Bill would protect some student journalists

Some legislation just shouldn’t be necessary, but common sense is so rare.

This past week the Senate Committee on Education forwarded to the full Senate Senate Bill 420, which is being described as the Nevada version of New Voices legislation, which requires schools to draft policies to protect student journalists and student publications from censorship and punishment for publication, according to the Nevada Press Association.

The bill adds this language to the law: “The board of trustees of each school district, the governing body of each charter school and the governing body of each university school for profoundly gifted pupils shall adopt a written policy for pupil publications which: (a) Establishes reasonable provisions governing the time, place and manner for the distribution of pupil publications; and (b) Protects the right of expression described in subsection 1 for pupils working on pupil publications as journalists in their determination of the news, opinions, feature content, advertising content and other content of pupil publications.”

I wrote about a student censorship effort that took place in 2010, when a choir teacher at the Churchill County High School sued a student journalist at the school’s student newspaper for writing an article — that was actually printed in the Lahontan Valley News, the community newspaper — saying parents were upset that the teacher withheld certain students’ audition tapes from a state musical competition. The case was thrown out with the judge citing the state’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute in effect at the time.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said at the time, “Anti-SLAPP statutes are important to protect free speech, because sometimes people sue just to silence their critics.”

Efforts to repeal the anti-SLAPP law have been unsuccessful so far.

But the law of the land for students is found in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1988: “A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.”

Former Fallon student Lauren Draper, who penned the choir teacher story, testified for SB420.

“Less than six months from graduating Churchill County High School, I found myself terrified,” she told legislators, according to NPA’s account. “After I sought and reported the truth about choir students’ audition tapes  being withheld from a statewide competition, I found myself frightened and confused about whether I had made the right decision in writing the article. I followed the code of ethics and made no libelous claims, yet I felt guilty and ashamed of reporting the truth. I was shamed by teachers I had respected and was called a ‘zealous child’ by the co-chair of the Churchill County Educators Association.”

Since Hazelwood schools have too often used censorship to protect administrators from being embarrassed by student journalists rather than protecting the “educational mission.”

 

Editorial: Forget PILT checks, transfer federal lands

There is considerable consternation in rural counties across the West over the Trump administration planning to cut the size of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) checks this year. The current budget blueprint calls for cuts but doesn’t specify how much.

Because the federal government does not pay property taxes, since 1977 Congress has seen fit to dole out to counties — calculated based on population and number of acres of federal public land — PILT checks to help pay for everything from schools, to police, fire, social services, etc. Since 85 percent of Nevada is owned by various federal land agencies, that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

Most of Nevada’s congressional delegation signed letters to the House and Senate appropriations committees urging continued PILT funding at the current level. The Senate version said, “PILT provides critical resources to nearly 1,900 counties across 49 states to offset lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal lands within their jurisdictions. It supports the many critical services that counties provide on federal public lands. Without full funding for the PILT program in fiscal year (FY) 2018, counties across the nation will be unable to provide essential services such as law enforcement, education, search and rescue, road maintenance and public health to their residents and millions of federal land visitors.”

But those PILT payments are downright parsimonious when you consider the federal government this past year netted $11 billion in revenue from public lands through permits and royalties for everything from grazing to mining to oil and natural gas, but paid only $450 million in PILT money — about $25 million of that was divided among Nevada counties at the average rate of 45 cents an acre.

Far be it from us to suggest the federal government just write bigger checks when there is a far more efficient and cost-effective way of supporting the states and counties in the West. You see, despite the fact the federal public lands generate considerable revenue, the feds still manage to lose 91 cents per acre it controls.

Instead of writing checks, the frugal Trump administration could turn over a few million acres to the states and local governments — saving 91 cents an acre up front — so the locals can collect the revenue and even sell some land so private property owners can actually pay property taxes.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses that 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

For several years Rep. Mark Amodei has been pushing a bill that calls for transferring federal land to the state in phases. The initial phase would authorize the state to select no less than 7.2 million acres of public land for conveyance to Nevada.

As for the president’s plan to cut PILT funding, Amodei noted, “In the coming weeks, the House Appropriations Committee will examine the president’s budget. We will determine if the budget proposal provides an appropriate level of funding for the critical programs and agencies Americans rely on. It’s quite common for the suggested proposals included in the president’s budget to change throughout the appropriations process, and I fully expect that to be the case for the current budget submission.”

Transferring federal land to local control is a much better solution than federal handouts subject to the whims of the current administration and 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.

Summerlin was built on former BLM land.

Newspaper column: Wild horse suit dismissal leaves inhumane conditions in place

There is something positively perverse about the gloating coming from the self-styled wild horse advocates over the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejection of a lawsuit intended to force federal land agencies in Nevada to reduce the overpopulation of feral horses on the range.

The suit from the Nevada Association of Counties, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and others asked the court to require federal agencies to follow the law, because its failure to do so is starving the very animals the law was intended to protect, as well as damaging range used for grazing and taking private water rights.

The Associated Press quoted a lawyer for one of the horse-hugger groups as saying, “We’re pleased that the courts continue to dismiss attempts by these grazing interests to use the judicial system to rewrite federal law that Congress designed to protect wild horses from capture, not to favor the livestock industry.”

A three-judge panel of the appellate court rejected the suit on what best could be described as a hair-splitting technicality, a sort of Catch-22.

Just as a Nevada federal judge had ruled earlier, the 9th Circuit said the plaintiffs failed to cite a “final action” by the land agencies that could be challenged: “The district court did not err in dismissing NACO’s APA (Administrative Procedure Act) claims. Federal courts lack jurisdiction over an APA claim that ‘does not challenge final agency action.’ … Here, NACO has failed to identify a specific final agency action … or discrete action unlawfully withheld … that allegedly harmed it. Instead, NACO seeks judicial oversight and direction of virtually the entire federal wild horse and burro management program … in Nevada. This sort of programmatic challenge is foreclosed under the APA.”

That is because there is never a “final agency action.” Everything is fluid, flexible, changeable, appealable. What the Bureau of Land Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service do is continuously deny and delay and dither.

It is not entirely the land agencies’ fault. Congress is complicit.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which NACO and others say is being ignored, specifically says, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But the federal budget every year since 2009 has blocked any spending for destroying excess mustangs.

The BLM itself reported in September that the population of free ranging wild horses and burros was 67,000, even thought the range can sustain a population of no more than 26,700 animals, which means that there is insufficient grazing for the horses and burros as well as cattle and sheep. The BLM itself has found that without roundups and fertilization controls that population can double every four years.

But the horse lovers seem willing to love the horses into misery and death.

The original lawsuit, filed in December 2013, is not just about ranchers being deprived of foliage and water rights by too many feral horses but also about the condition of those horses.

“First and foremost, Defendants’ failures to properly follow the law have gravely harmed, and will continue to gravely injure the very animals that the Act was established to protect,” the suit points out. “Both official reports and individuals have described the effects a failure to properly implement the Act on the animals themselves. Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable. At least one individual was so disturbed by the condition of the horses he observed that he demanded of the local BLM office that they gather those horses together or the individual (said) he would notify the media contacts. The animals were then promptly removed.”

Now, who is being humane?

More than 60 percent of the BLM’s $70 million annual budget for managing wild horses and burros is consumed by warehousing more than 45,000 of the animals in off-range corrals and pastures.

Meanwhile, the feral horse and burro populations continue to grow apace, along with the problem.

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.

 

Wild horses in corrals.

Bill would repeal ‘Read by 3’ law

A bill wending its way through the Nevada Legislature would undo one of the few educational reforms pressed by Gov. Brian Sandoval that could actually be effective and provide a return on investment.

Assembly Bill 409 — sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee, so no Democrats had to leave fingerprints — proposes to repeal the law that requires third graders who fail to read at grade level be held back and not promoted to fourth grade. The law, which doesn’t take effect until July 2019, met resistance from educrats from the beginning. A former State Board of Education member was quoted as saying another test is “not going to improve reading.”

This was back in 2011 when former Florida Gov. and future presidential candidate Jeb Bush was writing in The Wall Street Journal: “While preparing kids for college and careers starts on the first day of kindergarten, the first good indicator of their chances for success may come in fourth grade. That is when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.”

Bush explained what Florida did: “Florida ended automatic, ‘social’ promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.”

Sandoval embraced Bush’s concept and added it to his education reform package of laws.

According to a reporter for The Nevada Independent, Sandoval just might veto AB 409 if it makes it to his desk. She has posted on Twitter what is apparently a statement attributed to the governor: “The Read by Grade 3 initiative placed nearly $30 million directly in classrooms in more than 300 schools across Nevada with a clear line of accountability and singular focus on developmental reading. The Governor will not compromise on the goal of ensuring every student in Nevada is reading at grade level by third grade.”

 

 

 

 

Proposed law would call for keeping the vast majority of land in Nevada under communal ownership

Some people have a really strange concept of “democracy,” and that says a lot about some of the people elected to the Nevada Legislature.

Also, if you thought changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day as a silly waste of time and paper, wait till you take a gander at Senate Bill 413.

SB413 proposes to designate the last Saturday in September each year as Public Lands Day in Nevada and require the governor to issue a proclamation encouraging the observance of said Public Lands Day.

The resolution accompanying the change in law is a paean to Nevada’s wide open spaces largely controlled by federal bureaucracies headquartered in the Kremlin on the Potomac:

WHEREAS, More than 80 percent of the public lands in this State are owned by the people of the United States and are managed and controlled by various federal agencies for the benefit of all persons living in the United States; and

WHEREAS, The federal public lands in this State include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, wilderness areas and public lands managed and controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service and other federal agencies; and

WHEREAS, All public lands located in this State feature a diverse range of landscapes, deserted mining towns where riches were made and lost, lush oases which stand in sharp contrast to surrounding barren lands, isolated ranches that are sometimes the size of small countries and trees which are thousands of years old; and

WHEREAS, The public lands in this State reflect many noble democratic ideals because they are open and accessible to all persons, regardless of whether those persons are rich or poor; and …

Noble democratic ideals? Communal ownership of vast swaths of land lying fallow and largely unproductive is democratic? And it is actually closer to 85 or even 87 percent of Nevada that is federally controlled.

The resolution then goes on to oppose any effort to release even a single square foot of that communally owned land to the state or private ownership:

WHEREAS, Efforts to transfer the federal public lands in this State from the people of the United States into state or private control are contrary to the democratic values of the United States and jeopardize activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and off-road pursuits; and …

So, there would be no more recreational opportunities if the feds only controlled, say, 70 percent of the state?

Pay no heed to the fact that a report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force, which was created by the Nevada Legislature, found that the BLM loses 91 cents an acre on the land it controls, but in the four states that have public trust land revenues amounted to $28.59 per acre. The report estimated that Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 4 million acres of the BLM’s 48 million acres. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — nearly half the annual general fund budget.

It is striking that the sponsors of this praise for and observance of communal ownership are all urban Democrats, save one turncoat independent. Where would these lawmakers be living right now if the federal government had not sold off a few thousand acres of that federal public land over the past decades so those urban areas could grow, adding homes, schools, businesses, parks, roads? Now they want to close the door on those rural communities that would like to annex a few acres for homes and businesses, providing opportunities for their next generations.

When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and it gets neglected.

Gold Butte is part of the 1 million acres of Nevada that Obama designated as national monuments in his final year in office.

Walters goes in one day from millionaire winner to loser

Billy Walters arrives for court in New York (Bloomberg pix)

His winning streak is over.

As John L. Smith reports in a column for The Nevada Independent, Las Vegas sports bettor and golf course developer Billy Walters, having beaten several investigations and indictments, has been convicted in New York of insider trading.

As Smith relates, “He collected pliable politicians and malleable reporters like posies, and nearly always managed to get the best of it. Even law enforcement, which in the past three decades had suspected him of everything from illegal bookmaking to money laundering, could never seem to bust him out.” Until Friday, when a jury convicted him in an insider trading deal that netted him $43 million.

Smith has been keeping an eye on Walters for years and in 2011 got a chuckle and a newspaper column out of a “60 Minutes” swooning interview with the smooth-talking Kentucky-born gambler and huckster.

Of course, the columnist took the opportunity to tell the story that “60 Minutes”missed:

Walters was a founding member of the infamous and feared “Computer Group,” the breakthrough collective of gamblers, handicappers and investors who processed the day’s sports schedule at such a high level they consistently produced better odds than those on the wall of your local sports book. The Computer Group banked millions, and the bookies took a beating. The Computer Group spawned a generation of imitators, some of whom pounded the sports books to pieces.

But the FBI and Metro were watching, and indictments followed. A trial came later, and Computer Group lawyers mopped the floor with the feds. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office were so embarrassed they put gambling cases on the back burner of their list of prosecutorial priorities.

Walters & Co. seemed to have the opposite effect on Nevada gaming regulation. The sports book industry was so routed it sought protection against Walters from the Gaming Control Board. That led to big rule changes, but Walters managed to adjust.

One of my favorite Walters stories is the time he scored an uncanny, and statistically improbable, winning record at roulette at the Golden Nugget. Casino bosses were sure he had to be cheating. So they had the wheel analyzed by engineers, who found nothing wrong with it. And the legend of Billy Walters grew.

Some of Walters’ biggest scores have come in the chambers of local government. His golf course land proposals at the city and county were tailored like Sinatra’s suits to fit his needs. The fact the public didn’t get the best of it rarely crossed the minds of mesmerized members of the City Council and County Commission.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Daffy souls who hoped to see Walters embarrassed or exposed on television surely were disappointed. They should have known better.

Billy Walters always gets the best of it, and his “60 Minutes” valentine is just another example.

One of those tailored deals was the lease of land from McCarran International Airport for Walters’ Bali Hai Golf Club for 10 years without paying a dime in rent. McCarran was to receive 40 percent of the course’s net profit, but there was no profit because Walters paid his own company a management fee of $6 million.

Walters, 70, now goes from being worth $500 million, the owner of seven homes and a $20 million jet, to facing a cramped jail cell.

Editorial: Forfeiture of property should be tied to a conviction

A couple of weeks ago we editorially bemoaned the fact that no one had introduced a bill in the state Legislature to restrict the practice of law enforcement agencies seizing private property — homes, cars, cash and such — under the presumption it is the product of criminal activity, but without ever having to actually go through the due process of convicting someone of a crime — a process called civil asset forfeiture.

That same week state Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks filed Senate Bill 358 that would require proof of a criminal conviction, a plea agreement or an agreement by the parties concerned before property could be forfeited.

Humboldt deputy seized cash

The bill is almost identical to a bill Gustavson and James Settelmeyer of Minden sponsored during the 2015 legislative session. By the time that bill came out the legislative sausage grinder it merely required police agencies to report their confiscations to the state. As the law currently reads, property may be confiscated and kept or sold without the property’s owner ever being convicted or even charged with a criminal offense.

Though the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …” police agencies in cooperation with federal law enforcement have for years coerced people into surrendering assets that become the property of the agency — a perverse incentive indeed.

Gustavson’s bill “provides that property is subject to forfeiture only if the underlying crime provides  for such forfeiture, and there is: (1) proof of a criminal conviction; (2) a plea agreement; or (3) an agreement by the parties.” It also “requires the State to establish that seized property is forfeitable by clear and convincing evidence.”

Gustavson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week, “Under current civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement can seize your cash or other property, sell and then use most of the proceeds however they see fit, even though you are never arrested or even charged with a crime. Passage of Senate Bill 358 does not limit law enforcement’s ability to combat drug cartels and other criminal activity. The intent of this legislation is to protect the innocent individual’s liberty and property right and to keep law abiding citizens from becoming entangled in the process that results in their rights being trampled. An innocent tourist driving back to Utah after winning a $1,000 jackpot at a local casino can have his money confiscated though he or she has not been accused of any crime.”

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, which has advocated civil asset forfeiture law reform for years, also testified. He said law enforcement has the power to take the fruits of criminal activity but that it should be done via criminal forfeiture rather than civil forfeiture.

“The appropriate process that is due is criminal forfeiture,” McGrath said. “It makes sense to charge, arrest and convict the suspect of a crime. If convicted in the same courtroom, the same judge can turn to the question, and it should be an easy question, of whether the cash, whether the vehicle are the proceeds and the instruments of a crime.”

The attorney general’s office, various law enforcement officials and district attorneys testified against the bill, saying the current system is not abused, though others testified to the contrary.

There is a case pending in the courts in which Texas police seized $200,000 in cash, claiming it was the profits of illegal drug trade, though the owners said it was from a the sale of a house. The bill of sale was with the cash. No one was ever convicted of any crime and the police still have the money.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a six-page commentary on the Texas case sighting the evils of civil asset forfeiture, “These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings. … Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.”

Nevada has its own record of suspect civil asset forfeiture cases. Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists.

Some states have passed laws similar to the one being advocated by Gustavson to curb the extortionate practice by police by requiring an actual criminal conviction before assets may be taken. This bill is needed to protect citizens and assure due process.

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.