What prompted Fiore’s retort heard ’round the state?

Much has been made of Republican Assembly member Michele Fiore asking fellow Republican Assembly member Chris Edwards: “Could you just sit your ass down and be quiet?”

The debate was on an amendment to provide funding for litigation that might arise from enforcement of aspects of Assembly Bill 408, which originally sought to declare the state the owner of certain federal public lands within the state, but which had been gutted to merely seeking local law enforcement powers.

Here is what prompted the outburst:

The amendment failed on a voice vote. The bill failed on a vote of 34-8.

Thankful you live in low-tax Nevada? Not so fast, chief

Tell me again why Nevada needs to increase state spending by $1.3 billion and increase taxes to pay for it.

We’re just not taxed enough, our Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval insists, along with a majority of the state Senate, including all but four Republicans.

The Tax Foundation has come out with its 2015 Tax Freedom Day stats, and it turns out Nevada’s tax burden in federal, state and local taxes as a percent of total income ranks 26th in the nation — right in the middle. That means it takes Nevadans until April 20 this year — 110 days into the year — to start earning money we can keep, instead of paying taxes. Nationally, Tax Freedom Day is April 24.

“Americans will pay $3.3 trillion in federal taxes and $1.5 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total bill of more than $4.8 trillion, or 31 percent of the nation’s income,” the Tax Foundation calculates, noting that the tax burden in 1900 was 5.9 percent of income.

Americans will spend more on taxes in this year than on food, clothing, and housing combined. If federal borrowing were included it would take another 14 days to cover the government tab.

 

Assembly committee finally hears opposition to bill that would weaken state’s anti-SLAPP law

A bill to drastically alter Nevada’s strong anti-SLAPP law (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) breezed through state Senate where never was heard a disparaging word. The only testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee was from a California attorney who helped draft the bill on behalf of Wynn Resorts, whose owner over the years has filed a few defamation suits against those who commented about him in a manner he did not like.

This morning the Assembly

Marc Randazza

Marc Randazza

heard nearly three hours of testimony for and against Senate Bill 444 — previously discussed here and here.

That aforementioned California attorney, Mitchell Langberg, and Senate Judiciary Chair Greg Brower said the bill restores balance to state anti-SLAPP law because a 2013 revision went too far in favor of defendants, and now those who have been damaged by defamatory comments have too great a burden to prove their case and face crippling court costs and attorney fees if they fail to show there is clear and convincing evidence in their favor. They argued for SB444’s standard of proof, which requires only prima facia evidence.

Brower accused those who now come out in opposition to the bill of using exaggerated rhetoric. He singled out a Las Vegas newspaper editorial this week that said: “SB444 would amend Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law by erasing the provision that provides defendants with penalty compensation; by shifting the burden of proof to defendants and requiring them to show a plaintiff’s claims are false; and by giving plaintiffs more time for discovery, which would ensure that claims take longer to litigate and are capable of bankrupting defendants.”

Brower denied the bill shifts the burden, though it does change the criteria for plaintiffs from clear and convincing to only prima facia.

The bill does include “limited discovery,” which one committee member noted can be quite expensive. The bill still allows a successful defendant to recover costs, but it would repeal a section that allows $10,000 in damages to a successful defendant.

Langberg at one point seemed to imply that the only recourse for a person who had been falsely accused — in an Internet business review for example — was vindication by a jury. Can’t people effectively counter false speech with truthful speech? And are people so gullible that they really believe whatever salacious slander they read on the Internet?

Langberg made a point of noting that the Nevada Constitution guarantees freedom of speech but also says people are responsible for the abuse of that right.

Article 1, Section 9 says:

“Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions and civil actions for libels, the truth may be given in evidence to the Jury; and if it shall appear to the Jury that the matter charged as libelous is true and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted or exonerated.”

 Truth is a defense, but SB444 deletes a section of the current law that declares immune from litigation a communication “which is truthful or is made without knowledge of its falsehood.”

Both Trevor Hayes, a former Review-Journal business writer and now an attorney representing the Nevada Press Association, and John L. Smith, a longtime R-J columnist and book author, both said the proposed change to the anti-SLAPP law could have a chilling effort on reporting and commentary across all media. Hayes noted that newspapers today are far less profitable and a major consideration about publishing a story would be whether it could cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation cost.

Attorney Marc Randazza, who helped draft the current law, countered SB444 proponents who said no other state has such a strong anti-SLAPP law by saying states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are considering adopting statutes similar to Nevada’s. He said he would have no problem acting as an attorney for a person who believes he or she has been defamed, desite Nevada’s strong anti-SLAPP law, because he does his homework and makes sure he has the evidence.

“Frankly, I do get calls, frequently, from people who ask me, ‘Won’t just file it? I know we don’t have much chance of winning, but we’ll drag these guys into discovery and they don’t want that,'” Randazza said. “When that happens I do hear the cash register ringing in my ears. And I think I could keep this case going for 18 months or so. I don’t use my law license that way. I won’t do it, because I believe in freedom of expression and I don’t believe in bullying people with lawsuits designed to suppress their First Amendment rights.”

One witness who said he writes about online poker said he would move to Texas if SB444 passes rather than face the risk of litigation.

Others said companies have moved to Nevada because of its free speech protections embodied in law.

The committee, chaired by Republican Ira Hansen, a former columnist for the Sparks Tribune, was adjourned without taking a vote.

Here is testimony by columnist Smith:

Attorney Allen Lichtenstein, formerly with the ACLU, is on Smith’s left and also testified against the bill. Though the suit against Smith was dismissed, he was not awarded costs and fees.

The hearing on SB444 can be seen online. It begins 30 minutes into the meeting.

 

 

 

 

R-J advertising online for new publisher

The Las Vegas newspaper has posted an ad for a new publisher on journalismjobs.com.

Pay no attention to the fact the ad misspells the newspaper’s own name, leaving the hyphen out of Review-Journal, nor the fact the ad says the paper was first published in 1909, though the paper claims to trace its beginnings to the Las Vegas Age, which began in 1905 and was later absorbed by the Las Vegas Review.

But perhaps most telling is the fact the ad lists the paper’s Sunday circulation as 138,000, even though the story that recounts the purchase of the paper by New Media Investment Group, the parent of GateHouse Media, lists the Sunday circulation as 184,000. Rapid cancellations or inflated figure to begin with?

Currently the paper has an interim publisher.

If your talents lie in the area of journalism, news coverage, opinion writing, strong editing — you need not apply. As the ad makes abundantly clear, the new owner’s primary focus is to make money. As previous owner Donald W. Reynolds used to say, the mark of a good newspaper is that it makes money.

Here is the job description with emphasis added:

Description:

GateHouse Media LLC, is searching for a visionary leader to guide the Las Vegas Review Journal, headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, into a new era.  First published in 1909, theReview Journal is the leading news organization in Las Vegas and publishes high-quality, local content while offering innovative multimedia marketing solutions. The newspaper has a Sunday circulation of 138,000, and over half a milion local adults consume the Review Journal’s news and information through print, online and mobile & tablet devices.  The Review Journal holds a unique position as the influential voice across the entire Las Vegas valley and plays a critical role in lives of its residents, readers and advertisers. The Review Journal is annually recognized by the Nevada Press Association for its news and feature reporting, photography, editorial writing, and page design.

As Publisher, the individual is responsible for the strategic, operational, and financial success of the Review Journal portfolio. We are seeking a proven leader who understands the critical balance between a print and digital revenue focus, along with the continued need to diversify revenue streams across multiple business lines.  Las Vegas is a rapidly growing market and the Publisher must be willing to dive deep into the local business community and be an influential part of setting the local business agenda.  Furthermore, our ideal candidate will have demonstrated a progressive history of revenue growth in Digital Marketing Services for small to medium sized businesses (SMB’s) and be able to evaluate market & audience opportunities for digital product development.

If you are a passionate team leader with an entrepreneurial approach, thrive on running a multi-faceted business, and excel in working with your leadership team to develop strategies, execute plans and achieve results, we want to speak with you about this exciting opportunity.

Our preferred candidates can readily discuss how they have created and led a culture of engagement, communication, accountability, and inclusion, and the steps they took to develop an organization that embraces change, encourages small failures, and empowers innovation.  This person must be able to inspire and motivate an organization built on continued success.

Qualifications:

·         Rich, prior experience leading media and digital organizations

·         A proven track record of leading change and delivering financial performance goals

·         High digital acumen with prior experience leading digital media strategies

·         An unwavering commitment to local journalism

·         An established history of increasing and diversifying revenues

·         Excellent strategic planning, organizational, analytical, and financial management skills

·         Exceptional interpersonal, verbal, and written communication skills

·         A Bachelors Degree or comparable experience required

When the newspaper gives different ‘play’ to similar political stories

Banner story on Flores announcing Democratic candidacy for Congress.

Banner story on Flores announcing Democratic candidacy for Congress.

Consistency is not the local newspaper’s forte.

As I pointed out when the Las Vegas Review-Journal displayed Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy on the front page but relegated the GOP candidate announcements to inside pages, once upon a time newspapers tried to balance the significance of the news with the fairness of the coverage. For example, the announcements of candidacy for elective office by the major contenders were given similar “play” in the paper whenever possible — same page in the paper and same size photos was ideal.

Today the R-J’s banner story is former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores’ announcing her bid for the Democratic nomination for the 4th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Cresent Hardy.

When state Sen. Ruben Kihuen announced his bid for the Democratic nomination, it was displayed on 2B in the next day’s paper. It also was a shorter story, too.

I suspect it is less a display of favoritism than just a lack of due diligence to fundamental principles of fairness. Who is minding the store?

And they lived obliviously ever after.

Kihuen announcement of Democratic bid for Congress was on 2B.

Kihuen announcement of Democratic bid for Congress was on 2B.

 

 

 

Newspaper column: Proposed law takes the slap out of anti-SLAPP law

Slinking quietly through the Nevada Legislature is a bill that would gut the state’s strong anti-SLAPP law that was once called the gold standard of such laws.

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and is generally defined as vexatious litigation solely designed to squelch free speech under the burden of expensive, tedious and lengthy court wrangling, but mostly expensive.

Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law has been around for years, but it was updated in the 2013 session of the Legislature to give it more bite.

But Senate Bill 444 seeks to pull its teeth.

When the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chair Greg Brower, a Republican lawyer, said the bill merely fixed some problems with the 2013 version. It has since been passed unanimously by the full Senate without so much as a lowing moan from the oxen it will gore.

There are no fingerprints on the bill. No senator is listed as a sponsor. It sprang from the skull of the Senate Judiciary Committee, full grown and dressed in a full set of armor. The bill was filed at the request of Wynn Resorts, whose owner has filed several defamation suits over the years.

I wrote about the anti-SLAPP law in 2010, when a choir teacher at the Churchill County High School sued a student journalist at the school’s student newspaper for writing an article saying parents were upset that she withheld certain students’ audition tapes from a state musical competition.

The teachers union tried to block publication of the story, calling it “inappropriate and disruptive to the teaching-learning environment,” but both the superintendent and principal approved it.

In a strongly worded ruling Judge William Rogers found the litigation utterly without merit, writing that the motion to dismiss may not be overcome “on the gossamer threads of whimsy, speculation and conjecture.”

The judge cited Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statute, which at the time stated: “If an action is brought against a person based upon a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition: … The person against whom the action is brought may file a special motion to dismiss …” The defendants did and the judge did.

But SB444 will make it tougher for defendants such as that student journalist.

First, it cuts the time for filing an anti-SLAPP motion from 60 to 20 days after being served with the suit, barely enough time to find a suitable lawyer up to speed on First Amendment issues.

But worse, the law eviscerates the level of proof a plaintiff must show to have the anti-SLAPP motion dismissed. Currently a plaintiff must show “clear and convincing evidence” of a probability of prevailing in the suit. SB444 reduces this to “prima facie evidence,” completely shifting the burden of proof.

Though it may seem a subtle distinction, the phrase “good faith” has been excised from the law. The current law incorporated a concept from the Times v. Sullivan case from the civil rights era that found public officials could not sue for libel so long as there was no reckless disregard for the truth of an accusation. SB444 deletes a section of the current law that declares immune from litigation a communication “which is truthful or is made without knowledge of its falsehood.”

The new law also repeals a section that had allowed defendants hit by a SLAPP suit up to $10,000 in damages. The chances of having to pay out $10,000 was a deterrent against frivolous lawsuits intended to gag free speech.

Another subtlety is a change in the law’s protection for matters of “public interest” to matters of “public concern.” An online blog posting about how good or bad a job a plumber did might be of public interest but is it a public concern? Could that plumber sue the blogger under the revised law but not the prior? SB444 states that concern “means any topic that concerns not only the speaker and the speaker’s audience, but the general public, and is not merely a subject of curiosity or general interest.”

There is a risk to filing an anti-SLAPP motion if one is unsuccessful. Both the current law and the proposed law allow a plaintiff who fends off an anti-SLAPP motion to be awarded costs and attorney fees, but the proposed law considerably increases the chances of the plaintiff prevailing.

There is nothing in the current law that needs to be fixed. The Assembly should derail this attempt to gag free speech.

This week Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith and capital bureau reporter Sean Whaley both wrote about the SB444.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee is to hear testimony on the bill Friday morning.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Only four state senators vote against governor’s margin tax lite

Only four state senators had the gumption today to vote against the governor’s margin tax lite, which taxes businesses based on their gross receipts in the same way as the proposal on November’s ballot, which was defeated by voters by a 4-to-1 margin.

The four were Republicans Pete Giocoechea, Donald Gustavson, Scott Hammond and James Settelmeyer. That means seven Republicans and all the Democrats voted for Senate Bill 252, making the final vote 17-4. It now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is unknown.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Controller Ron Knecht jointly sent out a press release calling on the Assembly to reject the bill. Press release on SB252

“To propose a tax that has been explicitly rejected by Nevada voters displays a blatant disregard for the democratic process. The Governor has called for alternatives. Those have been provided. They should be considered along with reprioritizing several proposed expenditures,” said Schwartz.

Assembly member Michele Fiore sent out an email pointing out that SB252 has 1,811 unique tax brackets based upon gross receipts. (The state Constitution states: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”)

She noted that the unemployment rate is still 7.1 percent in Nevada and “the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.”

Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Executive Vice President Victor Joecks commented:

“The voters of Nevada made clear in November that they do not want to impose a gross-receipts business tax, yet today the Senate passed a similar tax. Unlike the 17 Senators who voted in favor of SB252, Nevada voters recognized that raising taxes on businesses that are struggling or even losing money will only hurt families and parents throughout Nevada.”

Actually, as a survey reported by NPRI points out, Nevada voters apparently aren’t paying any attentionThe poll, conducted by Google Consumer Surveys in March, found 89.4 percent either did not know Sandoval supports the largest tax increase in Nevada history or mistakenly thought the governor supports keeping taxes low.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said the so-called business license fee based on gross receipts will eventually rake in $250 million a year. The Nevada Registered Agent Association commissioned a study that says his figure is off by $65 million. NRAA Study

When Texas launched its margin tax it was expected to bring in $5.9 billion a year, but only netted $4.45 billion its first year and $4 billion the next.

Never mind that most of what Sandoval plans to spend on improving education will not work and has not worked when tried elsewhere.

Giocoechea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gustavson

Hammond

Settelmeyer