Newspaper column: Lawmakers should narrow, not expand gun-free zones

Lawmakers in Carson City continue to exhibit rabid hoplophobia — fear of guns. A bill has been introduced to further extend gun-free zones to public libraries and their parking lots. Senate Bill 115, introduced by state Sen. Mo Denis of Las Vegas, would add public libraries to the current law, which already prohibits guns and other weapons in the buildings and parking lots of universities, public and private schools and childcare facilities. Now, we have no problem with the private owners of land and buildings demanding that visitors come unarmed, and the state is surely the owner or custodian of universities and public schools. Though why lawmakers should be allowed to dictate to private schools and private childcare facilities is beyond us.

Additionally, this bill is a pointless endeavor that does nothing but add needless paperwork and wastes time, because every library district in the state has the power to control its own grounds and facilities. The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District already has a policy barring arms inside buildings and has guards who check to make sure that the holster on your belt holds a cellphone and not a handgun.

This law would require someone to get written permission to bring his or her weapon onto a library parking lot or into a library building.

During a recent committee meeting on the bill, Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson of Las Vegas, said, “I’m concerned that if these libraries don’t have adequate security that what we’re doing is we’re telling the public that we’re creating gun-free zones. And those here that want this bill can disagree with me but there have been studies that show gun-free zones are a magnet for criminal activity and mass shooters.”

He said the bill undermines law abiding Nevadans and actually endangers the public.

Republican state Sen. Don Gustavson — who represents all of Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Pershing and parts of Nye and Washoe counties — echoed Roberson’s concerns about creating gun-free zones. He asked rhetorically whether one would have a quicker response by pulling out a cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or pulling out a weapon. He said many in his district carry concealed weapons wherever they go.

According to the Nevada Firearms Coalition, since about 1950, more than 95 percent of all mass shootings in America have taken place where law-abiding citizens are banned from carrying guns.

Most puzzling is why it is a crime to have a gun in your car in the parking lot of these facilities. In fact, in the 2015 legislative session Assemblyman John Hambrick introduced a bill that would have allowed guns in vehicles at the aforementioned locales. A hearing on the bill was packed with proponents and opponents. A digest of the bill stated it would add an exception to the law so that a person would not be prohibited from possessing a weapon on those specific grounds if it were inside a locked or occupied motor vehicle. Seemed like a common sense approach, but it never got out of committee.

So people who are accustomed to keeping a pistol in the glove compartment or a rifle in a gun rack or the trunk are breaking the law if they drop their children off on school or daycare parking lots or visit a college campus. Now this bill would add public libraries, even if one is dropping a book at an outside collection box. Having a gun in the parking lot is not as good as having one on your person if the need arises. Just ask the vice principal of the Pearl, Miss., school who had to run a quarter mile to his vehicle to retrieve a gun to stop a shooter.

In October of 1997 a young man showed up on a school campus carrying a .30-30 rifle. He fatally shot two students. At the sound of gunshots, the vice principal ran a quarter of a mile to his truck, because the school was declared by law to be a gun-free zone, to recover and load his pistol before returning to campus, where he captured and disarmed the gunman and held him for four minutes until police could arrive. This could be an opportunity for an enterprising lawmaker to show some common sense for a change. Amend SB115 by adding the parking lot exception offered by Hambrick two years ago. That would not go far enough but would be a move in the right direction. Also, let library districts set their own policies.

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.

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Newspaper column: Bill proposes to turn Nevada into a ‘sanctuary state’

Return with us now to those thrilling days under the Articles of Confederation when every state made up its own rules regarding immigration and naturalization of foreigners, back before the Constitution gave Congress the sole authority to establish such rules.

In arguing for enactment of the Constitution in Federalist Paper No. 42, James Madison wrote, “The new Constitution has accordingly, with great propriety, made provision against them, and all others proceeding from the defect of the Confederation on this head, by authorizing the general government to establish a uniform rule of naturalization throughout the United States.”

Now along comes Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela of Las Vegas, along with a host of fellow scofflaw Democrats, with a bill in Carson City that would turn Nevada into a “sanctuary state” by forbidding law enforcement cooperating with federal immigration authorities in identifying persons in their custody who are in this country illegally.

Senate Bill 223 states: “No state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department shall: (a) Use money, facilities, property, equipment or personnel of the agency, unit or department to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest a person for the purposes of immigration enforcement …”

Cancela was quoted by the Reno newspaper as saying the bill “limits the ability to participate in immigration enforcement as far as what’s under federal purview.”

She went on to say, “The uncertainty that (President) Trump has created because of his executive orders, because of his political – frankly – hate speech around them has created a lot of problems not only for local law enforcement, but individuals. I think it’s our responsibility as legislators to provide as much clarity not only to law enforcement but families who are affected by those policies.”

Currently, under a program called 287(g), cooperating police departments that take a suspected illegal immigrant into custody notify U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents and they have 48 hours to pick up that person. In the past, ICE has been notoriously lax in showing up within those 48 hours, but, according to numerous press accounts, this is no longer the case under the new Trump presidential administration.

Under SB223 this would come to a screeching halt, despite the fact all lawmakers are required to take an oath of office swearing to “support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States … that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding …”

In reaction to the bill, Senate Republican Minority Leader Michael Roberson released a statement to the press, saying, “This ‘Sanctuary State’ bill is, without question, the most recklessly irresponsible piece of legislation that I have witnessed during my six plus years in the Nevada Legislature. This Democrat bill will undoubtedly result in violent criminals, who have no business being in our state, to be released back into our communities to wreak more havoc on Nevadans.”

One of the arguments made by sanctuary proponents is that illegal immigrants are loath to report crimes for fear they will risk deportation and this increases criminal activity. But state and local law enforcement currently does not ask those who report crimes about their immigration status, only those who are in custody, those most likely to continue criminal activity if ICE is not given the opportunity to deport them because they pose a danger to the entire community — illegal immigrants included.

To add potential impact on state taxpayers to real danger of criminal activity, it should be noted that President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and presumably sanctuary states.

He signed an executive order directing government officials to identify federal money that can be withheld to punish sanctuary cities.

So what could this mean for the “sanctuary state” of Nevada should SB223 pass in a Democrat majority Legislature?

The state’s total budget for the past two years was $26 billion. Fully $9 billion of that came from federal funds, according to the state budget.

Passing SB223 could have serious consequences to the bottom line of the state of Nevada, but that has never stopped the self-righteous Democrats, has it?

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.

The Republican majority in the state Senate is a myth, Mr. Roberson

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson should just end the charade right now, cross the aisle and caucus with the Democrats. He might have run for office under the Republican banner but now he talks like a Democrat and votes like a Democrat.

Monday’s forum on legislative issues put on by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Las Vegas Review-Journal ended any doubts.

Michael Roberson (R-J photo)

Roberson did not make so much as a hat tip to conservative values. He said, according to the R-J account, that the state must raise our taxes to fund public education and pay for “essential services” because the bureaucrats claim the budget is running a $175 million deficit.

“Many of us, Republicans and Democrats, have come to the realization that we are not funding education adequately in this state,” Roberson was quoted as saying. “We cannot continue to be near the bottom of most rankings.”

After the forum, Roberson told the R-J reporter that the Modified Business Tax on business payrolls is here to stay and might be “tweaked,” whatever that means. The MBT tax rate is scheduled to be cut in half on June 30.

Even worse, in a sidebar that doesn’t appear to be anywhere online, Roberson said he had no interest in engaging in a “perceived war on public employees.”

“We are not going to gut collective bargaining,” he was quoted as saying. “We are not going to gut PERS. What we need to look at are the excesses that we identify in the system.”

Collective bargaining and PERS are the excesses in the system and are driving up costs and taxes, but Roberson has no interest in addressing them? Is this the same Roberson who in 2011 introduced a bill that would have ended binding arbitration in collective bargaining, because it was “bankrupting the state”? That bill went nowhere.

Give this guy the bum’s rush.

The Republicans may hold an 11-10 majority in the state Senate, but that is on paper only.

The 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature is only a couple of weeks away — 120 days during which our lives, liberties and property, especially our property, will be in jeopardy, as Mark Twain once opined.

Newspaper column: Nevada collects more per capita in taxes than 38 states, but spends less per pupil on education than 44 states

Cowboy humorist, philosopher and rope-twirling raconteur Will Rogers once said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Well, everybody knows Nevada is a low-tax state. Ask anyone. Why our very state Constitution prohibits an income tax. Sure our sales tax is pretty high but tourists contribute more to the state coffers because of it. And this is the topic of this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, Mesquite Local News and Elko Daily Free Press.

So surely it is understandable why the state agencies are poor-mouthing as the next session of the Legislature approaches, crying that the state needs to spend $1 billion more in the next biennium to just keep up current inadequate service levels. And that doesn’t take into account the $1.2 billion in temporary taxes that are scheduled to sunset next June, leaving the shortfall at a jaw-dropping, wallet-sucking $2.2 billion.

The big fear is that new Republican majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly will balk at raising or extending taxes.

For his part, Gov. Brian Sandoval has been coy on the topic of taxation.

Asked point blank by newspaper reporters about whether his budget might include new taxes, he replied, “You’ll find out.”

He told the editorial boards of the Reno and Las Vegas newspapers, “I have a unique opportunity, I feel, hopefully as second-term governor, going into the session and having the relationships I have with the Legislature to lead this effort in terms of looking at how we fund the state.”

As for the taxes set for sunset in June, Sandoval in both 2011 and 2013 agreed to extend them.

The state’s new Republican Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson was quoted as saying at an education forum in Las Vegas recently, “We have really two choices. We can either reform our tax structure in a broad-based, fair way in collaboration with the community … in a way that generates more revenue. Or we’re going to be in a situation where we’re going to have to cut education significantly.”

Everybody knows Nevada already is a piker when it comes to spending on education and has the results to show for it with poor test scores and graduation rates. In fact, according to the latest Census Bureau data from 2012, Nevada ranked a pathetic 45th in the nation in K-12 education spending.

Since we’re perusing Census data already, how does Nevada stack up in that taxation department?

The most recent Census report on this is the “Quarterly Summary of State and Local Government Tax Revenue” from the second quarter of this calendar year, when Nevadans paid nearly $2.9 billion in taxes to the state, cities, counties and other taxing districts. Divide that by a population of nearly 2.8 million from the 2013 Census estimate and you find the per capita state and local taxation for the quarter was a little more than $1,000.

That was the 13th highest per capita tax revenue in the nation — 12th if you exclude the District of Columbia. Nevada collected more per resident than the presumptive high-tax state of New York. Thus, low-tax Nevada governments collect more per capita in taxes than 38 other states, but can’t seem to find as much to spend per pupil on education as 44 other states.

According to the Tax Foundation, Nevada’s average sales tax — state and local — is the 13th highest in the nation.

Nevada’s property tax rate is the 28th highest in the nation, according to Tax-Rates.org.

When you break down the revenue sources for Nevada elementary and secondary education as reported by the Census Bureau, you find Nevada ranked 47th in federal revenue. (Tell me again about how the U.S. Senate majority leader from Nevada is bringing home the bacon.) When it came to funding levels from the state, Nevada ranked 25th, but only 45th for local level funding.

Nevada ranked in the mid-40s in most education spending categories, but 22nd highest in spending on school administration.

The money is there, but apparently it is being spent on other things.

When it comes to government salaries, Nevada’s state and local governments have been able to keep up with others in the same taxation neighborhood. Admittedly, the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau are for 2009, but in that year the state of Nevada ranked 12th in the nation with an average monthly salary level of just more than $5,000. Local governments paid a similar salary level, and ranked sixth in the nation compared to local governments in other states.

The problem isn’t that Nevada collects too little in taxes. It is how it spends it.

Members of the Economic Forum on Wednesday release revenue forecast. (R-J photo)

But don’t expect any of this to be heard in the halls of the Legislature or inside the Capitol building.

They will just be talking about how the Economic Forum predicts the state will have “only” $6.3 billion to spend on the general fund in the coming biennium, if you discount those sunsetting taxes.

“Today’s Economic Forum report reminds us yet again that our revenue structure is not built to meet the demands of our changing economy nor our continued increase in statewide population,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “Before I finalize and submit the state budget, I will ask my Cabinet to further scale back agency budget requests so that we can factor into account today’s projections.”

There’s never enough of our money to satisfy the avarice of the bureaucrats.

On the other hand Victor Joecks, NPRI executive vice president, released a statement that puts the revenue forecast in proper perspective:

Today’s Economic Forum revenue projections show why Nevada lawmakers do not need to consider tax increases during the 2015 Legislative Session.

The forecast of $6.3 billion in revenue for the next two-year budget cycle is the highest amount ever projected for Nevada. Combined with reversions of existing funds from agency accounts back to the general fund and other transfers, Nevada will be able to finance a spending plan comparable to its current $6.6 billion budget without raising taxes.

It’s important to compare the Economic Forum projection to Nevada’s historical levels of spending, not wish-lists from government bureaucrats.

The 2011 Legislature passed a budget of $6.2 billion, which included re-authorizing of supposedly “temporary” 2009 taxes the Sandoval administration had earlier pledged would sunset. Then, in 2013, lawmakers approved a general fund budget of $6.6 billion, which also included around $600 million in tax increases from the “sunset” taxes.

Taxed enough already?

States ranked by state and local government revenue per capita:

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