Editorial: Passage of Question 5 will do more harm than good

Question 5 — the Automatic Voter Registration Initiative — on the November ballot is a pointless and costly endeavor likely to do more harm than good.

The proposal would require the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to automatically send personal information to the registrar of voters so a person can be registered to vote when receiving a driver’s license or making a license change, unless the person affirmatively declines in writing.

It is pointless because the DMV already sends information to the registrar of voters if a person agrees. All Question 5 does is change the system from an “opt in” to an “opt out.” It is a distinction without a discernible difference.

The backers of the initiative argue this will make it more convenient to exercise the right to vote and even save money.

“Voting is a fundamental right,” the argument for passage reads. “It is our most important way to guarantee our rights and freedoms — and it’s a responsibility to be taken seriously by both the people and the government. Yet our outdated voter registration process makes it unnecessarily difficult for eligible Nevada citizens to have their voices heard and leaves our registration system vulnerable to errors. … It will reduce the risk of fraud and lower costs.”

In fact, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the initiative during the 2017 legislative session, saying, “it extinguishes a fundamental, individual choice — the right of eligible voters to decide for themselves whether they desire to apply to register to vote — forfeiting this basic decision to state government. … the core freedom of deciding whether one wishes to initiate voter registration belongs to the individual, not the government.”

His veto message also said the change “would create an unnecessary risk that people who are not qualified voters may unintentionally apply to vote, subjecting them to possible criminal prosecution, fines, and other legal action.”

As for lowering cost, the fiscal note for Question 5 says it would cost $221,000 to implement and more than $50,000 annually to maintain.

As for reducing errors, the California DMV, which has a similar automatic voter registration system, recently reported it sent 23,000 erroneous voter registrations.

The argument against passage of Question 5 points out, “The proposed ‘Opt Out’ system shifts the responsibility of registering to vote from the individual to the government. Nevada residents who do not want to be registered will have to affirmatively ‘Opt Out’ or have their names and addresses automatically added to voter rolls and become public information.”

It also notes there is no evidence this change would increase voter turnout.

There is no evidence this measure will accomplish anything other than increased opportunities for errors. We shouldn’t try to drag motorists kicking and screaming into the voting booth.

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: School district tries to obliterate public records law

The Clark County School District has filed a legal action with the state Supreme Court that, if successful, could render the state’s strong public records law nearly meaningless and deprive the citizens in every jurisdiction in the state access to public records that enable them to keep an eye on the actions of public officials.

The brief filed earlier this month appeals a judge’s decision to award attorney fees and court costs to the Las Vegas newspaper after it prevailed in district court in its demand for public records about an investigation into a school trustee accused of discriminating against school district employees — clearly the sort of information to which voters should be privy. The school district’s brief itself calls the matter “of statewide public importance.”

The district takes the absurd position that the Nevada Public Records Act of 1993  which states, “The purpose of this chapter is to foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records to the extent permitted by law …” — is self-contradictory because what is clearly stated in one paragraph is negated three paragraphs later. 

In one section the law states, “If the requester prevails, the requester is entitled to recover his or her costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in the proceeding from the governmental entity whose officer has custody of the book or record.” This is to ensure that citizens are not driven into bankruptcy in fighting a public agency with endless access to taxpayer money and can be made whole in order to fight again another day. Once the court says something is a public record, it is a public record and should have been freely accessed all along, but for the intransigence of some usually nameless bureaucrat.

The district cites another section of law that reads, “A public officer or employee who acts in good faith in disclosing or refusing to disclose information and the employer of the public officer or employee are immune from liability for damages, either to the requester or to the person whom the information concerns.”

Clearly this was intended to protect employees and employers from liability for such things as harm to public reputation or release of trade secrets. Who is to say what is good or bad faith?

The district brief repeatedly calls on the court to construe “legislative intent,” yet the very cites from legislative records clearly show the legislators intended to grant costs to public records requestors who prevail in court, and immunity from damages was another topic entirely.

The brief quotes from legislative minutes from May 3, 1993, describing comments by then Nevada Press Association Executive Director Ande Engleman, who was clearly not a legislator, answering a question from Assembly Subcommittee on Government Affairs Chairman Rick Bennett as to whether taxpayers should cover the costs of “frivolous” suits. 

The minutes show Engleman responding, “Court costs and attorneys’ fees were granted only when it was a denial of what was clearly a public record [bad faith]. Therefore, she did not think there would be frivolous lawsuits.” The district attorneys helpfully bold-faced and italicized and added the “bad faith” in brackets, even though her remarks indicated there would be no costs awarded if the suit failed.

The brief for some inexplicable reason failed to include lawmaker Bennett’s “legislative intent” in the very next paragraph, “If an agency head truly withheld a record which should have been public, Mr. Bennett said he hoped the court would penalize the agency in some way by making them pay the costs.” Now that is legislative intent.

The school system’s attorneys repeatedly argue lawmakers intended the “good faith” immunity clause to negate the clear language that attorney fees and court case are to be awarded if a record was wrongly withheld — an absurdity. 

Neither does the brief pay any heed to subcommittee minutes from four days later in which the panel voted to add the word “reasonable” to the costs and fees section of the law and then immediately segued into a discussion of immunity for “good faith in disclosing or refusing to disclose” being “immune from liability for damage.”

Lawmakers clearly saw the two sections as not contradictory. Neither did District Court Judge Timothy Williams who determined there was no ambiguity between the two adjacent sections of the same law. Neither should the Nevada Supreme Court. 

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.

 

Newspaper column: Parents need to weigh ‘social’ promotion options

Up until the third grade, students are learning to read. After that, they should be reading to learn.

That is why in 2015 Nevada lawmakers passed a bill dubbed Read by 3, requiring schools to have students who have not achieved a certain level of literacy to be retained in the third grade. It was modeled after a law passed in Florida in 2002 that quickly increased reading proficiency by catching deficiencies early and providing extra tutoring — greatly reducing third grade illiteracy in less than a decade.

Back in 2011 former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal explaining the purpose of the law and what it had accomplished already, “While preparing kids for college and careers starts on the first day of kindergarten, the first good indicator of their chances for success may come in fourth grade. That is when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.”

Bush recounted, “Florida ended automatic, ‘social’ promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.”

In order to give students, parents and teachers a chance to prepare, Nevada’s law does not go into effect until July 1, 2019.

If the law had been in effect a year ago, according to newspaper accounts, 55 percent of third graders statewide could have been eligible for retention, while this year the percentage is said to be 29 percent, though about half could qualify for what are called “good-cause” exemptions.

In 2017 Democratic lawmakers were unsuccessful in an attempt to repeal the law. At the time, Gov. Brain Sandoval, an ardent backer of the original bill, put out a statement saying, “The Read by Grade 3 initiative placed nearly $30 million directly in classrooms in more than 300 schools across Nevada with a clear line of accountability and singular focus on developmental reading. The Governor will not compromise on the goal of ensuring every student in Nevada is reading at grade level by third grade.”

Nevada’s State Board of Education may have just watered down the law with its recent policy determinations. The law requires the board to select a standard reading examination and set a cut-off score for promotion to the fourth grade.

According to a board press release, the test to be used under the law beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year will be the Smarter Balanced English Language Arts examination. The test ranks students in four different levels of reading achievement  — exceeds standards, meets standards, approaching standards or emerging/developing standards. Only those in the lowest level would be identified for possible retention in the third grade.

But, as allowed by law, the board adopted an alternative test for those who fail the Smarter Balanced one. That is the Northwest Evaluation Association reading test and the cut-off score on that test will be a rather law 30th percentile.

But then the board created, as the law allows, a number of other “good-cause” exemptions for those with disabilities, English learners, ones who demonstrate reading proficiency through a portfolio of school work and those who were retained in earlier grades.

“While initial data indicates a significant number of students may be retained in third grade, the good-cause exemptions ensure fairness in this process,” Steve Canavero, superintendent of public instruction, was quoted as saying in the press release. “I can’t emphasize enough, the goal of Read by Grade 3 is not to punish anyone, rather the goal of this program is to enhance a student’s ability to read successfully — thus ensuring success throughout his/her entire academic experience.”

But the law itself does require considerable input from pupils’ parents or legal guardians. Hopefully they will make sound judgments as to whether a good-cause exemption is better than retention. Social promotion often does not work out for the best.

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.

Nevada Department of Education pix

Editorial chastises Laxalt for ignoring the will of the voters by not ignoring the will of the voters

The insert in the morning newspaper never misses a chance to promote its progressive/liberal/gun-grabbing agenda and to lash out at a Republican. Today’s editorial is exhibit A.

This past week District Court Judge Joe Hardy ruled that the 2016 Question 1 initiative, which intended to require background checks for the sales of guns between private individuals, was unenforceable, just as Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office had ruled shortly after passage.

The editorial accused Laxalt of gloating and ignoring the will of the people, saying he and Gov. Brian Sandoval “barely lifted a finger in trying to implement it.”

You see, the backers of the initiative had outsmarted themselves. In trying to get a fiscal note on the ballot measure that said it would cost no Nevada tax dollars, their draft said the background checks would be conducted by the FBI through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and not the customary method of using the Nevada Department of Public Safety. The FBI refused to conduct the checks.

As for ignoring the will of the people, the measure passed with only 50.45 percent of the vote, failing in every county except Clark. Would it have passed at all if the voters were told how much it would cost them?

“When the feds responded to the state’s cursory inquires (sic) about the law by saying they were not obligated to perform the checks, Laxalt and Sandoval were all too happy to drop the matter and move on,” the screed falsely claims. “Instead of demanding, haranguing, maybe even suing, they quickly demurred.”

As for barely lifting a finger and quickly demurring, the editorial ignores the section of Judge Hardy’s ruling that detailed the numerous communications between the state and the FBI. (See pages 6 through 10.)

“But when voters go to the polls this November, they should remember how Laxalt reacted before, during and especially after the ruling,” the putrid polemic pouts. “This is a man who clearly views himself above the will of the people and imagines an imperial governorship in which he can ignore the voters at his discretion.”

Apparently, the insert editorialists believe that members of the executive branch should ignore the voters and rewrite a law that the voters approved, albeit by a slim majority in one urban county. As Judge Hardy noted, the FBI requirement “was not inadvertent drafting on a peripheral point. It was a conscious choice relating to a central provision …”

So Laxalt and Sandoval should have just ignored the will of the stupid voters who had no idea what they were really voting for anyway.

 

 

Poll shows tight races for senator and governor

A poll for the Reno Gazette-Journal by Suffolk University of Boston shows both the race for Nevada’s governor and U.S. senator to be almost dead even. The paper concluded undecided voters could play a major role come November.

The poll of 500 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

This is how the race for governor stands:

This how the race for senator stands:

It looks like the campaign to defeat the Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3, is being effective. The measure passed with 72 percent of the vote two years ago:

Notice who has the highest unfavorable rating in the state:

Then there is the question of turnout by county. Those polled were:

The current active voters, according the Secretary of State, breaks down as Clark 69.3 percent, Washoe 17.7 percent and others 13 percent. But in the last mid-term election in 2014, the actual turnout was Clark 61.8 percent, Washoe 21.1 and others 17.1 percent. So, if the rural turnout is greater than the turnout in heavily Democratic urban centers that might make a difference. But as June the number of active voters in the rurals had dropped to 13 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.

 

Charity? Yes, but charity for whom?

Ain’t charity grand? Even if it ain’t charity?

Some of the news accounts that heralded the announcement by Telsa Motors that it was giving $1.5 million to Nevada K-12 education as the first installment in a $37.5 million donation did get around to mentioning toward the end that the handout was part of a “commitment” the company made when it accepted $1.3 billion in tax breaks for building its electric care battery factory near Sparks in 2014.

All of the handouts were specifically targeted to items such as robotics and battery programs that might benefit the company.

The Las Vegas newspaper wrote that Gov. Brian “Sandoval said in a statement he was grateful for Tesla’s commitment and the opportunities it would provide.”

Grateful?

As one of the paper’s columnists got around to pointing out, the handout was required in the original deal. “Tesla will make direct contributions to K-12 education of $37.5 million beginning August 2018; grant $1 million to fund advanced battery research at UNLV; prioritize the employment of Nevadans and Veterans,” the deal states.

For that paltry sum and few other “commitments” the company got:

Columnist Victor Joecks noted:

Normally a company giving away millions of dollars for educational programs would be worth celebrating. But this wasn’t an act of corporate generosity. In 2014, the state provided Tesla with $1.3 billion in tax credits and abatements. As part of its pitch, the company promised to give $37.5 million to fund education programs.

Let’s save our praise for those doing philanthropy, not for a company using charity as political cover for a massive handout.

According to projections made in 2014, the gigafactory was to have 6,500 employees by now, but as of the end of 2017 it had only 1,400 employees.

According to the Nevada Appeal, Tesla qualified for $36.85 million in transferable tax credits, plus $115 million in tax abatements during the 2017 fiscal year alone.

Ain’t charity grand?

By the bye, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is worth $20 billion.

Tesla gigafactory tour in 2016. (AP pix via R-J)

 

 

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.