an urgency to get started on this,” he said.

Nevada’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation.

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Audio clips:

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development says he wants to spend the money as efficiently as possible:

121511Hill1 :27 efficient way possible.”

Hill says the state plan will provide clear ways to measure progress:

121511Hill2 :11 in the state.”

Hill says there is an urgency to get started on the agency’s efforts:

121511Hill3 :16 started on this.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith questions the timing of the funding request without a state plan in place:

121511Smith :23 the Brookings report.”

 

State Lawmakers OK $65K For Ethics Commission To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm December 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today approved a funding request from the state Ethics Commission to hire a full-time attorney for six months to reduce a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions.

The request for $65,000 from the Legislature’s contingency fund provoked little comment from the panel, which is made up of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

The funding will allow the commission to catch up on about 60 ethics matters in which decisions have been rendered but the opinions have yet to be published.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer told lawmakers that the funding is not the complete answer to the workload issues facing the panel.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer testifies before lawmakers today as commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins looks on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“We also need to provide direction for our staff to be more efficient in putting out opinions,” he said. “We have discussed this in our commission meetings on several occasions and we have a subcommittee that has reviewed various ways in which we can efficiently get our opinions out to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said the panel is facing many more requests for opinions than in past years. Because the emphasis has been on hearing and ruling on cases, the publishing of the opinions has fallen behind, she said.

The cases are also becoming increasingly complex, and attorneys now are frequently brought into the process by those facing hearings, Jenkins said.

Without some assistance, the backlog will not likely be addressed anytime soon, potentially creating due process delays that could become a liability for the state, she said.

“The backlog is not getting caught up, it is simply being added to with the current load,” Jenkins said. “We have a 300 percent increase in our caseload since the number of employees of the commission was increased in 2005.

“I don’t think it’s good business, and no court would be allowed to be two years behind in issuing its opinions without a huge outcry,” she said. “And the Commission on Ethics, I hope, never finds itself in this circumstance again.”

While not mentioning him by name, Jenkins referred to the case of former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, and who is still waiting for a published order in his case. Stark was found to have committed one ethics violation.

In a Nevada News Bureau story highlighting his case, Stark said he wants to appeal the Ethics Commission decision but cannot do so without the published opinion. Not having a resolution to his case has made it difficult for him to find a new job, he said.

Jenkins said that while the temporary staff is needed, the commission is looking at ways to streamline its processes to improve efficiencies without additional funding. The commission is not required to issue published opinions in all cases, and it may be time to change that practice, she said.

Opinions are only required in decisions that go against the individual appearing before the commission, Jenkins said.

Even so the commission may still seek an additional staff attorney when it comes to the Legislature in 2013, she said.

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Audio clips:

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer says the panel is looking at ways to become more efficient:

121511Beyer :28 to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission says the backlog is not getting caught up:

121511Jenkins1 :15 increased in 2005.”

Jenkins says the cases that come to the commission are increasingly complex:

121511Jenkins2 :09 they’re lawyering up.”

Jenkins says it’s not good business to be so far behind in issuing its opinions:

121511Jenkins3 :14 this circumstance again.”