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United States District Court in the Bruce R. Thompson Courthouse and Federal Building in Reno, NV on Nov. 22, 2019. Photo by Mark Hernandez

The Nevada Resort Association and a political action committee associated with the Vegas Chamber are filing to intervene in a federal lawsuit seeking an extension on signature-gathering deadlines for an abortion-related ballot initiative.

The NRA and BizPAC filed the joint motion to intervene in federal court on Tuesday, a request to take part in the lawsuit filed by pro-life group “Protect Our Girls PAC” last month seeking an extension on signature-gathering deadlines for a proposed ballot question that would require parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor.

While the two business groups said they take no position on the group’s proposed statutory initiative, they wrote in the filing that they were opposed to two other statutory initiatives (proposed by the Clark County Education Association to raise the state gaming and sales tax, respectively) that would likely be affected by the court’s decision.

In their filing, the two groups said that any order by a judge pushing back the signature deadline of Nov. 18 would not only “intrude on Nevada’s constitutional legislative process” for considering statutory initiatives, but also deprive the Resort Association and BizPAC rights to challenge the sufficiency of the petitions, as an extension would likely run out the clock on any potential legal challenges.

“The inability to bring such a challenge would, in turn, undermine the integrity of the initiative petition process because, pursuant to Nevada law, it is private parties such as Proposed Intervenors, not election officials, who must bring a challenge to correct problems with the petition itself or with circulation issues, like fraudulent signatures,” attorney Kevin Benson wrote in the motion.

Nevada law requires statutory initiatives to gather signatures equivalent to 10 percent of votes cast in the preceding election (97,598 valid signatures statewide for the 2020 cycle). If enough signatures are deemed valid, the petition would move to the 2021 Legislature, where lawmakers have a 40-day window to approve, deny or take no action on the petition. If they reject the petition or take no action, it would then move to the 2022 general election ballot.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and related limitations on public gatherings make it “extremely difficult” for the group to gather signatures through the normal petition-gathering process, attorneys for the “Protect Our Girls” PAC said in their initial complaint.

The CCEA announced intentions to file the two statutory initiatives in January 2020, as part of a strategy to generate substantially more tax revenue directed toward K-12 education. But the Resort Association and BizPAC quickly moved to file lawsuits challenging the initial language of both initiatives, legal roadblocks that were not fully addressed until a state Supreme Court ruling in August.

While CCEA has not filed any federal request to extend the signature deadline, an attorney for the NRA and BizPAC wrote that their peremptory intervention in the case was warranted "as it is very likely that the proponents of the gaming tax and sales tax initiatives would quickly file suit, seeking the same relief for the same reasons.”

Representatives from both groups said in declarations attached to the motion that they intended to challenge the sufficiency of the initiatives “if there is a basis to do so,” but that their right to bring a lawsuit would fall under a time crunch if the court moved back the signature collection date. The state Constitution requires initiatives to be filed with the secretary of state no later than 30 days before the start of a legislative session, so any extension to the signature-gathering deadline would mean less time for election officials to verify signatures or for opponents to file a legal challenge.

“Consequently, if the deadline is extended to gather signatures, it is very likely that the clerks will not have sufficient time to verify the signatures before the Secretary of State must transmit the initiative to the Legislature in compliance with the Nevada Constitution,” Benson wrote in the motion. “Accordingly, as a practical matter, Proposed Intervenors are likely to lose their right to challenge the sufficiency of the petition because there simply would not be enough time.”

There is some recent precedent for federal courts allowing extensions for signature-gathering deadlines related to ballot measures in Nevada. In May, District Court Judge Miranda Du ordered the state to add several weeks to a signature deadline for backers of an independent redistricting commission ballot question (which nonetheless ultimately fell short of qualifying).

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