Giving thanks

NV state seal

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Our bellies are full of mimosas, buffet turkey, buffet mashed potatoes and gravy and all the other classic dishes of the holiday. It is simply the perfect time to pause and reflect on all of the things that we are thankful for as Nevadans. 

I’ll start by being thankful for not having Thanksgiving at a buffet line this year. 

No, I’m not one of those curmudgeons that opposes restaurants being open on Thanksgiving on “family tradition” lines. Way I see it, someone has to cook on Thanksgiving, and, if it won’t be you, you have no right to “volunteer” members of your family to cook for you. At least buffet workers are getting paid with cold, hard cash; what are you giving your parents or your partners? A toxic combination of tradition, guilt and stress while you watch football and spill beer on the floor? 

No wonder so many families are miserable during Thanksgiving. 

Not mine, of course. We reorganized into an anarcho-syndicalist commune years ago. Our Thanksgiving menu was adopted during our last biweekly affinity group plenum and promulgation was successfully delegated via consensus to our various child worker councils. As always, the carving of bread by this week’s plenum coordinator served as the traditional capstone for our family’s Thanksgiving observances. It was truly a touching ceremony filled with camaraderie, recollections of the Spanish Civil War, and renewed agitation for Catalonian independence. 

I kid, I kid. We just gland Softnow while we change genders on the fly and talk to our Minds while they do all the cooking. Meetings are sooo boring. Best to only participate in them during special circumstances. 

With that fanciful bit of preamble out of the way, what is there to be thankful for this year? 

If you live in the best state in these United States, there’s quite a bit to be thankful for. We are now less than a decade from our state song becoming public domain, which means, come 2027, we’ll be able to sing “Home Means Nevada” in public without paying royalties to the estate of Bertha Raffeto. I will note that there are some very smart people that think that intellectual property has never been meant to reward innovation or creation; instead, it exists solely to create ever-expanding government-protected monopoly profits. I will also note that even most student loans are repaid within 30 years, while copyrighted works published before 1978 were copyrighted for up to 95 years, and works published after 1978 are automatically copyrighted for the life of the author plus up to 120 years. 

In related news, I’m thankful that Project Gutenberg and HathiTrust exist. 

I’m also thankful that the public’s willingness to let various local and state government bureaucracies throw taxpayer money into football stadium-shaped wood chippers is finally starting to run thin. The Southern Nevada Water Authority learned that the hard way when its plan to preach water conservation to drunk tourists on the taxpayer’s dime came to light in this very publication. In response, they did what any reasonably run public entity did and passed the buck to an advisory board, perhaps with the hopes that everyone will get bored and forget all about the idea until it’s too late to actually stop it. 

Unfortunately, I bear bad news for SNWA. I’ve met the staff at The Nevada Independent and they really don’t have anything better to do than to attend some random water authority citizen advisory board. Some of them even have time to edit my writing. I’m sorry, SNWA, but you’re just a wounded bureaucratic gazelle running away from a pack of smart, dedicated persistence hunters with journalist passes and, except for Riley Snyder, some non-trivial amounts of student loan debt. There’s no escape. Let it go.

Speaking of local and state government bureaucracies throwing taxpayer money into football stadium-shaped wood chippers, did you know UNLV’s rent for Allegiant Stadium may be five times higher than the rent they’ve been paying to half-fill Sam Boyd Stadium? If I volunteered to be an investor in the Raiders, I’d be pretty thankful for that, too.

Since I’m not, well, my feelings are somewhat more oppositional.

I’m also thankful that people in our state are taking gerrymandering seriously enough to propose a constitutional amendment. Interestingly enough, I agree with many of Rev. Leonard Jackson’s objections; I just don’t think it’s possible for a political process to produce an organization that is somehow immune to political pressure. All solutions, political or otherwise, require people to carry them out. Though we’ve certainly tried to abstract that away throughout our country’s long and storied history, the best anyone can do is minimize the worst of the damage. Letting the Legislature draw district maps is prone to obvious abuse. Letting a commission do the drawing at least encourages some measure of independence from immediate day-to-day political pressures. 

Even so, I am thankful that Rev. Jackson raised the issues he raised because he’s absolutely right – a misbehaving legislature can absolutely put thumbs on the scales. That means it’s on us, as voters, to hold our Legislature accountable when they form redistricting commissions, just as it would be on us to hold them accountable if they drew their own district maps. No matter how hard we try, we can never make our responsibilities disappear. The best we can do is delegate some to others from time to time.

I’m thankful we’re not yet at the point in the election season when presidential candidate visits close airports and freeways. I won’t be so thankful next year, so consider yourself warned. 

I’m thankful the Nevada Bar Association is rightly minding its own business.

I’m thankful I’m not homeless in Nevada. Our housing situation in Nevada is dire enough to keep paroled convicts in prison; anybody who thinks it’s just a simple matter of “getting a job” and “taking a shower” hasn’t done any apartment shopping lately. I agree that personal choices and responsibility factor into homelessness. I just disagree that the personal choices and responsibilities of single-family homeowners that treat new apartment or condo construction in their neighborhoods as if they’re categorically identical to a new fat-rendering plant or a slaughterhouse are somehow off the table.

I’m thankful that some places, albeit not in Nevada, are eliminating single-family zoning. Minneapolis is on to something. We should take notes.

I’m thankful for my health. 

I’m thankful for my family. 

Finally, I’m thankful for The Nevada Independent for letting us share this moment together. If you’re thankful for the hard work this crew puts in, let them know.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving, Nevada. I did. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org

Bureaucracy, outdated laws and endless litigation are a poor substitute for effective water management

Photo of Walker Lake, Nevada

Clark County Commissioner and noted free market champion Tick Segerblom has an interesting idea: Instead of giving the Raiders $30 million in exchange for advertising that teaches drunk tourists how to save water, why doesn’t the Southern Nevada Water Authority just charge more for water so people have an incentive to use less of it? 

That’s a really good question. 

To answer it, we have to acknowledge that water, especially in the driest state in the country, is scarce; in other words, there’s not enough of it to meet every Nevadan’s needs and wants simultaneously. Given that, the two ways we’ve found to peacefully manage scarcity are politically and economically. (Scarcity can be managed militarily as well, but it’s generally frowned upon.)

Trouble is, it’s impossible to manage scarcity purely through political or economic means. 

Economics is impossible without some definition of property — who owns what and what does it mean to own something, in other words. Those, however, are also political questions, derived through mutual agreement and consensus. And it’s impossible to manage scarcity through purely political means because political means are simply too slow and inflexible; we’re not going to hold a vote before every shower, for example. Additionally, no matter how scarcity is managed, the fact that something is scarce means somebody is not going to get what they want. In fact, there’s a chance, though hopefully small, that somebody might not even get what they need. 

There are a few things to keep in mind, however. 

First, political solutions aren’t necessarily democratic ones, nor do they necessarily involve the government at all. Political solutions merely require that they apply to groups of people and that the groups of people govern themselves by those solutions. In fact, many political solutions openly contradict government statutes. For example, we have unofficially but politically decided that Burning Man and Electric Daisy Carnival are functionally exempt from all applicable drug laws and several Nevada counties have declared themselves exempt from state gun control laws. 

Incidentally, political solutions that openly contradict government edict frequently end up overwriting and becoming government edict themselves. Just ask Clark County Commissioner and noted recreational marijuana champion Tick Segerblom. 

The second thing to keep in mind is that markets are only as good as the information people feed into them, only as good as what people can do in response to the information the market provides, and only as good as the institutions the markets exist in. California successfully got all three wrong leading into its electricity crisis at the turn of the century by capping price increases, blocking supply construction, prohibiting long-term contracts, and creating a set of institutions that left ownership and responsibilities ambiguous, which allowed companies like Enron to manipulate those ambiguities for a sizable profit. (On the other hand, while it’s still probably best if we don’t think too hard about how sausage is made, it’s hard to argue that we don’t get enough of it, with incredible variety, at astonishingly low prices.)

The third thing to keep in mind is that both political and market solutions are nothing more than methods of communication. They’re not magic — they’re just ways for people to communicate what their needs and desires are, as well as how intense those needs and desires might be. Like all forms of communication, they privilege those who can speak the loudest and the longest. Politics privileges those who have the time and social capital (popularity, in other words) to build and enforce consensus; markets, meanwhile, privilege those who have more financial capital than others. (However, markets at least let everyone have a voice, even if it’s not an equal one; the same cannot be said about most political processes in our country, especially once governments, courts, and prisons get involved.)

With all of that in mind, let’s think about what we’re trying to communicate to each other about Nevada’s water supply in general and Las Vegas’ in particular. What are the existing political and economic solutions communicating? And what should they be communicating instead?

Our political and economic solutions surrounding Nevada’s water supply are, I’m sorry to say, a hack built on top of a kludge glued to a midden heap placed haphazardly between a rock and a hard place. Even if Nevada’s forefathers had an ounce of foresight, which I assure you they most certainly did not, they were the products of a culture that had more than a thousand years of experience managing land scarcity, absolutely no experience whatsoever thinking about water scarcity, and absolutely no desire to consider the practices of other cultures before attempting to solve a problem. 

It shows.

Consequently, water rights in the western United States are muddy, metaphorically speaking. I don’t mean that just in terms of them being unclear, though they are certainly that. I mean that in a lot of not particularly useful ways, we pretend that water behaves like land and apportion it accordingly, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. 

For example, water rights are apportioned by acre-foot (the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land in a foot of water, or a little over 325,851 gallons; a suburban household uses between half an acre-foot to a full acre-foot of water each year). If that water owner uses their water rights to irrigate their property, some of the water will inevitably go back underground and become groundwater, where it can either be reused by another water owner or left to rest for future use. On the other hand, if that water owner bottles up their water right and ships it away, the water permanently leaves the system. 

That’s a problem when you’re trying to identify how many acre-feet of water are actually in a system so you can apportion them without accidentally allocating more water than is actually present. If you only count “water used” but fail to count “water reclaimed as groundwater,” you’re going to overestimate the amount of water that’s actually allocatable. Luckily for all of us, Nevada’s forefathers got around this by estimating total water capacity at a time when water was used almost exclusively for local agriculture during an unusually wet period with an attitude that allowing any water to evaporate in a playa somewhere was “waste.” 

Wait… that’s not lucky at all. That’s… the opposite of that. That’s a recipe for catastrophe. 

But wait, it gets worse. Western water law is based on the doctrine of prior appropriation, which is based on the idea that the first person to take a quantity of water for beneficial use (more on that in a bit) has a perpetual right to that quantity of water as long as they use it beneficially. Subsequent water users, meanwhile, can take whatever quantities of water they can, provided doing so doesn’t interfere with prior water users’ rights. (This, admittedly, is an improvement over riparian water rights, the governing regime used back east, which basically governs water like air: take whatever you want but don’t make too much of a mess, basically.)

There are two major problems with this approach. 

First, in order to maintain the right, the water right has to be exercised in its entirety. This means there’s a strong incentive against conservation. If a water rights holder uses less water than they have a right to, they might lose the right in subsequent, wetter years. Worse than that, the definition of “beneficial use” is so restrictive that letting water pass in order to preserve or improve the local environment doesn’t count, as federal officials reminded the Walker Basin Conservancy recently, and also restrictive enough to prevent reselling to other water customers, especially across state lines. Consequently, senior water rights holders have every incentive to not only deny water to conservation efforts, they also have every incentive to exercise their water rights to the fullest, even if doing so denies junior water rights holders access to water.

Second, just because you can appropriate a quantity of water today, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to appropriate that quantity of water tomorrow, no matter what rights are on paper. This is especially true of Nevada’s groundwater, which is largely composed of “fossil water” — in other words, underground lakes filled with water from thousands of years ago. Though there is some natural recharge of Nevada’s groundwater basins, a lot of Nevada’s precipitation evaporates away before it gets into the water table, especially in clay-lined valley playas.

A particularly horrifying counterexample of playa evaporation, by the way, is the Nevada National Security Site, which contains several cracked playas in which lush plant growth are taking place because of the fracturing of the clay and the exposing of loose soil. Why is that horrifying? Let’s just say you probably don’t want to think about how those playas were cracked, and you definitely don’t want to think about what’s washing underground from those activities.

But wait, it gets worse. Yes, worse than water filtering through irradiated nuclear test sites into Nevada’s groundwater. Yes, really.

Not only do we have poorly defined water rights that regulate water like acre-feet of immobile dirt, not only do we have government-imposed restrictions on water rights that require every senior water right holder waste as much water as they wasted in the 19th century, and not only do existing water rights in Nevada ignore groundwater recharge rates, but we also heavily subsidize water use, which brings us back to the beginning. 

How heavily, you ask? Consider this — the water rates in Lakeland, Florida and Seattle are both above $7 for each 1,000 gallons used. In Reno? Less than $3 for each 1,000 gallons. In Las Vegas? If a household uses half of an acre foot of water a year, or a little more than 13,500 gallons a month, they will pay, on average, just over $2.20 per 1,000 gallons at current rates — less than a third what water customers in Seattle pay. 

In other words, our markets, as currently designed, are telling us that water isn’t scarce at all; in fact, they’re telling us that water is more plentiful in Las Vegas than it is in nearly any other city in the United States. That’s obviously incorrect, so, to correct against that, we have put into place a variety of complicated and seldom understood political solutions to better match consumption to reality. These include sprawling, slow moving bureaucracies (like the Colorado River Compact), regressive sales taxes that subsidize profligate water users on the backs of less water-profligate residents, and enough lawsuits to choke the Nevada Supreme Court. 

There is another way. 

Australia, like Nevada, is also very dry, and so water is very scarce there as well. Unlike Nevada, however, Australia ultimately opted to manage water scarcity through market-driven methods instead of political and litigious methods. 

This didn’t happen quickly. Water Markets in Australia: A Short History is 155 pages long (that’s longer than this op-ed, believe it or not), which should give some insight into how long it took and how laborious it was to settle the political questions over who owned what and who was allowed to sell what to whom. Choosing a market-driven solution did not make the political questions go away. It only moved them up a level while simultaneously empowering individual water owners and users to make their own decisions regarding water consumption and sales. 

Even so, it worked. Switching to a water market encouraged Australian farmers to not only use less water by being more efficient with their water consumption, but also to resell water to more productive uses (cities, more often than not). It helped that Australia allowed water rights to be preserved even if the water rights holder didn’t consume their full allotment; on the contrary, their market system actively encourages this behavior. 

To be clear, water markets aren’t a panacea. If poorly designed, like Nevada’s water market currently is, they may encourage overuse or even Enron-style manipulation. Additionally, though Nevada’s precipitation totals may be similar to Australia’s, our hydrology is a bit different. We have more isolated groundwater basins filled with fossil water than Australia probably does because of our unique Basin & Range geology, so any water rights regimen we conceive will need to account for the sustainability of these resources.

Even so, political processes, grinding bureaucracy and endless litigation are a poor substitute for effective water management. At some point, we have to encourage Nevadans to do the right thing — not by hectoring them during football games but by changing incentives so we will all want to use less water. Australia proves that well-conceived water markets can work.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org

Art Institute LV: Scandalized school not a ‘for-profit’ college for its instructors

Colorful pencil and chalk drawing

Commercial photography adjunct professor Michael Brown was between classes late Thursday afternoon at The Art Institute of Las Vegas when I reached him by phone.

Those precious minutes from the end of one class to the beginning of the next are often hectic for teachers and students, but Brown has more time than usual these days. It’s not exactly a beehive of activity around the troubled for-profit college at 2350 Corporate Circle in Henderson. His once-bustling courses on advanced photography and Photoshop are now nearly empty. Brown is part of the small group of professional instructors who remain on the job at the scandalized school that for years has specialized in creative and culinary arts programs.

“It’s like a morgue in here,” said Brown, who has taught there since 2014. “Classes are down to one, two or three students, no more.”

It’s safe to say The Art Institute ought not be offering classes on making payroll. Harried school manager William Turbay, a 16-year Art Institute instructor who has managed to keep the place open, acknowledges teachers essentially haven’t been paid in up to 34 weeks.

No one has to remind Brown and other instructors I’ve spoken with of that fact. They know that while some people will consider them selfless and dedicated, others will call them carnival rubes and some of the last victims of an elaborate hustle that began years ago.

It’s generally understood that most teachers are underpaid. At The Art Institute of Las Vegas, they aren’t paid at all. While Turbay expresses guarded optimism that his recent meeting with a local banker will produce a bridge loan to keep the school’s doors open while officials continue to work to try to pry loose more than $4 million in federal loan funding due for distribution to the school, he won’t likely win a vote of confidence from his beleaguered instructors. At this point, they might settle for a bake sale.

Brown gives current administrators credit for trying — not everyone I spoke with was as generous — but adds the obvious: The fading school has no chance to make a comeback without a substantial infusion and a lot of community faith it doesn’t much deserve.

It appears to remain in business more out of an evolving sense of compassionate compromise with accreditation and state post-secondary education officials than out of a viable vision for the future.

It wasn’t always that way. Not many years ago, dozens of Art Institute campuses were open across the country, and the Henderson location was among its most popular and profitable. That all collapsed in 2015 when parent company Education Management Corp. (EDMC) — the second-largest for-profit college company in the nation — agreed to pay $95.5 million in a global settlement with the Department of Justice to end multiple lawsuits for consumer fraud, illegal recruiting and other violations. The primary allegation? The company unlawfully recruited students using a high-pressure “boiler room” strategy in which employees were paid based solely on the number of students they persuaded to enroll, most often after applying them for long-term financial aid that turned into withering debt.

The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David J. Hickton’s statement reflected the sentiment of the moment. “Today’s global settlement sends an unmistakable message to all for-profit education companies: the United States will aggressively ferret out fraud and protect innocent students and taxpayer dollars from this kind of egregious abuse,” he said.

Except, well, that settlement was couch change compared to the $11 billion in taxpayer-funded student loans collected by EDMC before the DOJ came knocking in 2011. By the time the settlement was signed – EDMC admitted no wrongdoing — $95 million was about all that remained.

Democrats cried foul, and that was under the Obama administration. Let’s just say the ferreting and protecting remains a work in progress under current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has shown as much affinity for the for-profit operators as the students buried in loan debt.

The Art Institute scandal is a travesty and a deep betrayal of the trust of a student body that includes plenty of military veterans on the G.I. Bill, trusting faculty, some administrators and taxpayers everywhere. It’s hardly unique to the slippery side of the for-profit college business, but it’s about as egregious as it gets.

Since the disintegration of EDMC, the bones of its four-dozen private schools and colleges have been thoroughly picked over. The Las Vegas campus holds on as it suffers the consequences of previous actors with the potential for more bad news coming in December.

Turbay and school instructor/spokesperson Lisa Mayo-DeRiso focus on the ongoing battle with an out-of-state receiver and emphasize the selflessness of their fellow teachers. But the grim reality is that the school’s student population continues to shrink from a little more than 500 at the start of 2019 to under 300, according to one estimate. By agreement with the state, the school can add no new students until teachers’ salaries are paid.

They’ll get no argument about one thing: the surprising — no stunning — fact that teachers remain on the job and continue to work without pay on behalf of students who are struggling to cross the academic finish line and complete their degrees, for whatever they end up being worth.

In a reflective moment Brown said, “I had a good group of students … who were really good workers. They were working hard. It wasn’t their fault. I told them I would continue to teach them under the circumstances.”

Although he had no classes scheduled for Friday, Michael Brown said he’d be on campus all day supervising a student on a photo shoot.

The student shows a lot of promise, he said. He wanted to be there to help.

That kind of dedication is hard to put a price tag on, but it’s long past time someone did.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

New harassment and discrimination regulations change compliance requirements for Nevada casino industry

Nevada Legislature building

By Anthony Cabot

On Thursday, the Nevada Gaming Commission adopted regulatory revisions conceived and drafted by the Gaming Control Board that address workplace discrimination and sexual harassment in the casino industry. 

Some changes restated existing law, while others are systemic changes to the way casinos must comport themselves. As an example of the former, casinos (and other licensed companies) always faced regulatory penalties if they violated any federal, state, or local law. The changes emphasize that these laws include workplace discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, or national origin. 

The new regulations wisely stay clear of creating new discrimination or harassment standards beyond what is already in federal, state, or local law. Stated a different way, the casino industry is not subject to a new set of standards for workplace discrimination or sexual discrimination different from other non-casino employers or industries. For example, what constitutes sexual harassment is the same, whether a room attendant works at a casino or a non-casino resort. This conclusion recognizes that lawmakers at the state or federal levels and not gaming regulators should be defining consistent community standards for workplace behavior. 

The regulations, however, make systemic changes to the way the Nevada casino industry must assure compliance with these standards. The regulations create a reporting and investigative system where incidents that may put the casino industry in a bad light are investigated, acted on, and reports to the regulators before they make headlines in the national press. Casino owners and executives should no longer be able to sweep bad behavior under the rug with concealed settlements, employee intimidation, or otherwise.

Historically, sexual harassment and employment discrimination fell under the authority of the casinos’ human resources departments. These regulations expand the scope of the major casinos’ existing compliance plans so that the casino’s compliance committee serves as a second review of discrimination claims with a focus on meeting gaming regulatory goals. Smaller casinos or licensees (any business with 15 or more employees), without mandatory compliance plans, also must have written policies and procedures. 

For background, the purpose of compliance plans is to prevent possible regulatory violations and monitor activities impacting the casino’s continuing qualifications as a licensee, inform and advise senior management and the board of directors of regulatory problems and to communicate these issues and any corrective steps to the gaming regulators. Historically, compliance plans were meant to prevent the involvement of criminals or other unsuitable persons in casino operations and avoid unethical or unlawful business practices. The scope of compliance plans gradually expanded since the 1990s and these regulations add a significant category of review: workplace discrimination or harassment. 

Late last year, the Gaming Control Board issued proposed criteria for sexual harassment policies and procedures. These criteria will likely be expanded to include workplace discrimination. Casinos will need to amend their compliance plans or adopt policies and procedures to meet the minimum standards. The policies will require a statement that the company is committed to diversity, inclusion, and respect and will not tolerate sexual harassment or workplace discrimination. The policy must describe prohibited conduct and give relevant examples. The casino must have a reporting system for filing complaints. The complainant and any witnesses must receive whistleblower protections. The procedures must include immediate and proportionate corrective action, and the company must inform the complainant of any sanctions imposed on violators. Compliance training, plan evaluations and periodic reports to the regulators also are part of the minimum criteria.

Notably, employees can file complaints concerning customers’ or vendors’ bad behavior. The focus on customers addresses a familiar problem in the casino industry where indiscretions have been tolerated, particularly where they involve high-value players. This is an area that will likely receive the most attention as the new procedures should augment the seriousness and consequences of unacceptable behavior on the casino floor. Management and supervisory employees should be aware that tolerance of player’s bad behavior will impact their licenses or employment.  

Once a complaint is filed, then the casino must investigate. Here is where the incorporation of the discrimination or harassment reviews into the compliance plans has a significant benefit not present in smaller casinos without compliance committees. Compliance plans involve both a compliance officer that receives and investigates claims and a compliance committee that reviews the claims and makes recommendations to management and the Board of Directors. Most compliance committees have three or more members, including senior management and an independent member, although some companies will have moved toward having more or exclusively outside members that exercise independent judgment. All members are sensitive to the concerns of the gaming authorities and can determine what is an unsuitable situation that could adversely affect the reputation of the gaming company. 

Moving responsibility for harassment claims under the compliance plan is useful and is a missing element where the casino does not have a compliance committee. A company (or a company owner or executive) cannot treat a claim solely as a civil matter that can be resolved through settlement or litigation. At least one independent person on the compliance committee will be reviewing the allegations and their disposition. The committee will be relaying their review on harassment claims to management and possibly to the Board of Directors.  With such deliberation at multiple levels, the casino will make a reasoned decision that will avoid an unsuitable work environment. The compliance committee recommends, and the company carries out reasonable faith efforts to stop repeated problems should they exist. Moreover, the company will be aware that the information garnered through the investigation and deliberations of the compliance committee will be reported to the regulators and subject to periodic review.

These regulations should go a long way to preventing high-profile allegations of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination by owners and top executives and provide reasonable procedures for general policing. The casino industry is changing dramatically from its male-dominant, chauvinist past. The Gaming Control Board deserves credit for working through the policy and politics of this issue. These regulations are a significant step forward.  The industry appears to recognize this as the commission passed the regulations without opposition. 

Before joining the Boyd School of Law as a Distinguished Fellow in March 2018, Anthony Cabot practiced gaming law for 37 years and was a former chair of the gaming law practice and executive committee member at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP. 

Standing up to oil and gas interests

Photo of active oil operations in Railroad Valley, Nevada

By Rebekah Stetson

It didn’t get as much attention as it should have, but last week Gov. Steve Sisolak stood up for Nevada by convincing the federal government, for the time being, to drop the idea of leasing for oil and gas in places that could harm wildlife habitat and threaten our clean drinking water. This acreage was up for lease at rock-bottom prices, on land that has almost zero potential to produce oil and gas. I am thankful that our governor used his discernment and stepped in.

All this attention on oil and gas development from the federal government doesn’t make a lick of sense. Oil and gas lease sales have occurred every month since September, with another scheduled for next month. Because the parcels being offered have so little actual oil or gas potential, they often don’t receive any bids at auction allowing oil and gas companies to scoop them up for pennies on the dollar. This underhanded approach is a not only a rip-off for taxpayers, it effectively ties up our public lands from being managed for recreation or wildlife. 

The planned November lease sales included land near Great Basin National Park, the Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge and the Ruby Mountains. These are some of the most beautiful and cherished areas to me and so many others who visit these areas and support Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy. They are the reason so many of us live, work and play here. Outdoor recreation contributes $12 billion to our economy. It also supports 87,000 jobs ranking in at the third highest sector supporting more jobs than logistics, IT or mining! Locking up land on or near our most valuable recreation areas makes absolutely no sense for Nevada or Nevadans.

The request from the governor, and the outpouring of protest from local leaders and community members allowed the BLM to defer about 100,000 acres that it had planned to lease last week. But the deferrals are only temporary and next month’s lease sales of additional acreage are expected to go on as planned. The December leases involve lands that contain big game migration corridors and areas that are important to the Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone tribes. 

Simply deferring the lease sales is kicking the can down the road. Many of the leases that have been proposed under the Trump administration’s so-called energy dominance agenda impact land that is vital to wildlife, drinking water, outdoor recreation or our cultural heritage. These are places that should never be offered up.

Thank you, Gov. Sisolak, for speaking out against the November sales. I urge you to continue to oppose the wrong-headed rush to sell off our public lands to outside oil interests. Meanwhile, I trust and hope that our Congressional delegation will find more comprehensive protections for our most cherished lands.

Rebekah Stetson is native Nevadan, businesswoman and board member of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

VanDyke is the right choice for the Ninth Circuit

The front of the US Supreme Court Building

By Juan Martinez

In the weeks ahead, the U.S. Senate has the opportunity to confirm a highly qualified nominee who will help make sure that the people of Nevada benefit from fair and impartial judicial decisions. Lawrence VanDyke has been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to fill a coming vacancy. Senators ought to strongly support this nomination.

The Ninth Circuit is the nation’s largest, hearing cases from Nevada and eight other states. Together, the states and territories in this circuit are home to more than 60 million Americans. The decisions of the Ninth Circuit are often the final word on how the law applies throughout this vast region. It’s important that the Senate get this right.

In Mr. VanDyke, we have a nominee with an impeccable record. His years of legal experience include his service as solicitor general of Nevada, after having also held the same position in Montana (he would be the only appeals court judge to have served in that position in two states) and as assistant solicitor general in Texas. This critical and high-profile role meant that he was entrusted to act as the state’s representative in legal proceedings – including those before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He served as counsel on 28 briefs filed in Supreme Court cases and has argued more than 20 appeals – most of them in the Ninth Circuit, the court to which he has been nominated.

Currently an official at the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. VanDyke graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was also an editor of Harvard Law Review. And – early in his career – he served as a clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often considered the second most important federal court. He is a distinguished appellate advocate with experience in both public and private service.

By any measure, Mr. VanDyke’s resume is outstanding. He has the experience senators ought to look for in a judicial candidate. But just as important, in his work throughout his career and during his recent Senate confirmation hearing, he has shown that he understands the proper role of a judge.

First and foremost, judges are called to set aside their personal or partisan beliefs and apply and enforce the law. Their job is not to act like elected representatives, shaping or changing the law and mandating that their views be followed. They must be neutral arbiters, adhering to the Constitution and defending individual liberty. They must faithfully apply and interpret the law, rather than legislating from the bench.

At his confirmation hearing, Mr. VanDyke vowed to put his personal views aside, calling that “a key and critical part of being a federal judge.” He promised that he would faithfully apply all precedents of the Supreme Court, and said that his goal would be “to look at what the Constitution meant to people at the time it was enacted.” He testified that it’s the responsibility of Congress to “change the rules—whether it’s statutes or the Constitution—it’s not the job of judges.”

He’s absolutely right. If a law isn’t having the intended outcome, it’s up to Congress to fix it. And if they don’t, they can be held accountable in the next election.

In addition to his academic credentials, professional achievements, and judicial philosophy, Mr. VanDyke is a nominee with a deep understanding of Nevada and the West. He represented the interests of Nevadans for four years as our Solicitor General. He grew up in Montana and graduated from Montana State University, and later served in government not only in Nevada, but also in Montana and Texas. He will bring a knowledge of our region and our concerns – one that can only help inform his work on the court.

In short, Lawrence VanDyke is exactly the sort of fair, objective judicial nominee that Nevadans should expect. Nevadans elect our lawmakers and we don’t need judges taking on their roles, or substituting their personal political opinions. Such a commitment to impartiality is essential to delivering on the foundational promise that all Americans stand equal under the law.

Nevadans can be proud of Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination, and we look forward to his swift confirmation.

Juan Martinez is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Nevada.

Occupational licensing boards are a hazard

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

By David Colborne

What is the difference between being a homeopathic medical examiner in Nevada or Utah? 

Utah doesn’t license homeopathic medical examiners, nor should they since homeopathy is a long-debunked pseudoscience. A “homeopathic medical examiner” is every bit the fraud that a “creationist archeologist” or a “flat Earth astronomer” would be. Nevada, on the other hand, does license homeopathic medical examiners, which is utterly disgraceful as it legitimizes fraud via government license and statute. 

That occupational licensing sometimes protects fraudulent occupations via government statute (like, for example, so-called “oriental medicine,” a field of quackery originally invented by Maoist China, which of course Nevada also happens to license because why wouldn’t we?) is one among several reasons why state-run occupational licensing should definitely be rethought, if not abolished outright. Luckily, Nevada’s Dental Board and Board of Pharmacy were kind enough to recently remind us all of another great reason — they’re also funnels for incompetence and graft. 

The theory behind occupational licensing goes something like this: Some occupations are downright hazardous to our health when done improperly. To protect ourselves from, say, malicious interior designers, it’s a good idea for there to be some sort of certification organization, agency, or board that confirms a provider for a particular service is qualified to provide the service. Additionally, this organization should also be able to receive complaints and revoke certifications for incompetent or fraudulent providers of these potentially hazardous services. 

I agree with all of that, by the way. I like my doctors, plumbers, barbers and electricians to know what they’re doing.

None of that, however, justifies requiring Nevada’s dentists through force of law to pay $1200, plus an additional $600 every two years, to the GOP Chair Michael McDonald Welfare Fund. It also doesn’t justify paying the executive director of the Board of Pharmacy, a board that failed to complete mandatory background checks for a decade, more than $150,000 per year. And it certainly doesn’t justify requiring more than a quarter of Nevada’s workforce to pay state-mandated license fees to more than thirty chronically unaccountable occupational licensing boards. 

How unaccountable are our state occupational licensing boards? Like most of Nevada’s problems, as the state’s latest audit report notes, that’s a question that’s been wrestled with for decades. Ironically, while Nevada’s occupational licensing boards are directed to ensure that those working in regulated occupations perform their work according to best practices, Nevada’s occupational licensing boards are barely regulated at all. Consequently, each occupational licensing board tends to make up its own rules as it goes along, frequently at considerable cost to those they regulate. For example, state boards spent more than $500,000 on outside contract lobbyists (that’s even if you subtract the $72,000 Michael McDonald charged the Dental Board for metabolizing oxygen, carbon and water into carbon dioxide, heat and bodily waste). 

Worse yet, some boards use disciplinary fines to fund operating expenses. This is a phenomenally bad idea. As Ferguson and Waldo have conclusively demonstrated, letting agencies keep fees for revenue encourages agencies to seek out fine-generating activity, no matter how dangerous each activity might or might not be to anyone. Nevada’s drivers are already well acquainted with this dynamic if they’ve driven through Esmeralda County, where more than 10 percent of the county budget comes from traffic fines. Similarly, it’s probably not a coincidence that the State Board of Cosmetology, whose fines remain with the Board per statute, issued over 900 fines (more than every other occupational licensing board combined) totaling nearly $200,000 just between July and September. 

What should we do to hold Nevada’s occupational licensing boards accountable?

The state’s Division of Internal Audits recommends that the various occupational licensing boards should be administered under the Department of Business & Industry. Honestly, that’s not a bad idea. The Governor’s Office has struggled to administer Nevada’s overly numerous occupational licensing boards for several administrations now. Putting them under a department with administrative expertise, a pool of pre-existing office staff and a bit more focus might help at least prevent the sort of issues we saw from the pharmacy and dental boards. 

There is, however, a somewhat more obvious solution to this problem than moving some boxes in a bureaucratic org chart: Eliminate some (if not all) of Nevada’s occupational licensing boards. 

Nevada licenses more of its workers through state-run occupational licensing boards than any other state in the country. We license more of our workers than California (which, licensing 17.2 percent of its workers, ranks 46th). We also license more of our workers than Idaho and Wyoming (which rank 4th and 5th — anybody who tells you Republicans support “smaller government” is trying to commit fraud and should be treated accordingly). Despite this, Nevada is no safer for employees or the public than any other state. Put another way, we certainly don’t have a “first in the nation” reputation for employee or public safety. 

The reason for this is simple: Occupational licensing boards don’t exist to serve the public. They initially exist to serve the occupations they license by artificially restricting the number of people who work in each licensed occupation. This, however, only lasts until the Iron Law of Bureaucracy takes hold and each board begins to function to serve itself at the expense of its members. This scenario has clearly happened to the Dental Board and, if the excessive fines issued by the Cosmetology Board are any indication, is probably happening there as well. Once that happens, laborers in each licensed occupation labor to pay the high salaries of board members and their staffs, whose sinecures are protected through statute.

Thankfully, occupational licenses aren’t the only way we can hold industries and employers accountable; arguably, they’re perhaps the least effective. The Institute for Justice lays out several options which are far more effective at protecting the public and don’t require the creation of punitive boards full of bureaucrats with six-figure salaries. These include market competition (not everyone’s favorite tool, I know, but one I’m fond of), voluntary third-party certification, bonding and insurance (voluntary and mandatory), deceptive trade practice acts and even state certification. 

Granted, none of these options will pick the pockets of Nevada’s dentists to pay Michael McDonald’s lobbying fees, nor will they keep workers from other states from easily bringing their skills to Nevada (remember, rural Nevada has a serious dentist shortage) without filling out forms and paying various licensing fees before they get to work. Even so, these are arguably small prices to pay for greater, more affordable access to better, safer services for every Nevadan.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org

When government is too much and not enough, all at the same time

Photo of the front of the Nevada Legislature building.

If you ask most right-leaning folks what they want from government regulators, they’ll usually just tell you, “less.” If you ask most left-leaning folks, they will argue for regulators to have more power over our lives, unless it affects them personally in any sort of negative way, and then they’ll also tell you they want “less.” (I have yet to meet the small business owner of any political persuasion who wants more legal red tape.)

I don’t want to chill this undercurrent of bipartisan agreement, but the “more/less” debate on government regulation is too often wrongly framed. It’s not a two-dimensional lever like a volume controller where it’s relatively easy to find the Goldilocks zone by tweaking the total number of regs to just the right amount. It’s about who is holding the levers, the quality of the regulations, their purpose (real and putative, which occasionally are the same) and their execution. 

Take the marijuana industry, where I have often argued there should be less regulation. There should be a net reduction in the number of rules regarding pot sales and cultivation, of course, but the really offensive thing about marijuana licensing is how arbitrary and capricious it is allowed to be. When requirements are cost-prohibitive to most start-ups and qualified applicants can be denied because “better” applicants have more personal or political connections, the goal of those laws is nothing more than to act as a protectionist racket. In other words, it’s not the fact that pot is regulated, it is the way the regulations are written and enforced that makes corruption so inviting — and breeds so much well-justified suspicion into the levelness of the playing field.

Ultimately, the more heavy-handed regulators get in any industry, the more likely that industry will corrupt itself by co-opting the regulators. And those without the right connections will take their businesses underground, won’t do business at all or will find some other workaround. And those workarounds can be even worse than the over-regulation was.

In Storey County, for instance, the fear of over-burdensome utility regulations led developers to side-step and form a public water district. This allowed the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center to blossom quickly, diversifying the small county’s economy during some rough economic times. But the private entities and individuals running the water district are so entwined with the developers themselves that it is impossible not to raise one’s eyebrows at the potential conflicts of interest there. And whether or not everything in Storey County is strictly above-board, the opportunities, such a melding of private and public interests create for graft and corruption, are endless. 

It’s the same problem as the marijuana over-regulation, but arrived at from the other direction. At least the county is finally taking some steps to clean up this tangled web. (Storey County is uniquely susceptible to problems like this just because it’s so small. One wonders if it might not be worth thinking about re-drawing some of our county boundaries, but that’s a column for a different day…)

The regulation of any private industry should be as minimal as possible, but not less than that. Any regulations should be narrowly tailored to serve an identifiable and significant public interest, such as safety or the ability to correctly and fairly assess a tax burden. 

If and when regulators are needed, they should be full-time workers (or paid that way) to prevent the dual loyalty problem that can weaken faith in our government with even the appearance of impropriety. 

From distributing alcohol to selling cars to permitting taxi cabs to keeping the alleged riff-raff out of gaming, Nevada gets this wrong time and again. I’d say we need to restore a better balance, but I don’t think as a state we’ve ever had it right. That balance should be the goal of every lawmaker, every legislative session.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.

‘Pipeline-to-nowhere’ project literally puts Boulder City at a crossroad

Interstate 11 during construction

BOULDER CITY – Many residents of this bucolic town still scratch their heads about it.

Some see it as a scandal barely averted, one that would have changed Boulder City’s small-town feel forever. Others wonder if it went far enough for a community under pressure to expand despite its cherished slow-growth ordinance.

I call it the pipeline-to-nowhere, but that’s not an entirely accurate description.  The water line project was headed somewhere in anticipation. 

The 16-inch line stretches west along US 93 from the edge of developed Boulder City toward Railroad Pass, then cuts south along US 95 down into Eldorado Valley and the new I-11 Interchange. There it stops.

Although the new line is buried, bright yellow fire hydrants mark its path. The image of hydrants popping up across the desert seems absurd, but there it is.

By the time you reach the end of the line, you can barely see Boulder City proper. A vast swath of undeveloped desert fills the space in between, but you’re still standing on city-owned land.

Bringing a new water line that far into an empty area would normally signal impending commercial development, but that’s not how the project was sold to Boulder City residents. Officially, the water line was promoted as a necessary expense to support the needs of the impressive Copper Mountain Solar 4 power plant in Eldorado Valley. Back in February, a news release by the city manager’s office enthused, “This project, when complete, will build a redundant waterline to the line that provides water to the solar fields. The water is used mostly for cooling towers and to create steam for power generation.”

Just to drive home the point of its importance, the missive added, “The existing line to Eldorado Valley requires regular maintenance due to high usage. Building the new line will provide redundancy.”

Not to be redundant, but you get the idea that this project was an essential addition to the solar facility.

That was in February, before Mayor Rod Woodbury lost to then-Councilman Kiernan McManus and James Howard Adams knocked off Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt in surprisingly heated campaigns that saw voters reject a big spending ballot question and respond to the challengers’ historic preservation and slow-growth messages. Overnight, the face of the city’s elected leadership underwent substantial change.

So, it seemed, did the priority of running the new water line all the way to the solar facility. The important redundancy issue, suddenly, wasn’t such a big issue, after all.

The city posted on its official website a time line to illustrate just how long the water hookup has been under consideration. That’s a lot of planning just to come up short.

Skeptics who wondered whether the city’s effort was more about bringing water to an important interchange than providing a backup for the energy field found their suspicions stoked. Even those who envisioned a bustling and much bigger Boulder City had to admit that it’s quite a coincidence the line now extends to what promises to be a very busy and quite lucrative I-11/US 95 interchange. 

But it’s official. In a letter dated Sept. 5 from Copper Mountain Solar 4 vice president Akshaya Bhargava to the Boulder City’s contracts/real estate manager Brok Armantrout, the company acknowledged the change of course and the end of the project. “With the completion of this water line, both the City and CMS4 have fulfilled all of their respective obligations under the above referenced agreements. CMS4 acknowledges that any further costs associated with modifying or extending this water line for use by CMS4 are now the sole responsibility of CMS4.”

What was sold as a $2 million expense that was essential to the success of the solar project was no longer necessary. And it’s been reported in the hometown Boulder City Review that ending the arrangement will save the city a few million in construction costs.

Which leads those Boulder City skeptics to further suspect that may have been the plan from the start. Expansion in the city is reined in by a slow-growth ordinance put in place decades ago in an effort to preserve its character and avoid the breakneck development that was taking place in the rest of Southern Nevada.

Boulder City’s pipeline reminds me of another infrastructure project three decades ago that sent water and sewer lines out past the edge of the Las Vegas city lights to what then seemed like the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t. The real estate was slated for massive residential and commercial development with some city officials taking advantage of inside information.

But, to be clear, no one is suggesting either current or former Boulder City officials followed that ethically questionable course. 

It still makes me wonder when that water line will be put to its intended use. Not to mention all those fire hydrants.

For now, it’s just a pipeline to nowhere and, come to think of it, a good place to walk your dog.

Not just lines on a map, electoral districts literally steal votes

sign pointing to voting location

By Jordan Ross

I first got involved in politics as a candidate myself with the slogan “Because the Right to Representation Matters.” I won and have since been re-elected twice more. But the inherent promise in that statement has to be constantly made good if I expect my constituents to keep re-electing me. I live in a small township, I’m close to my voters, and they know they have the right to expect me to respond to their concerns.

This is an increasing problem across many parts of the country where gerrymandering has allowed candidates who don’t really have the support of their constituencies to continue in office. The bottom line is that the voters in the communities just aren’t represented at all – their votes have been stolen.  

The Virginia legislature truly represents its people for the first time in years after a court threw out it racist gerrymandered districts. And a court in North Carolina has started the same process, banning obviously rigged districts, and ordering new ones to be drawn for their congressional elections. Last year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the congressional district maps in that state; they were drawn so bizarrely the state had become a laughingstock of corruption in elections.  

It seems you don’t need to blatantly segregate and discriminate against voters to take away their right to vote – just draw district lines that make their votes worthless.  

An interesting proposal from Beatty public school teacher Benjamin Pennington has begun the slow process of becoming a constitutional amendment to Nevada’s Constitution. I would suggest that there is one very good concept in this proposal. I would support the introduction of ranked voting to reflect the opinions and goals of a larger portion of the electorate more accurately. The mathematics clearly support that. All too often the current two stage past the post system yields a final winner that a majority of voters would rather not have. Ranked voting would produce office holders with a much broader base of support and less polarization of politics. 

However, I strongly object to multi-member districts. Voters want to know who their personal representative is and to be able to hold that one person accountable. Single member districts would be smaller and would keep representation closer to the communities they serve. As for gerrymandering, we’d be better off in codifying the current court-imposed system of legislative nesting of two assembly districts into each Senate district. Nesting instantly eliminates all gerrymandering of Senate districts. 

Combine that with the proposal by the League of Women Voters for an independent redistricting commission that would end gerrymandering of Assembly districts and you’re done. This is more important than some voters may think; for a decade we’ve already had nesting, keeping gerrymandering out of Senate districts but this was imposed by a court 10 years ago when the Legislature couldn’t agree on district borders. But nesting is not enshrined in either statute or constitution and is at risk of disappearing without pressure from voters to keep it. 

I do think the Legislature should be a little larger. The growing urban population has reduced the number of legislative seats in Nevada’s rural counties. I think both major parties want to support rural life and adding a few more seats would cost very little and add a few more rural voices without proportionally disenfranchising urban and suburban voters. There would also be the benefit that districts would be closer to urban voters as well. The legislature could on its own increase the size to 74 seats in both houses and keep nesting at the same time. This wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment. 

Mr. Pennington’s effort is in the right direction. I support the effort for electoral reform and as a state we should look into further changes to better represent the voters. But this proposal isn’t ready for prime time. 

The independent redistricting proposal by the League of Women Voters is long overdue and the success of such commissions in other states should dispel any doubts some voters may have. It’s just too much to ask legislators to be fair and impartial when they’re drawing their own electoral borders. 

All of this may seem too nerdy or too much like inside baseball to many voters, but everyone needs to know the value of their vote is on the line and it’s worth doing something about.

Because representation matters.

Jordan Ross is a constable in Laughlin, Nevada.