The Indy Explains: Question 1 or 'Marsy's Law' — more rights for crime victims

Foyer of Las Vegas court

Question 1: Marsy’s Law

Formal name: Marsy’s Law

Type of measure: Legislatively referred constitutional amendment

Sponsors: Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, former Republican Sen. Becky Harris and Independent Sen. Patricia Farley; the measure is also supported by tech billionaire and victims’ rights advocate Henry T. Nicholas.

Summary of what it does: It would amend Nevada’s Constitution to enshrine 16 legal rights of victims of crime, including:

- The right to protection from the defendant

- The right to be notified of and present at all court proceedings where the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present

- The right to have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered as a factor in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the defendant

- The right to prevent the disclosure of confidential information or records to the defendant which could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family

- The right to refuse an interview or deposition request, unless under court order

- The right to be reasonably heard, upon request, at any public proceeding in any court involving release or sentencing, and at any parole proceeding

- The right to full and timely restitution, and to receive such monetary payments before the defendant pays other fees

Similar measures have passed in California, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio. The measure is named after Nicholas’ sister Marsalee, who was shot to death by her boyfriend in California in 1983. Marsalee’s family was at the grocery store shortly after the crime and became distraught after unexpectedly running into the boyfriend, who they did not realize had been released on bail.

How did it qualify for the ballot: The measure was twice passed by the Legislature and now heads to a vote of the people for final approval. In 2015, the Assembly unanimously approved the measure and the Senate approved it 15-6, with Democrats Kelvin Atkinson, Aaron Ford, David Parks, Tick Segerblom, Pat Spearman and Joyce Woodhouse in opposition. It unanimously passed both houses in 2017, with those senators previously opposed voting in support.

Primary funders: Nicholas and the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation, which shares his California address, have donated virtually all of the $8.4 million raised this cycle to pass the measure.

Financial impact: The Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Fiscal Analysis Division said it cannot determine exactly how much Marsy’s Law will cost to implement, although it is expected to reduce revenue to the various programs that rely on court fees by requiring defendants complete their restitution obligations before paying any other assessments.

Notifying all victims of court proceedings could require major technological updates because many courts — especially those in smaller counties — do not post all records and proceedings online. An existing victim notification system called VINE can alert people about when a person is released from prison or jail, but is not equipped to provide updates about all the court hearings a victim would be entitled to know about through Marsy’s Law.

Argument in favor: Proponents’ rallying cry is “equal rights for victims.” They say it is unfair that people accused of a crime have more constitutional rights than those affected by a crime.

“Victims of crime have already experienced a traumatizing event and are entitled to compassionate justice,” proponents wrote in their official argument in favor of the measure. “They should not be revictimized by a justice system that does not weigh their rights equally with those of the accused and convicted.”

Advocates say ramping up victims’ rights provides “much-needed balance at all stages of the justice system.”

As for the need to include it in the constitution instead of state law? Proponents say that arrangement “guarantees that victims can enforce their rights in court if those rights are being violated,” and argue that “victims who are afforded more meaningful rights in the justice system are more likely to report crime and to feel safer engaging in the legal process.”

Arguments against: Marsy’s Law opponents describe the measure as “a solution in search of a problem that does not exist,” and say state law already protects victims’ rights. Implementing Question 1 will remove the existing framework that the Legislature can adjust with and impose “an inflexible framework, and any unintended consequences cannot be fixed unless the Nevada Constitution is amended yet again—an uncertain process that typically takes more than three years.”

They also take issue with defining “victim” as anyone “directly and proximately harmed” by a crime, saying it creates a large and ill-defined group that will be difficult and costly to notify of all court proceedings. And they say it undermines basic principles such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“By allowing victims to prevent disclosure of certain information or to refuse to participate in interviews or depositions, those wrongfully accused of crimes may be denied access to information proving their innocence,” opponents write. “The State, not the victim, is tasked with prosecuting and punishing crimes, but Question 1 allows victims to pursue their own agendas without regard to the individual constitutional rights of those accused of crimes.”

They also posit that the state could face costly litigation as others have experienced, and that government agencies will suffer because victim restitution is prioritized over other agencies that currently support themselves through court fees.

Status: Will become part of the Constitution if it passes a statewide vote this year.


Indy Video: Explaining Question 2, the 'Pink Tax' exemption

Nevada voters will weigh in on Question 2 in the 2018 election. What is the "Pink Tax," and how would the ballot question affect the price of feminine hygiene products and the amount of tax revenue flowing into government coffers  if approved? Check out our video explainer:

The Indy Explains: Question 6, raising renewable standards to 50 percent

Solar panels at Apple's solar field in Yerington, Nevada

Question 6: 50 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard

Formal name: The Renewable Energy Standards Initiative

Type of measure: Initiative petition to amend the Nevada Constitution

Group sponsoring: Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future

How did it qualify for the ballot: The PAC supporting the ballot measure was able to turn in more than 230,000 signatures to state election officials in June, far above the required 112,544 signatures needed to make it onto the ballot.

Summary of what it does: If approved, the measure would raise Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, to 50 percent by 2030. The state’s current RPS is set at 20 percent and will increase to 25 percent by 2025

An RPS requires electric utilities ensure a specified percentage of electricity they sell comes from renewable energy, which is usually tracked through a credit system. That allows for certain types of energy, such as electricity produced through rooftop solar systems, to have a “credit multiplier” effect and count more towards meeting the required minimum production standard.

Credits can also be produced through energy efficiency programs and for electricity used by power plants that never makes it onto the grid — meaning there is typically a disparity between the reported RPS threshold and actual amount of renewables in a utility’s fuel mix.

NV Energy, the state’s primary electric utility, said in April that it had a 24 percent clean energy portfolio for 2017, ahead of the 20 percent RPS minimum.

If approved, the RPS would not immediately increase to 50 percent overnight — instead rising to 26 percent through 2022 and 2023 and rising by 8 percent every subsequent two-year period until 2030.

What have other states done?: At least 29 states, including Nevada, have an RPS in place, and eight additional states have set nonbinding renewable energy “goals,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hawaii has the highest RPS in the nation, with a goal of 100 percent compliance by 2045. Other states with ambitious RPS goals include Vermont, with a 75 percent target by 2032, and California, New Jersey, New York and Oregon, each of which have a 50 percent RPS target by 2030.

Nine states have a higher RPS target than Nevada’s 25 percent by 2025 goal.

Arguments for Question 6: Supporters of the measure in formal arguments wrote that a higher RPS would mean more renewable energy generation and lower the amount of natural gas imported to the state. It also cited a study from the National Resource Defense Council showing that a higher RPS would result in significant cuts in pollution and a higher air quality, as well as construction of new power plants in Nevada.

The study cited by supporters claimed that approval would mean installing 3.85 gigawatts of new solar development over the next decade, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 13 percent.

“Question 6 is the only measure on the ballot that will guarantee electric utilities keep their promise to move us to renewable energy, while maintaining flexibility so future legislatures can raise standards as technology improves,” they wrote in formal arguments published by the Nevada Secretary of State.

Arguments against Question 6: Opponents cited a wide variety of reasons to oppose the measure, including the fact that the sole funder to date is a group founded and closely associated with liberal California billionaire Tom Steyer. Opponents also said in formal arguments that amending the state’s Constitution would “recklessly pave a path putting ratepayers at risk” by removing the ability of the state Legislature to set renewable energy goals.

“Prudence and patience are exercised to encourage innovation while protecting ratepayers,” they wrote. “To do otherwise is to asphyxiate innovation and jeopardize the affordable supply of reliable energy Nevadans are currently allowed to purchase.”

They also cited a veto issued by Gov. Brian Sandoval of a bill in the 2017 Legislature that would have raised the RPS to 40 percent by 2030. Sandoval called the measure “commendable” but that it would be “premature” given uncertainty over the possible implementation of the Energy Choice Initiative if it is approved by voters in 2018.

Primary funders: The only group to contribute funds to the PAC supporting the ballot measure is NextGen Climate Action, which has transferred more than $2 million to the organization since the last required campaign finance reporting deadline in June.

A California-based nonprofit best known for opposing that state’s increased gas tax has set up a website and social media accounts opposing the measure, but hasn’t reported spending any money against the initiative.

Financial impact: Analysts with the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau said they couldn’t determine the fiscal impact of the proposed constitutional amendment “with any reasonable degree of certainty” given uncertainty over how the Legislature or state agencies would implement the initiative if approved by voters.

Similarly, the agency said it couldn’t predict how electricity prices would be affected if the measure passes.

Status: Will be placed on the 2020 ballot if approved by voters and added to the Constitution if approved in that election.

Indy Video: Explaining Question 5, Nevada's automatic voter registration initiative

People wait at the DMV office in Henderson on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018

This November, Nevada could be the latest in a string of states looking to ease the process of voter registration.

That’s if voters choose to approve Question 5, which would enact automatic voter registration or AVR, a law that would change the process of registering to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when receiving or renewing a driver’s license or I.D. card from opt-in to opt-out.

But how does AVR differ from the process the DMV already uses? And how would it actually change the way people in Nevada register to vote?

We’re here to help. Check out The Nevada Independent’s short video explainer of all you need to know about Question 5 and automatic voter registration.

Indy Explains: Question 5, an effort to automatically register people to vote at the DMV

People sitting in the waiting room at Henderson DMV

Question 5: Automatic voter registration

Formal name: The Automatic Voter Registration Initiative

Type of measure: Statutory initiative petition

Group sponsoring: Nevadans for Modern and Secure Elections PAC, affiliated with the Washington, D.C.-based voter advocacy organization iVote. The latter organization was started by Jeremy Bird, who led President Barack Obama’s voter turnout campaign. It is financially supported by the Nevada Election Administration Committee.

How did it qualify for the ballot: Supporters collected more than 125,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot in 2016. Statutory initiative petitions always must come before the Legislature for approval, which this one did in 2017 as Initiative Petition 1. Lawmakers approved the measure on party lines in both the Senate and Assembly, but it was vetoed by the governor. Now, it heads to the 2018 ballot box.

Summary of what it does: The measure would change the Department of Motor Vehicles’ voter registration process from an opt-in system to an opt-out system. People would be automatically registered to vote either when they apply for a driver’s license or identification card or when they renew their license, unless they choose not to do so.

What this amounts to is a slight change on the forms for a new driver’s license. Current forms direct ID applicants to fill out an optional page at the back of the form if they wish to register to vote. The new form would include a new checkbox asking applicants if they do not want to register, but still includes the same voter registration form as before.

Registering to vote online, even through the DMV, requires an applicant to register through the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections in Nevada. Should the measure pass, it would require the DMV and secretary of state’s office to develop software to transfer new voter registration data electronically between the two parties.

What have other states done?: Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. have approved automatic voter registration.

Oregon was the first state to adopt the measure in 2015, followed closely by California. Proponents of automatic voter registration have touted a study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress that found nearly 5 percent of all registered voters in Oregon in 2016 were registered through the state’s Office of Motor Vehicles, and that overall voter turnout increased about 4 percent.

However, because automatic voter registration is relatively new, there is little data on its effectiveness in either increasing voter registration or increasing overall voter turnout.

Arguments for Question 5: Supporters of Question 5 say it is necessary to make it easier for eligible voters to become registered voters -- in this case through the use of automatic voter registration. They also say the initiative will help modernize voter roll systems, saying new software related to implementation will help cut back on registration errors and streamline the process. (The software will primarily work to send voter registration data electronically from the DMV to the secretary of state, which proponents say will cut down on paperwork errors.)

The measure has also drawn support from the ACLU, which committed $1.5 million this month toward supporting Question 5 and echoing much of the same sentiments supporters gave while IP1 was moving through the Legislature.

“The right to vote is essential for a thriving democracy and it’s essential that that right extends to every eligible voter,” said ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Tod Story in a statement about the group’s support of the measure. “[Automatic Voter Registration] will further secure our voter registration system at the DMV and simplify the registration experience for first-time voters, members of the armed forces, communities of color, young people, and improve participation in our elections.”

Arguments against Question 5: Opponents of Question 5 have questioned its necessity, as Nevada already has an opt-in motor voter law in place that, they argue, functions well as-is. They also say replacing the opt-in system with an opt-out would remove agency from individuals who otherwise would have had the choice to decide to register themselves.

In his veto message of Initiative Petition 1, Gov. Brian Sandoval said the measure would “[extinguish] a fundamental, individual choice — the right of eligible voters to decide for themselves whether they desire to apply to register to vote — forfeiting this basic decision to state government.”

Sandoval also expressed concerns the measure might increase the likelihood of unqualified individuals registering to vote, a felony punishable by up to $20,000 in fines. Opponents say the problem is compounded by a state law that prohibits DMV workers from discouraging people — even ineligible people — from registering to vote, as well as a disconnect between the requirements for a driver’s license and the requirements to vote.

However, driver’s authorization cards — which require less proof of identity than a driver’s license or identification card and are often used by undocumented immigrants — were not included in the language of IP1.

Primary funders: The Nevada Election Administration Committee has received $742,800 from iVote to support this measure here in Nevada. Nationally, iVotes’ top contributors include Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, family farm advocacy group Farm Aid and the private investment firm Centerbridge Partners, according to Open Secrets.

Some of these groups see Question 5 as a way to secure victories for Democratic candidates, who are most likely to benefit from an increase in overall turnout. The Democratic base is comprised of constituents who are statistically less likely to vote than the Republican base — namely minority voters and young people. Increasing turnout among those groups could be key for Democrats in tight races, such as when strong turnout among Nevada Latinos buoyed Catherine Cortez Masto in her 2016 U.S. Senate race.

Financial impact: The DMV has estimated that implementing the measure could cost anywhere from no money to as much as $4.8 million. Best-case scenario: The DMV works with county clerks and registrars to develop a system to electronically transfer voter registration information collected by the DMV. Worst case scenario: The secretary of state’s office would work with the DMV, county clerks and county registrars to develop a statewide voter registration database compliant with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. The DMV also estimates that it will need $53,000 for a one-year supply of updated voter registration forms, with half that cost borne by the state highway fund and the other half borne by the state general fund. Counties have also estimated that implementing the measure will cost between $3,000 per county for smaller counties to about $40,000 in Clark County.

Status: Will become law if it passes a statewide vote this year.

The Indy Explains: Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative

Question 3: Energy Choice Initiative

Formal name: The Energy Choice Initiative

Type of measure: Initiative petition to amend the Nevada Constitution

Group sponsoring: Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices

Group opposing: Coalition to Defeat Question 3

Summary of what it does: The initiative would amend Nevada’s Constitution to require the state switch from a regulated monopoly model to a competitive retail electric system by 2023. That would mean abandoning the state’s traditional model, where one company or utility — NV Energy — is granted exclusive rights over the generation, transmission and retail sale of electricity. Transmission, or the “wires” side of the electric market, will likely remain under the purview of one company, but the proposed change would open up generation and retail sale of electricity to multiple, private businesses.

The initiative also creates a constitutional right for every person and business in the state to choose their own electric provider and holds that any laws in conflict with the act be voided when the 2023 deadline arrives. It also states that nothing in the provisions can “invalidate” the state’s policies on renewable energy or the Legislature’s ability to create those policies.

What have other states done?: A total of 13 states — Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas — and the District of Columbia have approved laws transitioning to full competitive retail status. The majority of states that transitioned market structures did so in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

During the past decade, states with retail choice have seen larger drops in electric prices than the 35 “monopoly” states, but the average price of electricity in almost every “retail” state is higher than the current prices in Nevada.

Arguments for passing Question 3: In their formal arguments for the measure, supporters of the initiative claim that Nevada has “some of the highest electricity rates in the West” and that ratepayers are limited in the types of energy they can purchase due to the monopoly model. (Nevada’s average electric price is actually slightly below average for Mountain and Pacific states, but is the fifth highest among the 11 states included in those categories).

They argue that rates have decreased by substantial amounts in retail states, which have gone down by 17.7 percent for the 14 retail states between 2008 and 2016.

The supporters also argue that approval of the initiative would avoid rates being set by energy regulators and allow them to instead be subject to pressures from the free market, and allow consumers more freedom to pick the type of electricity they want to power their homes.

They also compared electricity to other markets such as telecommunications, natural gas and railroads that were once considered natural monopolies but have seen improvements in price and new features after being open to competition.

Arguments against passing Question 3: Opponents’ formal arguments against the ballot question say a switch to a retail market is “unnecessary,” and represents a “loss of control” for Nevadans and claim that states with “deregulated” markets have seen higher electric prices.

Between 1999 and 2015, electric rates in retail states have increased, but at a lower percentage rate than monopoly market states and fell by about 14 percent between 2008 and 2015. The average cost of electricity in retail states across all sectors is typically higher than both the national average and average of monopoly states.

Opponents say that a move to a competitive market would remove the ability of regulators to set prices or structure rates and lessen their ability to prevent energy companies from “gouging” ratepayers. It states that Nevada’s electric market is too important of a public resource to permit the “unpredictable and uncontrollable cost increases that this market deregulation initiative would threaten.”

How did Question 3 qualify for the ballot: Nevada attempted to but eventually backed away from a move to a competitive market in the late 1990s, primarily because of concerns about repeating California’s then-imploding electric market and rolling blackouts.

But a vestige of that aborted effort is a provision in state law that allows large electric consumers to leave NV Energy as a customer and purchase power on the open market, as long as they pay an “exit fee” to the utility to other customers aren’t harmed by the sudden drop in demand. Several of the companies who have applied to leave the utility have grumbled at the high “exit fees” assessed by energy regulators — a Las Vegas Sands executive said at a public meeting last year that the reason the initiative was launched was because of a “lack of transparency on what consumers are being charged to leave the grid.”

Supporters gathered a total of 76,876 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, which was certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske in July 2016.

Primary funders: The political action committee supporting the initiative has been almost entirely funded since 2015 by the Las Vegas Sands ($10.75 million) and Switch ($12.6 million), with other contributions coming from MGM Resorts and Valley Electric Association.

Opponents have been almost entirely funded by NV Energy, which was initially neutral on the ballot question during the 2016 election but has contributed more than $12.6 million to a PAC opposing the measure. The utility has promised to spend up to $30 million to defeat the initiative.

Financial impact: Fiscal analysts with the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau say that they cannot determine “with any reasonable degree of certainty” what the financial effects will be if voters approve the ballot question. But questions of how much the measure would cost have become a bitterly divided point among the campaigns, with the range of estimates swinging in the billions of dollars.

Opponents have largely cited an April report by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which found that ratepayers could be held liable for paying back up to $4 billion in the “stranded assets” of power plants and long-term power purchase agreements that NV Energy would need to sell off if the measure passes, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in startup and ongoing costs required to set up a competitive electric market.

Supporters of the initiative — who have panned the PUC’s report — have presented a more rosy projection that the utility would actually earn hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of its assets and that a potentially favorable ruling from the IRS after passage of the 2017 federal tax bill could result in even more savings.

Status: The initiative passed by 72 to 28 percent in the 2016 election and needs to be approved again in 2018 to become part of the constitution. State lawmakers would have until July 1, 2023 to create the new electric market.

Disclosure: Several Indy donors are mentioned in this story. You can view a full list of our donors here.

Indy Video: Explaining Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative

Reid Gardner Generating Station is removed from the electric grid

No 2018 ballot question has elicited more questions — or attracted more campaign money spent to influence public opinion — than Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative.

If approved, the proposed constitutional amendment would require Nevada lawmakers to create and adopt a competitive retail electric market by 2023, leaving the current regulated monopoly model in the dustbin of history.

Energy policy is a complex topic, and the millions of dollars spent on slickly produced ads on either side of the ballot measure often do little to illuminate what the initiative would actually do or mean for the average Nevadan.

We’re here to help. Check out The Nevada Independent’s short explainer of all you need to know about Question 3 and potential changes to Nevada’s electric market.

Indy Video: Explaining Question 6, increasing renewable standards to 50 percent by 2030

Nevada voters have a chance in November to take the first step in mandating that more renewable energy be used in Nevada.

Question 6, which is also called the Renewable Energy Promotion Initiative, would require Nevada to gradually raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030, double the state’s current mandate of 25 percent by 2025. Because the ballot measure is a proposed constitutional amendment, it needs to pass in 2018 and 2020 to actually take effect.

But what is a Renewable Portfolio Standard? And would increasing it actually substantially raise the amount of renewable energy produced or used in Nevada?

We’re here to help. Check out The Nevada Independent’s short explainer of all you need to know about Question 6 and what it means for renewable energy in Nevada.