Editorial: Courts should overturn ‘Red Flag’ law

A number of Nevada counties have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions in response to state lawmakers passing a “Red Flag” law in 2019 that would allow persons accused of being a potential danger to themselves or others to have their firearms confiscated by order of a judge.

But rather than threatening to flout the law, the better route is the one taken by Elko County commissioners recently and that is to challenge the law in the courts. The commissioners voted to join a lawsuit filed in December by attorneys for NevadansCAN (Citizens Action Network) that argues the “Red Flag” section of Assembly Bill 291, which was passed on a near party-line vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, is unconstitutional because it violates the right to due process and the right to keep and bear arms — as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Nevada Constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for security and defense …”

According to the Elko Daily Free Press, at the start of the meeting Elko County Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza declared, “On Jan. 7, 2019, I was elected sheriff of Elko County. I took an oath to protect the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Nevada. I’m here to tell the lawmakers to keep your hands off our guns.”

He was quoted as saying, “Let’s enforce the laws that we have which are reasonable instead of enacting more laws which are unconstitutional. … A great president once said this country cannot be defeated in combat, but it can be defeated within. Right now this country is crumbling, slowly, due to weak-minded politicians and lawmakers who push unconstitutional laws for personal gains and to fill their pockets.”

He received several rounds of applause the newspaper reported.

The litigation appears to have sound legal footing due to a recent unanimous Nevada Supreme Court ruling. The court found that gun ownership is such a fundamental right that it cannot be taken away merely by a judge’s ruling, opining that a person charged with misdemeanor domestic battery is entitled to a trial by jury, because the state Legislature in 2017 enacted a law saying someone convicted of such a crime could have their right to keep and bear arms denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that only those persons charged with a “serious” crime are entitled to a jury trial. The unanimous Nevada opinion written by Justice Lidia Stiglich states the change in state law to prohibit firearms possession by someone convicted of domestic violence effectively increases the “penalty” and makes the crime “serious” rather than “petty.”

“In our opinion, this new penalty — a prohibition on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by both the United States and Nevada Constitutions — ‘clearly reflect[s] a legislative determination that the offense [of misdemeanor domestic battery] is a serious one,’” Stiglich wrote in a case out of Las Vegas.

The NevadansCAN lawsuit declares, “This (“Red Flag”) law makes mincemeat of the due process of law, will endanger law enforcement and the public, and is a tool for stalkers and abusers to disarm innocent victims. Empirical data is available that nearly a third of such orders are improperly issued against innocent people, in states with experience of the operation of such a law.”

Proponents of such laws often cite the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting that left 58 country music concert goers dead in Law Vegas as justification, but neither this “Red Flag” law nor the recently enacted tougher background check law would have prevented that tragedy.

AB291 defies the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, the Fifth Amendment right to not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law and the 14th Amendment prohibition against states abridging the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens.

It must be overturned and litigation is the proper route to do so.

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: 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

Editorial: Why the NEPA rules needed streamlining

While Democrats in Congress were having palpitations and forecasting climate catastrophe as a result of the Trump administration’s streamlining of rules governing the review of federally funded infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, Nevada’s lone Republican representative in Congress took the time to review the rules and finds the changes long overdue.

President Trump announced earlier this month that environmental reviews of such things as roads, bridges, pipelines and power transmission lines were taking far too long and were too burdensome. The average review was taking four-and-a-half years and ran nearly 700 pages, one of the longest was for a 12-mile expansion of Interstate 70 in Denver. That took 13 years and exceeded 16,000 pages, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The new rules prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality limit major projects to two years and 300 pages or a year and 75 pages for smaller environmental assessments. More difficult cases could be extended with approval of federal officials.

Rep. Mark Amodei (AP pix)

Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, concluded that the process had been weaponized by those with a political agenda rather than a legitimate concern for natural resources and the environment.

“If the answer for something needs to be no, then fine, say no and say why and let people get to the courts or not, whatever they want, but using the due process — and I use that phrase loosely — the administrative process of NEPA to de facto kill things through basically, ‘It’s going to take you a decade and we’re hoping that you shrivel up and die,’ was not intended by anybody,” Amodei said in a recent interview. “Those procedures have been weaponized to the point that there’s nothing really to do with the resources or the facts on the ground.”

Amodei noted as an example of this weaponization the prolonged debates and litigation over the habitat of the greater sage grouse in Nevada and other Western states — especially attempts to block mining permits.

“If it’s about your political agenda that’s one thing, but if it’s really about the resources, we went through a lot of that on the sage hen stuff. If it is really about fragmentation and loss of habitat, then let’s talk about that,” the congressman said. “Talk about how we fix that, but if it’s just really about you just hate mining companies. While we’ve permitted in the last 20 years 150,000 acres of mining in the Great Basin, woodland fire has consumed, I don’t know, somewhere around 8 (million) or 10 million acres. If you really care about sage hens you ought to be talking about fuels management. While you may have permitted 150,000 acres of mining, they’ve also rehabbed habitat for mule deer and stream zones for fish.”

Amodei concedes there is a need for reviews, saying he knows there was a time when rivers caught fire. That was the low point, he said, and was why President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.

He noted that when he came into office eight years ago mining permits were constantly being challenged, but the big mining companies had the resources and staff to fight and win.

“Listen, nobody’s afraid of the truth but it shouldn’t be something where it is really not about the truth but it is about how long we can draw out getting to that,” he said. “I interact with a lot of the federal land managers around the state on a regular basis in my oversight capacity and I can tell you this, it is my opinion and I’m not criticizing any of them. Frankly, those agencies give a lot of thought to the probability or possibility that they are going to get litigated. These folks who have abused the NEPA process count that as money in the bank: ‘We’re gonna sue you,’” noting this is why a deadline is necessary.

Amodei again pointed out that there is nothing in the rules saying the federal land agencies can’t say no to a project that would truly be demonstrably harmful. “So somebody puts an application in where it’s like, hey, this is in the middle of the last known habitat of the desert pup fish and you propose to fill in the spring and obliterate the whole of the species forever. If the answer to that is supposed to be no, say no,” he said.

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: Clark County teachers union pushing huge tax hike

The Clark County teachers union this past week launched two tax hiking ballot initiatives that would raise Nevada taxes by $1.4 billion — devastating the state’s economy and doing nothing to actually improve the quality of education.

One proposal 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 that is estimated would raise $1.1 billion a year. 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 rate, the tax would jump from 6.85 percent to 8.35 percent.

The teachers union said the money could be spent to reduce class sizes and counter teacher attrition — meaning pay raises.

Sales taxes are highly regressive. The poor pay a much higher percentage of their incomes, making the poor even poorer.

Also, the label Local School Support Tax is now a misnomer. The 2019 Legislature revamped the statewide school funding formula in such a way that local sales taxes no longer go to local schools. Assembly Bill 543 swept all local taxes into one statewide pool. Instead of simply funding schools on a per pupil basis, the money is allocated in such a way that more money goes to schools with at-risk pupils — such as English learners, children of the poor and those with disabilities.

John Vellardita, executive director of the CCEA. (R-J pix)

It is projected that the formula will drain money from rural schools into the larger districts, Clark and Washoe.

A recent article in the Lahonton Valley News about the newly created state Commission on School Funding reported that Elko County could lose $1,600 per student or nearly $16 million based on its nearly 10,000 enrollment. Douglas County estimated it would lose $8 million and Humboldt County about $4 million.

The other measure being pushed by the Clark County Education Association would increase gaming taxes by 44 percent overall and raise more than $300 million for the state’s general fund. The gaming tax for larger casinos would jump from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent.

The Nevada Resort Association told the Nevada Independent, an online news outlet, that the tax hike would threaten jobs and damage the state’s economy.

The teachers union now has until Nov. 10 to collect nearly 100,000 signatures, with about 25,000 required in each of the state’s four congressional districts. If successful the two tax hikes would go before the 2021 Legislature and if passed there and signed by the governor could go into effect in July 2021. If not, the measure would go the voters on the November 2022 ballot and take effect the following January, if passed.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has yet to comment on the tax hike initiatives.

The voters were asked in 2014 to approve a 2 percent margins tax on businesses. The measure was rejected by 79 percent to 21 percent of voters. Despite this unequivocal rejection at the ballot box, lawmakers a few short months later passed a similar, though somewhat smaller tax called the Commerce Tax. The tax passed with a two-thirds majority of the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and was signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. That was part of a record $1.5 billion increase in taxes, specifically targeted to improve education.

The Clark County Education Association announced in November that the tax hike initiatives were coming. It raised its members’ dues in order to raise $2 million to spend on the petition signature drive.

The problem with throwing more money at education and expecting Nevada’s cellar-dwelling education outcomes to improve is that it’s already been tried. Since 1960 Nevada has tripled inflation-adjusted public education funding, but college entrance exam scores have actually fallen slightly.

According to the National Education Association, in the 2017-18 school year Nevada educators’ average salaries ranked 26th in the nation, but Nevada high schoolers have the lowest composite ACT scores.

While the teacher unions keep pressing for higher salaries and funding in general, they have been fighting every effort to toughen teacher evaluations and tie compensation to performance in the classroom.

Linking performance to compensation will improve education. If approached and asked to sign one of these petitions, we suggest you politely decline.

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: New Nevada laws driving up the cost of doing business

Thanks to the Democrat-controlled 2019 legislative session it is going to be more expensive to do business in Nevada this year and in years to come.

The most expensive dictate from lawmakers takes effect July 1, when the first phase of Assembly Bill 456 kicks in raising the minimum wage in Nevada by 75 cents an hour. Currently the minimum wage for those with health insurance coverage is $7.25 an hour and $8.25 an hour for those without health benefits. The minimums increase to $8 and $9 this year and another 75 cents an hour each year until they reach $11 and $12 in 2024.

At the time of his signing the bill Gov. Steve Sisolak was quoted as saying, “Keeping working Nevadans stuck in a 10-year-old minimum wage erodes the real value and purchasing power of the wages of hardworking Nevadans. But with this bill, hundreds of thousands of working Nevadans will see a difference in their paycheck — extra hard-earned money they can use to put food on the table, save for their kids’ education, and re-invest into the economy.”

He did not deign to mention that some will go from minimum wage to no wage as jobs are eliminated and new jobs fail to be created. Others may see their hours cut to compensate for the higher wage cost. One study found the average low-wage worker in Seattle actually lost $125 a month when the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour. Not exactly what the lawmakers and the governor foresee for Nevada.

Of course, raising the minimum wage raises the cost of doing business, which translates immediately into higher costs for consumers. A Cato Institute analysis in 2012 found that a 10 percent increase in the U.S. minimum wage raises food prices by up to 4 percent. AB456 increases the minimum wage in Nevada by more than 50 percent in five years.

In a recent article, the Nevada Appeal in Carson City quoted Johnny Skowronek, owner of staffing company Square One Solutions and incoming Northern Nevada Human Resources Association president, as saying he expects the service and retail industries to be hurt the most by minimum wage increases.

“Most bars, restaurants, casinos and retail operations pay minimum wage, and they are going to have to pass costs onto consumers,” Skowronek said. “The price of everything is going to go up without question in order to absorb this additional hard cost.”

Laura Jacobsen, an attorney with the law firm of McDonald Carano, told the Appeal some businesses are likely to layoff workers and/or move key personnel into salaried positions.

“Businesses are doing audits now on their pay scales to see how many folks they can continue to employ, whether they need to eliminate some positions, or have someone higher up absorb more executive responsibilities and be put on salary,” Jacobsen said. “It makes sense to streamline now if they can, but moving folks into supervisor positions, you have to make sure they fit the definition of a very specific exemption under the law. You might really have to tailor that job description and consult legal counsel to make sure (employees) are properly classified as exempt from wage per hour and overtime laws.”

Not only did lawmakers hike the minimum wage, but they also more strictly defined what health coverage is adequate to qualify for the dollar lower minimum wage. Senate Bill 192 requires that for a health benefits package to qualify for the lower-tier minimum wage it must include: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use services, prescription drugs, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, pediatric services and other specified coverage.

On top of that Senate Bill 312 now requires private employers with 50 or more workers to provide 40 hours of paid leave each year for full-time workers.

Additionally, Senate Bill 166 adds the threat of civil penalties for any employer who fails live up to the requirement of equal pay for equal work based on gender.

Lawmakers should stop trying to “help” Nevada workers with laws that can do as much harm as good.

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.

Gary Varvel cartoon

Newspaper column: NEPA rules changes will benefit economy and environment

President Donald Trump announced this past week that his Council on Environmental Quality is streamlining the rules for major infrastructure projects — such as roads, bridges, pipelines and power transmission lines — required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, aiming to cut the approval time for such projects in half.

The council published the changes in the Federal Register on Friday, setting in motion a 60-day comment period. The changes are widely expected to be challenged in the courts by the usual self-styled environmental groups.

Businesses and labor unions hailed the proposal as long overdue, but environmental groups assailed it, saying the changes would contribute to climate change.

In an opinion piece penned for The Hill — Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions — argued that the changes would actually benefit the environment.

“Consistent with its environmental mission, modernizing NEPA will accelerate projects that improve the efficiency of our transportation and distribution systems, thereby reducing traffic congestion and associated emissions,” Donohue and McGarvey write. “It will also spur investment in renewable energy sources and transmission infrastructure, much of which is subject to delays by current NEPA procedures. And timelier implementation of conservation projects will help mitigate environmental impacts, such as damaging floods and wildfires.”

In recent years, major projects have taken an average of four-and-a-half years to be approved. The council aims to cut that to two years. A number of projects have taken far longer to be approved. An airport runway expansion in Taos, N.M., took 20 years. A highway and bridge project in Michigan to cut traffic congestion and, therefore, carbon emissions took 16 years. A Maryland public transit project stretched out for 14 years.

Trump announces changes to NEPA rules. (AP pix)

“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster,” Trump was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying at a White House press conference, where he was flanked by business and union leaders. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”

The Journal noted that business groups claim lengthy NEPA reviews are partly to blame for a nearly $1 trillion backlog in transportation projects alone.

Democratic House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona said in a press release, “Polluting industries need more public oversight, not less, and supporting this approach means ignoring real-world consequences in favor of Trump administration fairy tales. The courts have been crystal clear that NEPA requires considering climate impacts, so this is just another inevitably doomed effort by this administration to try to illegally rewrite the rules it doesn’t like.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee sent out a Twitter comment saying, “We’ve seen what happens if these major projects don’t have environmental impact reviews. Damaged ecosystems, increased pollution, and increased health risks. We can’t go backwards on this.”

Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei said Friday, “Since we’re only about 24 hours out from the release of the proposed changes, we’ll have more for you next week, but so far the concepts look good.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus tweeted, “While horrific fires create a crisis in Australia, President Trump still tries to deny climate change. It is inexcusable for the Trump Administration to put the President’s corporate allies ahead of our health and safety.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the administration of blocking any federal efforts to confront climate change. “These new guidelines undermine critical building requirements that ensure that our communities are able to withstand the growing threat posed by the climate crisis,” she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board, in an editorial condemning the NEPA rule changes, conceded, “In truth, NEPA probably does need a tune-up. The current regulations date back to 1978 and have been amended only once since, in 1986. It’s reasonable to assume that all those years of experience have exposed flaws and shortcomings that could be addressed to improve and expedite the environmental review process. But the Trump administration, with its open denial of climate change and its industry-friendly policies aimed at expanding the production of fossil fuels, is not to be trusted with such a task.”

The streamlining of the bureaucracy will both contribute to economic growth and add infrastructure that will actually cut pollution in most cases. The naysayers are basing their projections of climate crisis on speculation and models that have yet to predict anything accurately.

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: Homeland Security concerned about illegals driving legally

The acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ordered all the agencies under his purview to review the ramifications of state laws that allow illegal aliens to obtain driver authorization cards and restrict sharing data with immigration enforcement authorities.

Nevada is one of those 14 states.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 303 in 2013 and it was signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Ostensibly, the bill was intended to reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the roads, because it is difficult to obtain car insurance if one can’t legally drive.

But the bill, now ensconced in law as NRS 481.063, also dictates that the DMV “shall not release any information relating to legal presence or any other information relating to or describing immigration status, nationality or citizenship from a file or record relating to a request for or the issuance of a license, identification card or title or registration of a vehicle to any person or to any federal, state or local governmental entity for any purpose relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.”

This apparently was intended to assuage illegal aliens of the notion that obtaining a driver authorization card — which allows one to drive in Nevada but cannot be used for such things as boarding an aircraft — would subject them to actual enforcement of existing immigration law.

A March article in The Nevada Independent reported that there were at the time 49,000 active driver authorization cards issued in the state and another 3,500 learners’ permits for the cards.

What prompted Chad Wolf, the acting director of Homeland Security, to issue his memo this past week was the passage of similar laws in New York and New Jersey recently, according to The Daily Caller.

“Accordingly, I am instructing each operational component to conduct an assessment of the impact of these laws, so that the Department is prepared to deal with and counter these impacts as we protect the homeland,” Wolf’s memo read. Those components include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

After passage of the illegal alien driver authorization law in New York numerous county clerks pointed out that such a policy could pave the way for voter fraud, identity theft and even terrorism.

“Laws like New York’s greenlight law have dangerous consequences that have far reaches beyond the DMV,” Homeland Security spokeswomen Heather Swift was quoted as saying. “These types of laws make it easier for terrorists and criminals to obtain fraudulent documents and also prevent DHS investigators from accessing important records that help take down child pornography and human trafficking rings and combat everything from terrorism to drug smuggling.”

Wolf’s memo ordered agencies to determine what DMV information is currently available and what the consequences would be if that data were restricted.

“Never before in our history have we seen politicians make such rash and dangerous decisions to end all communication and cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement,” The Daily Caller further quoted Swift. “The Secretary is prepared to take every measure necessary to ensure the safety and security of the homeland and we look forward to the recommendations of our agents and officers in the field.”

Las Vegas newspaper columnist Victor Joecks pointed out in an April 2018 column that the DMV uses the same forms for those getting a driver authorization card as for those getting a regular driver’s license. At the bottom of the form is a voter registration application. The form asks whether the applicant is a citizen and old enough to vote, but requires no proof whatsoever. Neither does the Secretary of State’s office, which processes the voter registration.

Highway safety concerns are important, but state abrogation of federal immigration law and voter registration integrity is hardly justifiable.

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 is reshaping the federal judiciary — for the better

Thanks, Harry, because you exercised the “nuclear option” in 2013, ending the requirement that judges had to be confirmed by at least 60 senators instead of a simple majority, President Donald Trump has secured the appointments of about twice as many federal judges as each of his three predecessors — and most of them have been conservatives sworn to protect the fundamental liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the 50 circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, only 17 managed to garner the previously mandated 60 Senate votes. Among those was former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44 with both of Nevada’s Democratic senators choosing politics over principles and voting “nay.”

In November 2013, then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada exercised the nuclear option, calling for changing the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. It passed, 52-48 with three Democrats voting against changing the rules.

President Barack Obama praised the action saying Republicans were blocking his nominees based on politics alone, not on the merits of the nominee, according to a Politico account at the time.

Then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recess the Senate for the day to block the vote. “The solution to this problem is an election,” he said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014.”

Republicans regained the majority in the Senate in 2014. In 2017, now-Majority Leader McConnell further changed the rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a simple majority. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, and Brett Kavanaugh by 50-48.

In addition, the Senate has confirmed 133 of Trump’s federal district court nominees. While most of those garnered more than 60 recorded votes, many were confirmed by a voice vote.

In an editorial praising the caliber of the Trump judicial nominees, The Wall Street Journal noted, “The Trump-McConnell judiciary may be Harry’s finest achievement.”

The editorial noted that when Trump took office, Democratic appointees made up a majority on nine of the 13 circuit courts. Trump’s 2019 appointments flipped the majorities in the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuit Courts, meaning seven circuits now have a majority of Republican appointees.

In addition, the longtime uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which VanDyke was appointed, now consists of 16 Democratic appointees and 13 Republican appointees. “Expect fewer headlines featuring nationwide injunctions out of San Francisco,” the editorial opined.

The Journal editorial predicts, “The new wave of conservative judges is more likely to protect such core liberties as religious freedom, political speech and assembly, gun and property rights. Many will also be more alert to violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers, including regulatory abuses. Yet there are varying opinions on criminal law, executive authority, and the scope of judicial restraint, among other issues.”

Reid is nothing if not consistent. In a recent op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Reid complained, “Senate Republicans have hijacked our Supreme Court. They stole a seat that should have been filled by President Obama in 2016 and they rushed to confirm Brett Kavanaugh last year despite ample evidence that he lied to Congress. The result is the Supreme Court is now a ticking time bomb, set to blow up any meaningful progressive reforms for decades to come.”

He concedes his own role in the outcome, saying, “Changing the rules to confirm Obama’s highly qualified judges was the right and necessary thing to do. If we had not done it, Donald Trump would have inherited more judicial vacancies than he already did, and then even more of his right-wing ideologues would be on the bench today eviscerating rights Americans have long held dear.”

Like the Second Amendment right to gun ownership? Or the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion? The rights delineated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?

A recent Washington Examiner editorial also notes what Reid has unintentionally wrought and concludes, “During his run for the presidency, Trump regularly and energetically promised to make a priority of putting well-credentialed conservatives of excellent character and scholarship on the federal bench. It is a promise he has kept, much to his credit and for the country’s greater good.”

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: State should not play favorites with tax breaks

Nevada’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has doled out billions of dollars worth of tax breaks to select companies over the past decade in order to entice them to make capital investments and create jobs, yet the state is one of 17 that has failed to create a systematic program for evaluating the effectiveness of those handouts, according to a recent article in Las Vegas Weekly, citing data compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Companies getting the tax breaks include giants such as Tesla Motors, Apple, Amazon, eBay and Switch.

According to Pew, without strict evaluation the cost, such tax incentives can easily exceed the benefits to the local economy.

The 2019 Legislature passed Assembly Bill 444, which would have created a legislative committee to study GOED tax incentives and make recommendations, but Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed it, saying it duplicated existing efforts. In October Sisolak appointed former Barrick Gold USA president Michael Brown to head the GOED.

“Michael’s decades-long career at the highest levels in business, coupled with his extensive experience in state and federal government, gives him an unparalleled perspective and expertise on what it takes to further GOED’s mission of promoting a robust, diversified, and prosperous economy for all Nevadans,” Sisolak said at the time.”

The Weekly quoted Brown as saying he plans to review some of the state’s incentive programs. “The governor has asked me to do a big think on this, to go back to the framework on this and design something that matches Nevada and [the governor’s] goals to help working class families,” Brown was quoted as saying.

The Nevada Independent recently quoted Sisolak as saying, “My vision of GOED is different than the previous administration. I’m not interested in quantity, I’m interested in quality. I’m interested in careers, not in minimum wage jobs that don’t have any room for advancement.”

A stricter evaluation of the handout program would be a welcome change, but perhaps the entire program should be reconsidered.

In a Washington Post article in 2014 Nathan Jensen, a political science professor at George Washington University, described tax incentives as bidding wars between states that amounted to a zero-sum game.

“Simply shifting companies from one state to the next does nothing, at least not right away, to create new openings for the millions of still unemployed Americans, Jensen added while presenting some of his latest economic development research,” the Post reported. “Nevertheless, nearly every municipality across the country offers some type of tax incentives to encourage existing companies to relocate, costing taxpayers around $70 billion annually.”

Jensen has compared job creation by companies in Kansas that were attracted to open there with huge tax incentives to similar firms that got no handouts. He found that six years after incentives were awarded, “the firms who received incentives actually generated slightly fewer jobs than those that didn’t receive incentives.”

It should also be noted that such handouts are constitutionally suspect. The Nevada Constitution declares, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It’s not uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

A 2018 report from the Cato Institute noted, “Politicians will tend to overuse targeted tax incentives because they create a clientele of voters (the ‘ribbon-cutting’ phenomenon). Broad-based low tax rates do not create a committed political constituency in the same way. But a state-by-state comparison shows that low taxes and other pro-market policies are the best way to grow jobs and economies.”

No matter how benign, the heavy hand of government seldom makes better choices than the invisible hand of the free market..

The next Legislature should at least consider evaluating the effectiveness of tax incentives, but, better yet, lawmakers should consider eliminating the GOED and treat all businesses equally as the Constitution dictates.

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.

Joel Pett cartoon