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Opinion

Yes, I read every Assembly bill

The Nevada Legislature building as seen in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017. Photo by David Calvert.

You don’t have to do it, too, though I think you probably should.

I read the first 88 bills submitted to the Assembly by the various standing committees, constitutional offices, the Supreme Court, the executive branch and local governments. Per NRS 218D.175, the various departments of the executive branch, as well as constitutional officers (lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller and attorney general) have to submit their bills by Aug. 1 preceding the regular session — in other words, more than three months prior to the election. This is important to remember because several of the bills, especially the ones drafted by the attorney general’s and controller’s offices, are foisted upon current constitutional officers by their ideologically opposite predecessors.

If the past session is any guide, the first 88 bills of the 2019 Session will be, at most, a sixth of the bills that will be proposed by the Assembly. Even so, knowing what bills were proposed by our various government agencies gives us an idea of their priorities. Knowing what bills were proposed by our recently departed constitutional officers, meanwhile, also gives us a chance to reflect on whether we made the right decision by refusing to return them to office.

A good example is AB75, which was submitted to the Committee on Government Affairs by the controller’s office. On more than one occasion, former Controller Ron Knecht used the Controller’s Annual Report to discuss the growing liabilities in the state’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). AB75 offers a suggestion: instead of leaving PERS as a defined-benefit retirement plan, offer state employees a defined-contribution plan. This honestly isn’t a bad idea. Employers, even government employers, would rather under-contribute to their employees’ retirements today, knowing they won’t be personally accountable if market returns aren’t laughably optimistic tomorrow. When that happens, there are two ways to handle it without somehow putting more money into the system — pay out the benefits as defined to senior retirees while reducing benefits to future retirees (the solution for most defined benefits plans, including PERS, these days) or simply provide every retiree with whatever was contributed into their plan upon retirement and hope for the best.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.

The biggest drawback to a defined contribution retirement plan is that it’s considerably more difficult to plan around, for the retiree. If the market tanks, the employee’s retirement account tanks with it. Of course, this is just as true with a defined benefit plan — the difference is that in a defined benefit plan, the plan promises to make the retiree whole, if it can. (That gets expensive in a hurry, though, as CalPERS, the California state government workers’ retirement fund, discovered the hard way during the recession. Only recently has the plan started to take in more than it’s paying out, and, until last year, it was projecting sustained deficits all the way to 2040 until recent stock market performance put it back in the black. The burden of that deficit, meanwhile, remains on California’s taxpayers, who pay more in taxes today to receive less in services per tax dollar than they used to.)

The good news, as The Nevada Independent covered in the last session, is Nevada’s PERS system isn’t in anywhere near as much trouble as California’s. The bad news is it was hit hard by the recession, too. Even today, with Nevada experiencing the healthiest economy in over a decade, Gov. Sisolak has proposed increasing the contribution rate by state employees to further reduce potential liabilities in the future.

What he hasn’t proposed is signing former Controller Ron Knecht’s bill, and there frankly aren’t even that many Republicans who are willing to openly support such a move. The odds that the bill will even be heard in committee, much less pass onto the floor, are higher than the chances I’ll sprout wings and fly — but only by a percentage point or two.

Adam Laxalt’s attorney general’s office, meanwhile, produced several other great examples. AB16, which would increase the allowed period between an issued search warrant and when a DNA sample must be collected under that warrant from 10 days to a full year, will almost certainly see little support from the more criminal justice reform-minded attorney general’s office of one Aaron Ford. Similarly, Laxalt’s office also proposed bills, such as AB15 and AB87, that seek to increase penalties for various crimes, which probably won’t get very far given that the current political winds are blowing towards keeping people out of prison instead of detaining them for ever-greater periods. AB41, on the other hand, is a bill that might see the light of legislative day as it further restricts the circumstances under which government agencies can disclose the real addresses of victims of violent crimes, many of whom are issued fictitious addresses for their protection.

Two obnoxious bills that demonstrate that Adam Laxalt’s devotion to “smaller government” were skin deep are AB42, which asks the State Board of Education to come up with a curriculum for schoolchildren to discuss responsible alcohol consumption, and AB55, which increases the power of the government to compel witnesses to testify in trials. Even more obnoxious than those two, however, is AB60, which would add a whole host of already criminal activities, like burglary and coercion, to the criminal activity of “domestic violence,” then slap on additional penalties for those who commit “domestic violence” as defined by statute, especially if the victim is pregnant.

Why do pregnant women deserve special protection in law? Emotionally, it seems like they should, and emotional logic makes for great political logic. They’re pregnant, after all. Who doesn’t want to protect pregnant women? If you think about it, though, the elderly can’t get pregnant — so should your grandmother receive fewer protections than a young woman? What about the physically or intellectually disabled? Does it matter if the victim is rich or poor? Should it matter if the partner is white and the victim is black? Where does it end?

The truth is, the law should treat all of Nevada’s residents equitably and fairly. Neither gender nor fertility should factor into whether you’re a victim of domestic violence, nor should they factor into the just punishments of those who inflict harms against you. Bills like AB60 should be buried in the ash heap of history where they belong.

Speaking of bills that belong in the ash heap, AB9 would allow plaintiffs in small claims courts to charge people in their home court, instead of the home court of their defendants. If the idea of getting randomly sued by someone in Jackpot doesn’t thrill you, write to your legislator and remind them that, in this country, our legal system assumes a presumption of innocence.

Meanwhile, AB36 is a nice little tax carve-out for aircraft-related industries. Abate property and sales taxes for all of Nevada’s businesses or don’t bother. AB58, meanwhile, would let state park rangers fine you if you misbehave in a state park without warning you first. If anything, all state-issued fines should be preceded by warnings, assuming they’re actually meant to change behavior instead of raising money without raising “taxes”.

AB64 is an attempt by the Eureka County School District to get out of paying for distance education for its students if those students choose a charter school provider of distance education instead of a public provider. AB72 is an attempt to protect the precious jobs of principals of underperforming schools by removing the ability to fire them if their schools are grossly underperforming and shunting them instead to interminable (and well-paying) training instead. AB74 creates yet another occupational license for Nevada’s workers, because if the government won’t manage antler resellers, really, who will? Then there’s AB82, which guarantees taxpayer-funded advertising for major party candidates that are running unopposed in their primaries, provided they have an opponent in the general election.

One bill I do like is AB81, which creates the Office of Indigent Defense Services. We all deserve protection from our government, regardless of our ability to pay, and it’s important that we encourage our government to take its responsibilities imposed by the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seriously. Another bill that should make our Southern Nevada readers happy is AB50, which will abolish the asinine and expensive practice of odd year city elections. AB54, meanwhile, gets something out of statute that never should have been in statute in the first place: if energy efficient lights save enough energy, people will voluntarily buy them, and are doing so right now.

AB69 is also a nice bill, which expands the use of house arrest for misbehaving parolees instead of further burdening our overtaxed prison system. Finally, AB88 makes it possible for school districts to report enrollments, not attendance, to the Department of Education, which should help ensure that children with medical issues receive the same state education funding as students with perfect attendance.

Even at this early stage of the legislative process, it’s clear that charter schools are going to get some serious attention. For starters, AB35 and AB67 both make significant changes to how Achievement Schools (poorly performing public schools that are taken over by the state-operated Achievement School District and converted to charter schools) are regulated. AB35 allows the creation of neighborhood option schools, which are charter schools operated under the Achievement School framework but are not converted public schools, in neighborhoods where poorly performing public schools operate. AB67, meanwhile, replaces large portions of the existing Achievement School framework and replaces it with “A+ achievement charter schools,” which appear to be Achievement School District-run public schools with staff hired by county school districts. Meanwhile, AB78 — all 92 pages of it — revises how the State Public Charter School Authority and state charter schools in general will be governed. All three bills are dense, technical measures, and each of them deserve close attention from subject matter experts that understand their intricacies better than I do.

Finally, I wouldn’t be a Libertarian opinion columnist if I didn’t highlight proposed tax increases. AB73, which raises taxes on transfers of property by 25 cents for each $500 of value in Clark County to provide affordable housing, will test how Gov. Sisolak will interpret his intention to “not raise taxes”. Will he simply empower the cities and counties of Nevada to raise taxes and fees on the Democratic Party’s behalf, or will he hold a sterner line?

Remember, these are the bills proposed by the state and local bureaucracies, as well as mostly lame duck constitutional officers. The real fun will begin in February when legislators’ Bill Draft Requests become bills themselves. In the meantime, poring through the bills under consideration gives us some tea leaves to look at while Nevadans ask themselves what our historically female, historically Democratic legislative session has in store.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected] 

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