Posts Tagged ‘Sen. Mo Denis’

Think Tank Files Legal Brief To Pursue Separation-Of-Powers Case Aimed At State Lawmakers In Public Jobs

By Sean Whaley | 4:21 pm July 30th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A libertarian think tank’s legal team has filed an opening brief in a case before the state Supreme Court seeking to pursue its separation-of-powers lawsuit aimed at state lawmakers who also work in state government jobs.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL) filed the brief Friday in its case Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al. – a lawsuit brought to restore adherence to the separation-of-powers clause found in Article 3, Section 1 of Nevada’s constitution. It named then-state employee and current state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.

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

Shortly after the complaint was filed in November 2011, Denis announced his resignation from his computer technician job with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.

Carson City District Court Judge James Russell then ruled the case was made moot by Denis’ resignation.

The CJCL is seeking to have the case reinstated by the Nevada Supreme Court, citing other lawmakers working in state or even local government jobs that could be affected by a decision in the matter.

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, said: “NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation is appealing this case to the Nevada Supreme Court because the separation-of-powers clause at issue in this case is the same clause that the Nevada Supreme Court has written “is probably the most important single principle of government declaring and guaranteeing the liberties of the people.”

While the interpretation of the separation-of-powers clause may be moot in Denis’ case, Becker is arguing there is a compelling public interest in having the case resolved.

The separation-of-powers clause “makes it perfectly clear that a sitting legislator cannot hold a job in the executive or judicial branch of government, and yet, there are at least 14 conflicting attorney general’s opinions on this issue and no fewer than six current legislators who also hold jobs in the executive or judicial branch of state government,” Becker said.

Even Gov. Sandoval has asked the Supreme Court to “[s]ettle it once and for all,” he said.

“Upholding the constitution’s separation-of-powers clause is a fundamental and ‘public’ legal issue, and we urge the Nevada Supreme Court to let this case proceed,” Becker said.

The lawsuit was filed by the CJCL on behalf of Las Vegas resident William Pojunis, who said at the time he was unemployed and was qualified for Denis’ position and wanted to apply for the job.

In his district court filing seeking dismissal, Denis’ attorney said case law shows that Nevada courts only decide “cases that present live controversies.”

“Courts will not retain jurisdiction where ‘a live controversy becomes moot by the occurrence of subsequent events,’ and ‘will not make legal determinations that cannot affect the outcome of the case,’ ” said Denis attorney Bradley Schrager.

Nevada Think Tank Files Notice Of Appeal With Supreme Court In Separation Of Powers Case

By Sean Whaley | 11:16 am March 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank today filed its notice of appeal to the state Supreme Court in its separation of powers case challenging the ability of state lawmakers to also work in public sector jobs.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation filed the notice in Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al. – a case which it says could fully restore the separation-of-powers clause found in Article 3, Section 1, of Nevada’s constitution.

Attorney Joseph Becker, left, and his client William Pojunis, take questions after filing a separation of powers complaint against Sen. Mo Denis in November. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2011 against Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who at the time also worked as a computer technician with the state Public Utilities Commission. Denis left state employment to work in the private sector about the same time and a Carson District judge dismissed the action for being moot.

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, said the case should proceed despite Denis leaving public sector employment, arguing the important legal principle should be reviewed by the courts.

“. . . we believe strongly that this case meets the ‘Public Interest’ exception to the mootness doctrine and should be allowed to proceed,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Las Vegas resident William Pojunis on Nov. 30, 2011. Pojunis said at the time he was unemployed and was qualified for Denis’ position and wanted to apply for the job.

In his district court filing seeking dismissal, Denis’ attorney said case law shows that Nevada courts only decide “cases that present live controversies.”

“Courts will not retain jurisdiction where ‘a live controversy becomes moot by the occurrence of subsequent events,’ and ‘will not make legal determinations that cannot affect the outcome of the case,’ ” said Denis attorney Bradley Schrager.

Gov. Sandoval Will Extend Sunsetting Taxes Into Next Two-Year Budget To Avoid Education Cuts

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm March 13th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today he will propose to extend a package of taxes now set to expire in June 2013 into the next budget to avoid further cuts to education, which he said cannot withstand further reductions.

To maintain a basically flat spending plan for the two-year budget that will begin on July 1, 2013, Sandoval said the modified business tax that was maintained at a higher rate for large businesses in the 2011 legislative session, along with a small increase in the sales tax, must be continued.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The 2011 tax package also eliminated the business tax for 115,000 small Nevada businesses which would continue into the next budget as well.

“We’re going to keep them,” Sandoval said of the sunsetting taxes. “Again, my baseline is this: I’m not going to cut education, and that includes K-12 and higher ed. I am not going to reduce services for the most vulnerable people in our society.

“I’m not going to pit kindergartners against senior citizens,” he said. “I’m not going to pit higher ed students against people that need essential services.”

This preliminary recommendation for beginning the budget process for the 2013 legislative session could be modified as the state’s fiscal picture becomes clearer in the coming months, Sandoval said.

“We’re going to be having many conversations between now and when the final budget is presented to the Legislature,” he said. “I believe at this point in time, which is very early, it is the responsible thing to do for the future of the state of Nevada.”

Sandoval said an expanding Medicaid caseload, along with costs associated with the expansion of the program under the federal health care law, will consume any revenue increases. Because of this, failing to include the sunsetting taxes for budget planning purposes would mean cuts to education.

“In addition to avoiding further cuts to education, this decision means there will be no need for tax increases in the next session,” Sandoval said. “Nevadans will pay no more than they are in the current biennium. The budget building process remains ongoing, but we must begin today.”

Efforts are under way to circulate petitions to put possible tax increases before the voters, including measures that could lead to hikes in both mining and gaming taxes. A gross margin tax on business is also being considered by labor groups and teachers but no ballot measure has been filed yet.

Sandoval made the announcement to the capitol press corps after a meeting of the Board of Examiners. He said his intention with the announcement is to be transparent.

Sandoval strongly opposed continuing the tax increases approved by the 2009 legislature in the 2011 session, but ultimately agreed to do so after a Nevada Supreme Court ruling threw his proposed budget into financial disarray.

The 2013-15 budget planning process begins Thursday with a briefing by state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp to state agencies and representatives of public and higher education.

Today’s announcement was immediately welcomed by some Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who is expected to lead the Republican Senate caucus in the 2013 legislative session, said he supports Sandoval’s preliminary budget instructions.

“I support Gov. Sandoval and his budget instructions that will not impose new taxes on the people of Nevada,” Roberson said. “I will continue to lead the fight against new tax increases while working with Gov. Sandoval to improve public education. I will not support additional cuts to public education.”

Roberson opposed extending the sunsetting taxes in the 2011 session, arguing that the Nevada Supreme Court ruling did not create the huge financial hole in the budget that others had suggested.

“Gov. Sandoval has outlined a prudent and fiscally responsible preliminary budget framework,” Roberson said.  “I am grateful for his tremendous leadership. I will stand with him and support him.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, announced his support for Sandoval’s proposal via Twitter.

“I applaud the decision by Gov. Sandoval to do what is necessary to protect education from cuts,” he said, adding that what that means in the 2013 session is yet to be determined.

Nevada Senate Democrats issued a statement saying they “applaud” the change of position by Sandoval and Republican lawmakers but that the proposal is an insufficient short-term fix.

“What we need are long-term solutions to resolving our budget problems, not postponing them for another 2 years,” said Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. “We must address tax fairness for middle class families, cut wasteful spending in our government, and provide Nevada business with an educated workforce that can help compete in the national and global marketplace.

“In order to diversify our economy and attract new businesses and industry to Nevada, we must show them we are serious about investing in a well educated workforce,” he said. “We can’t do that if education funding remains stagnant.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, criticized Sandoval’s announcement in a statement:

“Taxpayers lose again with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s decision to propose extending the so-called ‘sunset’ taxes,” he said. “This demonstrates, once again, the danger behind the concept of a ‘temporary’ tax increase. Once bureaucracy becomes dependent on that additional revenue to sustain itself, the tax increase rarely goes away.

“In 2010, Gov. Sandoval stated that raising taxes is ‘the worst possible thing you can do’ after a recession,” Lawrence said. “His statement is as correct today as it was then – raising taxes on job creators is exactly the wrong thing to do in the aftermath of a recession.”

Sandoval said the spending will also be prepared using the new approach of performance-based budgeting.

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will keep the sunsetting taxes in his budget to avoid cuts to education:

031312Sandoval1 :14 in our society.”

Sandoval says he won’t pit kindergarteners against senior citizens:

031312Sandoval2 :12 need essential services.”

Sandoval says at this point in time it is the responsible thing to do:

031312Sandoval3 :12 state of Nevada.”

 

Separation Of Powers Lawsuit Aimed At Nevada Lawmaker Dismissed By District Court, Appeal Planned

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:23 pm February 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A Carson City district judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a conservative Nevada think tank claiming that a lawmaker violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause by also working as a public employee.

The lawsuit was dismissed because the lawmaker targeted in the case by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, left his job with the state Public Utilities Commission last year. He now works in the private sector.

Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, said the decision will be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

In dismissing the case, District Judge James Todd Russell said in a brief order filed Friday: “The Nevada Supreme Court has clearly held that it is, ‘Of course, the duty of every judicial tribunal is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions or to declare principles of law which cannot affect the matter in issue before it.”

The order was first reported today by Las Vegas Sun political columnist Jon Ralston.

NPRI had asked the court to proceed with the case even with Denis’ departure from state service, arguing the matter should continue as a matter of “widespread importance.”

In announcing the intent to appeal, Becker said: “The separation-of-powers clause in Nevada’s constitution is perfectly clear — a sitting state legislator is not allowed to exercise any functions in the executive or judicial branch of state government. This principle is foundational to Nevada’s government, and that’s why we strongly oppose the court’s decision to dismiss Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al.

“Although Sen. Mo Denis resigned from his executive-branch employment within hours of being served with CJCL’s lawsuit — a de facto admission on the merits of the case — it is hard to imagine a case that better satisfies the ‘Public Interest’ exception to the mootness doctrine than this one,” he said.

 

State Senate Will See Large Turnover, Many New Faces In 2013

By Sean Whaley | 3:49 pm February 20th, 2012

CARSON CITY – For years the Nevada state Senate was a pretty stable place, with many lawmakers serving for decades.

From one election cycle to the next, the names and faces in the 21-member body didn’t change very often.

That reality was altered in a big way when term limits finally began to have an impact on the state Legislature starting in 2010.

And in this election cycle, already it appears that a minimum of nine incumbents, or more than 42 percent of the Senate, will be gone as of Election Day on Nov. 6.

Term limits, redistricting and personal decisions by lawmakers not to seek re-election are all playing a role in the significant turnover.

So in addition to the political ramifications for Democrats, who are trying to hold on to their one-seat majority, and Republicans, who are seeking to retake the majority, the Senate will have to face the reality of multiple new members when the 2013 session begins Feb. 4.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said the new reality with term limits and resulting turnover can be viewed as both a challenge and opportunity.

State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.

“I think that it makes the work of caucuses a little bit more . . .; you do more work because you want to make sure you get good people that can move up and work and do the things that need to be done,” he said.

“I think the candidate recruitment is an important part of that, that you’re trying to get good people that can step up,” Denis said. “And at the same time, training people and getting them up to speed. That means you have to do more work in the interim, that kind of thing, so people are up to speed.”

There is a loss of legislative institutional memory when long-time lawmakers leave, but it also provides a chance for new people with fresh ideas to participate, he said.

The Legislative staff has helped by adding more training so new lawmakers are ready to get to work as soon as the session begins, which is also limited to 120 days, he said.

Denis was speaking by phone from Oregon, where Nevada lawmakers serving on an interim study looking at how the Legislature conducts its business in-between sessions were visiting to see how the process works in another state.

The Nevada Legislature only meets every other year and Denis said the panel is looking at ways to improve the legislative process and make it more responsive to the public.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the turnover is not a major issue for Republicans because of the quality of candidates being recruited to fill the 12 seats in play.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

“It’s more of a problem for the Democrats,” he said. “I think their caucus is a little chaotic at this point. And so their bench is pretty thin. They lost a lot of experienced state senators. We only lost a couple, frankly, from this past session. So from our perspective we’re fine with the turnover. Not so sure the Democrats should feel the same way.”

There were worries going into last session that the large amount of turnover in both the Assembly and Senate due primarily to term limits would negatively affect the performance of the Legislature, Roberson said. But a number of new lawmakers in both parties and in both houses stepped up to make a major contribution, he said.

The same scenario is expected in 2013, Roberson said.

“So we’re going to have a lot of smart people, a lot of very capable people, in our caucus in the Senate next session.

“The key thing is, whether you’ve been there 20 years or two, we’ve got to work together to solve the problems of the state of Nevada,” he said. “And we’ve got to get past excessive partisanship and figure out a way to work with each other. That’s what the people want. That’s what I’m committed to do, that’s what our Senate caucus is committed to do.”

Term limits continues to take its toll on the ranks of lawmakers. Four state senators, Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Valerie Wiener and Mike Schneider, both D-Las Vegas, are all leaving office this year due to term limits. The four lawmakers combined have more than 70 years of service in the Senate.

Two other senators who are completing their first terms, Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, and Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, have both announced they will not run for new terms.

Another, Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, is running for the house in Nevada’s new 4th Congressional District. Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, is a candidate for the house seat as well, and would make the turnover numbers even higher if she wins.

In a surprise move last week, Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, resigned from her seat in mid-term because she is moving into the district represented by Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, where she plans to run for election. One of the two lawmakers will be out of a job on Election Day.

And in another move in what was a busy week for the state Senate last week, Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, announced she was resigning in mid-term for personal reasons.

Both Leslie’s and Halseth’s Senate seats will be filled in the 2012 election as well. Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, has already announced her plans to run for Leslie’s seat.

The turnover doesn’t only mean new faces, but new leadership as well. Both Roberson and Denis, the expected caucus leaders for next session, are in the middle of their first terms in the Senate, although Denis also served for a time in the Assembly.

Eight current members of the Senate who are in mid-term and are expected to return in 2013 are freshman, having been elected in 2010. In the 2013 session, three or fewer of the 21 members will have served more than one legislative session in the Senate, although quite a few members do have prior experience serving in the Assembly.

Assembly experience will likely be a factor in the 2013 Senate as well, with a number of Assembly members of both parties seeking Senate seats.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, says term limits and turnover makes the work of the caucus even more critical:

022012Denis1 :26 to be done.”

Denis says candidate recruitment is important:

022012Denis2 :22 up to speed.”

Sen. Michael Roberson says Republicans are not as affected by the turnover as Democrats:

022012Roberson1 :26 the same way.”

Roberson says the key is for lawmakers of both parties to work together:

022012Roberson2 :23 committed to do.”

 

School Choice Limited But Expanding In Nevada As National Event Highlights Need For More Options

By Sean Whaley | 9:41 am January 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – As National School Choice Week gets under way today state officials say Nevada school children have more opportunities than ever before to choose a school that works best for them.

But one element of choice, a school voucher program, remains an unrealized and divisive issue for the state’s policy makers.

Successes include a strong charter school law that is helping make the semi-autonomous schools available to more Nevada students, expanding distance learning programs, home-schooling opportunities and the ability in the state’s largest school district for open enrollment, Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a Friday interview.

Another positive are the career and technical academies in the Clark County School District that allow students to focus on specific vocational programs, from aeronautics to fashion design, he said.

“They are remarkable,” Sandoval said. “That is a big component of choice in Clark County that is very popular.”

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the 2011 session, also points to the state’s charter and magnet schools as examples of choice in Nevada.

“So I think we have a lot of great choices there,” he said. “We also have some decent laws on home schooling. Some parents want to have that ability to home school their kids but maybe they can’t provide sports or music so now they have that opportunity with some of the things that we’ve changed. So I definitely think it is important for parents to have some choices and options.”

National School Choice Week focuses on need for options

National School Choice Week – a series of hundreds of events shining a spotlight on the need for better educational options for children, kicked off in New Orleans on Saturday and runs through Jan. 28.

Sandoval issued a proclamation last week declaring National School Choice Week in Nevada while visiting a new charter school in Fallon. The Oasis Academy just finished its first semester with 120 students and has a waiting list, he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau.

Supporters of National School Choice Week believe that children and families deserve increased access to great public schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

School vouchers remain controversial in Nevada

But Nevada does not have a voucher program where parents could use taxpayer dollars to help pay to send their children to private schools. Efforts by Sandoval and state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, to move in that direction in the 2011 legislative session were unsuccessful.

“I think the time has come for our state to move forward with regard to school choice and see how it works,” Sandoval said. “I think it would be extremely popular. I think there is a huge appetite amongst parents to have this opportunity.

“Competition is good,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the beneficiary is going to be the kids. And my goal is for every child to have quality education (and) a great teacher in every classroom every day.”

Sandoval said he supports a voucher program with means testing and will pursue the idea again in 2013, but the approach may change based on legal rulings on such programs around the country. Providing funding to parents instead of private schools, for example, might allow Nevada to avoid the constitutional prohibition on using public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

A handful of states offer voucher programs.

Another option is giving corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school would get tax breaks, a program used in Florida.

Many Nevada lawmakers and members of the education establishment remain strongly opposed, however, to a voucher program.

Denis said the state needs to do more for its public education system before even contemplating the idea of a voucher program.

“If we were doing everything we could for public education then I would be willing to look at that issue in the future,” he said. “But we underfund education. You want to make sure the field is level.

“We’ve got some challenges but we’ve made some great changes in our reforms, and I think we’ll continue to do that,” Denis said. “But as far as the voucher stuff, I don’t think that there is support for that.”

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, also opposes the idea of vouchers, saying there are quite a few other options for parents.

“The courts and the constitution say there should not be the commingling of public funds for that purpose and so we are opposed to vouchers,” she said. “We believe it undermines the public school system whether it is a charter school receiving state funding or a traditional public school receiving state funding. It takes money away from the system.”

It undermines the free education for all concept the country was founded on, Warne said.

Another component of choice, the open enrollment option in the Clark County School District, has a ways to go before it is a real option for many students.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, said open enrollment is limited from a practical standpoint because of a lack of space at many schools to accept students from outside their attendance areas.

“Even though there is more flexibility, the choice probably isn’t as much as you think,” Rheault said.

School choice opportunities have expanded in Nevada

Nevada now has 31 charter schools serving about 8,000 students. Nevada’s passed its first charter school law in 1997. Nevada’s ranking among the states just improved to 20th from 23rd based on a national report issued last week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Overall charter school enrollment now exceeds that of many of Nevada’s rural school districts.

The primary reason for the improved ranking was the 2011 Legislature’s adoption of Senate Bill 212, which created a new entity to focus exclusively on reviewing and approving charter schools in Nevada, a measure welcomed by Sandoval in his education reform efforts.

Sandoval said he has asked Steve Canavero, director of the new State Charter School Authority to review the states at the top of the rankings to see what more the state can and should do to promote the creation of the schools.

The state also has 174 private schools with just under 14,000 students enrolled. But Rheault said enrollment in private schools has been flat in recent years, due in part to the tough economy and the inability of parents to afford the tuition.

Rheault said distance learning, offered to some extent by the school districts and particularly in charter schools, is growing quickly in Nevada.

“The Nevada Virtual Academy, for example, I think started in 2007 with about 400 students, and they are strictly a distance ed school,” Rheault said. “I think they are over 2,000 students this year. We probably have over 5,000 or 6,000 students being educated just by distance education programs.”

But the option exercised by most parents is to send their children to the public school system run by locally elected boards in each of the 17 counties. For the most part, children attend the school they are zoned for by each district.

Public school enrollment was projected to total just under 422,000 this year.

National School Choice Week comes at a busy time for education reform in Nevada

On Tuesday, a panel of Nevada state lawmakers will begin looking at news ways of funding public education. And on Thursday, the state Board of Education is expected to receive the names of six finalists for the state’s top public education job. The names of three finalists will be forwarded to Sandoval for the position of state superintendent of public instruction, an appointment he has said is one of the most important he will make as governor.

The 2011 Legislature changed state law to allow the governor to pick the schools chief. Until now, the state Board of Education picked the superintendent.

The state is also pursuing a waiver to allow for flexibility in implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Sandoval supports the move, which is expected to allow the state to tailor the requirements of the law to meet Nevada’s unique characteristics.

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will bring the voucher bill again in 2013:

012212Sandoval1 :37 state of Nevada.”

Sandoval says the time has come to move forward with school choice:

012212Sandoval2 :31 school choice bill.”

Sandoval says competition among public and private schools will benefit the kids:

012212Sandoval3 :17 classroom every day.”

State Sen. Mo Denis says Nevada offers parents a lot of school choices:

012212Denis1 :25 and some options.”

Denis says the state needs to fund public education before considering vouchers:

012212Denis2 :18 field is level.”

NSEA President Lynn Warne says the courts oppose vouchers:

012212Warne1 :30 choice of theirs.”

Warne says vouchers undermine the concept of a free public education for all:

012212Warne2 :22 was founded on.”