Saturday, March 30, 2013

His Testimony, Her Gavel, Their Decision, Our Families

So Easter is tomorrow. This is our big family holiday of the spring. It has us all thinking about family.

This past week has been especially important for LGBTQ families. In Washington, all eyes were on the US Supreme Court as the DOMA and Prop 8 cases faced oral arguments. And in Carson City, SJR 13 finally had its hearing in the Nevada Legislature.

Owly Images

Owly Images

As mentioned Tuesday, there was an abundance of powerful testimony during the hearing in the Senate Legislative Operations & Elections Committee. One who certainly couldn't be ignored was Assembly Member James Healey (D-Enterprise). Healey not only discussed the merits of the bill, but his own family experience and his own life's journey as an out gay man in Nevada.

You just have to see and listen to this to believe it. So watch it below.

By the end of James Healey's testimony, many in the room were on the edge of their seats. And this, along with Senator Ben Kieckhefer's (R-Reno) surprising and incredibly strong endorsement of SJR 13 and marriage equality, set the tone for the rest of the day. And what a day Tuesday was!

Later in that hearing, prominent anti-equality trolls Richard Ziser and Janine Hansen tried to spin away everything that had just occurred... As well as the huge shift in public support for marriage equality in recent years. When Ziser went too far in playing fast & loose with facts & figures, Senator & Committee Chair Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) delivered a stunning rebuke. In a measured response that helped preserve decorum, she just asked him to provide real evidence for his lofty claims.

Owly Images

Owly Images

Yet in just doing that, it was another ground breaking moment. Who thought the day would ever come when an out lesbian African-American State Senator would check Richard Ziser?! It finally happened on Tuesday. And Nevada history HERstory was made.

Owly Images

At some point, we'll all be thinking about family this weekend. On Tuesday, Nevada's LGBTQ families finally had a chance to tell the Nevada Legislature about their experiences and explain why civil marriage equality is so important. It's certainly an experience that I will never forget.

Friday, March 29, 2013

New Questions Emerge As Steven Brooks Saga Takes New Twist (into California)

I guess this was bound to happen. Newly ousted ex-Assembly Member Steven Brooks found himself in trouble with law enforcement... Again. But this time, he ran into trouble with California cops.

Brooks, 41, a North Las Vegas Democrat, fled from police following a dispute with a tow truck driver on Lenwood Road near the 15 Freeway in Barstow at 6:11 p.m.

"Brooks continued to accelerate at a high rate of speed and was traveling in and out of multiple lanes in an attempt to get away from officers," Barstow police said in a press release. [...]

Brooks eventually got out of his car after receiving orders to surrender. Police said he was acting irrationally and refused to listen to officers' orders.

Barstow police released their dog, Buck, to take Brooks into custody, but before the dog could catch him, Brooks ran back to his car. Buck jumped through the back window of the vehicle.

Police said Brooks began choking Buck and hit him with a metal socket wrench. The dog suffered a cut to his left leg and above his right eye.

CHP and Barstow police officers tried to handcuff Brooks and then used a Taser gun on him when he continued to resist arrest.

A Victorville resident named Jennifer Simpson posted this video, shot by her husband Ken, of Brooks' arrest. But before you view this video, be aware that it contains violent actions and language. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

I had a feeling this was coming. However, I had a feeling something like this would happen in Carson City. That's why the Nevada Legislature ultimately had the obligation to expel Brooks.

However with that being said, today's series of events greatly disturb me. For one, Brooks again displayed some very disturbing behavior. Wasn't he supposed to be receiving treatment by now? He very much needs immediate mental health treatment.

And were local police and CHP unaware of this? They may not have been familiar with the Brooks scandal, but they should have at least detected a 5150 (California's version of Legal 2000) here. Was that much force necessary to detain Brooks? Did they really need to punch him?

Sadly, this probably means the sad & sordid tale of Steven Brooks continues. But now, we face even more pressing issues as a result of this. When do police actions cross the line into police brutality? When must someone who's already been determined to be a threat to oneself & others be involuntarily committed into treatment? And do we have enough available mental health treatment?

We'll likely have to examine these issues further as this story develops.

The Biggest #NVLeg Story You Haven't (Yet) Seen

I know this week has been chock full of hot Nevada Legislature stories. One in particular continues to grab headlines. However, there's one major story that saw an exciting development on Tuesday... Yet hasn't received much attention.

Let's change that.

Owly Images

Remember when we discussed this session's flurry of ethics & campaign finance reform related bills? One of the bills we looked at was Senator Justin Jones' (D-Enterprise) SB 203, which requires lobbyists to file quarterly activity reports.

I just happened to be on the Senate floor when SB 203 was being considered there. Senator Jones rose to speak on his bill. And there was some banter going back and forth among other Senators on the matter. And I was wondering how this would turn out. After all, ethics and campaign finance bills don't always have an easy ride in Carson City.

Owly Images

However, this time was different. I was stunned as the vote was called. At first, the vote looked like it was going to be painfully close. But then, this happened.

Owly Images

It was unanimous! How often does the Nevada Senate unanimously agree on anything? And this happened for a bill that requires lobbyists to file quarterly reports?

I know, I know, this is just a small niche of policy. Perhaps others just consider this a "baby step". But when considering how difficult it had been to pass any kind of reform in past sessions, what happened in the Senate on Tuesday may truly be huge news.

We've seen this constantly in Carson City. Corporate lobbyists run around the Legislature Building and privately cut their deals with lawmakers. So much has been so secretive. Yet this week, the Nevada Legislature made a major move in curbing this by calling for more transparency in lobbying activities.

Of course, there's still more to do. SB 203 must now go to the Assembly for approval. The fate of the other ethics & campaign finance bills is still unknown. And signs of scandal continue to loom over Carson City.

But at least on Tuesday, signs of hope emerged. Perhaps this time, the Legislature can take steps to end the rampant culture of corruption. It would be nice to see a happy ending to this kind of story for a change.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why Demand Action? So They Won't Forget.

Today has been a major day on gun violence. We've seen protests throughout the country demanding action from Congress. So did President Obama. And so did some of the nation's top Democratic campaign donors.

Meanwhile here in Nevada, we've been seeing an entire day of action in Las Vegas... Which has turned out to be the same day when the Nevada Legislature finally expelled troubled Assembly Member Steven Brooks in Carson City.

We'll talk about the Brooks affair in more detail this weekend. For now, let's focus on what happened down here.

Owly Images

Yes, this was the scene outside the Lloyd George Federal Building (where Senators Reid & Heller have Las Vegas offices) today. And ProgressNow Nevada's Brian Fadie helped put it all into perspective.

Owly Images

And so did ProgressNow's Teresa Crawford.

Lloyd George was also the site of the infamous 2010 Courthouse Shooting, so the site of today's event was also quite poignant. A security officer on duty was shot dead there. I had to keep that in mind as I noticed the security officers making the rounds today.

It's been just over three months since the Newtown massacre. And it's barely been over a month since the Las Vegas Strip shooting. And there have been even more victims since then. Can we really afford to forget this?

And should Congress be allowed to forget this?

Why These Families Demand Action

Today, local parents are speaking out. These moms and local volunteers with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Demand Action campaign just explained why they're speaking up on gun safety in Las Vegas today.

Owly Images

The action has begun at the PLAN Las Vegas office. Local moms like Jessica Nelsen and Linda Cavazos explained their stories on gun violence.

So did Esther Sass. She lost her brother to gun violence. And since then, she's done her research on gun violence.

Yes, this is reality. People are dying because we haven't fixed our gun laws. We've asked this before, and we must ask this again today. How many more people must die before we finally take action?

Owly Images

This is why people in Nevada and throughout the nation demand action.

Just minutes ago, the Nevada Assembly finally voted to expel Steven Brooks. And remember, he came very close to buying a gun despite his recent record.

So now, it's Congress' turn to take action. Something must change. It's time for Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller to act.

Senator Post-partisan?

While nearly all the other hot US Senate races were turning Blue last November, one managed to stay Red... "Kinda sorta". Senator Dean Heller (R-Office Space) only mustered 46% in his campaign for a full Senate term. However, that turned out to be just enough to eke out a narrow win despite President Obama's victory at the top of the ballot.

Yet since then, Heller has been changing his tune rather dramatically... And Heller himself recently spoke to Politico (via Las Vegas Sun) about it.

[... H]is aggressive repositioning is sometimes awkward. Heller now wants to be known as one of the few Republican “pragmatists” — he eschews the word “moderate” — and goes to great lengths to tout Democrats with whom he is co-sponsoring legislation.

To back up his bipartisan bona fides, Heller was the only Republican senator among the 50 members of Congress to join No Labels, a group trying to facilitate cross-aisle dialogue.

“Maybe we’re a unique brand,” said Heller, seated beneath an enormous mounted head of an elk he shot in 1996, which he said is among the largest ever felled in his state. “Myself, Susan Collins (of Maine) and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, we’re the three (Republicans) who are most likely to reach over the aisle and work with someone else. If you talk to Jay Rockefeller, if you talk to Jon Tester, if you talk to Joe Manchin, Martin Heinrich — I have good working relationships with all of them.

Before November 2012, Heller voted as a standard "tea party" approved Republican. Yet since last November, he's at least been eschewing that image and pursuing a more "post-partisan" one. He's now talking a good game on gun safety, comprehensive immigration reform, and even the federal budget (to a certain extent). So Senator Heller has a new attitude. Does he also have a new voting record?

Not completely. After all, he still voted to end the Affordable Care Act earlier this month. He still refuses to support marriage equality. And we've yet to get a full picture of just how willing Senator Heller is to cooperate with President Obama.

So what can we expect from Dean Heller going forward? That's a good question. I guess the book's still open. But hey, he will have opportunities to match his moderate rhetoric with actual votes very soon. Gun safety legislation will soon reach the Senate floor. So will comprehensive immigration reform. And LGBTQ equality will likely remain at the forefront as the US Supreme Court considers its final Prop 8 & DOMA decisions.

Can the rhetoric match up with reality? That's for Senator Heller to decide.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Leaving Carson City (for Now)

OK, we're on the road again. We have to return to Las Vegas.

We'll have more on the blog this weekend. I have even more stories from the Legislature to tell. And you'll have to stay tuned to see where we go tomorrow.

We're driving through Lyon County now... Until we reach a stable cell signal again...

Health Care: It's Complicated?

As mentioned earlier today, the Nevada Legislature talked health care when the Joint Finance Committee took on a key part in implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange was created in 2011 to comply with the ACA's requirement to set up exchanges to provide patients with more affordable health insurance plans. So why was tjere a hearing today? Well, it's complicated.

Senator & Joint Finance Chair Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson) and Assembly Member Paul Aizley (D-Paradise) asked Exchange Director Jon Hager about progress on developing the Exchange. Here's some of what Hager said.

But wait, there's more. And yes, this is where Congress' latest & greatest manufactured crisis kicks in. As Steve Benen and others have noted, we're even seeing Republicans starting to decry the many harmful effects of this manufactured crisis. And as we're finding out the hard way, it may even affect our health care.

While President Obama and (federal) Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insist they are doing everything they can to maximize the ACA even with minimal funds, it's hard to see how the Affordable Care Act will be completely unscathed in the wake of federal budget cuts. And what may make this situation even worse is how notoriously cheap Nevada's state government most often is. Can a convergence of state & federal austerity threaten health care reform?

That's what we'll have to watch for in the coming weeks and months. Rollout of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange is slated for October. And perhaps as long as the state properly funds its end of the equation while Congress gets its act together on the federal budget, things will work out just fine.

But if American austerity continues, health care reform may have a bumpy road ahead. Again, the Obama Administration is working to find ways to deliver health care to patients even with current tight budgets. That delivery may just be made more complicated than it needs to be.

#NVLeg #nvbudget #healthcare Liveblog

Right now, the Joint Senate Finance/Assembly Ways & Means Committee is discussing the budget. Various items are being discussed, such as a proposed update to state agencies' telecommunication infrastructure. (And that isn't looking pretty right now.) We're waiting for discussion of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, which is part of the state's plan to implement the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) here.

Stay tuned as we await discussion on health care reform.

9:25 AM: Still waiting...

Owly Images

The committee is now dealing with the request from the Department of Taxation. Surprise, surprise, the Department of Taxation has a hard time implementing the state's tax laws! With a Legislature that presently only meets for 120 days every 2 years, no present Deputy Chief in Southern Nevada (where over 80% of the state's tax revenue is collected), and a tax system chock full of loopholes and other oddities, I guess this was bound to happen.

9:45 AM: Ah, now it's getting interesting. The Department of Taxation just concluded with interesting talk on the Marketplace Fairness Act, which will allow for nationwide collection of online sales tax if passed by Congress, and The Education Initiative. We'll have more on that later.

Owly Images

Now, Jon Hager, the director of the Exchange, is explaining the challenges of implementing a program that's still in flux in Washington. Hager is asking for additional staff, ability to charge fees for supplementary vision & dental care, and enough flexibility to keep adapting to whatever new guidelines come from the Obama Administration and/or Congress.

It's Time (to Let Him Go).

After two months of salacious drama and deferred action, the Steven Brooks scandal may finally come to an end... At least for the Nevada Legislature. The special Assembly committee set up to handle this situation voted to expel Steven Brooks from the Legislature last night.

"I take no pleasure in making this motion," Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said, before moving to recommend expulsion. "I do it for the good of the Legislature, and I hope the good of Mr. Brooks." [...]

“We all labored over this,” Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said. “Is there a way to find help for Assemblyman Brooks, who, it would appear to us and, I believe most of the public believes, is someone who needs help.” [...]

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said the evidence presented convinced him that Brooks is “unfit to serve.”

“It made me sad,” Horne said of the details of special counsel Mark Ferrario’s investigation. “What I read was not reflective of the man I’ve grown to know.

“As his friend, I am glad those documents are confidential.”

The committee ultimately voted 6-1 to expel Brooks. Assembly Member Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) was the sole vote against expulsion. She said she preferred temporary suspension.

The rest, however, did not. And now, this goes to the full Assembly for consideration. A 2/3 supermajority will be necessary to ultimately expel Brooks.

Frankly, the time has come for this. It's become increasingly clear that Steven Brooks has "issues". And it's become increasingly clear that those "issues" won't be solved in the Nevada Legislature. Brooks likely needs professional help. It's time for the Legislature to let him go so he can access the treatment he needs.

And regardless of what one thinks of Brooks, the Nevada Legislature doesn't need to be bogged down any more by this distraction. It's time to let Brooks go. Hopefully, the full Assembly will agree to a final resolution to this sorry scandal.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What a Day This Has Been

Whoa, what a day this has been! SJR 15 not only got a(nother) hearing today, but it also passed out the Senate Revenue & Economic Development Committee unanimously! Oh yes, that's right. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), David Parks (D-Paradise), Michael Roberson (R-Henderson), Mo Denis (D-North Las Vegas), Greg Brower (R-Reno), Debbie Smith (D-Sparks), and Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) all voted for SJR 15!

So how did it happen? For one, the mining representatives did a great job... Of making the case for mining tax reform!

As you can see above, Brower & Roberson were quite irritated with the "non-answer answers" coming from the mining industry's mouthpieces representatives testifying today. They wouldn't answer on how much their clients actually pay. They wouldn't answer on whether they'd sue for lower taxes if SJR 15 passes. They wouldn't even answer on what their official position is on SJR 15!

And in case that wasn't potent enough, Democratic & progressive activist Marla Turner testified today. Not only does she have her own amazing reputation, but she's also the stepdaughter of the late Assembly Member Marvin Sedway. In 1989, he railed against the many bailouts the mining industry enjoyed at the time. Marla was there to remind legislators of what actually happened in 1989... And why it matters in 2013.

In 1989, the mining industry agreed to SJR 22, the constitutional amendment that set up the current tax scheme. It did so only to fend off much more sweeping tax reform, such as a new extraction tax. While mining lobbyists do a song & dance routine on how little much their clients pay and what SJR 15 supposedly will do, they wouldn't be so fearful of SJR 15 if they didn't think it would undo the worst parts of the SJR 22 deal in 1989... The one that Steve Wynn (??!!) warned the Nevada Legislature of that year.

By the way, Roberson cited that very speech from Wynn at the hearing today.

Don't be mistaken. What happened today was truly historic. For perhaps the first time ever, the Nevada Legislature may finally stand up to the mining industry and impose fairer taxation! Democratic & Republican legislators are leading the charge on this. And Governor Sandoval is increasingly being boxed into a corner on this.

Oh, what a day this has been.

#NVLeg #SJR15 Liveblog

Wait, there are more fireworks in #NVLeg today? Oh yes, there are! We've been talking for some time about mining tax reform. Now, the day has finally come. SJR 15 returns to the Senate Revenue & Economic Development Committee today.

Owly Images

Stay tuned as we await SJR 15 testimony.

2:05 PM:

Owly Images

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) just grilled Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley. He asked for the official position of the Nevada Mining Association on SJR 15. He asked if they will sue the state if SJR 15 passes. And he asked about the current mining tax structure. Crowley couldn't provide a clear answer to any of Roberson's questions.

A Fennemore Craig Jones Vargas attorney is now speaking for the Nevada Mining Association in addition to Tim Crowley. So far, it looks like legislators are actually showing some skepticism to the mining industry's spin (for a change).

Many Surprises in #SJR13 #NVLeg Marriage Equality Hearing

As we discussed earlier, the SJR 13 marriage equality hearing in the Nevada Legislature. And this hearing was full of surprises! One happened in the beginning, when Senator Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) testified in favor of SJR 13 and expressed his confidence that Nevada truly has been evolving on marriage equality.

Kieckhefer's surprise appearance raised many eyebrows in the room. Even typically conservative Senator James Settlemeyer (R-Minden) seemed to warm up to SJR 13. And not even Senator Barbara Cegavske (R-Spring Valley) really challenged him.

Another fascinating surprise occurred when Beverly Sevcik and her wife, Mary, appeared to testify. Sevcik, of course, is the lead plaintiff in the federal law suit on marriage equality in Nevada.

She was just one of many citizens in Carson City and Las Vegas to testify on SJR 13. Another citizen to testify was Paul Gibson. He's an ordained minister and works in a Lutheran church in Sparks. He's also openly gay.

And these were just a few of the many of testified for marriage equality today. There were Republicans. There were people of faith. There were parents. There were small business owners. There were Nevadans of many walks of life.

And there's even more of today's hearing to share. Yes, it was really that explosive.

#NVLeg #SJR13 Liveblog

And the fun begins...

Owly Images

8:00 AM: The hearing is starting. And the Senate Legislative Operations & Elections Committee is starting with SJR 12, the bill to posthumously pardon boxing legend Jack Johnson. Just hold tight. SJR 13 will come up soon.

Owly Images

8:32 PM: SJR 12 just passed the committee unanimously. The committee is now hearing SB 246, a bill by Senator Justin Jones (D-Enterprise). SB 246 calls on corporate funded, labor funded, and other PACs to register with the Secretary of State and report campaign activities. We'll also have more on this and other campaign finance reform bills later this week.

Of course, Justin Jones knows from personal experience the problems with the current system. We'll have to see what other legislators think of this.

9:00 AM: Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) just introduced SJR 13.... & Senator Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) is speaking in favor! So now, marriage equality is getting bipartisan support in the Legislature. Senator David Parks (D-Paradise) and Assembly Member Eliot Anderson (D-Paradise) will also soon speak in favor.

9:40 AM: Sorry for the break. I'll have video up shortly from Ben Kieckhefer and Assembly Member James Healey (D-Enterprise). Both have very powerful testimony.

Citizen testimony is now underway, and we'll also have more on these later.

10:00 AM: We've already had some powerful citizen testimony. Beverly Sevcik, the lead plaintiff in the federal law suit demanding marriage equality in Nevada, came with her wife to explain their relationship and why they deserve equal treatment under the law. There are even more families testifying from Grant Sawyer in Las Vegas. Even two very brave ministers from Washoe County came to testify in favor of equality. Oh, and famed minister & brothel lobbyist George Flint did as well.

I'll post videos from the hearing soon.

Tuesday's #NVLeg Pre-game Show

Last night, the Nevada Progressive crew finally made it to Carson City just after 8:00 PM. It was an interesting ride up, but I'm glad we finally made it to our state's capital. So now, the real fun begins!

As I hinted at earlier, today will be a super busy day at the Nevada Legislature. We'll be starting today's ongoing #NVLeg coverage with a SJR 13 (marriage equality) liveblog. Later today, SJR 15 (mining tax reform) will get its own committee hearing.

And then tonight, we have another round of Steven Brooks drama. But this time, we may finally be approaching the beginning of the end of this at #NVLeg.

So today will be very action packed. Stay tuned here and follow me on Twitter for updates throughout today and tomorrow. Who knows? You may even find the occasional surprise here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

We'll Be LIVE @ #NVLeg This Week!

As we hinted at earlier, this week promises to be a very busy one at the Nevada Legislature. Marriage equality will finally reach the forefront in Carson City tomorrow when SJR 13 comes before the Senate Legislative Operations & Elections Committee tomorrow. Also tomorrow, mining tax reform returns to the spotlight as SJR 15 gets its own day in committee in Senate Revenue & Economic Development. Oh, and in case that's not enough excitement for you, the Steven Brooks will likely return to the headlines as the Assembly finally approaches a final resolutions on perhaps the most bizarre scandal to ever hit Carson City. And to heat things up even more, health care will take center stage Wednesday morning when the Joint Ways & Means/Finance Committee takes on a key part of implementing the Affordable Care Act in including set-up of the new Silver State Health Insurance Exchange in the next state budget.

Whoa... Talk about a busy week! And the best part? We'll be experiencing all of this live and in person!

I hinted at this earlier this month, but today it's finally happening. I'm hitting the road for Carson City! And tomorrow & Wednesday, I'll be providing updates here and @atdleft on Twitter on the big events happening at #NVLeg.

So stay tuned here at Nevada Progressive. I'm so excited to be able to do this. And I hope this can help all of us better understand what's really happening in Carson City.

In the mean time, I'll just leave you with this tweet from Senator Justin Jones (D-Enterprise) for now.

Carson City: Where policy nerds go for Spring Break. #nvleg

I guess I'm guilty as charged. ;-)

For Green & Green ($), We Need to Keep Lake Tahoe Blue.

How important is being green? Over the weekend, the Reno Gazette Journal's web site ran this blog item about Reno businesses seeing green (as in $) in going green.

“Sustainability is very important for job attraction,” [Mike] Kazmierski [President and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada] said. “Companies are looking for communities that embrace sustainability. It sets an image of an environmentally friendly community, it’s attractive to young professionals, and it speaks to clean air and water and to the quality of life.”

And being environmentally friendly speaks to a company’s bottom line.

“Employees like to work for businesses that are environmentally friendly, so you attract a different kind of employee,” Kazmierski said.

“Customers want to deal with businesses that are environmentally friendly so you might grow in a different way that you didn’t expect. … It’s not just fluff, it’s a decision businesses need to make to stay competitive in the years ahead.”

I guess a growing number of companies throughout Nevada are "seeing the light" in finding profitability in social responsibility. That's nice. So when will certain developers looking to pave paradise in Lake Tahoe realize this?

In 2011, the Nevada Legislature passed SB 271. It's also known around these parts as "The Trash Tahoe Bill". That's because this bill threatened to withdraw Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) isn't weakened enough to allow for massive new development around the lake.

Last December, talk was brewing of repealing SB 271. After all, a new agreement on TRPA was reached. And now, we finally have SB 229.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs introduced Senate Bill 229 on Monday. The bill would completely repeal 2011’s Senate Bill 271, which threatens to pull Nevada out of the bi-state planning agency in October 2015 if certain changes to the agency aren’t made. SB 271 authorizes Nevada’s governor to postpone the withdrawal until October 2017 under certain circumstances.

One of the most significant changes sought by SB 271 was the passage of an updated regional plan guiding development and land use throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The TRPA’s Governing Board passed its Regional Plan Update in December. The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore sued to block the plan’s implementation last month. The environmental groups believe rules in the new plan will not accomplish TRPA’s environmental goals and will cause a new era of over-development at the lake. Proponents of the RPU contend the new rules will help ease burdensome restrictions on basin residents and businesses, while helping advance protection of Lake Tahoe.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe and Nevada Conservation League have urged legislators to repeal SB 271, especially in light of the RPU’s passage. Maintaining TRPA’s Compact is key to protecting the lake, according to the groups.

“Although the passage of SB 271 was a black eye for Nevada, we are committed to make sure that it does not result in the destruction of the Tahoe Planning Compact and the health of the lake,” the Conservation League wrote in a statement this week.

Back in February, Nevada Conservation League's Kyle Davis hinted at this strategy when he appeared on "To the Point" with Anjeanette Damon.

(Go to 13:00 for the Tahoe segment.)

Since SB 271's passage, Nevada has landed into the political and environmental hot seat. California, the other state covered by the current TRPA, is considering a "contingency plan" should Nevada follow through in pulling out of TRPA. Basically, the California Legislature is debating legislation to set up its own environmental stewardship plan for Lake Tahoe if Nevada allows SB 271 to stand.

Meanwhile, California officials began setting up a contingency plan in case the bi-state TRPA is dismantled. The California legislation is authored by the Senate leader [Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento] and by Sen. Fran Pavley, an Agoura Hills Democrat, who often takes a lead role in California environmental issues. About two-thirds of Lake Tahoe is in California.

Their bill, SB 630, would set up a California TRPA with a nine-member board to regulate development on the California side of the lake, the largest alpine lake in North America. Appointees would be drawn from the boards of supervisors in Placer and El Dorado counties, the Tahoe City Council and members of the public. The Assembly speaker and Senate leader each would have the authority appoint two members.

“California must have a plan in place to protect Lake Tahoe," Pavley said in the statement. "Due to unilateral action taken by the state of Nevada, the governance structure that has served Lake Tahoe for over four decades is now in jeopardy. We have sought to partner with the state of Nevada on this issue, and still see that as the best way forward.”

On the Nevada side, if the bi-state TRPA is dissolved, that state’s regulatory authority would be handled by a Nevada TRPA, which is poised to be set up under the provisions of the pullout bill.

And that's not all. While California is responding to Nevada's threat of unilateral deregulation with unilateral regulation, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and other grassroots environmental activists are going to court. Oh yes, that's right. They've filed suit to challenge the new TRPA compact. In their eyes, the new TRPA compact itself allows for overdevelopment at the cost of the well-being of the lake and its wildlife.

“In 1980, Congress, along with the states of California and Nevada, specifically entrusted a
regional body to oversee all environmental protection and land use at Lake Tahoe, including
project approvals, to ensure that local governments do not allow runaway development,” said
Trent Orr, attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, which represents the
conservation groups. “The 1980 Compact requires TRPA to approve all projects within the
region, and to establish minimum regional standards for project approval. They can’t legally cede
that power and leave it to the local governments that failed to protect Tahoe in the past. There is
no reason to believe that cash-strapped local governments would adopt and enforce adequate
environmental protection measures in the face of lucrative development proposals.” [...]

“This new plan fails to recognize that an increase in buildings, rooftops, and pavement will mean
an increase in the amount of polluted rain and snowmelt - - runoff that flows directly into the
Lake,” said Laurel Ames of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club in California. “Stormwater from
pavement and roads is the leading cause of the Lake’s loss of clarity. Allowing more pavement
and roads seriously undermines efforts to clean up the once pristine lake.”

The revised plan also allows local governments to set development regulations that do not meet
minimum regional standards, including standards for how much land can be paved, or
“covered.” This violates the Compact’s requirement that TRPA establish “a minimum standard
applicable throughout the region.”

“This is a wrenching departure from past practice and is not in line with the spirit or law of the
bi-state Compact created to protect the lake,” said David von Seggren of the Toiyabe Sierra Club
in Nevada. “The people of Nevada, just like the people of California, care about the ecological
health of Lake Tahoe. Rather than weakening the Compact or threatening to pull out completely,
our leaders should be urging TRPA to develop the region in a way that not only protects the
ecosystem but actually improves it.”

In 2011, proponents of SB 271 claimed this bill was needed to cut through "excessive red tape" while allowing for updated environmental standards. Instead, it's created a legal nightmare. TRPA must now fight a federal law suit thanks to a revision in the compact that was exacerbated by SB 271. Meanwhile in Sacramento, California's Legislature is now considering retaliatory legislation should Nevada keep SB 271 and essentially kill TRPA as we know it. Let's face it, this has officially become a hot mess.

SB 271 was supposed to solve a problem. Instead, it's been creating new problems for Lake Tahoe and the State of Nevada. While local environmental groups disagree on whether the new TRPA compact is acceptable, they all agree SB 271 can't be allowed to wreak any more havoc on Lake Tahoe.

As a top tourist destination, Lake Tahoe is critical to the economic health of Northern Nevada as well as the environmental well being of the region. Without a clear, blue lake, can the Reno area still count on the millions of tourists and their dollars which flow through the region? I doubt it.

So if Nevada truly cares about green and green, then the Legislature should consider adopting SB 229 to repeal SB 271 and put an end to the legal mayhem that threatens the future of Lake Tahoe. Do we really want to risk losing visitors to Tahoe? And do we want to risk forever losing one of Nevada's greatest natural treasures? Think about it.

It's Coming! (Marriage Equality, That Is.)

This week is shaping up to be a huge one on the marriage equality front. Tomorrow and Wednesday, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Depending on how narrowly or broadly the court rules (especially on the Prop 8 case), marriage equality may come to Nevada this year, even as our own Sevcik v. Sandoval suit is still pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile in Carson City, the Nevada Legislature will officially take on SJR 13, the constitutional amendment to repeal the Question 2 marriage ban passed in 2002. Tomorrow morning, SJR 13 will receive its first hearing in the Senate Legislative Operations & Elections Committee. And funny enough, this is happening just in time for the start of (grassroots LGBTQ lobbying) Equality Days! And of course, it's happening at the same time as the Prop 8 oral arguments in the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Might this be serendipity?

And then, there's this. Surprise, surprise: Las Vegas' lucrative wedding industry is realizing just how profitable equality can be for them, the community, and the state.

According to economist M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, legalizing gay marriage would generate $23 million to $52 million in business revenue and $1.8 million to $4.2 million in tax revenue over the next three years in Nevada.

The brunt of the revenue impact from gay marriages, however, would come from out-of-state couples bringing their ceremonies and celebrations to Las Vegas: Eighty-five percent of the 86,203 marriage licenses issued in Clark County in 2012 were to couples from outside Southern Nevada.

“Vegas' strengths lie in the fact that it is an event town," said Kathryn Hamm, president of "It has a vibrant collection of wedding chapels, it's a destination location for many, can serve bachelor and bachelorette parties and honeymoons alike, and has featured on its stages every gay icon who has ever electrified and unified and entertained our community.”

The same-sex marriage industry in New York offers some inkling of what to expect in Las Vegas. In 2011, the first year gay couples could legally wed in New York state, marriage license fees, celebrations and wedding-related purchases helped shore up New York City’s economy by $259 million, according to the New York City Clerk’s Office and NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing bureau.

Dianne Schiller, owner of Renta-Dress and Tux Shop in Las Vegas, said she can hardly wait. “It would definitely increase my business and add another dimension to it,” said Schiller, whose shop presented a fashion show at last month’s LGBT Wedding Expo at Circus Circus and has been marketing to gay couples for years. “If we really want to sell ourselves as the Wedding Capital of the World, we need to open the doors and embrace everyone.”

Las Vegas has already become one of the nation's top five LGBTQ business & leisure travel destinations. And again, weddings are big business here. So Nevada only stands to gain by enacting marriage equality soon.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In just the last five years, the political landscape on this matter has changed dramatically. Then, it was seen as incredibly controversial. Now, however, we're approaching critical mass.

Consider the national polls since early February: in the latest Fox News poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (49% to 46%); in the latest CNN poll, a majority supports marriage equality (53% to 44%); in the latest Pew Research Center poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (49% to 44%); in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, a majority supports marriage equality (58% to 36%); in the latest Quinnipiac poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (47% to 43%); in the latest CBS poll, a majority supports marriage equality (54% to 39%).

Just yesterday, the Columbus Dispatch published a statewide poll in Ohio that found 54% of the state wants to overturn a statewide ban marriage equality.

A few hours later, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat from the increasingly "red" state of Missouri, announced that she too now supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

[Anti-equality religious right activist Gary] Bauer and his allies can embrace reality or they can stick to their "skewed" line, but either way, they're losing.

The nation overall has changed dramatically. And by the way, so has Nevada. The evolution is happening. It's now just a matter of how soon full equality for LGBTQ families will come to Nevada and the nation... And how it will happen.

What an exciting week this is already shaping up to be!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

High Time... to Act on Medical Marijuana?

On Friday, something amazing happened. Nevada legislators actually toured a medical marijuana dispensary. And they toured one in Arizona! Why?

Arizona is still early in the process of opening dispensaries. Sen. Tick Segerblom [D-Las Vegas] of Nevada said there are concerns in Nevada that opening dispensaries there could open room for abuse, especially by minors.

“I figure that if Arizona can do it — the most conservative state in the country — there’s no reason that Nevada can’t do it,” Segerblom said.

Four Nevada senators and an assembly member visited Arizona Organix on Friday, then traveled to the state Capitol to meet with Arizona legislators.

Bill Myer, an owner and director at Arizona Organix, called the visit “fantastic.” He showed visitors cultivation facilities and varied security measures.

“They were taking notes fast and furiously,” Myer said.

As we discussed on Friday, Segerblom introduced SB 374 to address this legal contradiction. Under the Nevada Constitution, patients are allowed to use medical marijuana... But there's currently no way to legally obtain it other than growing it oneself. And not everyone can operate a marijuana farm. And even those who grow their own marijuana face challenges because there's an arbitrary one ounce limit and no legal way to access seeds.

And now, there's another reason why legislators will need to take on SB 374 and this overall issue. Also on Friday, the ACLU filed suit against the state.

In a brief filed Friday with the Nevada Supreme Court, the ACLU says the law makes criminals of people “who make reasonable efforts” to obtain medical marijuana. While medical marijuana is legal in Nevada, it cannot legally be purchased. [...]

The ACLU brief supports the decision of Clark County District Court Judge Donald Mosley, who ruled the Nevada law invalid in the case of two men indicted in connection with the operation of a nonprofit co-op to dispense the drug.

“There is no practical way to obtain medical marijuana in the state of Nevada,” said Katrina M. Ross, staff attorney for the ACLU in Las Vegas. She noted that in 1998 voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow a person, upon the advice of a physician, to obtain medical marijuana for use in a variety of illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

The brief says the two men indicted by a Clark County grand jury “were prosecuted for behavior that is constitutionally protected.”

After Mosley dismissed the indictment, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which has not yet set a hearing date.

I had a feeling this was coming. It was likely inevitable. Again, the problem lies in the contradiction in Nevada law. While patients have the right to medical marijuana treatment under the Nevada Constitution, the Clark County DA's office and other prosecutors are using the lack of clarity on how to access that treatment to actually prosecute patients seeking treatment and retailers providing that treatment.

Last year, two Clark County judges issued contradictory rulings while Metro & the DA's office ordered raids into medical marijuana providers. Again, this is supposed to be legal medicine under the Nevada Constitution! Yet instead, patients & providers live in fear of police raids, arrests, prosecutions, and costly law suits. Something must change.

And that's why #NVLeg can no longer ignore this issue. In the past, it was dismissed as a simple laughing matter. Even last week, some legislators were joking about "joint committee", "natural resources committee", and "high court". Yet while those legislators were joking and snickering, real people were likely being harassed by police and the DA's office over what's supposed to be legal medicine.

So something must change. Perhaps this convergence of issues & stories will finally force the Nevada Legislature to act. That, after all, seems to be par for the course in Carson City.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What a Way to Celebrate a Birthday

Today marks an important anniversary. Yes, believe it or not, the Affordable Care Act (or ACA, or Obamacare) turns 3 today! And 3 years after its historic passage, here's how it's affecting people.

While the main coverage expansion provisions will go into effect in 2014, the ACA has so far saved seniors over $6 billion on prescription drugs, reduced administrative overhead, deterred private insurers from requesting double digit premium increases, kept millions of young people on their parents’ health care plans, and provided 34.1 million people with Medicare preventive services without additional cost-sharing.

Now keep that in mind when reading this.

Senate Republicans knew [Senator Ted] Cruz's [R-Texas] amendment was pointless, and knew it wouldn't pass, but literally every GOP senator voted for it anyway -- just because.

At this point, some of you may be wondering, "Exactly how many Obamacare repeal votes are we up to now?" By one estimate, the new total is 39 times. [...]

[...] Republicans vote, over and over again, to repeal a health care law they know won't be repealed. They do so, in part because they have a radicalized base that expects near-constant pandering, in part because some of their leaders have broader ambitions and see these tactics as useful, and in part because these votes just seem to help Republicans feel better about themselves.

We can debate the relative merits of these motivations, but can we also keep this in mind the next time we hear whining about the White House not being "serious" enough about constructive policymaking?

Since the US Senate is now debating its own budget plan, it's undergoing a "vote-a-rama" that consists of a marathon of votes on amendments. And of course, one of those amendments was Ted Cruz's bill to repeal the ACA. Because, of course, nothing says "fiscal responsibility" like repealing the ACA, expanding the federal budget deficit, and taking health care away from millions of people all at once! (/snark)

Supposed "No Labels" "moderate" Dean Heller (R-Office Space) was part of the united G-O-TEA front for yet another attempt to destroy Obamacare. Remember that this is what happens if Heller and his G-O-TEA colleagues get their wish.

1) Millions without coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the GOP’s repeal measure from 2011 found that “32 million fewer nonelderly people would have health insurance in 2019, leaving a total of about 54 million nonelderly people uninsured. The share of legal nonelderly residents with insurance coverage in 2019 would be about 83 percent, compared with a projected share of 94 percent under current law (and 83 percent currently).”

2) Health insurance costs increase. The same analysis concluded that “many people would end up paying more for health insurance— because under current law, the majority of enrollees purchasing coverage in that market would receive subsidies via the insurance exchanges, and [repeal] would eliminate those subsidies.” What’s more, “Premiums for employment-based coverage obtained through large employers would be slightly higher.”

3) Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose access to coverage. Republicans have said that they would not replace the Affordable Care Act’s federal rules prohibiting insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Instead, they would encourage states to form expensive high-risk pools to cover the sick or, alternatively, leave them to find their own coverage in the individual market —where many will likely go uninsured.

4) Medicare in disarray. Approximately 100 million Medicare claims are processed each month using a formula that was altered by the Affordable Care Act. Should the law be repealed, new rates could not be calculated under the old, pre-ACA formula until after a rulemaking process that can take months before is completed. The result would be that Medicare would not be able to pay doctors for what could be many months.

5) Deficits increase by billions. The CBO predicts that “as a result of changes in direct spending and revenues is likely to be an increase in the vicinity of $230 billion.” Repeal would also “increase federal deficits in the decade after 2019 by an amount that is in a broad range around one-half percent of GDP.”

So what's "fiscally responsible" about that? And for that matter, what's "moderate" or "post-partisan" about that? Remember this next time Dean Heller tries his "No Labels" "moderate" sweet talk.

He can keep his "No Labels" "moderate" sweet talk to himself. I'll keep my Obamacare, thank you very much.

High Times?

We've been waiting a long time for this. In 1998 and 2000, Nevada voters strongly approved the medicinal use of marijuana. Yet last year, a judge invalidated the law. Why? Patients are supposed to enjoy legal use of medical marijuana, yet there's currently no legal way to access it.

Enter Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and SB 374. He's even organizing a field trip to examine how a proper legal medical marijuana system works.

“We’re going to hear lots of reasons why we can’t do it (or) we shouldn’t do it, but to me, if Arizona, which is the most conservative state in the country, can do it, then Nevada can do it,” Segerblom said. “It’s not a junket. It’s not taxpayer money, but it is a legitimate working trip to see it in person.”

Traveling with Segerblom will be senators Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas; Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas; David Parks, D-Las Vegas; Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas; and Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, R-Las Vegas. The lawmakers are paying their own way; Segerblom’s campaign is paying for the bus. [...]

The state constitution makes it clear that the Legislature “shall” provide for use of medical marijuana, but Nevada law makes it difficult for patients to actually obtain the drug after they’ve paid application fees and received a card from the state’s health department, said Steve Yeager with the Clark County Public Defender’s Office.

“They are placed into a Catch-22 type situation because of the way the law is written,” he said. “That is, they have legal, state-recognized access to medical marijuana but no practical way to obtain it.”

Segerblom’s bill, Assembly Bill 374, would allow for the establishment and regulation of nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries for about 3,600 Nevadans with active medical marijuana cards.

Now, patients or their caregivers basically have to grow their own plants, which Yeager equates to a doctor ordering patients in pain to go home and manufacture their own pills without the convenience of a pharmacy.

In a bitterly contested ballot box battle, Prop 203 narrowly won in November 2010 in Arizona. It not only legalized medical marijuana in the state, but it also set up a dispensary system so that patients can safely and legally access the medicine they need. And so far, it seems to be working. And yes, it's working in Arizona.

And of course, it's working in California. That's where the medical marijuana movement began, as Prop 215 was the first successful (statewide) medical marijuana ballot initiative in 1996. But because it didn't set up a complete set of regulations, the California Legislature had to revisit the topic and pass SB 420. While some jurisdictions initially resisted the new patient ID card and legal dispensary system, it's now being implemented statewide. And as a result, there are far fewer medical marijuana related arrests.

This should be a no-brainer here in Nevada. Despite our state's supposed "live and let live" attitude, medical marijuana patients and providers are still being arrested and prosecuted for something that's supposed to be legal in this state! Something must change.

Of course, there's another option available for Nevada to take. Assembly Member Joe Hogan (D-Las Vegas) has introduced AB 402 to legalize and tax any use of marijuana. Last November, Colorado's Amendment 64 and (the State of) Washington's I-502 made history in that these were the first successful statewide initiatives to fully legalize marijuana use. As a result, Colorado and Washington will soon be collecting "marijuana tax", implementing safety regulations, and creating a comprehensive system for safe and legal distribution.

Why can't Nevada do that? Again, we're supposed to have this "storied libertarian history". But again, we've instead witnessed continued arrests and prosecutions of marijuana cases. They're clogging our criminal courts and costing the state and counties some serious money. Instead of continuing to throw away money on some puritanical ideal that will never be realized, why not just legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like we already do for alcohol and tobacco?

State legislators continue to pursue tax reform and ways to raise revenue to better fund our public infrastructure. One solution may be here. So why not just fix our currently confusing marijuana laws and start bringing our drug laws into the 21st century?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Something's Happening (on Gun Safety.)

On Tuesday, we noted US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nevada) decision not to include the Assault Weapons Ban in what's supposed to be his comprehensive gun safety reform bill. He's actually gotten some blowback on this since Tuesday. Yesterday's news just seemed fo exacerbate this.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Perhaps the blowback compelled Reid to say this on Twitter just moments ago.

Tonight, I'll start the process of bringing gun violence prevention bill to Senate floor. It will include provisions on background checks.

I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has been working on a new Assault Weapons Ban since December. And she's not the only one who wants it. So does President Obama. And so do these parents of Newtown massacre victims.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don't mistake what's happening now. The tide is finally turning. After enjoying nearly two decades of unchecked power on Capitol Hill, the gun lobby is finally being checked. And not only that, but Members of Congress are now noticing.

Of course, gun safety activists can't get too giddy just yet. After all, they will have to fight to include the Assault Weapons Ban and the high-capacity magazine ban via amendment(s). But at least now, even Senator Reid is recognizing the changing tide of public opinion and new momentum for gun safety reform.

There's clearly more work to be done. Not all of it may get done this year. But at least now, something's happening. And it's smart gun violence prevention legislation for a change.

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back?

Well, at least I have some good news to give today. At long last, the Nevada Senate passed what's now SB 139. And not only that, but the bill passed 20-1! Only Senator Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) voted against it, while all the other Senate Republicans joined all the Senate Democrats to vote to include transgender people in Nevada's hate crimes laws. This was long overdue.

So why am I not too excited today? Well, that's because SB 192 still lurks behind the scenes. If enacted, SB 192 can effectively render null & void SB 139 and all other anti-discrimination laws under the guise of "religious freedom". Ironically enough, Senator Barbara Cegavske (R-Spring Valley) voted for SB 139 today, yet she brought SB 192 from the back rooms of ALEC to the Nevada Legislature.

Remember that SB 192 is exactly the same as the "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" introduced in Kansas last year and Colorado earlier this year. So pay close attention to the University of Miami School of Law's Caroline Mala Corbin as she explains the true nefarious purpose of this "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act".

A closer inspection, however, reveals that the impetus behind the Kansas act is not protecting religious rights across the board, but protecting the right of certain religious groups to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In particular, the Kansas act creates a defense to municipal anti-discrimination ordinances. Sparking the Kansas act was the city of Lawrence's expansive anti-discrimination protection: in Lawrence, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and places of public accommodation is illegal. According to its sponsor in the state House of Representatives, the Kansas act would, for example, provide a legal defense to a religious landlord who refused to rent to a same-sex couple. [...]

Because only substantial burdens on religion trigger heightened protection, the first question under the Kansas act is whether an anti-discrimination ordinance requiring a landlord to rent to a same-sex couple imposes a substantial burden on a landlord whose religion condemns homosexuality. The housing ordinance does not require the landlord to engage in homosexual conduct. Nor does the housing ordinance require any landlord to live with someone who does. It does not even demand financial support for the religiously condemned behavior. At most, the landlord may be said to facilitate religiously proscribed conduct by providing same-sex couples with a place to live, and presumably, sin. But does this mean a landlord's religious rights are substantially infringed any time his company rents property to people who act contrary to his church's teachings? If a landlord's religion opposes contraception, does that mean his company can refuse to rent property to women who use it?

In addition, if "facilitating" religiously proscribed conduct amounts to a substantial burden under the law, then a large swath of discriminatory actions could be deemed legal. If providing shelter facilitates homosexual conduct, then arguably so does providing food and health care. Does this mean that restaurants and hospitals can refuse to serve gay and lesbian Kansans? May a storeowner or salesperson refuse to sell beds or bed linen to gay and lesbian customers because, well, wouldn't that be facilitating their sinful conduct? The willingness to describe attenuated impositions as a substantial burden on someone's free exercise of religion ought to raise questions about whether the law is really about protecting religious rights, or about animus towards an unpopular group of people. As numerous Supreme Court cases have held —including Romer v. Evans, which held unconstitutional an attempt to forbid any state action meant to shield people from sexual orientation discrimination — the latter is not a legitimate state interest.

In their legendary 6-3 ruling in Romer v. Evans in 1996, the US Supreme Court invalidated Colorado's law prohibiting LGBTQ inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances because the state has no business subjecting certain people to otherwise wrongful discrimination just due to who they are. This may ultimately compel Kansas to change its version of what we call SB 192. Federal courts have already said no to states green-lighting this kind of discrimination. Why should Nevada play with this fire?

Perhaps because of Colorado's history on this matter, its version of this bill received heightened scrutiny when it was presented to the Colorado Legislature earlier this year. And that's ultimately why the bill died in the Colorado House. Again, why green-light wrongful discrimination and invite otherwise unnecessary expensive litigation?

Funny enough, it's always "tea party" approved conservatives like Barbara Cegavske who complain about "frivolous law suits". Yet they keep introducting legislation that encourages just that. Ah, the irony of the radical right's "CUL'CHUR WARZZZ!!!!!"

Today, the Nevada Legislature took a major step toward providing equal protection under the law for LGBTQ Nevadans. They should keep progressing. We don't need ridiculous and unnecessary regression. Legislators need to do more research and uncover what's actually in SB 192.

The Next Manufactured Crisis (Is Coming... Le Sigh.)

Well, it's that time again. Congress is again looking like a hot mess because of the latest budget brawl.

On one hand, total government shutdown was averted as Congress finally passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through September. Yay? Actually, it's more meh. It locks in place most of the precious manufactured crisis' automatic budget cuts. So we get unnecessary economic harm this summer... But at least not a complete economic collapse.

Wait, did I speak too soon? Probably not, but nonetheless expect more doomsday talk as yet another debt ceiling fight. Oh joy, here comes yet another manufactured crisis! (/snark)

And in case that's not enough Congressional melodrama for us to swim in, there's even more today. The House (again) passed Paul Ryan's Medicare busting, student aid slashing, and European style austerity worshipping budget plan. However, in a surprise move, Joe Heck decided not to vote for RyanCare this time. I guess another vote for such a radical budget would really hurt one's "moderate" reputation.

Just before the vote, another Nevada Representative actually spoke on the matter. Here's Steven Horsford explaining his personal experience with the very life saving programs that Paul Ryan and the "tea party" want eliminated.

And Horsford is not alone in saying this. Jamelle Bouie reminds us of the reality behind the latest G-O-TEA spin on RyanCare 3.0.

[... I]f you consider last year a referendum on budget policy, clear majorities expressed their support for President Obama's economic approach, giving reform-minded Republicans ammunition for their views. In a CNN poll released just after the election, 67 percent expressed support for a deficit reduction plan that balanced spending cuts with tax increases. Likewise,in a December poll from the Pew Research Center, only 32 percent said debt could be reduced without raising taxes.

Despite this, Republicans continue to stick to the policies articulated by Paul Ryan and other hard-right conservatives, with little awareness that they may be a problem for voters. Yesterday, RNC chair Reince Priebus -- the same figure who wants Republicans to do more to appeal to the middle class --dismissed the need for substantive changes to the party’s economic policies. "We're not losing the issues on the math,” Priebus said. We're not losing the issues on spending, and debt, and jobs, and the economy. Those are total winners for us."

The simple fact is that this isn't true. Middle class voters don't trust the GOP to look out for their interests, and have voiced this with low ratings for the party (to say nothing of last year's election results). But, as we've seen this morning, Republican leaders will continue to push the policies that cost it the White House and a number of Senate and House seats. Indeed, at this point, it's hard to know if there's anything that will spur the GOP to change course.

Exactly. The American people are not as stupid as some Republican Party leaders like to think we are. News flash: President Obama won the last election because of crap like this! Oh, and by the way, so did Steven Horsford.

Yet again, Congressional Republican leaders are trying to create even more manufactured crises in order to shove destructive budget cuts and "right wing social engineering" down the throats of the American people. When will they ever learn that the American people are sick & tired of this bullshit?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On Harvey Whittemore (& Heidi Gansert)... & A Way to Shut Down That Merry-go-round

Yesterday, Harvey Whittemore was denied a motion to drop his charges. Wait, what? Who?

Remember Harvey Whittemore? He was once at the top of Nevada's political ladder. He was the "preeminent juice man". And then, all of a sudden, his house of cards started tumbling down. His planned mega-development at Coyote Springs fell apart when last decade's "Real Estate Bubble" burst. His business partners then turned on him. And now, he will indeed go to trial on corruption charges.

A federal judge has denied motions by a former Nevada political powerbroker to dismiss charges alleging he used his family and employees to make illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks on Tuesday denied four motions filed by Harvey Whittemore seeking dismissal of the government's case.

Whittemore was indicted June 6 by a federal grand jury on four counts stemming from campaign contributions made in 2007 to Reid.

Of course, the usual suspects will try to spin this all sorts of ways. So let's first clear this up: Harvey Whittimore was an opportunistic and bipartisan "juice man". He once had close ties to Harry Reid, Dean Heller, and a whole host of politicians at all levels of government across the state. He was only abandoned when the FBI began investigating him.

As we've discussed before, this is the tactic often used to deflect from the real pursuit of real solutions to this ongoing problem of corruption in Nevada Government. It's easy to just blame a politician who once received campaign contributions. It's much riskier to actually propose shutting down the ongoing "Merry-go-round of Corruption".

So what can be done? Secretary of State Ross Miller has offered SB 49 for better campaign finance reporting. State Senator Justin Jones (D-Enterprise) has offered SB 203 as a companion bill, as it calls for lobbyists to file quarterly reports. These bills at least allow for more transparency.

However, there's another step we can take to curb corruption. We've discussed it before. And we need to bring it up again now.

We will only experience more of these embarrassing corruption scandals if we fail to address the root of this problem. That's why we eventually need real, serious dialogue on clean money. With clean money (or public financing of campaigns), we can finally have clean elections. And with clean elections, our elected officials are no longer beholden to shady "juice men" and conniving corporate lobbyists.

So before we hear any pundits and politicians restart the blame game on this and/or any future corruption scandals to emerge, we should dare them to offer a solution. Are they ready to bring clean money & clean elections to Nevada? If not, and if they don't like the concept of public financing, what is their solution?

We don't have to continue riding this merry-go-round. We can stop it... If we want to.


Ha! That didn't take long. Nevada's next great corruption scandal is now here. Thanks, Heidi Gansert!

A former Democratic Party chairman has filed a complaint alleging former GOP Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert illegally kept campaign funds, then funneled them to a PAC she controlled and then disbursed the money.

The complaint, field today by ex-Washoe Democratic Party Chairman Chris Wicker, alleges Gansert kept more than $100,000 in unpsent campaign contributions after she left office in November 2010. (She later served as Gov. Brian Sandoval's chief of staff.)

Then, in October 2011, Gansert gave most of her unspent cash -- about $74,000 -- to a PAC called Nevada First, which was controlled by....Heidi Gansert.

Wicker, who is still a spokesman for the Washoe party, sent his complaint to the secretary of state's election integrity task force, saying Gansert took too long to dispose of the money and then chose a vehicle disallowed by the law.

Surprise! Heidi Gansert raised a ton of money in her last campaign. Yet when she left the Assembly to become Governor Brian Sandoval's Chief of Staff, she didn't leave that ton of money behind. Rather, she moved that money into her own PAC, then spent it on her favored candidates... Who were, of course, Nevada Republicans like Senator Greg Brower (R-Reno) and Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno).

Just who is actually surprised by this crap? Again, we see this all the time. So when will we actually do something about it? I wonder what supposed "corruption fighter" Pat Hickey has to say about this.

Redistribution & Reconciliation

We all knew this was coming. Back in January, Southern Nevada "business leaders" demanded a change in the state's education funding formulae. OK, so that's been happening pretty much since the founding of Las Vegas. What's changed?

What's changed is that this time, Southern Nevada's legislators are actually pursuing change. That's why the usually affable Jason Geddes & William Horne had a brief Twitter fight last month. And that's why some Northern Nevada legislators are getting jittery.

And now, key Southern Nevada Democrats are now suggesting this can be used to break the logjam on restoring past budget cuts to Nevada schools.

“If people aren’t willing to talk, that definitely needs to be on the table,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, of the strategy. “If we don’t want to talk about adequacy in the way we fund things, then maybe we can talk about equity.”

Southern Nevada legislators say they want to play nice by shifting money to Clark County but also raise taxes to patch the losses the other 16 school districts would suffer. That plan, however, would require many rural legislators to make a reluctant vote for tax increases.

“It’s on the forefront (for) many Southern Nevada legislators to figure out how to hold other people harmless, but I think that brings up the revenue discussion,” said Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. [...]

Changing the formula to account for the higher costs of educating students living in poverty and English language learners, among other factors, would mean that the state would need to raise at least an additional $117 million in order to replace the money rural school districts would lose, according to the 2012 study.

So if the revenue pie doesn’t grow, Clark County legislators could find a way to steer their direction the $135 million in new education funding Sandoval has proposed or flip a few levers in the state’s education funding formula and send dollars cascading south from northern school districts.

“I don’t think anybody really wants to do that, but we hear from Clark County residents that we should do that,” Denis said. “They’ve been funding the rest of the state, and our kids are the ones that suffer because of that.”

At last, the late Bill Raggio's (deliberately) "fuzzy math" is coming back to bite Northern & Rural Nevada. For decades, Clark County has subsidized the rest of the state. While over 80% of the state's revenue is collected in Clark County, and while over 70% of state's population resides in Clark County, about 50% of state expenditures are spent in Clark County. This simply isn't sustainable.

That's why so many down here are demanding change. And that may be leading to some previously unexpected openings in other areas of the state budget. Assembly Minority Whip Tom Grady (R-Yerington) proclaimed his opposition to taxing an industry based in one part of the state to fund public services in another. He should be careful what he wishes for, especially considering the statistics listed above... And the Las Vegas Strip casinos' fear of any future gaming tax increase.

Against this increasingly complex, multi-layered, and intriguing backdrop, SJR 15 will be heard in the Senate Revenue & Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. Ralston hints there may be drama next week, but I have a hard time seeing justification for it now. More and more Democrats have had to reaffirm their commitment to passing SJR 15, and now the "Mod Squad" Republicans are on record supporting it.

Funny enough, Tom Grady tried to use his anti-redistribution argument against SJR 15. If anything, it's now having the opposite effect. Again, over 80% of the state's revenues are collected in Clark County. The Las Vegas Strip is not just the glitzy show horse of the state, but it's also the state's key economic work horse. And money made on The Strip often ends up spent on public services in places like Yerington, Ely, and Winnemucca.

Personally, I have no problem with that. However, what I do have a problem with is hypocrisy. How can one rail against redistribution of state funds, then actively support it?

The only ones who truly benefit from the current redistribution scheme are the multinational mining corporations. They extract valuable precious metals, rake in record profits, and pay hardly anything to the state in return. And because these multinational mining corporations pay hardly anything, the state must rely even more on Southern Nevada's gaming & tourism industry to deliver the goods for the entire state.

Something must change. Why should Clark County students and educators suffer just so multinational mining corporations can pad their profits a little more? That's why we'll be seeing even more fireworks in the coming week.

(And on an important programming note, I plan to be in Carson City next Tuesday for the SJR 15 hearing. Expect plenty of live coverage next week when Nevada Progressive takes a field trip to the Nevada Legislature!)