Posts Tagged ‘constitution’

Senate Panel Hears Proposal To Move Nevada Toward School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 8:24 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A proposed amendment to the Nevada constitution to allow a future Legislature to create a school voucher program so parents could get state funding to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, was heard by a Senate panel today.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, if ultimately approved by Nevada voters, would not create a school voucher program. Instead, it would clarify that using public funds to educate children at religious schools would not violate a constitutional prohibition on using tax dollars for a sectarian purpose.

The legislation, sought by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, would make it clear in the state constitution that a voucher program including religious schools would not violate Nevada’s Blaine Amendment dating back more than 140 years, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

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

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections took testimony on the measure, the first voucher school proposal to get a hearing in the 2011 legislative session. The hearing featured testimony from several well-spoken children in Las Vegas asking members of the committee to support the legislation.

Roberson said Nevada’s Blaine amendment dates back to the 19th century and is a relic of anti-Catholic bigotry from that time.

“Blaine amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th century,” he said. “SJR10 would simply give the people of Nevada the opportunity to decide at the ballot whether the current Blaine amendment is good policy for 21st century Nevada.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval is seeking the same constitutional change in support of a school voucher program. The governor’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, spoke in support of SJR10, but said also the governor would pursue a hearing on AJR8 as well. AJR8 contains the same language as Roberson’s bill, but also includes a section describing how the voucher program would work.

The language in AJR8 would allow a parent to send a child to private school and receive in exchange at least half of the funding that the public school would have received if the child had attended public school. The remaining half would be made available based on financial need.

Erquiaga said there are currently 18 voucher programs operating in 12 states.

“I think you all know by now this governor supports school choice and school vouchers as part of that program,” he said.

The proposal, which was not immediately acted on by the panel, saw opposition testimony as well.

Craig Stevens, representing the Nevada State Education Association, said private schools can and should exist, but they are private to keep government regulation out of their classrooms. Why should a private school receive tax money if it is not going to be accountable to the taxpayers, he asked.

Nevada has choice, with magnet schools and charter schools, but they are all public schools that are accountable to taxpayers, Stevens said.

Also testifying in opposition was Allen Lichtenstein, a Las Vegas attorney representing the ACLU of Nevada, who said in his prepared remarks: “SJR10 attempts to do away with the wisdom of the early founders of our state, and a mechanism used to insure religious harmony for well over the past century, for a new scheme that in the name of furthering education, is, in fact, designed to aid religion with our tax money.”

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the district’s school board is in opposition as well.

In his testimony, Roberson said the proposal would not create a voucher program. If it was approved by the Legislature in two sessions and then by the voters, it would clear the way for lawmakers to craft a school choice program that would allow tax funds to be spent at religious schools, he said.

Roberson said if created, a voucher program would improve public schools by making them more competitive. School choice does not drain funding from public schools either, he said. States and cities that have school choice programs have increased per pupil spending, Roberson said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the prohibition on spending tax dollars on religious schools in Nevada dates back to 19th century religious bigotry:

041211Roberson1 :11 early 20th century.”

Roberson says his proposal would let voters decide if this prohibition should be repealed:

041211Roberson2 :12 21st century Nevada.”

Roberson says his proposal would not immediately create a school voucher program:

041211Roberson3 :23 existing federal law.”

Roberson says school choice programs don’t financially harm existing public schools:

041211Roberson4 :08 the program began.”

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Sandoval says the governor supports school choice:

041211Erquiaga :18 of that program.”


States Rights Resolution Will Get Legislative Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 3:01 pm February 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state Senate resolution telling Congress to respect Nevada’s right to govern itself under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is expected to get a hearing, the chief sponsor said today.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6 on Wednesday. Cosponsors include all 25 Republican members of the Legislature.

Settelmeyer said the resolution mirrors one he and several other lawmakers sought in the 2009 session that did not get a hearing in the Assembly where he was serving at the time.

But Senate Government Affairs Chairman John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said there is enough public interest on the issue to hold a hearing, and he has scheduled the measure for March 7.

The resolution, if approved, will be sent to Nevada’s Congressional delegation, and to the rest of Congress, asking that the federal government respect the right of the state to deal with those issues not under national control, Settelmeyer said.

This includes what is expected to be a costly mandate to the state to expand Medicaid coverage as a result of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he said.

Nevada is one of 26 states challenging the constitutionality of the act. The states recently won a victory in their challenge in a U.S. District Court in Florida.

“We have far too many edicts coming down from the federal government that we cannot afford,” Settelmeyer said. “They tell us to do stuff and give us no funding to do it with.”

The health care law is just one example, he said.

“This resolution again, is just mainly to state to our congressional representatives and to the U.S. Congress, that the Constitution is relevant and the 10th Amendment within the Constitution is extremely relevant as it pertains to its interactions with the states,” Settelmeyer said.

The resolution was not circulated among Democrats to sign on, although Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, signed on to the similar Assembly Joint Resolution 15 in 2009.

Lee said he is having his committee legal counsel review the measure and the law so that questions raised during the hearing will get answers right then.

“I’m only going to have two bills that day instead of four or five so people have a chance to discuss it,” he said.

Audio clips:

Sen. James Settelmeyer says the federal government has issued too many edicts to the states:

021711Settelmeyer1 :08 do it with.”

Settelmeyer says the resolution will send a message to Congress:

021711Settelmeyer2 :15 with the states.”

Nevada Minimum Wage Repeal Proposal Gets Legislative Hearing

By Sean Whaley | 3:18 pm February 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, told a Senate panel today the Legislature should move forward with repealing the state’s minimum wage law.

Hardy testified in support of his Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would have to pass this session and again in 2013, then go to a vote of the people in 2014, to repeal the state’s law that sets the minimum wage higher than the federal rate.

Hardy told the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee that the law, which has pushed the minimum wage in Nevada to $8.25 an hour for most workers as of July 1, 2010, has had a chilling effect on hiring and hampered the state’s economic recovery. The law, which is now part of the state constitution, requires a complex calculation, but essentially means Nevada workers earn $1 more an hour than the federal minimum wage rate.

The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

Hardy said 36 states have a minimum wage set at the federal level. The other 14 have higher rates, including Nevada.

The Legislature needs to support repeal of the law to return the state to a level playing field with other states “for those who want to create jobs and foster economic growth in Nevada,” he said.

The Nevada State AFL-CIO worked to put the state’s minimum wage law on the ballot. It passed twice and because it is now in the state constitution, repealing or changing its provisions is a complex and time consuming process.

Speakers, including business representatives and union advocates, took predictable stances regarding the proposal.

Tray Abney with the Reno-Sparks chamber said the state’s minimum wage should not be on “autopilot,” rising without regard to economic conditions.

Sam McMullen, representing the Las Vegas chamber, said locking the law into the state constitution has made it impossible to change as economic conditions have changed.

But Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, said the ballot initiative was launched because the Legislature refused to consider proposals to increase the minimum wage.

Gail Tuzzolo, also with the Nevada State AFL-CIO, said Nevadans “should be talking about creating jobs and rebuilding the economy, not taking income away from individuals struggling to put food on their tables.”

The historical record shows that increasing the minimum wage has reduced the poverty level, she said. Economists have demonstrated that the statistical effect of the minimum wage on job losses is nearly nonexistent, Tuzzolo said.

The panel took no immediate action on the bill.

Nevada Lawmaker Proposes Repeal Of State’s Minimum Wage Law

By Sean Whaley | 4:26 pm November 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Newly elected state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, has requested the drafting of legislation to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

A repeal would have to go to voters, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to set the minimum wage at a higher rate than the federal rate. The current minimum wage in Nevada is $8.25 an hour and took effect on July 1. The federal rate is $7.25 an hour.

If a Nevada employer offers a qualified health plan, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The Nevada Legislature would have to approve a proposed constitutional amendment repealing the minimum wage twice, in 2011 and in 2013, before it could go to a vote of the people in 2014.

Hardy, who has been serving in the Assembly, could not immediately be reached for comment on his purpose for the repeal, although the minimum wage has been blamed by some for stifling job creation, particularly in the current economic slowdown.

Nevada leads the nation in the unemployment rate, which remained at 14.4 percent in September.

Democrats are in control of both the Senate and Assembly in the upcoming session, making passage of such a proposal questionable.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the group that put the minimum wage measure on the ballot through the initiative petition process, said the vote in favor of the measure in 2006 was higher than for any other candidate or issue on the ballot that year.

“On its face it is shortsighted,” he said of the proposed repeal. “People need to make a livable wage.”

Thompson said $8.25 an hour is not a living wage but is an improvement over previous rates. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“Truly this thing is the will of the people,” he said. “To go against that flies in the face of our system.”

Thompson said if there is a desire by some to repeal the minimum wage law, they should use the initiative petition process and collect signatures from registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot like proponents of the current law did years ago.

“If they want to overthrow the minimum wage go back to the people.,” he said.

Thompson said any suggestion that Nevada’s minimum wage is having a chilling effect on job creation is not true.

“If anything, it levels the playing field for employers,” he said. “No one is getting rich off that wage.”

Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Washington, DC-based Employment Policies Institute, said in June that Nevada’s minimum wage was making it particularly tough for teens to find jobs and that the increase on July 1 would make it even worse.

Audio clips:

Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO says a legislative effort to repeal the minimum wage would thwart the will of the voters:

11910Thompson :10 of our system.”

Efforts By Citizens To Access November Ballot End In Failure

By Sean Whaley | 5:05 am June 16th, 2010

CARSON CITY – One proposal sought to increase mining taxes and another wanted to define life as beginning at conception. A third would have required secret ballots for employee votes on whether to join a union and yet another would have given Nevada residents the right to reject participation in government backed health care.

But none of these citizen-backed proposals to amend the Nevada state constitution will be on the ballot come November. Legal challenges, the cost and time required to circulate petitions and other factors have led to all such measures ending in failure this election cycle.

Yesterday was the deadline for groups to turn in the nearly 100,000 signatures needed to qualify constitutional amendments for the ballot.

The only group to come close, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, announced Monday it would fall short of the number of signatures needed to ask voters to consider increasing the mining tax.

Jan Gilbert, northern Nevada coordinator for PLAN, said a legal challenge by the well-financed Nevada mining industry did hurt the group’s efforts. The effort was also made more complex by the 2009 Legislature by requiring signatures to be collected in the state’s three congressional districts, she said.

In Clark County, where all three of Nevada’s representatives have constituents, signature gatherers had to determine which of three petitions to use for each registered voter, Gilbert said.

The process shouldn’t be so easy that voters have to consider 20 or 30 ballot questions every two years, but it should be fair, she said.

Las Vegas attorney Joel Hansen, who has in the past argued in court in support of several constitutional amendment efforts, said the process is intentionally designed by the Legislature to thwart the public’s will.

“They don’t want the people to have this input,” he said. “They have been hostile to the process.”

Hansen, who advocated for an initiative petition to impose a spending limitation on state government four years ago, said the process is set up to allow expensive legal challenges by opponents. Most citizen groups can’t afford to fight such legal challenges, and if they do and they win, any funds to collect signatures are then depleted, he said.

“The right of ordinary people to do this has essentially been destroyed by the Legislature’s burdensome requirements,” Hansen said.

The TASC measure to limit the growth of state government to inflation and population growth was kicked off the ballot by the Nevada Supreme Court after supporters had won in district court, he said. Hansen, who argued to put the measure on the ballot, said a typographical error was cited as the reason by the Supreme Court to not let it go to the voters.

The court in its ruling said the error was significant and not just a minor typo.

Hansen said such rulings frustrate the will of the voters who clearly want the measures qualified for the ballot.

Since the Legislature is unwilling to simplify the process, the only answer may be an initiative petition by the people to amend the state constitution to reform the process for placing such measures on the ballot, he said.

“It’s very discouraging,” he said. “I have not been involved in any of these this year because nobody has the heart for it anymore.”

Hansen, a candidate for attorney general with the Independent American Party, said he would work if elected to advocate for the public’s right to access the ballot.

“Whatever I can do from that position, I will do it,” he said.

Gilbert said another challenge for PLAN was the requirement for nearly 100,000 signatures, a significant number resulting from the strong turnout in the 2008 presidential election. The signature requirement in other years can be much lower depending on turnout at the prior general election.

A challenge to the mining tax proposal was just argued in front of the Nevada Supreme Court earlier this month. Gilbert said she does not know if a ruling will be forthcoming now that the group has not filed its signatures.

The legal challenge by the Nevada Mining Association could only be contested by PLAN with the help of attorneys who worked for free, she said.

Gilbert said PLAN believes the petition effort has laid the groundwork for the Legislature to consider mining tax increases in the 2011 session.

If a citizen-backed constitutional amendment does make it on the ballot, it must be approved twice before it can take effect. The Legislature can place such amendments on the ballot after approving them in two consecutive legislative sessions.

The process is equally complex for citizens who want to change an existing state law rather than amend the constitution, but the time frame to collect signatures is longer. Several such petitions are circulating, including one by Gov. Jim Gibbons to open up the public employee negotiating process to the open meeting law. The deadline for signatures for these measures is Nov. 9.

Audio files

Jan Gilbert of PLAN says there are obstacles to petition drives in Nevada:

061510Gilbert1 :14 get those signatures.”

Gilbert says initiative process shouldn’t be too easy but should be fair:

061510Gilbert2 :16 that is achievable.”

Las Vegas attorney Joel Hansen says Legislature has intentionally made petition process difficult:

061510Hansen1 :22 having this voice.”

Hansen says Nevada Supreme Court has frustrated will of people:

061510Hansen2 :20 think we will.”

Initiative Petition Deadline Looms, Groups Have Until June 15 To Qualify Measures For November Ballot

By Sean Whaley | 2:25 pm June 4th, 2010

CARSON CITY – While voters and political observers are focused on the Tuesday primary, Nevadans seeking access to the November ballot for measures they are pushing to amend the state Constitution have another key date in mind.

June 15 is the deadline for groups pushing their amendments to turn in the nearly 100,000 signatures they need to qualify the measures for the ballot. There are three initiative petitions to amend the state constitution still active, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The only constitutional measure that is certain to see signatures turned in to the clerks of the state’s 17 counties by the deadline is one seeking to increase the mining tax.

“We’re continuing our collection efforts and we’re getting close,” said Jan Gilbert, Northern Nevada coordinator of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “I’m always optimistic.”

Gilbert said she does not know the precise number of signatures collected so far because the more than 300 volunteers doing the work have not all turned in their petitions yet. The collection effort is continuing even as the group faces yet another court challenge to the proposal before the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday.

The measure would change the Nevada constitution to require the mining industry to pay taxes on no less than 5 percent of the gross proceeds rather than no more than 5 percent of the net proceeds, on their mineral extraction efforts.

The status of two other measures, one aimed at ensuring employees have the right to vote in secret when deciding to join a union, and another explicitly mandating secret voting in all elections, could not be determined when calls were not returned.

One other measure, the Personhood petition to define life as beginning at conception, lost a challenge in Nevada District Court. The Nevada Supreme Court has not yet ruled on an appeal. The group did not respond to an inquiry about whether the signature gathering process is still under way.

Several other measures have been withdrawn by the proponents.

Other active measures to change state law, such as a proposal by Gov. Jim Gibbons to subject public employee labor discussions to the open meeting law, have a different deadline.

Gilbert said PLAN is pushing for the change to Nevada’s mining tax law because of a belief the industry is not paying enough in taxes, especially now that gold is valued at more than $1,200 an ounce. If the PLAN proposal was in effect in 2008, for example, mining companies would have paid $284.4 million in taxes to state and local governments instead of the $91.8 million that was paid by the industry.

The proposal will see its second challenge from the Nevada Mining Association on Monday, when the Nevada Supreme Court considers whether it violates a requirement that such petitions deal only with a single subject. The court will also consider whether the petition is a proper use of the initiative process.

Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the key issue before the court is whether the petition is proper because it directs the Legislature to take certain actions regarding the mining tax.

“We do believe the initiative is flawed in several ways,” he said. “What they are calling for in the initiative is to force the Legislature to change law, and in our opinion you can’t bind a Legislature to do anything.”

Crowley said the proposal, if approved by voters, would be crippling to the mining industry, particularly for the geothermal industry and those operations providing materials to the construction industry.

“Those businesses cannot endure that type of a tax,” he said. “So it is something that causes us great concern.”

Crowley also noted that the measure would not do anything to solve the state’s current budget problems, since it would have to be approved by voters twice, this year and again in 2012, before it could take effect.

“Our primary focus is fixing today’s fiscal issues,” he said.

Gilbert said the legal challenges are just another attempt by the well-funded mining industry to derail the measure and prevent voters from having their say.

“It’s hard to fight such a well-funded effort,” she said. “We’re hopeful on the Supreme Court case as well.”

A ruling against the PLAN initiative would remove it from the ballot whether the group had gathered enough signatures or not.

Following the submission of the signatures to county clerks, a verification process begins to determine if there are enough names or registered voters to qualify. Petitions require 97,002 signatures from the state’s three Congressional districts. A check is then made to assess whether enough of the signatures are from valid registered voters.

If all the requirements are met, a measure would be qualified for the November general election ballot.

Audio Clips:

060410Gilbert1 :09 make that deadline.”

060410Crowley1 :31 the ballot initiative.”

060410Crowley2 :23 the geothermal industry.”

Governor Sets Up “Constitution Defense Fund” to Help with Health Care Lawsuit Costs

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:46 pm April 8th, 2010

From the Governor’s office about an hour ago:


[Carson City] – After receiving numerous inquiries from citizens wishing to assist in the Governor’s fight against the Reid/Pelosi/Obama Nationalized Health Care Plan, Governor Jim Gibbons, working with Special Counsel Mark Hutchison, has set up the “Constitution Defense Fund”. Hutchison and several other attorneys are working without compensation to assist Governor Gibbons, but some legal costs shared with other states (approx. $3500, depending on the number of states joining in the lawsuit) will likely arise. Governor Gibbons stated earlier this week that the small costs to fight the health care plan are well worth it because the health care plan will cost Nevada taxpayers billions of dollars over several years.

Governor Gibbons also reiterated his stand that the Reid/Pelosi/Obama Nationalized Health Care Plan is an insult to all Nevada citizens because it tramples the U.S. Constitution by requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance. Governor Gibbons believes certain parts of the Plan have merit and are worth keeping, but overall, the Governor is convinced the Plan is unconstitutional.

Those wishing to help with the Constitution Defense Fund should send donations to:

Constitution Defense Fund

c/o Hutchison and Steffen

Peccole Professional Park

10080 West Alta Drive, Suite 200

Las Vegas, Nevada 89145

Donations will be handled by the Governor’s Special Legal Counsel. A complete and transparent accounting of all funds donated will be provided.

Cow Counties vs. Mining Counties: How the NV Miners Won Special Status in the State Consitution

By Elizabeth Crum | 4:08 pm February 23rd, 2010

I’ve lately wondered (but kept putting off the research) how the mining industry got its super special status in the Nevada state constitution way back when.  Today, courtesy of a Tweet by @Scandalmonger, the story appeared before me.  Very interesting!

Includes the whole history plus an analysis of the final vote according to the occupations of the voters.