Posts Tagged ‘Pete Goicoechea’

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

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

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

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

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

Photo posted by Gruntzooki via Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio clips:

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

082312Kieckhefer :26 making this decision.”

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

082312Goicoechea :17 economy any good.”

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

082312Masto :13 legal aid provides.”

 

Nevada Campaign Reports Now To Be Filed Electronically For Better Public Access

By Sean Whaley | 2:14 pm January 3rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Starting with the annual campaign contribution and expense reports due Jan. 17, elected officials and candidates must now file their information electronically with the Secretary of State’s office.

State lawmakers say they have not heard of any major concerns with the new requirements from their colleagues.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he has not been made aware of any concerns about the new reporting requirement from Senate Democrats or candidates. It has been an option for quite awhile and many candidates already use it, he said.

Nevada state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

“It’s actually a little easier to do it because you can just go on and do it rather than the handwritten stuff that you fax and all that,” Denis said. “It’s supposed to be easier in the long run.”

The improved transparency with the new mandate is fine with him, Denis said.

“We know going in when we run for office that we don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “The only issue that usually comes up is because we are only part-time and we don’t really have staff, unless you raise enough money to get staff, sometimes you can run into those issues. But it’s not that you don’t want to do it, but sometimes it’s an issue of having the time to do that.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the new requirement will be a challenge for him because he is not as proficient with the on-line technology as some other office holders and candidates.

“Some of us older guys that aren’t nearly as ‘techie’; it’s going to be a little bit of a hardship on us that aren’t quite so computer literate,” he said with a laugh.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

But Goicoechea, a candidate for the state Senate who has filed handwritten reports in the past, said he has no issue with improved public access to the information.

“I don’t think anybody has any real issue with filing them,” he said. “It’s just going to be a little bit of a hardship for those of us that aren’t quite in this age.”

A new law that took effect Jan. 1 requires the electronic filing, which will make the information about who is contributing to candidates easier for the public to review.

The Secretary of State’s Elections Division launched its enhanced online system for campaign and public official finance reporting on Dec. 30. As of Jan. 1, 2012, all parties filing Contributions & Expense (C&E) Reports and Financial Disclosure Statements (FDS) are required to report the information electronically with the Secretary of State’s office as mandated by Assembly Bill 452.

Electronic filing applies to all filers, regardless of where they filed their reports, statements or candidacy papers in the past. Exemptions will only be granted to filers who submit an affidavit declaring they do not own, have access to, or have the financial ability to obtain access to the necessary technology. Candidates who receive or expend more than $10,000 are not eligible for the exemption.

Secretary of State Ross Miller sought the legislation in the 2011 session to improve transparency in the reporting by candidates and elected officials of their contributions and expenditures. Up to now, candidates could file the reports by mail. Often handwritten, the reports were difficult to read or analyze.

In an interview in September, Miller said: “Mandating that these reports be filed electronically is the first step in putting the information in a way that is accessible to the public. And I think when this system is unveiled it will bring Nevada out of the Dark Ages of campaign finance reporting and finally shine a light on the campaign finance data to make it accessible in a format for the public.”

Information in the reports will be available at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 18, sooner for those who file early.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis says electronic filing should be easier:

010312Denis1 :13 long run, so.”

Denis says he is fine with the improved transparency:

010312Denis2 :25 to do that.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says the new requirement will be a hardship for those who are not technologically savvy:

010312Goicoechea1 :11 so computer literate.”

Goicoechea says the improved reporting is fine with him:

010312Goicoechea2 :11 in this age.”

 

 

Lawmakers, State Agencies Argue Over Budget Compliance

By Anne Knowles | 7:04 pm August 31st, 2011

Nevada lawmakers today approved money to cover the costs of the upcoming special election, received an update on the progress of the state’s health care insurance exchange and complained repeatedly that state agencies were thumbing their noses at the legislative process.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, saw passage of her bill regulating the use of leg hold traps./Nevada News Bureau file photo

The Interim Finance Committee approved more than 100 requests for funds from nearly every state agency, but reprimanded a handful who legislators said were not adhering to budgets passed during the last legislative session.

“This is some of the most blatant disregard of legislative intent that I’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “I hope this doesn’t continue this interim. I know these are tough times, but we must follow the law.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the committee chair, also voiced concern several times that issues before the committee should have been resolved during the budgeting process.

When about $33,000 was requested to hire a consultant to help the Nevada Department of Transportation track the state’s inventory of vacant lands in compliance with Assembly Bill 404, Smith asked Paul Saucedo, NDOT chief right-of-way agent, why NDOT had not submitted a fiscal note delineating the need for that money with the bill.

Smith then almost tabled a request from the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (DTCA) because it was found that the department is now using a contract worker to do the work of a job eliminated when the budgets were approved by the legislature.

“This is a budget discussion and should have taken place then,” said Smith.

In the end, the DTCA request for $84,616 in federal National Endowment for the Arts money was approved because the agency would miss a deadline to request the federal grant money if the request was pushed to the committee’s next meeting.

“Let’s move it ahead so as not to lose the federal money,” said Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “In the meantime, staff can work with them on this contract employee. We may pay $8,000 for a few months of the employee, but that’s better than losing $84,000.”

The committee was also concerned about a request to transfer about $4.5 million from the budget for the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to the University of Nevada School of Medicine budget. The university’s goal was to keep the school of medicine budget cuts to a minimum in order to expand the school’s class sizes from 62 medical students to 100 and expand its nursing class from 98 students to 196, said Mark Johnson, UNR president.

Johnson said higher education had made certain programs a higher priority and was trying to maintain them while eliminating some and making others self supporting.

“We wanted a more fair and equitable approach,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas referring to the legislative intent of higher education cuts. “I feel we are going backward by protecting one program at the expense of others.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller / Photo: Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The IFC also approved $539,137 to reimburse counties for costs incurred for the special election in the 2nd congressional district. Secretary of State Ross Miller said counties requested the money since none had budgeted for the special election. He said the money would cover fixed costs and would not be reduced by lower than anticipated turnout.

“This is the minimum amount needed to run it without jeopardizing the integrity of the election,” Miller told the committee.

Miller’s office requested the money from the state’s contingency fund, adding that $6 million the state has in reserve from the federal Help America Vote Act is not intended for special elections.

Lawmakers asked if the some of the money could come from an approximate $340,000 surplus in the Secretary’s office budget. Miller said his office is projecting a deficit, not a surplus and agreed to work with the Legislative Counsel Bureau staff to resolve the discrepancy in the budget projections of his office and the LCB.

The committee also received an update on the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Nevada is building to meet requirements mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted by Congress.

The Department of Health and Human Services has received $1 million from the federal government for planning the exchange. HHS spent $320,000 in fiscal year 2011 and is rolling over the remainder into the next fiscal year. The department requested about $2.6 million of a $4 million establishment grant from the federal government to create a new agency and to fund four new positions – an executive director, operational officer, grants manager and executive assistant.

During the 2013 legislative session, the state will need to decide how to fund the exchange once federal support for it ends in 2015, said Michael Willden, HHS director.

Willden also said he was meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office later in the day about possible appointments to the board that will oversee the exchange.  The board will consist of five members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the state Senate majority leader, and one member chosen by the Assembly speaker.

The IFC also approved a subcommittee’s recommendations yesterday to cut or delay several building and maintenance projects due to budget constraints.

 

Democrats Refuse To Hear Republican Redistricting Proposal After Tiff

By Andrew Doughman | 8:50 pm May 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – After Republican legislators declined to reveal exact data for their redistricting proposal, Democrats refused to give the bill a hearing today.

Then, Democratic legislators voted over Republican objections to pass their own redistricting proposal to a vote on the Senate floor.

Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the previous Democratic redistricting plan, which proposed revised boundaries for Congressional districts, as well as state Assembly and Senate districts, as required by the 2010 Census.

The new plan is a second attempt for Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican governor to reach a compromise over appropriate political boundaries. If they cannot agree, the political tug-o-war could be resolved by a judge.

Republicans  contended that Democrats were trying to blitz through hearings and pass their bill without making an effort to compromise.

“If we knew that there was going to be some meaningful working together on these maps and this other one wasn’t going to be pushed out like the last one was, we would be more than happy to,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

The statement, however, contradicted what Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, told the Las Vegas Sun.

“I’m going to call our guy now and see if we can’t get it released,” he said of the data in a Las Vegas Sun story published last week. “The public needs to be able to compare the maps.”

Yesterday, Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he would discuss releasing the data with GOP attorneys, but he first wanted a hearing on the Republican bill.

Democrats, who control the Legislature’s committees because they are the majority party, first scheduled a hearing for the Republican proposal, but decided not to hear it after Republicans did not release their data.

“We can’t have an open and honest conversation about these maps while the data is being withheld from the public,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “I would move that we move on and not hear the bill as scheduled. There can be no discussion or deliberation without the information provided to the public.”

Although Republicans provided a bill, the 194-page document contains arcane references to Census block tracts, which are nearly impossible for people to visualize.

Cegavske said Republicans have provided maps for people to examine, but Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, contended that the exact data used to construct the maps have not been made public, therefore making the maps impossible to analyze or evaluate.

The Legislature’s information-technology staff has the complex data, but has not been authorized to release it.

“I am happy to come to the table to compromise, but that’s impossible when the other side is not releasing all the data to the public so this can be a fair open and transparent process,” Horsford said.

Cegavske countered that Republicans want an open process.

“It is supposed to be fair and open and that’s all we have ever asked for,” she said.

She said that Democrats had “fast-tracked” Democratic proposals through the Senate and Assembly, which gave no time for true compromise.

After the hearing, Cegavske said nobody but the Democratic Party has requested the data. Holding the 194-page Republican bill, she said the data Democrats want is in her hand.

“All you have to do is work this backwards,” she said. “It’s all here … they can do it in a heartbeat.”

She said it was a “mistake” for Democrats to have released the Democratic data in the first place.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, who was standing nearby, said Democrats “want us to do their homework.”

During the evening hearing in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, legislators spent little time debating the actual merits or faults of any redistricting proposal.

Legislators briefly discussed the federal Voting Rights Act, with Cegavske asking if the Democratic proposal complies with the federal law and Democrats asserting that it does.

Legislators were chided during opportunity for public comment.

“The ACLU is certainly disappointed in political posturing on both sides of the aisle,” said Rebecca Gasca of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. “We think that the Legislature is doing a disservice to constituents in this state.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Tiff, Republicans Offer “Minor Tweaks” To Redistricting Proposal

By Andrew Doughman | 4:46 pm May 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY — State legislative Republicans have changed their proposals for new state Assembly districts.

The boundaries of some proposed districts were altered today after Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, publicly criticized Senate Republicans for their maps.

“We tried to resolve their concerns,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville. “We heard their issues and concerns and sat down with them.”

Goicoechea said earlier today that the “minor tweaks” to the maps satisfied him.

“They made us a lot happier,” he said.

The amended maps show more boundaries that run along county lines in rural counties and in Washoe county.

Settelmeyer said these changes would mean rural legislators would represent fewer counties. That change allows lawmakers to travel to fewer county meetings in districts that already span hundreds of miles.

The Republicans’ proposal for Clark County Assembly districts largely stays the same.

The two Republican caucuses had drawn separate maps, but Assembly Republicans decided to shelve their proposal after a lawyer recommended that they keep it private.

The lawyer said the proposed map did not correspond with the federal Voting Rights Act, which governs how racial minorities are treated in the redistricting process.

Goicoechea said they would go along with the Senate’s proposals and adopt those as their own.

The proposed maps now also show streets, highways and bodies of water, which should make it easier for Nevadans to analyze the districts.

The updated maps also show district numbers that reflect the current numbers. The earlier maps had changed every district number, which means that no legislator could be deemed an incumbent or use the word “reelect” in a campaign.

Settelmeyer said the original intent had been to ignore incumbents and purely look at data while drawing maps.

Now that the maps are out, however, the numbers have been changed back, he said.

“It makes it easier for people to understand which numbers are which, so it helps eliminate some of the confusion,” he said.

The Nevada Legislature must draw new political districts every 10 years following population statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The updated proposals can be viewed here.

 

 

 

 

Lawmakers Set To Release First Maps In Redistricting Process

By Andrew Doughman | 12:15 pm April 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State legislative Democrats plan to be the first to reveal their proposals for redrawing political boundaries of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate this Thursday.

Democrats will introduce maps of the proposed boundaries and then debate their suggestions together with Republicans in the Assembly chambers during the evening, said Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

The unveiling of the maps represents the first public look at what promises to be a contentious debate about the state’s political districts.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said that the first maps will most likely show districts that reflect the Legislature’s current size of 21 Senators and 42 Assembly members.

As such, the maps should reflect a shift of one Senate seat and one or two Assembly seats to Clark County, reflecting the growth in population in that county. The Senate map may also show changes to the state’s two dual-districts, which Parks and others have earlier said will likely go extinct with this round of redistricting.

Senate and Assembly Republicans have not yet said whether they will join Democratic leadership in presenting proposed redistricting maps on Thursday.

“At this point we don’t have any maps to bring,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Fallon.

Oceguera said he expects the Legislature to unveil and debate proposed Congressional maps sometime next week. Those maps will show the addition of a fourth Congressional district added to Nevada due to population growth during the past decade.

The proposed districts could affect many Nevadans. People currently living in predominantly Democratic districts could find themselves drawn into predominantly Republican districts. Rural Nevadans could find their voices drowned out by being in a largely urban district.

Nevada’s Legislature must redraw the boundaries of its political districts every 10 years with the release of U.S. Census Data.

Legislators “Offended” and “Insulted” As They Make Symbolic Party-Line Vote Over Education Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 7:00 am April 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It was not until 30 minutes before midnight that a six-hour debate in the Assembly ended with a promise to talk more later.

After listening to presentations outlining more than $1 billion in “major reductions” to the K-12 budget, legislators debated their willingness to compromise or negotiate about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed general fund budget.

“My caucus will be voting gov rec,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, using an abbreviation for the governor’s recommended budget. “So you’re not going to get the wiggle room you’re looking for.”

In the end, all 16 Assembly Republicans voted in a symbolic motion to support a motion last night to pass Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommended budget. All 26 Assembly Democrats opposed the motion.

The Senate will debate the same budget in the same process today.

Republicans repeatedly said they want to see specific tax proposals as well as a reassurance that reforms they want will pass out of the Assembly as a trade for tax increases.

“Until we have the discussions about the reforms and the revenue package, we will continue to have a discussion about gov rec,” Goicoechea said.

Democrats stressed the need to debate specifics of the governor’s proposed education budget. Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said the Assembly needed to find common ground for an acceptable level of cuts before they could discuss additional revenues.

“We rarely change a lot … 10, 15, 20 percent of the budget,” he said.

He called the six-hour marathon hearing in the Assembly chambers a success.

“We got the temperature of where people are at,” he said. “It felt to me that we saw a few people who said we can look at a few things.”

Sprinkled throughout the hearing in Assembly chambers were instances of legislators calling each other “disingenuous” and saying they were “offended” and “insulted” with each other.

The verbal sniping came only hours after the Senate inducted former Sen. Bill Raggio into the Senate’s Hall of Fame. Raggio, a legislator who retired earlier this year, was a constant critic of the partisan hardening and lack of respect characteristic of 21st century political debate.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D- North Las Vegas, said Nevada’s Assembly was starting to look like D.C.

“If we want to have D.C. politics, here it is,” she said.

Both Democrats and Republicans did, however, say that the new process of having budget discussions involving all 42 Assembly members appealed to them more than having a few key legislators meet and make decisions in private.

But that does not make anybody more likely to agree.

“It looks like we’re going to be here for a very long haul,” said Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas.

Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Las Vegas, called the whole hearing a “farce,” to which Kirkpatrick, retorted: “if you don’t respect the institution, don’t come back.”

As Wednesday morning drew close, Goicoechea said there’s “no doubt” everybody wants to find a solution.

“This is the beginning, this isn’t the end,” Smith said. “This was the first tough discussion we had … We can’t call each other disingenuous because we disagree. It’s not a farce. It’s not a train wreck.”

But by 11:30 p.m., the only unanimous motion was for the Assembly to retire for the night.

 

Legislators Texting, Tweeting And Typing Has Some Crying Foul

By Andrew Doughman | 7:11 pm April 1st, 2011

RENO – Behind the laptop, beside the cell phone and next to the iPad tablet, somewhere, is a legislator.

“I ask you to please stop looking at your phones,” said Crystal Jackson, a UNR student. “Stop looking as if you’re bored.”

She made the remarks after legislators were more than two hours into listening to students and faculty testify about proposed higher-education cuts at the University of Nevada, Reno on Thursday.

Legislators often multi-task, perusing emails and e-documents while listening to testimony.

But Jackson raises important points: how much time do representatives of the public owe the public, and how acceptable is it to use technology when members of the public are testifying?

“It seems like our stories are falling on deaf ears,” said Charlie Jose, president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, who testified earlier at UNR.

Often, legislators punch away at their keyboards as their committees listen to public testimony. Sometimes, only the chairperson of the committee speaks to members of the public.

Nevada Sens. Ruben Kihuen, left, and Mo Denis, both D-Las Vegas, look at an electronic device at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on April 1, 2011. Photo by Cathleen Allison

Still, nobody refutes the importance of public testimony, and some want to strengthen it.

Today, lobbyist George Flint testified about a bill from Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. The bill would allow the public equal time to testify for and against a bill.

“The basic concept of our entire government is for everybody to be heard,” Flint said.

Legislators, however, do not have time to hear from everybody. The 120-day legislative session, a complex budget and a glut of bills means legislators are counting every second.

The dissatisfied students may also be bumping into what some have called the Carson City bubble, inside of which a brigade of lobbyists exert influence at the expense of those not physically in the Legislature.

“Probably the smartest thing the UNR students could do is hire a lobbyist,” said Flint, who has been a lobbyist for 49 years. “The way you get things done over here is to hire professionals who have the ear of these people [legislators].”

Flint is a lobbyist for a polarizing industry: Reno-area wedding chapels and some legal brothels. He knows as well as anyone that some lawmakers are set in their views. Three minutes or three hours of public testimony will not change their minds.

Still, it is important for the public to have a chance to have its say.

“If you’re going to walk out feeling like you’ve lost, you should walk out knowing you had enough time to make your case,” Ohrenschall said.

Nonetheless, technology has invaded committee rooms to the extent that people making their case cannot know if lawmakers are actually listening.

Assembly Minority leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said that this is the “price we pay” for integrating more technology into the legislative process.

For the first time this year, nearly all legislative documents are on a computer system. So when legislators are looking at their computers, they could be referencing relevant documents.

Orhenschall said that he gets text messages from his assistant, who tells him another committee is waiting for him to testify on a bill.

Some members of the Senate and Assembly also use Twitter and consistently Tweet colorful quotes as people testify.

So for better or worse, legislators seem to be connected to their laptops, iPads and cell phones.

“You know how Darth Vader had become more machine than man?” Ohrenschall said.

 

 

 

Allegations Of Gerrymandering Fly As Legislators Address Redistricting

By Andrew Doughman | 10:50 am March 16th, 2011
CARSON CITY – When it comes to redistricting this year, the line from the Assembly Republicans goes like this: the “fair” process is unfair.

They say the process resulted in gerrymandering in 2001, when the boundaries of political districts were last redrawn.

“It was gerrymandered to death,” said Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea started a sentence like this: “Clearly, the way it was gerrymandered in 2001…”

The Assembly Republicans have data from the most recent election that they say shows that the current districts are unfair.

More Nevadans voted for Republicans than Democrats in the state’s 42 Assembly races last year.

But Democrats won 26 races to the Republicans’ 16.

Furthermore, Republican candidates earned more total votes than Democratic candidates during the past decade’s Assembly races.

But Republicans won fewer seats.

When electing representatives to the Assembly for the 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 sessions, Democrats won 130 elections while Republicans won 80. Click to enlarge. (Legislative Counsel Bureau)

The past decade has produced a 3-2 Democratic advantage in the Assembly.

After the 2010 election, Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute wrote that the current Assembly districts are unfair.

Among other things, he noted that the largest Republican-controlled district has more voters than the eight smallest Democratic-controlled districts combined.

But Democratic Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is leading the Assembly’s redistricting committee, shrugged off the claims.

“If you don’t have anything else to argue, argue it,” he said. “Districts have to be equal population. You’re not going to have equal votes.”

“Common sense is wrong.”

Legislators drew all 42 Assembly districts with almost equal populations in 2001.

Every 10 years, legislators redraw the political districts based on the most recent Census data. They put equal numbers of people in each district.

It is people, not voters that define “fair.”

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, employs experts to help legislators edit the boundaries of districts.

He said legislators are mandated to draw districts of equal population. The voter population in each district may differ, sometimes markedly.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has already said he wants the Legislature to draft a plan based on equal district populations or he will veto the plan.

“What is counted and what is important is the number of people, not the number of votes cast,” said professor William Eubank of the UNR political science department.

Two districts might have equal populations, but several factors affect voters numbers in each district. Some people cannot vote: children, teens under the age of 18, prisoners and some immigrants. Other demographic factors also predict whether an eligible voter actually will vote.

So what about that 3-2 split in the Assembly when Republican candidates got more votes?

“It’s one of those things that common sense tells you is wrong,” Eubank said. “But common sense is wrong.”

The Growth Problem

Even so, populations grow or shrink, leaving once-equal districts warped.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden,  is part of the bi-partisan group “Fair Vote.”

He said the current system is not “fair.”

“I don’t believe the last reapportionment was fair to both parties,” he said. “We did not take into account, which I think we’re obligated to do, growth.”

Take Assembly Districts 13 and 22 for example. Republicans dominate both districts. When they were drawn in 2001, they comprised the outlying areas of Las Vegas.

Assembly Districts 13 and 22, at left and along the bottom of this image, are among the largest in the state because they absorbed population growth in Clark County between 2000 and 2010. (Nevada Legislature)

Now there are more than 220,000 people in each. Another Clark County district, Assembly District 11, contains 42,000 people. Based on the 2010 Census, a district should have 65,000 people.

So it’s a Goldilocks problem. After 10 years of population change, no district is “just right.” Most are either too big or too small.

Republican legislators point to these districts as proof of gerrymandering, suggesting that in 2001, Democrats schemed to lock urban growth in a few Republican-leaning districts. This would restrain Republicans from gaining more seats.

Making the districts equal by population could still help Republicans in urban districts because it would spread out Republican voters currently in those two massive districts.

“If we get districts balanced with people, then the votes will follow,” Goicoechea said. “We’re going to get 65,000 people in each Assembly district and call it good.”

If only it were so simple.

The Case For Cuts: After Criticism, Many Defend Governor’s Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 4:00 am February 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – They speak of limbs hacked off, death and guts.

In a war of words, critics of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $5.8 billion budget have lambasted his proposed cuts to K-12, higher education and health and human services.

Conservatives have largely stayed silent while the critics lashed out. Now, two weeks after the governor released his budget and on the first day of the 120-day legislative session, they’re ready to defend it.

The “live within our means” crowd has said the governor’s budget, along with any legislative tinkering to iron out compromises, puts Nevada where it needs to be. Advocates for health and education have equated it to a starvation diet. The governor and others say each state dollar can do more.

When you’re at home, and you know you can’t afford something, you just don’t get it,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, one of the few Republican lawmakers to raise her voice during the past two weeks of legislative budget-overview hearings.

The governor has proposed 9 percent and 18 percent budget cuts to K-12 and higher education. But even those who have bemoaned the cost of the governor’s cuts have some concessions to make.

I think we have been guilty of hyperbole in the past where, you know, we get the first dollar of a cut and we would like you to believe that the sky is falling,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which comprises Nevada’s universities and community college. “Here we are a few years later and lo and behold the sky is right where it started out. It has not fallen in.”

Klaich made his comments at a meeting this past week between presidents of universities and community colleges and the Board of Regents, which govern the state’s higher education system. He warned the presidents not to overstate the cost of the cuts.

Later in the session, the extent to which advocates for school, university and human services programs justify their worth could influence how legislators choose what to cut and what to save.

Presenting worst case scenarios doesn’t do any good,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser. “Everyone knows they’re not going to try to fill that [budget] gap entirely with tuition [increases], including them. And so to say that they would is disingenuous.”

No new taxes

The governor has repeatedly said he will veto any bill with a tax increase. Democrats would have to rally their legislators as well as persuade some Republican lawmakers to cross party lines in order to have the two-thirds majority required to override Sandoval’s veto.

The governor’s staff remain confident that this is impossible.

They do not have two-thirds to raise a tax,” Erquiaga said.

Not all Democrats have pledged their support for tax increases either. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, stressed the harmful effects of the cuts during legislative budget overviews during the past two weeks.

His counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker-elect John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, offered more compromising rhetoric.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported this past weekend, the two Democrats are approaching the session with different leadership styles, which could be a contributing factor to how the 120-day session is likely to play out.

Accountability

The admonishments from Horsford and others have not persuaded some legislators. Rather than watch agencies and programs starve, this is the camp that says that the state can get leaner, more efficient and do more with less at the level of spending the governor has proposed.

Freshman Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, said this weekend that people don’t mind some taxes.

They just want to know how is it being spent, are we spending correctly,” he said. “That’s the systemic problem we’re having, the transparency of each of these agencies that we have.”

Although not the single agenda of any one legislator, the no-new-taxes scenario could look like this: Legislators vote to consolidate state agencies, reduce salaries of state employees and revise the state’s pension and benefits plans. They also make it easier to fire bad teachers and reward good ones. That same accountability system and culture, somehow, migrates to state agencies so the state can better track the effectiveness of its spending. Finally, the Legislature decides to shift services downward to county governments, a move that isn’t a burden because the Legislature concurrently gives counties more leeway in how they pay their employees. Counties also add accountability measures at the local level.

If you’ve been watching the firefighters down in Clark County, yeah, somebody should be watching something,” Cegavske said.

County leaders have criticized Clark County firefighters for making liberal use of their sick days, oftentimes when they’re not sick.

Republican leaders Sen. Mike McGinness and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea have also written a letter in support of the governor’s budget. They argue that taxes are unnecessary because the state can reform “how government should operate.”

Jobs and Business

That philosophy of government harkens back to the Reagan years, when the governor and his senior advisers first entered politics.

Sandoval said that keeping people employed is his “most important” priority in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. In the same interview, he said a business-friendly, low-tax environment will be the key to economic growth.

It’s a message echoed by conservatives statewide.

The best way to get out of it for those people and everyone is allow people to work,” said Victor Joecks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

The governor has, however, used about $1 billion worth of one-time budget shifts to balance his budget. He hasn’t completely relied on cuts. Instead he has proposed to move around local funds and open up accounts that are now locked-in for bond repayment.

But critics have called the governor out more for his cuts than his accounting. Some have suggested a sales tax on services or a business franchise tax as ways to avoid eviscerating the state’s social safety-net and broaden the state’s tax base.

The governor still has strong support going into the session. But, as the Las Vegas Review Journal reports, the record number of freshman legislators and the presence of some key players don’t entirely rule out a tax increase if Horsford and other can advocates are especially persuasive.

The games begin today as the Legislature convenes later this morning.