Archive for January, 2012

Nevada Secretary Of State Launches Aurora, A Searchable Database For Campaign Finance Information

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:05 pm January 17th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada voters can now be better informed than ever before with the Wednesday launch of Aurora, a user-friendly, searchable database for all campaign and public officer finance disclosures, Secretary of State Ross Miller said today.

Aurora, which can be accessed directly through the Secretary of State’s homepage, will provide a new level of insight into who is funding campaigns, and how those funds are being spent, he said.

“We named it Aurora because it provides illumination as to how campaigns and our elected representatives are funded,” Miller said. “A healthy, vital democracy requires well-informed voters, and Aurora offers voters the opportunity to get more information more quickly, and consequently make better informed decisions at the polls.

“Aurora is a logical extension to the new campaign filing laws that went into effect Jan. 1 of this year,” he said. “As a result of Assembly Bill 452, passed in the last Legislature, candidates are now required to report their campaign contribution and expense reports, and financial disclosure statements electronically with my office. So it makes sense to have that information as accessible as possible to Nevada voters.”

Aurora includes many new features not previously available to Nevada. It will allow users to search and sort all filed Contributions & Expense (C&E) Reports and Financial Disclosure Statements (FDS), and also has the ability to export search results into Excel, CSV and PDF formats for additional sorting and usage.

The Contribution Search and Expenditure Search functions will allow users to search results by the following criteria:
- Individual Candidates
- Political Races
- Groups
- Contributions, including by amount, date range and similar addresses
- Contributors
- Expenditure Recipients

Aurora will also include future expanded services offered by other divisions of the Secretary of State’s office.

Secretary of State Ross Miller.

“We’re maximizing the potential of our (Information Technology) capacity,” Miller said. “In all the divisions in my office, digital services are our best opportunity to serve the most Nevadans effectively and efficiently.”

Additional enhancements planned for later phases of Aurora include:
- More user-friendly filing features
- Resident Agent Searches
- Penalties Searches
- Hotlinks to the corporate details pages for corporate contributors and recipients
- Reports comparing original v. amended reports
- Online Group Registrations (e.g. Political Action Committees)

Deployment of Aurora will begin at 12 a.m. tonight following the close of the current FDS and C&E Report filing period. The system will be offline for a short time period during deployment and will be up and fully functioning by the start of business on Wednesday. Aurora is and will continue to be a technological build completed solely by the Secretary of State’s Information Technology staff at no additional cost to taxpayers.

As the state’s chief elections officer, Miller said he supports fair and transparent campaigns in an effort to restore the public’s faith in the electoral process.


Audio clips:

Secretary of State Ross Miller says the current search process is difficult:

011712Miller1 :17 pages of reports.”

Miller says the new searchable database will bring a whole new level of transparency to campaign finance:

011712Miller2 :21 campaign finance transparency.”


Nevada Think Tank Announces New Case Aimed at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Sean Whaley | 11:00 am January 16th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank today announced the second case taken on by its Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), this one aimed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allegedly flooding a Pahrump church camp through negligent and illegal work on two streams.

The action is being taken on behalf of Victor Fuentes, a 1991 escapee from Cuba who in 2004 formed a church with his wife Annette in Las Vegas called The Ministerio Roco Solida Church, or Solid Rock Church.

“I’m very disappointed with the federal government right now because, coming from Cuba, I know what an overrun country by the government can do to its people,” Fuentes said in a telephone interview. “That is the reason I came to the United States of America. Because my country is overrun by the Communist regime of Fidel Castro.

“And what is happening right now is all our liberty and freedoms are being taken away from me specifically with what the government has done to us and our property in Amargosa Valley,” he said.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s CJCL is filing a negligence claim for damages on behalf of his church with the federal agency.

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, said the claim for the flooding damage will be at least $86,000 based on one professional estimate. But the permanent loss of the streams is a much more complex issue that the center is still investigating, he said.

“I mean, at a minimum, if you are going to take property, constitutionally it would have to be in a public interest and you have to pay for it,” he said. “We’re not sure they can demonstrate a public use and certainly we know they didn’t pay for it.

“And even aside from that issue, of course, the first claim, that being the negligence claim, you can’t reroute water in a negligent way such that it floods private property,” Becker said.

In 2006, Fuentes purchased a 40-acre, Wild West-themed camp in the Amargosa Valley for $500,000, using a combination of member contributions and his own money. After purchasing the property Fuentes spent another $700,000 refurbishing buildings, installing a septic system and retrofitting elements of the camp — which was renamed “Patch of Heaven.”

By 2010, Fuentes said the property was booked “nearly every weekend” with church groups and campers. The main attractions of the camp were two spring-fed streams flowing through the property, and a swimming pond.

Victor Fuentes at Patch of Heaven.

In the fall of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began rerouting the streams away from the camp. The case alleges the streams – which had flowed through the property since the 1800s – were diverted to go around the camp, cutting off its recreational and baptismal waters.

The agency completed the rerouting project in early December 2010. On Dec. 23, just before Christmas, rain raised the stream waters over the federal agency’s constructed banks, flooding Patch of Heaven. The camp was submerged in mud and muddy water, severely damaging the buildings and other property.

“It was devastating,” Annette Fuentes said. “Seeing all the work we put into [the camp] ruined by some type of government negligence was unbelievable.”

In addition to the structural damage, the Fuenteses say the overall value of the camp property is now significantly less. Not only has the camp been deprived of its water source, but it is now on a government-created flood plain.

Patch of Heaven flooded.

The Fuenteses reached out to several government officials for help, but received few responses.

“The government acts like a separate entity from the people – they are there, and we are here,” Victor Fuentes said.

In an article in the Pahrump Valley Times in 2009, a federal official said the work was intended to restore the streams to their original channel.

The article quoted Cynthia Martinez, manager of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge complex, who said the alignment is the result of a 15-year management plan. The plan was discussed at public meetings in 2008, including one at the Amargosa Valley Community Center, Martinez said. She said the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t rerouting the channel but restoring it to its original path.

The restoration of the channel is designed to help the speckled dace, an endangered species of fish, Martinez said.

Speckled dace. / Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“The reason the refuge was established was for threatened and endangered species. One of the restoration techniques we have is to restore their native habitat. That means going back and reconstructing outflow channels from all these springs back in their hydrologically correct direction,” Martinez said.

But Becker said he has maps from the late 1800s showing the water flowing through the property in the same location before it was “hijacked” by the federal agency.

It is the second action taken by the CJCL. In November it filed a lawsuit against the state of Nevada and the Public Utilities Commission alleging the employment of a state lawmaker violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, left the job about the time the lawsuit was filed, but the case is being pursued by the CJCL because of the ramifications for other lawmakers serving in state or local government public jobs.


Audio clips:

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, says the federal government cannot act in a negligent manner:

011612Becker :26 floods private property.”

Victor Fuentes says he is disappointed by the actions of the U.S. government:

011612Fuentes1 :19 of Fidel Castro.”

Fuentes says his freedoms have been taken away by the actions of the federal government:

011612Fuentes2 :12 in Amargosa Valley.”


Jobless Claimants Who Had Problems Filing For Benefits Urged To Re-file

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:18 pm January 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A computer glitch that caused some jobless benefit recipients to have their claims mistakenly rejected this week has been fixed, and claimants who had problems are encouraged to re-file using the state’s website.

Claimants should go online to file their claims as soon as possible, said Frank Woodbeck, director of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). The telephone claims center will still accept claims, but due to the already high call volume, claimants may experience longer than usual hold times, he said.

DETR Director Frank Woodbeck.

“Staff worked during the night to correct the problem that may cause some claimants to receive their benefits about two days late,” he said. “We understand the magnitude of this situation as so many depend on unemployment benefits for their livelihood during this tough economic climate.

“We are in the midst of a five-year overhaul of our computer system, but in the meantime, we continue to struggle with 30-year-old technology, that unfortunately doesn’t function well 100 percent of the time,” Woodbeck said.

The agency on Tuesday discovered a computer error that was causing issues processing claims for benefits for this week.

There are currently about 86,000 people who received unemployment benefits weekly. The department traditionally receives a greater number of calls than usual, during this post-holiday season, which is further causing delays for callers accessing the telephone claims system.

The Unemployment Insurance Call Center hours have been extended as a result of computer system issues and a seasonal increase in demand by our customers. However, the center will be closed, as will all state offices, on Monday in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

All calls received prior to 5 p.m. each day will receive assistance from one of our customer agents. The Unemployment Insurance Call Center will be accepting calls Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Gaming Policy Committee Appointments Made, First Meeting Set For Mid-February

By Sean Whaley | 1:42 pm January 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A panel of key gaming figures and state officials will begin meeting next month to consider the impact of Internet gaming and other technological advances on Nevada’s major industry.

Gov. Brian Sandoval announced his five appointments to the Gaming Policy Committee yesterday. The full 11-member committee has not met since 1984. Sandoval will serve as chairman.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the panel is expected to meet for the first time in mid-February to begin considering any regulatory changes that should be recommended to the state gaming agency and governor.

Nevada gaming regulators recently adopted regulations concerning Internet poker. The Legislature in 2011 also legalized other devices related to gaming technology.

“So the governor wants to understand, from a policy perspective, where is technology headed in terms of its impact on the gaming environment,” Erquiaga said. “But also he will ask the committee to look at what impact does technology have in the long run on Nevada and its entire statutory scheme related to gaming.

“It impacts taxation, it impacts the infrastructure investment on the Las Vegas Strip, it impacts our workforce needs,” he said. “The growth of a technological sector related to gaming impacts the manufacturing side of the industry, which is an economic development issue for the state.

“So the governor envisions the Gaming Policy Committee as the statewide body to look at all that impact of technology both on gaming policy but also on how gaming fits in the larger policy framework of the state,” Erquiaga said.

The review will of necessity require a review of the federal actions related to Internet poker, he said.

Sandoval’s two major gaming company appointees are Keith Smith, chief executive officer and president of the Boyd Gaming Group and president of the Nevada Resort Association, and Jim Murren, chief executive officer of MGM Resorts.

Representing the smaller gaming operators will be Sallie Becker, owner of Bomas Grill in Las Vegas. The two public member appointees are attorney Mark Bruce of Reno and Paul Mathews Jr. with incuBET, a Las Vegas on-line computer game firm.

Also serving will be Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard and Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli.

Legislative leaders appointed Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who is leaving office in November, and Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas. The final appointee comes from Nevada’s Native American Tribes, who have selected Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Sandoval, in a speech in November in Las Vegas, cited the potential growth of Internet gaming as a compelling reason to convene the policy committee.

“I hope to help sketch a road map for the journey ahead,” he said. “We must preserve Nevada’s leadership role in gaming – even in this brave new digital world. If we are, as I believe, entering a new era in gaming history, I intend as governor to ensure it is as successful and secure as the last 80 years have been.”


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says Sandoval wants to understand from a policy perspective where technology is headed:

011212Erquiaga1 :25 related to gaming.”

Erquiaga says gaming technology affects everything from workforce needs to economic development:

011212Erquiaga2 :19 for the state.”

Erquiaga says the policy committee’s role is to review all of these issues:

011212Erquiaga3 :14 of the state.”

Nevada Moving Forward With Waiver For Flexibility From Requirements Of No Child Left Behind Act

By Sean Whaley | 3:48 pm January 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada is joining with many other states in seeking a waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a state panel was told today.

If granted, the waiver being sought by the Nevada Department of Education will still require a major ongoing effort at measuring and improving student achievement, said Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction. Rheault updated the waiver effort for the P-16 Advisory Council.

The waiver being offered by the U.S. Department of Education gives states flexibility on certain requirements of the law, which just saw its 10-year anniversary. The waiver is only valid for two years, however, unless Congress takes further action, Rheault said.

“The biggest complaint about No Child Left Behind right now is that if one or two students in a particular category, like special education students, fall below the proficiency, that can cause the whole school to be determined as not making adequate yearly progress,” he said.

Fifty-five percent of Nevada’s 680 public schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress for 2011.

State schools chief Keith Rheault talks today about seeking a waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“Nevada will take this opportunity to build the type of school and educator accountability system that reflects our values,” says a Nevada Education Department memo on the waiver process.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said the governor supports seeking the waiver.

“The governor has been kept abreast of the waiver application by the superintendent and the core team that is working and he absolutely supports the direction that they are headed,” Erquiaga said. “The current system, as he has talked about for a long time, is too narrow.”

No Child Left Behind has been useful in providing a foundation for introducing accountability into Nevada’s public school system, he said.

“But we know that if we look at growth, and climate, and some of the other issues that they will address in the waiver, that we’ll be better off than we are today,” Erquiaga said.

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the P-16 Council, said she was proud that the No Child Left Behind Act became a reality because accountability in public education is so important.

“I think it was a great start,” she said. “With education we need to continuously be moving, and re-looking, re-thinking. Sometimes it takes us longer than we wanted.”

In order to be granted the flexibility provided for by the waiver, the agency must submit an application that explains how it will create a system that includes college and career-ready expectations for all students, state-developed recognition of and accountability for schools, effective instruction and the reduction of duplication and unnecessary burdens.

Nevada plans to submit its wavier application by Feb. 21.

Rheault said the decision to seek the waiver came after discussions with Nevada’s 17 school districts.

It will still require an assessment of how each school is performing, he said. Idaho is opting to use a star system with five stars identifying a top performing school, Rheault said.

Nevada plans to use a measure of individual student growth in achievement as part of the new assessment under the waiver, he said.

Eleven states sought waivers in the first round of applications, and a total of 39 states ultimately are expected to seek the waivers, Rheault said. Another 11 states say they don’t want waivers, he said.

Rheault had praise for what the act helped Nevada accomplish.

“Our accountability system wouldn’t be anywhere near where it’s at if we didn’t’ get forced into moving faster through No Child Left Behind,” he said. “I think it was just the designation of how it was so limited in how you defined what a good school was. That’s really the focus of these waivers and that’s why I thought it was important the state at least put in an application to change that.”


Audio clips:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault says the biggest complaint about No Child Left Behind is that a whole school can be identified as failing if only a few students don’t perform well:

011112Rheault1 :19 adequate yearly progress.”

Rheault says No Child Left Behind has produced some benefits:

011112Rheault2 :25 to change that.”

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor supports the waiver:

011112Erquiaga1 :12 is too narrow.”

Erquiaga says Nevada pubic schools will be better off with the waiver:

011112Erquiaga2 :14 we are today.”


Nevada Statewide Gaming Win Up 7.1 Percent, Strip Up 9 Percent In November

By Sean Whaley | 1:32 pm January 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Several major events in Las Vegas, including the final table at the World Series of Poker, combined with a healthy baccarat win, pushed Nevada gaming revenues up 7.1 percent in November, the Gaming Control Board reported today.

Nevada’s casinos took in $880.1 million in November 2011 compared to $822.1 million in November 2010, the second consecutive month of solid single-digit increases, said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the control board.

The Las Vegas Strip saw a 9 percent gain in revenues to $495.3 million in November.

Clark County as a whole was up 7.8 percent to $771.9 million. Washoe County was up nearly 2 percent to $53.5 million.

Calendar year to date, the state is up 2.9 percent.

Photo courtesy of en:E20Ci via Wikimedia Commons.

Only four smaller markets declined in November so the increase was very broad, Lawton said.

North Las Vegas was down 4.7 percent in November bringing in $23.1 million, Laughlin was off 1.9 percent with $38.6 million, North Lake Tahoe was off 0.4 percent with $1.5 million, and South Lake Tahoe was down 6.9 percent to $14 million.

Lawton said November was heavy on events that contributed to the revenue increase.

In addition to the final table of the World Series of Poker at the Rio from Nov. 6 to 8, Las Vegas also saw several major concerts and the Manny Paquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight at the MGM Grand Garden on Nov. 12, he said.

Baccarat, the card game played by high rollers primarily on the Las Vegas Strip, was a major factor in the November win as well, Lawton said.

“Baccarat was once again a big part of the story,” he said. “A baccarat win of $89.4 million was up 30 percent, or $20.5 million. Calendar year to date baccarat win for the state is up 7.9 percent.”

The volumes wagered on baccarat were also up significantly, Lawton said. The “drop” was $657.3 million, an increase of $85.3 million or 15 percent over November 2010.

Slot win was $578.4 million statewide, an increase of 2.5 percent over November 2010.

Lawton said the agency expects to see good results from December as well when that report is released in February.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority also reported today that visitor volume rose by 3.2 percent in November to just over three million.

Tax collections from the gaming revenues were also up in November 2011, by 15.2 percent over November 2010 and totaled $57.3 million. Gaming percentage fee tax revenues are now in the black for the 2012 fiscal year at 0.36 percent, he said.

The tax collections are still behind the projections made by the Economic Forum projections for the revenue source, but the numbers are headed in the right direction, Lawton said.


Audio clips:

Nevada gaming analyst Michael Lawton says baccarat was again a big part of the gaming win story:

011112Lawton2 :14 up 7.9 percent.”

Lawton says gaming tax revenues are finally in the black this fiscal year:

011112Lawton3 :17 last fiscal year.”

Lawton says November had a lot of big events that drew visitors to Las Vegas:

011112Lawton4 :19 on Nov. 12.”

State Tax Department Seeks Funding To Monitor Cigarette Sales To Protect Nevada’s Tobacco Payments

By Sean Whaley | 2:16 pm January 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state panel today supported a request from the Department of Taxation for $260,000 to hire a team of auditors to track cigarette sales to protect a $40 million a year payment to Nevada from the nation’s major tobacco companies.

As much as $360 million paid to the state beginning in 2003 is at risk as Nevada engages in arbitration over the annual payments made by the nation’s major tobacco companies as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), said William Chisel, director of the Tax Department.

William Chisel, director of the state Tax Department, testifies today at the Board of Examiners meeting. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“The stakes for the arbitration are high,” he said. “The risk of losing substantial amounts of money increases over the years if we do not institute this team.”

The tobacco payments help fund the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship for eligible Nevada high school graduates, among other programs.

The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the request for the funding from the Legislature’s contingency fund to establish the three-person enforcement unit. Masto was not present for the meeting.

Lawmakers who serve on the Senate and Assembly money committees will meet as the Interim Finance Committee Feb. 9 to consider the request.

Sandoval asked Chisel if the request should have been submitted to the 2011 Legislature so tobacco funding could have been used to fund the unit. The attorney general’s office said the funding from the master settlement agreement has historically funded its oversight of the tobacco agreement, but that the Tax Department has not been funded in this way.

Sandoval said the enforcement unit costs should be built into the next budget with tobacco funds identified as the funding source.

Chisel said it is important for the state to monitor the sales of cigarettes by the smaller tobacco companies that are not part of a master settlement agreement.

As part of the MSA, there is a requirement that these smaller companies set aside a portion of their tobacco sales in an escrow account in an amount proportionate to the payments made to the state by the major tobacco companies. The MSA provides for a reduction of the required annual payments by the major tobacco companies to any state which fails to adequately enforce these laws in a particular calendar year.

Chisel said the team will work to protect the payments that have already been made to the state.

“Well, we’re in arbitration right now with the big tobacco companies and our concern is that we want to track these nonparticipating manufacturers, the ones that did not get involved with the MSA,” he said. “We’re responsible to make sure that they pay into an escrow account of two cents per cigarette. At stake is the $40 million we get each year for the MSA payment.”

Nevada has not tracked these sales and payments before, and doing so would lessen the risk of losing any portion of the MSA payments in the arbitration process, Chisel said.


Audio clips:

William Chisel, director of the state Tax Department, says the state needs to keep track of cigarette sales by companies not participating in the tobacco settlement agreement:

011012Chisel1 :18 cents per cigarette.”

Chisel says at stake is the $40 million annual payment as a result of the MSA:

011012Chisel2 :05 the MSA payment.”

Chisel says the participating tobacco companies want the state to monitor compliance by nonparticipating manufacturers:

011012Chisel3 :10 monitoring these NPMs.”

Nevada Think Tank Says Issues Raised in Separation of Powers Lawsuit Not Moot

By Sean Whaley | 10:50 am January 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY –A lawsuit seeking to clarify a state constitutional prohibition on public employees serving in the Legislature should proceed even though the lawmaker named in the court action has left his public sector job, a conservative Nevada think tank said in a court filing today.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation filed an opposition brief maintaining that Sen. Mo Denis’ resignation from his executive-branch job does not moot Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al., because of several well-established exceptions to the “mootness doctrine.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of William Pojunis on Nov. 30.

“Within hours of being served with this separation-of-powers lawsuit, Sen. Mo Denis announced his resignation from his executive-branch job,” said Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL. “In essence, that resignation constituted a de facto admission on the merits of the case — that, according to Article 3, Section 1, of Nevada’s constitution, it is unconstitutional for a legislator to simultaneously exercise any function in the executive or judicial branches.”

As a result of his resignation from the Public Utilities Commission, Denis’ attorney filed several motions claiming, among other things, that the case is now moot. His motion to dismiss was filed Dec. 20.

In his filing, Denis’ attorney said case law shows that Nevada courts only decide “cases that present live controversies.”

“Courts will not retain jurisdiction where ‘a live controversy becomes moot by the occurrence of subsequent events,’ and ‘will not make legal determinations that cannot affect the outcome of the case,’ ” said Denis attorney Bradley Schrager.

In a telephone interview, Becker said there are several compelling arguments as to why the lawsuit should continue.

“The brief that we filed in opposition makes several very good legal arguments,” he said. “We also mention the fact that the governor is recently on record as saying something needs to be decided.”

Sandoval reaffirmed his position, first stated in an opinion while he was attorney general, that the separation of powers clause should preclude state employees from serving in the Legislature.

“I think it would be important public policy, if this case moves on, for that question to be answered once and for all,” he said today.

Becker said there are also conflicting legal interpretations on the meaning of the separation of powers clause that could be resolved with a Supreme Court ruling.

“So yes, I think it is compelling,” he said.  “There are legal citations that suggest the Nevada Supreme Court recognizes a public interest exception to the doctrine of mootness. And in addition to that, it’s just something that needs to be resolved.”

Becker said: “Even if Denis’ resignation from the PUC means the case does not present a live controversy, the court may still consider the case if it involves a matter of ‘widespread importance.’ There are five well-established exceptions to the ‘mootness doctrine,’ and as our brief details, at least four of those exceptions are applicable in this case.”

Attorney Joseph Becker, left, and his client William Pojunis, take questions after filing a separation of powers complaint against Sen. Mo Denis in November. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The four exceptions are the Public-Interest Exception, the Voluntary-Cessation Exception, the Capable-of-Repetition-Yet-Evading-Review Exception, and the Ongoing-Collateral-Legal-Consequences Exception.

“These well-established exceptions show why this case remains justiciable and why the court should and can upload the clear words of the constitution — that it is unconstitutional for anyone exercising any function in one branch to simultaneously exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the other branches of government,” Becker said.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he stands by his opinion written as attorney general supporting the position that state employees cannot serve in the Legislature:

011012Sandoval1 :10 Nevada Supreme Court.”

Sandoval says it would be important public policy for the question to be answered by the Nevada Supreme Court once and for all:

011012Sandoval2 :25 and for all.”

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, says there are very good legal arguments to continue with the case:

011012Becker1 :21 by the court.”

Becker says the issue needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court:

011012Becker2 :27 move on this.”


Rep. Amodei Rejects Congressional Earmarks, Says Projects Should Go Through Regular Budget Process

By Sean Whaley | 3:51 pm January 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said today he opposes the earmark process used to fund various projects around the country, advocating instead that state priorities for federal support go through a regular budget review.

“The problem with earmarks, when you look at them, it’s symbolic largely, because it’s not that it’s a huge part of the federal budget,” he said. “But a lot of them appear at the end with absolutely no hearings and they are in bills.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.

“It’s not that you shouldn’t spend federal money for specific things like that, whether it’s capital improvements or something else, but there should be some level of hearing on them,” Amodei said in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television show. “And the problem with earmarks is it has become synonymous with little or no hearing whatsoever. So you find out about them after the fact with absolutely no record in support.”

The appropriateness of earmarks generated some controversy in Northern Nevada last week when U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., toured the new air traffic control tower at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Heller in November 2010 said he would not seek earmarks for Nevada projects.

The $27 million in funding for the tower was provided with earmarks supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Heller acknowledged helping with the funding for the project as well, and the Nevada State Democrat Party criticized the freshman senator for what it said was his flip-flopping on the issue.

“It’s hypocrisy,” said Democratic Party Communications Director Zack Hudson. “It’s another example of how he’ll say anything and do anything just to get elected again.”

Heller, appointed to the Senate in May by Gov. Brian Sandoval, is facing a challenge from Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. in the 2012 general election.

Amodei was elected Sept. 13 in a special election to take Heller’s seat in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers all of Northern and rural Nevada.

In the interview, Amodei said he believes the tower would have been built without the earmark process because it was desperately needed for safety reasons.

“Because I’ve been in that tower during my first 115 days, and you look across at the old one, where you couldn’t even the ramps down there . . .,” he said. “I am certain that you could have made a very strong public case for this should rise to the top for tower improvements for FAA facilities throughout the nation. I mean, it speaks for itself, if you will.”

Amodei said he has priorities for federal spending in Nevada, but that the projects should go through the budget process and compete for funding.


Audio clips:

Rep. Mark Amodei says projects should go through the regular budget process:

010912Amodei1 :13 are in bills.”

Amodei says state funding requests need to go through a hearing process:

010912Amodei2 :16 record in support.”

Amodei says the Reno-Tahoe Airport tower was a project that stood on its own merits:

010912Amodei3 :20 if you will.”


Gov. Brian Sandoval Questions $6 Million In Legal Fees To Defend Against Freeway Construction Lawsuit

By Sean Whaley | 11:06 am January 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legal firm retained by the state Department of Transportation to defend against a contractor dispute over construction of a section of the Carson City bypass has racked up $6 million in fees so far and the costs could still go higher.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today expressed concern about the amount of legal fees in the case involving a $40 million claim by Utah-based Ames Construction, which built the first phase of the U.S. 395 bypass in the capital that opened in February of 2006.

The cost of the 4.5-mile stretch of freeway was $70 million.

Carson City byass. / Photo courtesy of NDOT.

Sandoval, participating in a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Department of Transportation, said he had not seen such costs for a legal challenge before. The fees have been paid since 2008.

“Because even at those rates, $6 million, I haven’t seen that before,” Sandoval said. “I mean this just gets us to the mediation, as you say, and then we don’t know what the outcome of the mediation is going to be after that.”

Sandoval said the legal costs involved in the dispute point out why it is so important for the agency to deal with such disputes at the earliest possible date to try to head off escalating costs. Earlier in the meeting NDOT Director Susan Martinovich reported on efforts by the agency to resolve disputes as early in the process as possible.

Tom Fransway, a member of the board representing the public, asked whether in the future there is a way to seek competitive proposals for legal work rather than use the no-bid process for such services.

“I agree with the governor 100 percent that those fees are pretty extravagant,” he said. “And I’m wondering if in the future we have the ability to retain legal counsel for a fee that is more responsible.”

The hourly rates charged by the legal firm’s attorneys are as high as $340 an hour for the senior partner, but members of the board were told the rates are not excessive and have not increased since the dispute first began.

“That’s not an unreasonable fee,” said Attorney General and board member Catherine Cortez Masto.

Despite the concerns, the board approved an updated contract with the legal firm of Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald to take the case to mediation in February. The firm is based in Washington, DC, but has an office in Las Vegas.

Dennis Gallagher, NDOT’s chief legal counsel with the attorney general’s office, said the legal fees also cover the experts hired to defend the state. He said the case is extremely complex and that Ames has not backed down from its $40 million claim.

“The state vigorously disputes this claim; has been defending it in court since 2008; we finally got it to a point where it will go to mediation the end of February and this latest amendment is to bring the fees current through the mediation,” Gallagher said.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has not seen such high legal fees before:

010912Sandoval :27 be after that.”

Board member Tom Fransway asks if there is a way to negotiate lower fees in future cases:

010912Fransway :26 is more responsible.”

NDOT legal counsel Dennis Gallagher says the fees include expert witnesses:

010912Gallagher :22 through the mediation.”


Revenues Increase But Major Nevada Casinos Lost $4 Billion In FY2011

By Sean Whaley | 2:08 pm January 6th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s major casinos saw total revenues increase to $22 billion last fiscal year, but the 256 properties reported a net loss of just under $4 billion, the Gaming Control Board reported today.

It was the third year of losses in a row. The only other loss since records have been kept came in 2002.

The report, called the Nevada Gaming Abstract, analyzes those casino properties grossing $1 million or more in gaming revenue for the year ending June 30, 2011.

It shows that total revenues increased by just over $1.1 billion from Fiscal Year 2010, but the total dollar value of the loss reported by the properties increased as well, by $600 million from the $3.4 billion loss reported in 2010.

Las Vegas Strip. / Photo by Dtobias via Wikimedia Commons.

The abstract shows that 2008 was the last year the major casinos in Nevada turned a collective profit.

Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the control board, said the report shows mixed results for the gaming industry.

“Really there are two sides to this income statement and the first side obviously is revenues,” he said. “Revenues did increase. They are at $22 billion compared to $20.8 billion last year. That’s the first increase we’ve seen since Fiscal Year 2007, however it’s still about 13 percent below the peak levels we saw in Fiscal Year 2007.”

The expense side continues to show volatility, however, Lawton said.

The report shows that visitors are coming to Nevada and Las Vegas casinos, but they are spending less on gaming and more on other amenities, he said.

Nevada Gaming Abstract 2011 – Selected Statistics By Gaming Market

Area Net Income/Loss % Change from FY2010 Total Revenue % Change from FY 2010 Gaming revenue from FY2010 % Change from FY 2010
Statewide -$4 bil +16.4% $22 bil +5.6% $10.2 bil +2.6%
Clark County -$4 bil +18.7% $19.5 bil +6.8% $8.7 bil +3.8%
Las Vegas Strip -$2.2 bil -14.1% $14.5 bil +9.3% $5.5 bil +6.4%
Downtown Las Vegas -$59.9 mil -18.7% $900 mil -0.6% $496 mil -2.4%
Washoe County -$44.5 mil +61.9% $1.4 bil -4.6% $739 mil -5.2%
Reno/Sparks -$54.1 mil +156% $1.2 bil -4.8% $662 mil -5.1%
South Lake Tahoe -$24 mil -72.7% $344 mil -6% $198 mil -9.1%

“Total revenue” is the money spent by patrons on gaming, rooms, food, beverage and other attractions. “Net income/loss” is the money retained by casinos after expenses have been paid but prior to deducting federal income taxes and prior to accounting for extraordinary expenses.

Gaming revenue accounted for nearly $10.2 billion of the $22 billion in total revenues, or 46.2 percent of the total. The 256 casinos paid $792.4 million in gaming taxes and fees, equating to 7.8 percent of their gaming revenue.

On a county-by-county basis, Clark County had 148 casinos grossing $1 million or more in gaming revenue during FY2011, which generated a combined net loss of just under $4 billion from total revenues of $19.5 billion. Washoe County had 30 casinos, which reported a combined net loss of $44.5 million from total revenues of $1.4 billion.

In FY 2011, 69 casinos owned by public companies accounted for 78.2 percent of the total gaming revenue generated statewide during the fiscal year.


Audio clips:

Nevada Gaming Control Board analyst Michael Lawton says overall revenues increased in 2011:

010612Lawton1 :24 Fiscal Year 2007.”

Lawton says visitors continue to come to Nevada and Las Vegas, but they are spending less on gaming:

010612Lawton2 :22 and other categories.”



Fifteen Apply For Nevada Top Public Schools Job As Search Process Moves Forward

By Sean Whaley | 2:05 pm January 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Fifteen people, eight from within Nevada and seven from out of the state, have applied for the job of state superintendent of public instruction.

Three of the 15 did candidates that applied by a Dec. 30 deadline not meet the statutory requirements for the position, such as having a master’s degree in education or school administration, the Sandoval administration said in an update on the search process.

The 12 eligible applications are now being reviewed and background checks are being conducted. The names of the applicants will not be released until a list of semi-finalists is presented to the state Board of Education at its meeting set for Jan. 26-27.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s current superintendent who will be retiring in early April, said via email that the state board is scheduled to interview the finalists on Feb. 22 and 23, voting on Feb. 24 on three finalists to forward to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration for a March appointment.

Sandoval wants a new schools chief on board well ahead of the 2013 legislative session.

As a result of education reform legislation approved by the 2011 Legislature, Sandoval now has the authority to appoint the new schools chief. In the past the 10-member Board of Education had the authority to select the superintendent.

The job pays about $121,785 a year plus benefits.


Nevada Faces Potential Loss Of Federal Highway Funds For Delay In Implementing New Trucker Safety Rule

By Sean Whaley | 12:27 pm January 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada is one of several states that will not make a Jan. 30 federal deadline to implement a newly mandated safety rule to ensure truck drivers have proof they are medically safe to drive, potentially putting federal highway dollars at risk.

The new rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCS) requires state motor vehicle departments across the country to create a new database that will be linked nationally to keep track of the proof truck drivers need to show they are safe to drive.

Courtesy of FEMA via Wikimedia Commons.

Failure to meet the deadline could potentially put 5 percent of a state’s federal highway funding at risk in the first year, and 10 percent thereafter. But states that move forward with a plan for implementation are expected to avoid any penalties if they complete the project by 2014.

Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Magruder said the state would be at risk for about $10 million in lost federal road funds if a 5 percent penalty was imposed.

Tom Jacobs, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said the agency is working to meet the new mandate but is not expected to do so until the end of 2013.

“We estimate this massive project will take an additional 2,500 computer programming hours to complete,” he said.

A spokeswoman for FMCS who spoke on background said penalties are not expected to be imposed right away. States not in compliance by Jan. 30 will get a letter informing them of their status, after which they will have through Sept. 30, 2013 to get their databases operational, she said.

After that point, penalties could be imposed, the spokeswoman said.

The FMCS plans to continue a current card-carrying requirement for truck drivers through Jan. 30, 2014.

The new rule was finalized on Jan. 30, 2009. Three states currently have their databases operational.

Nevada truck drivers are now required to carry medical cards on their persons to show proof of medical health to drive. The new database rule imposed by the federal government will replace the need for truck drivers to carry the cards.

While it may be a challenge for the Nevada DMV to implement, Paul Enos, chief executive officer of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said the requirement is not viewed by the industry as an example of excessive regulation.

“Our guys are already required to carry medical cards,” he said. “They are required to have them with them all the time. Really I think where the hardship would be would be more with DMV and their programming and implementing it.

“They want to make sure that when you are driving an 80,000-pound vehicle that you are physically fit and able to do so,” Enos said. “So the thought would be, if they have this in a database, then everybody’s getting checked, it’s not just a spot check on the road or during a compliance review. And that would then eliminate the need for a driver to carry that card with them when they are on the road.”

Jacobs said the agency plans to use a federal grant worth a little over $400,000 to hire contract programmers to re-customize its database to comply with the new requirement. The grant is expected to cover the cost of the project but that remains undetermined at this point, he said.

Jacobs said the agency has every intention of making the extended deadline: “We can’t take the risk of losing federal dollars. Not at this point.”


Audio clips:

DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs says the agency has a $400,000 federal grant to perform the required work:

010512Jacobs :16 complete the project.”

Paul Enos of the Nevada Motor Transport Association says his industry does not have an issue with the new rule:

010512Enos1 :18 and implementing it.”

Enos says the new database will ensure all truckers are being checked:

010512Enos2 :22 on the road.”


Washoe Schools Chief Heath Morrison A Finalist For 2012 Superintendent Of The Year

By Sean Whaley | 5:37 pm January 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison has been named a finalist for the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year.

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) selected Morrison and three other superintendents as the four finalists in the national program.

“I am exceptionally honored and humbled,” Morrison said. “There are some amazing educational leaders in this country who are doing phenomenal work to improve the lives of the nation’s children.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison.

“Being selected as a finalist for this award is truly an acknowledgment of the amazing efforts of the educators in Washoe County and a result of hard work and effort by many people in the district and in our community,” he said. “Our reform efforts have led to improved student achievement and increased opportunities for every child’s future.”

AASA will announce the winner of the 2012 National Superintendent of the Year on Feb. 16 at the National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas. The program, which is sponsored by ARAMARK Education, ING and AASA, celebrates the contributions and leadership of public school superintendents.

“When we called for educational reform several years ago, we were looking for a superintendent who would inspire change and re-energize our community in support of education,” said Washoe County School Board President Barbara McLaury. “Heath is exactly that type of leader. He has stimulated genuine change that is making a difference in the lives of our children.”

Student achievement has continued to make significant improvements under Morrison’s leadership. Between 2009 and 2011, the district’s graduate rate jumped 14 points from 56 percent to 70 percent with increases in every student subgroup.

The Washoe County School District also has witnessed academic gains in test scores and has successfully narrowed the achievement gap in many subject areas.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Morrison’s leadership and advocacy at a time of budget reductions.

“Despite the budget restrictions, Dr. Morrison has helped institute dramatic educational reforms in the district and has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that Nevada students are able to compete in the global economy,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who also provided a letter of recommendation, said: “Dr. Morrison is a strategic thinker who builds string relationships in his community and policymakers in the state capital. He is respected by his peers in all of Nevada’s school districts and I know he enjoys very close relationships with members of the Nevada Legislature as well.”


State Lawmaker Says GOP Poised To Win Control Of Senate In 2012, Democrat Disagrees

By Sean Whaley | 4:58 pm January 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Republican state Senator Michael Roberson said today he expects the GOP to retake control of the Senate in the 2012 general election, citing the quality of candidates recruited for two key Clark County races.

His optimism was countered by Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who said he is confident Democrats will maintain control of the Senate come Nov. 7.

Democrats now hold a narrow 11-10 edge in the Senate, but the dynamics have changed as a result of the redrawing of legislative districts based on the 2010 census.

Roberson, R- Las Vegas, in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television show, said Republicans have recruited strong candidates to run in the Clark 5 seat now held by Democrat Shirley Breeden, who is not seeking re-election, and in Clark 6, now held by Democrat Allison Copening.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

Former Henderson City Councilman Steve Kirk has announced as a Republican for Breeden’s seat. Kirk is expected to face off against former Democrat state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who lost to Roberson in the 2010 general election.

And just yesterday Las Vegas attorney and Republican Mark Hutchison, who is leading Nevada’s challenge to the federal Health Care Law on behalf of Gov. Brian Sandoval, announced he will run for the seat held by Copening.

The Democrat candidate for this seat has not yet been announced by party officials.

“We’ve worked very hard to get the folks that we think are the very best candidates for these competitive seats,” Roberson said.

Both districts favor Democrats in voter registration, however, by more than five points.

Even winning just one of the two Democrat-held seats would likely flip the 21-member state Senate back to Republican control. Democrats have held the Senate majority for two legislative sessions.

Denis said Democrats have also done a great job of getting great candidates who are more in tune with the population as a whole, and who will also become great lawmakers.

“It’s ours to give away and we’re going to work very hard this year,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard to get great candidates and we’re going to work hard to get them elected and we think, if you look at the numbers, and all of the different indicators, that everything points to us maintaining the majority as we move forward.”

Roberson said the Senate GOP caucus is also endorsing freshman Assemblyman Scott Hammond for the new Clark 18 Senate seat created as a result of redistricting, and has Sen. Greg Brower seeking a full term in Washoe 15. Both are quality candidates who are expected to win their races, he said.

The fifth Senate seat in play for Republicans in 2012 is rural Senate 19 being sought by current Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, formerly held by Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, who was termed out of office.

Roberson, who is expected to lead the GOP Senate caucus, also pledged to work across the aisle with Democrats in the 2013 legislative session.

“You’ve got to work with the other side and that is exactly what our caucus is going to do when we’re in the majority next session,” he said.

Roberson has also been named as one of 12 state lawmakers to watch in 2012 by Governing.


Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the GOP Senate Caucus has recruited excellent candidates:

010412Roberson1 :15 Senate District 6.”

Roberson says Republicans will work with Democrats when they are in the majority in 2013:

010412Roberson2 :06 majority next session.”

Sen. Mo Denis says the Senate will remain in Democrat control:

010412Denis :23 we move forward.”