Newspaper column: Rural water grab may be dead in the water

A state judge’s implacable ruling this past week may have finally forestalled attempts by the Clark County water agency to tap groundwater from White Pine, Nye and Lincoln counties.

Senior District Judge Robert Estes rejected proposals by the state water engineer to grant groundwater rights to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), calling the plan illogical, contrary to state water law, as well as arbitrary and capricious.

In 1989 the agency that is now the SNWA filed paperwork with the state engineer to lay claim to 589,000 acre-feet of groundwater in central Nevada, planning to drill a network of water wells and a 300-mile pipeline from near Ely to Las Vegas. The litigation began immediately. Since then the amount of water sought has been trimmed to 84,000 acre-feet while the price tag on the pipeline has grown to an estimated $15 billion.

A lawyer for the Great Basin Water Network (GBWN), which along with White Pine County filed suit seeking to block the water grab, called the ruling a death knell.

“Judge Estes saw clearly through the various subterfuges and false reasoning advanced by both SNWA and the State Engineer, and he systematically ruled against them on every significant point in contention,” said public interest water attorney Simeon Herskovits in an emailed press release. “In our view, the rigor and care in Judge Estes’s ruling makes it highly unlikely that any part of this ruling would be subject to reversal on appeal. Under any reasonable reading, this powerful ruling should sound the death knell for this fatally misguided and potentially devastating groundwater export proposal.”

Estes’ language in his ruling was often stern. At one point he wrote, “Illogically, the Engineer has concluded that sustainability and beneficial use are mutually exclusive. Actually, sustainability and maximum beneficial use are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other. This not a case of this Court substituting its judgment for that of the current Engineer. It is a case of this Court agreeing with the Engineer’s practice before the Engineer’s, for no logical, lawful or rational reason for changing the definitions of perennial yield.

“For decades, Nevada’s Water Engineers have recognized — and stated — that water appropriations must be sustainable, indefinitely, for both the appropriator and the reservoir, as required by Nevada law.”

Studies have found that the various aquifers involved are already at equilibrium — the amount of water being withdrawn is replaced annually by an equal amount due to rainfall and inflow from other aquifers — and any increased use would threaten agriculture, livestock watering, wildlife and natural springs.

The judge further ruled that the SNWA’s so-called 3M plan to monitor, manage and mitigate the effects of its water use when a trigger level is reached was no plan at all. The judge said “it is not a trigger at all. It is a process, obviously, or even not so obviously, understood by SNWA only. Compare this investigation ‘trigger’ with the trigger used by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in Armagosa Valley. ‘When the water level falls 2.7 feet below a copper washer, mitigation must occur.” (Meaning the Amargosa Valley, of course.)

Estes concluded, “Accordingly, this Court finds that the water appropriations in Spring Valley threaten to prove detrimental to the public interest because the awards, at the current well configuration, result in water mining, will never reach equilibrium, and will result in depletion of the Spring Valley aquifer. The award is inconsistent with Nevada water law … is inconsistent with the State Engineer’s long held rules of water appropriation, and is arbitrary and capricious.”

An appeal of Estes’ ruling does not appear to be imminent. The water agency issued a statement to the press saying, “Since these groundwater applications were filed more than 30 years ago, Southern Nevada has emerged as a world leader in urban water conservation. Through SNWA’s proactive water resource management and the community’s achievements in water efficiency, there is no scenario in our Water Resource Plan where this project would be needed within the next 30 years.”

In 2017 a federal judge even blocked BLM from granting the water authority a right-of-way across federal land for its proposed pipeline, saying the environmental impact assessment was inadequate.

“SNWA has no right-of-way for the pipeline, and no rights to water with which to fill the pipeline,” said Kyle Roerink, GBWN executive director. “This project is dead in the water. It’s time for SNWA to finally move on.”

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: Courts can’t tell lawmakers to hike education funding

An education advocacy group has filed suit on behalf of nine parents of Nevada public school children demanding that the courts force lawmakers to adequately fund K-12 education — declaring that the students “inhabit one of the lowest-rated and worst-performing state school systems in the United States.”

The suit, filed in the 1st Judicial District Court in Carson City, by Educate Nevada Now asks the court to find that the level of funding of public education in the state has fallen short of the constitutional requirement to “ensure a basic, uniform, and sufficient education for the schoolchildren of this state.”

The 37-page lawsuit cites a litany of woes — including the fact Nevada ranked 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in Education Week’s most recent Quality Counts report’s Chance-for-Success Index and has the third largest class sizes and ranked first in the U.S. in class size growth according to the National Education Association.

The suit further noted that in the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) only 34 percent of Nevada fourth graders were proficient in math and only 31 percent were proficient in reading. Both rates were even lower for eighth graders.

Nevada holds “places near the top of every ‘bad’ list, and the bottom of every ‘good’ list, in myriad rankings of public schools systems and student performance across the country,” the suit states.

The Nevada Supreme Court in the case of Guinn v. Legislature in 2003 held that Nevada students have a basic right to a public education under the state constitution, the suit states. In that case the court decided education funding had to take precedent over a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

Justice Bill Maupin was the only dissenting vote in the case, citing separation of powers, “Again, we are powerless to order co-equal branches of government to exercise individual acts of constitutional discretion. Our authority depends upon whether extraordinary relief is warranted and in exercising our authority to grant relief, we would be restricted to an interpretation of the Constitution, utilizing recognized tenets of statutory construction.”

The current lawsuit neglects to point out that the justices three years later overturned Guinn v. Legislature, largely for the very reason cited by Maupin.

The Educate Nevada Now suit further quotes the state constitution, which says, “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district […].” 
The quote is cut off before the part that says such schools must be open “at least six months in every year …”

The suit further notes that the constitution states that the Legislature shall appropriate education funds “the Legislature deems sufficient …” That would seem to dictate that lawmakers are to determine what is “sufficient” rather than
the courts.

The litigation comes despite the fact Nevada lawmakers in 2015 passed the largest tax hike in history, $1.5 billion, largely to fund education, and lawmakers this year approved 3 percent raises for teachers. It also comes while the Clark County teachers union is preparing to circulate petitions seeking to increase sales and gaming taxes by $1.4 billion a year.

The problem with Nevada public education is not so much a lack of funding as it is a deficiency in accountability.

At one time Nevada high school students were required to pass a proficiency exam in order to graduate. That was dropped in 2018.

With the 2015 tax hike came a requirement that third graders who could not read at a certain proficiency level would be held back to repeat the third grade. That has since been dropped.

At one point 50 percent of teacher evaluations were based on pupil achievement growth. That has been cut to 15 percent.

Amanda Morgan, an attorney for Educate Nevada Now, told the Las Vegas newspaper after the suit was filed that the intent of the litigation is to prod lawmakers into addressing education funding.

“The court won’t say you need to put x amount of dollars into education,” Morgan was quoted as saying. “But it will say, ‘What you’re doing right now doesn’t meet your constitutional obligation. Go fix it.’”

The constitution seems clear when it says education funding is whatever “the Legislature deems sufficient …”

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: Could a socialist be the Democratic presidential nominee?

To their eternal ignominy Nevada Democratic caucus voters have helped jump start the presidential candidacy of self-identified democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders, a man who could not have voted for himself if he lived here because he is not a registered Democrat.

The Vermont independent senator won 47 percent of the state’s equivalent delegates, picking up strong pluralities in 10 counties, a 78 percent majority in Eureka and a 58 percent majority in Esmeralda. Tom Steyer won Mineral, while Pete Buttigieg took Douglas, Lincoln, Nye and Pershing. Steyer and Buttigieg both dropped out after poor showings in South Carolina this past weekend.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who won handily in South Carolina, finished second in Nevada overall.

With Super Tuesday this week there were 1,344 delegates at stake in 14 states — 415 in California alone — on the way to the 1,991 needed to win the Democratic nomination outright. Biden now leads Sanders by 75 delegates.

Sanders on the stump has been making a whole host of mostly socialistic promises — Medicare for All, free college, Green New Deal, open borders, workplace democracy, housing for all, expanded Social Security, free child care and pre-kindergarten, justice and safety for all, teacher raises, forgiving medical debt, fair banking, jobs for all, women’s rights, racial justice, gun safety, rights for the disabled, rights for all forms of gender identity, revitalizing rural areas, getting corporate money out of politics, corporate accountability, legal pot, fair trade.

In a recent op-ed in the Las Vegas newspaper Sanders even promised: “Together, we will make sure that no child in Nevada goes hungry. Hundreds of thousands of Nevada school children are in need of school lunches. Instead of saddling families with debt and stigma, we will fund universal school meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

In Bernie’s brave new world, as in Aldous Huxley’s, “parent” is a dirty word. The state will take care of everything and everyone will be just a cog in the socialist machine.

To pay for it all, he’ll just tax the rich, like in that old rock tune “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After: “Tax the rich, feed the poor/ ‘Til there are no rich no more.” What will he do when he runs out of rich people?

Sanders is reportedly especially embraced by so-called millennials who apparently have no concept of the price of socialism as recorded repeatedly in history — the re-education camps, the gulags, the purges, the lack of free speech or press, the lack of private property — such as the millennials’ beloved cellphones.

According to a recent Heritage Foundation article, a YouGov survey reported that 44 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 would prefer to live in a socialist nation rather than a capitalist country.

“Another seven percent would choose communism. However, the same poll revealed that only 33 percent of the respondents could correctly define socialism as based on the common ownership of economic and social systems as well as the state control of the means of production,” the article states. “What most millennials mean by ‘socialism’ seems to be a mix of our welfare state and what they perceive to be Swedish democratic socialism. But Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries including Denmark favor the free market and are content with private rather than government ownership of their major industries. However, Danish domestic spending including comprehensive health care has a high price — a top personal income tax of 57 percent.”

Sanders himself has taken recently to apologizing for the excesses of socialist regimes by trying to point to some positives.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in a recent interview. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

They might be able to read, but just ask the throngs of Cuban expatriates in Florida what they were allowed to read.

How many Sanders supporters have any inkling of the carnage due to socialism? According to “The Black Book of Communism,” published by Harvard University Press, the total deaths due to socialist dictators from Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Castro and others is 100 million. Still want socialism?

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: Nevada state and local taxes already too regressive

In this presidential election year there has been an ongoing and vigorous debate, nay, a knock-down-drag-out fight over the question of whether the wealthy pay their fair share of federal taxes. There is ample ammo for both sides of that argument.

But when it comes to state and local taxes there is no debate. The tax data from nearly every state shows those tax practices are highly regressive, meaning the poorer citizens pay a disproportionately higher share of their income in state and local taxes than wealthier citizens, which is simply unfair.

This was detailed by an October 2018 analysis by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. The study found that on average nationally the lowest-income 20 percent of taxpayers face a state and local tax rate more than 50 percent higher than the top 1 percent of households. The nationwide average effective state and local tax rate is 11.4 percent for the lowest-income 20 percent of individuals and families, 9.9 percent for the middle 20 percent and 7.4 percent for the top 1 percent. 

The institute concludes, “Most state and local tax systems worsen income inequality by making incomes more unequal after collecting state and local taxes.”

The study found that Nevada was the fifth worst state in the nation for taxation inequity. The effective tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of Nevadans was 10.2 percent. For the middle 60 percent the rate was 7.4 percent. For the top 1 percent the rate was a paltry 1.9 percent — the lowest tax rate in the nation for that earnings group. This inequity is due to reliance on sales and excise taxes, because poorer families must spend a higher portion of their income on taxed necessities. 

Of course, when the Clark County teachers union earlier this year launched two tax hiking ballot initiatives to increase funding for education the biggest was a proposal to hike the sales tax by $1.1 billion a year. The other was to hike the gaming tax to raise $330 million a year.

The sales tax initiative would increase the Local School Support Tax — a part of the statewide sales tax — from 2.6 percent to 4.1 percent, a 58 percent increase. If the union gathers enough petition signatures it would go before the Legislature in the spring of 2021, tax loving Democrats already hold a supermajority in the Assembly and are one shy of a supermajority in the state Senate. Thus this November’s General Election is significant at the state level, too. If lawmakers fail to impose the taxes, they would go before the voters on the November 2022 ballot. 

If passed, in Clark and Lincoln counties the overall sales tax would jump from 8.375 percent to 9.875 percent, among the highest rates in the country. In Mineral, Eureka and Esmeralda counties, which have the lowest current sales tax rates in the state, the tax would jump from 6.85 percent to 8.35 percent.

The impact on poorer families would be devastating. 

Earlier this month the board of directors of the Nevada Taxpayers Association (NTA) announced its opposition to both the sales and gaming tax propositions, saying such a drastic change in the taxation policy should be thoroughly debated by all stakeholders and that should be conducted via the standard legislative process, not through a ballot initiative.

“An increase of $1 billion in annual sales tax revenue is likely to affect tax neutrality and change consumer behavior,” the NTA said in a press release. “The exporting of the tax burden to non-residents is also of concern given the importance of tourists to our statewide economy. As with the Sales Tax, an annual increase in the Gross Gaming Tax of $330 million is very likely to cause unpredictable economic consequences. The focus of this tax on one industry is prone to have a harmful effect on gaming companies and their employees.” 

The NTA also pointed out that the two tax hikes would represent an annual increase of 28 percent in taxation, but the propositions contain no performance benchmarks that would assure taxpayers get a return on their investment.

In fact, most of the performance benchmarks enacted when lawmakers in 2015 approved a $1.5 billion tax hike targeted to improve education have been rescinded. No longer are third graders who can’t read required to be held back a year, and while student achievement was once 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation that has been cut to 15 percent.

These tax proposals will hurt poor families without ensuring education improvements. 

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: Democratic candidates could hurt rural health care

As Democratic presidential candidates sweep across the state in advance of Saturday’s caucus rural voters should pay close attention — as if your life depends on it, because it does — to what they say about their plans for changing how Americans pay for health care.

Two of them — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — are advocating what has been dubbed “Medicare for All,” which would basically outlaw private health insurance, such as that offered by employers and unions, and replace it with a taxpayer-funded single payer plan.

The rest have called for creation of a public option that would compete with private insurers and saddle taxpayers with the cost.

One problem is that Medicare reimbursements are estimated to be on average 40 percent less than private insurance. According to a New York Times article from a year ago, Medicare typically pays a hospital $17,000 for a knee replacement, while the same hospital would get about $37,000 for the same surgery on a patient with private insurance. Also, a hospital could get about $4,200 from Medicare for removing a gallbladder, but $7,400 from a private insurer.

This has been exacerbated by Medicare’s method of reimbursement, which is based on wage indexing.

In November the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wrote that, for example, prior to some adjustments this fiscal year, a hospital in a low-wage rural community could receive a Medicare payment of about $4,000 for treating pneumonia, while a hospital in a high-wage urban area could receive a Medicare payment of nearly $6,000 for the same case.

Because of such payments schedules and other factors, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, 166 rural hospitals have closed since 2005, including in 2015 the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah. That closure left residents 100 miles from the nearest hospital and 200 miles from the nearest level one trauma center, though some local clinics now provide some urgent care. Four rural hospitals have closed so far this year.

The Medicare administrator noted that nearly 60 million rural Americans — often living in areas with higher rates of poverty and having difficulty traveling long distances to a hospital or doctor’s office — face higher risks. Recent Centers for Disease Control data found 57 percent of deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease in rural areas were preventable, compared with only 13 percent preventable deaths for people with the same condition in urban areas.

A study this past August for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future conducted by Navigant Consulting looked at what the impact on rural health care might be at different levels of federal takeover of health care reimbursements.

Under the least intrusive option in which everyone covered by an employer-based insurance program kept that plan while others were swept into the public option, the study estimated that 28 percent of rural hospitals would be at high risk of closure, including three in Nevada.

Under the Medicare for All option, the study estimated that 55 percent of rural hospitals or more than 1,000 could be at high risk for closure, including eight in Nevada.

Even Sen. Warren has recognized that the plan she and Sanders have been backing could have an adverse impact on rural hospitals. A posting on her campaign website says, “Medicare for All will mean access to primary care and lower health costs for patients — and less uncompensated care for rural hospitals, helping them stay afloat. Elizabeth will create a new Medicare designation for rural hospitals that reimburses them at a higher rate and offers flexibility of services to meet the needs of their communities. Elizabeth will also strengthen antitrust protections to fight hospital mergers that increase costs, lower quality, and close rural facilities.”

How it will be paid for is not mentioned.

For his part Sanders blithely states online, “Rural people in particular have suffered the negative consequences that result from a lack of access to affordable, quality health care. Access to health care is a top issue for farmers and have some of the highest uninsured rate, in fact 41% of dairy farmers lack health insurance. With Medicare-for-All, small business owners, including farmers, will no longer have to worry about providing health care to their families or employees.”

Who will worry about paying for it?

According to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada already ranks 45th in the nation for active physicians per 100,000 population, 48th for primary care physicians and 50th for general surgeons.

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.

Ramirez cartoon

Newspaper column: No primaries would be better than blanket primaries

An initiative petition filed two weeks ago would, if successful, make political parties in Nevada largely irrelevant.

The proposal filed by Reno Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer seeks to change the June primary elections to a blanket system in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would be voted on by all registered voters no matter their party affiliation or no party affiliation. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election in November, no matter their party affiliations, if any.

A bill that would have done the same thing failed to get a vote in the 2017 legislative session.

This proposed change applies to statewide constitutional offices and other partisan races, such as the state Assembly and Senate and local political offices, as well as U.S. House and Senate elections. The presidential nomination process would still be determined by party caucuses.

Currently the state conducts primaries for the two major parties — Republican and Democrat — in which only registered voters who are members of those parties my participate. The winner in each party advances to the November ballot. Up until 2015 if one party did not post a candidate in a given race, the top two vote getters of the other party would advance to November. The Legislature changed the law so that only the winner of the party primary advanced. This resulted in some races being uncontested, though third party candidates such as the Independent American Party and the Libertarian Party of Nevada could and did file for the General Election.

In fact, in one Assembly race in 2016 a Libertarian candidate garnered nearly 40 percent of the vote in the General Election.

The blanket system — sometimes pejoratively called the “jungle primary” system — apparently would require all candidates to be on the primary ballot, leaving voters only two choices in November.

Kieckhefer told the online Nevada Independent news outlet, “I’ve always had a fundamental problem with the idea we have taxpayer-funded elections, but citizens are required to join a private organization to participate. That always tasted wrong to me.”

According to data posted by the Secretary of State’s office 29 percent of Nevada’s active registered voters are either nonpartisan or registered as members of a minor party. Democrats account for 38 percent and Republicans 33 percent.

Frankly, we agree with the state senator about the unfairness of the state funding only the primaries of the two major parties. The whole concept of partisan party politics is to facilitate persons of like-minded political persuasions to organize and select candidates that promise to advance a given philosophy of governance.

We’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state conducts for just two parties. Let them pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.

A blanket primary system makes it more difficult for the average voter to weigh the various candidates based on past allegiances and opens the opportunity for Fifth Column candidates to claim to be what they are not. Faux Democrats or faux Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real favorite. It also lessens the visibility and potential for third party candidates who likely would be eliminated in the primary.

There is currently talk of South Carolina Republicans being encouraged to vote for socialist Bernie Sanders in that state’s primary to keep the Democratic presidential contest in turmoil. This is reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh’s self-styled “Operation Chaos” in 2008 in which he encouraged Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama to weaken Obama’s chances in November.

Politics is messy. Blanket state-run primaries create a different mess. One problem is called splintering, in which one party has perhaps only two candidates in the primary and another has a dozen office seekers, increasing the likelihood of one party winning both General Election slots.

Adding to the potential tumult, in 2019 lawmakers approved a law allowing people to register to vote on the day of an election.

For this proposal to advance backers must gather nearly 100,000 valid signatures by November with about 25,000 coming in each congressional district. If successful, the initiative would be presented to the 2021 Legislature, which would have 40 days to approve it. If not, it would appear on the 2022 ballot.

No primary would be better than a blanket primary. Let the parties choose their candidates as they see fit and at their own expense. That is freedom of association, and gives voters clearer choices.

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: Is the Equal Rights Amendment really worth implementing?

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined the attorneys general of Virginia and Illinois in filing a lawsuit seeking to force the recognition of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The ERA would dictate that no rights could be denied or abridged “on account of sex.” A constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38. In January Virginia become the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Illinois was the 37th in 2018 and Nevada the 36th in 2017.

The problem is that Congress set a 1982 deadline for ratification. Further, five states have since rescinded their ratifications.

The lawsuit argues that Article 5 of the Constitution, spelling out the amendment process, does not permit either a deadline or rescinding of ratification.

The suit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to declare the amendment valid and order U.S. Archivist David Ferriero to certify the ERA as such.

Ferriero has refused to certify the amendment since receiving a Justice Department opinion stating Congress has the right to impose a deadline, citing a 1921 case in which the Supreme Court found that Congress was within its authority to impose a seven-year deadline for passage of the 18th Amendment, which established Prohibition.

Nonetheless, the 18-page suit contends Article 5 does not allow imposing such deadlines on the states, nor does it allow rescinding ratification.

During a conference call this past week announcing the filing of the lawsuit, Attorney General Ford declared, “Let me begin by saying something that I firmly believe and I have always believed, and that’s that women have always been endowed with equal rights, even though our country has wrongly failed to recognize them. These rights are entitled to the rightful place in the Constitution, and I am committed to ensuring that they are permanently written to our nation’s history in its features. Advancing civil rights is one of my administration’s main areas of focus. It is a focus I have communicated to all the members of my office the second day on my job. Today I’m proud to file this lawsuit on behalf of women in Nevada, women all over the country. The gravity of this moment should not be underplayed.”

Ford quoted the key portion of the amendment, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

He pointed out that the original text of the Constitution did not even refer to women, and the only known use of the pronoun “she” in the Framers’ deliberations appeared in an ultimately rejected clause referring to fugitive slaves.

The ERA was first proposed in 1923, Ford recalled, and was backed by feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including his mother Denise Claiborne, who saw ratification as the only clearcut way to eliminate all legal gender-based discrimination in the United States.

“Opponents of the time viewed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as a move that would unravel what they called the traditional American society,” Ford continued. “It would unravel what they called protective laws like related to sexual assault and to alimony. … The tendency for a mother to receive child custody in a divorce case would be eliminated. The all-male military draft would be rendered unconstitutional. And those opposed to the ERA even suggested that single-sex restrooms could be outlawed by future courts.”

Frankly, in addition to the questions about whether the ERA should be recognized, those concerns Ford cited are far more real and possible today than when the ERA passed Congress in 1972.

In an era in which males who “identify” as females are granted access to women’s restrooms, locker rooms and allowed to compete in women’s athletics is it too far fetched to envision the courts interpreting the ERA as requiring gender neutral policies that sacrifice privacy and safety?

Might women have to register for the draft? Might the ERA eviscerate Title IX, which has increased opportunities for female athletes? What would become of the Violence Against Women Act and the Women, Infants and Children welfare program? What about accommodations in the workplace for pregnant women?

The ERA could also end any reasonable restrictions on abortions.

If courts side with these attorneys general, Congress and the states might soon have to consider an amendment repealing the ERA.

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.

Getty Images file photo