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Coronavirus | IndyBlog

Washoe County antibody study finds COVID-19 infections much greater than previously known, still far from herd immunity

July 8th, 2020 - 1:28pm

The estimated number of COVID-19 infections in Washoe County is at least four and a half to five times higher than the number of known confirmed cases, according to a new joint study the county health district and UNR's school of community health sciences released Wednesday.

The study, which was conducted June 9-10, found that approximately 2.3 percent of adult residents in Washoe County, or 8,230 people, have likely been infected with COVID-19, higher than the 1,832 reported cases among all age groups reported at that time. As of Wednesday morning, there are now 3,328 COVID-19 cases reported in Washoe County.

The study randomly selected 1,278 households throughout the county and administered an antibody test to a total of 234 adult participants who responded and provided a blood sample.

“We know nationwide in some of the studies that have come out now that there were infections and transmission changes that were completely missed earlier in different pockets of our country back in February,” Heather Kerwin, the epidemiology program manager for the Washoe County Health District said in a video news conference. “And so this was just another way to help provide some data behind how many of those infections may have been missed early on or who had had an immune response due to an earlier infection.”

Kerwin added that asymptomatic individuals or people with mild symptoms such as a headache or a gastrointestinal illness might have COVID-19 but may not realize they are sick or seek testing. The study was a way to estimate how widespread the virus is in the county, she said.

Dr. Wei Yang, a professor with the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Environmental Health with UNR's school of Community Health Sciences, noted that the estimates do not negate the confirmed cases but offer insight into how many people in the county might be showing mild symptoms or be asymptomatic.

“Lots of people may have the disease, are asymptomatic, but they can still spread the disease to the high risk people,” Yang said.

The results also suggest that the percentage of COVID-19-related deaths is about 0.81 percent based on the estimated number of infections — lower than the previously reported 3.66 percent based on confirmed cases.

Though researchers tried to make the study as representative as possible, one limitation of the results is that Hispanic respondents were underrepresented. Only 11 percent of participants in the study identified as Hispanic, whereas 25 percent of Washoe County's population is Hispanic.

Despite the limitations, Kerwin and Yang said the results are helpful for researchers and officials navigating the pandemic and trying to accurately understand the spread of the disease. The data reinforces that the county is nowhere near herd immunity, when a large part of the population is immune to a specific disease. Experts have estimated that about 60 to 70 percent of the population will need to be immune to COVID-19 to stop the pandemic, though the exact level of herd immunity needed is not known.

“We hope to repeat this study every five to six months and you can use the metrics from this study and compare it to the next phase which would be five to six months from now and look at that change and see how it’s going and how quickly it’s spreading in our community,” Kerwin said.

IndyBlog | Legislature

Clark County Commission appoints school social worker to fill late assemblyman’s seat

July 7th, 2020 - 11:30am

One day before lawmakers are scheduled to convene a special legislative session addressing Nevada's huge budget shortfall, the Clark County Commission unanimously appointed Kasina Douglass-Boone to fill a vacant seat in the Assembly.

Douglass-Boone, a social worker for the Clark County School District, previously ran for the District B trustee seat in the 2020 primary but came in third. She was the only applicant for the District 17 Assembly seat left open following the sudden death of Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson during the 2019 session.

"Assemblyman Thompson was my teacher and he instilled in me the importance of being an agent of change. It would be a true honor to serve our community for the final five months as the District 17 representative," Douglass-Boone wrote in her statement of interest to the commission. 

State law requires county commissioners to fill vacancies in the Legislature with appointees from the same district and the same party as the previous seat holder. 

Clark County's request for applications for the seat went out on June 24 and gave potential applicants until June 30 to submit statements of interest. 

Because the North Las Vegas-area district has a more than two-to-one voter registration advantage for Democrats over Republicans, it’s likely that the next representative for the Assembly seat will be Air Force veteran and court clerk Clara “Claire” Thomas, who did not attract any primary challengers. She’ll face off against Republican candidate Jack Polcyn, a disabled Army veteran, in the 2020 general election.

Before motioning to approve Douglass-Boone for the position Tuesday morning, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly thanked her for her work with the community and said he was honored to appoint her.

"If this appointment goes through, you have a noon flight to try and catch," Weekly said. "[I'm] so very grateful that you would have this opportunity to serve the great state of Nevada. I think that you will be absolutely awesome and I know that you are working extremely hard to live up to the legacy of the late, great Tyrone Thompson."

Commissioner Tick Segerblom warned that Douglass-Boone will face difficult decisions in the Legislature, given the state’s $1.2 billion budget deficit.

"You're coming into this at the really worst time possible," he said. "The decisions you're going to make are not going to be fun decisions, but they are very important, so thank you." 

Douglass-Boone will join the other 41 Assembly members in Carson City on Wednesday to discuss ways of addressing the state's hard-hit budget. Legislators are also expected to discuss criminal justice reform measures in the wake of George Floyd's killing and protests against police violence and discrimination that have erupted across the country.

Coronavirus | IndyBlog | State Government

State employee union files unfair labor complaint, plans rallies to protest Sisolak budget cut plans

June 26th, 2020 - 11:29am

Members of the union representing most state employees have filed an unfair labor practices complaint and plan to hold rallies protesting against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s “refusal to bargain” over changed working conditions and furloughs.

In a press release sent on Friday, representatives of AFSCME Local 4041 said they had filed the complaint with the state labor relations board, and planned to hold Saturday rallies at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City and in Las Vegas to protest non-involvement in dealing with the state’s COVID-19 related budget crisis.

Members of the union said that Sisolak has “not responded to numerous overtures from state employees and their union” regarding the Democratic governor’s plan to implement once-a-month furloughs for state workers to help deal with the anticipated $1.27 billion shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, or about 25 percent of the budget.

“We’re on the frontlines. We know where there are potential savings and ways to save services and jobs,” AFSCME Local 4041 president Harry Schiffman said in a statement. “The way the governor is acting is a disgrace to our state and a disservice to all Nevadans. He needs to come out of hiding and talk to us.”

AFSCME represents several categories of state employees granted the right to collectively bargain following passage of legislation in 2019 signed by Sisolak. The final version of the bill was amended to allow the governor to effectively ignore any negotiated salary demands when crafting the state budget.

AFSCME supported the governor’s 2018 campaign and contributed more than $3.7 million to a political action committee supporting Sisolak and attacking his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt.

AFSCME's Prohibited Practice Complaint by Riley Snyder on Scribd

AFSCME's Prohibited Practice Complaint by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Election 2020 | Elections | IndyBlog

As presidential matchup pivots toward general, Biden campaign makes top-level hires in Nevada

June 25th, 2020 - 2:30am

With roughly 19 weeks before the general election, the campaign for former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden named three top-level staffers in Nevada on Thursday, expanding the campaign’s state-level operation as it looks to ramp up general election efforts in a handful of key battleground states. 

State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who served as a Biden campaign adviser in the run-up to the February caucus, was named as Nevada Senior Adviser, while state party Executive Director Alana Mounce was named as the campaign’s state director. 

Shelby Wiltz, most recently the caucus director for the state party responsible for planning the 2020 presidential caucus, was also named as the state coordinated director and will run the coordinated campaign. 

The staffing announcements come after a report last week from Bloomberg News that some Democrats felt the Biden camp had moved too slowly to fill leadership positions at state-level organizations and that it had missed an internal deadline to appoint those staffers by the beginning of June. 

Even so, the Biden campaign is not alone in organizing the Democratic bid for president, and the Democratic National Committee has invested millions in its so-called “Battleground Build-Up 2020” since January. The program is meant, in part, to buoy the number of on-the-ground organizers and open additional field offices in roughly a dozen key swing states, including Nevada.

Biden's hiring push remains a stark contrast to the re-election campaign for President Donald Trump, which — without the need to defeat any primary challengers — spent much of 2019 and 2020 building up state and regional operations. That includes Nevada, where a regional director overseeing seven western states was appointed in May of 2019.

Still, Nevada Democrats have enjoyed broad electoral success over the last two cycles, including nearly sweeping competitive races for statewide and federal offices in both 2016 and 2018 and providing a narrow win for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race for president. 

Further complicating the election landscape are the as-yet unknown effects of the coronavirus pandemic on both the campaign and the election itself. Case numbers have continued to rise across nearly half of U.S. states, but debates over the widespread use of absentee voting by mail have continued nationwide as Democrats and Republicans spar over the logistics of voting during a pandemic.  

All the while, many of the traditional tentpoles of the presidential campaign season have already begun to fall away. Traditional campaigning, including rallies, door-knocking or other in-person electioneering, have almost entirely stalled, with the lone exception of Trump’s sparsely-attended rally last weekend in Oklahoma. 

Adding to the continued downsizing of campaign traditions, Democrats announced Wednesday that they would vastly scale down plans for an in-person convention and urged state delegates not to attend in person. 

That announcement comes as Republicans have rushed to move their own convention to Florida, after the original host, North Carolina, raised concerns that the convention could not be held under existing social distancing guidelines. 

Gaming | IndyBlog

Culinary Union wants face masks required in public areas

June 22nd, 2020 - 1:57pm

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is calling state and local leaders to follow California’s lead and enact a policy requiring face masks in public areas.

The political pressure from the powerful union, which represents about 60,000 employees who work at casino-resort properties, comes as Gov. Steve Sisolak and local government officials consider beefing up facial covering requirements.

Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer, painted the issue as a simple step that would protect workers and their families across the hospitality industry, not just those who are members of the Culinary Union.

“We need everybody wearing masks,” she said. “Why (are we) different than California?”

Last week, as coronavirus cases increased across the state and country, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made face coverings in public areas or high-risk settings a requirement. His decision ignited even more discussion about that question in Nevada, where COVID-19 cases have also been on the rise. 

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates the casino industry, strengthened language about face masks in its health and safety policy last week. For instance, anyone playing a card or table game who doesn’t have a partition separating the patron from the dealer must wear a face mask. 

Still, the updated policy didn’t outright mandate face coverings for hotel and casino guests. 

Three hospitality workers who joined the Culinary Union’s media call Monday afternoon said they don’t see enough guests — who are strongly encouraged to wear face masks — doing so. They estimated that only 5 percent to 20 percent of casino guests are wearing masks.

“I have observed that guests are not wearing masks in public spaces at Treasure Island,” said Yolanda Scott, a food server at a coffee shop within the casino-resort property. “That concerns me because I don’t feel safe. I do not want to bring the COVID-19 back to my family, my children. My partner has a bad kidney and a bad heart and we have to be extra cautious.”

Argüello-Kline said the union is looking into starting the grievance process against gaming companies over the face mask issue. 

But it’s not the union’s only demand. The organization also wants required daily cleaning of guest rooms, mandatory COVID-19 testing for all employees before they return to work and at regular intervals thereafter and adequate personal protection equipment for workers, among other things. 

Argüello-Kline said many hospitality employees are frontline workers who are interacting with guests, and they deserve the same protections being given to dealers. 

“We’re going to do whatever it takes, you know, to fight this because the health and safety is a priority in everybody’s life to go to work,” she said. 

Energy | IndyBlog

Sisolak appoints PUC lawyer to fill open spot on regulatory commission

June 22nd, 2020 - 11:00am

Gov. Steve Sisolak has appointed a longtime attorney at the state’s Public Utilities Commission to fill an empty spot on the three-member regulatory board.

Sisolak announced in a press release on Monday that he is appointing Tammy Cordova, the PUC’s chief counsel for regulatory operations staff, to the position of commissioner on the regulatory body that oversees operations of electric, gas and other utility companies in the state.

Cordova has worked for the commission since 2001, with past roles including administrative attorney, assistant staff counsel and staff counsel. She also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1991 to 1996.

“With more than two decades of experience, Tammy is an excellent choice for the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. She is able to hit the ground running with her wealth of experience having served as the chief counsel for the PUC staff,” Sisolak said in a statement.

The commission has been operating with only two members — Chair Hayley Williamson and C.J. Manthe — since late 2019, after former commissioner Ann Pongracz left the board.

The commission has been all-female since November 2018, becoming just the second state to have an all-female regulatory commission.

Congress | Government | IndyBlog

Horsford introduces measure to nullify Trump order to determine immigration status of the U.S. population

June 22nd, 2020 - 2:00am

A White House executive order issued last year requiring the sharing of federal citizenship data with the Commerce Department would be repealed under legislation introduced by Rep. Steven Horsford Monday.

The order was issued by President Donald Trump in July 2019 shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Commerce Department, which oversees the decennial census, provided insufficient reasons for asking a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Horsford, in a release, said that the order is designed to disenfranchise minority populations by not counting them in the census, which is used to apportion federal dollars, including for health care and food aid, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Census data is also used for the creation and realignment of congressional districts.

“The executive order directing federal agencies to compile citizenship data through administrative records and merge it with decennial census data is a blatant effort to collect this information for political and discriminatory purposes,” Horsford said.

“The sharing of this information could cause an inaccurate allocation of more than $800 billion of taxpayer funds for critical programs like Medicaid, SNAP, infrastructure projects and education grants,” Horsford continued. “An undercounting of our state’s citizens would silence the voices of Nevadans in the democratic system.”

Horsford leads the Congressional Black Caucus’s Census 2020 Task Force, which seeks to help ensure an accurate count, especially of minorities. 

The bill has 20 co-sponsors, including Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The measure is the House companion to legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii in July 2019. 

This story was updated on June 22, 2020, at 2:30 p.m. to note that Rep. Joaquin Castro co-sponsored the bill.

Election 2020 | IndyBlog

Clark County election officials recommend large-scale mail-in ballot distribution for general election

June 19th, 2020 - 3:36pm

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria recommended to the Clark County Commission on Friday that voters be sent mail-in ballots for November’s general election, just as they were in the June primary, but with more in-person options too. 

The recommendation was made based on Gloria’s expectation that not only will the county see 90 percent voter turnout, but voting sites and poll workers will still be subject to social distancing requirements as a result of COVID-19.

“Coronavirus will need to be dealt with in the next election. There’s no reason to believe that it’s mysteriously going to go away. We’ll still have to make sure that we’re social distancing at all of our polling places,” Gloria said during a special meeting. “Which creates an extreme challenge for us when we’re trying to serve, what I think will be a 90 percent turnout in the general election.”

The commission generally agreed with Gloria’s recommendations, with Commissioners Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Justin Jones, Larry Brown, Michael Naft and Tick Segerblom all expressing support.

According to Gloria, if mail-in ballots are not automatically sent to registered voters, the plan would be to send over 900,000 mail ballot requests in Clark County, which would then have to be returned so the election department can send out the requested ballot. This could be confusing for voters and difficult for election workers.

“When voters receive those, they think that maybe their voter registration has been cancelled, although it’s a mail ballot request,” he said. “If they choose to use them and send them in, there will be a tremendous burden on my staff to get those manually entered into the system.”

Jones expressed concerns over the cost of sending out inactive ballots to voters in November, a decision that was controversial in the primary election and has resulted in an active lawsuit filed by Republicans in the state.

Gloria stated that the cost of sending out the 200,000 ballots to inactive voters was more than $200,000, not including the costs incurred if those ballots were returned undeliverable. In order for a voter to be considered inactive, a piece of election mail sent to that voter must come back undeliverable, but inactive voters do not have their registration disqualified and can still vote by updating their addresses.

“Because in the primary there was no other way for people to vote, it seemed like that was a necessary thing,” Jones said. “Because there is an alternative means to vote in the general — in person — I don’t think that the cost is probably justified, certainly not to those for whom you received returned ballots.”

Brown also raised concerns about the potential for individuals to double vote, casting one by mail and one in person. Gloria assured the commission that the multiple checks in place would prevent two ballots from the same voter being counted.

“We’ve been voting mail ballots for a long time, so these processes are already in place. It was always the ability of the voter to come in and say, ‘Yeah, I asked for a mail ballot but decided I didn’t want to vote with it,’” Gloria said.

While discussing the process of vote canvassing earlier in the meeting, Gloria also mentioned that only one provisional ballot cast in person in the Clark County primary had been rejected because the voter cast multiple ballots.

In addition to mailing out ballots to registered voters, Gloria said that election officials are looking to provide 35 in-person voting sites where voting machines would be used, including 20 locations open permanently throughout the early voting period at government facilities.

“By using government facilities, I will be able to control the social distancing in all of these sites, which I think is very important,” he said.

The commission was not able to officially vote on election processes for the general election on Friday and was limited to making recommendations.

Education | IndyBlog

Regents select Melody Rose as new chancellor, will take on role in September

June 18th, 2020 - 1:56pm

The Board of Regents voted unanimously Thursday to appoint Melody Rose as the higher education system’s newest chancellor, ending a year-long search to find a replacement for Thom Reilly. 

At a special meeting Thursday, regents approved a four-year contract for Rose that will pay her a base salary of more than $437,000, with an additional $25,000 in allowances for a car, housing and a host account. 

Rose, now a higher education consultant, spent more than two-decades inside the University of Oregon system, including a brief one-year stint as interim chancellor and four years as the president of the now-closed Marylhurst University. 

She will step into the role on Sept. 1, taking the reins at a time of deep and widespread upheaval for a university system looking to navigate the worst cuts to state appropriations since the 2008 financial crisis. Already the system has cut 19 percent of its budget between fiscal years 2020 and 2021 — roughly $160 million — and it could cut more should state revenues continue to falter amid the ongoing pandemic.

“She received overwhelming support during her public forums and from the faculty, students, cabinet, presidents, and community members of the Ad Hoc Chancellor Search Advisory Committee,” Board Chair Jason Geddes said. “The board looks forward to her leading us through these difficult times and for many years ahead.”

Rose’s appointment fills one of a trio of high-profile vacancies at the system and its institutions. Still left to be filled are permanent president positions at both UNLV and UNR, though search committees for both positions are expected to finish their work in the coming months. 

IndyBlog | Real Estate

Court halts cleanups and demolitions at Winnemucca Indian Colony, questions council's legitimacy

June 18th, 2020 - 10:10am
Updated June 18th, 2020 - 2:05pm

Following recent attempts to evict residents amid an ongoing lawsuit over who has the legal right to live at the Winnemucca Indian Colony, a court has prohibited the colony's governing council from continuing cleanups, demolitions or other work on the colony land.

The ruling, issued Wednesday from the Court of Indian Offenses Trial Division, is the most recent development in a complicated tapestry of legal disputes over land and housing rights at the rural colony. Citing a memorandum from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a dispute between factions of the tribal council, the judge determined that the council's legitimacy is in question.

"Until such time as this Court receives a final determination of the consequences of the Ninth Circuit Opinion, this Court should, and does hereby FIND, a stay of these proceedings is necessary and appropriate," Chief Magistrate Marsha Harlan wrote.

Residents who have lived on the colony for years say they have nowhere else to call home and question the colony’s efforts to oust them, pointing out that none of the members of the tribal council live on the land.

Council members say they left the land for their own safety after upheaval and violence in the mid-2000s. They also cite criteria for colony membership that residents do not meet and say that hazardous waste and abandoned property at the colony need to be cleaned up.

The court also ordered the tribal council to refrain from harassing or interfering with residents and said that federal grants the tribal council received to clean up the land may no longer be applicable.

Treva Hearne, an attorney representing the colony council, said she filed a petition appealing the order.

“The entire reversal was based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction because of failure to exhaust administrative remedies,” she wrote in an email.

Alexandra Rawlings, a lawyer representing colony residents, said she was grateful residents’ homes were safe.

“But the order is just staying, not dismissing, so we have to wait and see what the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) does- they could choose to recognize [the current council] but they could also choose to scrap the constitution, or recognize someone else, or do something different entirely,” she texted The Nevada Independent.

Rawlings said she is waiting to see if the court will award damages for property destruction that occurred during council-ordered cleanups. If damages are not awarded, she plans to file a separate civil action requesting compensation for the residents.

Elisa Dick, a 34-year-old colony resident who had to leave her home after cleanup crews tore down her fence and removed access to her utilities, felt relieved by the decision but said it will take a while before she can fully move back into her home and residents feel at ease.

"Now looking at what is left around my place it really doesn't look like a home," she wrote in a text message to The Nevada Independent. "I seen them take my elderly neighbor shed down. Can only imagine the pain he was feeling. Seen him holding back the tears walking where the shed once stood and trying not to show his grandson his tears."

View a timeline of the colony’s history here:

Education | IndyBlog

UNLV removes statue of mascot, Hey Reb!, from campus

June 16th, 2020 - 8:29pm

UNLV President Marta Meana confirmed in a statement Tuesday night that the university was removing a statue of its mascot, known as “Hey Reb!,” from its pedestal outside the Tam Alumni Center on the university’s campus.

The mascot, which depicts a mustachioed 19th-century mountain man, has long been a lightning rod as some have considered Hey Reb!, and especially his “rebel” namesake, as a veiled reference to the confederacy. 

The university has a long, often controversial history of using confederate symbolism to mark its split from the University of Nevada, Reno in the 1950s and 60s. It’s student paper long ran under the masthead of The Rebel Yell (now called the Scarlet and Gray), and the school’s 1960s and 70s mascot, a wolf named Beauregard, wore gray confederate regalia. 

But many defenders of “Hey Reb!” and the “Rebel” branding at large say there is no connection to the confederacy, nor is there a racist bent to the mascot. Instead, it is a reference to the “rebellious” nature of the school’s birth in the 1950s and its rivalry with its Northern Nevada counterpart. 

A study commissioned by UNLV in 2015 and conducted by the university’s then-Chief Diversity Officer, Rainier Spencer, found that the “rebels” moniker predated the first use of confederate imagery in 1955, and any explicit confederate symbols were done away with more than 40 years ago. 

But anti-racist protests that have gripped the nation in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have shed a fresh light on the use of statues as racist symbolism, and Hey Reb! — even if devoid of confederate imagery — will likely remain under scrutiny in the coming days and weeks. 

In her statement, Meana said the decision came after discussions with multiple individuals and in the wake of widespread anti-racist protests across the country, and that the donor of the statue mutually agreed to remove it from campus.

“Over the past few months, I have had discussions with multiple individuals and stakeholder groups from campus and the community on how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation,” Meana said. “That includes the future of our mascot. The frequency of those conversations has increased in recent weeks, and I will have more to share with campus once the listening tour is complete.”

Coronavirus | IndyBlog

Court rejects arguments that restrictions on in-person worship treat religious organizations “unequally”

June 15th, 2020 - 3:47pm

A federal judge has ruled against a rural Nevada church that argued assembly restrictions put in place by Gov. Steve Sisolak to maintain social distancing are being “selectively enforced” against religious establishments, violating their First Amendment rights.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley first filed a lawsuit on May 22 requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction against Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Lyon County Sheriff Frank Hunewill in order to prevent any criminal or civil penalties that might be incurred because of assembly. The court denied both motions.

“The Court agrees that church services may in some respects be similar to casinos, in that both are indoor locations in which a large number of people may remain in close proximity for an extended period of time,” Judge Richard Boulware wrote in the decision issued Thursday. “The Court, however, disagrees that casinos are actually treated more favorably than places of worship.”

The Lyon County church had argued that secular establishments and activities had been allowed to operate with fewer regulations, pointing to casinos as well as to organized protests that have taken place in Reno and Las Vegas. 

But the court said that casinos actually face “heightened regulations and scrutiny” compared to religious establishments as they are subject to limitations designated by the governor’s emergency directive as well as restrictions from the Gaming Control Board. 

Boulware also said that outdoor protest activities are not comparable to religious services and that, therefore, regulations placed on the two cannot be compared. 

Additionally, Boulware stated that Hunewill had indicated he had “no intention” of using law enforcement resources to enforce any directives against places of worship so an injunction was unnecessary.

Another Calvary Chapel church in Las Vegas filed a similar suit May 20 and also had its request for injunction denied. 

The decisions come two weeks after the Department of Justice sent a letter to Sisolak claiming that his ban on religious services may infringe on First Amendment protections and after 200 pastors in the state signed a joint letter to the governor calling on him to lift the ban.

Jason Guinasso, who represents Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, stated that the church has filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“What concerns us deeply with this District Court decision is that the Governor is being given wide deference to implement substantial restrictions on the church without any check on his power whatsoever,” Guinasso said in an email to The Nevada Independent on Monday. “If this Court’s decision is not overturned... then the Constitution has an unwritten pandemic exception that affords the Governor unfettered power to do whatever he wants without regard to the Constitutional rights of churches.”

IndyBlog | State Government

More than 75 groups call on Sisolak to avoid reliance on sales tax, promote anti-racist policies while addressing budget shortfall

June 15th, 2020 - 1:41pm

A large group of progressive and nonprofit organizations is asking Gov. Steve Sisolak and lawmakers to consider racial equality and lower-wage earners when they decide on budget cuts and possible tax increases.

The letter, sent Monday, is signed by more than 75 organizations and individuals including several unions, the Nevada Homeless Alliance and the Children’s Advocacy Alliance. It argues that the pandemic has underscored how racism and bias are embedded in the country’s health, social and economic systems.

“We urge the Governor’s office and the legislature to review each and every proposed cut through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens,” the letter says. “Going forward, we urge the state to work towards aligning budgets and policies to reflect a more equitable and inclusive approach for all communities and an economic recovery that extends to all people regardless of race.”

Specifically, the coalition is asking state leaders to “advance long term anti-racist and equitable policies to dismantle persistent racial, gender, and economic inequities and other barriers that non-dominant groups and identities experience.”

The group is also giving its blessing to discussions about raising taxes as a way to avoid harsh cuts.

“The letter demonstrates the overwhelming support the Governor and Nevada State Legislature have to review and raise revenue in an effort to reduce the negative impacts budget cuts would have on our most vulnerable,” Jared Busker, interim executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, said in a statement.

But the coalition is discouraging reliance on “regressive” taxes such as the sales tax that are borne disproportionately by low-income people.

The letter says that Nevada is ranked by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy as having the fifth most unfair tax system in the country, with the lowest 20 percent of wage earners paying more than 10 percent of their income in taxes and the top 1 percent paying just 2 percent of their income in taxes. Nevada does not have a personal income tax, so excise and sales taxes paid by all consumers regardless of income drive much of the imbalance.

“We encourage the review of progressive revenue options that levy taxes on those who can afford to pay and do not disproportionately harm lower-wage earners,” the coalition said.

Nevada is facing down massive budget cuts after ordering non-essential businesses to close for months in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The state is using reserve funds, budget cuts and furloughs of state employees to help close a budget shortfall of about $900 million in the current fiscal year and a projected $1.3 billion in the coming fiscal year.

Letter to Gov. Sisolak - Raising Revenue by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Updated at 4 p.m. on June 15, 2020 to add comment from Busker.

Coronavirus | IndyBlog

Sisolak says state will distribute federal CARES Act funding totaling $148 million

June 11th, 2020 - 4:56pm

Nevada is distributing $148 million of federal CARES Act funding to help communities cover unanticipated expenses triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Thursday.

Clark County and the City of Las Vegas are not recipients because they receive direct funding based on their population sizes. The local governments receiving the money all have populations smaller than 500,000.

The allocations — determined by a per-capita calculation — range from $159,428 to Esmeralda County to roughly $86 million for Washoe County. The counties and incorporated cities must use the funds to cover expenses incurred because of the public health emergency, costs not accounted for in budgets approved as of March 27, or costs incurred from March 1 through Dec. 30.

“COVID-19 has spared no corner of the State with its devastating physical and economic impacts,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Nevadans took quick and decisive action to help slow the spread of the virus and save lives and now we are able to begin the financial recovery.”

The CARES Act funding should arrive in the “coming weeks,” state officials said.

Coronavirus | IndyBlog

State releases guidelines for youth sport practices

June 10th, 2020 - 6:41pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office released guidelines Wednesday evening allowing “contactless” youth sports practices to proceed outside. The governor’s office also released specific guidelines for soccer, baseball and softball practices. 

The guidelines, developed with the state’s Local Empowerment Advisory Panel, call for health care screenings before practices and “rigorous” cleanings of equipment, according to a news release. The guidance appears to prohibit official youth sporting events, only allowing “spectator-less outdoor practice sessions.”

The guidance requires coaches and managers adhere to social distancing. Coaches are also required to use face coverings and players are asked to wear face coverings when they are not practicing.

Education | IndyBlog

UNR announces new measures aimed at tackling racism on campus

June 10th, 2020 - 5:10pm

Citing the “anger and frustration” expressed by black faculty, students and staff at the University of Nevada, Reno, administrators announced new measures Wednesday to more directly address incidents of racism on campus, including a public review of its policing standards and training protocols. 

The changes come as a reckoning with structural racism has struck institutions at all corners of American society since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police late last month.  

The proposal for “immediate action” includes pledges to review the university’s African Diaspora program, exploring alternatives to test score placement for first-year math and English courses and expanding existing cultural competency programming. 

Notably, Wednesday’s announcement also calls for the recognition of Colin Kaepernick and other black “social justice pioneers” on campus. Before playing football as a pro — and eventually drawing national controversy over his decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem in 2016 — Kaepernick played for the Nevada Wolf Pack from 2007 to 2010.

Critics of the university have charged that the school has not done enough to publicly present the former quarterback — now one of the most recognizable and widely known activists for social justice in the U.S. — as part of the school’s history and image. Last week, two UNR athletes began circulating a petition charging that his image had been “all but eradicated” from campus and calling for its return. 

But UNR President Marc Johnson has been publicly supportive of Kaepernick since his protest began, and he has denied the removal of Kaepernick’s image or memorabilia from any university spaces. 

On campus, Kaepernick’s image is still present among the university’s athletic spaces, though the Reno-Tahoe International Airport did publicly remove some Kaepernick memorabilia from a case owned and operated by the university in 2016. Officials cited the need to clean the case, but the removal coincided with a social media backlash for the airport displaying any Kaepernick memorabilia at all. 

Wearing a red hat supporting President Donald Trump, Jeffrey Erik argues with protesters outside of the Joe Crowley Student Union ahead of a speech by Turning Point USA founder, Charlie Kirk at the University of Nevada, Reno on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. The event was the first stop of Kirk's 2019 fall "Culture War" tour on college campus. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

UNR has frequently drawn the spotlight for incidents involving racism or hate speech over the last five years. That includes a 2017 incident where a UNR student, Peter Cvjetanovic, was identified as a part of the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that once-again reignited a national debate on racism. 

In the time since, the school has faced multiple incidents of swastikas being drawn on UNR buildings, and another incident in which flyers for the white nationalist group Identity Europa were distributed on campus. 

UNR’s on-campus police have been involved in at least two racist incidents, both in 2017. In one, images circulated on social media showed a UNR police officer dressed in a racist portrayal of Kaepernick for Halloween, while in the other, an officer was caught on a body camera joking to a black male student that he was “just going to shoot him if things go sideways.”

Between the state’s two four-year universities, UNR has long been less ethnically diverse than its counterpart at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Though more than 10 percent of Nevadans are black, just 2.7 percent of Reno residents are black according to data from the U.S. Census. At UNR, the figures are fairly similar; less than 700 of the school’s 21,400 students were black as of 2018, or roughly 3.2 percent. 

Education | IndyBlog

Higher ed system announces finalists for open chancellor search

June 9th, 2020 - 3:42pm

A search for a new chancellor to head the Nevada System of Higher Education drew one step closer to completion with the announcement of four finalists Tuesday, signaling a rapidly approaching end to the year-plus search to replace outgoing Chancellor Thom Reilly. 

Those finalists are set to participate in a virtual town hall next week before being interviewed by the system’s search committee on June 17. They will then be considered by the full Board of Regents at a special meeting on Friday, June 18. 

Among the finalists are: 

  • Arthur Ellis, a longtime member of the University of California system and most recently a Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at the UC system’s Office of the President.
  • Richard Larson, a Harvard-educated medical doctor who now serves as an Executive Vice Chancellor and Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of New Mexico.
  • Anthony Munroe, the president of Essex County College in New Jersey, which is both a predominately-black institution and a Hispanic-serving institution. 
  • Melody Rose, a higher education consultant who spent nearly two decades in the University of Oregon system, including a one-year stint as chancellor and later four years as the president of Marylhurst University, a Catholic liberal arts college in Oregon that closed in 2018

Whoever takes over the top job at the university and community college system will face a tough test in the coming months and years, as higher ed looks to navigate the worst financial crisis since the Great Recession. Regents have already prepared preliminary budget scenarios that could cut up to $124 million over the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, though Gov. Steve Sisolak signaled last month that the required cuts from public agencies may be higher than initial estimates. 

The board is set to discuss the budget, including any additional emergency measures, at its regularly scheduled meeting on Friday. 

Election 2020 | IndyBlog

Clark County Republicans to hold in-person county convention amid pandemic, which may run afoul of Phase 2 reopening guidelines

June 5th, 2020 - 6:55pm

In spite of social distancing orders from the governor limiting gatherings in Nevada to fewer than 50 people, the Clark County Republican Party is planning to hold an in-person party convention on Saturday with about 250 people expected to attend.

David Sajdak, the county party’s chairman, said in an interview on Friday that the planned convention does not violate Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Phase 2 guidance limiting the number of people who can gather together to 50 because expected attendance will be far below the venue's capacity. He said that the venue, Ahern Hotel and Convention Center, had cleared the event with state officials. 

"The state's been called four different times about this," he said. "We don't anticipate being shut down. We're not violating any order."

The county convention is held every two years and is necessary for the party to select delegates, vote on its upcoming platform and maintain its status as an organization.

Details of the convention’s location were not advertised on the organization's website or on social media, but came in an email that the Clark County Republican Central Committee sent to members on Thursday and that was obtained by The Nevada Independent.

The email said that out of concern for health and safety, the committee would like to keep the meeting as brief as possible.

"We have developed contingency plans should the need arise and we will have a contingency agenda if we are closed or shut down. Precaution is our priority," the email said.

The convention’s agenda includes appointments to leadership positions, confirmation of state convention delegates, candidate speeches and a final report of the platform committee.

Sajdak said that he did not review the email, and wishes it had not listed the potential to be closed or shut down because the state gave its approval.

"Section 21 of the governor's order allows 50 percent in this particular venue that we're in," he said, noting that the venue space allowed for 5,800 people, and attendees will make up less than 5 percent of the total occupancy. 

The hotel, however, does not appear to have a large outdoor gathering space, and Section 21 of the governor’s order is specific to outdoor venues.

“Non-retail outdoor venues, including without limitation, miniature golf facilities, amusement parks, theme parks may reopen to the public,” the order states. “Businesses operating pursuant to this section must ensure that occupancy shall not exceed 50% of the listed fire code capacity, and implement measures to ensure that all social distancing requirements are satisfied.”

Sajdak added that the convention is required by state law and that the committee does not have the resources to hold the event virtually. The Nevada State Democratic Party held a series of virtual county conventions in mid-May that drew more than 3,500 participants. 

Organizers are following social distancing guidelines as well as providing masks and hand sanitizer, Sajdak said.

But it’s unclear who may have signed off on allowing the convention to proceed. Officials with Clark County and the City of Las Vegas said they did not know about the convention, and Sisolak spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said in a text message that the governor’s office had not signed off on the plan. She reiterated that the Phase 2 reopening directive limits gathering to no more than 50 people.

Ahern Hotel and Convention Center, owned by conservative businessman Don Ahern and located in the building that was formerly the Lucky Dragon casino, did not return a phone call requesting comment on Friday.



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