Can lawmakers raise a minimum wage established by a constitutional amendment?

Senate committee discusses bill to raise minimum wage in Nevada. (KOLO photo)

Senate committee discusses bill to raise minimum wage in Nevada. (KOLO photo)

Brian Fernley of the Legislative Counsel Bureau told the Senate’s Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee, which was hearing testimony on Senate Bill 106 this morning, that lawmakers could raise the minimum wage in Nevada even though the current minimum wage was established by constitutional amendment by the voters in 2004 and 2006.

His comments came after a woman, whose name I did not catch, testified in Las Vegas that in 2015 the LCB had opined that the minimum wage could only be raised by amending the state Constitution.

She read the the entire section of the 2015 LCB fact sheet that began: “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment,” but for a while had disappeared from the legislative website but was reproduced on this blog.

She also read the entire quotes posted here from a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that said the state legislature “has not the power to enact any law conflicting” with the state Constitution.

She used the phrases from the blog noting that the current LCB opinion is “diametrically opposite” of the opinion from two years ago, even though one of the LCB staff lawyers had told an Assembly committee hearing another minimum wage hike bill that the current opinion merely “updated and confirmed” its earlier opinion.

This morning Fernely told lawmakers:

“The Legislative Counsel has reviewed the provisions of this bill and the cases decided by the Supreme Court addressing the Nevada Constitution’s minimum wage amendment. It is a well established rule of state constitutional construction that the power of the Legislature to enact laws is extremely broad except where limited by the U.S. Constitution or the Nevada Constitution.

“In addition, any limitation on the Legislature’s power in the Nevada Constitution is to be strictly construed and the provisions of the Nevada Constitution must not be interpreted to inhibit the power of the Legislature unless the provision of the Constitution clearly prohibits the Legislature from acting.

“In case interpreting the minimum wage amendment the Nevada Supreme Court has held that only statutes that conflict with the constitutional amendment are prohibited by the amendment. In the Thomas versus Yellow Cab case the Supreme Court held there was an actual conflict between the constitutional amendment because the statute exempted certain employees from the minimum wage requirement but constitutional amendment did not contain such an exemption.

“In this case with this bill the constitutional amendment clearly states the employers must pay a wage of quote at least the amounts set forth in the language of the constitutional amendment. Thus increasing the minimum wage by legislation would not conflict with the constitutional amendment and because there is no conflict with the constitutional amendment the Legislature has the power to enact legislation to increase the minimum wage. And that has been the opinion of the Legislative Counsel.”

First, the phrase “at least,” which Fernley indicated he was quoting, appears nowhere in the minimum wage amendment.

Second, that may now be the LCB opinion but it has not always been as such.

The amendment does state, “Each employer shall pay a wage to each employee of not less than the hourly rates set forth in this section,” which one might interpret as defining what a minimum wage is. It then goes on to state the minimum wage is to be the same as the federal minimum wage for those employers offering health insurance and a dollar higher for those who don’t, but that wage could be adjusted for inflation, whichever is greater.

So, the question is whether the lawmakers can set a “minimum wage” that is different from what the voters established.

The amendment does say the employee is to be paid “not less than the hourly rates set forth,” but it then goes to set forth what that floor is. Does the amendment establish both a floor and a ceiling? Does the phase “not less than” open the door for lawmakers ratchet up the minimum to whatever they choose?

That Thomas v. Yellow Cab case cited by Fernley also includes a Latin phrase used in the law: expressio unius est exclusio alterius, which means the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.

Therefore, one should ask: Does the precise expression of what the minimum wage shall be in the constitutional amendment exclude the lawmakers from defining it as something else entirely?

I guess it depends on who you ask and when you ask it.

This is the minimum wage amendment:

Payment of minimum compensation to employees.

A.  Each employer shall pay a wage to each employee of not less than the hourly rates set forth in this section. The rate shall be five dollars and fifteen cents ($5.15) per hour worked, if the employer provides health benefits as described herein, or six dollars and fifteen cents ($6.15) per hour if the employer does not provide such benefits. Offering health benefits within the meaning of this section shall consist of making health insurance available to the employee for the employee and the employee’s dependents at a total cost to the employee for premiums of not more than 10 percent of the employee’s gross taxable income from the employer. These rates of wages shall be adjusted by the amount of increases in the federal minimum wage over $5.15 per hour, or, if greater, by the cumulative increase in the cost of living. The cost of living increase shall be measured by the percentage increase as of December 31 in any year over the level as of December 31, 2004 of the Consumer Price Index (All Urban Consumers, U.S. City Average) as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor or the successor index or federal agency. No CPI adjustment for any one-year period may be greater than 3%. The Governor or the State agency designated by the Governor shall publish a bulletin by April 1 of each year announcing the adjusted rates, which shall take effect the following July 1. Such bulletin will be made available to all employers and to any other person who has filed with the Governor or the designated agency a request to receive such notice but lack of notice shall not excuse noncompliance with this section. An employer shall provide written notification of the rate adjustments to each of its employees and make the necessary payroll adjustments by July 1 following the publication of the bulletin. Tips or gratuities received by employees shall not be credited as being any part of or offset against the wage rates required by this section.

B.  The provisions of this section may not be waived by agreement between an individual employee and an employer. All of the provisions of this section, or any part hereof, may be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is explicitly set forth in such agreement in clear and unambiguous terms. Unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment by either party to a collective bargaining relationship shall not constitute, or be permitted, as a waiver of all or any part of the provisions of this section. An employer shall not discharge, reduce the compensation of or otherwise discriminate against any employee for using any civil remedies to enforce this section or otherwise asserting his or her rights under this section. An employee claiming violation of this section may bring an action against his or her employer in the courts of this State to enforce the provisions of this section and shall be entitled to all remedies available under the law or in equity appropriate to remedy any violation of this section, including but not limited to back pay, damages, reinstatement or injunctive relief. An employee who prevails in any action to enforce this section shall be awarded his or her reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

C.  As used in this section, “employee” means any person who is employed by an employer as defined herein but does not include an employee who is under eighteen (18) years of age, employed by a nonprofit organization for after school or summer employment or as a trainee for a period not longer than ninety (90) days. “Employer” means any individual, proprietorship, partnership, joint venture, corporation, limited liability company, trust, association, or other entity that may employ individuals or enter into contracts of employment.

D.  If any provision of this section is declared illegal, invalid or inoperative, in whole or in part, by the final decision of any court of competent jurisdiction, the remaining provisions and all portions not declared illegal, invalid or inoperative shall remain in full force or effect, and no such determination shall invalidate the remaining sections or portions of the sections of this section.

[Added in 2006. Proposed by initiative petition and approved and ratified by the people at the 2004 and 2006 General Elections.]

 

 

 

Editorial: Lawmakers waste time on changing Columbus Day law

Lawmakers have just 120 days every other year to take care of business, and they are always complaining that there just isn’t enough time to get it done.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that is because they spend an incredible amount of time in pointless, posturing, pandering paper pushing.

Democratic state Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, who never misses a chance to cater to the far left wing of his party, has introduced a bill — we are not making this up — to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. It is Senate Bill 105.

Columbus Day has not been an official state holiday in Nevada for years, but there is a vestigial law on the books that states: “The Governor of this State is authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation designating the second Monday in October as ‘Columbus Day’ in commemoration of the arrival of Cristoforo Columbo in the New World.”

Segerblom would replace this symbolic immaterial gesture with this symbolic immaterial gesture: “The Governor is authorized and requested to annually proclaim the second Monday in October as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ to celebrate the thriving culture and significant value that Indigenous people add to the State of Nevada and the United States of America.”

If they want to repeal the pointless paper shuffling to “commemorate” a day in history, fine. Repeal it. It is still history. But replacing it with pointless paper shuffling is typical Democratic pandering to its paramount platform of identity politics. It is downright Pavlovian.

The Las Vegas newspaper reported: “Segerblom said the bill recognizes the millions of Native Americans who died in conflicts when European settlers moved into the country and claimed land as their own, and shows an appreciation for their contributions to society.”

That account goes on to inform its readers that Columbus is “credited with ‘discovering’ the Americas. But historians have debunked that as myth, saying he sailed around the Caribbean but never came to North America,” paying no heed to the fact the Caribbean islands are part of North America nor the fact he did land in South America. Both locales are part of the so-called New World.

The allegations that Columbus engaged in brutal acts against the natives is never balanced with any reference to wars between tribes or attacks on those evil invading Europeans. Don’t they teach about the French and Indian War any more?

Try reading a bit of history, including the accounts from late in the 19th century when the Plains Indians were actually successfully and brutally, though briefly, pushing back against encroachment by settlers.

These are the same Democrats who want to remove the statue of mid-20th century Democratic Sen. Pat McCarran from the U.S. Capitol because he was a racist during an era when the Democratic Party pushed segregationist laws and policies.

Erase history and change the present and/or the future?

Rather Orwellian if you ask us? History is history. Denigrating or exalting one aspect or another is a frivolous endeavor.

Perhaps our idle lawmakers should change the name of Genoa, since it is named after Columbus’ home town in Italy, despite the different pronunciation.

Apparently having the second Tuesday of February during each regular session of the Legislature designated as Nevada Tribes Legislative Day and recognizing the fourth Friday of September as Native American Day isn’t nearly enough to satiate the Democrats’ desire to curry favor with certain ethnic enclaves.

The current law that authorizes and requests that the governor designate Columbus Day does the same for Tartan Day for Scots, Juneteenth for African-Americans, Cesar Chavez Day for Hispanics, Mineral Industry Week for miners, Veterans Day for veterans, Week of Respect for victims of bullying, plus several others.

The vote in the Senate Committee on Government Affairs to approve SB105 was 4-1. Someone please wad up this bill and toss it in the nearest unused spittoon. That would be most apropos.

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.

 

For lack of a copyeditor a bear was killed

This AP story is all over the internet today:

“LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada man is expected to return to court in Las Vegas next week in a grizzly 2011 murder case after the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that his earlier guilty plea was illegal.”

A murder can be grisly or horrifying, but a grizzly is a type of brown bear.

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone. (NatGeo pix)

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone. (NatGeo pix)

 

Newspaper column: Minimum wage bill doesn’t pass constitutional muster

Lisa Benson cartoon

Lisa Benson cartoon

Democrats in the Nevada Legislature have introduced Senate Bill 106, which proposes to amend the state minimum wage law by raising the minimum wage by 75 cents an hour each year until it reaches $11 an hour for employers who provide health insurance and $12 an hour for those who do not — a 50 percent increase.

There is one minor problem with SB106. You see, that minimum wage law was last amended by an initiative petition approved by the voters in 2004 and again in 2006, which amended the state Constitution to require that the minimum wage be tied to the federal minimum wage or inflation, whichever is higher.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and thus that is Nevada’s minimum for employers who offer insurance and it is $8.25 for those who do not.

According to a Legislative Counsel Bureau fact sheet published in 2015, “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment.”

In fact, the Nevada Supreme Court in 2014 opined in a case specifically about the minimum wage law: “If the Legislature could change the Constitution by ordinary enactment, ‘no longer would the Constitution be “superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means.” It would be ‘on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts … alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.’”

Seems rather unequivocal. None of the major news media noticed this minor flaw in the bill.

Just such a constitutional amendment was proposed by initiative petition in late 2015, but that was dropped during the hectic election year, reportedly because of the difficulty of getting enough signatures to put it on the ballot. It would have raised the base minimum wage to $13 an hour.

Even if lawmakers manage to pass such a constitutionally suspect bill, it might not avoid the governor’s veto pen. Media accounts have quoted Gov. Brian Sandoval’s press secretary as saying, “Due to the predicted loss of jobs and harm to small businesses, the potential to block young people and individuals with less work experience from open positions, and an increase in consumer prices, the governor has historically opposed a legislative mandate to increase the minimum wage.”

A minimum wage hike would clearly affect profitability of employers, tend to push all hourly wage rates up, result in higher unemployment, drive certain employers out of the state and increase the cost of goods and services in general — thus affecting nearly everyone in Nevada.

The impact of such a change in either the law or the Constitution would be far ranging and carry unintended consequences.

“Unfortunately, the real minimum wage is always zero,” economist Thomas Sowell points out in his book “Basic Economics,” “regardless of the laws, and that is the wage that many workers receive in the wake of the creation or escalation of a government-mandated minimum wage, because they either lose their jobs or fail to find jobs when they enter the labor force.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that if the federal minimum wage were increased to a mere $10.10 an hour — as proposed by President Obama and others in recent years — up to a million workers would lose their jobs.

According to the American Enterprise Institute, when the minimum wage rose 41 percent between 2007 and 2009, the jobless rate for 16- to 19-year-olds increased by 10 percentage points, from about 16 percent in 2007 to more than 26 percent in 2009 — even higher for minorities.

A Heritage Foundation study reported that every dollar increase in minimum wage really only raises take-home pay by 20 cents once welfare benefits are reduced and taxes are increased.

A Cato Institute analysis reports that a “comprehensive review of more than 20 minimum wage studies looking at price effects found that a 10 percent increase in the U.S. minimum wage raises food prices by up to 4 percent and overall prices by up to 0.4 percent.” Imagine what a 50 percent increase would do.Minimum wage jobs tend to be entry level jobs without which younger Americans cannot build the skills needed to earn higher pay. Nevada already has the 10th highest youth unemployment rate in the nation at 13.5 percent.

Attempting legislatively to raise the minimum wage is a bad idea for many reasons.

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.

Update: On Wednesday the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor met to hear testimony on another minimum wage hike bill, Assembly Bill 175, which proposes to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $14 for employers who provide health insurance or from $8.25 to $15 for employers who don’t.

The question came up as whether the lawmakers have the authority change that law since the current law was establishes by constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 2004 and 2006.

The lawyer for the committee, Will Keane of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, responded: “I spoke with the Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes. She told me that our office thoroughly researched this during the 2015 legislative session and then updated and confirmed that research during the drafting of AB175 this session. She said that as result of their research it is the opinion of LCB legal, based on the rules of statutory and constitutional construction, that the provisions of the minimum wage amendment to the Nevada Constitution do not limit the inherent power of the Legislature to establish by statute a new minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage that is currently required by law.”

But that morning there was an LCB fact sheet from August 2015 posted on the Legislature’s website that read:

“Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment. There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One way is through the citizen initiative process. Citizen initiatives for constitutional amendments must be approved in identical form in two consecutive general elections. This is the process that enacted the current minimum wage requirements in the Constitution. The second way to amend the Constitution is through the legislative process. The Senate or Assembly may propose a constitutional amendment, which must pass in identical form with a majority of members of both houses in two consecutive biennial sessions. After that, the proposal must pass a popular vote during the next general election.”

By committee meeting time it had disappeared. Coincidence? The link now returns a 404 Error. But if you put the first sentence of the above fact sheet language into an Internet browser it will return to you a PDF titled: ”

Fact Sheet – 2015 Minimum Wage in Nevada

cached version of the list of LCB fact sheets online has a link to Minimum Wage in Nevada (August 2015), but that link also returns a 404 Error.

A little sleight of opinion? A little selective editing?

Most web archive and cache services also came up empty, but something called Old Home Page came up with this link. In case that too disappears here is a PDF: minimumwage

lcb-fact-sheet

August 2015 LCB Fact Sheet excerpt

So, tell us again how the LCB “updated and confirmed” the research it did in 2015 and the current opinion is diametrically opposite of its 2015 opinion, which has conveniently disappeared.

Be that as it may, a 2014 Nevada Supreme Court opinion in a case specifically about the minimum wage law is still online. That opinion states: “If the Legislature could change the Constitution by ordinary enactment, ‘no longer would the Constitution be “superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means.” It would be ‘on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts … alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.’ In this case, the principle of constitutional supremacy prevents the Nevada Legislature from creating exceptions to the rights and privileges protected by Nevada’s Constitution.”

The opinion also flatly stated: “It is fundamental to our federal, constitutional system of government that a state legislature “has not the power to enact any law conflicting with the federal constitution, the laws of congress, or the constitution of its particular State.”

Senate bill would emasculate political parties in Nevada

sb103

A bill has been introduced in Carson City that would jettison the current Democrat and Republican primaries in favor of an open primary system, in which anyone could sign up as a candidate and anyone could vote for anyone of any party or no party. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election, even if both are affiliated with the same party or no party.

The bill would make the two major political parties irrelevant in actually selecting their own candidates and reduce them to the role of merely endorsing candidates.

Senate Bill 103 was introduced by Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden.

Settelmeyer told the media that some of his constituents were upset that they could not vote in the primary because they were nonpartisan.

As of December, 39 percent of active Nevada voters were Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 28 percent nonpartisan or members of some other minor party.

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 — though in recent years the efficacy of this proposition has been suspect in Nevada with self-styled conservatives voting for history making tax hikes.

Now, I’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state puts on for the Democrat and Republican parties. Let those parties pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.

But the open primary system makes it more difficult 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 Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real selection.

In Louisiana in the 1970s Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards hatched a foolproof plan to end the Republican Party in that state. He pushed through an open primary under the assumption Republicans would not make it to the General Election, due to heavy Democratic majorities in the urban areas of the state, meaning two Democrats would face off in November.

But the best laid plans oft gang awry. In the next election there were seven Democrats on the gubernatorial ballot, one nonpartisan and one Republican. When the smoke cleared, Republican Dave Treen was elected governor, leading the way for the state to transition to Republican domination.

At least the open primary is better than letting anyone and everyone decide on Election Day in which primary they will vote.

Think of it this way. Political parties are like brands. Without brands who knows what adulterated product you are getting.

Politics is messy. Open primaries just make it messier.

At the turn of the previous century Baltimore’s notoriously curmudgeonly newspaper columnist, H.L. Mencken, pined for more realism in politics:

“I can imagine a political campaign purged of all the current false assumptions and false pretenses — a campaign in which, on election day, the voters went to the polls clearly informed that the choice between them was not between an angel and a devil, a good man and a bad man, but between two frank go-getters, the one perhaps excelling at beautiful and nonsensical words and the other at silent and prehensile deeds — the one a chautauqua orator and the other the porch-climber. There would be, in that choice, something free, candid and exhilarating. The Buncome would be adjourned. The voter would make his selection in the full knowledge of all the facts, as he makes his selection between two heads of cabbage, or two evening papers, or two brands of chewing tobacco. Today he chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be. The Scotch may turn out to be wood alcohol or it may turn out to be gasoline; in either case it is not Scotch. How much better if it were plainly labeled, for wood alcohol and gasoline both have their uses — higher uses, indeed that Scotch. The danger is that the swindled and poisoned consumer, despairing of ever avoiding them when he doesn’t want them, and actually enforce his own prohibition. The danger is that the hopeless voters, forever victimized by his false assumption about politicians, may in the end gather such ferocious indignation that he will abolish them teetotally and at one insane sweep, and so cause government by the people, for the people and with the people to perish from this earth.”

In 2014, only 59 percent of those eligible to vote in Nevada even bothered to register. Of those who registered, only 46 percent went to the polls in November, meaning 73 percent of those eligible to vote did not choose any brand of bootleg whiskey.

 

Editorial: Lawmakers should repeal football stadium funding

Lawmakers were summoned this past fall to Carson City and asked to pitch in $750 million toward financing a $1.9 billion domed football stadium that would house the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football program.

The Raiders and the NFL would add $500 million to the pot and Las Vegas casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson’s family would tip in another $650 million.

Since then Adelson has walked away from the deal, taking his money. He was miffed at the fact the Raiders’ owner never told him before hand about a proposed lease agreement with the stadium authority that legislators created to handle the “publicly owned” stadium.

The lease proposal envisions the Raiders paying $1 a year in rent, and the team owners pocketing all revenue from tickets, events, naming rights, etc., as well as having total control over the use of the stadium by UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl.

“In addition to being discouraged by the surprise submission, I was deeply disappointed for the disregard the Raiders showed our community partners, particularly UNLV, through the proposed agreement,” Adelson said in a statement given to his Las Vegas newspaper. “It was certainly shocking to the Adelson family,” the statement also said. “We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement; we weren’t even aware of its existence. … It’s clear the Raiders have decided their path for moving to Las Vegas does not include the Adelson family. So, regrettably, we will no longer be involved in any facet of the stadium discussion.”

It is high time lawmakers, now meeting in regular session, reconsider the state’s commitment of room tax money to this harebrained, half-baked scheme to enrich billionaires.

Instead of sticking tourists with a 0.88 percent hike in the room tax, lawmakers should let them keep that money to spend on food, drink and gambling, which net nearly 10 times as much in tax revenue.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Now, we are reticent to suggest that the proponents of this stadium deal are so Machiavellian as to have plotted this from the start, but …

Lawmakers should note that there is no stadium price tag in the bill they passed, and the stadium backers flatly refused to consider capping public funding at 39 percent of the cost of construction. It was $750 million or no deal. The cost of the stadium when first proposed was a mere $1 billion. It ratcheted up from there. What is to stop the Raiders from building a $1 billion stadium, tapping the taxpayers for three-quarters of the tab and getting the state to make the estimated $900 million in road improvements needed to access the stadium?

Besides, does UNLV really need a new football stadium, when it can’t fill the one it has? One that has adequate traffic access off a major freeway and abundant parking. Why is there a need for a stadium on or near the campus, when 93 percent of students live off campus? And never mind the problems it might create for air traffic into McCarran International Airport.

A stadium is a liability, not an asset. It is an insatiable maw that swallows tax money in perpetuity.

The Kingdome in Seattle was repaired in 1994, costing more than $50 million in 20-year bonds, which were paid off in 2015. The stadium was imploded in 2000.

Renovate Sam Boyd Stadium if that is needed and forget this domed stadium boondoggle. If Adelson can take a hike, so can the state.

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: New senator wants to shred First Amendment

Nevada’s newly elected U.S. senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, has already taken up the cudgel against the First Amendment previously wielded by her predecessor, Harry Reid.

She put out a press release recently announcing that she has joined with other congressional Democrats to reintroduce a constitutional amendment that would overturn Supreme Court rulings that have held that it is a violation of the First Amendment to restrict the amount of money corporations, nonprofits, unions and other groups may spend on political campaigns and when they may spend it.

In its current incarnation it is being called the Democracy for All Amendment. In previous years it bore the unwieldy acronym DISCLOSE Act — Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. Reid frequently took to the floor of the Senate to pound the table for the amendment and disparage the Koch brothers’ political spending as the embodiment of evil.

“The U.S. Constitution puts democratic power in the hands of the American people — not corporations or private companies,” the press release quotes Cortez Masto as saying“Since the Citizens United decision, big corporations have gained unprecedented influence over elections and our country’s political process. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation; it’s critical that we end unlimited corporate contributions if we are going to have a democratic process and government that will truly work for all Americans.”

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited organizations such as Citizens United, a political action committee, from expending funds for electioneering immediately prior to an election. In this case the Federal Election Commission blocked the 2008 broadcast of “Hillary: The Movie,” which was critical of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

During the arguments in the case, the Justice Department attorney defending the law admitted the law also would censor books critical of candidates, though newspapers and other media, most owned by large corporations, were exempted from the law and may criticize, editorialize and endorse or oppose candidates freely. Some corporations are more equal than others.

Cortez Masto’s statement concluded, “The Democracy for All Amendment returns the right to regulate elections to the people by clarifying that Congress and the states can set reasonable regulations on campaign finance and distinguish between individuals and corporations in the law.”

The problem is that free speech is not free if the incumbent government satrapy can curtail its dissemination.

Justice Anthony Kennedy explained this in his majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC: “As a ‘restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign,’ that statute ‘necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.’ … Were the Court to uphold these restrictions, the Government could repress speech by silencing certain voices at any of the various points in the speech process. (Government could repress speech by ‘attacking all levels of the production and dissemination of ideas,’ for ‘effective public communication requires the speaker to make use of the services of others’).”

The fact the expenditure is coming from a group instead of an individual does not negate the First Amendment guarantee of the “freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely,” because it “also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

An assembly is not just a crowd of people on the street, it is also an organization.

Reid in one of his many diatribes on the subject said: “But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.”

This implies the voters are too stupid to hear an open and free-wheeling debate and not be influenced by the volume or frequency of the message.

Lest we forget, in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one — $600 million to $1.2 billion.

Censorship is unAmerican and unnecessary. Cortez Masto should abandon this assault on free speech.

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.