Newspaper column: Gun background check law is a futile gesture

The frequency of gun violence calls for a senseless and futile gesture and Nevada Democratic lawmakers are just the ones to do it.

In a matter of days this past week the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 143, which requires background checks to be conducted prior to the sale or transfer of any firearm by a private individual to anyone other than an immediate family member. It passed both the state Senate and Assembly without a single Republican vote. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill shortly after the Assembly passed it Friday.

The bill is an effort to fix the fundamental flaw that made a similar background check requirement narrowly approved by voters in 2016 unenforceable. The backers of the ballot initiative, Question 1, tried to avoid having a fiscal note saying how much the background checks would cost Nevada taxpayers by requiring the checks to be run through an FBI database and not the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History, which handles all background checks for federally licensed gun dealers in the states. The FBI refused to do the checks and the attorney general declared the law unenforceable and a district court judge agreed.

SB143 requires the state criminal history repository to be used.

Question 1 passed with only 50.45 percent of the voters approving it, failing in every county except Clark. Ninety percent of Eureka County voters rejected it, as did 82 percent in Elko and White Pine, 74 percent in Nye, 88 percent in Lincoln, 76 percent in Mineral and 89 percent in Esmeralda, for example.

In pressing for passage of the bill Friday an assembly member mentioned the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school a year earlier and read the names of those killed.

Another mentioned the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting that left 58 dead at a Las Vegas country music festival as being a reason to require background checks on private firearms sales.

The New York Times a year ago reported that the guns used in both of these shootings, as well as 17 others in recent years, were all obtained legally and the shooters all passed background checks, though a couple probably should not have. So this law would have done nothing to prevent any of those shootings.

Additionally, the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis partnered with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to study the impact of a similar California background check law passed in 1991. The study found that over the next decade there was no impact whatsoever on firearm homicide and suicide rates.

UC Davis and Johns Hopkins earlier looked at two states that repealed similar background check laws in 1998 and found that over the next decade there was no impact on the rate of firearm deaths.

While SB143 would have no impact whatsoever on gun violence, it would impose considerable costs and time to be spent for those law-abiding Nevadans who try to comply with the rather vague law. Running afoul of the law once is a gross misdemeanor and more than once is a felony.

The law requires both private gun seller and buyer to appear together with the firearm at a licensed gun dealer. Since such dealers are usually open during regular business hours, presumably both buyer and seller would have to take time off from work to do so. The law also says the dealer may charge a reasonable fee, though reasonable is not defined.

One dealer testified this past week that currently background checks can tie up employees for a half hour and sometimes up to two hours. “That’s money out of my pocket,” she said.

How many dealers will be willing to actually perform such background checks, if any, and at what “reasonable” fee?

The law does not go into effect until Jan. 2, 2020. What was the rush? Couldn’t some of these unknowns have been addressed before ramming the bill through merely to satisfy Democrats’ liberal base with a feel good measure that will accomplish nothing?

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.

Newspaper column: School district tries to obliterate public records law

The Clark County School District has filed a legal action with the state Supreme Court that, if successful, could render the state’s strong public records law nearly meaningless and deprive the citizens in every jurisdiction in the state access to public records that enable them to keep an eye on the actions of public officials.

The brief filed earlier this month appeals a judge’s decision to award attorney fees and court costs to the Las Vegas newspaper after it prevailed in district court in its demand for public records about an investigation into a school trustee accused of discriminating against school district employees — clearly the sort of information to which voters should be privy. The school district’s brief itself calls the matter “of statewide public importance.”

The district takes the absurd position that the Nevada Public Records Act of 1993  which states, “The purpose of this chapter is to foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records to the extent permitted by law …” — is self-contradictory because what is clearly stated in one paragraph is negated three paragraphs later. 

In one section the law states, “If the requester prevails, the requester is entitled to recover his or her costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in the proceeding from the governmental entity whose officer has custody of the book or record.” This is to ensure that citizens are not driven into bankruptcy in fighting a public agency with endless access to taxpayer money and can be made whole in order to fight again another day. Once the court says something is a public record, it is a public record and should have been freely accessed all along, but for the intransigence of some usually nameless bureaucrat.

The district cites another section of law that reads, “A public officer or employee who acts in good faith in disclosing or refusing to disclose information and the employer of the public officer or employee are immune from liability for damages, either to the requester or to the person whom the information concerns.”

Clearly this was intended to protect employees and employers from liability for such things as harm to public reputation or release of trade secrets. Who is to say what is good or bad faith?

The district brief repeatedly calls on the court to construe “legislative intent,” yet the very cites from legislative records clearly show the legislators intended to grant costs to public records requestors who prevail in court, and immunity from damages was another topic entirely.

The brief quotes from legislative minutes from May 3, 1993, describing comments by then Nevada Press Association Executive Director Ande Engleman, who was clearly not a legislator, answering a question from Assembly Subcommittee on Government Affairs Chairman Rick Bennett as to whether taxpayers should cover the costs of “frivolous” suits. 

The minutes show Engleman responding, “Court costs and attorneys’ fees were granted only when it was a denial of what was clearly a public record [bad faith]. Therefore, she did not think there would be frivolous lawsuits.” The district attorneys helpfully bold-faced and italicized and added the “bad faith” in brackets, even though her remarks indicated there would be no costs awarded if the suit failed.

The brief for some inexplicable reason failed to include lawmaker Bennett’s “legislative intent” in the very next paragraph, “If an agency head truly withheld a record which should have been public, Mr. Bennett said he hoped the court would penalize the agency in some way by making them pay the costs.” Now that is legislative intent.

The school system’s attorneys repeatedly argue lawmakers intended the “good faith” immunity clause to negate the clear language that attorney fees and court case are to be awarded if a record was wrongly withheld — an absurdity. 

Neither does the brief pay any heed to subcommittee minutes from four days later in which the panel voted to add the word “reasonable” to the costs and fees section of the law and then immediately segued into a discussion of immunity for “good faith in disclosing or refusing to disclose” being “immune from liability for damage.”

Lawmakers clearly saw the two sections as not contradictory. Neither did District Court Judge Timothy Williams who determined there was no ambiguity between the two adjacent sections of the same law. Neither should the Nevada Supreme Court. 

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.


Real reason the Faraday Future deal should never have been struck

For all the recriminations and navel gazing over the Faraday Future flop, no one is bringing up the real reason that the deal should never have been made in the first place.

Yes, it was an ill-conceived idea for gullible Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 on blind faith alone to agree to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at the Apex industrial complex in North Las Vegas, though at the time it did not even have a prototype vehicle. The deal, struck by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also promised to spend $120 million on infrastructure improvements at the site — water, rail and widening of Interstate 15.

Faraday promised to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility, create 4,500 jobs and start producing cars as early as 2016.

After visiting China in 2016 state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, long a critic of the Faraday largesse by the state, told the press, “We’re increasingly more concerned than we were before that this is just a big Ponzi scheme.”

He and all the handful of other naysayers were right. Faraday has pulled the plug, tucked tail and run off.

But it wasn’t just naiveté or poor negotiating skills or poor judgment that made this a bad deal. It was blatant and arrogant flouting of the state Constitution. In fact, it was a double flout.

You see the Constitution has a Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Self-styled economic development advocates have tried three times to amend the Constitution and remove the Gift Clause. The voters rejected those attempts all three times — in 1992, 1996 and again in 2000 by wide majorities.

The state Supreme Court has said that when the state provides something to a private entity without getting adequate compensation for the value, that is a gift and thus a violation of the Constitution.

Nevada’s high court has cited an Arizona Supreme Court ruling on that state’s nearly identical Gift Clause. The Arizona court said its Gift Clause “represents the reaction of public opinion to the orgies of extravagant dissipation of public funds by counties, townships, cities, and towns in aid of the construction of railways, canals, and other like undertakings during the half century preceding 1880, and it was designed primarily to prevent the use of public funds raised by general taxation in aid of enterprises apparently devoted to quasi public purposes, but actually engaged in private business.”

Then there is the section of the Nevada Constitution that clearly states, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It ain’t uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

Despite these clearly worded prohibitions the state doled out $1.3 billion in tax breaks to Tesla Motors to build a battery factory near Sparks. The projections on capital investment and number of jobs to be created have fallen far short. All it would take to make the whole deal go bust is a technological breakthrough that makes lithium ion batteries obsolete.

That $750 million to build a Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders football team on a site with woefully adequate parking spaces still could come up a piker.

But none of them should ever have been allowed in the first place.

The only car Faraday Future has made.



Here there be gods

Apparently when one is handed the power to write laws, one immediately becomes omniscient and omnipotent — knowing how everything should be done and how everyone should behave and do their jobs, even physicians.

On Friday the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy approved Assembly Bill 105, which requires doctors and other health care providers to undergo ongoing suicide prevention training. Like doctors don’t go through enough training already and doctors have no incentive to keep their patients alive and paying the bills.

State law already requires a litany of training requirements, including how to spot terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but it would change the law from encouraging ongoing suicide prevention and awareness training to requiring it.

 Meanwhile, the Assembly is expected to vote next week on a bill that would prohibit so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, even with their consent and the consent of their parents. Such therapy is intended to alter the minor’s sexual orientation — generally, we presume, from homosexual to heterosexual. Senate Bill 201 has already passed the state Senate on a vote of 15-5 despite concerns to any conversation with a young person about sexual orientation might to construed as therapy under the law.
While the law specifically prohibits treatment that “seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person,” despite their actual chromosome composition, it specifically allows support or confirmation for “a person undergoing gender transition …” or provides “acceptance, support and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s ability to cope, social support and identity exploration and development …”
Our lawmakers know what’s best for you, no matter what you might think. For their next trick: Laying on of hands.

Newspaper column: Lawmakers seek to shirk duty to set their own salaries

Nevada Legislature (R-J pix)

Perhaps the lesson of 1989 lingers.

In that legislative session, Nevada lawmakers were so bold as to pass a law that increased their pensions by 300 percent. Though the eventual retirement payouts amounted to only a few hundred dollars per month, voters were outraged by the audaciousness of the self-serving money grab.

Under that 1989 law, pensions for part-time lawmakers were to rise from $25 a month per year of service to $100 a month per year of service — a mere drop in the multibillion-dollar state budget.

But a petition was circulated to put the repeal of the pension hike on the ballot in 1990.

Smarting from the voluble voter backlash, Gov. Bob Miller called a special session in November of 1989 and lawmakers quickly repealed the pension increase and Miller signed it two hours later.

Despite the repeal some lawmakers feared the pension grab remains ”a campaign issue that hurts everybody who voted for it.’’

Only four legislators opposed the 300 percent pension increase for themselves, and despite the repeal in special session many of the senators and assemblymen who originally voted for the increase were later voted out of office.

So, in 2015 state lawmakers hatched Assembly Joint Resolution 10, which proposes to amend the state Constitution to create a citizen compensation commission that would set their salaries, as well as the salaries of statewide officials, justices, judges and county elected officials. It overwhelmingly was passed by lawmakers in 2015 but must be approved again this session before it would go before the voters in 2018.

The Constitution currently states that such compensation is set by law, meaning the legislators set their own salaries and expense reimbursement. That currently amounts to a salary of $146.29 a day for 60 days of each 120-day session, plus $140 a day to cover expenses each day of the 120-day session, for a total of just more than $25,000 each legislative year.

This compares favorably with a number of other states with part-time legislatures — such as Kansas which pays $88.66 a day plus $140 a day in expenses and Wyoming at $150 a day in pay plus $109 a day in expenses. (Pay no heed to neighboring bank-breaking California where full-time lawmakers are paid more than $100,000 a year plus $176 a day in expenses.)

Under AJR10 the governor would appoint a seven-member commission with various expertise as prescribed by law. Members would draw a salary plus benefits. They would be tasked with comparing the salaries of elected officials with the salaries and benefits of persons employed in the public or private sector who have similar qualifications.

The fiscal note on the resolution proclaims there would no effect on state or local government, which should raise suspicions right there.

According to Ballotpedia, one of the arguments for passage of AJR10 was advanced by Republican Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling, who is no longer in office. She proffered: “I am bringing this resolution forward because I believe it is difficult for elected officials to have a serious and fact-based discussion about their own compensation. Too many interest groups criticize and bring pressure. They regard this as self-serving and fail to recognize the amount of time and effort it takes to serve our fellow citizens. Even when the Legislature created an advisory commission that is still in statute, that commission’s recommendations had to be submitted to the Legislature for enactment. In the end, legislators were still forced to discuss and act on their own salaries.”

And answer to the voters, just as they did in 1989? There’s the rub.

Actually a number of states have created compensation commissions so lawmakers might wash their hands of the grubby task of setting their own pay. One of the more recent ones is Minnesota. According to news accounts, Minnesota lawmakers had not received a raise in nearly two decades, fearing a voter backlash. Instead, in November 2016 more than three-quarters of state voters amended the state Constitution to create a compensation commission.

This past month Minnesota’s pay panel voted 13-1 to increase their lawmaker salaries by 50 percent, from $31,000 a year to $45,000.

Nevada voters should keep that in mind should AJR10 make it to the ballot here next year. If lawmakers think they deserve a raise, they should have to persuade the voters directly, and not dodge their duty.

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.

Update: AJR10 died this week when it failed to get a vote in the Assembly … unless it is brought back as an emergency or some other ruse.

Nevada lawmakers pushing bill to make youth sexual orientation immutable

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.

Lawmakers have a tendency to want to play God. They know best, and, by damn, you’ll behave the way they demand you behave or pay the consequences.

That’s why the Nevada state Senate has already passed a bill by a vote of 15-5 that would prohibit so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, even with their consent and the consent of their parents. Such therapy is intended to alter the minor’s sexual orientation — generally, we presume, from homosexual to heterosexual.

On Wednesday the Assembly Health and Human Services heard arguments on Senate Bill 201 in which some argued the broad language barring anyone who provides counseling services from providing “any conversion therapy,” which could be construed as banning any conversation with a youth confused about sexual orientation.

The proponents of the bill, and even some Republicans who say the language is too broad, according to the Las Vegas newspaper account, call conversion therapy reprehensible and say it can result in anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Somehow the conclusion that sexual orientation is immutable seems analogous to passing laws saying one may not undergo conversion from one religion to another. Aren’t there some countries with just such laws?

But apparently when it comes to gender all is mutable. You see, in their infinite wisdom, our august lawmakers have already passed Assembly Bill 99, which demands all children in institutions such as “juvenile detention facilities, foster homes, child care facilities and mental health facilities” be treated according to the child’s gender identity despite the child’s actual biological gender. Juvenile detention facilities? It also requires all those adults working with such children to be indoctrinated into handling “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning children.”

AB99 passed the Assembly 26-15 and the Senate 18-2 and was signed by the governor.

So, SB201 would appear to be on a clear path to passage.

But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

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.

State senator pushing bill to erase immunity for civil suits for self defense

Mark Twain may or may not have said of the Nevada Legislature, which he covered as a reporter in the mid-1800s, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

But the statement is true nonetheless.

Aaron Ford

Take Senate Bill 254 introduced by state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Aaron Ford. This bill would make any person who forcibly defends his or her property and family against a robber or attacker subject to being sued by the attacker in civil court for damages. Current law prohibits such a farce.

Ford’s bill specifically strikes this language from the law: “Force which is intended or likely to cause death or bodily  injury is immune from civil liability in an action to recover damages for personal injuries to or the wrongful death of a person against whom such force was used if the use of such force was justified under the applicable provisions of chapter 200 of NRS relating to the use of such force.”

This is a sop to trial lawyers and a blatant threat to law abiding citizens who use self defense.

And Ford, an attorney, is said to be contemplating a run for attorney general? Any future opponent for any office he seeks should pound him about the head and shoulders with this atrocity.




Turning Nevada into a ‘sanctuary state’ could have severe consequences

ICE agents at work in Las Vegas. (R-J pix)

ICE agents at work in Las Vegas. (R-J pix)

Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it — good and hard.

Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela of Las Vegas, along with a number of fellow Democrats, has introduced a bill that would turn Nevada into a “sanctuary state” by forbidding law enforcement cooperating with federal immigration authorities in identifying persons 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, including, without limitation:
(1) Inquiring into or collecting information about the immigration status of a person.
(2) Detaining a person on the basis of a hold request, except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.
(3) Responding to a notification request or transfer request.
(4) Providing or responding to a request for nonpublic personal information about a person, including, without limitation, information about the person’s home address, work address or date of release from custody.
(5) Making an arrest on the basis of a civil immigration warrant, except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Under a program called 287(g) local cooperating police departments, which includes Clark County, 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.

According to an account in the Las Vegas newspaper, in the past that rarely happened, but in recent weeks ICE officers are at the jail almost every day, apparently stepping up enforcement of immigration laws under the Trump administration.

Under SB223 this would come to a screeching halt.

But Tump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. 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?

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 taxpayers of Nevada, but that has never stopped the self-righteous Democrats, has it?


New Nevada law dictates unisex facilities in public schools

The Nevada Legislature nixed a bill that would have prohibited the use of public school restrooms, locker rooms and showers by any biological gender other than the one specified, but appears to have passed a bill that mandates unisex facilities.


Assembly Bill 375 was the target of considerable derision. It would have put into law a requirement that “any school facility in a public school, including a restroom, locker room or shower which is designated for use by persons of one biological sex must only be used by persons of that biological sex, as determined at birth.” 

But Senate Bill 504, labeled an anti-bullying bill, specifically protects people who might be discriminated against because of: “Actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability of a person, sex or any other distinguishing characteristic or background of a person …”

It high-mindedly dictates: “Every classroom, hallway, locker room, cafeteria, restroom, gymnasium, playground, athletic field, school bus, parking lot and other areas on the premises of a public school in this State must be maintained as a safe and respectful learning environment, and no form of bullying or cyber-bullying will be tolerated within the system of public education in this State …”

Among the prohibitions in SB504 is: “Blocking access to any property or facility of a school …”

There you have it. By Nevada law, you can’t bar boys from the girls’ showers.