Newspaper column: NPRI issues report card on 2019 Legislture

The conservative/libertarian Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) recently published its biennial report card on our state’s legislative session, but, rather than just rate lawmakers on how they voted, this year the report card also delves into issues and lawmaker actions on bills that never even came up for a vote.

For example, the report looks into how and why Assembly Bill 420 — which sought to eliminate in Nevada the practice of civil asset forfeiture by police agencies, often without any criminal conviction of any crime — was buried without even coming up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. For years Nevada law enforcement agencies have seized cash, cars and homes suspected of being used in the commission of a crime, such as drug dealing. The agencies then kept the proceeds to spend as part of their budget — a practice the Institute for Justice has dubbed “policing for profit.”

An NPRI representative testified in support of AB420 in March, saying the reform would constitute a major victory for due-process and the rights of property owners. The Assembly then passed the bill by a 34-6 margin, drawing broad bipartisan support.

But like a similar bill in the previous session, the reform effort died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where two of the committee members are Clark County prosecutors, whose budgets benefit from the seizures — Democrats Nicole Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible.

“As we write this 2019 Report Card, this episode again reminds us of the swampiness and incestuous nature which characterizes Nevada politics,” the report card states. “Unless the state’s constitutional prohibition on dual servants is finally enforced, Nevadans should expect to see plenty more examples of lawmakers putting the concerns of their government employers over those of the very citizens they claim to represent.”

You see, the Nevada Constitution explicitly prohibits the employees of one branch of government from serving as a lawmaker, too. Article 3, Section 1,  reads: “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.”

The provision has been blatantly ignored for years.

The NPRI report card singled out Cannizzaro as the anti-criminal justice reform lawmaker of 2019. Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, a former Clark County public defender who was the architect of AB420, was tagged the pro-criminal justice reform lawmaker of 2019.

The report also addressed a failed effort to increase government transparency — Senate Bill 287 that would have put some teeth into enforcement of the 1911 Nevada Public Records Act by imposing fines on agencies and government employees who wrongly and in bad faith violate the law by withholding public records — and a successful effort in Senate 224 to deny the public access to pertinent information about government pensioners.

SB287 was backed by a coalition dubbed Right to Know Nevada — which included NPRI, the ACLU, the Nevada Press Association, several newspapers and journalists — but it met huge opposition from government lobbyists. In the end the bill was greatly watered down. No government worker would be subjected to a fine and the maximum fine an agency would have to pay was cut from $250,000 to $1,000.

SB224, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti of Sparks, sought to make the names of those receiving taxpayer-funded government pensions secret. Faced with the fact that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has long supported government transparency, the bill eventually was changed to allow the release of the names of pensioners and the amounts paid, but key contextual data was made secret — the retiree’s last employer, years of service credit, retirement date and whether the benefit is a disability or service retirement. The governor signed it into law.

For their efforts NPRI named four state senators pro-transparency lawmakers of 2019 — Democrats David Parks and Melanie Scheible and Republicans Ben Kieckhefer and Ira Hansen. Anti-transparency lawmakers were Ratti and Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt.

The report also delves into the issues of collective bargaining for public employees, education and various tax bills. The 48-page report card is posted online at https://www.npri.org/studies/2019-legislative-report-card/

As for how the lawmakers voted, NPRI rated Republican Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko No. 1 with a 92.55 percent score. No Democrat garnered a rating of better than 36 percent.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

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