Posts Tagged ‘Elko’

Alliances, Politics And Honor Trump Policy In Legislative Vote

By Andrew Doughman | 9:15 am May 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman John Ellison had a choice.

He wanted to push the red button, but he was supposed to push the green button.

The seconds ticked by on the floor of Nevada’s Assembly. In the wide angle shot, the other 41 members eagerly cast their votes. In the close-up shot, Ellison’s hand hovered over the green and red buttons. He hated it, but he punched the green one.

He had made a promise to vote ‘yes,’ and he voted ‘yes’ this time after voting ‘no’ the day before.

“The honor, that ate on me for two days,” he said after the vote. “If you’re word in here is no good, you’re no good.”

Politics and policy are never fully divorced at the Nevada Legislature. Bills are the bargaining chips in shifting, cross-party alliances that hinge upon trust and honor.

Whether deemed artful negotiation or political skullduggery, such trades may only grow more prevalent as legislators wheel and deal to close the budget.

Longtime lobbyist Carole Vilardo says bills live and die by “public perception, political palatability, policy and politics.”

“It’s part of the game,” says lobbyist Susan Fisher.

And Ellison had already broken the rules once. The Elko Republican had voted down Democratic Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson’s bill when he had promised to vote for it.

The result was a 27 – 14 split vote, one vote shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. Ellison’s initial ‘no’ vote caused the bill to fail the first time.

It took a parliamentary procedure for a wily Democrat to resurrect the bill. So when it returned for a vote before the Assembly, Ellison was under even more pressure to keep his word.

“He got a chance to fix his vote and keep his commitment, which is very important in this building,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

Atkinson, a North Las Vegas Democrat, wants to establish a low-cost auto insurance program through his bill. All Nevadans would pay an extra 50 cents on their auto insurance policies to help subsidize the pilot program in Clark County.

Ellison’s vote for that fee increase earned him the title of a Republican “voting badly” from conservative activist Chuck Muth.

Muth employs as a lobbyist Janine Hansen, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Ellison during the 2010 election.

Out in Elko, the electoral fights pit conservative against even more conservative, giving Ellision good reason to restate last week that he is a “very, very conservative person.”

“This was a thing of honor, not a thing of taxes,” he said.

Ellison cast his vote last week on a deadline day for the Legislature. The Assembly slogged through floor vote after floor vote. Legislators voted to adopt amendments to bills hours before they voted on them.

Under so much pressure, legislators could not always make a bill’s policy merits their paramount concern.

“It was just a last minute confusion – my biggest fear was the confusion and the promise,” Ellison said.

Ellison’s rural constituents would get nothing but a 50 cent fee increase from Atkinson’s bill.

But Atkinson had a favor to return to Ellison.

As chairman of a committee, Atkinson is the arbiter of which bills live and die. So when Ellison finally voted for Atkinson’s bill, Atkinson kicked Ellison’s bill downstairs to the Assembly floor. The bill lived.

“I believe, in this building, all you have is your word,” Atkinson later said. “If he [Ellison] had not honored his commitment, would I have sent his bill down [out of committee]? Probably not. …You shouldn’t be rewarded for making false promises.”

Ellison’s bill would relieve some rural businesses of fees from Carson City-based regulators and allow local governments to conduct some inspections locally.

Democrats fast-tracked Ellison’s bill through a fiscal committee last week. Now it is eligible for a floor vote on the Assembly.

For all the talk of partisan rancor, most votes do not fall along party lines. Legislators dissent. They tepidly endorse and unanimously approve. They break ranks and make promises, and in Ellison’s case, they get criticized by colleagues.

“There was some behind the scenes arm twisting,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley. “…A lot of people have their pet legislation they want to slide through and they’re able to hold their noses and vote for a bill that they don’t like in exchange for a vote on their bill.”

Two other Republicans voted for Atkinson’s bill. One, Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Las Vegas, claimed that he liked the bill because it was coming to Clark County.

The other, Assemblyman Pete Livermore, R-Carson City, said he made an honest mistake.

“ I mistook the bill,” he said. “I made an error. …I’m new and I’m a freshman and even though I try my darndest, that one got by me.”

For Ellison, the experience rattled him. He later said he just wanted to vote and “get out of here.” The fate of his bill, he said, was the last thing on his mind.

“I didn’t care if they sent it to the moon,” he said.

Democrats, though, also kept their word. Ellison’s bill could come up for a vote soon. Meanwhile, Atkinson’s bill is alive and well in the Senate.

Fisher, the lobbyist, said that these negotiations are not only part of the process, they work.

“In the end, they both got what they wanted out of it: win-win,” she said.



State Lawmaker Speaks Out Against Unfunded Federal Mandates

By Sean Whaley | 12:37 pm March 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state lawmaker testified today that the federal government’s unfunded mandates on issues such as clean air, clean water and flood zones are imposing costs on Nevada taxpayers without authority or justification.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, spoke in support of Senate Joint Resolution 6 before the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

“Nevada can no longer afford the federal mandates that are coming down, the unfunded federal mandates,” he said. “The national programs that are forced upon our state’s taxpayers that we have to bear, we just can’t afford.”

The resolution, if approved, would 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 as explained in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Settelmeyer cited a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify 2,500 acres of land in Douglas County as a flood zone even though there was no historical evidence to support the decision. As a result, Douglas County must now purchase costly flood insurance on the land it owns, he said.

Another example was a federal decision to reduce the level of naturally-occurring arsenic in water supplies requiring treatment from 100 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion with no scientific data to back up the change, Settelmeyer said. The result has been the requirement for costly water treatment projects throughout northern Nevada to deal with a new unfunded mandate, he said.

Settelmeyer said Congress needs to be reminded that states have the right to govern themselves on a wide variety of issues. A similar resolution SJR1, was approved by the Nevada Legislature in 1995 with the unanimous support of both Republicans and Democrats.

The federal government’s powers are limited, while those belonging to the states are, “numerous and indefinite,” he said. “Yet that is not what we’ve seen occur over a period of time from the federal government.”

John Wagner of Carson City, a member of the Independent American Party, cited the federal Real ID Act imposing requirements on the states regarding the issuing of driver’s licenses as a reason to support the resolution. The act requires the licenses to contain a microchip that can track people wherever they go, he said.

The act is a mandate that exceeds federal authority, Wagner said.

“But I just don’t like the idea of the federal government mandating to the states: ‘you must do this,’ ” he said. “We’re supposed to be sovereign states according to the 10th Amendment.”

Asked for a comment on the status of Real ID, Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said a microchip was never part of the law. Jacobs said Nevada stopped issuing Real ID compliant driver’s licenses in April 2010 after emergency regulations expired. The Legislature chose not to address the issue and, without regulations, the department wasn’t authorized to issue the card, he said.

Tom Cornell, representing the Nevada Libertarian Party, said his concern with inappropriate federal intrusion into state issues is with funded, not unfunded, mandates.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has billions of dollars in funding it can use as incentives to obtain compliance from state and county governments with its laws and regulations, he said.

Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl said the biggest economic development challenge facing the rural Nevada county over the next 20 years is keeping the federal government out of the way. The county is currently in a battle with the U.S. Forest Service over a plan to close hundreds of miles of forest roads, he said. Dahl spoke as an individual, not as a representative of the commission.

Elko County became a battleground with the federal government in the 1990s over the rebuilding of a road washed out in a flood. The U.S. Forest Service opposed reconstruction. The dispute brought national media attention to the remote area of Jarbidge Canyon in northeast Nevada.

The federal government’s control of most of Nevada’s land has led to a number of disputes between residents and various federal agencies over the years, including the “Sagebrush Rebellion” originally a fight over the designation of wilderness areas in Nevada and other western states.

About 87 percent of Nevada is controlled by federal agencies, according to the Nevada Legislative Guide.

A number of other speakers, including Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau, also supported the resolution.

But Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, a member of the committee, said federal government initiatives over the past many decades, such as the creation of the interstate highway system, have been a boon to Nevada and the nation.

Nevada currently needs new transmission lines built which cannot be done without the support of the federal government, he said. The new bridge across the Colorado River would not have been accomplished without federal government support, Schneider said.

Nevadans with their strong libertarian streak sometimes get caught up with the idea of keeping the federal government out of the state’s business, but, “I think the federal government maybe needs to do more than they even do today,” he said.

The federal government’s involvement in state activities should not be unbridled, however, Schneider said.

The committee did not take immediate action on the resolution.

Audio clips:

Sen. James Settelmeyer says Nevada cannot afford unfunded federal mandates:

030711Settelmeyer1 :16 just can’t afford.”

Settelmeyer says the federal government has exceeded its authority:

030711Settelmeyer2 :09 the federal government.”

Carson City resident John Wagner says states are supposed to be sovereign:

030711Wagner :11 this legislation, thank-you.”

Nevada Elections Officials Praised By Federal Agency For Quick Response To Ballot Issue

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:20 pm October 12th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has praised Nevada elections officials for working “quickly and cooperatively” to address a delay in mailing ballots to uniformed and overseas voters due to the failure of a private vendor to deliver printed ballots on time.

The DOJ and Nevada Secretary of State’s office have worked diligently throughout the election cycle to monitor and enforce the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act), which requires local elections officials to mail ballots to uniformed and overseas voters 45 days before the election if the ballots are requested by then.

The 45-day deadline was missed by four or five days in the case of 34 Elko County voters because the ballots were not delivered to the county on time.

As a result, Secretary of State Ross Miller’s office filed an emergency regulation on Oct. 6 allowing Elko County an additional six days to receive and count ballots from the 34 voters.

All 34 Elko County voters were contacted and informed of the options available to them for returning their ballots electronically well ahead of election day. Many of the voters have already cast and returned their ballots.

In a statement issued Friday, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, said: “Nevada officials worked quickly and cooperatively with the department and adopted measures that will ensure the state’s military and overseas voters will have their votes counted in the upcoming election.”