Editor’s note: Seven days. Never enough hours.
Stacks of paperwork at the office and piles of laundry at home. It’s a never-ending cycle, which makes it difficult to stay on top of the endless news nuggets flowing from the White House, state capital, local government and business community. We get it — and we’re in the news business.
Enter “About Last Week.” This is our way of bringing news-hungry but time-strapped readers up to speed on happenings that may have flown under the radar. Our promise: We’ll keep it brief.
Our hope: You’ll read (or skim) and keep checking back every Monday.
So, without further ado, here are some noteworthy things that happened in Nevada last week.
Nevada prison chief’s brief movie career on hiatus
Nevada Department of Corrections director James Dzurenda brought a long list of credentials including stints running Connecticut’s prison system and as a deputy commissioner overseeing city jails in New York City when he was hired as the director of Nevada’s prison system in April 2016.
But there’s one item on his résumé that’s been less publicized — a side-gig as an actor.
According to Dzurenda’s page on IMDB.com, Nevada’s top prison official is “available for consulting or performing in Prison and Jails scenes” for feature films. His sole film appearance to date came in the 2017 movie Good Time, a crime film directed by Ben and Josh Safdie and starring Twilight actor Robert Pattinson.
But don’t expect to see Dzurdena’s face at the cineplex any time soon — NDOC spokeswoman Brooke Keast said in response to a records request by The Nevada Independent that the movie was made before he took the job in Nevada, and that he hasn’t submitted paperwork allowing public employees to take on other employment while working for the state.
“Director Dzurenda was not working for the Nevada Department of Corrections at the time the film ‘Good Time’ was made,” she said. “He has had no outside work as a consultant or actor since he has been employed by the state of Nevada. We cannot provide you with the form you are requesting since it does not exist.”
— Riley Snyder
Credit-rating agency reacts to school district’s ‘fiscal watch’ status
The state’s decision to place the Clark County School District under a “fiscal watch” was well received by at least one credit-rating agency.
Moody’s Investors Service issued a memo last week characterizing the decision as “credit positive.”
“This designation is credit positive because it will require the district to provide monthly financial reports to the state committee, creating an additional layer of budgetary oversight,” the company noted. “Fiscal watch will also provide the district with ‘technical financial assistance’ from the state as it works toward achieving structural balance after nine consecutive years of deficits.”
The Local Government Finance Committee, which advises the state tax department on financial matters, voted late last month to place the cash-strapped school district on “fiscal watch” as a way to monitor its finances.
Moody’s affirmed its existing A1 credit rating for the school district in November but changed the outlook to negative. The “credit positive” declaration doesn’t change the district’s outlook or rating — it’s simply acknowledging a development that’s one of many credit factors affecting the issuer, officials said.
— Jackie Valley
New data show Nevada, other state-based marketplaces outperformed federally facilitated marketplace states
Enrollment in Nevada’s health insurance exchange and other state-based marketplaces remained generally stable despite uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act last year, new data released by the National Academy for State Health Policy this week showed.
Nevada saw enrollment in the exchange increase from 89,061 in plan year 2017 to 91,003 for plan year 2018, a 2.18 percent increase. Other state-based marketplaces, both using the federal platform and not, generally held stable with 2016 enrollment numbers, on average seeing about a 0.19 percent increase.
By comparison, federally-facilitated marketplace states saw an average of a 5.28 percent decrease in enrollment for the 2018 plan year compared to the prior year.
“In the end, insurance coverage and enrollment is a local issue and states all have different priorities and goals,” said Silver State Health Insurance Exchange executive director Heather Korbulic in a statement. “We worked hard to communicate the message in every corner of our state that we had affordable health insurance available despite the marketplace uncertainty.”
— Megan Messerly
Heller introduces bill focused on fighting MS-13 gang
Two days after President Donald Trump convened a roundtable meeting to discuss gangs and border security, Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller announced that he introduced a bill focused on fighting gangs including MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha.
The bill, the “Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act,” would prohibit gang members from entering the country, permit the immediate removal of criminal gang members who are already in the U.S. and ensure that criminal alien gang members are ineligible for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status and Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Heller’s press release highlighted the White House’s support for the bill, a version of which already passed the House in a bipartisan 233-175 vote. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, as well as Democratic Reps. Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen, supported it, while Democratic Rep. Dina Titus opposed it.
“Consistent with President Donald J. Trump’s priorities, the bill strengthens law enforcement’s ability to fight transnational criminal gangs, such as MS-13, and counter the violence these dangerous groups bring to communities and neighborhoods across the Nation,” White House officials said in a statement.
At Trump’s roundtable, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said MS-13 has more than 30,000 members worldwide and about 10,000 members on American soil. He said the majority are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, and they are found in at least 40 states and Washington, D.C. Heller’s statement pointed to the recent conviction of an MS-13 gang member in the double murder in Sparks.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who also attended the meeting, said that Congress needs to help close two or three main loopholes in immigration policy.
“We have an inadmissibility problem, meaning that when they come to our border, I have to let them in. I cannot keep them out by virtue of them being in a gang,” she said. “Once we catch them and detain them, I cannot remove them by virtue of them being in a gang.”
Opponents of Heller’s bill include the ACLU, which says it gives authorities too much latitude to label someone a gang member, sometimes on questionable evidence such as doodling a Latin American area code in a notebook. The organization says it could lead to widespread racial profiling and unlawful detention without due process.
— Luz Gray and Michelle Rindels