Archive for August, 2012

Secretary of State Launches Voter Registration Facebook App

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:21 am August 31st, 2012

CARSON CITY – As one of only 10 states that offer online voter registration, Nevada is now the second state in the nation to provide a voter registration Facebook application for its residents.

The app is available on the Secretary of State’s fan page at www.facebook.com/NVSOS, or directly at apps.facebook.com/nvsosnova.

The Secretary of State’s IT Division created the secure and convenient application with the intent of capturing unregistered voters on the world’s largest social network. The app provides one-click access to the online voter registration system without the user ever leaving Facebook. The Elections Division estimates that approximately 680,000 eligible Nevadans are unregistered to vote.

Secretary of State Ross Miller.

“By making voter registration accessible on a network that reaches nearly one billion people, my office hopes to capture a segment of the population that is Internet-savvy but hasn’t registered to vote yet,” said Secretary of State Ross Miller. “Through shares and ‘likes,’ users can reach out to their friends and family to utilize the online voter registration application so they have a voice in the November 6 general election.”

The application is available on the Secretary of State’s Facebook fan page and Ross Miller’s Facebook fan page. Facebook is not collecting information submitted by app users.

Online voter registration is currently available to residents with DMV-issued identification in all counties except Carson City and Douglas, which will be online prior to the October 6 registration deadline.

To utilize the online system, citizens need to be at least 18 years old and have a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver’s license or DMV-issued identification card. The application process pulls the signature on file with the DMV and applies it to the voter’s registration record, which will then be used for identification for all future elections.

Nevada Attorney General Announces Two Nationwide Settlements Over Anti-Psychotic Drugs, E-Books

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:39 am August 30th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Attorney General’s Office has reached two separate agreements this week, one with a pharmaceutical firm over the marketing of anti-psychotic drugs and another with three book publishers over e-book price-fixing allegations.

The $181 million nationwide settlement announced today with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical, will bring $3.3 million to Nevada. It is the largest multi-state consumer protection settlement of its kind reached with a pharmaceutical company.

Photo by Housed via Wikimedia Commons.

The $69 million agreement with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers and Simon & Schuster will return up to $600,000 in total compensation to Nevada consumers who purchased e-books.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said she and 36 other attorneys general reached the agreement  with Janssen after a multi-state investigation found that the company improperly marketed the anti-psychotic drugs Risperdal, Risperdal Consta, Risperdal M-Tab and Invega.

After an extensive four-year investigation, Janssen agreed to change not only how it promotes and markets its atypical antipsychotics but also agreed to refrain from any false, misleading or deceptive promotion of the drugs. In addition to the record-setting payment, the settlement targets specific concerns identified in the investigation. The settlement agreement restricts Janssen from promoting its atypical anti-psychotic drugs for “off-label” uses that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved.

Federal law prohibits pharmaceutical manufacturers from promoting their products for off-label uses, although physicians may prescribe drugs for those uses. The complaint alleges that Janssen promoted Risperdal for off-label uses to both geriatric and pediatric populations, targeting patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety, when these uses were not FDA-approved and for which Janssen had not established that Risperdal was safe and effective.

“Nevadans have a right to know the risks presented by atypical anti-psychotic drugs,” Masto said. “The settlement will protect Nevadans from further promotion of Janssen’s atypical anti-psychotic drugs for ‘off-label’ uses.”

The antitrust settlement with the book publishers, announced Wednesday by Masto and 54 attorneys general in other states, districts and U.S. territories, will also result in changes to the way they price e-books going forward.

The settlement is occurring in conjunction with a civil antitrust lawsuit filed today in federal court against Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. In the lawsuit the states allege that the three settling publishers and others, including non-settling publishers Macmillan and Penguin (collectively, the “Agency Five” publishers), “conspired and agreed to increase retail e-book prices for all consumers” and “agreed to eliminate e-book retail price competition between e-book outlets, such that retail prices to consumers would be the same regardless of the outlet patronized by the consumer.”

Under the proposed settlement agreement, which the court must approve, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will compensate consumers who purchased e-books from any of the Agency Five during the period of April 1, 2010 through May 21, 2012. Payments will begin 30 days after court approval of the settlement becomes final.

“Today’s settlement restores e-book competition among retailers and paves the way for restitution for Nevadans harmed by the scheme,” Masto said. “This news comes at a welcome time, considering the Silver State’s sluggish economy and the fact that this is the first week back to school for many K-12 and college students in Nevada. Our legal action sends a strong message that competitors cannot get away with price-fixing.”

Nevada Records Two Straight Years Of Taxable Sales Increases With 7.9 Percent Gain In June

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:57 pm August 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada recorded two straight years of increases in taxable sales through June, with a statewide gain of 7.9 percent over June 2011, the state Department of Taxation reported today.

Taxable sales totaled $3.9 billion in June compared to $3.6 billion in June 2011. For the 2012 fiscal year, taxable sales rose 7.6 percent over 2011.

Clark County taxable sales were up 8.9 percent in June and Washoe County saw a 3 percent gain.

The largest increases in taxable sales were seen in the utilities category, up 214.5 percent; motor vehicles and parts dealers, up 17.4 percent; merchant wholesalers-durable goods, up 16.3 percent, food services and drinking places, up 3.8 percent; and clothing and clothing accessories stores, up 6.7 percent.

Author: Dany kg via Wikimedia Commons.

Other categories showing increases included the construction industry, up 7.3 percent; general merchandise stores, up 0.3 percent; food stores, up 4.1 percent; furniture and home furnishings, up 4.1 percent; and accommodations, up 19.2 percent.

Thirteen of Nevada’s seventeen counties recorded an increase in taxable sales for June 2012 compared to June 2011. Eureka, Lyon, Pershing, and White Pine counties recorded declines.

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN), said there is a lot of good news in the June report.

“There’s a lot to be happy about and retail and (the) retail industry is obviously glad to be leading that 24-month increase in taxable sales, and of course, what that will bring into the state budget which gets spent on, among other things, education,” he said.

One of the healthiest indicators in the June report is the 16.3 percent increase in durable goods, which includes major purchases such as washing machines and refrigerators, Wachter said.

“I think what those numbers kind of show is a willingness for folks to buy things that maybe they’ve been putting off for awhile,” he said.

The monthly report shows that the state general fund share of the sales and uses taxes totaled $79.2 million in June for a 5.4 percent increase over June 2011. State sales taxes are now about $41 million above what was forecasted by the Economic Forum in May of 2011.

The positive trend in retail-based taxable sales is expected to continue through the remainder of the year, Wachter said.

“We’ll start looking forward to back-to-school spending to show some increase, and we’ll start seeing that maybe towards the end of the July numbers going into August,” he said. “We anticipate a 15 percent increase in back-to-school spending in 2012 over 2011 and we think we’re going to hit it.

“And we hope then that that kind of leads us into the holiday shopping season,” Wachter said. “We’ll hit Halloween and we’ll enter into Christmas and we think we’ll have positive news all the way through December.”

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Audio clips:

Bryan Wachter, director of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada, says there is a lot of good news in the report:

082912Wachter1 :31 off for awhile.”

Wachter says the association anticipates a strong finish to the year:

082912Wachter2 :26 way through December.”

 

State Officials Looking For New Sources Of Funding For Construction Projects As Property Tax Revenues Falter

By Sean Whaley | 11:49 am August 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state panel was told today that for yet another two-year state budget, there will be virtually no money available from property tax revenues for capital construction projects.

The state Public Works Board heard the disappointing news today as it began a two-day review of projects being sought by state agencies ranging from the Department of Corrections to Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

Public Works Board Manager Gus Nuñez said state agencies have submitted 201 projects worth $528 million for consideration for the upcoming budget. The state funding portion totals $460 million.

The Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas, one of the last major state construction projects.

The capital construction program for the current budget totals only $53 million, with $27 million in bonding from property taxes.

Jeff Mohlenkamp, state budget director and member of the board, said the state’s small share of property taxes has traditionally been used to finance bonds to pay for construction projects. But there is virtually no revenue in the current budget to fund projects, and the same is expected as the budget is prepared for the 2013-15 biennium.

“Once again we feel that there is going to be very little if any capacity for bonding within property taxes,” he said. “Right now I’m currently in discussions with the Treasurer’s Office and believe that that is not going to be a source of additional bonding capacity for us to look at.”

Mohlenkamp said there are some other limited sources of funding, including unspent money from previously approved projects, highway funds and federal funds, which can contribute to the state capital construction program.

But property taxes have historically been the main funding source for projects.

Mohlenkamp said he is looking at an alternative source of funding but is not yet prepared to offer any details about what it would be.

“I’m currently working with the Treasurer’s Office and working internally with the governor’s office to try and identify a separate funding source to maybe generate some additional bonding capacity,” he said. “I’m not in a position to be able to disclose exactly what that is yet or how much money we can get. I do believe it is going to be far short of the requested demand. And when I say far short I mean far short.

“However I also realize in having discussions with Gus that there are some critical needs the state has to address,” Mohlenkamp said.

In past sessions when the economy was strong, the Legislature would appropriate tens of millions of dollars for new buildings, from prisons to museums, relying on the property tax revenue growth.

But the ongoing recession in Nevada has eliminated the revenue as a funding source for at least the near term.

The first presentation heard by the board came from Peter Barton, administrator of the Division of Museums and History. The agency’s requested projects include new air conditioning to replace antiquated units at the Lost City Museum in the Moapa Valley and a new freight elevator at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. The elevator has failed and is now out of service, he said.

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Audio clips:

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says property taxes won’t be available for construction projects in the upcoming budget:

082912Mohlenkamp1 :22 to look at.”

Mohlenkamp says he is looking at alternative revenue sources to fund critical projects:

082912Mohlenkamp2 :32 has to address.”

 

Gov. Sandoval Emphasizes American Dream, Humble Beginnings In GOP Convention Remarks

By Sean Whaley | 6:14 pm August 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval had his moment in the national spotlight today at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, using his six minutes at the podium to talk of his humble beginnings and the need for change in the White House.

He emphasized his Hispanic roots, noting that his father was one of 10 children, and his mother lived with her family in a tiny two-bedroom house in the Southwest.

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“When I was a boy, my parents brought us to Nevada in search of opportunity,” he said. “My first job was cleaning sheep pens. In college, I worked in a hospital cafeteria. I worked my way through law school.”

Sandoval said he dreamed of public service, becoming a state lawmaker, attorney general, gaming regulator and federal judge.

While serving as a federal judge, Sandoval said he saw Nevada’s economy falter due to the failed policies of the Obama Administration, and decided to run for governor.

Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12 percent in July, and has been among the states with the highest foreclosure rate.

“Make no mistake: The current administration’s failed experiment with big government gets in the way of economic recovery,” he said. “Their love affair with government regulation is a drag on business confidence.

“From personal experience, I can tell you what will help states like Nevada and families like mine: Elect the team that understands how to get America working again. Send Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to the White House!”

Sandoval criticized the Obama Administration for telling Americans that government is the answer, when “we know it’s the problem.”

“They tell us we didn’t build our businesses, but somebody else made it happen,” he said. “They tell us not to dream, but to settle. You and I know America is better than that.”

Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange said in a statement in response to Sandoval’s remarks: “Governor Sandoval has already made clear how out-of-touch Mitt Romney is on the economy after he waited until all other options were exhausted to endorse the Republican nominee.

“But now that he finally has, he has developed a case of political amnesia regarding his previous statements applauding President Obama’s efforts at creating jobs in Nevada and criticizing Mitt Romney for being out of touch on the state’s foreclosure crisis,” she said. “The reality is that after outsourcing jobs as a corporate layoff specialist, outsourcing jobs as governor of Massachusetts and pledging to outsource jobs as President, Mitt Romney is just wrong for Nevada’s middle-class.”

Sandoval, who early on endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary, was mentioned frequently by media pundits as a possible vice presidential pick by Romney. Sandoval repeatedly said he was not interested in the position, and that he would serve out his term as governor and run for a second term in 2014.

Sandoval is focusing on economic diversification and job growth as governor, announcing earlier this year a goal of creating 50,000 jobs by the end of 2014. Nevada recently was successful in bringing Apple to Northern Nevada with a package of tax breaks.

He has presented a position of calm and consistency in Nevada as the Nevada State Republican Party has struggled to find a united front. Earlier today, many Nevada convention delegates continued to support Ron Paul despite Romney’s overwhelming delegate count that has made him the Republican nominee.

Lawmakers Endorse New Weighted Funding Formula For Public Education, Specifics To Come Later

By Sean Whaley | 1:59 pm August 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A panel of lawmakers today recommended that Nevada’s public education funding formula be revised to take into account the higher cost of educating specific groups of students, including English-language learners and children in poverty.

But lawmakers also acknowledged that updating the formula won’t mean any significant changes in funding for the state’s 17 school districts until the state’s economy improves and tax revenues increase.

There is no proposal to shift current funding from one district to another to fund a new weighted formula.

The New Method for Funding Public Schools interim study was authorized by the 2011 Legislature to look at the “Nevada Plan” the current funding formula adopted in 1967. The Clark County School District sought the review to look at whether the state’s education funding plan needs to include additional funding for educating specific groups of students.

The six lawmakers serving on the panel supported the recommendation to revise the formula, which will be presented to the Legislature when the 2013 session gets under way.

But lawmakers deferred to the Department of Education the technical details of which groups should be included and how the different categories of students should be weighted in any new funding formula. Other groups that could be included in a weighted formula are gifted and talented and career and technical education, among others.

“The committee, I think, could find quick and unanimous support for the recommendation that we as a state consider changing our K-12 funding formula to one that considers a variety of different weights, including but not limited to; and then a comprehensive list,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. “That tees up the issue then for the next session. It tells the Legislature as a whole that this committee did its job, it studied the issue and it decided it was worthy of legislative consideration.”

The recommendation came after the Clark County School District provided $125,000 to the legislative panel to hire a consultant to study the issue. The consultant, American Institutes for Research, issued a final report which found in part: “As low‐income students and English learners are widely accepted in the mainstream education finance literature to be associated with higher educational costs, it is our strong recommendation that funding adjustments be incorporated into the current funding system to account for these student need cost factors.”

The report found that Nevada is not in line with most other states on funding, being one of 14 states that does not adjust funding for low-income students and one of eight that does not account for the cost of English learners.

“I think what we’ve learned is that the 1967 formula is no longer adequate,” said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks. “I think everybody on this committee agrees with that. It doesn’t meet the needs that it was originally intended to do.”

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Audio Clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says lawmakers agree the funding formula needs to be changed:

082812Brower1 :22 a comprehensive list.”

Brower says the details can be worked out in the coming weeks and months:

082812Brower2 :26 just the opposite.”

Assemblyman Ira Hansen says the review has shown that the Nevada Plan is no longer adequate to fund public education:

082812Hansen :27 categories should be.”

 

Proposed Legislative Discussion On Assault Weapons Derailed By Committee Vote

By Sean Whaley | 10:52 am August 28th, 2012

CARSON CITY – If there was any question about whether the gun debate is a controversial topic in Nevada as well as nationally, a clear answer was provided today at a meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.

A proposed discussion on assault weapons was removed from the agenda by a vote of the panel before it could even begin.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the 17-member panel, which includes judicial representatives, police and others in the law enforcement and legal communities as well as lawmakers, had placed an item on the agenda titled “Presentation on Assault Weapons Laws.”

Assemblyman William Horne, center. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Horne said he did so after a number of violent incidents occurred around the country involving the use of assault weapons. The item was informational only and was not intended to be an avenue to propose a ban on assault weapons, he said.

The presentation was to be made by Robert Roshak, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association; Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and Steve Helsley, a consultant with the National Rifle Association.

“The commission does not enact, nor does it have statutory authority, to request bill drafts,” Horne said in preliminary comments. “Rather the purpose of the commission is to look at pertinent issues of the criminal justice system. In light of several recent high profile assaults on the public, including one less than a mile from this very building, the commission thought it was important to at least have an informational discussion on the issue of assault weapons.”

But the agenda item was pulled before the discussion could begin, with Clark County District Judge David Barker, a member of the commission, questioning whether the panel had the authority to hold such a discussion.

“It is not a criminal offense to possess an assault weapon,” he said. “And I think it is outside the four corners of this commission’s responsibility to have this on our agenda. So frankly, I would move to strike it from the agenda.”

The motion was seconded by Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn, who said a discussion on assault weapons, a Constitutional issue involving the 2nd Amendment, was too complex for a brief overview by the panel. The Legislature is the place for such a discussion, he said.

Horne said Legislative Counsel advised him that the discussion was within the purview of the panel, but Barker made a motion to remove the item from the agenda. The vote was 8 to 5 to remove the item.

Some of the dozens of members of the public attending in Elko, Carson City and Las Vegas clapped after the vote and then left the meeting.

The discussion got off to a tense start when Horne called Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, “extremely unprofessional” for suggesting in a newspaper opinion piece that Horne intended to seek a ban on assault weapons.

Ellison said later in public testimony that he meant no disrespect to Horne or his position as chairman.

Horne said he was also upset with the misinformation presented on the agenda item, and that the members of the commission would not be bullied.

Horne is chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which in 2011 took no vote on the controversial “campus carry bill” that would have allowed those with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The bill had passed the Senate.

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Audio Clips:

Assemblyman William Horne says the purpose of the assault weapons discussion was informational only:

082812Horne1 :24 of assault weapons.”

Horne says colleague John Ellison was unprofessional:

082812Horne2 :17 at the least.”

Clark County District Judge David Barker says the issue is outside the jurisdiction of the panel:

082812Barker :13 from the agenda.”

Nevada Lawmaker Seeks Bill To Implement ‘Buy American’ Preference For Public Works Projects

By Sean Whaley | 2:39 pm August 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A state lawmaker has requested a bill be drafted to implement a “Buy American Act” in Nevada for public works projects.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said today that details will have to be worked out in the 2013 legislative session, but the idea is to create some level of preference for bidders on state government construction projects who use American made products and materials.

“There is some model legislation out there and it’s worth having the conversation,” she said. “There are two or three different ways of doing it and our legal staff is looking at the best option.”

Courtesy of the United States Commercial Service.

Carlton said she heard a brief presentation on the concept at a recent National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Chicago.

If creating a Buy American law in Nevada helps grow jobs around the country, then the state’s tourism-dependent economy will benefit, she said.

Any such proposal will have to be evaluated in light of other laws relating to bidder preferences already on the books in Nevada, including Assembly Bill 144 of the 2011 session providing a preference for companies hiring Nevadans and purchasing materials in Nevada, among other provisions. The “Nevada Jobs First,” bill was sought by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and took effect in April last year.

At least two other states have considered but rejected Buy American measures.

The Colorado Legislature earlier this year considered a measure which would have provided a 1 percent bidding preference to state contractors that bought materials for their projects domestically.

The Denver Business Journal reported in April that the measure was opposed by business groups and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade out of concerns it would add to the cost of state projects and could hurt relations with foreign countries that might consider laws that would hurt Colorado’s exports.

The Nebraska Legislature also considered but did not pass a Buy American measure. The proposal included exceptions if the materials were not produced in the U.S. in sufficient quantities or quality; if the use of American products increased the cost of a contract by more than 10 percent; or if application of the requirement was found not to be in the public interest.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), a partnership formed in 2007 by some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers, testified in support of the Nebraska proposal.

“AAM supports the passage of a strong Buy America provision into state law to ensure that Nebraska tax dollars create jobs in the United States and are not needlessly directed to support production in China and other foreign factories,” said AAM Deputy Director Scott Boos in testimony in October 2011.

At the federal level, the Buy American Act dates to 1933. The provisions were expanded in the 1940s to apply to defense spending. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed into law an expansion of Buy America provisions for highway and transit projects that are funded by federal grants.

 

Nevada’s GOP Congressional Delegation Spending Time With Constituents, Family, During Convention

By Sean Whaley | 11:36 am August 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – As GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval prepares to deliver remarks in Tampa at the Republican National Convention tomorrow, the three GOP members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation are staying close to home.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing a tough election battle against Rep. Shelley Berkley, will still be following the convention from afar, however.

Heller will be in Las Vegas later today to attend a Team Nevada Convention Watch party.

Rep. Mark Amodei, representing Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, will be spending the week attending events and meeting with constituents across northern Nevada, from the capital to Minden, Lovelock, Winnemucca and Elko.

Rep. Joe Heck, representing the 3rd Congressional District, is taking some time with his family after spending the past three weeks meeting with constituents and fulfilling his mandatory military duty.

As the GOP convention gets under way with the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac diminishing for Florida, Gov. Mitt Romney had no public events scheduled today. His vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, was campaigning in his hometown in Wisconsin. Ryan attended a Republican National Convention send-off Victory rally at Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville.

Also today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus unveiled a national debt clock mounted inside the convention hall of the Tampa Bay Times Forum to reinforce the “desperate need” for new fiscal leadership in the White House.

Sandoval’s brief speech at the convention is now set for 6 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time tomorrow after being rescheduled from today because of the threat from Isaac. Sandoval is expected to highlight the importance of protecting the American Dream for future generations along with the Gov. Romney’s own American success story.

 

Legislative Panel OKs Budget Changes So $3 Million Tourism Contract Can Be Finalized

By Sean Whaley | 4:04 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today quickly approved budget changes sought by a state agency so it can finalize a $3 million contract with an out-of-state firm to spearhead tourism efforts in Nevada.

Burson-Marsteller, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, was the unanimous selection of an evaluation committee made up of Nevada tourism professionals. The company will be working with Red Rock Strategies of Las Vegas.

The vote by the Interim Finance Committee came after the changes sought by the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs were delayed by the panel in a first go-round in June. The panel delayed action on the request after Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, questioned if the firm had any knowledge of Nevada.

Tourism agency Director Claudia Vecchio said in previous testimony the firm will work with Nevada officials to market Nevada’s many attractions and is bringing national and international contacts that will benefit the state.

The budget changes were delayed in June at the request of Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

Today Carlton said her questions have been answered and her concerns resolved.

The state Board of Examiners, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, approved the $3 million contract with the firm in July after hearing that the selection process was thorough and followed all state rules.

Nineteen firms, eight from in-state and 11 from outside Nevada, submitted proposals to secure the contract. None of the four finalists were from Nevada, a fact which generated some critical comment from at least one Nevada public relations firm.

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Audio clip:

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton says her questions about the firm have been resolved:

082312Carlton :28 what’s going on.”

 

 

Lawmakers Approve $11.7 Million Plan From Attorney General To Help Homeowners In Foreclosure Crisis

By Sean Whaley | 2:55 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Several lawmakers raised questions today about a proposal put forth by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to spend $33 million over three years on outreach, counseling and legal assistance to homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

The program outlined for the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC) by Masto is proposed to be the first phase of a plan to use $57 million Nevada received from the country’s five largest banks as part of a national settlement over the mortgage crisis. Nevada received another $30 million in a separate settlement with Bank of America.

Despite the concerns expressed during a lengthy discussion, the vote to approve the program was unanimous.

Photo posted by Gruntzooki via Wikimedia Commons.

The program is expected to provide a one-stop shop for homeowners to get free access to certified counselors and legal assistance if needed so they can access the many programs available to those who qualify.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, expressed concerns that the IFC, made up of the members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, was being asked to approve a program before it could be evaluated by the full Legislature in 2013.

He also questioned whether the $33 million in expenditures for the services outlined by Masto was the best use for the money rather than getting it directly into the hands of homeowners in need.

Concerns were also expressed by a number of other Republican members of the IFC about aspects of the proposal.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned if the IFC even had the legal authority to implement such a major policy decision.

“I mean, if this was a proposal that came to the Legislature, we would have days of hearings on it in multiple chambers,” he said. “This is a, I think, major policy decision about how we’re addressing one of the most significant problems facing the people of this state and it’s being made by a small subset of the legislative body and there are voters in this state who are disenfranchised from making this decision.”

But the Legislative Counsel said it was appropriate and similar actions have been taken in the past by the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the program outlined by Masto will help distressed Nevada homeowners access $25 billion available nationwide that will be doled out on a first-come, first-served, basis. Failing to get the program started now could mean that Nevada homeowners, among those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, will not get their share of those funds, he said.

The debate over the $33 million is missing the big picture, Horsford said.

The approval today was only for the first year’s worth of funding of $11.7 million. The $10.8 million in years two and three will be part of the Attorney General’s proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium that will be reviewed by lawmakers in 2013.

The first year budget includes $9.4 million for public outreach and access to HUD-certified counselors. Another nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners. Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Nearly $570,000 will be spent on expanding an existing call center operated by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation (NAHAC), a non-profit arm of the Nevada Housing Division. Just under $500,000 will go to the Attorney General’s office for staff and expenses to investigate mortgage fraud and administer the entire program.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, expressed concerns about the funding for the legal aid, questioning if the money would be used to commence new legal actions against the banks on behalf of specific distressed homeowners. Her concerns were echoed by Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Masto assured lawmakers the spending on legal aid will be used to assist homeowners, not initiate lawsuits.

“This is not about giving legal aid so they can go out and start suing,” she said. “This is actually about providing relief to the homeowners who are distressed. There’s a lot of legal issues they may deal with beyond just suing the banks. And that’s what legal aid provides.”

Despite the concerns lawmakers agreed the urgency of the situation required their action.

“We do need to get the ball rolling,” Goicoechea said. “It isn’t doing us any good in this state to have people living in homes, not making any type of mortgage payment on it, destroying that home, and the bank doesn’t have the ability to foreclose it, can’t get the certification in place, and it isn’t doing our state or our economy any good.”

The funds to be used for the program were paid by the banks to settle state and federal investigations into robo-signing allegations.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the major policy decision should be made by the entire Legislature:

082312Kieckhefer :26 making this decision.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says that while he has concerns, the state needs to take action:

082312Goicoechea :17 economy any good.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says the legal aid funds won’t be used to sue the banks:

082312Masto :13 legal aid provides.”

 

New Margin Tax Initiative Petition Pushed By Teachers Union Challenged In Court

By Sean Whaley | 6:24 pm August 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs has filed a new lawsuit against a revised margin tax initiative petition sought by the Nevada State Education Association for violating a prohibition requiring such measures to focus on a single subject.

The teachers association filed the revised petition in August after Carson City District Judge James Wilson found the original measure seeking to levy a 2 percent tax on companies making gross revenues in excess of $1 million a year violated the single subject requirement for initiative petitions. The revised measure removed the provision found to violate the rule.

The new tax would generate an estimated $800 million a year for public education.

But Josh Hicks, the attorney representing the committee, said that the description of effect for the new initiative is still deceptive and though rewritten, continues to violate the single subject rule.

Even after removing several portions of the original Education Initiative that the court found violated Nevada Law, “the fact still remains that the union’s second attempt to pass a margin tax on Nevadans fails to mention that their petition does not guarantee that education spending will increase at all if the tax is enacted,” the committee said in announcing the new legal challenge.

The very real possibility exists that because of this petition, large-scale government spending could increase in other areas as a result of the revenue raised by this new tax, the committee said in the statement.

“Nevada law prohibits misleading voters about the purpose of an initiative petition,” Hicks said. “This new petition (in essence a second version) is solely designed to increase general tax revenues and general government spending by taking advantage of voters’ feelings about education in order to gain enough signatures to qualify and eventually pass a billion dollar plus tax increase.”

The teachers union said when the revised petition was filed that it was confident that it would withstand any legal challenge.

The teachers union is now collecting the signatures need to take the proposal to the Legislature in 2013. The group has until Nov. 13 to collect can collect 72,352 signatures to take the measure to lawmakers. The Legislature would then have 40 days to approve the proposal or it would go to the voters in 2014.

The new challenge will be considered in Carson City District Court.

 

 

 

Obama Talks About Commitment To Education, Keeping America Competitive, In Reno Campaign Stop

By Sean Whaley | 7:26 pm August 21st, 2012

RENOPresident Obama talked about his ongoing commitment to education in a visit to this battleground state today, his first official campaign event of the year in Northern Nevada but his third visit to the area in just the past few months.

Obama’s campaign stop, to be followed by another event tomorrow in Las Vegas, comes to the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12 percent.

President Obama speaks in Reno today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“You’re education is not just important to you, it’s important to America’s success,” he told a cheering crowd of 1,000 supporters in the student union at the Truckee Meadows Community College. “When we invest in your future we’re investing in America’s future. The fact is that, countries that out-educate us today they’ll out-compete us tomorrow. We cannot afford to lose that race to make sure we’ve got the most highly educated, most skilled workforce in the world.

“When companies and businesses are looking to locate, that’s what they’re looking for,” Obama said. “And I don’t want them looking any farther than Reno, Nevada, the state of Nevada, the United States of America; we’ve got the best workers in the world and I want to keep it that way.”

A college official estimated total attendance at the rally, including those outside, at 2,100.

Obama also pushed his plan to maintain the Bush tax cuts for most Americans, but not for individuals making $200,000 or more and couples making $250,000 or more, and criticized presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for seeking tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

Obama said that since he took office, his administration has helped over three million more students afford a college education.

“Now, unfortunately, the economic plan of Gov. Romney could cut our investments in education by about 20 percent,” he said.

The cuts are proposed not to balance the budget but to pay for a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, Obama said.

“Does that sound like a plan for a better future for you?” he asked. “It’s a plan that says we can’t afford to help the next generation, but we can afford massive new tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”

In response to Obama’s remarks here and in Ohio, the Republican National Committee said research shows that during his administration, the cost of college “is skyrocketing to an all time high.”

Since Obama took office, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds has increased from 12.4 percent to 13.5 percent, the RNC said.

“Despite President Obama’s speech tonight in Reno, it’s more clear than ever that his failed policies have seen college costs soar and job opportunities dwindle for young graduates,” the RNC said.

Obama handily won Nevada in the 2008 presidential race, but saw Democrats lose ground in Nevada and nationally in the 2010 mid-term elections. Polls put the state as a tossup between the two candidates, and Washoe County is viewed by many local political observers as the region where the race will be played out in November.

In his concluding remarks, Obama said he is counting on students like those at Truckee Meadows to not get discouraged and to work to help Democrats win Nevada in November.

“First of all, you’ve got no excuses not to register to vote,” he said.

If volunteers knock on doors and make phone calls just like in 2008, Democrats will win Washoe County, Nevada and another four years, Obama said.

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Audio clips:

President Obama says education is not just important to students, but to America’s success as well:

082112Obama1 :26 in the world.”

Obama says America has the best workers in the world and he wants to keep it that way:

082112Obama2 :16 it that way.”

Obama says Mitt Romney wants to cut college spending to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy:

082112Obama3 :12 your tax loophole.”

 

Legislative Panel Gets Update On Yucca Mountain, Takes No Action To Deviate From Long-Term Opposition To Project

By Sean Whaley | 5:16 pm August 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – The potential viability of Yucca Mountain as a long-term repository for nuclear waste was the focus of yet another discussion in Nevada today as lawmakers serving on the Legislative Committee on High-Level Radioactive Waste heard status reports on the now defunded project.

The committee also heard testimony from members of the public, as well as former Gov. Richard Bryan, who serves as the chairman of the Nevada Commission for Nuclear Projects, on why state officials should continue to oppose efforts to revive the proposed dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Former Gov. Richard Bryan.

Bryan told the panel he has been working on the Yucca Mountain issue for 30 years, and that Nevada is in the best position ever to end the project once and for all. He said Nevadans who advocate using the site as a reprocessing center for nuclear waste are misguided, calling the idea a “very perilous course to pursue.”

A group called Nevadans for Carbon Free Energy has advocated that Yucca Mountain be used as a temporary nuclear waste storage site with a research center to explore reprocessing.

“The argument that is advanced by well-intentioned Nevadans with whom I strongly disagree is that somehow there is a cornucopia of riches; that somehow if we would accept this high level nuclear waste that there is money available to solve the legitimate fiscal problems that we have in this state,” Bryan said. “May I suggest there is absolutely no evidence, not a scintilla of evidence, to suggest that.

“We’re literally on the brink of a victory,” he told the panel. “No funding is available. So I do think that the state’s position today is better than at any time since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval also sent a letter to the panel voicing his continued opposition to a nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain.

“Suggestions by Nye County, Lincoln County, and others who advocate the acceptance of benefits in exchange for going along with the importation of high-level nuclear waste into Nevada for storage, disposal, reprocessing or any other activity would have the state capitulate on this issue at a time when Nevada is on the verge of prevailing, once and for all, in stopping the Yucca Mountain,” he said in the letter.

But not all of the speakers at the meeting, where panel Chairman Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, took no action on the Yucca Mountain project, were supportive of the state’s current policy.

Mike Baughman, representing Lincoln County and the city of Caliente, argued that the U.S. Department of Energy needs to develop a compensation scheme for a state and/or local government that might accept the repository. Such compensation would have to amount to $2 billion to $2.5 billion to generate serious interest, he said.

“Ethically we cannot defer this to the next generation again,” he said. “I think as we heard today, it’s dead; it’s very nearly dead; we’re there; the final nail is ready to go in the coffin. Just like nuclear waste, this is probably a 10,000-year endeavor. It just doesn’t go away. And if you are watching the Congress, if you are watching the courts, the Yucca Mountain project is not dead.”

Nevada has never had a dialogue about compensation or economic benefits for accepting the repository, Baughman said. That is because the state has not asked, he said.

But there have been economic benefits when work was under way on the project, he said.

Baughman also suggested that the committee write a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission encouraging it to complete the licensing process for Yucca Mountain.

“We should not be afraid in Nevada of having the licensing proceeding completed, because getting the licensing proceeding completed and getting a license granted is a long way from getting a repository built and operating in the state of Nevada,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Former Gov. Richard Bryan says Nevada is close to ending Yucca for good:

082112Bryan1 :11 Act in 1982.”

Bryan says there is no evidence to suggest that Nevada would get money for taking the waste:

082112Bryan2 :25 to suggest that.”

Mike Baughman, representing Lincoln County and the city of Caliente, says Yucca is not dead and Nevada needs to remain engaged:

082112Baughman1 :17 is not dead.”

Baughman says Nevada should ask that the licensing process continue:

082112Baughman2 :17 state of Nevada.”

Interim Lawmaker Panel OKs Drafting Resolution To Provide For Study Of Legislature, Including Pay, Annual Sessions

By Sean Whaley | 4:18 pm August 20th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today voted to seek a resolution in the 2013 session to authorize the creation of a public commission to study the operation of the Legislature and make recommendations on issues ranging from lawmaker pay to moving to annual sessions.

The Legislative Commission’s Committee To Study the Structure and Operations of the Nevada Legislature voted to pursue such a review, which has not occurred in Nevada since 1988. The study would be performed by a public commission which could make recommendations for consideration by the 2015 Legislature.

Details of who would serve on the public commission, along with other aspects of such a review, will be worked out in committee hearings in the 2013 session that will start next February.

Currently the Nevada constitution requires the Legislature meet every other year for 120 days. The constitution also limits legislative pay to the first 60 days of a session and imposes term limits for state lawmakers. Voters would have to approve any changes to these requirements before they could take effect.

While the legislative panel approved the drafting of a resolution providing for a public commission to review these and potentially other legislative rules and mandates, one lawmaker said he will reserve judgment until he sees the final working of the proposal.

“I’m all for studying virtually anything and this is certainly a topic worthy of study,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, a member of the panel. “But I don’t want to mislead the chair of the committee. I’m not convinced that creating a commission is necessary, especially in light of the fact that this committee has been meeting throughout the interim to do largely what the commission would do.

“But I will keep an open mind on that, and I will look at the resolution once it is created as a result of this committee’s work, and I will study it carefully during the next session,” he said.

Before the discussion on the resolution, the committee heard from former state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, who now serves as a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Townsend was termed out of office in 2010. He had served in the Senate since 1983.

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend. / Photo courtesy of Project Vote Smart.

Townsend suggested a number of ideas for the Legislature to consider, including changing the length of terms for state Senators from four years to six, and for Assembly members from two years to four, to reduce the frequency of campaigns that he said interfere in the legislative process.

“Whether you change term limits or not, I think you take a lot of the money and vitriol out of these things,” he said. “Because it’s gotten to the point where campaigns overcome policy making, and that is not fair to any of you no matter what party you are in or what section of the state you live in.”

Townsend also suggested that legislative sessions be changed to even-numbered years if there is no move to have annual sessions. Those elected to the Legislature in each general election every November in even numbered years would then have more than a full year to learn the legislative process before a session would begin. Now lawmakers are elected in November and must start a session early the following year, he said.

“Move it off a year,” Townsend said. “Leadership can appoint those folks to their interim committees, and they can start learning the process, and the issues, and their colleagues and the people that they affect. That one single change will make every legislator better, whether you’ve been there a long time or whether you are new.”

The change would also mean a shorter campaign season for lawmakers if sessions continued to end in early June in even-numbered years, Townsend said.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the interim study committee, questioned how lawmakers would raise campaign funds in such a scenario but said such issues can be discussed at a later date.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says he is not convinced such a study is needed but will consider the issue in the 2013 session:

082012Brower :32 the next session.”

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend says Assembly terns should be four years and Senate terms six years:

082012Townsend1 :11 you live in.”

Townsend says legislative sessions should be moved to even-numbered years:

082012Townsend2 :24 you are new.”