Public records law would be eviscerated by state Senate bill

Senate Bill 28 would fold, spindle, mutilate and shred Nevada’s strong public records law.

Government agencies already can charge people who ask for public records the actual cost of providing those records, but SB28 defines “extraordinary use of its personnel or technological resources” to mean 30 minutes of public employee time or 25 pages of records. And the government agency can charge 50 cents a page, whether the records are provided on paper or electronically.

Image how much it would cost the Nevada Policy Research Institute to obtain the thousands of pages of government employee salaries and pension benefits? The cost would be prohibitive.

Why should an agency be able to charge someone who walks in with a thumb drive and asks that a record be uploaded to it?

The current law states that, unless otherwise specifically exempted by law, “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied or an abstract or memorandum may be prepared from those public books and public records.”

Presumably, if some slow-poke public employee takes half an hour to find the public record being requested there would be a charge just to inspect the record.

SB28 incentivizes public employees to take their own sweet time.

Of course, the bill is being pushed by numerous local government agencies and by the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities.

Victor Joecks, NPRI’s executive vice president, and the Nevada Press Association’s executive director, Barry Smith, both testified against the bill.

The Las Vegas newspaper editorialized on the bill, calling it the “Worst Bill of 2015.” It pointed out the records do not belong to the government entities, but are the records of the people whose tax money was spent to create them.

“Governments, and government employees, are merely their caretakers. Public documents are the work product of your tax dollars. And the only way you can verify whether governments are functioning efficiently, ethically and within the limits of the law is to have access to those records,” the editorial explains.

This bill would allow government agencies to waste money, engage in corruption, nepotism, favoritism, misfeasance and malfeasance with impunity, unless someone with deep pockets is willing to pay the tab.

The bill should be amended in such a way that “all” public records must be uploaded to the Internet in the metropolitan counties and that in the rural counties each agency must maintain a computer terminal with all the records available for inspection.

Even though the law says a public records request may not be denied because the record contains confidential information if the governmental entity can redact that confidential material, the agencies already often demand huge fees for doing the redaction.

Public records should not be co-mingled with confidential information in the first place. In fact, if the information is confidential, why does the government have to have it?

SB28

Wouldn’t a new and improved bill of rights be glorious?

 Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Thomas Jefferson

The president has taken upon himself so much authority never envisioned by the Constitution that perhaps it is time for a renewed Bill of Rights to set things straight with this guy.

Something like this resolution:

Whereas, the president, by the assistance of divers evil counselors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavor to subvert and extirpate the laws and liberties of this nation;

By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Congress;

By committing and prosecuting divers worthy conservative groups for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power under the income tax laws;

By levying money for and to the use of the executive by pretense of prerogative for other time and in other manner than the same was granted by Congress;

By prosecutions by the IRS for matters and causes cognizable only in Congress, and by divers other arbitrary and illegal courses;

And whereas of late years partial corrupt and unqualified persons have been returned and served in high office;

And excessive fines have been imposed on financial institutions and businesses;

All which are utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this nation;

Therefore, the people of this nation do (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) set out to assert their ancient rights and liberties and declare:

That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by presidential authority without consent of Congress is illegal;

That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by presidential authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal;

That levying money for or to the use of the executive by pretense of prerogative, without grant of Congress, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal;

That it is the right of the people to petition the government, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal, such as IRS scrutiny;

That the people may have arms and ammunition for their defense suitable to their conditions;

That the freedom of speech and debates ought not to be impeached or questioned;

That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction, such as asset forfeiture, are illegal and void;

And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Congress holds the power, not the president.

What? You say it has been done already? In 1689? After the Glorious Revolution?

File this under: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This president can cause whiplash … Is that covered by ObamaCare?

Columnist Derek Hunter calls him President “But,” and cites several examples of Obama saying one thing and thing contradicting himself in the same sentence.

“We’re a nation of laws, but…” Hunter quotes the president as saying, quickly followed by, “we are also respecting the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants.”

Hunter reaches the obvious conclusion, “We’re either a nation of laws or we aren’t. And increasingly we aren’t.”

As a senator Obama also demanded that FCC rulemaking be transparent, but he wanted net neutrality be passed without anyone knowing what was in the rules.

He insisted he could not change immigration law, but

Obama refused to meet with the Israeli prime minister lest he be seen as influencing the election there, but former campaign staffers of his are in Israel working to defeat the prime minister.

If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, but

As a senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling, but …

He campaigned against the Bush tax cuts, but extended them.

He promised to cut the deficit in half in four years, but increased it by trillions.

Obama promised to televised debates on health care, but

Obama said there were shovel ready jobs, but

Benghazi was the result of a riot over a Youtube video, but

He promised to accept public financing for his 2008 campaign, but changed his mind so he could accept more donation.

He said there would be no lobbyists in the White House, but

Obama pledged to release photos of detainee abuse, but

He said  Israel “has the right to defend itself” against attack, but …

Obama hinted that he opposed the manufacture of assault weapons in the U.S., but then said it should be OK, but then proposed banning assault weapon ammo manufacture.

Ramirez cartoon from IBD

Editorial: Laxalt proven correct in joining lawsuit challenging Obama executive order

When Nevada’s new Republican attorney general, Adam Laxalt, joined in the lawsuit with 25 other states challenging President Obama’s executive fiat granting amnesty from deportation and granting green cards and Social Security cards to millions of illegal immigrants, Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid were critical of his action and even Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said the matter should be handled legislatively rather than in the courts.

A ruling by a Texas federal judge granting an injunction blocking the administration from carrying out its intentions appears to vindicate Laxalt and his reasons for joining the suit. At the time he joined the other states, Laxalt stated his rationale for doing so was because the president’s action disregarded the U.S. Constitution, undermined the rule of law and was injurious to millions of Americans, including Nevadans.

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Hanen states that “ the states cannot protect themselves from the costs inflicted by the Government when 4.3 million individuals are granted legal presence with the resulting ability to compel state action. The irony of this position cannot be fully appreciated unless it is contrasted with the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) Directive. The DAPA Directive unilaterally allows individuals removable by law to legally remain in the United States based upon a classification that is not established by any federal law. It is this very lack of law about which the States complain. The Government claims that it can act without a supporting law, but the States cannot.”

Hanen’s ruling also halts the expansion of Obama’s executive order allowing children brought into the country illegally to remain.

The judge said if the government were allowed to start issuing benefits but the executive is later overturned or legislatively countermanded there would be irreparable harm to both the states and the immigrants. “This genie would be impossible to put back in the bottle,” he said.

As for the argument that Obama and his Department of Homeland Security are merely exercising prosecutorial discretion in determining who will be deported, the judge noted, “The DHS was not given any ‘discretion by law’ to give 4.3 million removable aliens what the DHS itself labels as ‘legal presence.’ In fact, the law mandates that these illegally-present individuals be removed. The DHS has adopted a new rule that substantially changes both the status and employability of millions. These changes go beyond mere enforcement or even non-enforcement of this nation’s immigration scheme.”

The day after the Texas judge’s injunction was issued, Laxalt commented, “Yesterday’s carefully considered, 123-page decision represents a great initial victory for the rule of law and our constitutional system. I am encouraged by the federal court’s thorough analysis of this executive action. This injunction will halt the executive action and allow for the judiciary to carefully evaluate the legality of President Obama’s unilateral act. As I’ve always insisted, this lawsuit is ultimately about the rule of law, not immigration, and the need for all branches of our government, including the president, to faithfully follow the law.”

The ruling does not mean that anyone will be deported anytime soon, given the administration’s lax enforcement.

The case is likely going to be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal and possibly by the U.S. Supreme Court.

We applaud the attorney general for standing up for the rule of law.

A version of this editorial appears this week in 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.

Newspaper column: State Constitution does not allow laws regulating political speech

The Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 a couple of weeks ago that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

The majority said the fliers mailed out by Citizen Outreach during the 2010 election season criticizing Assembly member John Oceguera for being a double-dipper — drawing pay as a North Las Vegas firefighter while serving in Carson City — did not contain the “magic words of express advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “vote against,” which would trigger the need to comply with the law.

The ruling overturned a summary judgment by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell, who fined the group $10,000 plus $7,600 in costs in 2013.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem now is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

The court majority noted that the secretary of state testified that the change would “make it clear that Nevada does not require” magic words for a communication to be express advocacy.

That makes the revised law highly subjective and subject to as many interpretations as there are people. It erases any bright line test.

The problem is that both the 1997 and the 2011 law blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

In a similar case involving a Virginia-based organization that failed to file the proper paperwork with the state, Judge James E. Wilson Jr. stopped televised ads from being broadcast and said, “Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising.”

There is no such right to know. The voters get to decide what communication is persuasive, whether the source of funding is revealed or not. The voters tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

The words are clear and unambiguous — “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press” — and thus any state law that does so violates the state Constitution and is null and void from inception. A $10,000 fine in any dictionary is a restraint.

In this day and age, donating to certain causes, such as the anti-gay marriage campaign in California, have resulted in threats, intimidation, boycotts and ruined careers.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in a dissent in Citizens United v. FEC, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.”’

Just this past week a federal judge in California temporarily enjoined the state attorney general from enforcing a law similar to Nevada’s.

“Donors who have witnessed harassment of those perceived to be connected with plaintiff’s co-founders have experienced their unwillingness to continue to participate if such limited disclosure is made,” Judge Manuel Real wrote, adding that there is “sufficient evidence establishing that public disclosure would have a chilling effect on free speech.”

There is no constitutional authority for government to drag more information out of a speaker than the speaker wishes to convey, under the excuse that voters are just too darned stupid to evaluate anonymous speech for themselves. Compelled speech is not free speech.

The Legislature should repeal this law or someone should challenge the 2011 version of the law in the courts and make the right argument.

Free speech must be free of government restrictions, especially political speech.

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

Jobs for jihadists but not for American workers

Obama today vetoed the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, sending it back to Congress where it is unlikely enough Democrats can be persuaded to override.

“The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto,” Obama said in his veto message to Congress.

The veto came even though the State Department has found no significant environmental impact and estimated the project would create 42,100 jobs during two years of construction and 35 full-time jobs there after.

This rejection comes on the heels of Obama’s administration saying the root cause of Islamic (actually, they did not use the word Islamic) terrorism is the lack of jobs.

I guess we now know his priorities.

Route of Keystone XL oil pipeline

Who is bamboozling whom?

Obama used the occasion of a speech before the Democratic National Committee today to brag about how his presidency has led to economic recovery and to ridicule Republicans for “trying to bamboozle folks.”

According to a CBS account, Obama bragged about job creation picking up, manufacturing rebounding, wages finally beginning to grow and deficits are falling. “None of this is an accident,” he boasted. “It’s because we believe in middle class economics.”

Now, who is bamboozling whom?

According to the National Association of Counties, only 2 percent of counties in the U.S. have fully recovered from the recession in terms of jobs, unemployment, economic output and home prices.

And this “recovery” has taken the longest of any since World War II:

That’s not something to brag about.

Congressman Paul Ryan said on NBC after Obama’s State of the Union speech, “The big beef I have with the president’s State of the Union … is he gave us a lot of happy talk about the economy as if it was a mission accomplished speech. It is not mission accomplished.”

While Ryan agreed economy is improving, he noted it is the slowest recovery since World War II. “Middle income wages are stagnating,” he said. “We’ve got to break out of this slog. And I do believe that there are things we can do hopefully in the next year to get this economy growing faster.”

Obama’s answer is always more regulation, more taxes, blocking development public land, threatening to veto a pipeline that would create jobs. These are the very things that have slowed the recovery.