Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NVision... Fracking?

Over the course of the month, we've been seeking the truth behind the spin surrounding NV Energy and the bill (SB 123) it consumed. Fortunately, we haven't been alone. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission [PUC] also recently chimed in and questioned the numbers behind the estimated $494 million cost of NVision (aka the NV Energy possessed SB 123). They also questioned NV Energy's promise that NVision won't significantly increase electricity costs for consumers.

And funny enough, this nugget slipped out.

As [PUC Commissioner David] Noble said, ratepayers have helped build $3.5 billion in generating capacity in the past decade and gas prices have declined.

If NVision and its baked-in power plant construction regimen doesn’t pass, rates could decrease.

“Holding everything else constant, the next few rate cases may actually result in a rate decrease,” said Anne-Marie Cuneo, commission staff.

Yackira said this could also hold true if NVision becomes law. He said the commission is “really pointing to natural gas prices.”

“If those prices go down, our customers’ rates will go down,” he said.

Bottom line: Cheap natural gas is holding rates down now, coal is on its way out regardless of NVision, and the effect of the NVision plan won’t really be felt until new construction brings new costs to ratepayers several years down the road.

Aha! So NV Energy is basing its promises of lower (or at least not-significantly-higher) electric costs on "cheap natural gas". And come on, we all know what that means. Fracking is likely in the mix.

So what's the big deal here? Fracking has artificially held down the cost of natural gas extraction. And I say it's artificial because we see cheap natural gas, yet we're also increasingly seeing the high costs of decimated communities and ecosystems due to fracking.

This is why outrage has steadily been growing over the fossil fuel industry's sneaky ploy to frack across America. And this why we may soon see action to halt this next door.

"It's clear that we must heed the call from our concerned constituents and demand answers about the safety of fracking," said Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of Assembly Bill 1323.

A branch of the [California] Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized the proposed rules as too vague and lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.

"The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. "Public and scientific concerns have increased exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind."

Bloom said a moratorium would offer a needed window for study and would "get everyone to the table" to craft a framework for fracking.

"We must identify the risks and assure the public that we are doing everything in our control to protect them," Bloom said, "but to date the state has failed to do that."

In recent days, the fossil fuel industry has kicked into high gear to try to spin away all the worries over fracking. It's even gone as far as trying to silence the filmmaker behind the Gasland documentaries! Apparently, California legislators may finally be wisening up to fossil fuel industry spin.

Will our legislators do the same here? SB 390 doesn't even go that far. It only sets new regulations on fracking to fill the void left by the feds. (Then President George W. Bush pushed to exempt fracking from federal environmental safeguards in 2005.) And right now, it's sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, just waiting for action.

Funny enough, NV Energy hasn't said a peep about SB 390. Why not? NV Energy claims that NVision is all about expanding renewable energy opportunities right here in Nevada while closing the door on coal fired power plants for good. And to be fair, NVision does include plans for new solar plants while guaranteeing the closing of the Reid-Gardner coal plant near Moapa.

However with that being said, NVision calls for even more generation of natural gas power. And NV Energy executives have recently admitted to the PUC that their forecasts for lower consumer costs depend on "cheap natural gas". And as mentioned above, fracking technology has been artificially keeping natural gas costs low... While wreaking havoc on communities where this kind of extraction is occurring.

So what's the deal? How does NV Energy plan to access all the natural gas that NVision calls for? Does NV Energy have any ties to Noble Energy's pursuit of a fracking license in Elko County? What price will consumers ultimately pay for NVision if/when natural gas prices are not so artificially low? And why can't we accelerate both our economy and our commitment to solving the climate crisis by focusing more on the renewable energy bonanza that's right under our noses here in Nevada?

These questions need to be answered. #NVLeg, you're now on notice.

So Who's Really "Extreme"?

Last week, we saw a burst of emotion and a new round of reflection as the Nevada (State) Senate passed SJR 13. Perhaps the biggest story last week (other than the actual Senate passage of SJR 13) was Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas) coming out on the Senate floor... And to the national media. Fortunately, he's received an outpouring of support since then.

Yet with that being said, he's now on the receiving end of trash talk from a very usual suspect. He (politically) threatened Senator Justin Jones (D-Enterprise) for supporting SJR 13 and marriage equality. And now, he's whining about "Teh Big Bad Demon-rat Hoe-mo-SEX-shul LIB'RULZZZ!!11111!!!!11111!!!!" Poor Ray Hagar, he had to listen to this BS.

[Richard] Ziser points to first-time Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas, as the main driver in the movement he so ardently opposes. Spearman is one of five openly LGBT legislators in Carson City. Spearman, a minister, is a primary sponsor of SJR13.

To Ziser, Spearman is the poster-person for extremism in Carson City. Perhaps some of the GOPers were "extreme" during Gov. Gibbons' reign. Now Ziser sees the same extremism from Democrats.

"We are reaching for extremes," Ziser said. "We are definitely doing that on the Democratic side. [...]

Ziser also recalls that Spearman beat a Democrat in the 2012 primary who didn't support marriage equality –former Sen. John Lee, now the mayor-elect of North Las Vegas.

“And I remind you that she beat Sen. Lee,” Ziser said. “He was a socially conservative Democrat and they replaced him with an ultra liberal. I have a hard time believing that the majority of Democrats stand for the things she pushes."

Here is Spearman’s response:

"Polls show that a clear majority of Nevadans support marriage equality and it is time the voters are given the choice to remove this discriminatory ban from our state's constitution," Spearman said. "Passing marriage equality will bring a much needed boost to Nevada's economy at a time that we desperately need it while ensuring the government can no longer tell Nevadans who they can or cannot love."

And here are Richard Ziser and his anti-equality campaign in a nutshell.

And Senator Spearman is correct. The polls here in Nevada and nationally have shifted dramatically in favor of equality just in the last five years. Attitudes have changed. Many of our hearts & minds have changed. And because John Lee refused to keep up with change and reconsider his strident opposition to LGBTQ civil rights, he lost to Pat Spearman last June.

Oh, yes. That's right. A solid (63%) majority of Democrats chose the pro-equality Spearman over the anti-equality INCUMBENT Lee last June. And now, a majority (54%) of Nevadans overall support marriage equality. So who's really "extreme" here?

Equality is NOT "extreme", far from it. Rather, the "tea party" continues to embrace extremism with its strident opposition to equality. And as long as most Republicans continue to follow the lead of Ziser and the rest of the "tea party", they will be the ones seen as extreme and out of touch with most voters.

Keep this in mind next time the "TEA" fueled anti-equality campaign tries to spin away momentum for equality and civil rights.

Monday, April 29, 2013

All That Truly Matters

Over the course of this month, we've seen even more tossing & turning in Carson City over matters of tax reform. Some proposals have died gruesome deaths up there, while others received a sudden and unexpected burst of new life. So far this session, we've seen plenty of fascinating twists & turns.

And now, another one is coming... Or maybe not. We just know Senate Democrats will be releasing their own tax reform plan later this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis says Democrats are putting the final touches on their plan to tweak Nevada’s tax structure to bring in more money for education and other services.

But the Las Vegas lawmaker says they will await final revenues projections due Wednesday from the Economic Forum before introducing their plan in bill form.

The Economic Forum is an independent panel charged with forecasting Nevada revenues for the next two years.

Democrats also have not closed in on how much additional revenue they want to generate. Among things being considered are revamping the state’s live entertainment tax.

Well, at least we can say the Senate Democrats are moving away from Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick's (D-North Las Vegas) revenue-neutral sales tax clusterfuck proposal. I guess that's a start. So what's actually in their plan? We'll have to wait & see, but I wouldn't suggest getting your hopes too high (for this).

And you know what? It's OK. Regardless of what Democratic leaders settle for in Carson City this session, We the People will ultimately decide next year. And that's what has some Republicans in Carson City nervous.

So far, The Education Initiative (IP 1) has strong support among voters despite the "Tea Party, Inc." smear campaign against this initiative aimed at making the largest corporations doing business in Nevada pay something closer to their fair share. (They currently pay a rate just barely above nothing.) Perhaps this is why Senator Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) decided that the best way to beat IP 1 is to join it on the ballot box. At first, it seemed like Roberson hatched up the perfect strategy to triangulate Nevada Republicans into the political sweet spot while tearing Democrats & progressives apart. There's just been one problem with his plan: his fellow Nevada Republicans!

Oh, and there's another problem with this: the law! Despite the constant spin from certain Republican Senators and their media pundit cheerleaders, the fact remains that Governor Brian Sandoval (R), Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), Secretary of State Ross Miller (D), and several more lawyers who have studied this issue have all determined that Senator Roberson's IP 1 mining tax alternative is unconstitutional. They really can't blame Democrats or their fellow Republicans if/when the courts strike down any further attempts to pursue this.

Yet despite the political and legal controversies surrounding Senator Roberson's IP 1 mining tax alternative, SJR 15 remains. And there are no political hijinks here. It just removes mining industry bailouts from the Nevada Constitution. And all legislators have to do is approve it a second time this year so We the People can vote on it next year. And once voters approve SJR 15 next year, the Legislature will finally have the power to change mining tax rates.

Really, that's all the Legislature needs to do this spring to make real change possible. The Senate has already passed SJR 15 overwhelmingly this session. Now, it's the Assembly's turn.

There will be plenty of gossip in the next few weeks over supposedly grand tax reform plans. But really, it all comes down to just two initiatives. One is already guaranteed a spot on next year's (general election) ballot, while the other just needs one more vote of approval from the Assembly. And regardless of what certain media pundits hyperventilate about any further political positioning in Carson City this year, all that truly matters now is what We the People will be voting on next year.

Finally, No More Patient Dumping?

Well, that didn't take... Actually, it has taken this long. But nonetheless, something is happening. Just minutes ago, Governor Brian Sandoval's office announced this.

RalstonReports: INBOX: "Sandoval Announces Further Action Taken at Rawson-Neal..individuals who violated release policies have been or will be disciplined."

Wow. This looks serious. I wonder if this had something to do with it.

[The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] gave the hospital 10 days to submit "evidence of correction." After that, a new survey will likely occur. If corrective action is not adequate, according to the letter, "we will notify you that we are initiating action to terminate the facility's Medicare provider agreement," a vital source of federal funding.

Rawson-Neal and its umbrella agency, Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, have been under fire following a report in The Bee earlier this month showing that the hospital paid to transport about 1,500 patients to other states via Greyhound bus since 2008. About one-third of those patients were dispatched to California, and 19 of them to Sacramento, according to a review of Greyhound bus receipts purchased by the umbrella agency.

One of Rawson-Neal's patients, James Flavy Coy Brown, in February was bused 15 hours to Sacramento, a place he said he had never visited and where he knew no one.

Brown suffers from schizophrenia and depression and had been living in the streets and shelters of Las Vegas for years. Out of food and medication when he arrived in Sacramento, he spent three nights in a hospital emergency room before social workers found him temporary housing.

The Bee's report has touched off criminal probes by the city attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles into whether Nevada has engaged in cross-state "patient dumping." Los Angeles received 149 Rawson-Neal patients during the five-year period reviewed by The Bee, while 36 patients were sent to San Francisco.

As we discussed last Friday, CMS is serious about pulling federal funding from Rawson-Neal if its patient dumping fiasco isn't properly resolved. So now, finally, Governor Sandoval and Nevada mental health officials are feeling the heat. It's now just a question of how much change we'll see at Rawson-Neal.

Late last week, KVVU/Fox 5 interviewed a former Rawson-Neal nurse who shed some light on past practices there. She confirmed earlier accounts of patient dumping happening even before 2009. And on top of that, she added a new charge. Apparently before Rawson-Neal began stuffing mental health patients onto Greyhound buses, the hospital would simply give the patients Greyhound tickets upon discharge and leave them in Downtown Las Vegas!

FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

"Finding out, ‘Oh, he is originally from California. Do they have family there? We do not know. Give [him or her] a bus ticket.' So the patient is discharged from the hospital to make the bed available," a former Rawson-Neal nurse who wished to remain anonymous explained to FOX5.

Originally, this nurse said patients were given a bus ticket and discharged on their own, but many of the patients wound up back at Rawson-Neal.

"The patient, they found out, is making money out of the ticket. They sell it out there [Las Vegas Greyhound bus station]. Then the patient gets to buy their drugs or alcohol," the former nurse said.

So to fix that problem, FOX5's source said the patients were put in a state vehicle and driven to the downtown Greyhound Bus station, where a hospital employee made sure they actually got on the bus.

Over the weekend, the Las Vegas Sun's Andrew Doughman reminded everyone, and in particular the California media, of Governor Sandoval's habit of playing coy to the media and trying to avoid big actions on big issues. We saw him do this in the first few days after the story of James Flavy Coy Brown and his "Greyhound Therapy" from Rawson-Neal to Sacramento, California, began to make headlines. It really took continued ugly patient dumping headlines, threats of lawsuits from California municipalities, and now the threat of loss of federal funding for Rawson-Neal, for Sandoval to realize how serious this is and begin implementing solutions.

Again, we now must wait and see how serious Governor Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature are about solving this problem. It will clearly take more than just window dressing. It will certainly mean more funding for mental health care here in Nevada.

While The Sacramento Bee praised Governor Sandoval's recent steps to address the patient dumping scandal, it also noted that Nevada will actually have to restore funding for mental health services to truly fix the problem. So will he and the Legislature finally do it? That looks to be the $25 million question there.

Face the Consequences.

Apparently, it's no longer just in Boulder City. Since Senator Dean Heller
(R-NRA) capitulated to the gun lobby in stopping even an up-or-down vote on expanding background checks and implementing other hugely popular gun safety reforms, his political standing has taken a real hit. Don't believe me? Believe Public Policy Polling [PPP]'s latest battleground state survey on gun safety.

And in Nevada Dean Heller has seen a more modest decline in his approval numbers, from 47/42 right before the election to 44/41 now. However with the independent voters who were critical to his narrow victory in November, his approval has dropped from 52/37 then to now 42/42.

70% of voters in the state support background checks compared to just 24% who are opposed to them. That includes 87% of Democrats, 65% of independents, and 54% of Republicans. 46% say they're less likely to support Heller the next time he's up for reelection compared to only 25% who are more likely to because of this vote, and as we saw last fall Heller has very little margin for error.

Taken together these results make it pretty clear that this issue could be a serious liability for the Senators who opposed overwhelmingly popular background checks in the Senate vote earlier this month.

Actually, Heller hasn't fared quite as badly as some of his fellow pro-NRA colleagues. Steve Benen dug into the PPP poll some more and noticed this.

We talked last week about two Republican senators from blue-ish states whose support is moving in opposite directions. On the one hand, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who championed a bipartisan compromise on gun reforms, has seen his approval rating reach new heights. On the other, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has seen her support back home drop sharply.

It turns out these two aren't the only senators seeing real shifts in their popularity among their constituents. [...]

There is a fair amount of variety in the results, with voters in some states reacting with greater intensity than others. [Jeff] Flake [R-Arizona], for example, has suddenly found himself as one of the nation's least popular senators, with an approval rating of just 32%. In Alaska, both senators opposed the gun bill and both saw their support drop quite a bit, though supporters still number critics.

Nevada's Heller only lost a few points off his approval rating, but among self-identified independents, his support has dropped from 52% to 42%.

That said, of all the polls from the last week, the only senator who saw an increase in support was Toomey -- and he co-sponsored the measure to expand background checks. PPP's analysis concluded, "Taken together these results make it pretty clear that this issue could be a serious liability for the Senators who opposed overwhelmingly popular background checks in the Senate vote earlier this month."

Keep this in mind as efforts to resuscitate the legislation continue.

It's increasingly looking like Senator Heller is facing real consequences for his failure to even allow an actual vote on his home state colleague's (Senator Harry Reid [D-Searchlight Strong]) gun safety bill. After all, PPP found 70% support for expanding background checks. And that's actually a conservative sample, since other recent polls have shown support for expanding background checks as high as 86% here in Nevada.

Long story short: Heller blew it. He could have backed policies that have broad support among Nevadans (with some even reaching supermajority levels). And he could have demonstrated true independence and "moderation". But instead, Senator Heller drank the "TEA" and caved into the gun lobby's extreme demands.

And now, Heller is just starting to face the consequences. Congratulations, Senator. You earned it.

What a Gun Show

This weekend will be Boulder City's Spring Jamboree. Typically, it's an event tailored for the whole family with an art fair, a car show, an antique show, plenty of kid friendly games, and more. And all of that will happen next weekend. And on top of all that, the Spring Jamboree will also feature the first annual Rocky Mountain Gun Show.

Wait, what?! No really, a gun show will be part of the Spring Jamboree. And thanks to Senator Dean Heller's (R-46%) recent move to block even a vote on gun safety legislation centered around closing "The Gun Show Loophole" for background checks, who knows who will show up in Boulder City for this?

On Saturday, local Boulder City activists were joined by Organizing for Action volunteers to protest both Senator Heller's capitulation to the gun lobby and Boulder City's shocking decision to include the Rocky Mountain Gun Show in the Spring Jamboree. After walking from the recreation center (where the gun show will be) to a nearby Episcopal Church, Barbara Polk explained why local residents are concerned about this.

Owly Images

And then, Esther Sass arose to speak of her brother-in-law's untimely death in front of the Empire State Building (in New York). He never had a chance, and that's only because his assailant had a gun. WARNING: The video below has a graphic image. Viewer discretion is advised.

Owly Images

A retired teacher also spoke in Boulder City. She worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and one of her students was shot dead. That was a horrifying experience that she will never forget.

Owly Images

And finally, ProgressNow Nevada and OFA super-activist Teresa Crawford came ready. She listed frightening statistics of Nevada guns that end up at California crime scenes. As we discussed in February, criminal outfits often buy guns in states with lax standards (like Nevada) and send them all over the place, even to states with strict gun safety laws (like California). And since there's currently no federal baseline for gun safety, it's difficult to curb this kind of trafficking.

And sadly, this is coming to Boulder City this weekend. It doesn't have to happen, but the Boulder City Council and the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce have been digging in their heels. All residents can do now is hope things don't get out of hand this weekend... And then, demand action to ensure this doesn't happen again. Oh, and they can tell Congress to finally get their act together on expanding background checks to gun shows and other "private sales".

Friday, April 26, 2013

Problem Solved? (Hell, No!)

Earlier this week, we learned of even more Nevada patient dumping stories. One involved a woman named Monica. She had been receiving mental health treatment at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas. But of course, she was dumped onto a Greyhound bus bound for Orange County, California, despite (or because?!) needing more treatment. Monica was just dumped onto a Greyhound bus and into Orange County with no home and no treatment plan. And now, Orange County health officials are on a desperate search for Monica.

And she's not alone. Also this week, KVVU/Fox 5 uncovered the story of a former Rawson-Neal patient who was dumped into California. She described herself what happened when she was first admitted to Rawson-Neal in 2004... And when she was admitted again in 2008.

FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

"They don't realize we're people too," said [Tina] Schmidt. "We have a heart. It hurts because we feel like we are being thrown away like trash."

Schmidt got emotional recalling her treatment at Rawson-Neal. She was admitted in 2004 for attempted suicide and depression. Schmidt said the hospital bused and left her in San Diego because it didn't have enough resources. She didn't know anyone there.

"They act like they just don't care," said Schmidt. "It's like 'You're not my problem. I don't want to deal with you. Let's just send you someplace else.'"

Schmidt said it happened again when she returned in 2008. Last month, the Sacramento Bee revealed as many as 1,500 patients were improperly discharged from the state-run hospital.

So this has been happening for even longer than some thought. And it sheds even more doubt on Governor Brian Sandoval's (R-Denial) assertion that the improper discharge of James Flavy Coy Brown from Rawson-Neal this past February was a mostly isolated incident. Think about it. Sandoval and Nevada Department of Health & Human Services Director Mike Willden have claimed "only 5 or 6" of the 1,500 patient dumping cases from 2008-2013 were actually improper. Yet despite their assertions, more disturbing cases continue to surface.

Oh, and here's another one. But in the case of Rodrick Hicks, Rawson-Neal didn't even bother to get him a Greyhound ticket. This time, the hospital just threw him a RTC bus pass.

Rodrick Hicks was found by Nevada Highway patrol last week. The 18-year-old was walking barefoot on Interstate 15, near Flamingo Road. He was taken to a hospital, which transferred him to the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric facility. What happened next has his mother outraged.

"My child was out there somewhere," says Shannon Hicks. "Rawson-Neal gave him a city bus pass and said go on your merry way."

Hicks claims administrators at Rawson-Neal gave Rodrick two prescriptions and a bus ticket to get home.

Hospital paperwork shows he was admitted to Rawson-Neal on April 17 and stayed through the 24th.

"I didn't get a call, I didn't get nothing," Shannon says. "It's a miracle he made it home safely, because his schizophrenia affects his ability to understand directions. They'll just let a mental patient out the door, without letting a family member know?"

Shannon claims she didn't even know Rodrick was at Rawson-Neal in the first place, despite calling the hospital several times.

"We were looking for him everywhere, and they told me that they had nobody under that name there," she says. "Now it makes me wonder how often this happens. There's probably more people looking for a loved one. It's scary."

Wow. And this happened just this month! Oh, and it happened just as Rawson-Neal was supposedly "fixing" its patient dumping policy! So is this the new policy? Instead of "Greyhound Therapy", Rawson-Neal patients will be subjected to "RTC Therapy"?

Clearly, the problem is far from solved. In fact, evidence is surfacing that patient dumping may actually still be occurring at Rawson-Neal. And yes, just releasing patients with RTC bus passes and without a treatment plan going forward is just as repugnant as out-of-state "Greyhound Therapy".

This also looks to be the verdict of the federal investigation of Rawson-Neal. If Nevada does not take appropriate "corrective action", Rawson-Neal will lose a significant amount of federal funding.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday sent a letter to Nevada health officials telling them that, due to "serious deficiencies," the state's primary psychiatric hospital "may be subject to termination of its Medicare provider agreement," according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Bee.

The federal agency, in concert with state officials, conducted a survey March 20 of Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas after The Bee first reported that one of the facility's patients was discharged improperly to Sacramento with no arrangement for housing or care.

According to the letter, the survey results showed that the hospital was out of compliance with federal regulations for discharge procedures and governance.

CMS gave the hospital 10 days to submit "evidence of correction." After that, a new survey will likely occur. If corrective action is not adequate, according to the letter, "we will notify you that we are initiating action to terminate the facility's Medicare provider agreement," a vital source of federal funding.

And that's not all. On top of this latest news, a Member of Congress is stepping forward to demand a new investigation into Nevada patient dumping.

Despite the policy change, Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, on Thursday called for a congressional investigation into Nevada's long-standing practice of shipping patients out of state.

In a letter to ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health matters, Matsui asks for investigative and oversight hearings into Rawson-Neal's discharge policies. She said a congressional investigation is warranted to determine if the practices violated federal laws regarding discharge planning and patient rights.

She called for the committee to look into "the scope, severity and consequences of Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services' selective disregard for the health and safety of its patients. Someone must be held accountable."

Yesterday, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Here) expressed his own outrage over the growing patient dumping scandal. However with that being said, he did say he did not want to "intertwine himself" with this. Yet whether or not he personally wants to, other Members of Congress (especially ones representing California) may ultimately demand some sort of Congressional action. And perhaps they should, considering the feds may have also had a hand in worsening this problem [by cutting mental health funding].

So this story is far from over. And actually, I'm starting to wonder if this is only just the beginning.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How Congress Fits into Mental Health Patient Dumping Scandal

Earlier this month, President Obama released his federal budget proposal. Yet while most pundits initially focused in (perhaps justifiably) on the President's pre-concessions on Social Security, there was another aspect of the White House Budget Plan that's steadily been gaining more attention. Here, take a look at this.

The new budget plan will propose $130 million for programs that train teachers and other adults to help recognize early signs of mental illness, referring them to help when they detect such warnings. That includes $55 million for a new program called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education). That will give states and local school districts grants to administer such programs, while also collecting data on how well they work.

Another $50 million in funds would go toward training masters-level mental health specialists such as psychologists, nurses and counselors who work in schools. The idea is to expand the mental health workforce to prepare for the demands of millions of Americans who will gain health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t take 12 years training doctors and post-docs to meet the need in 2014,” the administration official said. “We’re taking a very promising and practical approach.”

Another $25 million would be put towards helping schools, where violence is pervasive, to address the trauma experienced by children and test violence prevention strategies.

Obama touched briefly on the importance of expanding mental health services in a Monday night speech on gun violence, at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

“We have to tell Congress it’s time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it’s too late,” he said.

In total, the President is requesting an additional $235 million for mental health care. And especially considering all the recent attention on the intersection of health care policy and gun violence, one would think there's renewed interest in fixing this. And indeed, there is. There's even been talk of legislation in Congress.

But then again, we are talking about the 113th Congress. So of course, that means productive legislation gets sidelined while pointless "tea party" circle jerks become the center of attention. And indeed, that's what may soon be happening again as House Republicans demand even more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

At a Wednesday panel organized by the Heritage Foundation, conservative Republicans lamented that it’s been too long since they had the opportunity to vote to wipe out the Affordable Care Act in its entirety — and that the newest members haven’t had the chance yet.

“We need to get a vote on full repeal, and I’ve asked leadership for this. I’m a cosponsor of Michele Bachmann’s bill … that just goes straight at it for full repeal,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the chairman of the influential and deeply conservative Republican Study Committee. “We need to continue fighting for repeal. We need a clean vote on repeal.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) urged leadership to hold a repeal vote so freshman members can serve up the same anti-Obamacare talking points for their conservative constituents that more senior Republicans enjoy.

“If you’re a freshman — the guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare. Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say,” he said. “We haven’t had a repeal or replace vote this year.”

“We have not had a chance as freshmen to do that,” said first-term Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL). “Even if it’s just symbolic — and even if we understand that process-wise we are not going to be able to say, okay we want repeal, it’s done, and it’s over. But this is the issue that so many people around the country who love the Republican Party are frustrated with.”

Never mind that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already been saving lives and cutting health care costs since implementation began in 2011. And never mind that House Republicans have voted at least 36 times to repeal the ACA since 2011. And never mind that the 112th Congress wasted $50 million in taxpayer money and 88 hours on their many failed ACA repeal attempts.

So how does that fit into this story? ACA actually expands mental health care for 62 million Americans. Pay attention to what Dr. Richard Friedman, Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote for The New York Times last July.

One of the health care act’s pillars is to forbid the exclusion of people with pre-existing illness from medical coverage. By definition, a vast majority of adult Americans with a mental illness have a pre-existing disorder. Half of all serious psychiatric illnesses — including major depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse — start by 14 years of age, and three-fourths are present by 25, according to the National Comorbidity Survey. These people have specifically been denied medical coverage by most commercial insurance companies — until now.

From an epidemiologic and public health perspective, the provision that young people can remain on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26 is a no-brainer: By this age, the bulk of psychiatric illness has already developed, and there is solid evidence that we can positively change the course of psychiatric illness by early treatment.

Mental disorders are chronic lifelong diseases, characterized by remission and relapse for those who respond to treatment, or persistent symptoms for those who do not. In schizophrenia, for example, relapse is common, even with the best treatment. It makes no sense to tell someone with this condition that his lifetime mental health benefit is just 60 days of inpatient hospitalization.

Psychiatric illness is treatable, but it is rarely curable; it may remit for a while, but it doesn’t go away. That is why the current limits on treatment are as irrational as they are cruel — the discriminatory hallmark of commercial medical insurance.

No more. The Affordable Care Act treats psychiatric illness like any other and removes obstacles to fair and rational treatment.

And House Republicans are still hellbent on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Here in Nevada, we've been rocked by the patient dumping scandal that's been growing since James Flavy Coy Brown was found disoriented and suicidal in a Sacramento, California, homeless shelter. He was discharged from Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas in February despite needing more treatment. And he was placed onto a Greyhound bus bound for Sacramento with only a three day supply of medicine, some peanut butter crackers, and a few cans of Ensure.

Governor Brian Sandoval (R) insists that this was a mostly isolated incident and it's all better now. However, officials throughout California are viewing Governor Sandoval's recent statements very skeptically. And they're not alone. Today, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Searchlight) finally weighed in. And let's just say he's not pleased.

“I’ve got enough problems back here, trying to take care of issues in the federal government so I am not going to intertwine myself with issues in Nevada as it relates to state government,” Reid said.

“But I think it is unfortunate that people would be given a bus ticket and not given the proper care they need before they leave – not before they leave but before they are sent out of the state.” [...]

When it was suggested that lack of funding was the root of the problem, Reid said Nevada has been cutting back on mental health for decades.

“Since Gov. (Mike) O’Callaghan has been governor (1971-79), there have been cutbacks on mental health services in Nevada, which is unfortunate,” Reid said. “They have had a lot of cuts and that has been too bad.”

Nevada’s issues about funding mental health facilities begin in Congress, Reid said.

“Of course, it spins down,” Reid said. “When we cut back things here, it makes it difficult for the state Legislature, Gov. Sandoval to do their job because we are cutting back here.”

Reid doesn’t see mental-health spending getting any better in Congress.

“I was talking on the floor today and it is going to get worse,” Reid said. “The Republicans are happy where we are. They have one goal in mind and that is to cut spending. Nothing else matters.”

And that gets us back to what's happening in Congress now. For all the talk of preventing gun violence by expanding mental health care, most Republicans in Congress are now pursuing the opposite. And on top of that, they want to repeal the very Affordable Care Act that stands to improve mental health care nationwide.

We've discussed before how state health care budget cuts likely contributed to the patient dumping scandal. Recent federal budgets have probably exacerbated this. And if the "tea party" gets its way in Congress, we can only look forward to even more mental health care headaches in the future.

Unspinning the Coming "Mod Squad" Mining Tax FAIL

This morning, we examined why evolving is so hard to do for Nevada Republicans. On one hand, their base wants more ideological "purity". But on the other hand, the rest of the voters have been consistently rejecting what their base demands. So what are Nevada Republicans to do?

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) seems to be eyeing change regardless of what the "tea party" naysayers say. He may have backslid on marriage equality earlier this week, but Senator Roberson is back on "The Mod Squad Express" as he keeps pushing his troubled IP 1 mining tax alternative. And it's driving Chuck Muth even crazier (than he's already been whenever "Roberson" falls out of anyone's mouth).

Of course, this has Jon Ralston worked into a frenzy. He had Senator Roberson on his show last night, and he was waxing poetic yesterday on the doomed tax initiative. Oh why, oh why, won't anyone else give "The Senate GOP Mod Squad Mining Tax Alternative" a chance?!

Maybe Roberson could have been more inclusive when he first spring the mining tax plan. But the “if Roberson says black, we’ll say white” attitude from Democrats is pure petulance, imputing his announcement only to killing the margins tax the business community abhors (he has been open about that) and giving him no credit for going after mining (as some of them and many of their allies have long wanted to do).

Even if they think Roberson is a shameless grandstander, why not embrace his effort if they really want more money for education? Are they really going to say they are opposed to a mining tax? Are they going to claim they prefer a broad-based solution, which they have yet to provide and, my guess is, will not offer? [...]

I have mentioned before that many people in the building – Democrats, Republicans, lobbyists – don’t trust Roberson. That is his biggest hurdle – and it may be insurmountable. He is a bull in the legislative zoo, and the other political animals are not amused.

Why folks don’t think he is trying to rebrand the GOP while also killing the margins tax, helping fund education and perhaps taking the majority is beyond me. It’s a triple bank shot, but that is what he is up to. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

“I want people to start looking at the Republican Party differently,” Roberson said Wednesday. “We can’t be the party of no, no, no.”

I can't believe this is actually necessary. But since Ralston keeps beating this dead horse, I guess we'll have to do it. So here we go.

First off, the law doesn't seem to favor Roberson. Sure, he got the LCB to write him favorable opinions. But at this point, it's three against one in Carson City as Governor Brian Sandoval (R), Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), and Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) all declaring his initiative unconstitutional. Why? As we've discussed here before and Amicus Nevada has continued to explain, the Legislature's failure to actually vote on IP 1 (aka The Education Initiative) and propose an alternative by March 15 has created a steep legal hurdle. The LCB opinions have had to find some rather creative ways to stretch Article 19 of the Nevada Constitution to justify continued pursuit of "The Mod Squad Mining Tax".

Yet while Senator Roberson and his allies find new legal arguments for their mining tax alternative, they haven't been able to find any new votes. And while he keeps trying to blame Democrats for this, the fact remains that he can't even get the rest of his Republican Party to back his initiative. He may be a titular Republican leader, but the heart of the party still very much looks to be with Sharron Angle. Nevada's own "Tea Party Queen" appeared in Elko earlier this week to promote her new book, but she also didn't hesitate to talk about her new plan to grow more "tea party" candidates for higher office.

Sharron Angle clearly refuses to go away. And really, why should she? The G-O-TEA base still sides with her on the issues. And on top of that, she may soon find new and previously unlikely allies, as the mining industry has been preparing to declare political war on "The Mod Squad". Oh, and as mentioned earlier, Governor Sandoval has no interest in backing up Senator Roberson on his mining tax alternative.

Perhaps this is why Senator Roberson prefers to deflect blame onto Democrats. It's easier for him to blame Democrats than to admit that the law and the bulk of his party don't seem to agree with him.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying all Democrats have been angels when it comes to preparing a proper state budget. Far from it, I have not hesitated to criticize Democrats when they were wrong. But come on, one can't blame Democratic leaders for keeping their distance from a tax initiative that's legally questionable at best and creating even more chaos within Republican ranks.

So just keep this in mind next time some media pundit for Republican Senator tries to deflect blame for the failure of the tax initiative that was never to be.

Evolving Is Awfully Hard to Do.

OK, so Monday night was a very emotional one for many of us. SJR 13 passed the State Senate, and Nevada is the first state to begin repealing a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. We saw many profiles in courage emerge this week, including Senator Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno). He provided compelling testimony for SJR 13 and marriage equality at the first hearing last month, but he didn't speak on the floor Monday before casting the sole Senate Republican vote for equality.

On Tuesday, Kieckhefer broke his temporary silence when he spoke to the Reno Gazette Journal's Ray Hagar about this week's big civil rights moment in Carson City. Check it out below.

And what does the vote say about Kieckhefer? Rival Democratic Sen. Debbie Smith of Sparks, the north's most influential senator, called his vote “courageous.” It also shows Kieckhefer cares about marriage equality, not just what subject is and isn’t covered in the constitution.

It was a smart move for a young man who may have a career in state politics beyond the Legislature. Indeed, Kieckhefer represents a conservative district.

But he’s smart enough to see a shift in the way people think about marriage equality. Let people marry who they want, many now say. Besides, Nevada is losing millions by not catering to marriage equality in our tourism industry in general and the wedding sector in particular. Live and let live. That’s the new thinking. Kieckhefer has that figured out.

In the final days before SJR 13 reached the Senate floor, other Republican Senators who claimed to support the bill backed out and ultimately declared their opposition. Why? They're claiming they always wanted to remove the Question 2 marriage ban from the Nevada Constitution, but they just can't vote to allow marriage equality a place in the Nevada Constitution. So on Monday, the other 9 Republicans voted to keep marriage discrimination in the Nevada Constitution. How does any of this make sense?

What seems more likely is that there was some sort of backroom politicking happening behind the scenes. We do know Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) ultimately whipped against SJR 13. Yet despite all this political drama, Senator Kieckhefer stood by his principles and supported marriage equality. Going forward, I suspect his position will be remembered as the courageous one... And it may ultimately provide a bit of redemption for the Nevada Republican Party.

This is the problem for Nevada Republicans... And really, for Republicans nationwide. They're increasingly seen by the general electorate as anachronistic, narrow minded, and just a bit too fond of wrongful discrimination. Something must change if Republicans want to be competitive in future election cycles. Republican political mastermind Frank Luntz gets it...

But unfortunately for him and for other high-level establishment Republicans, the "TEA" powered base would rather stick with Rush Limbaugh than change their ways.

We're also seeing this tug-of-war dynamic at work on immigration reform. In Carson City, several Republican legislators were falling over each other in a rush to attach their names to SB 303. This is the bill to establish driver's privilege cards for undocumented immigrants. And after many years of railing against this very policy, several prominent Nevada Republicans are now embracing it. Oh, and of course, they're desperately trying to improve their numbers among Latin@ voters.

But again, establishment Republicans have a growing problem in their midst here. It's called their base. Even after initially jumping to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, US Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) has been refusing to commit to anything as of late. Why? The "tea party" has been (mis)using the Boston Marathon Attack to fuel opposition to the Gang of 8 CIR bill now active in Congress.

Not too long ago, "TEA" devotees across America had great hopes for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and saw him as their conservative fantasy. But now, they're turning on him. Why? He's showing willingness to back the Gang of 8 CIR bill.

On Tuesday, Breitbart reporter Joel Pollak grilled Ryan about why he appeared with [Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois)], “who has some very radical views on immigration,” [because he's been demanding CIR] and about a variety of conservative concerns about the Senate bill.

In one notable exchange, Ryan argued that the Boston marathon attack — currently a source of conflict for the Senate’s immigration efforts — was further evidence that Congress needed to pass reform.

“If anything, it shows that we need to modernize our immigration laws,” he said. “We don’t know who is overstaying their visa, we don’t know who is coming into the country, we don’t have firm control of our borders, and we need to modernize our laws.”

That answer prompted condemnation from radio host Mark Levin, who has also been on the offensive against Rubio’s bill despite the Florida Senator’s best efforts to court his support.

“Paul Ryan is an extremely likable guy,” Levin said. “He’s been on this show many times. I like the man. But he’s creating a record here for himself that makes it very, very hard, in my view, if he chooses to run for president, to vote for him.

That is, Paul Ryan's national political future is at risk because he's flirting with moderation on immigration reform. No really, that's what Mark Levin is saying. Is this what now has Senator Heller wavering and waffling on CIR?

Last week, Senator Dean Heller ran as fast he could from a policy that 86% of his constituents support. And he effectively played a major role in killing gun safety reform that has broad support among Nevadans and Americans overall. Why? After flirting with moderation, he looks to be drinking the "TEA" again.

This is the problem. Many Republicans still don't know how to please their base while simultaneously making an appeal to everyone else. It's not easy to do when most Americans are trending one way while the "tea party" is stubbornly going in the other direction. Many high-level establishment Republicans here in Nevada seem to be expressing interest in "modernizing" (as in evolving and moderating)... But can they ever get that past Sharron Angle?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Problem Solved?

Earlier today, we examined the growing outrage in California over Nevada's patient dumping scandal. Los Angeles and San Francisco have launched their own respective probes into the matter, and a federal investigation is now underway. However today, a state investigation is wrapping up and there will be some sort of action taken as a result.

Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said today a decision will be made soon whether to continue sending discharged patients by bus out of state, to scrap the policy or require a chaperone to accompany the patient.

The majority of patients involved were not considered a “threat to themselves or to others” and expressed a desire to return to their families, friends or to an out-of-state treatment facility, the internal review found.

Two staff members at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital were disciplined, but Willden refused to say if they were higher-echelon officials or what penalty they faced.

The review of the 1,500 cases — prompted by a series of stories in the Sacramento Bee — was completed at midnight Tuesday. The Bee first broke the story of Nevada patients being put on a buses and sent to other states, prompting officials in California to call for an investigation.

Nevada officials are still asserting that there were only 5 or 6 cases at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas where the hospital's standard discharge policy was not followed. And they're insisting this little hiccup is being fixed. However, doubts remain in California over whether this was truly a little hiccup that only involved 5 or 6 cases. KQED recently posted more of its interview with The Sacramento Bee's Phillip Reese. He's been closely tracking this story, and he isn't so quick to confirm Mike Willden's assertion today.

"San Francisco told us that they've had at least two patients in the last year alone come from this particular facility, Rawson-Neal, without a plan or family members," Reese said. "[They] just showed up, in the way that Mr. Brown did."

According to the Bee's review of bus records, 36 patients took buses to San Francisco. Without talking to those people, it's hard to know what happened once they got to the city. They might have sought help. They might not have. They might be in San Francisco now. They might be elsewhere.

Reese said he and his colleagues are trying to track down patients, as well as Rawson-Neal employees and former employees. […]

One-third of patients bused out of Nevada were shipped to California.

Reese points to "severe" budget cuts in Nevada. The bus trips began to spike in 2009, around the same time a recent round of budget cuts took place.

Plus, he said, "They never had an elaborate safety net for mentally ill patients to begin with."

And even with today's latest development from Carson City, not everyone in Sacramento is satisfied. Oh, and San Francisco's own probe is still definitely happening. And that may not be all, as SF Weekly just learned.

Earlier this week, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera launched an investigation into Nevada's nefarious patient dumping, asking the state for for public records relating to Sacramento Bee reports which revealed the patient dumping problem. In one case, a patient reported that the Nevada hospital gave him a one-way ticket to California, with some snacks an only a few days worth of medication; his doctor told him to call 911 when he landed and he would received better health care than he would in Nevada.

Herrera told Reuters that he's pleased Nevada's governor has taken measures to stop the patient dumping, but that won't stop him from plunging ahead with his probe.

"Nothing changes my intention to pursue all legal options against the state of Nevada," Herrera said.

And there, we have it. The State of Nevada may be ready to close its books on this matter, but San Francisco certainly is not. Neither is Los Angeles. And we may still see more municipalities across California explore legal action against Nevada for patient dumping.

Governor Sandoval and Rawson-Neal administrators continue to insist the discharge of James Flavy Coy Brown was a mostly isolated incident. However, several throughout California continue to suggest otherwise. I have a feeling we're not finished with this story yet, far from it.

I can understand why Sandoval and Rawson-Neal administrators want this story gone. It doesn't look good. It's threatening federal funding for Southern Nevada's only state run mental health treatment hospital. And now, we may soon see law suits filed over this.

However, this story isn't going away. And at this point, the best thing the state can do is come clean with the truth and make a real effort to fix this problem. We'll see if that ultimately happens. And we'll be waiting to see if this means Nevada will finally fully fund mental health services.

Senator Roberson's $600 Million Question

Last night, we got word of Senator Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) finally unveiling his IP 1 alternative mining tax initiative. Today, it's finally been revealed. Here's Ralston with his take.

On the day marking the two-thirds point of Session '13, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and five of his GOP colleagues plan to unveil a $600 million a biennium net proceeds tax on mines, sources confirmed.

The so-called Education Priority Initiative from the folks I have affectionately dubbed the Dirty Half-Dozen would be promoted as a way to reduce class sizes by hiring teachers, fund English Language Learner programs and set up a stabilization fund dedicated to education. The mining tax would be earmarked only for education funding.

The tax would take effect in November 2014 and assumes passage of SJR 15 (taking mining taxation out of the Constitution where net proceeds is capped at 5 percent). I also understand that the tax would apply to operations with net proceeds exceeding $4 million a year, and the operations would still be obligated to pay above that to local entities mandated under the current law. That's clearlly designed to remove any argument this would harm local governments and school districts.

Clearly, Ralston is excited by this. However, there are two major problems. And Ralston himself knows what they are.

One is the law. At best (for Roberson, that is), the Nevada Constitution is unclear as to how legislators can propose an alternative to a citizen's initiative, especially when the Governor would rather not. At worst, Governor Brian Sandoval (R), Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), and Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) are all correct in finding Roberson's proposal unconstitutional.

The other problem is the politics. As we've discussed before, Roberson's proposal has led to yet another major division among Nevada Republicans. While Roberson assembled a Senate GOP "Mod Squad" of six to support it, Governor Sandoval, the other Republican Senators, the bulk of Republican Assembly Members, and the "tea party" activist base of the party have all aligned against it. Roberson desperately needs Democrats for this to have any chance of passage, but Democrats so far look to be keeping their distance from any proposal to ratfuck harm The Education Initiative that's already legally qualified for next year's general election ballot.

So where are Senator Roberson and his tax initiative supposed to go from here? Right now, that's the $600 million question.

California Outrage Grows as Nevada Patient Dumping Scandal Thickens

Despite their best attempts at denial, they just can't avoid it any more. Of course, we're talking about Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Denial), his staff handling mental health care in this state, and the burgeoning patient dumping ("DumpGate"?) scandal. San Francisco launched a probe on Monday, followed very closely by Los Angeles (City) yesterday. So of course, Jon Ralston had to follow up his interview with Mike Willden (Nevada's mental health care director) with an interview with Dan Morain. He's The Sacramento Bee's Senior Editor, and he actually personally traveled to Carson City in search of answers as his paper has been conducting a thorough and riveting investigation into the matter.

(The segment starts at 20:05.)

Governor Brian Sandoval continues to deny any widespread wrongdoing on the part of his administration and Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas. Yet despite Sandoval's continuing denials, questions persist in California. Los Angeles officials continue to ask.

And now, Orange County officials are chiming in as well.

Health care officials have been looking for the woman, whose first name is Monica, but haven’t had any luck, according to Mary Hale, Orange County’s behavioral health director. At least one Nevada patient has previously been found in Orange County.

“This facility in Nevada is doing Greyhound [bus] therapy,” Hale told county supervisors on Tuesday amid growing outrage over the issue statewide.

And there could be many more patients locally who have yet to be identified.

Nevada’s main psychiatric hospital sent 28 patients to Orange County in recent years, according to data collected by the Sacramento Bee. In many of the so-called “patient dumping” cases examined by the paper, Nevada officials simply sent clients on their way without ensuring they received treatment or housing. [...]

Hale also recalled that a former Nevada patient, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was found in Newport Beach “a couple of years ago” and subsequently received treatment.

Hale emphasized that Orange County officials ensure that family members are contacted and outpatient care is arranged for when patients are discharged.

It’s “extremely rare” to ever send a patient out of state without contacting family, Hale added, saying she couldn’t remember that ever happening in Orange County.

Mary Hale testified yesterday at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. They're OC's version of the Clark County Commission... Except that they're all conservative Republicans. Yet with that being said, they nonetheless unanimously approved a two year, $8.7 million for mental health inpatient services at hospitals in Anaheim and Costa Mesa. Jeez, even Orange County Supervisors know it's better to actually solve their problems than attempt to cut corners by dumping them somewhere else!

Oh, and of course, OC Supervisors are joining the growing chorus of outrage over Nevada's "Greyhound Therapy" scandal. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera still awaits a response from Nevada officials to his request for documents relating to the allegations swirling around Rawson-Neal. KQED's California Report also provided an update on the scandal. And they're finding even more mental health officials in California who are shocked to learn of what Nevada has been doing.

What started as The Sacramento Bee wondering why James Flavy Coy Brown nearly committed suicide in a Sacramento homeless shelter has become a far-reaching investigation by The Bee and other California media outlets into the 1,500+ incidents of Nevada patient dumping. And we'll find out soon if/when California municipalities begin suing Nevada over this. And on top of all this, federal funding for Rawson-Neal is at risk pending a federal investigation into Nevada patient dumping.

We've said this before, and we must say this again today. This didn't have to happen. Nevada could have fully funded mental health care, properly handled the cases of these patients, and probably saved money (considering the likely forthcoming legal action against Rawson-Neal)! What else will it take for Governor Sandoval to learn this lesson? Hell, what will it take for Governor Sandoval to even admit this problem is real?!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"T Word" Fireworks

With today being the deadline for most bills to pass their originating houses in the Nevada Legislature, reality is setting in for legislators whose bills don't seem to have the votes to survive tonight. And with the deadline for the Legislature to act on The Education Initiative (aka IP 1) long gone, any legislators who were hoping to craft a competing tax reform initiative have had to relinquish their fantasies. Well, that is, any legislators not named Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) have had to.

Never mind that the law may not agree with Senator Roberson. And never mind that the politics certainly don't seem to agree with him. Despite the many legal & political obstacles Senator Roberson and his IP 1 alternative mining tax face, he still refuses to give it up.

In fact, he's pressing on with it. He's releasing details of his IP 1 alternative tomorrow. And it's already developed a bipartisan consensus. Unfortunately for Roberson, it's increasingly looking like a strong bipartisan consensus of opposition to his tax plan.

In a letter sent to each senator Tuesday, Roberson invited Democrats and critical Republicans alike to provide input on the details of his proposed mining tax.

"It is my sincere hope that this legislation will be bipartisan in nature and that we put politics aside and collectively do what is right for the children of our state," Roberson wrote in the letter. [...]

"We don't do industry-specific taxes," said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, an early opponent of Roberson's effort. "I know he's using one of his emergency measures for this, but I don't know what the point is. Leadership isn't going to let it pass. It's not going to get a hearing." [...]

"I want a bipartisan proposal that happens this legislative session that produces more funding for this school year," said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Reno, who hadn't yet seen the letter that was sent to her office this afternoon.

"I'm not really amenable to doing an alternative," said Denis. "However, I want to be open, and I've committed to meeting with him," he said, noting he has an appointment with Roberson tomorrow.

Yikes. This isn't looking good for Senator Roberson. After all, this has been his "brilliant" plan to defeat IP 1. Instead, it just looks like Education Initiative supporters have the better chance of securing the last laugh while Roberson's mining tax alternative dies in the crossfire of convoluted Carson City politics.

Last week, Senator Debbie Smith wasn't buying Governor Brian Sandoval's (R-Denial) line of BS over "The Sunset Taxes". This week, she's reading Roberson. Can he really survive amidst all that shade?

And on top of that, Roberson continues to run into trouble with his own party. Good luck with Governor Sandoval. And good luck with Sharron Angle.

So expect fireworks this week... But I have a feeling Senator Roberson may not appreciate this fireworks show.

Finally, a Step Forward

About an hour ago, another bill passed to live another day. This time it was SB 49, the campaign finance reform bill pushed by Secretary of State Ross Miller (D). It had to endure some weakening alterations in committee, but ultimately much of what Miller wanted survived.

And just moments ago, the amended SB 49 passed the full Senate. The vote was 13-8 in favor. All Democrats voted for the bill, and Senators Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) & Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) joined the Democrats to vote to approve. All the other Republicans voted against the bill.

But of course, the ones who voted against SB 49 are claiming it's actually the Democrats who oppose campaign finance reform. "Oh, Armani! Oh, the reporting requirement here isn't good enough!" To be fair, Senator Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) did offer an amendment. However, the others did not. So really, their excuses for voting against SB 49 sound all too familiar.

Is this bill a panacea for better transparency and ethics? Not quite. In fact, we've discussed what's really needed to clean up the hot mess that's Nevada government.

Yet with that being said, SB 49 is a good start. It finally sets real standards for campaign finance reporting. And remember, knowledge is power. So tonight, the Nevada Legislature finally took a major step in the direction of meaningful reform.

AB 230 Passes Assembly

Over the course of this month, sex education has blown up into a major issue in Carson City. AB 230 was introduced. Then, Assembly Member Lucy Flores (D-North Las Vegas) shared her compelling personal story in explaining why Nevada students need comprehensive sex education.

Today, Assembly Member Lucy Flores again gave powerful personal testimony, this time on the Assembly floor.

@LucyFlores in support of #AB230 :"In a perfect world, we wouldn't need this bill. But we don't live in a perfect world." #sexed #nvleg

"If we don't arm students with information, they make decisions based on wrong information." @LucyFlores #AB230 #sexed #nvleg #FierceFlores

She followed the bill's original sponsor, David Bobzien (D-Reno), who reminded his colleagues of what's at stake.

"Giving students the information they need can and will save lives." - @BobzienNevada #AB230 #sexed #nvleg

A few of their Republican colleagues predictably rose in opposition. And they seemed completely oblivious to what's actually in AB 230.

But in the end, it didn't matter. AB 230 just passed 26-15. All Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while all Republicans voted against. And just before the vote, my own Assembly Member (Andy Eisen [D-Paradise]) said this.

Asm. @andy_eisen "I represent a special interest group...and that is the youth of Nevada " stands up for #SexEd #AB230 #NVleg

In the end, they're the ones who matter. And they're the ones who stand to benefit from AB 230. So now, the Assembly approved consistent statewide standards for life-saving sex education. The bill now moves onto the Senate.

So Big, Yet So Personal

Last night was definitely a night to remember in Carson City. And not only was the Nevada Senate's approval of SJR 13 something to behold here in our state, but its approval is attracting national attention as well. For one, Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas) coming out on the Senate floor caused many jaws to drop.

Here's what happened when The Los Angeles Times called Senator Atkinson's office.

“I’m black. I’m gay,” he said in a shaky voice. “I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male.”

Atkinson argued that gay marriage does not threaten any legal or moral definition of the union.

“If this hurts your marriage,” he said, “then your marriage was in trouble in the first place.”

The measue still has a way to to before gay marriage is a reality in Nevada. The idea still must pass the Assembly, where the Democrats have a 27-15 edge. It also must be passed by lawmakers next year and approved by voters in 2016.

A woman who answered the phone in Atkinson’s Carson City office told the Los Angeles Times that the legislator was deluged with interview requests and was trying to accommodate them while tending to his Senate duties.

The Huffington Post put Atkinson on the front page of its LGBT site. This story has also been picked up by MSNBC. So has ABC News. So has the International Business Times. And so have many other national media outlets.

However, perhaps one story that's really weighing on me today is the one posted earlier today by Nevada's own Jon Ralston. Read and weep.

Steven is my brother. Steven is the most wonderful, loving person I know. He has two incandescent children and a perfectly matched life partner.

Steven also happens to be gay. And as senator after senator rose last night, as if they were feeding off each other’s energy and humanity, to support repealing the state’s gay marriage law, I thought of Steven.

I hope I would feel the way I do even if my brother weren’t gay, even if I couldn’t imagine depriving him of the opportunity to marry Rob, as he did in 2011. But every time I see them and their two adopted children together, I am reminded of how their family is no different than any happy family, while (with homage, Leo) for so many different reasons, there are so many unhappy heterosexual marriages out there.

It makes the issue real to me, just as it does for Sen. Justin Jones, who spoke movingly of his gay brother-in-law and voted to repeal the ban even though his LDS church friends might not understand or it might threaten his re-election chances. "I would rather lose an election than look my brother-in-law in the eye every Sunday and tell him he doesn’t have the same rights as I do,” Jones said, his voice soft but affecting.

On a night when I had to holster my usual snark and cynicism as I listened and watched these politicians transmogrify into human beings, allowing the personal to be the political, letting the emotions most elected officials reflexively hold in check pour forth into the public eye.

Yep, there's been a whole lot of coming out since last night. And that's a good thing.

Senator Kelvin Atkinson came out on the Senate floor... Then came out to the national media. He talked about his own life, his own struggle, and his own loves. And that's been serving as a reminder of just how personal this issue is for so many of us.

It's also had more people think about their own experiences. And we've been seeing more "coming out" experiences since last night. And we've all had to confront the reality of what happens when we condone discrimination against people based on who they are and who they love.

This story has been going national. It's been getting big. Yet at the same time, it's hitting home. And it's very personal.

This certainly is a story to remember.