Newspaper column(s): Court should have left sanctuary cities petition up to voters … before and after

Editor’s note: This week there are actually two columns. One was written before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Wednesday on an appeal about the Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative petition and one after. The before appears in about half the papers that print it and the after in the other half. Oh well. Who expected the justices move so fast? This how it is done on the fly.

 

Before: 

Sometimes it seems the argument boils down to: Those darned voters just aren’t smart enough to figure it out.

That notion was never stated but seemed to linger in the background this past week at the Nevada Supreme Court during arguments about whether an initiative petition should be allowed to appear on the ballot, if enough signatures can be gathered.

The Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative proposes to amend the state Constitution to prohibit state and local governments passing laws limiting or discouraging enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has happened in several California cities.

After the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the petition, a Carson City district court judge ruled in January the petition was “excessively broad and general” and likely to confuse voters, thus barring it from appearing on the ballot. Proponents appealed to the state’s high court. 

Though opponents challenged the petition, claiming it violated the law by not addressing only a single subject, as the law requires, and failed to adequately provide a description of potential consequences, Paul Georgeson, the attorney representing the petitioners, argued to the court the only foreseeable effect of passage would be to prohibit state and local government from passing laws deterring enforcement of federal immigration laws. 

“All of the other potential consequences that are identified by the opponents, and which frankly the district court didn’t get into at all in its analysis, are hypothetical and speculative,” he claimed.

Opponents have argued such an amendment might cost local communities money to enforce the law, might harm public safety because immigrants might be reluctant to report crime and they might refuse to enroll in social services.

But attorneys for petitioners note that if the matter is qualified for the ballot there will be an opportunity for both sides to make pro and con statements that will accompany the ballot language. 

Georgeson said in court, “The district court did not make a determination or identify any potential effects that are not included in this petition description that should be included,” adding, “How does someone successfully draft a petition to meet the requirements if they have to anticipate which speculative, hypothetical effect the opponents are going to argue?”

Georgeson said the district judge created a new criteria by saying the topic was too broad, saying the petition is still on a single subject, even if the subject is broad.

Of the description of effect, Georgeson said, “It doesn’t have to be the best description, it just has to be an accurate description. The description of effect in this case is succinct, direct, accurate, non-deceptive …” 

Marc Elias, an attorney for opponents, argued that the single subject rule and the requirement for a description of effect are intended to give the voters a practical sense of what they are signing or voting on. “Both of these two safeguards are in place for the same reason. They are to prevent voter confusion and they are to promote informed decision making,” he said. 

Elias argued federal immigration law covers many subjects and is subject to change, and the petition is, therefore, misleading. He argued that the very name of the petition connotes lawlessness to some but to others it means providing succor. 

He also claimed immigrations laws affect everything from treaties to Social Security and welfare benefits. “The voter doesn’t even know what the laws are that are being rolled. All it knows are that there is this undefined notion of federal immigration law, which, as I point out, is ever changing.” 

Justice Chris Pickering noted that Nevada voters amended the state Constitution to tie the state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage law, which is subject to change.

Justice James Hardesty followed up by saying, “If the federal government enacts an immigration law tomorrow or if there is one on the books today this initiative prohibits state interference with that immigration law. How is that a violation of the rules we’ve enacted? Let’s get focused here — the rules we’ve enacted for determining the single subject rule. My understanding from the briefs is that single subject that’s been articulated, again not speaking to the policy, whether it is good, bad or indifferent policy is a separate question. But the single subject that’s stated here seems pretty clear. Local government, state government isn’t going to adopt any law that interferes with federal immigration laws. Sounds like a single subject to me.”

The court should let the voters decide if they are confused and whether the proposed policy is good or not.

 

After:

Sometimes it seems the argument boils down to: Those darned voters just aren’t smart enough to figure it out.

That notion was never stated but seemed to linger in the background this past week at the Nevada Supreme Court during arguments about whether an initiative petition should be allowed to appear on the ballot, if enough signatures can be gathered.

The Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative proposes to amend the state Constitution to prohibit state and local governments passing laws limiting or discouraging enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has happened in several California cities.

After the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the petition, a Carson City district court judge ruled in January the petition was “excessively broad and general” and likely to confuse voters, thus barring it from appearing on the ballot. Proponents appealed to the state’s high court. 

Opponents challenged the petition, claiming it violated the law by not addressing only a single subject, as the law requires, and failed to adequately provide a description of potential consequences, Paul Georgeson, the attorney representing the petitioners, argued to the court the only foreseeable effect of passage would be to prohibit state and local government from passing laws deterring enforcement of federal immigration laws. 

“All of the other potential consequences that are identified by the opponents, and which frankly the district court didn’t get into at all in its analysis, are hypothetical and speculative,” he claimed.

On Wednesday, however, the court ruled 6-1 that the petition was a single subject, but both the title of the petition and its description of effect are “confusing and misleading” to petition signers and remanded the matter to the lower court to allow a redrafting of the petition to remedy its defects.

The court ruled the “title ‘Prevent Sanctuary Cities’ is a catch-all that is subject to shifting and imprecise meanings, not a neutral, descriptive phrase.” 

This means signatures already gathered are not valid and the backers would have to redraft the petition to satisfy the court and then gather 112,500 signatures by June 19 to qualify for the November ballot — a proposition that seems unlikely. 

Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson, honorary chairman of the Prevent Sanctuary Cities PAC and a candidate for lieutenant governor, wrote in an email, “Even if we are not afforded enough time to obtain the necessary signatures by June 19, this is a big victory in the longer term. Obtaining certainty on the language enables us to consider a statutory initiative wherein we would have until mid-November to gather signatures.”

Roberson said the Legislature would have 40 days to adopt the language or it would go on the 2020 ballot as a statutory measure. 

But he said the group is considering all options. “It also sets us up to hit the ground running in September 2019 for another attempt at a constitutional measure,” Roberson said. “Justice can be delayed but it will not be denied.”

Opponents have argued such an amendment might cost local communities money to enforce the law, might harm public safety because immigrants might be reluctant to report crime and they might refuse to enroll in social services.

The Supreme Court’s subjective ruling about the sagacity of petition signers is overly nitpicking. Even as the justices note, once the matter is qualified for the ballot “the description of effect plays no further role in the remaining initiative process.” 

This because the law says the Secretary of State must prepare “arguments and rebuttals for or against constitutional amendments,” not the petitioner. Problem solved. It is up to the voters.

During oral arguments, Georgeson said, “It doesn’t have to be the best description, it just has to be an accurate description. The description of effect in this case is succinct, direct, accurate, non-deceptive …” 

Marc Elias, an attorney for opponents, argued that the single subject rule and the requirement for a description of effect are intended to give the voters a practical sense of what they are signing or voting on. “Both of these two safeguards are in place for the same reason. They are to prevent voter confusion and they are to promote informed decision making,” he said. 

The voters would have had ample opportunity to review the arguments for and against.

The court should have let the voters decide if they are confused and whether the proposed policy is good or not and not presumed potential confusion at the petition signature gathering level.

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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Editorial: BLM publishes new plans to protect sage grouse

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bureau of Land Management under the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to give states greater flexibility on protecting greater sage grouse. On Friday a 204-page draft management plan for Nevada and northeastern California was published in the Federal Register.

The plan specifically states that its purpose is to enhance cooperation with the states by modifying sage grouse management to better align with the plans created by Nevada and California, covering more than 45 million acres under the jurisdiction of the BLM.

Though it was determined that sage grouse did not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in 2015 the Obama administration violated the law and ignored scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada.

According to a press release put out by the BLM announcing the new plans, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed the more cooperative stance by the agency. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was quoted as saying, “The Department of the Interior’s proposed changes represent an important step toward returning power back to our local communities, and lifting the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulations that have put major restrictions on millions of acres of land in Nevada and stifled economic opportunities.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, commented, “I would like to thank the secretary for doing a much-needed revisit of the previous administration’s policies regarding sage hen habitat. I look forward to hearing back from our stakeholders in Nevada regarding the proposed changes and plan to familiarize myself with this draft and provide further input.”

The publication of the draft plan opens a public comment period. The BLM will accept comments through Aug. 2. Comments may be submitted by mail:  BLM – Greater Sage-Grouse EIS, Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502; or online at https://goo.gl/uz89cT.

The Nevada-California plan is posted online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/103343/143703/176904/NVCA_GRSG_DEIS_201805_508.pdf

The BLM also will conduct public meetings during the public comment period, which will be announced later.

The agency expects to publish a final Environmental Impact Statement and plan amendments by October.

Nevada’s BLM Associate State Director Marci Todd stated, “Two important developments have occurred since the 2015 plans were adopted. First, we’ve had two to three years to invest time and effort into improving sage grouse habitat. Second, we have received a great deal of feedback from our state partners about how the plans are working on the ground and needed changes.”

We welcome the fact that someone in the federal land bureaucracy is finally listening and recognizing the fact that people need to earn a livelihood in rural Nevada and can do so without endangering the sage grouse population.

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.

 

 

Stances on Iran deal give Nevada voters a clear choice

President Trump’s decision to cancel Obama’s unilateral nuclear deal with Iran just became Nevada’s latest campaign issue in the race for the Senate.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller and his Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen, came down on opposite sides of the matter, though Rosen did seem to hedge her argument as to the strength of Obama’s deal in the first place.

“The Iran deal was never good for America or our friends in the Middle East. This agreement has done nothing to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or promote peace – in fact, it has done just the opposite,” Heller said in a prepared statement. “Iran has been emboldened since President Barack Obama signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action three years ago. In the face of this agreement, Iran has conducted ballistic missile tests, harassed U.S. naval ships in the Middle East, and helped prop up the murderous Assad regime in Syria. Members of Iran’s parliament have shouted ‘death to America’ and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said ‘Israel will not exist in 25 years.’”

Rosen put a statement saying, “As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I’ve heard from military and intelligence experts about the dangers of withdrawing from the JCPOA without evidence of a material breach. After the JCPOA was agreed to, it should have been robustly enforced — not used as a political football. We need to hold Iran accountable in every way we can, and we cannot allow Iran to restart its nuclear program. Unfortunately, backing out of this agreement means undermining our international alliances, jeopardizing our national security, and re-opening Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon.”

Reopening Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon? Like they ever stopped?

As The Wall Street Journal points out in an editorial today, the Iranian documents recently released by Israel show that Iran repeatedly lied to U.N. weapons inspectors about its nuclear activity.

Also, this was not America’s deal. It was Obama’s deal. “He refused to submit it for Senate approval as a treaty, which would have had the force of law,” the editorial notes. “Mr. Trump is walking away from Mr. Obama’s personal commitment to Iran, not an American commitment.”

Iran is currently in economic turmoil. Now may be the time to pressure the Ayatollahs to agree to real deal that would defang their nuclear program for good and end their funding of terrorism worldwide.

Heller went on to say, “Clearly, Iran is not a trusted partner in America’s foreign policy goals. The agreement, which handed Tehran billions of dollars to help bolster its military and spread terror around the world, represented a volcano waiting to erupt. Make no mistake, Iran has been preparing for when the agreement was set to expire in 2025, and that’s why leaving this agreement and pursuing additional sanctions is the right choice.”

 

Who likes the Iranian nuke deal? Anyone?

Former Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly has been meeting with an Iranian official in an effort to save the nuclear deal he helped put together.

President Trump has a May 12 deadline for renewing the deal or bailing out of it.

Kerry’s efforts come on the heels of Israel revealing it has a half ton of documents showing that Iran continues to work toward developing a nuclear arsenal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not accusing Iran of violating the deal, but is pointing out the deal is so weak Iran doesn’t need to break it, while it continues its nuke development. “I say that a deal that enables Iran to keep and hide all its nuclear weapons know-how, is a horrible deal,” he said.

The deal was supposed to be that Iran would curb its bid for nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting sanctions that were hurting the nation’s economy.

Surprise! Surprise! Today The Wall Street Journal is reporting there is labor strife all over Iran due to lousy economic conditions. Teachers, steelworkers, hospital staff and others have walked off the job.

The paper says the workers are angry at their employers and the government, because the nuclear deal has failed to deliver. There is high inflation and unemployment and the country’s currency is dropping in value.

“Where in the world is a worker whose wage is four times below the poverty line forced by the police to work?” WSJ quotes an Iranian activist as saying. “This is a crime. This is slavery.”

Remember those pallets of cash delivered by the Obama administration? Apparently a lot of that was spent on supporting fighting in Syria and supporting Hezbollah.

Kerry appears to be fighting for a deal nobody likes, even the Iranians.

Imagine what will happen if Trump backs out of the deal.

An Iranian protester in December. (Getty Images)

Editorial: ObamaCare costs keep soaring

Premiums for ObamaCare-eligible health insurance plans are soaring this year, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that the lowest priced of the so-called gold plans that cover 80 percent of medical expenses for a 40-year-old non-smoker increased 19 percent nationally this year and 25 percent in Nevada. The lowest cost silver plans for that individual, which covers 70 percent of medical costs, went up 32 percent nationally and 45.6 percent in Nevada. The second lowest priced silver plans jumped 34.3 percent nationally and 48.3 percent in Nevada.

But not to worry, the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City reports that more than 85 percent of the nearly 100,000 Nevadans who are covered by such plans through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will not pay much if any of that premium increase because they receive federal subsidies. Guess who pays those federal subsidies? All of us.

The Appeal reports that, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, the nationwide increase in premiums will cost the taxpayers $10 billion more in subsidies this year.

Of course, a state health exchange executive blamed the premium spikes on “instability in the health insurance market — much of it caused by tactics designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That includes the decision to stop paying insurance companies for the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies mandated by the ACA for consumers making between 138 and 250 percent of the poverty level,” the Appeal explained.

The taxpayers get stuck with the bill either way — subsidize the insurer or subsidize the rate payer. Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

During the debate this past year over those Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, The Wall Street Journal reported, “In an ironic twist, stopping the subsidies would also wind up costing the federal government more in the end, the (Congressional Budget Office) report said. Higher premiums for mid-priced plans would require the government to pay larger tax credits to consumers to help offset coverage costs. The federal deficit would increase by $194 billion through 2026, the report said.” Instead of paying $7 billion in subsidies to insurers, we are paying $10 billion to ratepayers.

Pay no heed to the fact ObamaCare premiums have been rising sharply since the law was passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote and using dirty tricks devised by Nevada’s own Sen. Harry Reid. According to the website eHealth, from 2013, the year before ObamaCare went into effect, through 2017, health insurance premiums had already increased 140 percent. Forget repeal and replace, just repeal. Remember at the ballot box this fall just who brought us this expensive boondoggle and would vote to keep 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: Trump administration settles suit over habitat rules

The Trump administration has settled a lawsuit filed by Nevada and 19 other states over Obama administration rules that sweepingly redefined what constituted critical habitat for endangered species and has agreed to rewrite those rules.

The suit, filed in November 2016 against various federal land agencies, accused the federal bureaucrats of essentially rewriting the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) to give themselves potential veto power over any use whatsoever on every square foot of rural land, public or private, in the country.

Though the ESA gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to protect “critical habitat” occupied by endangered or threatened species, the rewritten rules redefined “critical habitat” to include land currently unoccupied by those species but just might someday, in someway, somehow — as a result of global warming or a meteor strike, perhaps — later become “critical habitat.”

Those rules gave federal agents the power to block or alter any activity — grazing, farming, buildings, mining, recreation, roads, fences, pipelines, ditches, power lines, irrigation, oil and gas exploration — that might somehow adversely affect a potential habitat for certain protected rodents, minnows, bugs, birds, reptiles, beasts and weeds.

The settlement, reached this past week, requires the federal land agencies to submit revised rules for public review within 60 days. The states reserve the right to file another lawsuit if the new rules are unsatisfactory.

“I commend the federal government for agreeing to reconsider rules created in the previous administration that could have severely restricted property owners’ use of their own land,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who joined the suit, which was filed in Alabama. “If this federal land grab had been implemented, the federal government could have expanded critical habitat designations to include entire states. I am proud of the result of our joint efforts to protect Nevada land from burdensome and unconstitutional federal overreach.” (Critical habitat)

That overreach flew in the face of the ESA’s requirement that “critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species,” except in a circumstance determined by the secretary of the Interior.

Opponents of the rules said they impermissibly relied on hope and base speculation.

The lawsuit also said the rules create huge costs for private landowners and small businesses who must go to the expense of obtaining federal permits in order to make even minor modifications to their own property. Permits could be denied under rules that were obviously arbitrary, capricious and onerous.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge commented on the settlement and said, “Our wildlife must be protected for future generations, but it is completely unreasonable to give the federal government broad authority to restrict land usage just because bureaucrats in D.C. think an animal might, possibly, one day inhabit that land — even if that land does not have features necessary for its survival. These rules are a clear example of an Obama-era overreach that must be changed to protect the rights of land owners and the States.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall noted Congress had purposefully set a stricter standard for land not occupied by endangered species, saying the Obama administration rules violated the intent of Congress and defied common sense.

“These rules even allowed the federal government to prevent activities it decided could adversely affect habitat features that do not actually exist,” Marshall said. “For example, as the States noted in their complaint, the federal government ‘could declare desert as critical habitat for fish and then prevent the construction of a highway through desert lands, under the theory that it would prevent the future formation of a stream that might one day support the species.’”

Of course, the self-styled environmentalists don’t want any changes. An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity told E&E News in an email, “We’ll be taking a close look at the revised rules and are likely to challenge them if we identify any departure from the Endangered Species Act’s requirement that the agencies protect habitats essential for species recovery.”

In addition to Nevada, other states participating in this settlement include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Over the 45 years since the passage of the Endangered Species Act the return on investment has been practically nil. Only 1 percent of listed species have ever recovered sufficiently to be delisted, despite the law’s huge impact on economic endeavors. Hopefully, the rewritten rules will lessen the impact.

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.

Democrats refusing to break with demand for chain migration

Apparently some Democrats are balking at compromise legislation that would allow people brought into the country illegally as children because the proposal specifies that they can’t then sponsor their parents for citizenship.

With a stroke of his pen President Obama created DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), but the courts let DACA stand and struck DAPA.

Nevada was one of the states that sued to try to stop Obama’s immigration executive orders that ignored Congress’ refusal to act on similar proposals.

In his press release announcing the Nevada’s joining the list of plaintiffs, Attorney General Adam Laxalt stated: “Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed. But just as clearly, the solution is not for the president to act unilaterally disregarding the U.S. Constitution and laws. The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles. Anything less is a false hope undermining the rule of law that injures millions of people in America, including many in Nevada.”

But now, when some Republicans seem willing to grant half a loaf, Democrats are demanding the full buffet — chain migration or nothing.

It’s one thing to grant to grant amnesty to those who are living here through no fault of their own, but another to grant amnesty to those who knowingly broke the nation’s immigration law.

Democrats don’t want a solution. They want an issue to campaign on.