Newspaper column: Unionization of state public workers would fleece taxpayers

Unfortunately a Democratic proposal to allow state public employees to collectively bargain for wages and benefits, Senate Bill 135, survived this past week, passing out of a state Senate committee on a party-line vote, even after studies showed it will balloon the cost to Nevada taxpayers.

Since 1969 local government public workers have been allowed to unionize, but not state workers. As a result, according to an analysis of 2017 Census data by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), local government workers here are paid 46 percent more than private-sector workers, the highest such wage gap in the nation. The nationwide gap is a mere 8 percent.

Among the 50 states, Nevada local government workers ranked fifth highest in pay, state public workers, even without collective bargaining, ranked 10th, while private-sector workers ranked 47th.

A study in 2014 by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine found that even when education and experience differences between state public workers and private-sector workers are taken into account, state workers in Nevada still are paid 29 percent more than private workers. This ranked ninth highest in the nation and was nearly triple the 11 percent differential found nationwide.

Giving state public workers collective bargaining rights is likely to result in an even greater imbalance. In fact, a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates the unionization could in two decades cost as much as $596 per Nevada resident a year, measured in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. This would amount to as much as $1.75 billion a year. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

In a statement accompanying the collective bargaining cost study, Hugh Anderson, chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, argued, “This report shows that allowing collective bargaining for state employees would add significant new ongoing annual costs to the state budget and would likely take resources away from other important priorities including education, human services, public safety, infrastructure, and health care.”

Nevada Democrats have identified SB135 as a priority this session and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said during his State of the State speech that state workers “should be empowered to bargain collectively in the years ahead.” A similar measure in 2017, facing a Republican-majority Legislature and Republican governor, went nowhere.

Unionization of public workers results in higher costs because taxpayers are largely shut out of the negotiations and only get to see the end result. The unions contribute to elected officials who support their demands, providing an incentive for elected officials to comply with those demands and get re-elected. Further, under Nevada’s collective bargaining law, if negotiations come to an impasse, an arbitrator is appointed to settle the dispute and the primary criteria for granting a union’s demands is whether the government entity has the ability to pay what is demanded even if other spending must be curtailed. That determination is usually in favor of the union.

NPRI’s Robert Fellner, the group’s policy director, testified against SB135, saying, “Collective bargaining for public workers is unwarranted because the public sector lacks any of the imbalances that collective bargaining in the private sector was intended to fix. While private-sector employers could theoretically profit by underpaying their workers, the public sector has neither owners, nor profits, over which to negotiate. Elected officials making decisions regarding public workers’ compensation do not have to pay for these costs themselves.”

As we have noted in the past, none other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees: “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 …”

The taxpayers need to inundate lawmakers in Carson City with demands that this grab for their hard-earned money be derailed.

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.

Editorial: Bill would curb policing for profit

A bill being considered by lawmakers in Carson City would end the current practice by law enforcement of seizing property suspected of being used in a crime by using civil law, rather than criminal law, and keeping the proceeds of the seized property for themselves — pejoratively labeled policing for profit.

Assembly Bill 200 would require all seizures to be handled in a criminal case and require proof of a criminal conviction or plea agreement. Also the property or proceeds from its sale would go to education, not the police agency that seized it.

In the past, several Nevada law enforcement agencies have seized cash suspected of being drug profits without even charging anyone with a crime.

The state attorney general’s office reported that in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, Nevada police agencies took in forfeitures totaling $4.9 million.

During testimony explaining AB200 it was noted that many defendants whose property is seized are indigent and have appointed public defenders who are not allowed to work on the separate civil asset forfeiture cases, meaning the defendant cannot afford to legally fight for return of the property.

The Institute for Justice in a 2015 report called “Policing for Profit” gave Nevada a D- grade for its handling of asset forfeitures. IJ said this grade was due to “weak protections for innocent owners and a strong financial incentive to seize.” For example, an innocent party might be the owner of a vehicle driven during a crime by a relative.

The incentive is that law enforcement agencies may retain up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds unless the value exceeds $100,000, then 70 percent must go to the local school district.

During testimony in support of AB200 Daniel Honchariw, senior policy analyst and registered lobbyist for Nevada Policy Research Institute, said forfeiture laws have upended the due-process rights of Nevadans.

“This bill fixes that in two critical ways,” Honchariw testified. “First, it requires a conviction in all cases before forfeiture can apply. Second, it redirects the bulk of proceeds generated by forfeited property towards state education funding, rather than law enforcement, which effectively eliminates the ‘policing for profit’ incentive that currently exists.”

He also said those most likely to be affected by civil asset forfeitures are those who can’t afford to hire an attorney and fight for their property, meaning innocent victims have no practical recourse for getting their property back.

In fact, a deputy in Humboldt County once told a California tourist whose $50,000 in cash had been seized,  “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

We urge lawmakers to pass AB200 and Gov. Steve Sisolak to sign it.

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.

Newspaper column: Bill would water down public school accountability

If your job is to make widgets, your supervisor will evaluate your job performance principally on how well you make widgets and how many.

But if you are a Nevada public school teacher, not so much. There is a bill wending its way through the halls of the Legislature in Carson City that would reduce the importance of the one thing teacher and administrator evaluations should be based on: pupil achievement growth — the only truly objective and measurable criteria.

When the law establishing educator evaluations was first passed in 2011 fully 50 percent of evaluations were based on pupil growth.

At some point it was reduced to 40 percent and now Senate Bill 475 proposes to reduce that to only 20 percent.

The bill would require that “instructional practice,” whatever that means, must account for 60 percent of the evaluation and “professional responsibilities” account for the other 20 percent.

Not that evaluations are all that rigorous already. According to the Nevada Department of Education, in the 2017-2018 school year only 25 out of nearly 20,000 teachers in Nevada were evaluated as “ineffective.” That’s 0.1 percent. Another 1.3 percent were pegged as “developing,” while 80 percent were rated “effective” and only 16.7 percent were rated “highly effective.” The rest were exempt from being evaluated.

The scores varied wildly from county to county. More than half the teachers in Storey and Eureka were rated “highly effective,” while less than 5 percent were awarded that rating in Lander and Pershing. In 12 counties there were no “ineffective” teachers.

SB475 further neuters the ability to weed out under-performing teachers. Existing law allows a school district not to renew the contract of a probationary teacher or certain administrators whose performance is found to be developing or ineffective.

It also requires post-probationary employees who are rated developing or ineffective for two years in a row to serve an additional probationary period.

SB475 would allow the contract cancellation of a probationary employee only if rated ineffective, and it removes the requirement for a post-probationary employee rated as developing to serve an additional probationary period.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Nevada Policy Research Institute policy director Robert Fellner reports that the state teachers union recently voted to seek to have student achievement growth to account for only 10 percent of evaluations.

My how times change. Back in 2011 the Nevada State Education Association lauded the bill that established teacher evaluation criteria and set up an oversight panel called the Teachers and Leaders Council.

In its 2011 Legislative Report Card, the union stated, “This creates a council to develop the new educator evaluation that will be based on a 4-tier structure highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective.

Another provision in the bill includes that 50% of an educator’s evaluation will be based on student achievement data. NSEA is in complete support of the Teachers & Leaders Council and pushed hard to get this bill passed and signed by the Governor.”

The bill was part of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s push that session to improve education in Nevada, which perennially ranks near the bottom of states for education performance.

Of course the union complained that funding was inadequate then as it does now, even though since 1960 Nevada has nearly tripled inflation-adjusted per pupil education spending from $3,556 to $9,165 in 2015, according to NPRI. During that time college preparedness scores have flatlined.

Fellner argues that such union efforts water down accountability. “This highlights why collective bargaining for teachers is so harmful: it perverts the democratic process such that the union’s interests dictate public policy, rather than student learning and well-being,” he writes, adding that researchers at the University of Texas recently found “unionization has a powerful negative influence on educational outcomes.”

Lawmakers expect as many as half of the bills introduced this session could die for lack of action this week. Let’s hope SB475 is one.

If not we encourage lawmakers to put the children first, as the teacher unions like to say, and nix this bill.

Failing that we encourage Gov. Steve Sisolak to live up to his stated standards of transparency and accountability and veto the bill should it land on his desk.

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.

Editorial: Don’t allow police to scan cellphones after wrecks

Textalyzer allows police to scan cellphone (NBC pix)

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

     — Fourth Amendment

 The urge to dictate how other people behave or misbehave apparently is irresistible.

There are already laws on the books prohibiting drivers from using cellphones while driving unless a hands-free system is employed. Now the Nevada Legislature is considering a bill, Assembly Bill 200, that would allow police at the scene of an accident to use an electronic device to determine whether a driver was, in fact, using such a device at the time of an accident. The bill would allow the suspension of one’s driver’s license for refusing to comply.

A company called Cellebrite says it has created something it calls a Textalyzer — like a breathalyzer, get it? — that will detect whether a phone was in use. The company says the device would only determine a user’s activity and what type of activity, such as hands-free or not, and would not reveal phone numbers or text messages.

Distracted driving is, well, distracted driving. The hair splitting over the type of distracted driving is irrelevant. One could be changing the radio, eating a sandwich, combing one’s hair or yelling at the screaming brat in the back seat.

The result is all the same, as well as the responsibility as shown by the evidence at the scene of the accident.

AB200, despite all the reassurances to the contrary, is unnecessary and poses too great a threat to the right to be secure in one’s person and personal effects without a properly issued search warrant.

“We can’t give the government the power to peer into everybody’s digital lives indiscriminately, because that might create a bigger problem than the one we’re trying to solve in the first place,” NBC News recently quoted Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who’s an expert in privacy and civil liberties, as saying about the use of such devices by police. “The way to do it is if the police suspect a case of distracting driving, they go and they get a warrant and they compel the records from the service provider.”

Who is to say what an officer might extract once the phone is handed over.

The Nevada American Civil Liberties Union has expressed opposition to AB200. “The ACLU of Nevada strongly opposes AB200 which would allow law enforcement to utilize experimental technology that would infringe on the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights of Nevadans without obtaining a warrant,” The Nevada Independent has quoted ACLU of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn as saying.

With all the guns, non-lethal arms, body cameras and other devices police are forced to lug around, there is no need to add an expensive and as-yet unproven cellphone scanning device.

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.

Newspaper column: Just say no to annual legislative sessions

Democrats in Carson City are beating this dead donkey again.

Ten of the 13 state Senate Democrats are pushing for annual legislative sessions instead of sessions every other year. Senate Joint Resolution 5 would amend the state Constitution, which currently calls for 120-calendar-day sessions in odd-numbered years, by establishing 90-legislative-day sessions in odd-numbered years and 60-legislative-day sessions in even numbered years. Similar measures failed in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

The measure would have to pass this session and again in 2021 before going to the voters in 2022. The voters nixed a similar measure in 1970 with 66.2 percent voting against annual sessions.

Currently lawmakers are only paid their $150-a-day salaries for the first 60 days of each session, though they receive per diem expenses for the entire session, which works out to about 96 working days. If SJR5 were to pass, they would receive salaries for 150 days instead of 60 days, essentially a 150 percent pay increase.

A fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Counsel Bureau estimates the change would raise the cost of legislative sessions from the current $20 million every two years to $33.3 million.

“Despite our tradition of biennial sessions it is time for a change. While this tradition made sense during periods when our population was much lower and our finances less complex, it no longer addresses the needs of a rapidly growing state with a multibillion-dollar budget operating in a global market,” state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse of Henderson said during a recent hearing on the resolution. “Our state simply cannot adequately address rapidly changing conditions, a complex budget and policy matters by meeting every other year. In the past 17 years alone, our general revenue fund has more than doubled. At the same time our responsibilities as legislatures have increased significantly.”

Imagine how much the revenue — taken from the pockets of hardworking Nevadans — would have grown if the voters had approved annual sessions half a century ago.

At the hearing state Sen. Heidi Gansert of Reno expressed concerns that annual sessions would make it more difficult for anyone but the well-off to serve. “How do we maintain a citizen Legislature where we have folks who come from all walks of life?” she asked. “This would still be part-time but you would have to take off every year, and so that would be a concern. Who would have employers who would allow them to do that or would this force in some cases only the more affluent to be able to afford to serve?”

Janine Hansen, state president of Nevada Families for Freedom, pointed out that under SJR5 the 60- and 90-legislative-day sessions could last for months if lawmakers meet only a couple of days a week. She pointed out that Utah, with a similar population as Nevada, has its lawmakers meet annually but for only 45 days each year, less than Nevada’s current 120-day sessions.

Hansen suggested the better way to allow lawmakers to handle the work load is to cut the number bills that may be introduced in half.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that in the early 1960s only 19 state legislatures met annually, while the rest met biennially. By the mid-1970s, the number of states meeting annually had jumped from 19 to 41. Today only Nevada, Montana, North Dakota and Texas still met biennially. Texas’ population is considerably larger than Nevada’s.

While Nevada does not have full-blown legislative sessions every year it does have standing committees of lawmakers who meet when not in session and are able to make funding and regulatory changes. The governor also has the power to call special legislative sessions, such as the ones called in recent years to dole out billions in tax breaks to electric car makers Telsa and Faraday Future. Just what we need more of, right?

NCLS points out in a list of arguments against annual sessions posted on its website that annual sessions inevitably lead to a spiraling of legislative costs — for the lawmakers as well as the staffers who must be brought together twice as often. Also, biennial sessions allow lawmakers to work with and associate with their constituents. Another argument is that there are enough laws already limiting people’s liberty.

Lawmakers should dump this expensive and counterproductive measure now.

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.

Legislative building in Carson City. (AP pix)

WSJ op-ed explains socialism by using the VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs proudly proclaims that it operates programs that benefit veterans and their families by offering education, rehabilitation, disability and death benefits, as well as home loan guaranties, pensions, burials and health care.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal today, Karl Zinsmeister uses the VA to highlight the consequences of socialism. It was widely reported that vets died waiting for care at VA hospitals and those hospitals falsified records of wait times to cover up their incompetence.

But what are the consequences of discharge to grave dependence?

Zinsmeister notes that after World War II just 11 percent of veterans were granted disability payments. Though only a small fraction of post-911 vets have actually engaged in fighting, today close to half of vets being discharged request lifelong disability benefits.

“The more plausible diagnosis for most veterans is that they suffer from the invisible wounds of government dependency,” the op-ed suggests.

Zinsmeister notes that Medicare for All might not sound so attractive if it were called VA Benefits for All.

VA hospital in Pheonix. (AP pix via WSJ)

Novel weaves an authentic tale of coming of age in the old South

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when boys’ haircuts were white sidewalls, flattops and ducktails, when it was said a little dab’ll do ya, but it never really did. Back to those days in the Ol’ Dominion when segregation was strictly enforced, but liquor laws not so much.

Better yet, let longtime Nevada investigative reporter and editor A.D. Hopkins take you there in his new novel, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” Yes, the boys might’ve awakened early on occasion, but what they “woke up” was rural Early County and Jubal Early High School, named for a Confederate general. 

A.D.’s teenaged narrator of the tale is named Thomas Jackson Shelor, named after another Confederate general who went by the nickname Stonewall, so Shelor was called Stonewall, which was soon shortened to Stony.

The novel captures the quaint dialect — including language that can be occasionally coarse but authentic — the shabby scenery, nefarious political machinations, family feuds and strained race relations in such detail that you think you are looking at a photo instead of a painting. The plot constantly twists and turns as Stony and his friend, newcomer Jack, confront moonshiners, whorehouse operators and Klansmen.

For a guy who spent nearly half a century in newspaper journalism, which is not known for florid descriptives, Hopkins the novelist can turn a phrase, such as when he introduces jazz aficionado Jack in the opening chapter: “When the bell fell silent, we could hear only his leather heels striking the concrete like an unhurried drummer building for some fellow musician to launch a solo.”

Hopkins and I worked together for more than 20 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The book is laced with homespun conspiracies, displays of chivalry, dirty tricks, righteous revenge and conflicts that frequently result in gunplay, fisticuffs and the strategic use of ax handles and baseball bats. 

Here is an example of the kind of dialogue and tense action A.D. offers in page after page. This tells of Stony going to the aid of a classmate named Mary Lou who was about to be attacked by Klansmen for dating a black man named Roosevelt:

“Stony! Why’re you sneaking in my back door? And you look like a drowned cat!”

I said, “The Ku Klux Klan is coming is coming up here to hurt you. They beat up Roosevelt. Do you have any guns?

Instead of answering, she jumped up and ran to the front door and locked it, then to the back and locked it, too. Then she ran up the stairs and I followed her, trying to tell her more.

“I need a better gun,” I said. “All I got is this little .25 and just the six bullets in it.”

While I was saying this, she yanked a pair of panties on under the nightgown, so fast I saw absolutely nothing a Baptist boy wasn’t supposed to. She pulled on a pair of bib overalls, stuffing the nightgown into the overalls like a long shirt. She pulled on socks and pair of high-top shoes, which she didn’t take time to tie. …

“Where do you think we should make our stand?” I asked in a half whisper as soon as we were out in the dark.

“We don’t make a stand,” she answered. “If we make one, somebody probably gets shot, probably us. The idea is to live through it!”

The Boys Who Woke Up Early” is a satisfying page turner. Published by Imbrifex Books, it is available online and in some local bookstores.

A.D. Hopkins at book signing.