This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited from its original version for clarity and length.
Some short-term lending businesses are taking advantage of the community and don’t deserve to work in Nevada, Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores said during a recent interview with The Nevada Independent. Flores also shared the backstory of his bill requiring businesses to accept green cards as a form of identification, which was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Here’s the full interview with Flores, which is part of our series “Coffee Break with Legislators.”
Question (Q): What has this legislative session been like for you? What have been your achievements and also your biggest disappointments so far?
Answer (A): I would like to speak first about my achievements, including AB162 (which passed the Senate and Assembly). Months ago, prior to this session, I realized that there are certain businesses that do not allow or do not accept a legal resident card (green card) as a method of identifying an individual.
Q: Like what businesses?
R: In particular, there are bars where you had to provide proof that you are over 21 years of age and you would show your legal resident card and they wouldn’t accept it. I’m an immigration lawyer, so I talked to the manager and explained this to him: “Look, this is an ID that was issued to him by the Department of Homeland Security; it’s a thousand times harder to obtain this identification than a driver’s license. Regardless of that, it has a name, a date of birth and a photo, everything that’s essential to be able to identify someone,” and he didn’t accept it.
Originally my plan was to speak with the owner of that business and explain that they were making a mistake, but then I said, “It was really good that this happened to someone I know and he told me about it, because I’m in a position where I can correct this error.” I began to investigate, and I realized that there were other businesses, and I saw that the best way to correct this problem is with this bill.
Today, AB162 says that if a private business accepts a driver’s license as a way to identify someone, they also have to accept the legal resident card.
Other bills – and I’m going to talk about two of them simultaneously because they’re related to each other – are AB148, and AB324. Both deal with businesses that provide services such as filling out forms, but many times they masquerade as lawyers.
I’m not implying that all businesses are bad, but as a result of such conduct, people are deported from this country, they lose their children, or they sign documents they never should’ve signed. Specifically, that’s what AB148 is about.
Today it is illegal for someone to pose as a lawyer and offer legal services if that person is not a lawyer. But currently this has been dealt with as a misdemeanor, and this didn’t seem fair to me because sometimes the consequences are very severe. So this bill creates two different ways to convict someone, either as a misdemeanor or as a felony, and the difference is whether the problem can be corrected.
Let’s suppose that I go and see someone. I’m an undocumented person, I ask for a service, they pass themselves off as lawyers, and they charge a lot of money. They fill out forms, and make many mistakes, but I manage to realize that everything was done incorrectly, and the problem is corrected. In this situation, if the consequence was that I lost money, it can be recovered. They will be charged with a misdemeanor and they will be forced to pay me thousands of dollars that they owe me, and that’s the end of that case.
But let us assume that in that same situation they tell me “we are lawyers and we are going to take this to court,” they don’t do this, and I get deported. My family is jeopardized by this, and I lose the right to be here. My whole life is about to change forever. It doesn’t matter how much money they can give me, they won’t ever be able to correct that mistake.
In this situation it’ll be a category “D” felony, which means one to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. I’ve called the police and I’ve said, “This person is committing fraud and I need you to go and pick this person up, and they say ‘we can’t, because it’s a misdemeanor, we don’t have the resources, we can’t do an investigation,’” and they give me a thousand excuses.
Q: Do you go to a specific agency?
A: No, I’ve simply called 911 or something like that, but I understand that this is a typical case where it’s an emergency that needs to be resolved today that requires authorities to intervene immediately.
The Secretary of State has the obligation to receive all complaints; the problem is that they don’t have the resources because of three reasons: 1) They don’t have the money to be able to educate the community, 2) They don’t have the staff to do the research, and 3) This is something that is still new to them. We have changed these laws in recent years. So, with category “D”, now the police will be more involved. Now the bad guys know that the consequences are going to be even more severe.
I use the example of immigration because it’s simple, but this applies to any situation. It can be a family case, a divorce case, and someone loses his or her children, or a bankruptcy case.
AB324 works together with AB148. It makes people who prepare forms pay for a $50 license, which can be used only to educate the community about the difference between a notary and a lawyer, or to recruit more staff to hand out fines when a business is doing things wrong. It doesn’t allow them to use that money for something else.
In addition to this we’re going to begin to talk about the word “paralegal.” Today many businesses identify themselves as such, and that word has no definition in the Nevada codes. This is very confusing for me, and the term “paralegal” will no longer be able to be used, unless we can verify that they work for a lawyer.
Q: What about the disappointments?
A: AB163, which deals with businesses that make short-term loans with high interest rates, which in English is called “payday lending entitlement.” I have spent hours and months trying to reach an agreement with the industries that are involved in this, and this proposal is 100 percent based on victims, that is to say, we found individuals who told me, “Look, I was a victim, this happened to me” and by using them as a point of reference, we created this law.
I brought everyone together, from all sides; I invited them to the table in order to correct this. There are certain individuals who never sat down at the table with me, who, instead of engaging in the process, they took the luxury of walking into this building without consulting or talking to me, and they tried to create confusion around my bill.
Q: When you say “certain individuals,” who are you referring to?
A: Those who represent businesses within this sector. But I would say that 90 percent of them want to do everything right. Both parties have an obligation to confront the fact that there are problems. I like to assume that when a business does something wrong, it’s because they’re ignorant of the law, or because they saw the opportunity to take advantage of something and they said, “Well, I’m doing that, but if you tell me I can’t do it, I’ve already corrected it.”
Q. And why do you consider this a disappointment?
A: Because of the time that was invested, because I always wanted to think that bad players in the industry acted that way simply due to ignorance more than deliberately, but after seeing their behavior in this building, I realize that they know what they’re doing, they’re taking advantage of the community, and this is intentionally.
And besides that, they’re investing a lot of money to have lobbyists here (representatives of corporations, customers, or non-profit organizations that defend their interests). There was a moment when I had 14 people coming to my office to deal with this issue, each one of them was paying I don’t know what amount of money, but I’m sure they invested half a million or a million dollars on this. All that has to do with the reality that there are people in this industry who, in my opinion, don’t deserve to be working in this state.
Fortunately on April 25, we voted on AB163. The result was 42-0. Everyone supported it, all the good players in this industry; all the lobbyists that did get involved, we all reached an agreement and the proposal came through.
My disappointment is to know that certain businesses are working in our state, doing things the way they’re doing them and that they’re still here. If things could be done my way, I would make sure they wouldn’t work in this state again.
Another disappointment for me is that we never gave Senator Yvanna Cancela or Assemblyman Chris Brooks the opportunity to have a bill that dealt with the relationship between the state of Nevada and the federal government when it comes to immigration. We never had a hearing for this bill. This building has to negotiate a lot and I know this isn’t an easy subject or a pleasant conversation. Our authorities are working every day to protect us, and to meet with them and tell them, “You know what? We don’t want you to cooperate with immigration because there aren’t any resources, because this isn’t our obligation, that’s something that has to be done at the federal level, we want the community to feel safe with you and to pick up the phone and ask for help.” If we don’t send that message clearly, people are going to stop calling the police. If we don’t do all that, this will have very negative implications. Right now the discussion at a national level is very nasty.
We are the only state that went Democrat from head to toe, with the exception of the governor, because he wasn’t up for election. We had a very important opportunity that I think we lost, to send a very clear message that the state of Nevada wasn’t going to be a place where our residents, regardless of their immigration status, would feel like foreigners. That, in this state, even if they don’t have the legal status, they could get up and go to sleep knowing that the state isn’t going to cooperate with such conduct and that sort of discussion at a national level. The leadership felt really pressured by all sides and it did what it had to do, but I would have liked to have had that opportunity.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. I don’t know. Regarding my personal life, I’ve been investing a lot of time on my legal offices. Within my political career, I came to the position where I am today because members of my community told me “Edgar, this is your opportunity, we want you to do this.” In my opinion, the community decides. I’m not an individual who got here with the ambition of earning a position. I came here humbled by the people who put me here.
With less than four weeks left in the 79th legislative session, The Nevada Independent – In Spanish has created the series “Coffee Break with Legislators” — discussions with state leaders to find out what initiatives that have been most satisfying and disappointing for them, where the Hispanic community stands in their agendas, and what plans they have for the future. You can read “Exclusive with Paul Anderson: GOP and Latinos, Republican priorities and affecting policy in the minority.”
Feature photo: Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores at his office at the state Legislature April, 2017. Photo by Luz Gray.
From the Editor