Governor’s reopening decision leaves workers in the lurch

Gov. Steve Sisolak has gone off half cocked again.

He has said that some of the businesses he ordered closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus may reopen Saturday, but what if some workers fear for their health and that of their families? Will they no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work? Will they have to take a pay cut?

According to the morning paper, Sisolak doesn’t yet have an answer:

As for employees concerned about being required to go back to work, Sisolak said that “is a very difficult situation.”

“If they’re offered their job back, and they don’t take their job back, their eligibility for unemployment comes into question,” Sisolak said, adding that the administration was working with Nevada’s federal delegation and the Labor Department on a fix.

“I want people to feel safe when they go back to work,” he said. At the same time, “a lot of people are going to go back to work and make less than the thousand dollars a week that they’re making now, and you can say, ‘Why am I gonna go back to work?’ Those are difficult situations that we’re going to be facing in the future.”

As for the high-minded life-is-more-important-than-profit stance Sisolak and other Democrats have taken, columnist Victor Joecks takes the current hypocrisy apart:

Make no mistake: Sisolak’s decision to move Nevada into Phase 1 will increase the number of coronavirus infections. “We would anticipate an increase in new cases if mitigation efforts are lifted,” state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said in an April email.

According to no less an authority than Sisolak himself, this is unacceptable.

“I am not going to allow our workers to be put in a position that they have to decide between their job, their paycheck and their life,” Sisolak said last month on CNN. “That’s not a fair position to put them in, and I will not allow that to happen.”

But that’s what he’s allowing to happen on Saturday. That’s what he did by allowing construction to continue on the Raiders Stadium — despite workers testing positive.

Sisolak isn’t the only one who’s promulgated this standard. “Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice” was the headline of a piece in The Atlantic on the decision to reopen by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No one is expendable. No life is worth losing to add one more points to the Dow,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden tweeted Wednesday.

Sisolak’s actions on Thursday show how bogus this rhetoric is — and his own hypocrisy. Even he couldn’t live up to his own standard.

Yet the governor is requiring people to choose between a paycheck and their life without knowing all of the ramifications. Will unemployment be denied if they refuse to turn to work? That would be a key criteria in making such a decision.

Siam Square restaurant workers move tables to prepare for possible reopening Saturday. (R-J pix by K.M. Cannon)

 

Governor won’t even ‘permit’ discussion?

Many people are aghast that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has had the audacity to suggest the coronavirus shutdown might not have been necessary in the first place and reopening should begin soon — even suggesting Las Vegas could be used as a placebo or control group to compare the impact of reopening to staying shutdown.

People have called on her to resign, have called her suggestions reckless and deranged. A television interviewer called her ignorant for saying Las Vegas is not like China.

But what I found disturbing was a quote in the morning paper from Gov. Steve Sisolak, “I mean, there is no way I would even permit the discussion about using the city of Las Vegas as a control group in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. That’s beyond the pale. I can’t even imagine someone even contemplating that.”

He would not “permit” the discussion? He would silence debate? You know what they call people who do that.

He further declared, “You cannot allow our citizens, our folks, to be used as a ‘control group’ in this unscientific experiment that she’s talking about, relating to the spread of the virus. That’s just simply not allowable.”

Unscientific? What are control groups? They are the ones who do not get the experimental treatment, but perhaps a placebo, so the effectiveness of the experimental treatment can to compared to doing nothing.

Goodman may well be wrong. Granted, she is probably wrong.

But somewhere someone needs to contemplate a gradual return to normalcy. Whether some businesses reopen tomorrow or six months from now there is likely to be an uptick in contagion. At which the doomsayers will declare, “I told you so.”

In a separate story in the morning paper Sisolak was quoted as being dismissive of suggestions by the Elko mayor in a letter in the Elko Daily Free Press that said the sparsely populated and less affected rural counties should not be treated in the same manner as the more densely populated areas.

Elko Mayor Reece Keener wrote in an open letter to Sisolak:

It is a given that we will see outbreaks and “hotspots” into the foreseeable future. This virus is tenacious and will continue to be a threat until we have either better medicines or a vaccine. However, we cannot and must not continue to put our lives and civil liberties on hold until it is deemed “safe” to resume a semi-normal state. If, and when we experience an increase in new infection rates, we will be prepared to dial things back accordingly in a measured response.

We accept the responsibility, and with this, we need the flexibility to have local decision-making authority for our reopening timetables and planning. Please consider that a “one size fits all” approach does not work for a largely rural and sparsely populated Nevada. A statewide extension mandate will further deepen the economic damage that we have already incurred, plus it will be a huge psychological blow to the citizens that have diligently complied with the orders. Crucially, a statewide extension will invite civil disobedience and unrest. As mayor, I do not want to place our police officers in the untenable position of having to enforce state directives that are unpopular and impractical for our community.

Keener also pointed out, “Despite the best of intentions, the models and projections have been grossly overstated.”

But the governor reacted by saying, “If you open up Elko County, and you don’t open up Clark County or Washoe County, and in Elko all the stores are open, the restaurants and bars, all the entertainment’s open, well, then the people from the other counties are going to go to Elko County because they’re tired of being locked up in their houses, and they want to experience that, and they’re all going to go back to their counties and then the virus is going to continue to spread. So that wouldn’t work.”

He added, “It’s not just that we don’t want them to open. It’s just that it has to be done in a way that it doesn’t negatively impact that county or the surrounding counties.”

And what way is that, pray tell, and when, if ever?

Las Vegas can’t reopen, Elko can’t reopen. Who can? When? How long must everyone cower in the corner?

Who will “permit” at least a discussion?

Mayor Goodman interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN

Editorial: Voters don’t need protection from free speech

Democrats never let the inconvenient facts get in the way of their blindly held firm belief that money is the root of all evil and the ultimate bane of democracy.

You know, beliefs like the one that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — that found a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster — was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 5-4 Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the FEC barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Democrats have been fighting against the ruling ever since, claiming it lets the rich and powerful and deep-pocketed corporations buy elections. They’ve even floated the idea of amending that portion of the Bill of Rights prohibiting Congress from abridging freedom of speech.

Of course, Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Congress has been in the thick of it. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have signed on as sponsors of the proposed amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Cortez Masto proclaimed, “A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Rosen chimed in, “Our elections should be decided by the voters — but because of Citizens United, billionaires and corporate interests can spend as much money as they want to elect politicians to do their bidding.”

Pay no attention to the fact President Donald Trump was outspent two-to-one by the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.

Over on the House side Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford have co-sponsored the 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” which, along with other things, would require increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers.

All in the name of muting the power of money’s influence over elections.

Pay no attention to the facts just presented by the outcome of the Democratic presidential nominating process.

According to news accounts, former New York mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg recently dropped out of that competition after spending somewhere between $500 million and $700 million of his estimated $60 billion net worth. That netted him a grand total of 61 delegates out of the nearly 4,000 delegates awarded thus far.

Then there is the case of Tom Steyer, who is said to be worth a paltry $1.6 billion but spent more than $250 million of his own money on his failing presidential campaign through the end of January. He netted no delegates whatsoever.

Both of the these candidates were allowed the freedom of speech to disseminate their messages and arguments loudly and frequently. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion in Citizens United, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

The poor pliable voters don’t need to be protected from political speech. They can think for themselves — as the facts have again borne out.

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.

Branco cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: Keep a close eye on enforcement of virus regulations

Shortly after state health officials confirmed the first presumptive case of the coronavirus — dubbed COVID-19 — in Nevada this past week, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an emergency regulation regarding insurance coverage for testing and treatment of the rapidly spreading virus.

State law gives the governor the power in emergency situations to make, amend and rescind regulations in response to the emergency. Customarily one thinks of such things as calling out the National Guard to prevent looting or other problems after a national disaster.

In this case the Commissioner of Insurance Barbara Richardson made a finding that an emergency affecting the health and safety of the public exists and that adoption of an emergency regulation was appropriate.

What Sisolak did was attempt to avert potential adverse financial impact for those who carry health insurance.

We highly recommend the governor keep a close eye on the effects of his order lest it have unintentional adverse affects on the availability of testing and potential vaccines or treatments for the disease. Dictating the price of things in the marketplace has been known to deter availability of goods and services when adequate compensation is not forthcoming.

There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence over the years that so-called anti-price-gouging laws merely limit the supply of necessary goods and services in a crisis.

For example, according to the American Institute for Economic Research, in 2005 a Kentucky man took time off from his job, bought 19 power generators, rented a truck and drove to hurricane-ravaged Mississippi intending to sell the generators at twice the price he paid to cover his costs and make a profit. Police confiscated his generators for price gouging, held him for four days and kept the generators in police custody. Those who urgently needed them and would have gladly paid the asking price suffered in the dark instead.

“This pre-emptive emergency regulation should give Nevadans confidence to continue taking preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as seeking necessary medical services and prescriptions without fear of higher than normal costs,” Sisolak was quoted as saying in a press release accompanying the emergency declaration. “Protecting Nevadans is my top priority, and adopting this emergency regulation is a critical piece of our broader plan to anticipate and prepare for the potential impacts of COVID-19.”

The press release said the order prohibits a health insurance company from imposing an out-of-pocket charge for an office, urgent care center or emergency room visit for the purpose of testing for the virus. “Additionally, the regulation prohibits insurers from charging Nevadans for the COVID-19 test itself or an immunization as one becomes available and further requires coverage for off-formulary prescription drugs if a formulary drug is not available for treatment,” the press release says.

Sounds confiscatory. If companies are prohibited from recouping their expenses for services provided, how readily available will those services be?

The regulation further requires health insurance companies to pro-actively provide information on available benefits, options for medical advice and treatment through telehealth systems and ways to prevent exposure to the virus.

With only a few cases in Nevada so far such measures may be premature. There have been no reports of insurance price gouging due to the virus that we are aware of, which is what the governor’s emergency order appears to be intended to stave off.

We suggested the commissioner of insurance and health officials keep a close watch on events as they develop to assure these shackles on the free market do not interrupt the availability of necessary services and thus create the opposite effect of what the governor intends.

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.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announces emergency regulations. (R-J pix)

Newspaper column: Courts can’t tell lawmakers to hike education funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: Federal bill would negate right-to-work laws

A month ago the U.S. House passed on a near party line vote of 224-194 a bill dubbed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. Among other things the bill would nullify state right-to-work laws, such as Nevada’s 66-year-old right-to-work law and those of 26 other states. Workers would be forced to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs.

All three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee — voted for the bill. Titus and Horsford were co-sponsors. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against it.

The chances of the bill passing the Senate this year are nugatory, but if Democrats retake a majority of the Senate in November its chances are much more likely.

Nevada’s right-to-work law specifically states, “No person shall be denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of nonmembership in a labor organization, nor shall the State, or any subdivision thereof or any corporation, individual or association of any kind enter into any agreement, written or oral, which excludes any person from employment or continuation of employment because of nonmembership in a labor organization.”

In addition to killing such right-to-work laws the PRO Act dramatically tilts the playing field in favor of union bosses at the expense of employers and employees. For example, it would adopt a California law that forces many independent contractors to be covered by rules requiring overtime, meal breaks, leave time, workers compensation and unemployment benefits among other things.

It also would weaken workers’ basic right to a secret collective bargaining ballot instead of coercive card checks.

Union contracts could also be imposed via arbitration.

The PRO Act would ban employers from permanently replacing striking workers.

The National Law Review said of the legislation, “In all, the PRO Act would introduce a great deal of potentially harmful changes to the labor law landscape that may negatively affect American businesses and their employees. The bill seeks to institute increasingly complex legal strictures when labor law is already profoundly complicated and confusing. Instead of simplifying matters or assisting companies and unions in facilitating their businesses, the act would create a tangled web of regulations that would benefit organized labor at the expense of both employers and employees. Political prospects for the bill are dim in the U.S. Senate, but the PRO Act will now be the baseline for labor reform proponents should political winds blow differently in the future.”

This past September, Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Las Vegas newspaper explaining the economic impact of Nevada’s right-to-work law.

“Business owners correctly view states that have passed right-to-work laws as being more welcoming and business-friendly than high-tax, forced-dues states such as California,” Mix wrote. “That is why federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that from 2013-18, factory employment growth in Nevada was more than three times greater than in Western forced-union states such as Colorado, Oregon and Montana.”

Mix further noted that in the past decade total employment for right-to-work states grew twice as much as it did in forced-unionism states.

Keep this in mind as you go to vote this fall. Your job may depend on it.

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.

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