Privileges don’t belong in the constitution

By Don Molde

Senate Joint Resolution 11 (SJR11) sits before the Nevada Legislature, awaiting its second consecutive vote of approval. Should that occur, voters in the general election in 2018 will be asked to amend the Nevada Constitution to declare that hunting, fishing and trapping belong in the document as constitutional ‘rights’.

Hunting, fishing and trapping already exist in Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) as legal means of killing wildlife. Should SJR 11 be adopted by voters in 2018, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) would still exist. Sportsmen would still be required to buy licenses and tags, follow laws, rules and regulations, and face consequences for violations.

Proponents of SJR 11 have confused a constitutional ‘right’ with a privilege. Hunting, fishing and trapping are not constitutional ‘rights’. They are privileges, much like driving a car, which also requires a license and compliance with a body of established law.

Why then, has SJR 11 surfaced in Nevada, mimicking, as it does, similar efforts that have occurred or are ongoing in several other states?

Decades ago, when it became clear that wildlife management was needed in this country, state legislators decided to establish a system based on user fees instead of general fund appropriation. (Wildlife management, with few exceptions, is traditionally a state responsibility.) Available funding depended on the number of users and fees involved.

The user-fee based system no longer works very well, mainly because the number of sportsmen is in decline.  Revenue for land and resource management is shrinking. Wildlife management agencies in the West are looking for other stable, dependable funding sources.

For example, about 50,000 resident hunting licenses were sold by NDOW last year.  At an average fee of $40 per license, revenue from hunting licenses produced approximately $2 million. NDOW’s annual budget is approximately $40 million. Hunting license sales therefore amount to about 5 percent of NDOW’s annual budget. But NDOW has previously estimated that all revenue from sportsmen (licenses, tags, administrative costs, etc.) is about 30 percent of NDOW’s annual budget.

Federal excise taxes (from firearms, ammunition, archery, fishing sales) are distributed to state wildlife management agencies based upon a formula which partly depends on license sales. While sportsmen have long claimed that they are the major source of those monies, close analysis suggests that hunting/fishing accounts for about 15 percent of federal excise taxes.  The remainder comes from non-consumptive sources.

User-fee based management systems can have problems beyond shrinking revenue. Those who “pay” want the “say”. Entitlement and quasi-ownership notions are clearly present in wildlife management and have made their way into decision-making circles.

NRS specify the qualifications of the nine wildlife commissioners appointed by the governor: five sportsmen, one rancher, one farmer, a member of the public, and a “conservationist” sit on the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners.

On contentious issues, e.g. predator killing, coyote killing contests, trapping, black bear hunting, using hounds to pursue bears and mountain lions, the rancher and farmer typically vote with the sportsmen, creating a solid voting block of seven. Those on the other side of the issue might as well not show up.

Sportsmen can see the future and they don’t like it. Funding for wildlife management from sources other than license and tag sales will be needed. The worry among sportsmen is that non-consumptive funding of wildlife management will come with a corresponding request for more influence in management decisions. Their “culture” and “heritage” will be threatened by those who may have different values and ideas regarding wildlife management.

Sportsmen may not be incorrect in their concerns.  The public is increasingly taking an interest in wildlife issues including values, management and providing economic clout. 

When the public is asked whether it approves of legal hunting, i.e. a father who buys a license, gets a tag, kills a deer during hunting season and puts the meat into a freezer for family consumption, public approval is about 70 percent.

Should the public be asked whether it approves of the killing of Cecil the Lion, trophy hunting, trapping, strangling animals with snares, shooting wolves and coyotes from airplanes, chasing bears and mountain lions with dogs to shoot them out of a tree, coyote killing contests, poisoning wildlife, killing coyote pups in dens and the like, approval ratings will not come anywhere near 70 percent.

Should SJR 11 be approved by the voters in 2018, what would change, in my view, is that the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners would become even more recalcitrant towards public concerns about current wildlife management practices which are objectionable and in need of revision. Given that the public is already outvoted at least 7:2 on those issues before the discussion even starts, more recalcitrance is not needed.

Given the topography of this topic, and given that hunting, fishing and trapping are privileges already embedded in NRS, does SJR 11 belong in the Nevada Constitution?  

I think not.

Don Molde is one of the founders of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance, a nonprofit that started its life as Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife in August 2014.

Proposed payday lending measures are needed consumer protection

The exterior of a MoneyTree branch

By Tennille K. Pereira, Esq.

Over the weekend Orrin Johnson published an opinion piece titled “A bold idea: Government should treat adults like adults.” He wrote about proposed bills he found insulting, including measures to reform payday lending. His column champions the lenders’ narrative that borrowers are “doing dumb things” and “if you can’t afford a loan, don’t seek one.” Johnson’s piece does not actually address the provisions of Assembly Bills 163 and 222, though.

Assembly Bill 163 does not kill the industry or remove a person’s ability to take out a payday loan. It is aimed at curbing abuses by lenders that are spending millions of dollars to skirt the intent of the current payday and title loan regulations. Under Johnson’s rational, we ought to hold a person accountable for a bad decision but do nothing to thwart abuses by lenders. His view puts the full weight of responsibility of the debt cycle on the borrower and allows the lenders to continue to prey and exploit desperate circumstances with no accountability.

Victims of predatory lending are four times more likely to file bankruptcy. They are families who cannot sustain their own basic living expenses. To take out a loan is a first step in a never-ending spiral of loopholes and rollovers that prevent people from ever receiving the opportunity to “train ourselves out of doing dumb things,” as Johnson put it.

The Commissioner of the Financial Institutions Division testified to the legislative committee that some players in the industry are notorious for arguing over a single word or phrase in order to avoid complying with consumer protections. The bill clarifies the meaning of a handful of words in order to ensure that the intent of the law is followed, which is the responsibility and role of the Legislature.

AB 222 introduces new reforms that are already in place in numerous states. These two bills are not new ideas and are not intended to drive the institutions that Johnson believes “there is a special place in hell reserved for” out of business.

As an apt analogy, last time we held borrowers solely responsible for bad deals, it did not end well. The financial ruins from the Great Recession are still smoldering in Nevada. There is little debate that a major contributor to the nationwide economic collapse was the issuance of subprime mortgages, wherein unscrupulous originators preyed on people who wanted to own a home by falsely representing their monthly income, falsely representing the mortgage payments over the life of the mortgage, and burying the true costs of exotic mortgages in a mountain of paperwork.

The nation’s economy seized. Billions in wealth intended for retirement were simply gone overnight. Numerous homeowners that had never taken any part in a subprime mortgage were left owning properties worth much less than what they owed. Consumer protections are needed to protect individuals and the community because our economy is a collective effort.

Mr. Johnson concludes his piece by arguing that government should not “help” consumers but should enable them to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own lives. Johnson fails to address the very real situation that payday lenders and payday borrowers are not on equal footing. The lenders claim the borrower is going through a crisis, while at the same time bragging about $12 million dollar payrolls. If we’re going to hold borrowers responsible, shouldn’t we also require that payday lenders behave responsibly and play by the rules?

The Legislature should pass AB163 and AB222.

Tennille K. Pereira Esq., the author of this piece, is consumer litigation attorney for the Consumer Rights Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Inc.                                                             

 

 

Powering Nevada Forward

By Dave Belote

Eight years ago, I was proud and honored to serve as commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, shortly after we flipped the switch on what then was the largest solar array in the country.

What we knew then is still true today: Clean energy isn’t just good for our environment; it’s good for our economy – and it’s essential to our national security.

The Department of Defense refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier.” That’s because rising temperatures and sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and other climate change-related events have the potential to exacerbate terrorism and humanitarian crises while at the same time threatening our military installations around the globe.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrote in recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Military leaders around the country understand this threat. President Trump and his administration, however, have proposed cutting funding for clean energy programs that would capitalize on economic opportunities, reduce our impact on the climate, and help keep America strong.

This is a mistake.

Nationally, more than 3 million Americans work in clean energy, according to U.S. Department of Energy data analyzed by the national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). Solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than all U.S. jobs, and they pay well too. In 2016, solar panel installers’ median wage was $26 per hour.

In Nevada, we’ve seen the impact policy decisions can have on clean energy jobs, both good and bad. More than 20,750 people work in the solar and energy efficiency sectors, but despite ranking fourth amongst states in solar jobs, Nevada actually lost jobs in the solar industry last year, in large part due to a Public Utilities Commission policy decision on rooftop solar.

With good policies in place, the Silver State can do better.

Legislators are currently considering raising Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard, which would require utility companies like NV Energy to buy more electricity from renewable sources such as solar and geothermal. Rooftop solar and energy efficiency bills are also up for consideration. These important policies represent an opportunity for Nevada to lead where our federal government does not.

The solar project I inherited as commander at Nellis demonstrates how we can create jobs, drive economic growth, and help address climate change at the same time.

The Nellis solar arrays are reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 50,000 tons per year. Over a 30 year period, according to US Environmental Protection Agency estimates, that’s the equivalent of taking nearly 293,000 cars off the roads in the state.

I support a strong military, just as the president does. At Nellis, I learned that we can accomplish goals of strengthening the military, creating jobs, and keeping our country safe by supporting sound clean energy and climate change policies.

Investing in outdated approaches and dirty energy takes us in the opposite direction. For instance, the Air Force spends about $6.7 billion on jet fuels each year. As an alternative to fuel, U.S. troops used solar energy at combat outposts in Afghanistan, saving roughly 20 million gallons of diesel fuel. That’s taking 7,000 truckloads of fuel off the battlefield and protecting our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen from being targeted by deadly explosions.

Imagine how many jobs could be created, how much more secure our military would be, and how much we as taxpayers could save in energy costs if we invested taxpayer dollars in clean energy like we did at Nellis.

This would also help create jobs for veterans who are trained and unafraid to scramble on rooftops or climb up wind turbine towers. Today, veterans make up 11 percent of the solar industry workforce, compared with 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

As we showed at Nellis, our military knows how to lead on clean energy.

Given the uncertainty of leadership at the national level, it’s now more important for Nevada to reaffirm its leadership and move forward on clean energy legislation. That would be good for our economy, our environment and our national security.

Col. Dave Belote, USAF (Ret), was commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis from 2008-2010. A 24-year Air Force veteran, he also was executive director of the DoD Siting Clearinghouse for renewable energy at the Pentagon. He now resides in Virginia and is a member of the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).

Feature photo of Nellis AFB solar array via Wikipedia via Creative Commons 2.0 licensing.

Disclosure: NV Energy has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Swearing on Adelson’s language

The defamation suit filed in 2013 by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson against The Wall Street Journal reporter Kate O’Keeffe was settled in January, but a question remains:

 Is Adelson “foul-mouthed,” or not?

 O’Keeffe described Adelson in a 2012 WSJ profile as a “scrappy, foul-mouthed billionaire from working-class Dorchester, Mass.” Adelson claimed to be so deeply damaged by being labeled “foul-mouthed” that he dispatched his legal minions to defend his honor.

 Perhaps you are among those who believe a litigious billionaire whose company has paid many millions to settle federal criminal and civil investigations into possible money laundering and violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act would have weightier priorities than being referred to as a former street-corner scrapper with a potty mouth. But life is strange.

 Some skeptics immediately surmised that what really ticked Adelson off most was O’Keeffe’s fearless reporting on lawsuits that raised troubling questions about Sands  business practices in the enormously lucrative Macau casino market. That O’Keeffe was sued personally and the publication in which the article appeared was not part of the litigation fueled that skepticism. Nor was the article’s co-author named in the lawsuit. And the fact O’Keeffe was sued in Hong Kong, where the defamation laws have been politely described as “plaintiff friendly,” only added to the suspicion she was being bullied to send a message to other reporters seeking to shine light on some of Macau’s darker shadows.

 If Adelson was indeed foul-mouthed, surely his former driver Kwame Luangisa would have heard something in the years he spent chauffeuring the billionaire around Las Vegas. Luangisa filed a complaint in Nevada federal district court against Adelson in 2011 alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and engaged in a bruising litigation that ended in a confidential arbitration. O’Keeffe’s attorneys sought to take his deposition and informed Adelson’s attorneys before serving Luangisa with a subpoena 10 days later.

 In response, Adelson’s advocates on behalf of Adfam, the family’s Delaware limited liability company, went after Luangisa. He was sued for supposedly violating the confidentiality agreement that governed his former employment by failing to inform them of the attempt to depose — something they already knew about.

 With pro bono representation from attorneys at Campbell & Williams, a firm that had locked horns with Adelson several times over the years, Luangisa sat for his deposition.

 Once Luangisa gave his sworn testimony, it must have become clear even to Adelson’s advocates that their boss had no case against O’Keeffe. And so after all that legal hassle and harassment, the O’Keeffe case was settled. Attorneys then sought to dismiss the case against Luangisa, which his attorney’s had deemed “frivolous.”

 Not so fast, the limousine driver’s attorneys counter. Although they represented Luangisa for free, they’re arguing that Adelson’s bad faith litigation is an exceptional case that deserves punishment and an award of attorney’s fees.

 Philip Erwin, a partner at Campbell & Williams, is a member of a team of attorneys representing Luangisa. Erwin argued in a motion filed Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court that the treatment of his client is part of a pattern of legal abuse through frivolous litigation.

 That sounds awfully familiar to me. Adelson sued me for defamation and forced me into bankruptcy, then voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice after the meritless nature of his claims was illuminated. I was represented in the case pro bono by attorney Donald Campbell, who is working with Erwin on the Luangisa case.

 While a judge will decide whether Adfam acted in bad faith deserving of sanction, Luangisa’s Sept. 20, 2016 deposition appears to settle the question of whether Adelson occasionally litters his speech with foul language.

 In a bit of hall-of-fame understatement, Luangisa called his tenure as Adelson’s driver “very stressful.” He detailed a time late in his employment when an accident on the Strip stalled traffic and sent Adelson into a tirade. When Luangisa tried to proceed cautiously, he described being pelted with epithets and insults. He said he only rarely heard Adelson drop the f-bomb, but he often spewed other off-color words.

 “And I know I told him I couldn’t make a right, there’s a truck,” the driver recalled. “And he said bullshit, you should have made it earlier, or something. That kind of stuff.”

 Luangisa described Adelson as a proverbial backseat driver.

 “Basically when you’re with him and driving him, he likes to be like he’s driving,” he said. “You know, make a left, make this. And if you don’t do exactly what he says, then he’ll kind of attack you.”

 Luangisa went through a list of a few curse words and denigrations he experienced as the chauffeur of one of the world’s richest men, his testimony making the litigation against the reporter ever more farcical. “Mr. Adelson was mad at me almost every day,” he said.

 And the boss peppered his speech with epithets of one degree or another, which of course only made him like a lot of other demanding bosses in the world.

 Erwin noted in a motion that Adelson had not attempted to keep Luangisa’s deposition confidential in the O’Keeffe case. “Put another way,” he wrote, “Mr. Adelson sued Ms. O’Keeffe for defamation in Hong Kong and obstructed discovery related thereto in federal courts across the country for years only to walk away with nothing.”

 But one man’s use of the language wasn’t really what the O’Keeffe suit was all about. Adelson has once again provided an example of how the wealthy use their wallets to bully and harass journalists and others who dare to question their corporate and public acts.

 It’s important to remember that Adelson isn’t just a multi-billionaire. He’s also a Nevada gaming licensee, a national political power player and kingmaker, and an international businessman with the highest connections in the U.S. and Israel. He dines with President Trump one week, Prime Minister Netanyahu the next. Adelson’s endless millions move the political meter in America and elsewhere.

 If such men are beyond the scrutiny of a pugnacious and probing press, it’s truly something to curse about.

Photo courtesy of Comunidad de Madrid under Creative Commons.

A bold idea: Government should treat adults like adults

There are many ways for lawmakers to show their contempt for the people they govern. They can break promises, waste our money, lie to our faces, and on and on. But to me, the most well-meaning attempts to help people can wind up being the most insulting – and the most destructive.

Two different bills, seemingly unrelated, brought this to my mind this week. The first is the “Motor-Voter” proposal (IP1) which automatically registers people to vote as soon as they get a driver’s license. Currently, you have to check a box to register to vote at the DMV, which, to a certain class of legislator, is considered a terrible obstacle to vast swaths of citizens helplessly clamoring for their voices to be heard at the ballot box.

This, of course, is nonsense. Worse than nonsense, it presents a vision of Nevadans as a people literally too stupid to check a box. It sees a large group of adult men and women too incompetent to fill out an extra part of a simple form they’re already filling out anyway – and then… wants those incompetent thumbs heavier on the scales of government?

I think there is legitimate (albeit overhyped) concern of inviting some low level fraud in a state where non-citizens can easily get driver’s licenses.  (I thought Democrats were concerned these days with foreign influence on our elections, but that stuff changes so often it’s hard to keep up.)

But the real problem with IP1, and similar measures to make registering to vote too easy, is that it asks nothing of our citizens. Registering to vote ought not to be difficult, but it should at least require some affirmative decision to engage.  And the truth is that it is not difficult. If you can get a driver’s license in the first place, you have requisite skill set. And if you just can’t puzzle out how to get it done, then chances are you probably aren’t exactly going to take the time to study candidates or issues, and make informed decisions at the ballot box, making our overall voter pool, well, dumber.

Worse, like the parent of a teenager who still packs his lunch every day and sets his alarm for him before school, it actually teaches us to be ever more dependent on the government for things we really should be doing for ourselves. It helps atrophy our individual sense of responsibility for our own lives, all while inviting us to have more influence over the lives of our neighbors.

***

The other bill — a set of them, actually — seeks to improve consumer protections and increase regulations against payday lenders.

Now, I personally believe there is a special place in hell reserved for these types of institutions. They’re predators who rely on folks making bad decisions when they’re at their most vulnerable. They enable addicts of all stripes, keep families impoverished with outrageous interest rates, and reinforce and encourage bad financial habits. For every sob story their army of lobbyists provide about a payday lender helping a middle class family through a one-time expensive emergency, there are countless legions of poor folks who get trapped in a cycle of getting loans to service loans, with the lenders sucking away at meager paychecks like a spider keeping a fly alive just to feed off of it as long as possible.

And yet…

At some point as a society, we have to accept that freedom means freedom to make poor choices, and even to fail. The nice thing about failure, though, is that it is its own life lesson. The consequences of past behavior inform our future behavior, at least that’s true for men and women, rather than boys and girls.

Whenever I’ve made this point to one of my liberal friends, the inevitable retort (said in the tone of voice once reserved exclusively for the town busybody church lady) is, “That’s all well and good for you, Orrin, but those other people don’t have your advantages.” Translation:  We college-educated-know-it-all-hippies must come down from on high and take care of the plebeians of the lower classes who can’t be trusted to take care of themselves. For the supposed champions of “The People,” they sure don’t have a very high opinion of them. This condescending attitude is how you end up with a President Trump, people.

I’m all for true safety nets, and for consumers protected against out-and-out fraud. But if you can’t afford a loan, don’t seek one.  And if you do, don’t complain when “they” gave you what you asked for. But when government takes it upon itself to habitually protect us from our own consequences, we’ll never train ourselves out of doing dumb things. Folks who aren’t expected to grow up never will. And long term, that’s worse for society than the payday lender vultures.

***

Modern progressivism can never “work” in the long run, because it rests on two mutually incompatible presumptions.  First, that “the masses” should have more power, and second, that those same masses are too stupid to make their own choices, and must be guided and parented by their government. Only one of those things can be true. I pick the first, because if it’s the second, then we should just quit now and give kings and queens another go.

All lawmakers need to approach any proposed regulation with the underlying assumption that the people of Nevada are grownups, capable of managing their own lives, and responsible for the consequences of their own actions. This will go a longer way to truly serve Nevadans than any other “help” they could possibly devise.    

Orrin Johnson was a political columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2015 and 2016. He biegan blogging in 2005 for his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and in 2007 started his own blog, First Principles. He can be reached at orrin@orrinjohnson.com. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson.

 

Armed militia movement takes center stage in first Bundy standoff trial

Photo of gavel on scale of justice

 The shadow of America’s armed militia movement fell over U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro’s courtroom this past week in the trial of six defendants charged in the role of gunmen for Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.

 The trial has been downplayed as simply the first of three scheduled and one featuring the “least culpable” of the 18 total defendants named in the case. But evidence introduced in recent days gives a clarifying picture of what could be ahead in the second trial, which includes the rancher, two of his sons and militia member Ryan Payne.

 Armed militia members, many expressing anti-government views and promoting violence, were all over the standoff.

 FBI agents made a methodical presentation of sections of more than 12,000 pages of Facebook posts and messages collected in a government search. It revealed defendants and others with ties to various militia groups communicating with members of the Bundy family and planning to bring their weapons to the increasingly tense scene of the April 12, 2014 standoff between the rancher, who owes $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement charged with securing hundreds of cattle in a court-ordered roundup.

 The testimony presented a different view of the defendants, whom their lawyers have portrayed as patriotic citizens who came to Bundy’s aid after viewing troubling Internet video posts that were made in the days leading up to the standoff.

 Although no shots were fired and no injuries were reported that day, the defendants are charged with using their weapons to intimidate law enforcement in an effort to recover Bundy’s trespassing cattle. The effort proved a temporary success when the decision was made to depart the area near the impound site approximately 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas off Interstate 15.

 Prosecution evidence left no doubt that defendants Richard Lovelien and Gregory Burleson drove to Bunkerville with weapons in anticipation of using them. Lovelien was described as a leader of a group called the Montana State Defense Force of Libby.

  For the most part, Lovelien’s social media posts were relatively circumspect. But he also offered what sounded an awful lot like a defiant workingman’s credo in a September 2013 post well prior to the trouble in Bunkerville. “I demand my country back from those who aren’t fit to run it. … And if you are not willing to give it back I am prepared to take it back.”

 Not all those communicating with Lovelien and other militia members were on board with taking weapons to a nonviolent protest. Wrote Roy Roady Voss, “You guys are going to get people killed. … Stop trying to blow this thing up and stop helping others do the same thing.”

 Others appeared giddy at the prospect of a possible battle. One beer can commando ended his bragging missive with “BYOG (Bring Your Own Gun.)” Another, in writing a letter of resignation to Lovelien, said he was heading to Nevada to join the fight. “I’m off to war!” he wrote.

 Burleson, who went blind in the months following the standoff due to a medical malady, in Facebook posts wrote fatalistically and expressed a willingness to die if necessary in Nevada.

 “I see all those who have gone before me and they beg me to take my place besides them in Valhalla,” he wrote. “… Feds and BLM have started confiscating weapons from civilians (unconfirmed), 400 more BLM rangers are on their way to the Bundy Ranch. … I look forward to joining my ancestors in the afterlife.”

 In reality, guns weren’t being confiscated, and the only reinforcements the BLM and U.S. Parks Service Police received came from Las Vegas Metro, the Nevada Highway Patrol and the FBI. (Burleson made references to getting information from the Drudge Report as well as from mainstream media sources.) Most law enforcement backup arrived in the wake of an intelligence report that noted dozens and even hundreds of militia members were discussing converging on the Bundy Ranch.

 In what could reasonably be described as gloating, after the cattle were released, Burleson was back on Facebook posting messages and photographs.

 “I faced off with heavily armed Federal Agents this weekend, what did you do, go shopping?” He wrote, later adding, “Officially an American Badass WORLDWIDE!”

 A day later, with a photo of himself holding an AR15 assault weapon near the site of the standoff, Burleson posted “That right there is a True American militia.”

 The celebrant could barely contain himself: “Drove 8 hours, no sleep for 24, got there, KICKED ASS and smoked a Cohiba … Round one is ours, gonna go back in a couple days to make sure the Fed Bastards get the message.” And: “That right there is a Real Minute Man, and I got the hat to prove it.”

 He’s not alone.

Navarro rejected a steady litany of defense objections that the Facebook messages were more prejudicial than probative. Not all defendants were mentioned in the posts, nor have all yet been directly tied to militia organizations. While some militia groups portray themselves as constitutionally focused fraternal organizations that aid their local communities in times of crisis, others espouse anti-government rhetoric and even nationalistic and white supremacist views while advocating violence against federal employees.

 America, and especially the West, saw a surge in militia growth with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. But it appears the Bundy standoff also had an impact on the phenomenon. In January, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a more than one-third increase (from 202 to 276) in armed militias nationally in its wake. SPLC Intelligence Project director Heidi Beirich observed, “We believe these armed extremists have been emboldened by what they saw as a clear victory at the Cliven Bundy ranch and the fact that no one was held accountable for taking up arms against agents of the federal government.”

 In one post Burleson observed, “Damn and all I did was go there looking for a fight.”

 Now that the militia shadow has fallen on the first Bundy trial, and its essential importance to the future trials is clear, Burleson and the others are in the fight of their lives.

Because they can

A group exempt from the Open Meeting Law, the state ethics law and the public records law has only one member who wants to make government less opaque.

Ladies and gentlemen: Your Nevada State Legislature.

Other groups, many of whose members work only four-day work weeks and all of whom have the most direct impact on your lives, want to make it as difficult and expensive as possible for you to see public records.

Ladies and gentlemen: Your Southern Nevada local governments.

That all of this was revealed during Sunshine Week — a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy — is both a cruel irony and sad reality. Your elected officials don’t care what anyone thinks because they don’t have to care. They know that such issues are considered obsessions of the media, a group that is even more reviled (especially now) than they. They know the public cares very little about such perceived trivialities. They know few people, if any, vote against them because they didn’t sign onto a transparency measure.

But you should care. Here’s why:

So long as government officials are allowed to operate away from or outside the public eye, they are less likely to be responsive or responsible. Human beings left to their own devices will often show their fallibilities, sometimes make bad or venal decisions, occasionally be corrupted by absolute power. They will betray the public trust.

The more private they are allowed to be with the public’s business, the more what they do will be hidden from view. It’s not just that scandals will be covered up (they will). More quotidian but questionable decisions on spending and priorities and methods will be unseen.

The only lawmaker willing to try to change some of this is Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom, who has sponsored a bill heard last week that is as ambitious as it is unlikely to pass. But Senate Bill 170 is not radical.

It would modernize the public records law, bring it in line with the federal Freedom of Information Act and reduce financial barriers to getting information. As The Nevada Independent’s Michelle Rindels reported, there was nary a provision of Segerblom’s bill that local governments from Southern Nevada did not find overly burdensome or invasive.

Why? Because they can.

This measure is clearly in the public’s interest, yet no other lawmaker has signed on, a sign that it may be headed for a legislative tomb. If you listened to the testimony of local governments last week, you would have thought Segerblom had proposed the equivalent of asking them to actually work on Fridays.

Indeed, the hearing produced maybe the single dumbest quote I have heard in 30 years of covering Carson City, courtesy of North Las Vegas lobbyist and mayoral consigliere Ryann Juden:

“These newspapers are not being printed in convents in the evenings by nuns. They’re for-profit corporations,” he said. “When they put out these stories that they put out there, they sell ads. They attract eyeballs.”

Forget that all of that is singularly irrelevant to the substance of the bill. Forget that not all journalistic enterprises are for-profit. (Ahem.) Forget that Juden works for a government that is not open for business on Fridays and gambled the city’s credibility on a mysterious company that now appears to be slowly disappearing.

(By the way, I once asked Juden for his resume to show his qualifications for his job as John Lee’s right-hand man — an obvious public record — and he would not produce it. That was two years ago or so.)

Leave all of that aside.

The objections at that hearing by local government officials, amplified by a letter from the City of Henderson, was all about how difficult it would be, how much money it would cost to actually….do their jobs. Their jobs being, lest we (or they forget), to serve the public — and answer to the public. Why do you suppose they want to keep some information private or make it so difficult to obtain?

Because they can.

I am not unreasonable on how this should work. Maybe requests by gadflies or even irresponsible media outlets could be rejected if they overreach. Such provisions would have to be written carefully because the gatekeepers’ instinct will always be to close the gates if given sanction to do so.

This is obvious to any reporter who calls a public information officer – and most local governments have many of those. I have dealt with a lot of PIOs over the years, and while I have encountered dozens of true pros trying to be helpful, too many are PLIOs – Public Lack of Information Officers.

The reflex, which you saw during last weeks’ hearing, is to make information, even simple stuff, as hard to procure as a Super Bowl trophy for the Buffalo Bills. And now, aided and abetted by the Gang of 62, they want to maintain the status quo.

Why? Because they can.

Only the ACLU seems to care. The group’s policy director, Holly Welborn, submitted a letter indicating what amendments to the law are necessary. It makes a lot of sense.

The problem, though, is Wellborn wants to commit the heresy of making lawmakers’ actually abide by the records law themselves. Oh, the horror.

When she was with the Associated Press, Rindels wrote about how the Legislature had erected a wall around its own records. These elected officials, already operating far away from the view of most Nevadans, like the existing system just fine. Why should the laws that apply to everyone else apply to them?

There will always be ways around these kinds of laws for elected officials – private emails and cell phones are legion. And I am not an absolutist – we should allow elected officials some zones of privacy, within reason. But what Segerbom and the ACLU proposes is reasonable and is long overdue, as are most reforms of this kind in Nevada.

Sixty-two lawmakers have not signed on to what SB 170 is trying to do, ignoring an issue that should be important but isn’t. Why? Because they can.

The only way for secretive governments to prosper by stiff-arming the people who pay their salaries are for lawmakers to… do nothing. Unfortunately, the past has shown that doing nothing is one of their most prominent skills.

Feature photo: North Las Vegas City Hall as seen on Thursday, March, 16, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

It’s time to rethink Yucca

By Randi Thompson

A nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain should be dead. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, created in 1982, said at the time that long-term storage of nuclear spent fuel was the only option. But technological advancements in nuclear spent fuel research shows that putting this product in the ground is an outdated idea.

UNR, UNLV, Department of Energy national labs, General Electric, and many other companies and universities have for years been researching ways to reprocess spent fuel, and even how to turn it into a power source. That is what Nevada’s leaders should be considering; that is what they should be negotiating.

Yucca Mountain could be the premier nuclear energy research site in the country. Our state could lead the nation in developing ways to reuse spent fuel as a fuel source. And really, where better to locate such an energy park then at Yucca Mountain and the former Nuclear Test Site, a place that continues to lead the nation in nuclear exploration?

We as a nation have to address the growing stockpiles of nuclear spent fuel, and Nevada’s leaders should be working with Congress and the federal government to change the concept of a waste repository into a nuclear energy research park. In return for helping address the national problem of relocating the nuclear spent fuel that is being stored all around the country, we should negotiate a deal that ensures Nevada gains financially for our willingness to help.

Nevada has an opportunity to create a world-class research center that can chart the course for nuclear energy production for the next century. Using the completed Yucca Mountain facility (yes, it was completed before it was shuttered), this center can lead the nation in developing technologies to generate power by reprocessing spent fuel as well as advance renewable energies. The “Nevada Energy Park” could develop new industries, generate new sources of clean energy, create thousands of high-paying jobs, and generate funds for the state budget.  

Such an energy park has broad support in our state. In 2012, a statewide poll related to Yucca Mountain showed that 62 percent of Nevadans support the creation of a nuclear research park for the study of reprocessing of nuclear spent fuel at Yucca Mountain. The survey was conducted by reputable pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies and polled 500 likely voters.

The poll showed that 75 percent of rural residents (primarily in the southern part of the state and in Nye County where Yucca is located) supported opening the site. In Clark County, 100 miles away, 61 percent of Clark County residents supported it, while 60 percent of residents in Washoe County were in support.  

Instead of fighting the federal government, we should work with them to update the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, toss out the idea of repository, and instead create a nuclear energy research center.

Randi Thompson worked for the Department of Energy under the Reagan and Bush administration. She is now a government relations consultant in Reno.

Feature photo of “Yucca Mountain in Nevada” by Nuclear Regulatory Commission is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Bill That Can’t Be Cured

By Congresswoman Jacky Rosen

This past week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an independent office that projects the cost and economic impact of legislation, released its report for the American Health care Act, the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. The report revealed just how harmful this poorly constructed bill would be for Nevada families and how it could damage our local economy.

I’m deeply concerned about this legislation and the impact it would have on Nevada’s patients and providers. I’ll be the first to admit that the Affordable Care Act has its flaws, but since its enactment, the rate of uninsured in Nevada has been reduced by half, including in my district. Nearly 31,000 people in my district have benefitted from the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act implemented in our state by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Many of those patients suffer from chronic conditions and would lose access to affordable treatment under the GOP plan.

According to the independent analysis conducted by the CBO, the GOP replacement bill would cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2018 alone. In just one decade, 24 million Americans will lose their coverage, with 52 million uninsured by 2026. Aside from dropping millions from their coverage, the legislation will drive up the costs of premiums for insurance buyers nationwide by 15-20 percent, and disproportionately increase costs for Americans aged 50 and over.

Under the repeal bill, insurers would be allowed to charge older Americans five times as much as younger ones, which would result in the average 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 in the individual market paying $12,900 more in their premiums each year. This translates to what is simply an age tax, which is unacceptable. Americans who have worked and saved for years, and who might want to retire early, will bear a tremendous burden should this bill become law.

It’s not just patients who would be negatively impacted by this bill. Nevada’s hospitals will also suffer. While Medicaid reimbursement is relatively small on a case-by-case basis, our hospitals still rely on the program for billions of dollars in reimbursement for care delivered to lower income Americans. The GOP bill would gut Medicaid expansion, which has not only given our most vulnerable access to preventative health services, but it has helped our seniors and even our veterans afford long-term health services as well.  

Many hospital CEOs have stated that the corresponding reduction in revenue will result in reductions in the services they offer and large staff layoffs. Rural hospitals may have to literally shut their doors. Nevada’s health sector is one of our top economic drivers. Closing any one of the 64 hospitals across our state would send a ripple effect across our local economy. The elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood would also have dramatic economic impact. The resulting loss in funds would likely also result in millions of lower income women, losing access to critical health services like cancer screenings and affordable birth control.

For all those reasons, I cannot and will not support this bill. It does not address the main problem with health care: the cost.  We need smart solutions to make health care more affordable, not ideological and partisan proposals that result in many of my constituents losing their health insurance and forcing our hospitals to choose between staying open and laying off staff. As your representative, I want to make sure your voice is heard in Congress. That’s why I encourage you to contact my office and share your story and your ideas about the impact of this legislation, and health care reform generally. Your voice matters, and I will make sure it is heard.

Jacklyn Sheryl “Jacky” Rosen is the U.S. Representative for Nevada’s 3rd congressional district, serving since 2017.

Ratti’s on the Right Track

By Sandra Koch, MD, and Tim McFarren, MD

State Senator Julia Ratti has introduced Senate Bill 233;  when passed, this bill will ensure that the current health care coverage for Nevada’s women and their families continues regardless of changes in health care that may occur at the national level.  The bill includes provisions that will maintain the barrier-free access to preventative services, prenatal care, cancer screening, assistance with smoking cessation, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, vaccinations and contraception.

Barriers to obtain these services were lifted about 5 years ago.  We can see the impact these changes have had within our state both socially and economically.  We have known for decades that the cost of screening/ prevention is far less than the cost of treating the consequences.  When we look beyond cost to see the effect on families, the changes have had a profound impact that will be felt for generations.  Cancers detected before they invade, diseases treated before infertility sets in, pregnancies planned, smoking rates lowered, healthy babies born at term, mental health problems addressed and indicated vaccines given, lowering the spread of disease.

In our Carson City practice, when the cost barrier was removed, we saw a big increase in women seeking preventative care who hadn’t been seen in years.  A few, unfortunately, had already developed cancer and needed advanced treatment but with most we were able to recognize pre-cancerous changes and address other medical problems at minimal cost.  These visits also provide time to address cancer screening, wellness needs and pregnancy concerns.

Most women spend several decades trying to avoid pregnancy.  Removing barriers to effective affordable contraception leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies. Since the ACA was passed, Nevada has seen a 10 percent decrease in unintended pregnancies across all age and socioeconomic groups.  When pregnancies are planned there’s less risk for mothers and babies and lower costs for care.  Those of us in health care firmly believe that the decrease in unplanned pregnancies is due to removing barriers to effective, reliable and affordable contraception.

 Women who struggle financially are much more likely to be affected by unintended pregnancy.  Those with family incomes below the federal poverty level are 5 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy.  These women are much more sensitive to barriers for services that allow them to prevent pregnancy and for this reason are less likely to use contraception.  When unplanned pregnancies result, there is great social and financial cost. Every dollar spent on contraception leads to a saving of seven dollars in public funds.  A very good investment!

This bill would add two new to options for contraception.  In addition to covering the pill, the ring, the shot, implants, intrauterine devices and tubal ligation; it would add vasectomy and the ability to obtain 12 months of the pill with one stop. No more monthly trips to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription.

There are many reasons why couples choose one contraceptive method over another.  Sometimes it is a personal preference and other times there are medical reasons why only a few methods may be used safely. This is why it’s important for couples to be able to obtain, without barriers, every method approved by the FDA.

We believe that with these resources, we will continue to see improvement in the overall health in our state and a decline in unplanned pregnancies.

The benefit to our society and our budget is tremendous.

SB233 deserves all of our support.

Dr. Sandra Koch has been practicing Obstetrics medicine at Carson Medical Group for 27 years. She moved with her husband and co-author, Dr. Timothy McFarren (also an OBGYN at Carson Medical Group), to Carson City in 1990 from the Central Valley of California to welcome a new lifestyle that included open space, lower population and easy access to recreation.