Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

Legislative Panel Agrees To Review New Public Records Policy

By Sean Whaley | 4:43 pm October 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A panel of lawmakers agreed today to review its new policy on responding to public records requests after concerns were raised by the ACLU of Nevada.

Rebecca Gasca, legislative and policy director for the organization, told the Legislative Commission today that the new policy says that those seeking public records from the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) need to explain why they want the information when making requests.

The policy, adopted in August, improperly shifts the burden to the person requesting the public records to show that the need for the information is stronger than any public policy interest in keeping the information confidential, she said.

Gasca had already sent a letter to the commission from ACLU General Counsel Allen Lichtenstein explaining the concerns with the new policy in detail.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, a member of the commission, asked that the new policy be reviewed at its next meeting.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, called today for a review of the new public records policy. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“We did kind of, as I recall, went through it kind of quickly,” he said. “And there is some verbiage in it that I think we probably ought to review to see if it is a little too vague and a little too open ended.”

Gasca said the new policy would incorrectly apply a Nevada Supreme Court ruling in Donrey of Nevada v. Bradshaw and impose a “balancing test” to determine if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest served by not releasing the information.

The balancing test referenced in the court case applied to requests for criminal information, not general public records requests, she said.

“The policy of LCB that you passed at the last commission meeting actually broadly expands upon that and specifically states that requestors need to put in why they are requesting something so the LCB can balance those interests,” Gasca said.

While there was a comment from LCB Director Lorne Malkiewich that the new requirement will not be used as a basis for denying requests, this statement of intent was not included in the new policy, she said.

Concerns about the new policy have also previously been expressed by Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.

In response to the ACLU letter, Malkiewich said the new policy, “was not proposed in an effort to restrict public access, but rather to reflect the state of the law and allow us to continue our practice of prompt, complete response to requests for public records.”

“In summary, the policy that I proposed and the Legislative Commission adopted does not conflict with state law; it reflects what the Nevada Supreme Court has recognized to be the state of the law,” he said. “We will not reject a request for failure to include such a statement, but a clear explanation of a particular public interest may tip the balance in favor of disclosure of a document that might not otherwise be disclosed.”

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Audio clips:

ACLU representative Rebecca Gasca said the new legislative public records policy needs to be revisited:

102611Gasca :23 Nevada Supreme Court.”

Assemblyman Ira Hansen called for a review of the new policy:

102611Hansen :10 too open ended.”

Legal Challenges Filed To Halt Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio clips:

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

101411Gallagher1 :18 voting on it.”

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

101411Gallagher2 :07 disenfranchising the voters.”

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

101411Best1 :12 we’re going forward.”

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

101411Best2 :19 on their own.”

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

101411Claussen1 :11 if not sooner.”

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

101411Claussen2 :23 the entire process.”

Full-Time RVer Finds Voter Residency Rules Will Keep Him From Casting Nevada Ballot

By Sean Whaley | 5:05 am September 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Long-time Nevada resident Art Cooke says he is now officially a disenfranchised voter.

After voting in every primary and general election in Carson City for a decade, Cooke sold his Bodie Drive home and became a full-time recreational vehicle resident upon retirement five years ago. Cooke and his wife Rita spend time out-of-state every year, wintering in Yuma, Ariz. and visiting other states in their luxury recreational vehicle.

He has voted in every Carson City election even as a full time RVer, including the June primary, but a recent decision has put his ability to vote in Nevada in the Nov. 2 general election in doubt.

Cooke said he has a mail delivery address in Carson City, all of his vehicles are registered in Nevada, he has a small business in Carson City and his driver’s license is from Nevada. But because he resides in RV parks when he returns to Carson, where utilities and other associated costs are paid as part of the fee, Cooke said he has no utility bill or other satisfactory proof of his physical address to satisfy Nevada’s voter residency requirements.

A voter must show proof of residency at a physical address for 30 days prior to election day to be able to cast a ballot.

Without a specific physical address to provide to Nevada election officials, Cooke has been informed he can no longer vote in Nevada except for president every four years.

“Even if you are homeless in Nevada you must have a physical address,” said Cooke, reached while traveling in Ohio. “I guess as a U.S. citizen and an Army veteran of the Vietnam War I no longer have the right to vote.

“It looks like that I just won’t be able to vote any longer,” he said.

Cooke said he has contacted the ACLU which is now looking into the issue on his behalf.

Carson City Clerk Alan Glover confirmed Cooke’s situation, saying the residency issue has become more common as more people opt to live full time in their recreational vehicles upon retirement.

“We get at least a dozen of these every election,” he said.

Glover said he is sympathetic to Cooke’s dilemma, but that the residency requirements to vote are clear. The proof of residency requirement is part of the Help America Vote Act signed into law in 2002, he said.

“It is especially hard on RVers,” Glover said. “They no longer have a residence within the county, in our case Carson City, therefore they are not entitled to vote in Carson City.”

It is also an issue for the homeless, particularly in Clark County, he said.

Glover said one solution for Cooke would be to establish a residence at an RV park in the city 30 days before the election and register to vote at the address. A rent receipt would be sufficient proof to vote, he said.

Cooke said he did not expect to be back in Carson until just before election day.

Glover said others in similar situations who have family in Carson or another Nevada community will use that residence as their own for purposes of registering to vote, filing taxes and other such activities.

A business address or a drop box for mail is not sufficient for proof of residency for voting, he said.

Glover said the residency requirement has come about because of situations where people have tried to vote in elections where they are not legal residents. Federal officials removed several hundred RVers from the vote rolls in Nye County a few years ago because they were not legal residents in the county and were not eligible to vote, he said.

Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the ACLU of Nevada, said the residency issue emerged as a major concern in the 2008 election because the foreclosure crisis was forcing many Nevadans out of their homes. The concern prompted Secretary of State Ross Miller to issue a news release saying foreclosed residents who had not changed their addresses still had the right to vote.

Gasca said there are remedies depending on the individual circumstances, such as a homeless person using a shelter as a permanent address.

Given the fact that Nevada’s population is highly mobile, some of the residency issues could be resolved if Nevada followed the lead of some other states and allowed for same day registration right through election day, Gasca said. There would still have to be an intent by the voter to follow the residency requirements, she said.

The ACLU has an acute interest in the issue and will be watching as voting gets under way in the general election starting next month, Gasca said.

Cooke said his problems began when he was called for jury duty. He came back to Carson from Yuma to report and found the case had been resolved. Court officials then said they would remove him from the jury selection list since he was traveling out of state. About two weeks later he received a letter from Carson City election officials saying he was no longer considered to be a resident of the state.

Information Cooke then provided to prove his residency was deemed insufficient for voting purposes.

Cooke was told he would only be allowed to vote for president every four years using a “no fixed address” ballot.

Cooke said he believes the decision is a violation of his constitutional rights, and that he should at least be able to cast ballots for the Nevada statewide races and the federal races.

“I’ve never missed an election,” he said. “This is going to be a tough one.”

Cooke said he planned to vote for Sharron Angle in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race.

“I told the Angle campaign I sure hope you don’t miss it by one vote,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Art Cooke says he at least should be able to vote in the federal contests:

092110Cooke1 :19 they said no.”

Carson Clerk Alan Glover says state residency laws are particularly hard on RVers:

092110Glover1 :23 they have options.”

Glover says he has sympathy but law is clear:

092110Glover3 :08 with them, so.”

ACLU of Nevada Opposed to State Lawmaker Proposal To Make English Official Language

By Sean Whaley | 9:37 am August 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – A state lawmaker is having a bill drafted for the 2011 legislative session to make English the official language of Nevada, saying his intent is to unify rather than divide the state’s diverse residents.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said he is still researching the issue, but that his bill will be symbolic rather than seek to have any practical effect on the delivery of government services. It is not an English-only bill, but instead a recognition that English is the common language of the state and country, he said.

Stewart introduced a similar bill in the 2009 session but it did not receive a hearing.

“We have many different cultures and many people from different lands but I think that the English language is one thing that should be common to all of us and bring us all together,” he said. “Some people have criticized it as being divisive but that is certainly not my intent. It is to be a unifying thing.”

Many other states across the country have already adopted similar measures so it is not unique to Nevada, Stewart said.

The U.S. English website lists 30 states with “official English” laws.

Oklahoma voters will weigh in on the issue on the November ballot. The measure would go further than what Stewart is proposing in Nevada. It would require all official actions of the state to be in English except as required by federal law.

Despite Stewart’s intent, the ACLU of Nevada opposes such legislation and will oppose Stewart’s measure even if it is symbolic only.

“We think they are generally inconsistent with the free speech protections of the First Amendment,” said Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the organization. “And perhaps more importantly they may impact or conflict with civil rights laws that require equal access to critical government services regardless of national origin.”

Rowland said such laws can intimidate non-English speakers from seeking government assistance, including police and fire, even if they are symbolic only, she said. These concerns were reflected in comments during a debate about an English-only ordinance in Pahrump, Rowland said.

“Often these laws simply have a kind of scare tactic effect,” she said.

The Pahrump Town Board passed the ordinance in November 2006 but repealed it early the following year.

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Audio files:

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart says his official English bill is meant to unite Nevadans:

081710Stewart1 :19 us as one.”

Stewart says the proposal is not intended to be divisive:

081710Stewart2 :08 a unifying thing.”

Stewart says many other states have adopted such laws:

081710Stewart3 :10 Nevada or anything.”

Lee Rowland of ACLU says English-only bills can conflict with federal civil rights laws:

081710Rowland1 :20 of national origin.”

Rowland says such measures cause problems even if they are only symbolic:

081710Rowland2 :21 result for anyone.”

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Nevada Laws Limiting Brothel Advertising

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:48 pm July 29th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld Nevada state laws that limit brothel advertising, ruling to deny a petition for rehearing filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

“I am glad to see that, once again, common sense has prevailed,” said Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. “This state has had restrictions on brothel advertising for 40 years. Nevada should have the right to have reasonable limitations on this type of activity.”

The petition for rehearing was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union after a decision by the 9th Circuit Court in March to reverse a lower court’s decision. The laws had been challenged on free speech grounds.

The laws prohibit brothel advertising in counties where prostitution is illegal. The laws also prohibit brothel advertising in theaters and on streets and public highways.

In its March decision, the appeals court wrote: “Nevada has, uniquely for this country, delineated a more nuanced boundary [than total criminalization of prostitution], but still seeks to closely confine the sale of sex acts, geographically . . . and through the advertising restrictions.”

“We are pleased that the court has acknowledged our state’s policies and our laws were upheld,” Masto said.

George Flint, representing the Nevada Brothel Owners’ Association, said brothel owners generally have not sought to widely advertise even with the lower court ruling in their favor. Most owners did not push the issue, he said.

Only one brothel was part of the legal challenge, Flint said.

“The truth is I don’t have a real lot of heartburn about the issue one way or the other,” he said. “I’m rather proud of the fact that the members, except for one or two of them, have been very low key even during that period of time before the 9th circuit heard the issue and we had the freedom to go ahead and advertise.”

There won’t be a lot of disappointment in the industry with the ruling being upheld even though legalized prostitution is suffering from the recession just like all other businesses, he said.

Audio clip:

George Flint of Brothel Owner’s Association says the ruling isn’t a big disappointment:

072910Flint :19 ahead and advertise.”

Nevada ACLU Seeks Records About FBI Collection Of Racial And Ethnic Data

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:59 pm July 27th, 2010

CARSON CITY –  The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada today asked the FBI’s Las Vegas field office to turn over records related to the agency’s collection and use of race and ethnicity data in local communities.

According to a 2008 operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about and map so-called “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI’s attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria for targeting purposes invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement, says the ACLU. Across the country, the ACLU has questioned this practice.

“Government targeting of specific communities for investigation based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors raises serious civil liberties concerns,” said Maggie McLetchie, interim Southern Program Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will bring the full extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping to light.”

The FBI’s power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI’s “domain awareness” and “intelligence analysis” activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the DIOG in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January of this year in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim advocates. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.

“The public deserves to know about a race-based domestic intelligence program with such troubling implications for civil rights and civil liberties,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will finally bring this important information to light so that the American people can know the extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping practices and whether the agency is abusing its authority.”

ACLU affiliate offices across the nation today filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover records about the FBI’s collection and use of racial and ethnicity data from their local FBI field offices.

Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Discuss “Real ID” in Nevada

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 11:47 am April 18th, 2010

The Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Review Regulations will meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss the fate of the controversial “Real ID” in Nevada.

Citing concerns with both privacy and cost, numerous organizations have come out against the requirements of the REAL ID Act of 2005 including the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners of Nevada, Campaign for Liberty, the Cato Institute, National Immigration Law Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Though Congress has said the act is primarily intended to prevent identity fraud and has denied it would signal the dawn of national identity cards that could compromise the privacy of citizens, critics remain unconvinced.

“There is no security plan for protecting this information,” said a spokesperson from the Nevada chapter of the ACLU.  “Instead, the federal government presumes that the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators will operate the database. However, this private association has no accountability to Nevada, and it is not bound by either the Privacy Act, which applies to federal agencies, or the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act, which applies to state DMVs.”

Under the Real ID Act, states will be required to scan documentary evidence into a shared database including proofs of birth dates, legal and residency status and social security numbers.

Real ID cards will feature a two-dimensional, non-encrypted bar code containing personal information such as the citizen’s home address. Because the cards will not be encrypted, there are concerns that businesses and other organizations could potentially scan and store a customer’s home address along with other pieces of personal information.

If Real ID is fully implemented, a Real ID-compliant identification card will be required not only to board commercial aircraft but also to enter federal buildings including courthouses.

“Without a REAL ID card, a person’s due process rights, the right to trial before a jury of one’s peers, and the right to petition government officials could be significantly and detrimentally impacted,” said the ACLU spokesperson.

Pro gun groups are concerned that Real ID scanning and databases could be mis-used as a quasi-national gun registry because driver’s licenses are required for the purchase of guns.

Another concern is the cost of the unfunded mandate.  Homeland Security estimates the total cost of implementing Real ID at $23.1 billion.  There will also be an administrative burden on state DMVs which will be required to verify the legal status of all license applicants.

Notable in its support for Real ID when most other conservative and libertarian groups have objected, the Heritage Foundation has published memos in support of state-issued Real IDs.  A 2008 memo explained:

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and the REAL ID Act of 2005 required that when key identification materials, such as driver’s licenses (and the documents used to obtain them, such as birth certificates), are issued at any level of government and used for a federal purpose, these documents must meet minimum national standards of authenticity. To prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or fraud, and to enhance privacy protections, the laws also established standard security features concerning identification cards and the processes for issuing them.

These laws are grounded in common sense. Administrators of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators had long recommended similar measures. Requiring more secure documents and procedures for issuance and monitoring is not a “silver bullet,” but this strategy will help to combat identity theft, fraud, and other crimes. Billions of dol­lars are lost each year due to identity theft, the fraudu­lent obtaining of government benefits, and other criminal activities related to this issue. Making identity credentials more secure will also help to enhance public safety at airports and other public venues.

Faced with objections from numerous states and the chaos that could ensue if people without Real IDs are denied boarding on commercial flights or entry into federal buildings, the Department of Homeland Security has pushed back the deadline for state compliance with the Real ID Act to May of 2011.

Tomorrow’s Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee meeting will take place April 19, at 2 PM in Las Vegas in the Grant Sawyer Building at 555 E. Washington Avenue, Rm 4401.  The meeting will be video-conferenced live to both the Legislative Building in Carson City, Room 3137 and the Chilton Circle Modular Office Conference Room, Great Basin College in Elko.

Nevada Gets D+ for Failure to Protect Citizens from Asset Forfeiture Abuse

By Sean Whaley | 8:39 am April 2nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada is one of 35 states getting a D grade or lower for failing to protect the public from aggressive asset forfeiture efforts by law enforcement, a process called “policing for profit,” according to a study released this week by the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice.

Nevada received a D- for the public protections in its civil forfeiture law, a C grade for efforts by law enforcement to evade state protections by partnering with the federal government to seize assets, and a D+ grade overall.

The Institute for Justice notes that under state and federal civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize and keep property suspected of involvement in criminal activity.  Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime – or even charged – to permanently lose cash, car, home or other property.

“Nevada forfeiture law provides paltry protection for property owners from wrongful forfeitures,” the report says. “The government may seize your property and keep it upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than many states but still lower than the criminal standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’”

The Nevada analysis shows that the state law puts the burden on the property owner to show the act leading to the forfeiture process was done without the owner’s knowledge.

Further, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the revenue raised from forfeited property.

“Additionally, the revenue must be spent within the year, because any excess more than $100,000 in a forfeiture account is given to local schools,” the report says. “This provision creates an incentive to rely on new forfeitures each year.”

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada, said the group has had major concerns with the issue of civil forfeiture for a long time and for the very reasons identified in the report.

Shifting the burden to those who have had property seized, for example, to show innocence, and the “eat what you kill” concept where law enforcement benefits financially from using the forfeiture process, are both concerns, he said.

The report should be of interest to anyone, “concerned about civil liberties and the due process of law,” Lichtenstein said.

Only three states – Maine, North Dakota and Vermont – earned a grade of B or better.  Maine earned the highest grade, an A-, largely because all forfeiture revenues go to the state’s general fund, not directly into law enforcement coffers.

The Institute for Justice, in what it is calling the first-of-a-kind national study on civil forfeiture abuse, titled “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture”, called the process “one of the worst abuses of property rights in our nation today.”

“The report finds, not surprisingly, that by giving law enforcement a direct financial incentive in pursuing forfeitures and stacking the legal deck against property owners, most state and federal laws encourage policing for profit rather than seeking the neutral administration of justice,” the Institute for Justice said in announcing its findings.

“Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, a co-author of the report.  “With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

The report notes that asset forfeiture is growing across the country.

For example, in 2008, for the first time in its history, the U.S. Department of Justice’s forfeiture fund topped $1 billion in assets taken from property owners and made available to law enforcement. State data reveal that state and local law enforcement also use forfeiture extensively:  From 2001 to 2002, currency forfeitures alone in just nine states totaled more than $70 million.

In Nevada, the amount of money from seized assets returned to the state from the federal government continues to grow. The report shows that Nevada received $1.2 million from the Asset Forfeiture Fund in 2001. That grew to nearly $4 million in 2008.The report says the numbers reflect both criminal and civil seizures, although most is likely from civil forfeitures.

The report says the use of this process, called “equitable sharing,” encourages abuse by states in evading their own civil forfeiture laws.

With equitable sharing, state law enforcement can turn over seized assets to the federal government, or they may seize them jointly with federal officers. The property is then subject to the federal forfeiture law, not the state law.

Nevada Group Pushing New Tax on Car Miles to Fund Road Improvements

By Sean Whaley | 7:58 pm March 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Highway Users Coalition has announced its support for moving forward with a study on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a potential alternative to the current gas tax paid by motorists at the pump to fund road improvements and maintenance.

According to those involved in the study, the consequences of inaction could include the deterioration of roads and highways, increased vehicle wear and tear, increased congestion and accidents and longer commute times.

But others, including the ACLU of Nevada, are questioning the proposal because of privacy concerns. Others say any such change is premature and unnecessary.

The first phase of the VMT study is being funded by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Regional Transportation Commissions in both Southern Nevada and Washoe County. NDOT and Washoe contributed $100,000 each. The Southern Nevada agency contributed $60,000 for a total of $260,000.

More than a dozen other states are also exploring the use of a VMT to pay for road construction.

In a statement released by the coalition, which was formed to “advance the rights of Nevada’s residents and visitors to travel on safe, reliable public roads,” the increasing use of hybrid and electric vehicles is reducing the amount of fuel tax that is collected because of their improved fuel efficiency.

“These vehicles contribute less to use the roads, despite creating the same wear and tear as gas powered vehicles,” the statement says. “This has created a further diminishing of a significant source of funds to build and maintain roads.”

The current funding for road construction, maintenance and operation comes primarily from fuel taxes, which have not been raised in Nevada since 1992.

In a VMT fee system, users would be charged based on the number of miles driven rather than paying in the form of fuel taxes. So rather than pay the 54 cents in fuel taxes per gallon at the pump charged now, vehicles would be assessed on the number of miles driven instead.

The study is being conducted with assistance from both the University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The evaluation and studying of the VMT fees as a potential funding source is needed for the Legislature and local elected officials to make a much needed decision on how to fund our future transportation needs,” the coalition said.

The first public meeting on the issue is set for later today in Reno. A meeting is also scheduled for April 29 in Las Vegas.

The idea of a VMT is not without controversy, however.

According to the Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based conservative policy and analysis organization, a VMT would be expensive to implement because every car would need to be fitted with a device that both records miles driven and transmits the information to a government database.

“This complicated system would cost millions and raise concerns of Big Brother watching our every movement,” the Heritage Foundation said in February 2009. “Americans don’t like paying the gas tax, but they are sure to be even more unhappy having to deal with the administrative nightmare the VMT promises.”

Paul Enos, chief executive officer of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said there is no need to switch from the current gas tax just to try to capture revenue from hybrid and electric cars. A simpler solution would be to increase the existing fuel tax and index it so it grows over time, he said.

“The fuel tax has 20 to 30 years of life in it,” Enos said.

The current fuel tax is one of the cheapest revenues to collect, and switching to the VMT system would expand those administrative costs significantly, he said.

Enos said his industry would end up paying more in road taxes under the VMT plan, despite claims the proposal is intended to be revenue neutral.

Those pushing the VMT don’t talk about it much, but it would allow drivers to be taxed at higher rates for using freeways during congested drive times, Enos said.

“It is social engineering at its best; or worst,” he said. “They are trying to change public behavior.”

Scott Rawlins, deputy director for NDOT, said the agency is aware of the privacy concerns expressed by some members of the public. The entire study, which will take as much as 3.5 years to complete, will consider those concerns, he said.

A public report will likely be issued within the next three to four months as part of the Phase 1 effort, but the process will also require a 12-month pilot study using as many as 1,000 volunteers before the agency could consider moving forward with the VMT concept, Rawlins said.

The switch to a miles driven tax would not necessarily be excessively complicated, given the technology that exists today with cell phone GPS tracking availability, he said.

“It might not be that complicated,” he said. “Whether we use a device in a car or a cell phone or PDA, we don’t know the answer yet.”

But the ACLU of Nevada has expressed privacy concerns about the proposal.

“What we don’t want to see is the government creating an infrastructure for routine surveillance,” said Rebecca Gasca, ACLU of Nevada public advocate. “It is important that the owner of the car be the owner of the data.”

According to NDOT, overall vehicle fuel efficiency will increase to an average 35 miles a gallon by 2020, leading to a further reduction in fuel tax collections.

Because of inflation, fuel taxes now cover only about half the cost of road construction, maintenance and operations that they funded when fuel taxes were last increased in Nevada in 1992.

Ninth Circuit Puts the Kibosh on Brothel Ads in Some Nevada Counties

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:18 pm March 13th, 2010

This story from (and involving) CityLife is extremely interesting and meets the “only in Nevada” standard I have come to love about our state.

The sum-up:  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just upheld a ban on brothel advertising in Nevada counties where prostitution is illegal (appeal expected).  The case was originally filed in 2006, after the Shady Lady Ranch brothel in Nye County tried to advertise in CityLife and other newspapers but ran into a snag in state law.

Brothels are permitted to advertise in the 11 Nevada counties where prostitution is legal, but they can’t do so in counties where prostitution is not allowed — including Clark County. CityLife and others, represented by the ACLU of Nevada, sued, alleging the ban was a First Amendment violation.

In July 2007, the U.S. District Court struck down the anti-advertising statutes, calling them “overly broad.” But in a 34-page ruling issued this week, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the state’s laws are constitutional, in part because they support Nevada’s interest in the prevention of the commodification of sexual activity. From the ruling:

Banning commodification of sex entirely is a substantial policy goal that all states but Nevada have chosen to adopt. Uniquely among the states, Nevada has not structured its laws to pursue this substantial state interest to the exclusion of all others. Rather, it has adopted a nuanced approach to the sale of sexual services, grounded in part in concern about the negative health and safety impacts of unregulated, illegal prostitution. By permitting some legal prostitution, Nevada has been able to subject a portion of the market for paid sex to extensive regulation, while continuing severely to limit the diffusion of sexual commodification through its banning of prostitution where by far most Nevadans live (and where most outsiders visit), Clark County.

And:

Increased advertising of commercial sex throughout the state of Nevada would increase the extent to which sex is presented to the public as a commodity for sale. The advertising restrictions advance the interest in limiting this commodification in two closely related ways. First, they eliminate the public’s exposure — in some areas entirely, and in others in large part — to advertisements that are in themselves an aspect of the commodification of sex. As the harm protected against occurs in part from the proposal of the transaction, banning or restricting the advertising directly reduces the harm.

Second, the advertising restrictions directly and materially advance Nevada’s interests in limiting commodification by reducing the market demand for, and thus the incidence of, the exchange of sex acts for money, which, by definition, is the commodifying of sex. Nevada might be able to reduce the buying and selling of sex acts to a greater degree by instituting a complete ban on prostitution…. But it has chosen to take an approach to reducing demand that will not short-circuit the health and safety gains that come with partial legalization.” (emphasis in original)

AG Catherine Cortez Masto praised the ruling, but Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada, disagrees.

From the CityLife piece:

[Lichtenstein] said the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly ruled if a product or service is legal, then advertising about that product or service is First Amendment-protected commercial speech. “Does somebody’s objection to the commodification of sex trump the First Amendment? We believe it does not,” he said. “The social harm of alcohol, cigarettes and gambling is well-documented; no documented social harm of legal brothels exists.”

Lichtenstein added: “The empirical evidence of making into law somebody’s moral judgment is unfortunate.” He said the case will be appealed, either to the full Ninth Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see how the appeal goes.  It’s possible the state’s legal position has problems.  As Sebelius pointed out in his post, “the legalization of prostitution is by definition the commodification of sex” so Nevada has already made a policy decision t0 define sex as something that can be bought and sold.  Can the state reasonably (and legally) argue that the harm that results from the commodification of sex is acceptable, but the harm caused by the advertisement of that commodification is not?  And, in any case, that the state’s interest trumps the protections of the First Amendment?

We’ll see.

Gibbons Wants Hearing on School Voucher Plan, Says Competition Would Improve Educational Opportunities for Children

By Sean Whaley | 11:09 am February 16th, 2010

(Updated at 12:04 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2010)

CARSON CITY – A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

While other states have had some success, such measures have gone nowhere in Nevada. Two bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2009 to begin such programs. Neither bill even had a hearing.

Now Gov. Jim Gibbons has taken up the issue, making a school voucher program a central piece of his education reform plan. Gibbons, in his state of the state address Feb. 8, asked lawmakers to give his plan a hearing at the special session set to begin Feb. 23. It also includes a repeal of mandates for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction and a repeal of the state’s collective bargaining law.

“I believe that we need to give the choice of education back to parents and get them involved,” he said after the speech. “We have 142 schools in the state of Nevada that are rated as the worst schools in the nation.”

Gibbons said parents of students attending these schools should have the choice to go elsewhere.

“I believe that vouchers give that choice to parents,” he said.

A school voucher proposal was not part of Gibbons’ proclamation issued today calling for the special session. Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the intent is to get the budget shortfall and flexibility issues dealt with first.

“We fully intend on amending the proclamation between now and sine die (the end of the session),” Reedy said.

A school voucher measure will be one of those amendments, she said.

The five-page bill creating the “educational scholarship” as now written would not result in an immediate savings to the state budget, said Stacy Woodbury, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons.

The plan remains a work in progress, with the Gibbons Administration analyzing how best to make the vouchers available. They could be given to parents to give to the school of their choice, which would then be turned into the Department of Education for reimbursement, or given directly to parents.

In an interview last week, Gibbons said that is still being analyzed to determine the best approach to ensure the program is constitutional.

“I have no preference for whether a voucher goes to school or to a parent,” Gibbons said. “If the constitution will allow for it, I’m happy to send it directly to parents.”

Woodbury said the proposal would provide 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to the private school.

If tuition was less than 75 percent of the support, then the lower amount that would be provided, Woodbury said. If the cost of the school program was more than 75 percent of the support, the parents would have to make up the difference. The other 25 percent of the pupil support would remain with the local school district.

Private schools would have to be licensed by the state Department of Education to participate, she said. Those private schools that are not licensed would be ineligible. There are about 75 so called “exempt,” or non-licensed schools, operating in Nevada right now.

Licensed schools must use licensed teachers and follow other requirements. Students would have to pass the high school proficiency exam to earn a diploma.

Woodbury said under the governor’s plan, religious schools would not automatically be prohibited from participating. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent of its time on religious instruction, then it could be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum, she said.

The Gibbons administration believes the proposal is constitutional under the Nevada State Constitution, Woodbury said.

Carson City attorney Scott Scherer, a former state lawmaker who worked on one of the voucher proposals introduced in 2009, said Nevada does not have a lot of case law on the issue, so predicting how the Nevada Supreme Court would rule on such a program is difficult to predict.

But one key element in withstanding a legal challenge is ensuring that only schools that are true educational institutions and that have the appropriate curriculum can participate, he said. Schools that offer a primarily religious education should not be included, Scherer said.

“I think if it is a legitimate educational institution meeting the needs of students to prepare them to graduate from high school and go on to college, then a religious affiliation would not prohibit a school from participating,” he said.

Not everyone agrees.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds on “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said a reading of the state constitution suggests there is no way a voucher plan in any form would withstand a legal challenge.

“We at the ACLU cannot imagine a voucher program that gives direct taxpayer funding to secular institutions that can in anyway comport without our constitutional prohibition on using public money for religious purposes,” she said.

Rowland said the prohibition “creates a very real hurdle for anyone trying to institute a voucher program in Nevada.”

People have a right to attend religious schools, just not with public funds, she said.

The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties and public interest law firm, disagrees with the ACLU interpretation. In its analysis of Nevada law, the organization says there are no recent court rulings or attorney general opinions addressing the issue.

“Although Nevada’s Legislature passed a law requiring that money allotted for public schools be used exclusively for public schools, NRS 387.045, other public money – general revenues or lottery proceeds, for instance – could support a voucher program,” the institute says in its analysis.

Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the Alliance for School Choice, took issue with the ACLU interpretation of the Nevada constitution, saying the organization, “is taking liberties with the state’s constitution in their attempt to deny parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their kids.”

“It is not surprising, given the ACLU has fought tooth and nail to deny deserving children the opportunity to achieve their own American dreams,” he said.

Woodbury said that if a voucher plan is approved by the Legislature, it would take some time to implement. The state Board of Education would need time to prepare for the new program, and so it might not get under way until the fall of 2011. While access to private schools might be limited at first, establishing the voucher program would allow for new schools to become licensed and offer educational opportunities, she said.

The same process happened with charter schools, she said. When the law first passed in 1997, it took awhile for the schools to be established. There are now 28 such schools operating in Nevada, according to the Department of Education.

There are about 422,000 students in the Nevada public school system now.

Many states have offered vouchers to select groups of students, such as special needs, Woodbury said.

“I say any child should be eligible,” she said.

“I commend the governor and his staff for bringing this forward,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley. “For people who truly care about educating our children, they talk about getting parents involved. What better way to get parents involved than to give them choice.”

Goedhart, who proposed one of the school choice bills in the 2009 session that did not get a hearing, said a voucher program has not moved forward in Nevada because the politically powerful educational establishment enjoys its monopoly.

But offering competition would be best for Nevada’s children, and could even reduce the need to build new public schools, he said.

“We have to embrace innovative approaches to education, and one of those is vouchers,” Goedhart said.

While there may be room for a discussion on the issue, a special session of the Legislature that has to address an $881 million budget shortfall is not the time or place, said Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

“We’re open to just about anything that will get us through this budget crisis,” he said.

But Oceguera said is unrealistic to think the Legislature could consider such a major policy shift given the state’s pressing fiscal crisis.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said he too does not believe the special session is the time to take up such an issue, although new ideas are always worth a look.

“We’ve got other things on our plate,” he said. “I am a big proponent of public education based on the success me and my family has had with the system, but I do believe we should be looking at new and innovative programs.”

Gibbons disagrees, saying in an op/ed piece Jan. 8 that a special session is the right time to consider education reform.

“Clearly legislators have not had time in their regular 120 day sessions every other year to address education reform. What better time to focus on reform than in a special session where topics are limited to a very few items?” Gibbons asked.

Woodbury said that since the governor has the exclusive authority to set the agenda for a special session, the Legislature should be prepared to review his education reform plan later this month.

“If they do not consider his plan, he may call them back in again, yes,” she said.

Goedhart also said the special session is the appropriate place for such a discussion. By putting it on his agenda, Gibbons and school voucher supporters will get a chance to see where lawmakers stand.

“The voters, residents and citizens of Nevada will finally get to see how lawmakers are voting on such a crucial issue,” he said.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said any shift to private schools would be slow because of the limited availability. There are about 96 licensed private schools in Nevada now.

The licensed private schools are serving just under about 9,000 students statewide.

But Rheault said most of these schools offer only kindergarten or elementary grade level programs, and several school districts have no such schools operating as all.

“Most are in Clark and Washoe,” Rheault said. “Only eight districts statewide have private licensed schools.”

Rheault said from his agency’s perspective, the challenge of a voucher plan would be ensuring accountability. The state would need to verify the student enrolled in the school and attended, he said.

U.S. Supreme Court Opens Up 2010 Elections in Major Free Speech Ruling

By Sean Whaley | 3:41 pm January 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – Like it or not, the 2010 campaign season is likely to dominate the airwaves more than ever nationally and in Nevada following a decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court repealing a limitation on political spending by corporations.

In what is being hailed by supporters as a major First Amendment free speech ruling, the 5-4 decision will allow corporations and labor unions to spend freely on behalf of political candidates and on political issues. The ruling overturned a key section of the McCain-Feingold Act.

Janine Hansen, executive director of the Independent American Party of Nevada and a lobbyist in Carson City for the party and the Nevada Eagle Forum, welcomed the ruling as a victory for free speech and challengers to the political establishment.

“The more campaign finance laws we have had enacted, the fewer successes challengers and non-incumbents have had,” she said. “Anything we can do to restore free speech is very important.

“These laws are why we have a government that is unresponsive to the will of the people,” Hansen said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, also welcomed the ruling, saying the ACLU had filed a “friend of the court” brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the section of the law repealed in today’s decision.

The case involved a type of speech, called an “electioneering communication” as opposed to limits on the expenditure of money in political races, and was clearly a violation of the First Amendment, she said.

“We are dealing with core political speech,” Rowland said. “It was a very black and white issue to us.”

Rowland said it is too early to know what effect the ruling may have on Nevada’s state campaign finance laws. But the ACLU of Nevada spoke out against a bill in the 2009 session of the Legislature that would have established similar restrictions that Rowland said were also unconstitutional. The changes did not win approval.

“This is precisely the type of core political speech the First Amendment is designed to protect,” she said.

The case arose when a Washington, DC-based conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United, sought to run advertisements for a film called Hillary: The Movie, right before the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008. The ads were rejected by the Federal Election Commission citing limitations on campaign spending under the McCain-Feingold Act.

A lower court found the film’s purpose was political speech, while Citizens United argued the film was nonpartisan and not an electioneering communication.

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned the lower court ruling in favor of Citizens United.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion, said: “Some members of the public might consider Hillary to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation’s course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.”

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, called the decision a “complete victory” for the group.

“This is a monumental day for Citizens United,” he said. “So we have been waiting a long time for this day.”

Critics of the decision who are saying it will “shake the core” of our Democracy are guilty of “tremendous hyperbole,” Bossie said. Corporations aren’t all the size of the Exxon Mobile Corp. Some corporations are run by lone individuals, he said.

Not everyone welcomed the ruling. Nationally, two leading national campaign finance reform organizations, Common Cause and Public Campaign, criticized the decision, saying it will “enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress.”

“This decision means more business as usual in Washington, stomping on voters’ hope for change,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Congress must take on the insider Washington money culture if it wants to make the changes voters are demanding.”

Washington, DC, based attorney Tom Josefiak, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission that was the target in the Citizens United case, called the decision a landmark day for the First Amendment and free speech.

“In issuing its sweeping Citizens United opinion today, the Supreme Court reversed decades of its own precedent prohibiting corporate independent expenditures and recognized once and for all that the First Amendment right of free speech applies to everyone, including corporations,” he said.

Josefiak, who also formerly served as chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, said the ruling allows corporations to spend their funds on political issues as long as they do so independently.

Gov. Gibbons Signs Emergency Regulations to Comply With Federal Real ID Act

By Sean Whaley | 5:44 pm December 9th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons has signed emergency regulations that will allow the state to meet a Jan. 1 federal deadline so Nevada residents can use their current drivers’ licenses and identification cards to comply with the federal Real ID Act.

The regulations will enable the state Department of Motor Vehicles to comply with 18 benchmarks required to become “materially compliant” with the federal law resulting from the act.

“By becoming materially compliant with the law, Nevadans who were born after Dec. 1, 1964 may continue to use their existing Nevada driver’s licenses or ID cards for federal purposes until Dec. 1, 2014,” said DMV Director Edgar Roberts. “Those born before Dec. 1, 1964 can use the cards until Dec.1, 2017.”

Gibbons asked that specific language prohibiting the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips or other technology used to track individuals be included in the final emergency regulations. The regulations also define how the DMV will store and restrict access to personal identification data.

“We included the language recommended by the governor in the regulations to reassure our customers,” Roberts said. “Rumors on the blogosphere about RFID chips and national databases of driver information have been widely circulated despite being false.”

If Nevada failed to meet the materially compliant deadline, Nevadans would be unable to use their existing driver’s licenses or ID cards as identification when boarding an aircraft or entering a federal building that requires identification after Dec. 31, 2009. A passport, military ID card or other form of ID approved by the Department of Homeland Security would be required or the individual would face additional security screening.

Gibbons signed the emergency regulations Tuesday despite being asked not to do so by the ACLU of Nevada.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel to the ACLU of Nevada, called the act an unfunded federal mandate that puts the privacy rights of Nevadans at risk.

In a response to the ACLU letter to Gibbons, Roberts said the ACLU was repeating misinformation about the changes to the DMV process of issuing licenses and identification cards.

“The department does not want nor need any personal information about an individual other than proof of identity, lawful status and proof of residency,” Roberts said.

Gibbons to Approve Real ID Regulations Despite ACLU Objections

By Sean Whaley | 1:11 pm December 8th, 2009
CARSON CITY – The ACLU of Nevada has sent a letter to Gov. Jim Gibbons asking him not to approve emergency regulations to bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel to the ACLU of Nevada, said the act is an unfunded federal mandate that puts the privacy rights of Nevadans at risk.

“It creates a national identification card that every American will be required to carry in order to fly interstate on commercial airlines, enter government buildings such as courthouses, open a bank account, and more,” he said. “These requirements do little to address critical public safety issues while putting us at greater risk for invasions of privacy and identify theft.”

While he will consider the concerns, Gibbons said today he expects to sign the regulations by the end of the month.

“It has direct impact to the state of Nevada if we don’t move forward with Real ID,” he said.

Gibbons said Nevada’s new drivers’ license complies with Real ID security requirements. It does not contain a computer chip that has raised privacy concerns, he said.

It is not a national identity card, but a new version of a Nevada drivers’ license, Gibbons said.

Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said the emergency regulations needed to comply with Real ID are primarily related to activities behind the DMV counter. The new license has data on the back in the form of a bar code, but that code has no more personal information than what is on the front of the card that can be read by anyone, he said. The new license does not have any new personal information requirements either, Jacobs said.

Lichtenstein noted that in 2007, the Legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Real ID Act.

The Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Review Regulations refused to approve the regulations implementing Real ID in late November, recommending instead that emergency regulations be adopted instead.

Lichtenstein said his reading of Nevada law says that Gibbons can address federal mandates only with the approval of the Legislative Commission.

“Nevadans deserve more than last minute decisions that threaten fundamental privacy rights and burden them as taxpayers, he said.

Opposition to Personhood Amendment Puts Nevada Anti-Abortion Groups in Unusual Company

By Sean Whaley | 5:28 pm November 18th, 2009
CARSON CITY – It isn’t every day that Nevada anti-abortion groups find themselves on the same side as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in a political dispute, but that is what happened this week in regard to the proposed “Personhood Nevada” ballot initiative.

If approved by voters, the state constitutional amendment being pushed by a conservative Nevada group would define “a person” as anyone having a human genome. The goal is to protect all human life, from conception to death, by prohibiting abortion and assisted suicide.

The wording of the measure has been challenged in Carson City District Court by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood for being too vague.

On Tuesday, two anti-abortion groups, Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum, announced their opposition to the measure, which was filed in October by Richard Ziser, chairman of a group called Nevada Concerned Citizens. The measure, which would require nearly 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, is modeled after similar proposals pushed by anti-abortion advocates in other states.

Don Nelson, president of Sparks based Nevada Life, said being on the same side of the abortion debate as Planned Parenthood is just an unfortunate circumstance.

“They are against the petition because they want to destroy the pro-life movement,” he said of Planned Parenthood. “We are against it because we want to save the pro-life movement.”

Nevada Life embraces the concept of the personhood movement, but not the strategy of putting a measure on the ballot, Nelson said.

The Personhood Nevada initiative is misguided because it runs contrary to current U.S. law as embodied in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. As a result, it will be struck down in an inevitable legal challenge and so not stop even a single abortion, he said.

It could also give activist judges in states where it may be approved by voters the chance to make rulings that could weaken existing protections designed to limit abortions, Nelson said.

The number of abortions has come down in the U.S. in the past two decades despite a huge population increase, the result of successful efforts by Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum and similar groups in changing public opinion, he said.

Rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an imitative fraught with legal problems, the money could be better spent electing anti-abortion candidates to elective office, Nelson said.

The opposition of the two groups should make it more difficult for Ziser to qualify the Personhood measure for the ballot, he said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said the opposition of the two groups did come as a surprise. But the concerns are similar, she said. The ACLU legal challenge is based on the belief that the initiative is so vague and open to interpretation as to make it impossible for voters to know what they are actually voting on.

“It is certainly heartening that even groups who are firmly pro-life believe that this particular initiative is vague and misleading and could lead to a poor interpretation that the voters could never expect,” Rowland said.

Elisa Maser, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said voters have the right to know exactly what they are voting on and the proposed initiative does not make it clear what the full impact would be.

Ziser could not be reached for comment on the announcement by the two groups.

The group has until May to qualify the measure for the ballot. Voters would have to approve it twice, in 2010 and 2012, before it could take effect.