Posts Tagged ‘Sheila Leslie’

Nevada Secretary Of State Seeks More Campaign Disclosure, Restrictions In Proposed ‘Aurora Act’

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:47 pm October 2nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Increased financial disclosure, greater restrictions on contributions and gifts, and tougher penalties for campaign violations are the goals of new legislation for the 2013 Legislature detailed today by Secretary of State Ross Miller.

The “Aurora Act,” named for the new campaign contribution and expense search function now available at the Secretary of State’s website, includes language that would mandate near real time reporting of large dollar campaign contributions and expenses, further define the prohibition on personal use of campaign funds and significantly restrict the ability of candidates and public officials to receive “gifts” from donors who may pose a conflict of interest.

Secretary of State Ross Miller.

The proposed legislation also includes provisions to allow the Secretary of State’s office to seek injunctive relief to order individuals or groups to file campaign finance reports, and substantially increased penalties for violations.

Miller said the campaign reform measures passed in the 2011 legislative session were the most comprehensive in Nevada history.

“We’ve made progress in increasing transparency and accountability in recent sessions, but we can clearly do more and do better,” he said. “I believe that we will have an initial coalition of lawmakers that can make this happen. If we want meaningful reform to occur, we need to call on all candidates and elected officials to support the ‘Aurora Act.’ We’ve all heard the lip service to this issue, but I believe that with the public’s help, we can get enough support from both sides of the aisle to bring much needed sunshine to this state.”

Initial support for Miller’s “Aurora Act” has been expressed by Assemblymen Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, and Pat Hickey, R-Reno, and by former state Sen. Sheila Leslie who is the Democratic candidate for Senate District 15 in Reno.

Hickey earlier this year called for his own set of reforms.

Hickey said: “ While there may be more or less added to Secretary Miller’s proposals, there should be widespread bi-partisan support for cleaning up campaigns and the conduct of candidates at all levels.”

Leslie said: “This is an opportunity for lawmakers to step up and give our constituents the information they need to make informed decisions, and to develop a greater level of trust between the people and their public servants.”

Leslie in 2011 proposed legislation that would have required lobbyists to report spending on lawmakers year round, and not just during legislative sessions. The bill died in an Assembly Committee. She requested the same bill for the 2013 session.

Conklin said the proposal could set an important tone for the legislature.

“We want to come away with an increased transparency, and in doing so demonstrate to Nevadans that their lawmakers can work in a bipartisan manner to effect meaningful change,” he said.

Miller’s legislation would require:

- Increased disclosure and transparency into the money being spent in Nevada’s elections by defining “electioneering communication” and “independent expenditure” to clarify who is required to disclose and when they are required to disclose money spent on Nevada candidates by third-party groups.

- Clarifying the term “personal use” to prevent campaign contributions from being used by a candidate for personal use.

- Clarifying that any expenditures made from a candidate or public official’s campaign account must always be reported.

- Requiring public officials and candidates to report their contributions on hand at the beginning of each year so the public will know how much money public officials and candidates are carrying over from year to year. Currently, only the contribution totals received within a calendar year are reported.

- Reporting within 72 hours contributions received or expenses paid in excess of $1,000 to provide the public with more “real time” reporting through an election cycle.

- Clarifying that the Secretary of State may seek injunctive relief for campaign finance violations to ensure that individuals and groups must not only pay a financial penalty but also actually disclose their activity.

- Allowing the Secretary of State to seek in penalties up to three times the amount of money at issue in a reporting violation. This change will give the office more flexibility in seeking penalties that are more in line with the amount of money involved reporting violations.

- Restricting and clarifying laws related to the acceptance of gifts by public officials by better defining “gift” and “restricted donor.” Changes will set forth from whom it is legal to accept gifts, and provide a clear list of examples of gifts that may or may not be accepted and must be disclosed on public reports.

State Senate Candidate Advocates New Corporate Profits Tax In Debate, GOP Opponent Says Call Is Premature

By Sean Whaley | 2:50 pm September 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Former state Sen. Sheila Leslie drew a clear contrast with her Republican opponent Sen. Greg Brower in the District 15 race in Washoe County in a debate today, calling for a corporate profits tax to generate enough revenue to adequately fund education.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposal to extend a package of sunsetting taxes into the next budget to avoid any further cuts to education won’t provide enough revenue, she said in a debate with Brower on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

The Washoe County School District will have to cut $50 million next year even if the sunsetting taxes are continued, she said.

“All the surrounding states have that kind of a tax,” Leslie said. “Utah is the lowest at 5 percent. We could have a 1 or 2 percent tax and still be the lowest. We could phase out the modified business tax, which is a job killer. And we could lower the sales tax, eventually.”

Former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Brower said he supports extending the sunsetting taxes, but said talk of new taxes is premature.

“Including the tax revenue that was to sunset as revenue that we will or may have as we build the budget is the only common sense thing to do,” he said. “Otherwise we have a $700 million hole in the budget and we just can’t fill that, especially if we are not going to cut education further, which I think is absolutely critical.”

The debate, which went off without any fireworks, involves a state Senate seat considered critical by both Democrats and Republicans as they seek to control the 21-member house for the 2013 legislative session. Democrats now have an 11-10 majority. The 42-member Assembly is expected to remain in Democratic control.

In an unusual political move, Leslie resigned her Senate 1 seat to run against Brower in the new District 15. Brower was appointed to the Senate in District 3 to fill out the term of the late Sen. Bill Raggio. The new district, the result of redistricting based on the 2010 census, has a Republican voter registration edge of 39.8 percent to 37.9 percent for Democrats as of the end of August.

Brower said it would be better to have Republicans control the Senate because the party is more pro-business. Republicans will also do more to further public education reform and work to reform the collective bargaining process, which is crippling local governments, he said.

Democrats came along “kicking and screaming” in their support the 2011 education reforms, Brower said.

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Leslie said having Democrats in control has ensured that Nevada has not had to deal with “horrible legislation” that has been seen in other states such as voter suppression efforts and hard-line anti-immigration measures.

Sandoval is a Republican so there is balance, she said.

“And as to the education reforms, those came out of the Democratic Assembly, they were the ones who brought forth the reforms, so it’s not true that Democrats don’t ever want to reform anything,” Leslie said.

Having said that, Leslie said the 2013 Legislature needs to look at properly funding education and retaining the best teachers, not pursuing further reforms. The 2011 reforms, including a new teacher evaluation process, have not even had a chance to take effect yet, she said.

Brower said he would like to see more choice for parents in picking schools and have the state give up some of its control to the local school boards. The best teachers also need to be paid more, he said.

The two candidates will also debate Friday on the Face to Face television show.


Audio clips:

Senate 15 candidate Sheila Leslie says she would support the creation of a corporate profits tax to adequately fund public education:

092612Leslie1 :14 sales tax, eventually.”

Candidate Greg Brower says such talk is premature:

092612Brower1 :21 talking about that.”

Brower says a Republican-controlled Senate would be more pro-business and allow for more education and collective bargaining reforms:

092612Brower2 :15 in the Legislature.”

Leslie says having Democrats in control has kept Nevada from passing bad legislation:

092612Leslie2 :17 to reform anything.”


Lawmakers Long On Ideas, But Public Education Funding Options Remain Elusive

By Sean Whaley | 5:31 am September 18th, 2012

RENO – Northern Nevada state lawmakers and candidates in the November general election identified a number of public education priorities at a forum here Monday, from ending social promotion to paying the best performing teachers more to making much-needed capital improvements to older Washoe County schools.

But those participating in the event held at Reno High School at the invitation of the nonpartisan group Parent Leaders for Education had few specifics about where funding to implement the ideas will come from when the Legislature convenes next February.

Sen. Greg Brower, left, Assemblyman Pat Hickey, and former Sen. Sheila Leslie, far right, participated in a candidate forum in Reno on Monday. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Those participating included Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and former Sen. Sheila Leslie, a Democrat challenging Brower for the new District 15 seat. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who is not up for reelection, also participated, as did Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, who is running unopposed for another term in District 25.

The panel was rounded out with two Assembly Democrats running for new terms and their Republican opponents. David Bobzien faces Heidi Waterman in District 24 and Teresa Benitez-Thompson faces Tom Taber in District 27.

Several of the participants identified the need to find revenue to repair and renovate the Washoe County School District’s older schools as the top priority for the delegation next year.

Kieckhefer said those studying the issue are seeking about $15 million to $20 million annually in revenue that could be used to make repairs to more than half of the district’s schools that are more than 30 years old and are in need of major repairs.

Brower said Washoe County lawmakers are working toward a solution to repair the county’s schools and sell the proposal to Southern Nevada lawmakers who will ultimately have to support any funding option.

“It will be the best investment I think we can make in our schools in Washoe County for decades to come,” he said.

Leslie issued a note of caution to those attending the forum, saying past experience has shown that even bipartisan priorities, such as finding revenue to repair older schools, can be derailed in a legislative session.

“And I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but I’ve been through it several times,” Leslie said. “And so I think meetings like this where you put people on the spot, and I’m willing to be put on the spot and tell you that I will vote for just about any revenue source I can think of right now, to improve our schools. But you need to put the pressure on all of us to make sure that we find a solution and we don’t get to the end of the session and say oops, sorry, can’t do that.”

Brower said he agrees with Gov. Brian Sandoval, who announced earlier this year that he will propose to extend a package of taxes now set to sunset on June 30, 2013, into the next two-year budget to ensure that there are no further budget reductions for public schools or higher education.

But Leslie said the Legislature needs to do more than maintain the status quo and instead find a way to restore the $123 million cut from Washoe County schools over the past five years. Nevada ranks poorly in many national rankings, including ranking 50th in the number of children who attend preschool, she said.

“So obviously we can’t cut any more but what we really need to do is find a way to put that money back,” she said.

Hickey said he does not believe that raising taxes to find more revenue for education is likely to see any serious consideration at the next session. An option he favors is to look at shifting money that now goes to corrections and health and human services to public education.

Spending more on public education now so that money doesn’t have to be spent later on prisons is a better investment in the long term, Hickey said. Even so, several neighboring states, including Utah and Arizona, spend less per pupil but perform better than Nevada, he said.

“It’s wiser to educate than incarcerate,” Hickey said. “So we do need to spend more, we do need to spend wisely, but money is not the entire answer.”

Bobzien, who served as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee in 2011, said a number of major reforms were passed in a bipartisan show of support. But those reforms won’t turn Nevada’s schools around over the long term without adequate financial support, he said.

Waterman said the findings of the Sage Commission, established by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to find ways to make state government more efficient, need to be considered by lawmakers. Eliminating duplicative programs could help find money for public education, she said.

Benitez-Thompson said specific policy proposals are fine, but lawmakers need to look at the overall funding challenges facing public education. Ending social promotion from the third to the fourth grade is fine, but there are costs involved when children are held back, she said. Those children will need additional assistance so they can succeed, Benitez-Thompson said.

Taber said teachers need to be given more control over their classrooms to help their students achieve. Funding also needs to be allocated with a business-oriented approach to ensure it is spent wisely, he said.

“Business sense is important,” Taber said.


Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says finding a revenue source to repair older Washoe schools will be a worthwhile investment:

091712Brower :24 decades to come.”

Former Sen. Sheila Leslie says the Legislature needs to restore funding cut over the past several years, not just avoid further reductions:

091712Leslie1 :18 that money back.”



Nevada Legislature’s Bill Draft Request List Published, Includes Measures For Lobbying Reforms, Voucher Schools

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:52 pm July 1st, 2012

CARSON CITY – A list of 144 bills requested for drafting for the 2013 session was posted on the Nevada Legislature’s website today.

Nevada State Senate in session, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The list of bill draft requests, most coming from individual lawmakers, includes proposals to require lobbyists to report their spending when the Legislature is not in session, and another to amend the state constitution to allow for voucher schools.

The lobbyist reporting bill was requested by former Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who resigned from her seat in mid-term to run in Senate District 15 against Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. Leslie sponsored a similar bill in the 2011 session that failed in the Assembly.

The voucher school measuring is being sought by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. Gov. Sandoval supports the creation of voucher schools and is expected to pursue some type of voucher program in the 2013 session, which begins Feb. 4.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, is seeking a bill to adopt the “Castle Doctrine” in Nevada to provide legal protections for homeowners who defend themselves against criminals.

A similar measure was introduced in both the 2009 and 2011 sessions, but did not get a hearing in either session.

The bill draft request list will be updated weekly through the 2013 session.

The list contains only a single descriptive line for each measure requested, along with who made the request.


Former Assembly Speaker Maintains Big Campaign Fund Despite Not Running For Office

By Sean Whaley | 4:14 pm June 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley may not be a candidate for public office this year, but this apparent lack of political ambition has not stopped her from maintaining a campaign fund worth nearly half a million dollars.

Buckley, a Democrat who left office following the 2010 general election, has used the broad definition of a candidate in state law to maintain her election fund. In her annual Campaign Contributions and Expenses Report for the calendar year 2010 filed in January 2011, Buckley reported that her campaign fund totaled just under $575,000.

On the same date the fund total was reported, Jan 7, 2011, her report also shows a $200 contribution from colleague Sheila Leslie, a former member of the Assembly and current candidate for the state Senate in Washoe County.

Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

By receiving the $200 contribution, Buckley is defined in Nevada state law as being a candidate for public office, even though she did not seek office in 2010 and is not seeking office this year. She was termed out of the Assembly in 2010 after serving since 1995.

Buckley considered a run for governor in 2010 but ultimately decided against it. The finance reports identify her as a candidate, but they do not specify an office.

Buckley said today she has continued to maintain the fund in the event she does decide to run for public office in 2014 or 2016, and that she relied on advice from the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the Secretary of State’s office before doing so.

But Buckley said she has no definite political plans currently.

“I have no idea,” she said. “To be honest with you, the longer I’m out, the more I wonder if I will ever run for anything ever again. And so if I choose not to run for anything in the near future I will dispose of all of the money by giving it to either other candidates, parties, nonprofit organizations as outlined in the statute.”

Buckley said she has been fully transparent with all money received and spent from her campaign fund in her filings with the Secretary of State’s office.

Scott Gilles, deputy secretary for elections with the Secretary of State’s office, said via an email response that Nevada law allows a candidate to use donations in the candidate’s next election, which does not have to be in the next election cycle.

Nevada state law also defines a candidate as an individual who has received a contribution in excess of $100, “regardless of whether the person has filed a declaration of candidacy” and regardless of whether the person’s name appears on a ballot.

News of Buckley’s active and financially healthy campaign fund comes as members of the Assembly Republican Caucus have called for more transparency and reforms to the state’s campaign finance laws. One of the reforms outlined by caucus leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, would require ending fund balance reports showing how much money incumbents have on hand after an election.

Buckley’s campaign fund of over $575,000, for example, is reported on her 2011 annual filing for calendar year 2010, but is not found anywhere in the 2011 or 2012 reports. Nor is the information required to be included on the more recent reports under current rules.

Buckley said she would be in favor of better organizing such information on the Secretary of State’s website to make it more easily accessible by the public.

But Hickey said Buckley’s decision to maintain a campaign fund even while not seeking public office shows why greater transparency and accountability is needed in Nevada’s campaign finance laws.

“This example by the former speaker of the Assembly, still having that much money on hand and continuing to give out that money, I assume to Democratic candidates, really underscores the need for us to re-examine how we report on campaign money and how we conduct ourselves after we leave the Legislature,” he said.

“We should be asking ourselves whether or not it is appropriate for former lawmakers to keep large amounts of money and be able to disburse those funds into the political process,” Hickey said.

Buckley also worked as a paid lobbyist for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada in the 2011 legislative session. Buckley, an attorney, is executive director of the center. Serving as a lobbyist and donating to candidates is not a conflict, she said.

People who appear before the Legislature give campaign contributions all the time, Buckley said.

Buckley has continued to file her finance reports with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, which show she had expenses of just over $35,000 in 2011, mostly consisting of contributions to nonprofit organizations. She continues to identify herself in the reports as a candidate.

In her first report for 2012 filed in May, she reports another nearly $40,000 in contributions, including many donations to candidates. Leslie, who is facing Republican Greg Brower in the Senate 15 race this year, received $8,700 in cash from Buckley. She also received a nearly $1,300 in-kind contribution from Buckley.

Deducting these expenses totaling about $75,000 from her political fund still leaves Buckley with about $500,000 in cash on hand.


Audio clips:

Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley says she has maintained her campaign fund in the event she decides to run for public office in the next two to four years:

061112Buckley1 :12 anything ever again.”

Buckley says that if she decides not to run for elective office, she will dispose of the funds as outlined in state law:

061112Buckley2 :18 in the statute.”


Survey Of State Lawmakers, Candidates Shows Support For Continued Government Transparency Efforts

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am May 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Sixty state lawmakers and legislative candidates who responded to a survey on government transparency largely favor new laws requiring the Legislature to follow the Open Meeting Law and mandating expanded reporting of spending on legislators by lobbyists.

The survey, sponsored by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Association, also saw broad support for imposing a 72-hour time frame so the public can read bills before they go to a floor vote, subjecting local government negotiations with public employee unions to the state Open Meeting Law and assessing penalties for government officials who violate Nevada’s public records laws.

Illustration by David Vignoni, Ysangkok via Wikimedia Commons.

The survey was sent to 153 candidates and eight state Senators who are not up for re-election this year. Forty-one Republicans, 14 Democrats and five minor party candidates responded.

This survey is intended to give the voters a chance to find out where candidates stand on transparency issues including public records, open meetings and campaign finance reforms.

“I think it ought to be a very important issue for voters,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the press association. “That’s why we do this; so that they know who has it on their priority list.”

Advocates of increased transparency in government say the responses suggest that further progress can be made on the issues in the 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature.

“We’ve been able to move forward with Open Meeting Law, Open Records Law; the campaign finance does show some improvement,” Smith said. “That’s another thing these surveys showed – there is quite a bit of work to do and there is quite a bit of work the Legislature can do.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at NPRI, said at least 50 of the 60 responses were either in favor of or leaning in favor of the proposals, suggesting there is a good chance for further progress for increased government transparency in the upcoming session.

The new requirements for campaign contribution and expense reports adopted in the 2011 session were part of the 2010 survey, suggesting the effort is having some influence, he said.

“A lot of these other ideas were embodied into bills; they just never passed the Legislature,” Lawrence said. “So hopefully that will happen this time.”

The survey comes just as Republican Assembly caucus leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, announced several transparency reforms he will seek in the 2013 session. Hickey responded to the survey, indicating support for the various proposals with a “lean yes” on applying the Open Meeting Law to the Legislature. He indicated some flexibility may be required for the proposal, given the 120-day time limit the Legislature has to finish its business.

While most survey responses were supportive without qualification, there were also a few “maybes” and some opposition to the proposals.

Former state Senator Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who resigned her seat in mid-term to run for the Senate 15 seat now held by Republican Greg Brower, did not favor subjecting collective bargaining negotiations to public scrutiny.

“I don’t think inviting TV cameras into negotiations with public employee unions is in the best interest of government,” she said. “There needs to be more transparency and communication but making everything subject to the Open Meeting Law is not necessarily good government. This is one of those instances.”

Leslie was not alone in expressing concerns about the proposal.

Reno Republican Assembly 31 candidate David Espinosa said: “Negotiations, by their nature, are sensitive matters that an open meeting inclusion would transform into an entrenchment of sides, and an opportunity for grandstanding and demagoguery. I would instead support all efforts to openly disclose the starting positions of both sides of the negotiation, and the final position of each of the representatives of the local government.”

Lawrence said the issue is more problematic for some candidates and elected officials because of the support they get from public sector labor unions, which generally oppose such proposals.

Others are more bipartisan in nature, such as the proposal to require reporting of spending by lobbyists on lawmakers all year round and not just during each legislative session.

Leslie sponsored the bill in 2011 that would have required lobbyists to report all spending on lawmakers, not just spending during a legislative session. Senate Bill 206 passed the Senate unanimously but died in an Assembly committee without a vote.

Smith said the goal is to keep moving forward with incremental successes.

“To me it should be obvious that open government is a bipartisan kind of thing that people can agree on that that’s what we want,” he said. “There’s not always agreement on exactly how you get there. But as long as people think it’s important and are willing to work on it, then we will move forward with some of these things.”


Audio clips:

Barry Smith of the Nevada Press Association says the survey results should be very important to voters:

052312Smith1 :12 their priority list.”

Smith says the surveys show a lot more work needs to be done in the areas of government transparency:

052312Smith2 :26 Legislature can do.”

Smith says open government is a bipartisan issue:

052312Smith3 :21 of these things.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the NPRI, says the survey has some influence with lawmakers:

052312Lawrence1 :24 happen this time.”

Lawrence says opening public employee labor negotiations to public scrutiny is one of the more problematic transparency issues:

052312Lawrence2 :29 that position, probably.”



Some Nevada Welfare Recipients Have Fun on Taxpayer Dime But Most Spending Appropriate

By Sean Whaley | 7:26 am March 7th, 2012

CARSON CITY – There are a few withdrawals in vacation destinations like New Orleans and Hawaii. There are a few from such tourist locations as Angel Stadium in Anaheim, SeaWorld San Diego and Pier 39 in San Francisco.

There are about 1,600 withdrawals in more than 35 states and the territory of Guam. And there are about 100 withdrawals at liquor stores and quite a few at Nevada casinos or slot parlors.

Three Nevada TANF withdrawals occurred on Hawaii's Big Island. / Photo: DBKing via Wikimedia Commons.

But a review of more than 65,000-plus debit card withdrawals by recipients of Nevada’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash grant program show the vast majority were made in Nevada at banks, ATMs, gas stations and grocery stores.

The records, provided by the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services as a result of a public records request by the Nevada News Bureau, show withdrawal activity from June through December of 2011.

Some of the withdrawals with which taxpayers might take issue include a dozen transactions in Hawaii. The Hawaii withdrawals were made primarily in the Honolulu area, at the airport, a car rental firm and banks, although three transactions occurred on the Big Island.

The withdrawals at amusement parks and tourist destinations ranged from $20 at Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California to a high of $440 at one of the Honolulu locations.

View NV TANF Map fullsize

State welfare agency says benefits being used properly

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the state welfare division, said Nevada taxpayers should take comfort in knowing that the vast majority of withdrawals through the TANF program appear to conform to the purpose of the program.

“My sense is that benefits are being used for their intended purpose,” she said. “There is no definitive answer because they can go to a bank, get the money and go do whatever they want with it. But I don’t see that our tracking shows any type of pattern of abuse.

“My analysis is that taxpayers should feel that the body of evidence shows that our benefits are being paid exactly, and used exactly for what they are being paid for,” Allard said.

The Nevada News Bureau decided to review the TANF withdrawals after the Los Angeles Times reviewed records in California and found more than $69 million in TANF funds, intended to help the needy pay their rent and clothe their children, that had been spent or withdrawn outside the state, including millions in Las Vegas, hundreds of thousands in Hawaii and thousands on cruise ships sailing from Miami.

The story, published in October 2010, found $11.8 million withdrawn in Las Vegas from January 2007 through May 2010, the implication being the money was used for gambling or other entertainment purposes.

NNB’s review of Nevada’s records found money withdrawn in states from Arkansas to Wyoming, and Washington, DC as well as a small number in Guam. The Guam withdrawals were made on Marine Corps Drive, suggesting they may have been made by a military family.

About 2.4 percent of the 65,536 transactions reviewed were out-of-state. No evidence of withdrawals from cruise ships or 4-star hotels were identified, except for one withdrawal at a Washington, DC Marriott hotel.

There are no restrictions currently on where recipients can withdraw cash once they are found to be eligible for assistance. The one exception is the cards cannot be used outside of the U.S.

And the withdrawals don’t indicate for certain what products were purchased, for example whether liquor was purchased at a liquor store or whether a withdrawal at a casino means the recipient was gambling.

Some restrictions on use of TANF debit cards are coming

Congress just earlier this year imposed some limitations on where TANF funds can be withdrawn, including casinos, liquor stores and adult entertainment venues. The limitations were put in the recently approved payroll tax cut bill and require states to implement a plan to prevent benefits from being accessed in these locations within the next two years.

Nevada’s TANF benefits are not overly generous compared to many other states.

The cash grant for an eligible family of three in Nevada is $383 a month with reductions for reportable income. The amount increases with the size of the family, reaching $708 with for a family of eight with no reportable income. Families up to 130 percent of the federal poverty rate are eligible for the assistance, with some adjustments for income.

Nevada’s TANF program budget for the current fiscal year totals just under $79 million, with nearly $26 million in stand funds and $53 million in federal dollars. There were 30,100 beneficiaries as of January 2012.

Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, said the rate of questionable payments identified in the NNB review suggests that oversight efforts have been paying off in the form of fewer wasted resources, although constant revisions to the process are always necessary to keep the program one step ahead of benefit abuse.

“However, I’d also point out that it’s still difficult to gauge the government’s official ‘improper payment’ rate in TANF,” he said. “This is a somewhat broader definition that might include not only payments for questionable items or activities, but also payments to those who didn’t qualify or overpayments based on mistakes made in applications.”

Sepp cited a 2012 Government Accountability Office report on improper payments, which said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been unable to require states to participate in developing an improper payment estimate for the TANF program due to statutory limitations.

Nevada lawmakers say with some exceptions, program appears to be working as intended

Former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who resigned to run for a new Senate seat, said: “I’d say while there are a few isolated questionable withdrawals, it is very reassuring to know that the vast majority of TANF recipients seem to be utilizing the program for its intended purpose.”

Even some transactions that might appear questionable could have reasonable explanations, she said.

The modest cash grants aren’t going to stretch past food, rent and gas anyway, Leslie said.

“As I recall, we’ve only increased the monthly allotment once since the early 90s, and certainly inflation has eaten that up many times over,” she said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said the public has every right to review the data and ask questions about the use of the cards in other states and for possible inappropriate purchases here in Nevada.

Hambrick said he has particular concerns about the use of the cards in liquor stores, since it is likely that at least in some cases, benefit recipients are purchasing alcohol.

“The liquor stores bother me a little bit more,” he said. “I’m not sure how many people go into a liquor store just to use the ATM. I mean that could be true. But chances are if they are in there, I’m sure, who knows, they could be buying raffle tickets or they could be buying alcohol.”

About 100 TANF withdrawals occurred at liquor stores. / Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.

The small number of questionable transactions “is a pretty good batting average,” Hambrick said. Even so, the agency needs to be sure it is looking at questionable transactions, he said.

Hambrick questioned if the agency could set up a system whereby staff would get an alert if a card was used in what he called “an exception to the rule” type place such as a casino or out-of-state use.

“What I would call an exception report,” he said. “We’ve got Smith, who just rented a car in Hawaii, and they’d do some more research; oh that’s fine. Technology should allow them to pop those unique places up and at least have a quick review.”

Allard said casinos are often used for withdrawals in Nevada because they are convenient, especially for those without transportation or who live in rural areas of the state and where local casinos are an economic lifeline.

There are also no prohibitions on a recipient taking a child to a baseball game or amusement park, she said.

Out of state usage not a violation in and of itself

Allard said there are situations where a recipient in Nevada is required to travel out-of-state, to care for an elderly parent or as part of a job search with the state’s highest-in-the-nation jobless rate.

“We track out-of-state usage, and if there is a long pattern of out-of-state usage, or a repeated pattern of out-of-state usage, we will investigate that,” she said. “But just for a sporadic use out of state, we don’t feel that indicates abuse.”

Allard said the withdrawals are reviewed manually to check to see if someone is receiving benefits in two states, or if there is an out-of-state income source, and for other reasons.

The out-of-state withdrawals, which numbered in the hundreds, were at Wal-Marts and gas stations for the most part. Many out-of-state withdrawals also were in adjacent states where Nevada recipients would likely shop, from Wendover in Utah to Mountain Home, Idaho to Bullhead City, Arizona.

“The LA Times article suggested that people were living on the dole and living big and traveling all over the country and using their benefits to fund expensive vacations,” she said. “If that was your game, if you were gaming the system, mostly likely you wouldn’t come to Nevada to do it, you would go to California because their benefits are almost twice as high.”

Allard said the coming prohibitions imposed by Congress may cause hardships for some Nevada recipients. People who live in Jackpot, for example, don’t have a bank nearby and rely on the local casino, she said. Benefit recipients also aren’t always very mobile, so a mother with an infant might use an ATM at a liquor store close by rather than walk a mile to a bank, she said.

“And a lot of our clients are disabled,” Allard said. “So they are able maybe to get in their power wheelchair and go to the closest ATM available, and now they are going to find that closest ATM doesn’t work for them.”

Selected Nevada TANF Transactions June To December 2011

Merchant Name Date Address City/State Amount
Angel Stadium 06/06/2011 2000 E. Gene Autry Anaheim, CA $140
American Savings Bank 07/09/2011 700 Keeaumoku St. Honolulu, HI $60
American Savings Bank 09/02/2011 75-5595 Palani Rd. Kailua-Kona, HI $300
American Savings Bank 09/02/2011 700  Keeaumoku St. Honolulu, HI $360
Bank of America 07/02/2011 Chinatown San Francisco, CA $300
Bank of America 07/06/2011 Sedona Uptown Mall Sedona, AZ $300
Bank of America 10/02/2011 One Powell San Francisco, CA $40
Bank of America 10/05/2011 LAX Terminal 6 Departure Los Angeles, CA $100
Bank of Hawaii 09/01/2011 Times Temple V Kaneohe, HI $20
Cardtronic 06/01/2011 300 Rodgers Blvd. (Honolulu Intl. Airport) Honolulu, HI $20
Cardtronic 08/01/2011 3299 N. Nimitz Hwy. Honolulu, HI $440
CT Travel 06/02/2011 6000 N. Terminal Parkway (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Intl. Airport) Atlanta, GA $300
CT Travel 09/04/2011 11000 Terminal Access (Southwest Florida Intl. Airport.) Fort Myers, FL $300
Curbside D 08/01/2011 1030 Elysian Fields Ave. New Orleans, LA $200
Curbside D 08/01/2011 1030 Elysian Fields Ave. New Orleans, LA $300
Hard Rock 09/03/2011 Pier 39 Building Q-1 San Francisco, CA $20
Honolulu I 08/01/2011 3375 Koapaka St. Honolulu, HI $100
Honolulu I 08/01/2011 3375 Koapaka St. Honolulu, HI $40
Honolulu I 08/01/2011 3375 Koapaka St. Honolulu, HI $100
K&G Grocery 06/02/2011 98064 Kamehameha Hwy. Aiea, HI $60
Knott’s Berry Farm 08/01/2011 8039 Beach Blvd. Buena Park, CA $40
Knott’s Berry Farm 08/01/2011 8039 Beach Blvd. Buena Park, CA $20
Marriott Wardman Park 10/05/2011 2660 Woodley Park Washington, DC $380
Matsuyama Food Mart 11/01/2011 73 3454B Mamalahoa Hwy. Kailua-Kona, HI $240
Reno Aces 06/05/2011 250 Evans Ave. Reno, NV $100
Six Flags Magic Mountain 07/01/2011 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway Valencia, CA $160
Six Flags Magic Mountain 07/01/2011 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway Valencia, CA $160
U.S. Bank 07/02/2011 SeaWorld-Arcade San Diego, CA $200


Audio clips:

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the state welfare division, says the vast majority of withdrawals through the TANF program appear to conform to the purpose of the program:

030812Allard1 :20 pattern of abuse.”

Allard says the agency tracks out-of-state usage:

030812Allard2 :22 that indicates abuse.”

Allard says Nevada’s benefits are low compared to California and so there is no incentive to “game” the system:

030812Allard3 :33 twice as high.”

Allard says a lot of Nevada’s TANF clients are disabled and can’t travel far to use the cards:

030812Allard4 :15 work for them.”

Allard says taxpayers should feel confident the benefits are being used properly:

030812Allard5 :14 being paid for.”

Assemblyman John Hambrick says the use of the cards in liquor stores is a concern:

030812Hambrick1 :17 be buying alcohol.”

Hambrick says out of the ordinary transactions should be reviewed:

030812Hambrick2 :32 in four miles.”



Nevada Think Tank Files Court Complaint Challenging Ability Of Government Employees To Serve In Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 3:02 pm November 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank today filed a complaint in district court against Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, saying the separation of powers clause in the state constitution prohibits government employees from serving in the Legislature.

Denis works for the state Public Utilities Commission as a computer technician. Attorney Joseph Becker with the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation said his client William Pojunis is qualified to perform, and would like to apply for, Denis’ job.

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

If NPRI wins its case, Denis and several other state lawmakers who work for state and local government and the Nevada judiciary could be forced to pick between their jobs and legislative service.

Becker said the PUC’s employment of Denis violates the state constitution’s separation of powers clause in Article 3, Section 1.

“Nevada’s constitution is perfectly clear: One individual cannot serve in two branches of government,” he said. “Allowing one person to exercise power in two branches of government leads to numerous conflicts of interests and invites corruption. It also destroys the checks and balances that were built into Nevada’s government to protect citizens from power-hungry politicians.

“Applying this principle to this case has significant implications for this state,” Becker said. “We have 63 legislators and something close to 20 percent of them are affected by this provision. They are working in situations that we believe are unconstitutional. When the court holds in our favor, those lawmakers would either have to leave their executive or judicial branch employment or leave the Legislature.”

Denis said today he could not comment on the complaint because he has not seen it.

“I’ve only been hearing pieces of it,” he said. “At some point I will have a comment.”

The PUC had no immediate comment on the complaint either.

NPRI has one strong ally in its court action. Gov. Brian Sandoval, while serving as attorney general in 2004, issued an opinion that also determined that the separation of powers requirement in the state constitution precluded state government employees from serving in the Legislature.

Written at the request of then-Secretary of State Dean Heller, Sandoval’s March 1, 2004 opinion said in part: “It is the opinion of this office that Article 3, Section 1 of the Nevada Constitution bars any employee from serving in the executive branch of government and simultaneously serving as a member of the Nevada State Legislature.”

Sandoval did not find that the separation applied to local government employment, however.

Heller, now a U.S. senator, challenged lawmakers who also worked for the government in 2004, but the Nevada Supreme Court said it could not consider the case, which was brought against the Nevada Legislature, because it is the Legislature’s responsibility to determine the qualifications of its members.

Becker said NPRI’s case is different because it is challenging the PUC’s ability to employ Denis given the separation of powers clause and his election to the state Senate. The complaint was not filed against the Legislature, he said. The complaint was filed in Carson City District Court.

Pojunis, 66, came to Carson City with Becker to file the complaint, but did not directly answer any questions. Becker said NPRI was approached by Pojunis and decided to take the case. Pojunis is currently unemployed.

Some of the other lawmakers who potentially could be affected by a court ruling supporting the NPRI position include Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who works for the Washoe County court system,; Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Las Vegas, both of whom work for the Clark County School District, and Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who works for Clark County.

Becker said the legal action is not politically motivated.

“This is about him (Denis) holding a position as a civil servant that he is not constitutionally allowed to hold,” he said.

The Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, which calls itself a public interest legal foundation, was established a year ago by NPRI. This is the first case brought by the organization.

Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, said the separation of powers clause is a vital part of state constitutions across the country.

“And when you have decisions that are being made in the Legislative Branch that can impact Executive Branch functions, Executive Branch agencies, it’s very important to make sure that the people who are making those decisions in the Legislature are doing so from the standpoint of what is best for the people of this state and what constitutes good policy, not because of some conflict of interest they may have as a result of their service in the Executive Branch as well,” he said.


Attorney Joseph Becker with NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation says the case has significant implications for the state:

113011Becker1 :24 leave the Legislature.”

Becker says the case is not political:

113011Becker2 :14 correct on this.”

Andy Matthews, president of NPRI, says the separation of powers clause is a vital part of state constitutions across the country:

113011Matthews :24 branch as well.”

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 Vote To Restore $90 Million To Medicaid Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 12:21 pm May 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Democrats today voted to reject Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts to Medicaid programs this morning.

The governor would have saved about $90 million in his budget through the reductions. Republicans on the Legislature’s money committees voted to cut the Medicaid budget in line with Sandoval’s recommendations.

The Medicaid funding would help reimburse hospitals and their staff for caring for Medicaid patients.

The money also would help fund adult day care, eyeglasses for poor adults, dental and ambulance services, as well as reimbursement rates for skilled nursing homes.

Democrats called the cuts unacceptable and argued that all Nevadans end up paying higher insurance premiums when hospitals are not reimbursed for patients on Medicaid.

“We are at the tipping point,” said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “We are going to see services close that affect the entire population … This isn’t just about poor people anymore … we are jeopardizing the health care system for everybody.”

The cuts were personal for Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. In an emotional speech before legislative money committees this morning, he said his grandmother had lived in a nursing home for 25 years. He said he has personally seen the effects of inadequate funding at some nursing homes.

“There’s a reason these rates have to be maintained at a certain level because if they drop below, the adequacy of care gets compromised,” Horsford said.

Sandoval had originally proposed reducing skilled nursing home hourly rates by $20 and later reduced that cut from $20 to $15. Some have questioned whether the cuts would be in violation of federal law.

The Nevada Health Care Association, which represents the skilled nursing industry, has also objected to the reductions and suggested that some facilities could close with the Medicaid reimbursement cuts.

“We have repeatedly voiced our concern that physicians (and other providers) simply will not be able to afford the costs associated with providing care at the reduced rates and Medicaid patients face growing accessibility problems,” said Brian Callister, president of the Nevada State Medical Association, in an earlier statement.

Representatives from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services have said that the budget reductions would not violate federal law.

Some questioned whether eliminating the reductions was possible with the money that state currently has.

“If we completely reject this, we’re just continuing to add to a deficit that, at this point in time, we don’t have the revenue to support,” said Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno.

Although the Democrats’ decisions created a hole in the governor’s budget, they have introduced a tax plan that would pay for these services.

The plan includes extending taxes passed during 2009 and scheduled to end July 1 of this year. Such an extension could net the state $626 million during the next two years.

An additional proposed 1 percent sales tax on services and 0.8 percent business “margin tax” would get the Democrats to about a $7 billion budget, which is $920 million more than the governor recommends the state spend.

Democrats have argued the tax increases represent the best way to avoid harmful budget cuts to education and social services.

Sandoval has repeatedly said he will not support a tax increase. To pass the tax increase, Democrats would need to vote as a group as well convince five Republicans to vote with them to override a likely veto from Sandoval.

The votes taken today to avoid the cuts are not binding. The Legislature can still alter which programs are funded and which are not.




Bill Removing Mining Industry Eminent Domain Privileges Passes Assembly, Heads To Governor’s Desk

By Andrew Doughman | 8:17 pm April 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill removing the mining industry’s right to take private land heads to the governor’s desk after passing in the Assembly this evening.

Senate Bill 86 gained early bipartisan support when Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, joined the bill’s sponsor, Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, in criticizing a corporation’s ability to take land from a private citizen.

The bill passed the Senate 21-1 and the Assembly 41-1 with two rural legislators from the Elko-area, a mining community, voting against the legislation.

But Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, later said that he does not support eminent domain rights in any situation. He said he voted against the bill by mistake.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has not said whether or not he will sign the bill into law.

The bill arriving at the governor’s desk is among the least controversial of several proposals relating to the mining industry.

Progressives in Nevada have argued for removing the mining industry’s special provisions in Nevada’s constitution and reducing the amount of allowable tax deductions for the mining industry.

The mining industry has also come under fire after it was revealed that the state had not been auditing the industry’s tax deductions and that state regulators may have had a cozy relationship with mining lobbyists.

Senate Bill 86 also removes the same eminent domain privileges for the state’s now-defunct sugar beet industry.


Nevada Senate Proposal Would Ban Knives, Hatchets, Swords At Schools

By Andrew Doughman | 3:10 pm March 1st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Carrying a hatchet, axe, sword or knife onto the grounds of  a child care center, public school or higher education campus would become a misdemeanor under a new proposal.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, sponsored the bill on behalf of the Washoe County School District, where she said several students attending the district’s public schools have been stabbed within the past year.

The bill would amend a list of banned items that could furnish a small armory, medieval or modern. Swords, machetes, axes, knives and hatchets would be added to billy clubs, firearms, explosives, dirks and nunchakus, among other items already on the ban list.

The bill drew support from police today at a Senate hearing, but others said the bill would not have its intended effect.

“If violence is the purpose, this won’t actually deter the violence,” said Orrin Johnson of the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office. “School rules are already adequate.”

Johnson further said that the law would criminalize students who accidentally bring a utility knife to school. The bill language says that anyone bringing these items to a school would be “punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not fewer than 15 days.”

Todd Rathner came from Arizona to testify on behalf of Knife Rights, a national organization “protecting the rights of law-abiding knife owners.”

He said schools already have the authority to suspend a student for wearing a t-shirt with a weapon on it so they should be able to confiscate a real weapon, contact a parent and discipline the student according to existing rules.

Rathner also said the definitions in the bill are weak.

“We are concerned about the ban of swords … the problem is that there is no definition of a sword. We don’t know where a pocketknife ends and a sword begins,” he said.

Supporters of the bill also conceded that adding a provision banning “any deadly weapon” would make enforcement difficult.

At various times during the hearing, those testifying mentioned baseball bats, crowbars and fingernail files as tools that could easily become weapons.

“A mace would be considered a deadly weapon,” said Frank Adams, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association. “That’s the stick with the chain with the big thing on the end of it … you could define almost anything with the way its used as a deadly weapon.”

Committee staff said that the bill could either be amended to include a specific definition of a deadly weapon, or the committee could leave it to the courts to decide what makes an item a deadly weapon.

Leslie said similar bills have been introduced during 2007 and 2001, but neither have passed.

Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee that heard Leslie’s bill, did not hold a vote on the bill.

“We all want to look out for the well-being on children,” she said. “I just want to make sure that we capture what it is we need to capture here.”

New Senator Says Mining “Lobbyists May Live To Regret” Ignoring Her, Sparking Mining Industry Reaction

By Andrew Doughman | 3:39 pm February 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It took less than a day before Sen. Elizabeth Halseth had the attention she was looking for.

Tim Crowley, a lobbyist for the mining industry, said he called her this morning to schedule a meeting after she asked in a Tuesday night blog post, “did mining just hit a brick wall?”

“During the 2010 election cycle, the mining industry didn’t take the southern Nevada Republican senate candidates very seriously,” wrote Halseth, a freshman Republican from Las Vegas. “Considering the legitimate and penetrating questions posed by Sen. [Michael] Roberson, that may be a calculation the industry’s lobbyists may live to regret.”

She referred to the questions Roberson, one of those “southern Nevada Republican” Senators, posed to Crowley on Monday.

This morning, more than the snow in Carson City, her blog post had legislators abuzz with talk of Halseth openly advertising a “pay to play” strategy.

“I’m trying to think of how we want to say this,” she said outside of her office this morning. “They [the mining industry] didn’t take the time to talk and … meet with me. If I’m not informed about their side, how can I make a decision?”

Crowley said he saw the blog post Tuesday night.

“I don’t care what her motives were … it sends the signal that we need to be talking more,” he said during a phone call today. “I called her this morning; I think that’s what she wanted.”

Halseth’s blog post was later edited to tone down the rhetoric by replacing Republicans with “Clark County candidates” and adding a clause that clarified that it was meetings, not money, that mattered.

“During the 2010 election cycle, the mining industry didn’t take some Clark County candidates very seriously, by being unwilling to meet with some candidates regarding issues pertaining to mining,” the new post reads.

Roberson, a freshman Republican from Las Vegas, has also criticized the mining industry.

On Monday, he grilled Crowley over the rate of the state’s mining taxes. He felt like he didn’t get a clear answer.

Today, he signed on to a bill that would remove the mining industry’s eminent domain privilege, which allows the industry the same power the government has to take private land for market-value compensation.

Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Benjamin Spillman blogged yesterday that Halseth and Roberson come from a set of fiscal conservatives who do not always agree with representatives from Nevada’s powerful industries.

Another newly-elected southern Nevada Republican, Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, signed on to a similar bill in the Assembly.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, is sponsoring the Senate bill. That bill has not only received support from Democrats, but also from free-market think tanks like the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Halseth said she still hasn’t made up her mind about whether to add her name to Leslie’s bill.

Ty Cobb to Sheila Leslie: Sorry I Accidentally Kicked Your Campaign Sign to Bits

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:18 pm April 13th, 2010

Keep it classy, Assemblyman Cobb.

From Anjeannette:

Destroying, stealing or defacing the opposing side’s signs is a typical campaign season activity. But it’s a bit unusual for a sitting Assemblyman, who’s running for higher office, to get caught doing it.

Too bad for Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, he decided to trash a campaign sign at a busy intersection in full view of motorists who recognized him.

An attendee leaving the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited dinner Friday night said he watched Cobb get out of a car at the corner of Moana and Kietzke lanes and kick to pieces a campaign sign for Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is running for Senate in a different district.

I called Cobb to ask him about the incident. He laughed nervously and said he would get back to me. An hour later I received this response:

“I was leaving the Nevada Bighorn dinner over the weekend with some friends and supporters of my campaign. We passed some campaign signs and goofing around, a Leslie sign got damaged. I have called Sheila but could not reach her and apologized to her and asked if I might be allowed to replace the sign. It was a poor attempt at humor and was not done maliciously.”

Cobb is running in a Republican primary to replace state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno.

Ok, let’s just review.

The witness said Cobb was driving, got out of his car, walked over to the Leslie campaign sign, and kicked it to bits.

Cobb’s version is that he was passing the signs (walking? driving?) and messing ar0und with friends and Leslie’s sign just happened to get damaged.  And then he said it was a “poor attempt at humor.”

Question:  If you were just messing around and, say, accidentally tripped over the same sign a dozen times, destroying it in the process, why would you then say it was a “poor attempt” at being funny?  Wouldn’t you just say it was an accident?

Cobb’s own words about the incident convict him, I think.

Government Efficiency Panel Calls for Reform to State Employee Pay and Benefit Package

By Sean Whaley | 7:07 pm January 7th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A final report from a panel of private citizens charged with finding efficiencies in state government says the generous salary and benefit package provided to the state workforce is “unaffordable in the short run and unsustainable in the long run.”

“The sooner Nevada addresses this, and the sooner total government employee compensation is brought into parity with the private sector, the sooner the state will achieve a balanced budget allowing it to provide needed citizen services at desired levels,” says the final report from the Nevada Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) in a report delivered today to Gov. Jim Gibbons.

“Dealing with this issue alone will save half of all the money contained in the Sage Commission’s recommendations,” said SAGE Chairman Bruce James.

Other findings in the report include:

- The state budgeting process is archaic and in need of revision. The process itself distracts everyone from agency personnel to members of the Legislature from focusing on the big picture by being forced to deal with minutia. We saw example after example of the same basic public services being provided by multiple agencies in a duplicative fashion without any coordination.

- Operating with 200 different units and agencies is unmanageable. In the government sector it seems that once an entity or program is established it seldom goes away regardless of efficacy. The result is a waste of public resources. AS a result, the SAGE Commission has recommended establishing the Nevada Sunset Commission to ensure periodic review of every state government entity and program to make certain it is still doing what it was established to do, is still necessary, and is cost efficient.

- The state needs to address its real estate portfolio. Nevada does not have a real estate plan and it lacks a complete inventory, in one place, of its raw land, improved real estate, leased real estate, and water and mineral rights.

- Nevada state officials lose out on millions of dollars in federal grants because there is no strategic, managed focus on this opportunity as other states do. This should be a full-out, statewide effort involving all jurisdictions eligible for such grants.

James said the SAGE Commissioners spent a lot of their own time and money to provide the 44 money saving and efficiency creating recommendations.

“Just as SAGE commissioners did in their work, we hope our elected public officials can now set aside their partisan differences to put the public’s interest first,” he said.

Gibbons established the SAGE Commission in 2008 as a non-partisan group of professionals who have volunteered their time to seek ways for Nevada government to save money, work more effectively, and perform more efficiently.

“I am delighted with the work of the SAGE Commission, and I am anxious to examine their newest recommendations and work to implement them,” he said after receiving the final report.

Gibbons said he has supported the vast majority of the SAGE Commission’s recommendations over the last year-and-a-half, but that most of the ideas have not been embraced by the Legislature.

“I will continue to pursue implementation of the SAGE Commission recommendations,” Gibbons said. “This Legislature simply must realize that they cannot continue to crush working families by raising taxes and increasing spending.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the Legislature has examined and given careful consideration to the SAGE Commission recommendations. The Legislature did enact some changes to the state retirement system and health benefit plans for new hires this past session, she said.

“But there was a pretty strong bipartisan feeling that it would be unfair to go back on agreements we have made in the past where state employees gave up salary increases to have better health care, for example,” Leslie said.

There seems to be a sense from the commission that the Legislature is not taking its recommendations seriously, which is not the case, she said.

The idea of reorganizing the many units of state government to improve efficiency is worth looking at, Leslie said. But some of Gibbons’ proposed reorganizations, such as combining the Commissions on Tourism and Economic Development, were not well thought out, she said.

Leslie said there are always efficiencies to be found in state government. That is why the Legislature‘s Audit Subcommittee constantly reviews state agency operations.

But absent some big reorganization or cutting a big chunk of money out of the budget, cost savings from such efficiencies are likely to be minimal, she said.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said many of the SAGE recommendations have been ignored by the Legislature, just as past recommendations from previous reviews were ignored. Any changes that are adopted are usually modest, he said.

If some of the recommendations of past reviews had been accepted, Nevada might not be in such dire financial circumstances right now, he said.

But Settelmeyer said he does not believe state employees are excessively compensated. Settelmeyer said he would support a change to the state benefit program for new hires, but not current workers.

“On new hires, we have to change the system,” he said. “We need to change from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system.”

Rather than look at current state employee pay and benefits, Settelmeyer said he would like to see a comprehensive review of programs created over the past several sessions when times were good to see if some can be eliminated. Eliminating new programs the state can’t afford could help get the budget back in balance, he said.