Editorial: Bill language should not allow water grab

A growing number of public and private entities are joining a concerted effort to make sure a bill pending before Congress does not inadvertently create a means for Clark County to tap rural groundwater, though Clark County officials protest that is not the intent of the proposal.

According to Great Basin Water Network (GBWN) — a coalition of conservationists, rural officials, tribes and agricultural interests — there are fears that the wording in the proposed Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, whether intentional or not, could skirt a federal judge’s ruling blocking a proposed 300-mile right-of-way for a network of water pipelines.

The bulk of the bill, not yet introduced in Congress, proposes freeing up more than 40,000 acres of public land in Clark County for economic development, but two sections at the end of the 21-page bill call for the Interior Department to give the Southern Nevada Water Authority rights-of-way for an electric power line that “shall be subject only to the terms, conditions and stipulations identified in the existing rights-of-way, and shall not be subject to further administrative or judicial review. The right-of-way shall be granted in perpetuity and shall not require the payment of rental fees.” Opponents fear that a right-of-way for a power line could just as easily be used for pipelines.

Two years ago a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could grant the water agency right-of-way for its network of pipelines to take groundwater beneath White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties, but first it had to come up with plans to mitigate the potential loss of wildlife habitat due to a draw down of the water table, as is required by the CleanWater Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

That might prove to be impossible, since federal studies show the interconnected aquifers are already at equilibrium — meaning water that is now being drawn from the aquifers is being replaced gallon for gallon annually with no leeway for additional withdrawal. The water agency proposes to withdraw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year. The project is projected to cost more than $15 billion and could triple water rates in Clark County.

This past week more than a dozen entities joined in opposition to Congress approving the right-of-way proposal. These include several Nevada and Utah counties, three Indian tribes and a number of environmental groups.

“What Clark County is proposing is a pro-pipeline bill,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the GBWN. “Elected officials, attorneys, and non-profit organizations that span Nevada, Utah and the region all agree: The SNWA wants the congressional delegation to carry its water by surreptitiously advancing a project that has consistently lost in federal and state courts. The Nevada delegation deserves better than sneaky end-runs masked as technicalities. For now, the name of the bill should be the Great Basin Water Grab Act of 2019.”

A resolution passed by the Duckwater Shosone Tribe warned, “Science has shown that the pipeline would ultimately destroy Bashsahwahbee, killing off Swamp Cedars and drying up the Sacred Water Valley’s springs and aquifers that plant and wildlife currently depend upon.”

A spokesman for the water authority told the Las Vegas newspapers there is no intention to use the right-of-way for anything other than power lines. Though he thought the language was sufficiently clear, he said it has been modified recently. Another official offered that it might be further altered to allay concerns.

Clark County could use the economic development. Changing the language in the bill should satisfy the opposition.

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.

Nevada State Sen. Pete Goicoechea and Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, discuss efforts by Clark County to tap rural groundwater. (Pix by Roger Moellendorf)

 

Editorial: Public workers should not be bound by union contracts

In June of 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ruled 5-4 that it is unconstitutional to require public-sector employees to pay union dues, saying they have a fundamental First Amendment right to not be compelled to support union systems states and local governments adopt.

The court thus overruled a 1997 decision that said public employees who declined to join a union still could be required to pay a fee to cover only the cost of collective bargaining that determined their pay and benefits, but not be required to pay dues that covered other expenses such as political activity.

But Nevada law makes unions the “exclusive bargaining agents” for all the government employees covered by the designated union. While the public employee may now opt out of paying dues, his or her pay and benefits are determined by the union contract.

Until the legislative session earlier this year, only local governments were required to bargain with unions. Senate Bill 135 now gives state public workers the right to unionize. Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only union-backed Democrats. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill into law even though a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimated unionization of state workers could in two decades increase costs as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

As Michael Schaus, the communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out in a recent article even those public workers who decline to join a union and pay dues are still bound by whatever contract the union negotiates, denying them the freedom to represent themselves.

“Take for example an employee who already has adequate health insurance offered through her spouse’s job,” Schaus writes. “Shouldn’t she be able to ask her government employer for a small increase in pay in exchange for refusing health coverage? Or maybe another worker would rather have a few more vacation days than a scheduled pay raise — should he not have the right, as most workers have in the private sector, to work out a compromise with his employer?”

Schaus notes this leaves the union member feeling shortchanged because the non-dues-paying worker gets the benefit of the negotiated contract, while the non-union members are denied the right to negotiate for their own best interests.

His solution? Workers’ Choice — a policy allowing workers to opt-out of the union entirely and negotiate based upon their own needs and desires.

“Additionally, this monopoly power granted to unions goes even further in damaging the rights of workers to freely associate (or dissociate) with a union,” argues Schaus. “It prohibits the ability for workers to seek out any alternative representation, giving the controlling union virtually no market incentives to increase the value members receive from their dues.”

Nevada lawmakers could easily rectify this problem by excising the language in the law giving government unions “exclusive” bargaining rights.

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: How and why Nevada became the 36th state

This week Nevadans celebrate Nevada’s entry into the Union as a state on Oct. 31, 1864 — 155 years ago.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan designated the western portion of the Utah territory as the Nevada territory. Though the Nevada population boomed with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds, by 1864 its population was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of the House at the time represented.

Nevada became a state for the most compelling of reasons. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared Nevada the 36th state.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election.

The new state’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country. The Constitution states, “The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother later adopted the pen name Mark Twain for his dispatches from Carson City to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City.

In a somewhat ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers: “I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

The New York Herald published a glowing account of Nevada’s admission as a state, predicting: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Intelligent and enterprising people, indeed.

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: Judge blocks state sage grouse protection plans

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A federal judge in Idaho has pulled the rug out from under the Western states that had worked with the federal public land agencies to create separate plans to preserve sage grouse habitat and yet still allow fruitful economic activity such as mining, oil and gas exploration, farming and grazing.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted an injunction blocking those plans in a lawsuit brought by several self-styled environmental groups. The judge agreed that the Bureau of Land Management plans announced this past spring failed to make a one-size-fits all, range-wide analysis, failed to evaluate climate change and removed protections for the birds unjustified by science and conditions on the ground. Never mind that the colorful fowl best known for its strutting mating ritual has never been added to the Endangered Species list, though its population in recent years has declined from millions to about half a million.

The suit — brought by the Western Watersheds Project, the Wildearth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society — opposed the regionalized plans for grouse protection in Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and California.

The state-by-state plans announced in March backed off Obama administration plans that would have largely blocked most economic activity near grouse habitat.

“The State of Nevada thanks the Bureau of Land Management for incorporating our concerns and respecting the Greater Sage-Grouse habitat plan developed cooperatively by Nevada state agencies and local stakeholders,” Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak was quoted as saying at the time in a statement conveyed by the BLM. “In particular, Nevada appreciates the BLM’s commitment to compensatory mitigation as an integral part of the success of Nevada’s habitat management plan. We look forward to working closely with the BLM Nevada Office and the Department of Interior leadership to ensure the revised habitat plans are fully successful.”

A year earlier, as the Nevada Plan was being finalized then-Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval also praised the cooperation the state was getting from the Trump administration land agencies. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Republican Congressman Mark Amodei also thanked the Interior Department for respecting the work of Nevada stakeholders.

But the judge has prevented those regional plans from being used.

Courthouse News quoted an attorney representing the plaintiffs as saying of the ruling, “The Bureau of Land Management deliberately undermined protections for the sage grouse, then had the audacity to claim these rollbacks would not impact the species. The law demands more. This injunction is critical to protecting the sagebrush steppe and this icon of the American West.”

What most people forget is that this icon of the American West never was seen by early explorers of the American West in the 1820s and 1830s, nor by the first wagon trains in the 1840s. Not until settlers brought in horses, cattle, oxen and sheep, which fertilized the soil and ground the vegetation into the ground, while ranchers also improved water sources, did the sage grouse population grow into the millions. Human activity actually caused the birds to thrive. Fires and the lack of predator control have caused the grouse population to dwindle somewhat, not mining, exploration, grazing and farming.

Local common sense management of the lands — not one-size-fits-none central planning — will preserve the sage grouse and jobs.

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: Asylum seekers should prove their claims

Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford joined with other attorneys general this past week in filing a friend of the court brief in a case challenging another Trump administration rule attempting to curb the flood of asylum seekers.

The rule would deny asylum to those who passed through a safe country en route to the U.S., but did not apply for asylum in that country and get turned down. The lawsuit challenging the rule was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union — styled East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Barr — is currently pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

In a press release announcing the filing of the brief, Ford was quoted as saying, “Facing violence or persecution, asylum seekers look to us for help and safety. As Attorney General, my ultimate goal is to welcome and protect Nevadans, and I will fight every attempt by the Trump Administration to turn its back on those in need of dire assistance.”

The press release said the rule subjects asylum seekers to trauma and perils in dangerous countries, such as Mexico and Guatemala. Sounds like the sort of stereotyping rhetoric the left is always accusing Trump of spouting.

The attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, who are taking the lead in the brief filing, issued an almost identically worded press release.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is quoted as saying, “Again and again, the Trump Administration proffers sloppy reasoning at best for decisions that have lasting consequences on the lives of real people. Countless people are being put at risk by a rule that runs afoul of one of our core principles — welcoming homeless refugees to our shores. This rule is unreasonable and disturbingly callous. We’re going to do everything we can to stand up for the rights of those seeking refuge from persecution and violence.”

Both press releases claim the rule is particularly injurious to unaccompanied children, LGBTQ applicants, and women, for whom applying for asylum in a third country is said to be perilous. “For example, two-thirds of LGBTQ Central American asylum-seekers reportedly suffered sexual violence while transiting through Mexico and, in Guatemala, children are frequently targets of recruitment by criminal gangs,” both releases say. “In addition, the rule will cause state agencies and non-profits to divert resources to address the added trauma asylum-seekers will suffer because of precarious conditions in third countries and will force states to lose out on the economic contributions of those who might otherwise have been welcomed to the country.”

Yes, the brief claims the rule will deprive states of the economic benefits of immigrants denied asylum.

Oddly, just a few weeks ago Ford joined in another court filing that challenged a Trump administration rule that would have denied legal immigration status and work cards to non-naturalized immigrants who have come to rely on government welfare — known as the public charge rule.

At the time, Ford wailed, “I pledged to protect Nevada’s families, and I will continue to protect our families from the Trump Administration’s numerous attacks. This proposed change is not only mean-spirited, it essentially makes legal immigrants choose between maintaining their legal status and receiving assistance to meet basic needs, like food, health care and housing. It’s unconscionable.”

Asylum seekers are required to prove persecution on one of five grounds — race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion. That covers a lot of ground.

In June, then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a congressional hearing that a recently conducted study of 7,000 family units revealed that 90 percent failed to appear for immigration hearings and simply vanished into the countryside rather than face the judicial process. In 2018, fully 65 percent of asylum cases that were heard were denied.

Despite this, Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, signed onto a letter with other senators opposing a Trump administration immigration rule requiring asylum seekers at the southern border to remain in Mexico pending hearings.

As further witness to the lack of validity of asylum requests, this past week Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection in the El Paso area identified 238 fraudulent families, as well as 50 adults falsely claiming to be minors. More than 350 people are being prosecuted.

Legal immigration should be afforded only to those who can prove their cases and then can support themselves and their families once allowed in. Open borders will not work for current Nevada taxpayers and job seekers.

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.

Fraudulent families detected at the border. (ICE pix)

Newspaper column: Judge’s dismisses states’ tax reform challenge

A federal judge in New York made short work of the lawsuit filed by New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland seeking to block one aspect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump in 2017.

The states challenged the law because it capped at $10,000 the amount of state and local taxes (dubbed SALT) that could be deducted from IRS filings. Previously the wealthy in high-tax states could deduct most state and local taxes, meaning the taxpayers in lower-taxed states, such as Nevada, were paying a disproportionate share of federal taxes.

New York, for example, points out in its filings in the lawsuit that prior to the $10,000 cap its taxpayers who itemized deductions claimed an average SALT deduction of nearly $22,000. The other three states estimated their taxpayers in 2018 paid $7.5 billion more to the IRS than they had prior to the cap.

The Democrat-dominated states argued that since the tax law passed without a single Democrat in Congress voting for it and was signed by a Republican president that its true purpose was “to coerce a handful of States with relatively high taxpayer-funded public investments — States that are primarily Democratic leaning — to change their tax policies.”

In his 37-page opinion U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken dismissed the state’s contention that the tax reform unconstitutionally coerces the sovereign states to lower their taxes. In fact he cited a Supreme Court opinion in the case of South Dakota v. Dole, in which the court said it is permissible for Congress to withhold federal highway funds from states that failed to raise the legal drinking age to 21. Sounds like the definition of coercion.

Judge Oetken wrote, “To be sure, the SALT cap, like any other feature of federal law, makes certain state and local policies more attractive than others as a practical matter. But the bare fact that an otherwise valid federal law necessarily affects the decisional landscape within which states must choose how to exercise their own sovereign authority hardly renders the law an unconstitutional infringement of state power.”

He later wrote that he declined to speculate on Congress’ motives for passing the SALT deduction cap.

“So even if, as the States contend, Congress enacted the SALT cap in order to exert downward pressure on state and local tax rates, such a motive poses no constitutional problem as long as the states remain free ‘not merely in theory but in fact’ to set their own tax policies,” the judge concluded.

While the four high-tax states view the tax reform as coercive, the rest of the states tend to view the SALT cap as rectifying a long-standing inequity.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — used to be able to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California could deduct more than 5 percent. Nearly one-third of the additional federal tax dollars generated by the SALT cap comes from Californians and New Yorkers.

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, you find Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 per return. Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for SALT deductions.

“The cap, like any federal tax provision, will affect some taxpayers more than others and, by extension, will affect some states more than others,” Judge Oetken wrote. “But the cap, again like every other feature of the federal Tax Code, is a part of the landscape of federal law within which states make their decisions as to how they will exercise their own sovereign tax powers.”

The tax reform is far more fair to a majority of the states that maintain at least some modicum of tax restraint.

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: Presidents and courts should not overturn laws

The Supreme Court in June agreed to decide whether the Trump administration lawfully canceled a program created by executive fiat by President Obama in 2012 that protected immigrants brought into the country illegally as children — popularly dubbed Dreamers — from deportation and be provided work permits.

Prior to that, such persons were subject to deportation by law.

The program is called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is the subject of a case titled Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California, et. al. This past week Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford filed a friend of the court brief in the case on behalf of Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and the governors of Kansas and Montana.

“DACA recipients are members of the Nevada family, and we take care of our family,” Ford is quoted as saying in a press release announcing the filing. “By ending DACA, the Trump Administration turned its back on hundreds of thousands of young people who want nothing more than to continue living and working in the country they call home. Dreamers make America, and Nevada, great. I will continue to fight for them and for our Nevada family.”

The press release also quotes Gov. Steve Sisolak as saying, “Nevada’s 12,000 DACA recipients are hard-working members of our communities who contribute to our state every day. As Governor, I’m proud that Nevada is fighting back to defend our DREAMers against any attempts to undermine their protected status.”

In 2017 Trump announced his decision to cancel DACA, but several lower courts have blocked the move, saying the decision was arbitrary and capricious, because the administration failed to offer a sound rationale for changing course. Currently, the administration isn’t accepting new DACA applications, but continues to process renewals from Dreamers already in the program.

The attorney general’s court brief makes several compassionate arguments for why DACA should remain in force.

The brief notes that there are currently more than 669,000 DACA recipients in the United States who are able to work or attend school without fear of deportation. In Nevada, DACA recipients accounted for an estimated $261.8 million in spending power in 2015 and paid an estimated $19.9 million in state and local taxes, the brief states.

It goes on to point out that nationwide 73 percent of DACA grantees live with an American citizen spouse, child or sibling. “In Nevada, 27,600 individuals live in mixed-status households with an estimated 4,600 United States-born children of DACA recipients,” the brief relates. “Losing DACA status threatens to throw families into financial chaos, because many depend on the incomes and health insurance of the DACA recipients in their families. It also threatens to tear families apart, as native-born children of DACA recipients could be separated from their parents if removal proceedings are instituted against them.”

It also notes that residents who live in fear of deportation are less likely to report crimes or to seek proper medical care.

All true enough, but under our Constitution Congress writes laws, not the president or the courts. The Trump administration has expressed sympathy for the Dreamers, but four different bills to address immigration and the border wall failed this past year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Rather than press litigation the governor and the attorney general should demand our congressional delegation get off the impeachment bandwagon and pass immigration reform legislation the proper way — or else uphold the law as written by Congress.

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.