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.

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: Sisolak opposed tighter food stamp rules

Governors of these states oppose changes in food stamp eligibility rules.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has joined 16 other Democratic governors to pen a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding that a proposed change in the rules for food stamp eligibility be dropped.

This summer the Agriculture Department unveiled plans to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead of allowing states to automatically issue food stamps to anyone receiving any federal welfare benefits, households would be eligible only if they receive at least $50 a month for six months or more from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Secretary Perdue said in a statement. The food stamp program uses federal money but it is administered by states and local governments.

According to press accounts, the change in rules would drop 3 million of the 36 million people currently receiving food stamps and save taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

“If this rule takes effect, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries across the United States, including 46,000 individuals right here in Nevada, would lose access to basic food assistance,” Gov. Sisolak said in a press release announcing opposition to the change. “This is an absolutely unconscionable act that would have dire impacts on the most vulnerable populations in our state, especially those with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income children on free and reduced-price school meals.”

The governor said the change would result in a loss of nearly $10 million a month for the Nevada economy, though the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates such a change could save Nevada taxpayers $77 million a year and the nation as much as $7 billion a year.

The governors’ letter states, “We shouldn’t be making it harder for struggling Americans to make ends meet and put food on the table — which is what this proposed regulation would do. As governors, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.”

The letter also complains that the change would mean higher administrative costs for states, though a couple of paragraphs later the letter claims that to qualify for food stamps all households are subject to an interview and must provide “thorough documentation to demonstrate that their monthly income and expenses, such as housing and child care costs, leave them with not enough income to afford access to adequate food.” The letter also claims there is no evidence the current eligibility rule leads to an increase in food stamps being directed to ineligible households.

Actually, this past year a Minnesota millionaire testified before his state’s legislature that — to prove a point — he applied and received $300 a month in food stamps for 19 months. Though he had property and assets in excess of a million dollars, he technically had no income. He said he gave an equivalent amount to charity.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington also oppose the tightening of eligibility rules, The Wall Street Journal quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York as saying, “To cut money for people who need to be fed is just another example of the heartlessness of this administration,” adding that lawmakers will try to beat back the proposal.

“As governors, we urge you to rescind this rule to preserve the flexibility needed to meet the food and nutrition needs of the low-income populations in our states,” the governors’ letter concludes. “We should be working together, at the state and national levels, with the common goals of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable among us, ensuring all children have healthy food on their plates, and making every effort to ensure all families have the opportunity to transition out of poverty and achieve the American dream.”

The governors are arguing for wasting taxpayer dollars on people who do not truly qualify for assistance under the original intent of the law. The current lax rules waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

Other governors signing the letter include those of the states of Michigan, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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.

Costly legal fight over taxes was unnecessary

It was a senseless and futile gesture, but our Democratic lawmakers and governor were just the ones to do it.

Despite the fact Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996 amended the state Constitution to declare “an affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each House is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form,” the 21-member state Senate approved the extension of taxes and fees that were supposed to be curbed with a 13-8 vote, one vote short of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the tax extensions into law.

The eight Republican senators who voted against the tax extensions and three companies that would have to pay the higher taxes have sued in district court in Carson City, asking the court for a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against enactment of the laws.

The Democrats charged ahead with tax and fee extensions after their compliant Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), the lawmakers’ lawyers, issued an opinion that a two-thirds vote was not necessary since the taxes were not being “raised” but merely allowed to continue at a rate that was scheduled to be reduced, paying no heed to the fact the bills in question “generate” public revenue. Asked nearly the same question in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the LCB said a two-thirds vote was necessary.

When Republicans first threatened to sue, Sisolak confidently stated, “We’ve got legal opinion from LCB that, you know, a simple majority is what’s needed. I’ve been in government for 20 some-odd years, and if you don’t trust your attorneys, you’ve got a problem. So I’m confident that the attorneys gave us a good opinion. We’ll move forward from there.”

After the suit was actually filed, a somewhat less assured Sisolak was quoted by the press as demurring, “I remain absolutely committed to taking action if necessary following the court’s decision to ensure our schools continue to receive the total amount of funding approved by the Legislature for the … biennium.”

According to the governor’s executive budget at the end of that biennium there is expected to be a rainy day fund balance of $415.2 million, more than enough to cover the $98 million that the extension of the modified business tax rate and the $7 million that the $1 Department of Motor Vehicles technology fee extension are expected to generate.

The modified business tax extension is scheduled to begin being collected on Oct. 1 and the technology fee was set to end on July 1, 2020.

So, what was the point in pushing the constitution-ignoring legislation?

Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer said in a statement released to the media after the suit was filed, “We have checks and balances for a reason and eroding the two-thirds requirement is an unprecedented disregard for the constitution and creates a dangerous precedent. While there was ample money to fund education and other vital programs, Sisolak and (Senate Democratic Leader Nicole) Cannizzaro acted recklessly and their behavior created an unnecessary constitutional crisis at the expense of over 23,000 small business in Nevada.”

The lawsuit itself makes abundantly clear the stakes involved here: “This action involves an issue of of significant public and statewide importance as it seeks to uphold and protect the constitutional amendment proposed by citizen ballot initiative adopted and overwhelmingly approved by Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996. As provided in Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, political power is inherent in the people. Government only has power from the consent of the governed, and the residents and citizens of the State of Nevada twice voted strongly in favor of amending the Nevada Constitution to add the two-thirds requirement, and the two-thirds requirement has, at least prior to 2019, been applied consistently to legislative bills extending sunsets by the Nevada Legislature.”

The Republican senators and three companies, of course, are asking for recovery of reasonable attorney fees and costs. So, the taxpayers are likely to get stuck with all the costs from both sides.

The suit further noted that lawmakers “had enough money to fund the State’s budget without the public revenues created, generated or increased as a result of the changes to the payroll tax …”

So the passage with less than two-thirds votes was senseless, and, once the courts correctly rule that a two-thirds vote was constitutionally necessary, it will have been futile.

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.

Nevada Legislature

Newspaper column: Energy Department catches possible error, then catches hell

Umbrage has been duly taken.

On the afternoon of July 3 Energy Department Deputy Secretary Daniel Brouillette called Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to let him know the department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) monthly for a dozen years.

Mixed low-level radioactive waste — which must be protected from moisture when disposed — may have been mislabeled as merely low-level radioactive waste, which includes such things as rags, papers, filters, equipment, discarded protective clothing and construction debris and need not be protected from moisture. Further, the governor was told the waste might include “reactive” material, which could explode or release toxic fumes if exposed to water.

In a subsequent briefing this past week, Sisolak was told the department had not yet confirmed any of the waste was indeed reactive and the mislabeled shipments from the agency’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had only been coming to Nevada since 2013 and involved only 32 containers.

Though Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not take office until his 2017 appointment by Republican President Donald Trump and his agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error, Nevada Democratic office holders unleashed a fusillade of fury, including Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Perry to resign.

“I am outraged and shocked to hear about the Department of Energy’s repeated transgressions on the people of Nevada,” Horsford said in a statement. “Today we found out that, against the will and consent of Nevadans, the Department of Energy has been covertly shipping dangerous radioactive waste into our state.”

He concluded, “Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustered, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty. For decades, the DOE has been an untrustworthy partner and this latest round of illegal shipments is truly a new low. I’m grateful that Governor Sisolak continues to stand up for Nevada and refuses to let this violation of the law go unchallenged.”

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee fulminated, “The continued carelessness with our safety is exactly the concern of every Nevadan who is told that we should welcome the storage of nuclear waste in our own backyard. But let me be clear: we’re not just Nevadans, we are Americans, and it’s clear that the Department of Energy does not take Americans’ health, safety, or security into consideration before making decisions.”

In a joint statement Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen decried, “Last week, we were contacted by the Department of Energy and made aware of the situation. As a result, along with Governor Sisolak we’ve taken immediate action and sent a letter demanding answers from Secretary Perry, and scheduled an immediate classified briefing to ensure there is accountability and oversight on behalf of the State of Nevada. Yet again, the DOE has violated its mission, broken Nevadans’ trust and failed to follow its own compliance procedures.”

Gov. Sisolak released a statement after this past week’s briefing by Energy officials  saying, “I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. … While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans.”

The errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest, careless, incompetent and to blame.

The Energy Department released a statement to the media saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Three of those years were during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party and, especially when the information can be used to bludgeon attempts to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

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.

NNSS Area 5 storage area (file pix)

 

Newspaper column: Expect long lines come Election Day 2020

Democracy is a chaotic endeavor. Nevada lawmakers have made it more so.

Expect long lines and delayed results come the next Election Day.

Assembly Bill 345, which passed on a party line vote with Democrats favoring and Republicans opposed, will allow people to register to vote on the same day of an election rather than several weeks earlier. This will inevitably mean much longer lines on Election Day and during early voting and require as much as 10 days for election results to be tabulated, because votes cast on Election Day and absentee ballots mailed on Election Day will have to be counted and verified.

It will also cost millions of dollars to implement and might not be fully rolled out in time for the 2020 elections, officials warned. It will require hiring thousands more poll workers. Lawmakers were undeterred by the merely impossible.

Wayne Thorley, deputy Nevada secretary of state in charge of elections, warned lawmakers implementing the changes in time for the 2020 election would be “extremely difficult if not impossible,” because it takes two years to make such changes, according to a Las Vegas newspaper account.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia now have same-day registration.

One argument for this scheme is that it will greatly increase participation in the democratic process. An argument against it is that it will greatly increase participation by the lazy and the uninformed. Another argument is that same-day voter registration is susceptible to voter fraud.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, calls same-day voter registration a prescription for fraud and says it does almost nothing to increase voter participation.

“Allowing a voter to both register and vote on Election Day makes it nearly impossible to prevent duplicate votes in different areas or to verify the accuracy of any information provided by a voter,” von Spakovsky writes.

Further, the new law actually eliminates requirements for informing the public prior to elections. Existing law requires clerks to publish in a newspaper of general circulation the names of candidates and the offices they are seeking. AB345 removes that requirement.

Current law also requires publication of any statewide ballot measure along with an explanation, as well as arguments, rebuttals and fiscal notes. AB345 removes that requirement.

The Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City recently published a story quoting public officials as reaffirming the potential problems with the changes in election law.

Carson City Clerk Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt said that in smaller counties, where voters are used to getting to a voting machine within minutes of arrival at the polls and having final results within two hours of the polls closing, the lines will be longer and the results delayed for days.

“There are going to be lines,” she said. “There are going to be late election results.”

Thorley repeated to the newspaper the issues he had raised earlier before lawmakers. “The biggest concern is the delay in election results and educating the public about that,” he told the newspaper.

He warned that changes between election night counts and the final counts more than a week later can lead to accusations of fraud.

Thorley noted, “AB345 allows absentee ballots to be counted after election day so any ballot postmarked by election day but received up to seven days after the election will be counted.”

He also said election officials will have to confirm that people don’t go hopping from county to county registering to vote.

Thorley said the Legislature gave him about a half-million dollars to hire three staffers to set up a process for verifying voter registrations electronically, because doing so by hand would be impossible.

The story ends with Thorley saying he tried to convince lawmakers to give him until the 2022 elections to implement the new law, but Democratic leaders said they wanted it in place by 2020 because of the importance of that election, which is a presidential one. Democrats will stop at nothing in their quest to oust President Trump.

“We will make it work,” Rowlatt was quoted as saying. “It’s just going to be painful so I would just ask for a lot of patience because it’s not going to be fast.”

Remember which lawmakers voted for those long lines come Election Day, as you inch your way toward the voting booth, knowing you may not learn of the outcome for another week to 10 days.

Democracy need not be this chaotic just to make it more convenient for laggards to vote for Democrats.

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.

Umbrage will be taken when the blame can be placed on the other political party

Let me get this straight.

The Energy Department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site since 2013, but the guy who took office in 2017 and whose agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error is to blame and should resign.

The morning newspaper quotes Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Energy Secretary Rick Perry to resign and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustering, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty.”

Let’s see, the errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest and to blame.

The paper quotes a Horsford statement as saying, “Secretary Perry has repeatedly disrespected the people of Nevada and eroded the public trust in his ability to abide by established rules for waste disposal. His failure to disclose these actions amount to their lying to a federal judge, our Nevada congressional delegation and our state’s governor repeatedly about his agency’s activities in our state. Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

The Energy Department was supposed to only ship low-level radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to N2S2, but nine shipments may have included unstable “reactive” nuclear material mislabeled as low-level waste.

The newspaper further quotes a letter fired off to the Energy secretary by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, all Democrats, saying, “These egregious acts — whether acts of negligence or indicative of something else — are unconscionable and have potentially put the health and safety of Nevadans and our environment at unacceptable risk, including the employees of NNSS and the communities in Nevada and along the transportation routes of this material to NNSS.”

But an Energy Deparment statement was quoted as saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Four of those years during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party.

R-J graphic