Archive for December, 2011

Qualifications Of New Welfare Administrator Called Into Question

By Sean Whaley | 8:48 am December 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – For the second time in two years questions are being raised about the qualifications of Diane Comeaux, a top state human services administrator, to do her job.

The director of the agency said he has complete faith in her abilities.

Mike Willden has appointed Comeaux, who currently serves as the administrator of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), to the administrator position over the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS). The appointment will occur in early 2012.

Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said Comeaux’s experience is “pretty much unmatchable when it comes to administration.”

But Comeaux does not have a college degree. The state law listing the qualifications for the position says a college degree is required.

Nevada Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux

Willden acknowledged that Nevada Revised Statutes could be interpreted to mean that a college degree is required for Comeaux’s new position, but he said her administrative experience makes her qualified for the appointment.

Comeaux’s current position does not require a college degree but questions were raised about her qualifications for the job in an article published in November 2009 by the Nevada News Bureau.

In addition to her current position which she has held since June of 2008, Comeaux also worked as the deputy administrator of Medicaid and as the deputy administrator at Child and Family Services.

“Altogether she’s been 10 years in top ranked positions in DHHS,” Willden said. “And so, no bones, Diane doesn’t have a degree but she has years of experience as a state executive, and running DCFS is every bit as difficult and responsible as DWSS.”

State law regarding the top welfare position says that the administrator must be selected based on training, experience, and interest in the field; be a graduate from an accredited college; have at least three years of administrative experience; and possess qualities of leadership. The job description was changed by the Nevada Legislature in 2005.

But Willden said he has consulted with the state Human Resource Management Division and it was the interpretation of the agency that all of the listed requirements could be considered in making an appointment and that not all of the qualifications had to be met.

The legislative intent of Assembly Bill 13 of the 2005 session, a measure sought by DHHS to open up the applicant pool for the welfare position, also makes this clear, he said. Willden said he has not sought out a formal legal opinion on the question of Comeaux’s eligibility.

Minutes of a hearing on the bill in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee in 2005 include this exchange:

“So the main gist of the bill is to broaden it so that you can have more people to pick from?” asked then-Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

“That’s correct,” said then-welfare administrator Nancy Ford. “Currently the statute says you have to have three years of experience running a public welfare agency, which is pretty restrictive. You also have the catchall ‘or equivalent training and experience.’ But it is pretty restrictive. This would help liberalize it to make our pool of candidates bigger.”

Willden said: “Yes, we’re interested in a college degree, but that has to be balanced with other training, experience, those types of things.”

Comeaux’s experience is worth more than a college degree, he said.

Willden also said that while the appointment of Comeaux is permanent, she is expected to serve in the job for only a brief period to assist with a couple of major initiatives the agency needs to accomplish in the next year. Comeaux is expected to retire before the 2013 legislative session begins, he said.

Comeaux could not be reached for comment for this story.

She is replacing Romaine Gilliland, who has announced he will retire early next year.

Comeaux has her supporters.

Lisa Ruiz-Lee, interim director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, describes Comeaux as an “extraordinary public servant” in the six years they have worked together. Comeaux has worked collaboratively with Clark and Washoe counties and other jurisdictions to improve the delivery of child welfare services, she said.

“And so I think that is one of Diane’s strengths, is that she really focuses on building solid, collaborative relationships and helping people to move forward in a consensus based, togetherness kind of a feel, and I think she does a great job at that,” Ruiz-Lee said.

Comeaux has tremendous expertise around public welfare, public service and managing government, she said. She will carry these same strengths into the Welfare Division arena, Ruiz-Lee said.

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said she has found Comeaux to be a professional in their work together on child welfare issues. While deferring to Willden on the appointment, she said: “I have faith in Mike and his ability and if he has chosen Diane as the best person for the job then I don’t see a reason to question that if he has the backing that he needs from HR (Human Resources) to be able to do that.”

Willden said he picked Comeaux because of two major challenges facing the division in the coming year. One is the need for a new information technology project because of the new federal health care law, he said. A request for proposals for the project is going out shortly.

“Diane’s experience has been excellent over the years with regard to IT systems,” Willden said.

The other challenge is the fiscal administration of the welfare agency, he said.

“And Diane has a tremendous skill set there,” Willden said.

“So when I looked around as to what we might want to do, open that up and recruit again or look within at the talent we have, it was pretty clear to me that at least for the next year, it would very critical to have someone that knows what’s going on in IT and fiscal within the department issues,” he said. “So Diane was head and shoulders above.”

Amber Howell, currently deputy administrator at the Division of Child and Family Services, is being appointed as acting administrator of the agency until a search for a permanent replacement is completed, Willden said.


Audio clips:

HHS Director Mike Willden says Comeaux does not have a degree but has years of experience as a state executive:

12-12-11Willden1 :17 responsible as DWSS.”

Willden says a college degree has value but has to be balanced with training and experience:

121211Willden2 :10 types of things.”

Willden says Comeaux fits the bill for the challenges facing the welfare division:

121211Willden3 :25 and shoulders above.”

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca says she has faith in Willden to make the appointment to the position:

121311Mastroluca :15 to do that.”

Lisa Ruiz-Lee, interim director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, says Comeaux builds solid, collaborative relationships:

121311Ruiz-Lee :16 job at that.”




State Board OKs $175,000 Settlement With Former Inmate To Settle Federal Lawsuit

By Sean Whaley | 4:40 pm December 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state board today agreed to pay a former prison inmate $175,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from his shooting by a correctional officer in 2006.

The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the settlement with former inmate Donald Hixon.

Hixon was serving a sentence for possession of a stolen vehicle at the High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs when he was shot by a correctional officer for fighting with another inmate. Hixon was not armed.

High Desert State Prison.

The correctional officer, Paul Chaffee, was found not guilty of battery in a 2008 trial.

Stephen Quinn, representing the attorney general’s office, recommended the board accept the settlement.

“There’s a significant risk of an adverse outcome that will be significantly larger in dollar amount than the amount of this settlement, so this settlement is to fairly and significantly minimize that risk of exposure to the state,” he said.

Quinn said the case has already gone to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would mean a significant amount of legal fees that would have to be paid to Hixon’s counsel if the state was to lose the case at trial.

“I think this is a very good result for the state, governor,” he said.


Audio clip:

Stephen Quinn, representing the attorney general’s office, says the settlement is a good deal for the state:

121311Quinn :18 to the state.”



State Board OKs $65K For Ethics Commission To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 2:20 pm December 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state board today approved a $65,000 request from the state Ethics Commission to hire an attorney to help reduce a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions.

The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the request submitted by Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission.

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, spoke at the Board of Examiners meeting today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

The request to tap a legislative contingency fund to pay the salary of an attorney for six months must now be approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which meets Thursday.

“I know that it’s unusual to fund a position at this level, but I fear that without immediate attention to the backlog we’ll never catch up,” Jenkins told the board.

The Ethics Commission is adding to the backlog as it hears and decides more cases, she said. There are approximately 60 opinions that need to be written.

The emphasis for the commission has been hearing matters and rendering decisions, Jenkins said. The backlog has been an issue for some time, but has recently hit a critical stage, she said.

The commission sought two additional positions from the 2011 Legislature but the request was not funded due to other demands on scarce tax revenues.

Gov. Brian Sandoval asked if there systemic issues with the operation of the commission that could help reduce the backlog.

Jenkins said such changes are being considered. But even with the implementation of successful streamlining efforts, the agency will not be able to catch up with the backlog, she said. The commission has a meeting set for Wednesday where the issue will come up for further discussion, Jenkins said.

“It’s not just money, I guess is the bottom line,” Sandoval said. “I’m going to vote to support this today but I would like to see some demonstration by the commission that it is seeking to improve its efficiencies and efficacy as well.”


Audio clips:

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, says that without the funding, the backlog may never be addressed:

121311Jenkins :11 never catch up.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the issue isn’t just money but creating efficiencies as well:

121311Sandoval :29 efficacy as well.”

DOJ Reports $5.6 Billion In Fraud Recoveries In 2011, $8.3 Million In Nevada

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:49 pm December 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that it recovered $5.6 billion in civil and criminal fraud efforts in 2011, a 167 percent increase over 2008.

In Nevada, recoveries totaled $8.3 million in 2011, a 137 percent increase over 2008 when $3.5 million was recovered.

Courtesy U.S. Department of Justice.

Of the $5.6 billion recovered by DOJ in 2011, over $2.9 billion was in health care fraud alone, the agency reported.

Nevada was one of 21 states where recoveries more than doubled.

“All across the country, the Department of Justice continues to move aggressively to protect the American people from fraud,” said U.S. DOJ Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “In this past fiscal year, we recovered more money from fraudsters than ever before, over $5.6 billion. These efforts not only send the message that those who commit fraud will be held to account, they also result in more dollars in the national treasury and demonstrate a high rate of return on the American taxpayers’ investment in the Justice Department.”

As a next step in an aggressive campaign to crack down on Medicare fraud, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will direct all Medicare prescription drug plans to use every tool at their disposal to prevent fraud. Patients sometimes “doctor shop,” visiting numerous doctors to get multiple prescriptions for OxyContin, Percocet, and other painkillers and narcotics. In some cases, these medicines are abused by the patients. In others, patients sell the extra drugs.

OxyContin and Percocet abuse, prescription drug fraud, and so-called “doctor shopping” are major problems. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that “170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more” doctors for drugs that are frequently abused, like OxyContin and Percocet.

While not all of these cases are fraudulent, some are. In 2008, for example, one Medicare beneficiary “received prescriptions for a total of 3,655 oxycodone pills [such as OxyContin]…from 58 different prescribers.”

Today, HHS announced they have urged insurance companies to take every step possible to prevent such fraud. Specifically, HHS’ guidance tells prescription drug plans to withhold payment on suspicious claims, including when enrollees use multiple doctors to obtain painkillers and narcotics.

Companies that offer prescription drug plans already process each of a patient’s prescriptions.  While HHS generally requires prompt payment, today’s guidance clarifies that if a plan sees signs of suspicious activity, it should withhold payment to pharmacies until it verifies the claim is valid.

Former Gov. Bob List Says Later Nevada GOP Caucus Date Will Help, Not Hurt, Nevada

By Sean Whaley | 3:09 pm December 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Former Nevada Republican Gov. Bob List said today that he believes the state will have a critical role to play in the selection of the party’s nominee for president despite seeing the caucus date pushed back to Feb. 4.

“No, I think that being fifth actually has turned out to be better than being third,” said List, who is a Nevada State Republican Party national committeeman. “This race is certainly not going to be decided by the time Florida has its primary.

Former Nevada Gov. Bob List.

“We’re going to have the Iowa caucuses, which are non-binding on the delegates, then you’ve got New Hampshire, then Florida, then South Carolina,” he said in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program. “It’s not going to be over by then. Then comes Nevada. We’re going to be the first in the West and we’re going to get a lot of activity out here and the eyes of the nation are going to be on the Silver State.”

“I think the race will become more critical by that time,” List said. “I don’t think it hurt us one bit to slip back.”

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. The caucus had previously been set for Jan. 14.

List said Nevada played by the rules in setting its caucus date, which will benefit the state in future years. Florida will be penalized for setting its GOP primary so early, he said.

List said the Republican debates are generating a lot more attention than in past years, and the ultimate candidate will be “widely known and well tested.”

List also criticized former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s offer to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,0000 over Romney’s position on the individual health care mandate. The exchange came in an Iowa debate on Saturday and Romney has been criticized for being out of touch with average Americans for proposing to make such a large bet.

“I didn’t think that was well thought through,” List said. “I think it was a bad mistake.”

Even so, List praised Romney as the potential Republican presidential nominee.

List said Romney is a good manager, has high ethical standards and is respected for his integrity.

There has been some concerned expressed by Southern Evangelicals over Romney’s religion, but List said Nevadans know that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good Christians, and “it’s nothing to be feared.”

Romney won the Nevada caucus in 2008.

List also praised Newt Gingrich for his command in the debates, which has pushed him into front-runner status.

“He is so smart, and he has such a sense of history, and he really has an enormously good grasp of the issues,” List said.

Both Romney and Gingrich could beat President Obama, he said.


Audio clips:

Former Nevada Gov. Bob List says Nevada’s later GOP caucus date will help the state:

121211List1 :29 the Silver State.”

List says the GOP presidential primary will be more critical by Feb. 4:

121211List2 :08 to slip back.”

List says Mitt Romney made a mistake in offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000:

121211List3 :13 a bad mistake.”



Nevada Gaming Revenues Jump 8.1 Percent In October, Baccarat A Key Factor In Win

By Sean Whaley | 2:44 pm December 9th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada casinos took in $961 million in October for an 8.1 percent gain over the same month in 2010, the Gaming Control Board reported today.

The Las Vegas Strip took in $561 million for a healthy, double-digit gain of 13.3 percent. A big reason was the $159.3 million in revenue taken in from the card game baccarat, a 74 percent increase over October 2010.

Washoe County saw a significant decline in gaming revenue, however, of 9.3 percent. Eight of the last 10 months in this calendar year have been down in the county.

For the fiscal year-to-date, gaming revenues statewide total nearly $3.6 billion, or just 0.3 percent behind the same period in 2010.

“Really baccarat was the story for the state and the Strip,” said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the GCB.

Slot machine / Photo by Jeff Kubina @ Wikimedia Commons

It was the biggest October win for baccarat on record. The “hold” percentage, or the amount retained by casinos on the baccarat wagers, was also high at nearly 19 percent on the Strip, he said. The typical hold on the game is about 12.5 percent.

A number of special events, including an Indy car race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, and a fight at the Mandalay Bay on Oct. 29, helped bring in a lot of visitors to Las Vegas, Lawton said.

The gaming revenues boosted state general fund tax collections, bringing in $65 million and reducing the overall gaming tax revenue decline reported for the year so far from a negative 5.5 percent in the previous report to a negative 2.4 percent through the most recent report.

Percentage fee collections are still below the projections made by the Economic Forum in May, but are improved from the September report. After the September report, the state was about $16 million, or 7.4 percent, below what was projected for tax collections. With the October numbers, the state is now about $12 million, or 4.3 percent, below projections.

“But we have quite a bit of time to catch that up,” Lawton said.

There are a number of positive elements in the report, he said. The 13.3 percent double-digit gain on the Strip comes off a double digit gain reported in October of 2010 over 2009 of 16.1 percent.

“This represents the first time since July of 07 that the Strip has faced a double-digit comparison and then matched it with a double-digit increase,” he said. “So that’s very positive.”

Slot machine play was up 5.4 percent on the Strip in October, bringing in $246 million, making it the sixth consecutive month of increases. The volume of slot play on the Strip, or the amount played by visitors, has increased in seven of the last eight months.


Audio clips:

Nevada gaming analyst Michael Lawton says the story of the October gaming win was baccarat:

120911Lawton1 :30 at 18.78 percent.”

Lawton says the Strip turned in a strong performance on top of a strong October 2010:

120911Lawton2 :10 that’s very positive.”

Business Leaders Want Clear And Practical State Plan For Economic Diversification

By Sean Whaley | 3:38 pm December 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A member of the panel charged with helping diversify Nevada’s economy and create jobs said today he wants to make sure the state plan developed to achieve these goals is a practical working document.

“I hope we have concrete definitions that go beyond buzzwords,” said Sam Routson, a member of the state Board of Economic Development.

The plan needs to be a working tool that the public can easily understand, he said. Routson is the chief administrative officer for the agricultural company Winnemucca Farms.

State Economic Development official Steve Hill, right, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and other state officials hear about the Brookings report in November. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Routson’s comments were in response to a report prepared by the Brookings Institution and SRI International that was delivered to the panel in early November. The report, intended to help the state with its economic diversification efforts, identifies 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.

The report has come in for some criticism for failing to offer clear definitions of the economic sectors the state should be focusing on to diversify the state economy.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association who testified in the public comment section of the meeting of the panel, which includes Gov. Brian Sandoval and several private sector appointees, said he would have sent the report back because of a lack of clear definitions.

The report discusses advanced manufacturing, which used to be called high tech, but it lacks specifics, Bacon said. Other sectors, such as clean energy, are not defined either, he said.

“We can’t get there until we know what the definitions are,” Bacon said.

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development, said the intent is to produce a state plan that is a working document and one that is “direct and to the point.”

The plan is being developed now and is expected to be released in January.

Board member Kathleen Drakulich asked Hill if the Brookings/SRI report provided enough detail to prepare the state’s plan.

Hill said the report has provided a great deal of depth, but that the state’s plan won’t be prepared based solely on the information. Hill said he is reaching out across the state to get comment for the plan.

Because it is being generated so quickly, Hill said the first draft of the plan will not be a complete answer to Nevada’s economic diversification efforts. As the board and state officials learn more about what works, the plan will be updated to reflect that knowledge, he said.

After the meeting, Sandoval said the criticisms are welcome.

“Now Mr. Hill, who is writing that plan as we speak, has heard some of the concerns of folks with regard to the Brookings report,” Sandoval said. “That report was never supposed to be the end-all, be-all with regard to economic development in the state of Nevada. It was going to identify our strengths, our weaknesses, which clusters we should be focusing on and essentially provide the foundation for our state economic development plan. And I think it accomplished just that.”

The state’s plan of action will be a business plan with the measurements needed to ensure accountability, he said.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says criticisms of the Brookings report will help produce an effective state plan for economic diversification:

120811Sandoval1 :18 the state plan.”

Sandoval says the Brookings report is just one tool to help develop the state plan:

120811Sandoval2 :24 accomplished just that.”


State Ethics Commission Seeks $65K To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 5:34 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Faced with a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions, the state Ethics Commission is seeking $65,000 from a contingency fund to hire an attorney to help deal with the situation.

Photo by Tom Ventura via Flickr.

The request for funding from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Contingency Fund would allow the commission to contract with a temporary full-time attorney for six months beginning in January 2012 to help in getting the backlog of opinions written and published.

The funding request will first go to the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday. If approved by the board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, the request will be considered by the Interim Finance Committee at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, reported the backlog at an Ethics Commission meeting earlier this year. In an interview with the Nevada News Bureau in November, Jenkins said the agency has fallen behind in issuing written opinions because of a major increase in public officials seeking guidance.

There were 67 requests for opinions in 2004, and she expects 172 this year. Jenkins said she has one investigator for the entire state who must review each case.

“The demands on our staff have become almost laughable,” she said in the interview. “We have three-times the workload for when they thought we needed five full-time staffers.”

As a result, the publishing of its formal opinions in the cases has fallen about two years behind with 50 opinions yet to be written, Jenkins said.

The agency sought two new positions in the 2011 session to help address the backlog, but the Legislature did not approve them, given all the other critical demands on the budget, she said.

The opinions, when written, are published on the agency’s website to provide guidance for others, Jenkins said.

The inability of the commission staff to get the opinions written has had real word consequences.

Former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, was still waiting for a published order in his case when interviewed by the NNB last month.

Without it, Stark said he has been unable to pursue a court appeal on the one charge for which he was found to have violated state ethics laws. With no final record of the hearing, Stark, who called the one infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony, said he cannot successfully seek employment either.

State Transportation Director Terminates $280K Contract After Concerns Raised About Cost

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A 22-month, $280,000 contract with a private sector individual to work as a liaison between the Department of Transportation and contractors seeking work with the agency has been terminated by Director Susan Martinovich.

Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Instead, the department will look to its own staff to help in the goal of assisting contractors who want to bid on NDOT projects through the sometimes complex bureaucratic process, said agency spokesman Scott Magruder.

“At this point we have terminated the agreement and will not be bringing this forward to the board meeting next Monday,” he said. “And in order to help facilitate some of the new contractors through the system, we’re looking at maybe using some of the in-house people in our construction and records and management that maybe could help out on this effort.”

The decision to terminate the contract came after Martinovich met today with Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The contract with William “Buzz” Harris to serve as an ombudsman between the agency and bidders on contracts was approved in September by NDOT staff but was put on hold in November after concerns were raised by Sandoval and other members of the NDOT Board of Directors.

The contract was set for further discussion at the NDOT board meeting on Monday, but instead was terminated by Martinovich.

Harris is a former assistant executive director at the Nevada Associated General Contractors and was awarded the contract after a competitive review process.

Magruder said the word ombudsman was a misnomer. The idea was not to resolve complaints but to assist contractors with the process, he said.

“Again we still feel that when a new contractor calls the department, they don’t just get shuffled around,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to have it all in one place that they could go, as we said, a facilitator, that could really help them through the process. Because there’s a lot of, I hate to use the word red tape, but that’s exactly what it is.”

Magruder said the department wants to make the process as friendly and open as possible. The more contractors bidding on a project, the better the price for the taxpayer, he said.

Sandoval said at the November meeting that the potential contract cost is well in excess of what even he earns as governor.

The $280,000 was the maximum of the contract based on a $100 hourly rate that would have covered Harris’ expenses as well.


Audio clips:

NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder says the contract has been terminated:

120711Magruder1 :07 meeting next Monday.”

Magruder says the agency will try to use in-house staff to assist contractors:

120711Magruder2 :13 on this effort.”

Magruder says NDOT wants to make it easy for contractors to deal with the agency:

120711Magruder3 :19 what it is.”



Three Nevada Pearl Harbor Survivors Honored At Capitol Ceremony On 70th Anniversary

By Sean Whaley | 3:07 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval honored three Pearl Harbor survivors today on the 70th anniversary of the attack that brought the United States into World War II.

At a ceremony in the Capitol, Sandoval spoke of the Japanese surprise attack 70 years ago and the Americans who rose to the challenge to engage the enemy in a battle that killed more than 2,400 Americans.

Gov. Brian Sandoval with Pearl Harbor survivor Roland Peachee of Carson City. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

He also mentioned the USS Nevada, the only battleship to get under way during the attack.

“We know of the sacrifices made by the greatest American generation, to win the war that began with the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,” Sandoval said. “Today, we gather to mark the 70th anniversary of this date. Not to commemorate its infamy, but rather to remember all that it inspired in a shocked and angry nation.

“Most of all we remember those who died at Pearl Harbor, and those who lived to serve and fight, and some to die, on another day,” he said.

One of those present on that “date in infamy” was Roland Peachee, 95, of Carson City, who said he was on the dock next to his dry docked ship, the USS Rigel, when the attack began, taking cover under a canvass overhang that was part of a portable butcher shop where he was working. The repair ship was named for the star.

“Then I realized that, hell, it was nothing but painted canvass,” he said. “So from then on I got the hell out of there, underneath some superstructure laying on the dock there. Our ship was disabled, it didn’t have any guns or anything on it.”

A Japanese plane dropped one bomb that fortunately fell between the Rigel and another ship that was loaded with high test fuel and PT boats. Even so the crews were hit with shrapnel, Peachee said.

“We lost about four or five men,” he said.

Also honored at the ceremony were Pearl Harbor survivors Paul Dierlam of Carson City and Robert Lloyd of Dayton.

Pearl Harbor Veteran special Nevada license plate. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Peachee worked with members of the Nevada Legislature to get the Pearl Harbor special license plates approved for those who were at the battle.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, in a fact sheet on America’s Wars updated this year, reports that more than 16 million individuals served as members of the U.S. armed forces during World War II. There were 291,557 battle deaths, 113,842 other deaths in service and 670,846 non-mortally wounded military personnel. The agency estimates that nearly 2.1 million American veterans are still living.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the ceremony is about remembering what the attack inspired:

120711Sandoval1 :32 and angry nation.”

Sandoval says it is also about remembering those who died and those who lived to continue to serve:

120711Sandoval2 :16 on another day.”

Pearl Harbor survivor Roland Peachee says he found himself in a bad  spot when the attack began:

120711Peachee1 :19 on it, so.”

Peachee says a bomb just missed his ship and another loaded with fuel:

120711Peachee2 :24 or five men.”


Report Outlining Tax And Spending Decisions By 2011 Legislature Now Available

By Sean Whaley | 3:30 pm December 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A report outlining the actions taken by the 2011 Legislature to finalize Nevada’s two-year, $6.2 billion general fund operating budget that took effect July 1, including approval of $1.1 billion in additional revenues, has been published by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The Nevada state Senate in session, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Gov. Brian Sandoval initially proposed a $5.84 billion general fund budget that relied heavily on local government revenues to balance out, a decision that was later called into question in a Nevada Supreme Court decision.

The $6.2 billion general fund budget is actually less – but only by about $100 million – than the 2009-11 spending plan.

When all revenues are counted, including federal funding, the current two-year state budget totals $15.9 billion, down from $16.5 billion in the 2009-2011 budget.

The Nevada Legislative Appropriations Report for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years summarizes the actions of the Legislature in funding public education, corrections and other agency budgets. Prepared by the Fiscal Analysis Division, it also contains sections on tax revenues.

The final spending plan was augmented by revenue increases totaling nearly $1.1 billion over the 2009-11 budget, with $513 million of the total going to the general fund and $556 million to public education.

Sandoval’s original budget did not propose to continue a number of tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that were to sunset on June 30, 2011. But in an agreement with lawmakers late in the session, the tax sunsets were removed for two more years to help balance the budget.

The agreement came after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that $62 million taken from a Clark County water fund in the 2010 special session to help balance the previous budget was unconstitutional. This ruling raised doubts about the legality of a number of proposals in Sandoval’s budget to use local tax revenues to help balance the state budget.

The bipartisan agreement to extend the taxes for two more years came as part of an overall deal to approve major reforms to public education and public employee benefits.

One of the major pieces of the tax agreement was to keep the tax rate for the modified business levy at 1.17 percent of wages, bringing in $237 million over two years. The first $250,000 in wages was completely exempted from the tax, however, as a break to Nevada small businesses.

Another $283 million is being generated by maintaining a 0.35 percent sales tax increase for the current two-year budget to help support public education.

The report shows that 37.5 percent of the general fund budget is directed to public education, down from 39.9 percent in the previous budget. Higher education is receiving 15.3 percent of the total, up from 15.2 percent in the previous budget. Human resources spending totals 31.2 percent, up from 29.1 percent in 2009-2011. The remaining 16 percent is divided among other agencies, including corrections, public safety and the constitutional offices.

The report also shows a reduction in the number of state positions. In fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, there were 18,431 approved positions in state government, not including the higher education system. For the current year, the number of approved positions is 17,856, a reduction of 575 jobs.

The Nevada System of Higher Education saw a bigger percentage decline, from 7,166 professional and classified jobs in 2011 to 6,789 positions this year, a reduction of 377 jobs.

Medicaid Information System Goes Live By Deadline, No Major Issues Expected

By Sean Whaley | 3:32 pm December 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state official said today the firm hired in January to take over the operation of the Medicaid billing and information systems has completed its work by today’s deadline.

HP Enterprise Services was given a four-month extension to complete the transfer and start-up of the system after it failed to make an Aug. 1 deadline.

Today, Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, said the transfer was completed by the new deadline.

“We’re on schedule,” he said.

The firm started up a new piece of the system, the pharmacy claims system, on Friday, he said.

Photo courtesy of User.Oaktree_b via Wikimedia Commons.

“There were a few issues over the weekend but nothing major,” Duarte said.

Some of the national pharmacy chains had to send the software to their local stores, he said.

The main piece of the system, the Medicaid Management Information System, went live Sunday at 11:30 p.m., Duarte said.

“All our call centers are operating,” he said. “So everything is moving along.

“A big test will be when we actually adjudicate those claims tonight, both electronic and paper claims, to see what kind of performance we get out of the system tomorrow,” Duarte said. “But we’re very optimistic that things will process well this evening.”

The testing of the system in parallel with the old system worked out very well, he said. There will probably be a few glitches, but nothing major, Duarte said.

The Nevada News Bureau first reported in October that the contractor, hired in January to operate the system for $177 million over five years, had missed its Aug. 1 deadline.

Duarte said today that the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services will enter into discussions with HP Enterprise Services regarding the missed deadline now that the transfer has been completed. The state does have the ability to seek damages for a failure of the company to deliver on the terms of the contract, he said in October.

“Because of the need to focus on getting the system operational, get it standing up, we moved off that and are going to reengage them in that discussion again,” Duarte said. “So once all systems are green and everything is working well it’s going to be time to sit down and talk about the contract.”

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. The company did not formally challenge the award, however, because of the costs involved.

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.

Once the system is certified by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services next year, the state expects to see enhanced federal reimbursements for the Medicaid program, he said.


Audio clips:

Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, says the main part of the system went live Sunday at 11:30 p.m.:

120511Duarte1 :24 is moving along.”

Duarte says a big test will come tomorrow after the claims are processed this evening:

120511Duarte2 :17 well this evening.”

Duarte says the state will discuss the contract and delay with HP now that the system is functional:

120511Duarte3 :15 about the contract.”


Gov. Sandoval Joins In Wreath Laying Ceremony Honoring Veterans, Active Duty Military Personnel

By Sean Whaley | 1:41 pm December 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval was joined by the 8th grade class from St. Teresa of Avila School today in a 5th annual wreath laying ceremony on the steps of the Capitol honoring the nation’s veterans and active duty military personnel.

Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, Gov. Brian Sandoval and St. Teresa School Student Body President Grace Bayliss present the wreath honoring the military. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Also participating in the ceremony was Anita Parker, representing the Battle Born Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell.

The wreath laying is sponsored by the DAR as part of the “Wreaths Across America” project. Similar ceremonies were held in the nation’s capital and in state capitals across the country.

“Five years ago, the Battle Born chapter and members of our community first gathered here on the steps of Nevada’s Capitol during the busy holiday season to remember the fallen, honor those who served, and teach our children the value of freedom as part of the Reach Across America project,” Parker said. “We come today together even as others gather in other state capitols, and our nation’s capitol, to remember that we are one nation with one flag.”

One of the students, Noah Jennings, read a poem titled “Twas the Night Before Christmas for a Soldier.”

Sandoval said: “As we stand here together on a chilly December morning, the comforts of our homes and offices not far away, it is fitting that we remember the sacrifices of those who have served and sacrificed in the United States Armed Forces.”

Sandoval noted that on Wednesday he and others will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“Today we remember that our troops come from families just like ours,” he said. “We remember those who have fallen, those who have returned, and those who continue to serve during this holiday season, separated from those who love them. We offer them our thanks.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks as members of the 8th grade class from St. Teresa of Avila School look on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

After his comments, Sandoval, Crowell and Grace Bayliss, student body president at the school, presented the wreath.


Audio clips:

Anita Parker, representing the Battle Born Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, says the wreath ceremony is to remember those who served and continue to serve:

120511Parker :28 with one flag.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says it is fitting to remember the sacrifices of the nation’s Armed Forces during the holidays:

120511Sandoval1 :18 States Armed Forces.”

Sandoval says the troops come from families just like ours:

120511Sandoval2 :23 them our thanks.”

Sandoval Skips Republican Governors Association Conference

By Elizabeth Crum | 11:34 am December 5th, 2011

Gov. Sandoval was one of the few GOP governors who did not attend last week’s Republican Governors Association (RGA) annual pow-wow in Orlando.

He cited schedule conflicts including the conference on tourism in Las Vegas and said “Nevada comes first.”

More than two dozen of the nation’s 29 Republican governors attended the event, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, vice chairman of the national organization, and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who is serving as chairman.

McDonnell touted “historic victories in Louisiana and Mississippi” in 2011 and said the organization is raising “record sums” in remarks made at the conference.

Next year, Democrats will defend in eight of 11 states scheduled to hold governors’ races. The states with gubernatorial elections in 2012 are: WA, MT, DE, IN, MO, NC, ND, NH, UT, VT and WV.

Other members of the RGA Executive Committee include: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

In addition to naming members to the executive committee, the governors tapped Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as Policy Chairman of the association’s Public Policy Committee.

The RGA’s choice of Orlando as a conference location was no doubt tied to Florida’s key role in the presidential primaries and general election.

The Republican National Convention will descend on Tampa and the greater central Florida area in August 2012.



Nevada Cites Concerns With Transport Of Hazardous Waste In Response To Draft Plan For Former Test Site

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am December 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A draft environmental statement addressing the future of the former Nevada Test Site appears to be setting the stage for the transportation of mixed hazardous and low-level radioactive waste to the site through heavily populated areas of Las Vegas, the state response to the document says.

The response, filed by Nevada Attorney General’s office after consultation with multiple state agencies, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Agency for Nuclear Projects and the Department of Transportation, says the draft document appears to be abandoning a long-standing agreement to use highway routes that avoid urban Las Vegas for the shipping of low-level radioactive waste. The agreement was made between then-Gov. Kenny Guinn and then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.

The DOE has been using a portion of the site to bury low-level radioactive waste shipped to Nevada from other department sites from around the country for more than a decade.

Nevada officials also express concerns in their response that the discussion of groundwater contamination at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site is not adequate for assessing the loss of the resource due to underground nuclear testing at the site located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The draft EIS also fails to identify any areas of the site that might be suitable for a return to public use, the state says in its 83-page response filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement, (SWEIS), presents a 10-year plan with three options: continuing uses as they are now occurring; reducing the uses of the property; and increasing activity at the site formerly used for both above- and below-ground nuclear tests.

Subsidence craters from underground nuclear testing at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site. / Photo: U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday was the deadline to comment on the plan. A final report is expected to be issued by the DOE next year.

Joe Strolin, a consultant with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said in an interview Friday that a major emphasis from the state in its response is to get the DOE to move away from the use of the site for the disposal of hazardous and low-level radioactive waste.

Alternative energy development and even mineral extraction are potential uses of the site, he said. A new approach could greatly improve relations between the state and the DOE, Strolin said.

“If Yucca Mountain is off the table, it makes it a lot easier for elected officials – the governor, the attorney general, public officials – to approach these kinds of issues much more cooperatively,” he said.

The transportation issue is the major concern identified in the state response.

Under what is called the “unconstrained routing scenario” evaluated in the draft EIS, the Department of Energy is proposing to abdicate this agreement and allow shipments of low-level radioactive waste directly through the Interstate 15-U.S. Hwy. 95 interchange known as the Spaghetti Bowl, the state says. It would also allow the waste to be shipped over the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge and funnel waste into the Las Vegas metro area from the south.

The state “strongly opposes” shipments of waste through the urban Las Vegas area and the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, “and will aggressively contest any decision to undertake such shipments using all means available,” the response says.

Sandoval has also sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to this change to the 12-year-old agreement.

Strolin said an accident involving low-level radioactive waste, while remote, could cause both economic and public safety consequences for Southern Nevada.

“Even the perception of a radiological incident in that area could cause major problems for everyone,” he said. “That was the motivation in 1999 for moving the waste out of the Las Vegas valley.”

The reason for the proposed change is likely to save money, but the state has never received a clear answer to the question, he said.

Groundwater contamination, and the loss of this resource to the state, is the other major concern expressed in Nevada’s response to the draft EIS. The document does not fully assess the cumulative loss of groundwater due to the testing, the response says.

“Nor does the information contained in the draft EIS provide an adequate basis for evaluating the value of that resource which has been – and will continue to be – lost to present and future generations as a result of past, present and future contamination,” the state says.

The state response notes that the 2011 Legislature passed a resolution asking the attorney general’s office and state agencies to report to lawmakers in 2013 on whether Nevada could potentially receive financial compensation from the federal government for the environmental contamination, including groundwater contamination, at the site.

The EIS needs to provide, “a full and complete picture of the groundwater resource that has been removed from the public domain and rendered unavailable for beneficial use, the level and distribution of contamination of that resource, and the potential, if any, for future beneficial uses of the resource,” the state response says.

Strolin said the state would like to see more research on the issue as part of the final environmental report.

“So we had hoped that the EIS would do a better job of helping us to scope that out and it appears that it did not,” he said.

The groundwater issue is also a major concern of Nye County officials. Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Commission, testified at a September public hearing on the document, saying efforts to tap into the uncontaminated groundwater on the site have consistently been opposed by the DOE. He said there should be some consideration of compensation for the loss of the resource due to the nuclear testing and other uses of the property.

“Not allowing Nye County access to water on the Nevada National Security Site is a big deal to us,” he said at the hearing. “The ongoing impacts of denying access to the county is huge, and no compensation has been made for our loss of the access to that water.”

The state response also says the draft EIS should address the potential for the freeing up of areas of the 1,375-square-mile secured site that are not needed for national security or other purposes.

“The final EIS should contain a section dealing specifically with the potential relinquishment of any areas of NNSS that are potentially reasonable candidates for return to the public domain,” the state says in its response.


Audio clips:

Joe Strolin with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says an incident in urban Las Vegas could cause major economic and public health problems:

120211Strolin1 :13 Las Vegas valley.”

Strolin says the state would like additional research and analysis in a variety of areas:

120211Strolin2 :20 will address them.”

Strolin says Nevada would like to see the DOE move away from the waste disposal mission:

120211Strolin3 :33 development out there.”

Strolin says with Yucca Mountain off the table, cooperation with the DOE will be much easier for Nevada officials:

120211Strolin4 :16 much more cooperatively.”