Judge holds that lawmakers can hold down government jobs at the same time

A Carson City judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute in an effort to force compliance with the Separation of Powers Clause of the Nevada Constitution.

In order to establish standing as a party, NPRI sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert on behalf of a client, Doug French, who wanted to seek her job as executive director of external relations at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Article 3 of the Nevada Constitution states: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

Judge James Russell tossed the suit from the bench and has two weeks to issue a written ruling explaining how on earth a person exercising the powers of the Legislature can also exercise any functions of the executive branch.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-J pix)

NPRI attorney told The Nevada Independent the group will wait for the judge’s written ruling before deciding what step to take next.

This is the second time NPRI has sued to try to get lawmakers to follow the plain language of the Constitution. Earlier it sued state Sen. Mo Denis because he also was an employee of the state Public Utilities Commission, and had been for 17 years. Denis immediately resigned from his $56,000-a-year state job in order to maintain his part-time $10,000-every-other-year state senator post, and a judge declared the lawsuit moot, despite strong arguments from NPRI that there is a public-interest exception to mootness.

Gansert’s university job yields $210,000 a year in pay and benefits.

There are nearly a dozen current lawmakers who also hold jobs in state or local government. Since Nevada operates under the Dillon Rule, which limits the power of local governments to those expressly granted by the Legislature, local governments are basically subsidiaries of the state. Arguably employees of local governments are serving in the executive branch of state government, and also would be barred from serving as a lawmaker under the Constitution.

When he filed suit against Gansert, Becker issued a statement saying, “Gansert’s continued employment in the state’s executive branch, as Executive Director of External Relations for the University of Nevada, Reno, puts her in direct violation of Nevada’s Separation of Powers clause, now that she is also serving in the state senate. As a senator, she can simply not continue her employment in the executive branch without violating this clearly worded constitutional provision.”

In a counter statement Gansert called the suit meritless and said, “Nevada has an unambiguous precedent of legislators taking time off from their jobs in higher education to serve the people of the state.”

That unambiguous precedent only dates from 1964, as newspaper columnist Vin Suprynowicz pointed out in a 2011 column. Suprynowicz said even school janitors were not allowed to sit in the Legislature. This was chipped away by a couple of attorney general rulings until in 1971 Attorney General Bob List opened the flood gates. List held that a person could “exercise powers” as a legislator so long as he didn’t “exercise powers” in one of the other branches. Never mind that the constitutional criteria is “any function.”

Suprynowicz also related, “In 2004, Attorney General Brian Sandoval — now our governor — issued an opinion holding that state workers should not be allowed to sit in Carson City. But it has never been tested in the courts and is widely ignored.”

But the lawmakers’ lawyers at the Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a different opinion two years earlier and said “the separation- of-powers provision in the state constitution only prohibits a member of the Legislature, during his term, from holding a constitutional office or a nonconstitutional office in another department of state government, because a person who holds a constitutional or nonconstitutional office exercises sovereign functions appertaining to another department of the state government. However, it is also the opinion of this office that the separation-of-powers provision in the state constitution does not prohibit a member of the Legislature, during his term, from occupying a position of public employment in another department of state government, because a person in a position of public employment does not exercise any sovereign functions appertaining to another department of the state government.”

Nope, no conflict there, other than being able to hold life and death sway over the budget of one’s own boss.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1784: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. … An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

 

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How Washington math ‘works’

This is how Washington works: If Congress does not increase funding by as much as someone wants, that’s a cut. If Congress doles out money one year, but fails to continue to do so, that’s a cut. If Congress stops penalizing people for not buying health insurance, and some of those people choose to not buy it, those people have lost insurance coverage.

That’s why you see news reports heralding the “fact” Medicaid cuts in the current Senate ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill would cost Nevada $16 billion over the next decade, and 200,000 could “lose” health insurance.

That’s why even nuns are calling for ObamaCare to be left alone. Nuns? Didn’t nuns sue because ObamaCare requires them to provide contraceptive coverage?

The local paper quoted one of those nuns as writing: “We have seen early and avoidable deaths because of a lack of insurance, prohibitive costs and lack of quality health care.”

Pay no heed to the fact that studies found “uninsured patients were about 25% less likely than those with Medicaid to have an ‘in-hospital death.’” Or that, “Medicaid patients were also more than twice as likely to have a major, subsequent heart attack after angioplasty as were patients who didn’t have any health insurance at all.”

Insurance coverage does not necessarily equal better health care.

A vote against ending ObamaCare is a vote for keeping it until it collapses and is replaced by single payer. Apparently, four of Nevada’s Washington delegation are already on board.

 

 

Rosen said to be planning to run against Heller

Jacky Rosen (AP pix via Politico)

Half the search engine alerts about Nevada this morning seemed to contain a link to some story about first-term Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen of Las Vegas, who has a year and a half to go in her first term, planning to soon announce a bid to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Politico first broke the news at 7:44 p.m. Monday, followed a couple of hours later by The Nevada Independent and a half dozen others, except the Las Vegas newspaper. Most cited unnamed sources, though a couple led with the National Republican Congressional Committee reacting to the news.

Politico reported that a poll released Monday showed Heller getting just 39 percent of the vote while a generic Democrat polled 46 percent among Nevada voters.

“Heller is widely considered the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2018 and is the only GOP senator this cycle who represents a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Politico reported.

NVIndy reported:

The first-term congresswoman has spoken with former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and his successor, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, about getting into the race and is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s top choice to run against the senior senator, the source said. Heller is considered the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection in 2018 and is the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the midterm.

The website also said she has the backing of the Culinary union, which has a strong voter turnout organization. In the 2016 presidential election Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump by 2 points, largely due to the unions getting members to the polls.

CNN quoted an NRSC spokesman as saying, “With today’s news, Jacky Rosen confirmed to Nevadans the only reason she’s in elected office is to serve her own ambitions. Rosen’s radical liberal stances might please her puppet-master Harry Reid, but they will leave Nevadans worse off.”

Election season is never ending.

Arbitrator says school district can afford to give administrators a pay raise

When it comes to arbitration of public union and local government collective bargaining contracts, apparently the only thing that really matter is whether the local government’s taxpayers can afford to give a raise in pay — not whether the employees have earned a raise.

On Friday an arbitrator ruled that the Clark County School District must give raises to its unionized school principals and administrators and pay nearly $20 million in retroactive raises, according to the contribution-funded online news site The Nevada Independent. Though the decision came this past week, a search of the morning newspaper found no trace of the news.

According to the arbitrator the school district’s final offer fell $13 million below the union’s demand.Arb

The arbitrator stated:

The District offered no specific evidence indicating that teachers would be laid off if the Association’s final offer was granted, class sizes would be increased, days in the school year would be curtailed, or the District’s ability to educate children within the District would otherwise be adversely impacted.

The evidence did establish that cuts in the District’s budget would have to be made, but there was no compelling evidence indicating the District would be unable to fulfill its primary obligation of providing education to the children residing within the school district if the Association’s Final Offer was granted. In the absence of such evidence, the Arbitrator concludes the District has the financial ability to pay the Association’s requested Final Written Offer without compromising its obligation to provide an education to the children residing within the School District.

All that matters is the ability of the taxpayers to pay and pay without regard to the quality of the education outcome, which has been long established as subpar.

In Nevada, arbitrators are not allowed the split the baby and compromise between the two final offers but must choose one or the other. It seems the unions’ final offers invariable is chosen and the main reason seems to always be that the taxpayers can afford it.

Newspaper fails to uncover name of ‘mystery’ gaming licensee

Sheldon Adelson, owner of casinos and newspaper. (Reuters pix via NY Times)

Often the most significant aspect of a news story is what it doesn’t report.

The morning newspaper today reports that Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas is seeking to conduct a hearing on a surreptitious recording made by Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett of a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt concerning “a certain licensee” — in other words, a casino owner.

Near the end, the news account informs readers that neither Carlton nor the AG’s office would name that “certain licensee.”

Now who on earth could that “certain licensee” be?

Back in February an online news operation called The Nevada Independent reported that Burnett had secretly recorded a meeting with Laxalt in which the AG asked that the gaming board file an affidavit in a civil lawsuit in Las Vegas demanding that certain records concerning the Las Vegas Sands be kept confidential. The Sands is owned by Sheldon Adelson, whose family owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson is also a major contributor to Laxalt’s political campaigns.

The Nevada Independent is funded by contributions, a large portion of which come from Sands competitors, and is headed up by former Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun and television commentator Jon Ralston.

Both the Independent and Battle Born Media newspaper sought a copy of the recording under the state public records law but were turned down. “Even if the requested material was a public record,” the gaming board custodian stated, “it is declared confidential and privileged by law and, therefore, exempt from disclosure.”

Laxalt issued a statement at the time in an attempt to explain his meeting with Burnett on behalf of Adleson, “The Attorney General’s Office was approached by the Sands Corporation asking us to file an amicus brief about NRS 463 — a statute that protects the confidentiality of documents submitted to the Gaming Control Board. I’ve made it a practice to personally advise and meet with my clients on a regular basis. As a Nevada statewide elected official, I also meet with constituents all the time on issues that are important to the State and our clients.”

In the story first filed online Tuesday evening, the morning paper quoted Carlton as saying in a statement, “Last week I issued a subpoena for information regarding actions Attorney General Laxalt took to interfere with the Gaming Control Board’s oversight of a certain licensee. … The information is unsettling and warrants a hearing. We will work with the Chairman of the Gaming Control Board to bring more light to this situation.”

At about 4 a.m. today The Nevada Independent, which bills itself in social media as @TheNVIndy, posted a lengthy story recapping its previous reporting on the topic and attaching a 14-page notarized affidavit filed by Burnett on April 27. Why he created the affidavit is unclear.

That affidavit explained for the first time why Burnett, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, decided to record the conversation. “Further, because said licensee had in recent months been part of the purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and as previously noted, there were news articles implying that agents or employees of the newspaper had sent reporters around to monitor particular judges, including the judge presiding over the wrongful termination case, I was concerned reporters might be monitoring me, as well.”

Burnett also said, “I was shocked and in disbelief due to the nature of these unusual circumstances. I was also extremely worried about what the conversation might entail. Based on my knowledge of Nevada statutes, including past discussions with federal authorities, I determined it was in my best interest, and those of the state and the GCB, to record the upcoming oral conversation.”

Burnett reportedly turned over a copy of the recording to the FBI, which found no criminal behavior.

The Independent reported that Laxalt sent this statement to the news outlet: “Today’s news proves the point — Nevada democratic (sic) politicians will stop at nothing — including twisting and politicizing a routine action that previous attorneys general, including Catherine Cortez Masto, have taken. … We look forward to exposing this for what it is: a political attack designed to distract from the Democrats’ radical agenda that harms Nevada’s working families.”

Laxalt is said to be planning to run for governor. In March the Sun reported that Democrats filed public records request seeking copies of Laxalt’s official communications with Adelson and his representatives. The Sun story also mentioned the secretly recorded conversation that remains a mystery to the newspaper into which it is inserted.

The Sun reported, “Laxalt has faced criticism over an April 2016 meeting with Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett. Democrats have asked the FBI to release any audio recordings and documents related to the case and called for a state ethics investigation, saying Laxalt was attempting to push Burnett into supporting Adelson in a lawsuit.”

A year ago the Gaming Control Board fined the Sands $2 million for failing to maintain the reputation of the gaming industry. This was based on the company settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $9 million civil penalty, which follow on a $47.4 million settlement with Treasury a couple of year earlier.

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

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.