Posts Tagged ‘Teresa Benitez-Thompson’

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.”



Collective Bargaining Fight Again Shaping Up At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 1:20 pm May 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is pushing for major changes to the state’s collective bargaining law for public sector employees.

In an amendment to another bill that already passed the Senate, the  chamber said the changes will alleviate budget concerns for local governments and save taxpayers money.

The chamber’s plan includes eliminating binding arbitration, allowing elected officials to create the final contract. Binding arbitration is the last step labor and management use when they cannot agree on a contract. A third-party group looks at both proposals and chooses one.

Sam McMullen, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said that these provisions make local governments more accountable to the contracts they choose.

The amendment would also allow local governments to renegotiate contracts automatically if revenues fall 5 percent or more for two consecutive years.

George Ross, also a lobbyist for the chamber, said that this provision would give government a tool to address economic downturns. Otherwise, he said, they could be contractually obligated to give their employees pay raises as the economy droops toward recession.

The amendment would also remove the eligibility of public sector managers and supervisors to negotiate their contracts and require newly negotiated contracts apply to the beginning of the prior contract expiration.

All of these changes, the chamber argued, would save taxpayers money.

The original Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, would require mediation prior to arbitration and free a third-party arbitrator from having to choose one of the final offers presented. It sparked no controversy and received a unanimous vote during a Senate vote.

The amendment came as a surprise to legislators. Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, called it a “kamikaze amendment.”

The chamber lobbyists acknowledged the short notice, but said they wanted to resurrect the issue after other similar bills died.

Ross called the Legislature’s session a “Where’s Waldo” hunt for money. He said state employees and teachers earn at or below the national average while local government employees – through advantageously bargained contracts – earn more.

“We know we can’t attack that totally and instantly in one or two years, but we’d like to attack the conditions that made that happen,” Ross said.

Others, however, said that the proposals would not be fair.

“If you have two people talking and one of them gets to make the final decision every time, that’s not a negotiation, that’s a conversation,” said Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, of the section of the amendment eliminating binding arbitration.

Rusty McAllister, a lobbyist for firefighters, said that ending binding arbitration “boils down to collective begging” for workers.

The issue of collective bargaining has been important this session as Democrats work against the clock to pass a $1.2 billion tax package by June 6, when the Legislature is scheduled to end.

Assembly Republicans issued a set of policy reform demands including collective bargaining that they say would need to be met before they consider taxes.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has also said repeatedly that he will veto a tax increase. Therefore Democrats need to stay unified and find two Assembly Republicans and three Senate Republicans to join them in voting to override the governor’s veto.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has also called for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws as a precursor for their own endorsement of tax increases.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she would hold a second hearing for the bill since legislators were given no advance notice of the amendment.

That hearing seems certain to bring out the troops for what could be a testy hearing between public sector labor unions and local governments.

“I’m telling any local government official who is listening, you better get your representatives up here,” she said, calling for local governments to provide information to the committee. “For those local governments who do not get that to me by Monday, I will call you out so that the press knows who is not willing to give out that information.”




Immigration Bills Spark Heated Debate In Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 1:10 pm April 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two bills relating to illegal immigrants sparked heated debate in an Assembly committee this morning.

One from Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, would impose penalties and restrictions on illegal immigrants in a way similar to a controversial Arizona law enacted this past year.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, proposed that the state adopt the federal “E-Verify” system, an electronic database that verifies someone’s employment eligibility.

Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, had to ask numerous times for both the support and opposition to keep their comments relevant to the bill.

“I want to stick to the merits of the bill because any time we single out one group or another we do a disservice to the state as a whole,” she told those listening to the hearing.

Meanwhile, observers on the social media site Twitter accused each other of racism and bigotry.

Hansen’s bill would require proof of identity to vote, restrict eligibility for Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship to U.S. citizens, prohibit non-citizens from obtaining driver’s licenses or receiving certain state benefits.

He said the bill is mainly about jobs.

“The number one issue that was confronted with was the economy and the second was illegal immigration,” Hansen said of his talks with voters while campaigning for office last year.

Hansen said that the state’s undocumented workers are preventing Nevada’s unemployed people from finding employment.

He cited figures that show Nevada has a high number of illegal immigrants. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study also found that Nevada ranks No. 1 in the nation in terms of the percentage of illegal immigrants comprising a state’s total population.

Hansen’s bill would cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars if passed into law. This is because it would require state agencies to spend more money to comply with the bills numerous requirements.

“You have half the kitchen sink here is what you have,” Kirkpatrick said of Hansen’s bill.

Hansen’s bill also would require the state to use the federal “E-Verify” database that verifies someone’s employment eligibility.

Hickey’s bill would require contractors bidding for state public works projects to use that system.

“I think this is a small first step,” he said. “This is not talking about all employers in this state, but starting with public works projects, which are tax-payer-funded ones.”

Opponents to the bill said that the federal database upon which E-Verify relies is rife with error. Contractors also objected to the language of the bill because it would make them responsible not only for their organizations, but for their subcontractors as well.

“The E-verify system is an attempt to try to do something that we support, but it has just not proven to be effective,” said Warren Hardy, lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Nevada.

The bills sparked reactions from the numerous Hispanic legislators who sit on the Assembly Government Affairs committee.

Assemblywomen Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, and Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said that anyone testifying should restrict testimony to immigrants rather than Hispanics.

Others suggested that the bills would polarize the Hispanic electorate.

“It’s because of Republicans like [Assemblymen] Hickey & Hansen why R’s will have hard time making inroads with Hispanic voters in NV,” said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, via his Twitter account.

The government affairs committee took no immediate action on either bill.


Bill Would Reduce Fees For Public Records

By Andrew Doughman | 2:20 pm April 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill from Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, would put a cap on fees that state or local governments can charge for public documents.

Assembly Bill 159 would reduce the fee for public records from $1 per page to 10 cents per page.

In a hearing today, Colleen McCarty from the investigative team at KLAS-TV Channel 8 in Las Vegas said that some agencies can charge “exorbitant” amounts for records.

“More and more this is the way that public agencies work to delay us or discourage us to get the records that we believe an open society should have access to,” she said.

Representatives from some of Nevada’s various city and county governments, school districts and court systems, testified in opposition to the bill.

“Many times people are looking for a needle in a haystack and while the needle is not expensive, they want us to pay for the haystack,” said Joyce Haldeman, who represents the Clark County School District.

She joined others in citing concerns about labor costs in complying with records requests.

While advances in technology have made more records available online and at less cost to the taxpayer, not all records are created equal.

For example, the minutes and agendas of meetings can be posted online for free at relatively no cost to the government.

Other requests can take hours to fill. Only charging 10 cents per page for these more complicated requests would mean government agencies would lose money, said many of those who testified against the bill.

Karen Gray at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank, testified that she has encountered discrepancies regarding the cost of public records.

NPRI often makes large requests of government agencies. It hosts the oft-cited database of public employee salaries on one of its websites.

Other lawmakers noted that even if the 10 cent fee was too low, Segerblom’s bill would at least provide consistency.

“To the public, so any of these policies on public records look capricious when we have different costs and different fees,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno. “ …I think it’s worth a conversation so how we get a more consistent policy in place.”

The Assembly Government Affairs committee that heard the bill has not yet taken a vote on it.