Pipeline protesters show their respect for the environment

Protesters trying to block the Dakota Access pipeline from being placed under a river because it might, maybe, somehow, someday pollute the water already were leaving behind tons of trash, debris and human waste in the river watershed prior to the spring thaw, but, just to add insanity to pollution, they set 20 fires in their camp today, their deadline for evacuation.

Twenty protesters were arrested and two children were treated for burns due to the fires.

The Army Corps of Engineers is cleaning up the site.

Fires set at protest site. (Getty Image via USA Today)

Fires set at protest site. (Getty Image via USA Today)





Minimum wage: The 3 percent solution?

There for a while I felt like Jeremiah crying in the wilderness in pointing out that the state Legislature could not raise the minimum wage in Nevada, because the voters in 2006 set the minimum wage and determined how it would be raised by voting for a constitutional amendment. It would take another constitutional amendment to change that, not a mere change in law.

Senate Bill 106 and Assembly Bill 175 propose to raise the minimum by different amounts.

But this week a writer at The Nevada Independent weighed in with a piece asking: “Can the Nevada Legislature raise the minimum wage?”

The writer concluded that at the Legislative Counsel Bureau opinion that lawmakers can do it is not binding law and if it passes someone is likely to file suit.

Today a Las Vegas newspaper columnist also broached the question of whether the Constitution bars lawmakers from raising the minimum wage.

He too concluded that, if either bill passes and the governor for some reason signs it, the issue will land in the courts.

In 2006 the constitutional amendment established the minimum wage would be $5.15 an hour if an employer provided health insurance and $6.15 if not. It provided for raising that minimum wage to match any increase in the federal minimum or raise it to account for an increase in the cost of living, whichever is greater. Today the minimums stand at $7.25 and $8.25.

The voters established both the minimum wage and the method for increasing it. How can lawmakers simply say that is merely the minimum minimum and they can increase it to whatever level they wish?

The Senate bill would raise the minimum wage 75 cents a year until it reaches $11 or $12, depending on health insurance, while the Assembly version would raise it $1.25 a year until it hits $14 or $15.

An Assembly committee was told by its LCB lawyer last week: “I spoke with the Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes. She told me that our office thoroughly researched this during the 2015 legislative session and then updated and confirmed that research during the drafting of AB175 this session. She said that as result of their research it is the opinion of LCB legal, based on the rules of statutory and constitutional construction, that the provisions of the minimum wage amendment to the Nevada Constitution do not limit the inherent power of the Legislature to establish by statute a new minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage that is currently required by law.”

A Senate LCB lawyer told a committee hearing its bill this week: “In this case with this bill the constitutional amendment clearly states the employers must pay a wage of quote ‘at least’ the amounts set forth in the language of the constitutional amendment. Thus increasing the minimum wage by legislation would not conflict with the constitutional amendment and because there is no conflict with the constitutional amendment the Legislature has the power to enact legislation to increase the minimum wage. And that has been the opinion of the Legislative Counsel.”

But a previous fact sheet posted by LCB in 2015 stated: “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment.”

The Las Vegas columnist was told that was an error. The fact sheet has since been altered to delete that section.

But as the Nevada Supreme Court has stated: The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.

The constitutional amendment states how the minimum wage is to be raised and that does not include permission for the lawmakers raise it by some other means.

In fact, in the portion of the amendment that states how minimum wages may be raised to account for increases in the Consumer Price Index it clearly states: “No CPI adjustment for any one-year period may be greater than 3%.”

That indicates the voters intended to prevent rapid increases in the minimum wage even if the CPI were to jump, say 10 percent in one year.

The proffered $1.25 and 75 cents a year both exceed that 3 percent cap established by the voters. One more argument for the courts to contemplate should either bill become law.



President signs orders telling officials to enforce immigration laws

Why is it necessary for a president to issue an executive order telling public officials to enforce the laws passed by Congress?

That’s apparently what it has come to. According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump has signed orders that mean almost everybody living in the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation and new arrivals will no longer be subject to the current catch and release practice.

“The Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” WSJ quotes an enforcement memo as saying. “Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws.”

The New York Times reports that the orders end the Obama administration policy that required Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to immediately deport only those newly arriving illegal immigrants who were apprehended within 100 miles of the border and had been in the country no more than 14 days. “Now it will include those who have been in the country for up to two years, and located anywhere in the nation,” NYT relates.

The orders also tell the federal immigration agencies to revive a program that used local police to help with immigration enforcement, a program called 287g that was scaled down under Obama, NYT says.

According to Channel 3, the 287g program under Sheriff Doug Gillespie only turned over to immigration those suspects that had an outstanding warrant or an immigration detainer.

But it would be up to current Sheriff Joe Lombardo to determine the level of cooperation.

Border wall in Nogales, Ariz. (Reuters pix via WSJ)

Border wall in Nogales, Ariz. (Reuters pix via WSJ)

Can lawmakers raise a minimum wage established by a constitutional amendment?

Senate committee discusses bill to raise minimum wage in Nevada. (KOLO photo)

Senate committee discusses bill to raise minimum wage in Nevada. (KOLO photo)

Brian Fernley of the Legislative Counsel Bureau told the Senate’s Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee, which was hearing testimony on Senate Bill 106 this morning, that lawmakers could raise the minimum wage in Nevada even though the current minimum wage was established by constitutional amendment by the voters in 2004 and 2006.

His comments came after a Bonnie McDaniel, a small business owner, testified in Las Vegas that in 2015 the LCB had opined that the minimum wage could only be raised by amending the state Constitution. (Her testimony comes at two hours and eight minutes into the archived video. Click on the 2017 Session, then click Senate Standing Committees and then on 02/20/17 Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy video.)

She read the the entire section of the 2015 LCB fact sheet that began: “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment,” but for a while had disappeared from the legislative website but was reproduced on this blog.

She also read the entire quotes posted here from a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that said the state legislature “has not the power to enact any law conflicting” with the state Constitution.

She used the phrases from the blog noting that the current LCB opinion is “diametrically opposite” of the opinion from two years ago, even though one of the LCB staff lawyers had told an Assembly committee hearing another minimum wage hike bill that the current opinion merely “updated and confirmed” its earlier opinion.

This morning Fernely told lawmakers:

“The Legislative Counsel has reviewed the provisions of this bill and the cases decided by the Supreme Court addressing the Nevada Constitution’s minimum wage amendment. It is a well established rule of state constitutional construction that the power of the Legislature to enact laws is extremely broad except where limited by the U.S. Constitution or the Nevada Constitution.

“In addition, any limitation on the Legislature’s power in the Nevada Constitution is to be strictly construed and the provisions of the Nevada Constitution must not be interpreted to inhibit the power of the Legislature unless the provision of the Constitution clearly prohibits the Legislature from acting.

“In case interpreting the minimum wage amendment the Nevada Supreme Court has held that only statutes that conflict with the constitutional amendment are prohibited by the amendment. In the Thomas versus Yellow Cab case the Supreme Court held there was an actual conflict between the constitutional amendment because the statute exempted certain employees from the minimum wage requirement but constitutional amendment did not contain such an exemption.

“In this case with this bill the constitutional amendment clearly states the employers must pay a wage of quote at least the amounts set forth in the language of the constitutional amendment. Thus increasing the minimum wage by legislation would not conflict with the constitutional amendment and because there is no conflict with the constitutional amendment the Legislature has the power to enact legislation to increase the minimum wage. And that has been the opinion of the Legislative Counsel.”

First, the phrase “at least,” which Fernley indicated he was quoting, appears nowhere in the minimum wage amendment.

Second, that may now be the LCB opinion but it has not always been as such.

The amendment does state, “Each employer shall pay a wage to each employee of not less than the hourly rates set forth in this section,” which one might interpret as defining what a minimum wage is. It then goes on to state the minimum wage is to be the same as the federal minimum wage for those employers offering health insurance and a dollar higher for those who don’t, but that wage could be adjusted for inflation, whichever is greater.

So, the question is whether the lawmakers can set a “minimum wage” that is different from what the voters established.

The amendment does say the employee is to be paid “not less than the hourly rates set forth,” but it then goes to set forth what that floor is. Does the amendment establish both a floor and a ceiling? Does the phase “not less than” open the door for lawmakers ratchet up the minimum to whatever they choose?

That Thomas v. Yellow Cab case cited by Fernley also includes a Latin phrase used in the law: expressio unius est exclusio alterius, which means the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.

Therefore, one should ask: Does the precise expression of what the minimum wage shall be in the constitutional amendment exclude the lawmakers from defining it as something else entirely?

I guess it depends on who you ask and when you ask it.

This is the minimum wage amendment:

Payment of minimum compensation to employees.

A.  Each employer shall pay a wage to each employee of not less than the hourly rates set forth in this section. The rate shall be five dollars and fifteen cents ($5.15) per hour worked, if the employer provides health benefits as described herein, or six dollars and fifteen cents ($6.15) per hour if the employer does not provide such benefits. Offering health benefits within the meaning of this section shall consist of making health insurance available to the employee for the employee and the employee’s dependents at a total cost to the employee for premiums of not more than 10 percent of the employee’s gross taxable income from the employer. These rates of wages shall be adjusted by the amount of increases in the federal minimum wage over $5.15 per hour, or, if greater, by the cumulative increase in the cost of living. The cost of living increase shall be measured by the percentage increase as of December 31 in any year over the level as of December 31, 2004 of the Consumer Price Index (All Urban Consumers, U.S. City Average) as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor or the successor index or federal agency. No CPI adjustment for any one-year period may be greater than 3%. The Governor or the State agency designated by the Governor shall publish a bulletin by April 1 of each year announcing the adjusted rates, which shall take effect the following July 1. Such bulletin will be made available to all employers and to any other person who has filed with the Governor or the designated agency a request to receive such notice but lack of notice shall not excuse noncompliance with this section. An employer shall provide written notification of the rate adjustments to each of its employees and make the necessary payroll adjustments by July 1 following the publication of the bulletin. Tips or gratuities received by employees shall not be credited as being any part of or offset against the wage rates required by this section.

B.  The provisions of this section may not be waived by agreement between an individual employee and an employer. All of the provisions of this section, or any part hereof, may be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is explicitly set forth in such agreement in clear and unambiguous terms. Unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment by either party to a collective bargaining relationship shall not constitute, or be permitted, as a waiver of all or any part of the provisions of this section. An employer shall not discharge, reduce the compensation of or otherwise discriminate against any employee for using any civil remedies to enforce this section or otherwise asserting his or her rights under this section. An employee claiming violation of this section may bring an action against his or her employer in the courts of this State to enforce the provisions of this section and shall be entitled to all remedies available under the law or in equity appropriate to remedy any violation of this section, including but not limited to back pay, damages, reinstatement or injunctive relief. An employee who prevails in any action to enforce this section shall be awarded his or her reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

C.  As used in this section, “employee” means any person who is employed by an employer as defined herein but does not include an employee who is under eighteen (18) years of age, employed by a nonprofit organization for after school or summer employment or as a trainee for a period not longer than ninety (90) days. “Employer” means any individual, proprietorship, partnership, joint venture, corporation, limited liability company, trust, association, or other entity that may employ individuals or enter into contracts of employment.

D.  If any provision of this section is declared illegal, invalid or inoperative, in whole or in part, by the final decision of any court of competent jurisdiction, the remaining provisions and all portions not declared illegal, invalid or inoperative shall remain in full force or effect, and no such determination shall invalidate the remaining sections or portions of the sections of this section.

[Added in 2006. Proposed by initiative petition and approved and ratified by the people at the 2004 and 2006 General Elections.]




Bill is an expensive sop to public employee unions

A bill introduced in Carson City by a Las Vegas assemblyman would wipe out much of the progress made in 2015 in public employee collective bargaining reforms.

Assembly Bill 121, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, who also happens to be a Clark County public employee, would wipe out a provision in law that prohibits paying union officials from public coffers for time spent doing union business. It also negates a provision blocking pay increases after a union contract has expired and before a new one is inked. It further makes provisions of any new contract retroactive the time of expiration of the previous one — lessening incentives for union members to accept a lesser offer.

The bill is pure redistributionism. Taking from the taxpayers to line the pockets of public employee unions.

Assemblyman Yeager

Assemblyman Yeager

Yeager is employed by the Clark County Public Defenders Office, whose union contract expires in June.

As Las Vegas newspaper columnist Victor Joecks pointed out in a recent column, Yeager’s wearing of two hats — lawmaker and public employee — is not just a conflict of interest, but a blatant violation of the state Constitution.

Article 3 of that Constitution states: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

Since local governments exist at the behest of the state government, Yeager could be considered an employee of the executive branch, and since he works in the court system he might also by seen as an employee of the judicial branch — a triple play!

The reforms this bill attempts to undo actually don’t go nearly far enough.

Even liberal icon and labor supporter Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”


Editorial: Lawmakers waste time on changing Columbus Day law

Lawmakers have just 120 days every other year to take care of business, and they are always complaining that there just isn’t enough time to get it done.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that is because they spend an incredible amount of time in pointless, posturing, pandering paper pushing.

Democratic state Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, who never misses a chance to cater to the far left wing of his party, has introduced a bill — we are not making this up — to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. It is Senate Bill 105.

Columbus Day has not been an official state holiday in Nevada for years, but there is a vestigial law on the books that states: “The Governor of this State is authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation designating the second Monday in October as ‘Columbus Day’ in commemoration of the arrival of Cristoforo Columbo in the New World.”

Segerblom would replace this symbolic immaterial gesture with this symbolic immaterial gesture: “The Governor is authorized and requested to annually proclaim the second Monday in October as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ to celebrate the thriving culture and significant value that Indigenous people add to the State of Nevada and the United States of America.”

If they want to repeal the pointless paper shuffling to “commemorate” a day in history, fine. Repeal it. It is still history. But replacing it with pointless paper shuffling is typical Democratic pandering to its paramount platform of identity politics. It is downright Pavlovian.

The Las Vegas newspaper reported: “Segerblom said the bill recognizes the millions of Native Americans who died in conflicts when European settlers moved into the country and claimed land as their own, and shows an appreciation for their contributions to society.”

That account goes on to inform its readers that Columbus is “credited with ‘discovering’ the Americas. But historians have debunked that as myth, saying he sailed around the Caribbean but never came to North America,” paying no heed to the fact the Caribbean islands are part of North America nor the fact he did land in South America. Both locales are part of the so-called New World.

The allegations that Columbus engaged in brutal acts against the natives is never balanced with any reference to wars between tribes or attacks on those evil invading Europeans. Don’t they teach about the French and Indian War any more?

Try reading a bit of history, including the accounts from late in the 19th century when the Plains Indians were actually successfully and brutally, though briefly, pushing back against encroachment by settlers.

These are the same Democrats who want to remove the statue of mid-20th century Democratic Sen. Pat McCarran from the U.S. Capitol because he was a racist during an era when the Democratic Party pushed segregationist laws and policies.

Erase history and change the present and/or the future?

Rather Orwellian if you ask us? History is history. Denigrating or exalting one aspect or another is a frivolous endeavor.

Perhaps our idle lawmakers should change the name of Genoa, since it is named after Columbus’ home town in Italy, despite the different pronunciation.

Apparently having the second Tuesday of February during each regular session of the Legislature designated as Nevada Tribes Legislative Day and recognizing the fourth Friday of September as Native American Day isn’t nearly enough to satiate the Democrats’ desire to curry favor with certain ethnic enclaves.

The current law that authorizes and requests that the governor designate Columbus Day does the same for Tartan Day for Scots, Juneteenth for African-Americans, Cesar Chavez Day for Hispanics, Mineral Industry Week for miners, Veterans Day for veterans, Week of Respect for victims of bullying, plus several others.

The vote in the Senate Committee on Government Affairs to approve SB105 was 4-1. Someone please wad up this bill and toss it in the nearest unused spittoon. That would be most apropos.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.