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IndyBlog | State Government

As Nevada leaders push for a strong finish, deadline for census counting is extended

September 25th, 2020 - 2:19pm

A federal judge has extended the counting deadline for the U.S. census for a month, but Nevada officials have said an extension may not be enough to make up for a lack of resources.

Census takers in every state will now have through Oct. 31 to complete counting. The Census Bureau first announced an Oct. 31 deadline in April, but last month it was shortened to Sept. 30. The judge’s decision came Thursday night, six days ahead of that September deadline. 

Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court in Northern California first suspended the wind-down of census operations in the state earlier this month as a part of a suit filed by multiple advocacy groups and local governments and which argued that the Sept. 30 deadline would cause an inaccurate count. Koh found that historically underrepresented groups, including immigrants and people of color, would be the most undercounted if the deadline was not extended, an observation that has been made by Nevada state officials as well.

Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, the chair of the Nevada Complete Count Committee, previously said that census operations have been slowing in Nevada; the state had only 12 census takers as of last week. When asked about the possibility of an extension on Sunday, Marshall stated that even given more time, Nevada would still have to ramp up operations in order to meet response rate goals.

“They have been stopping, right? They have been withdrawing resources. Our main contact for the Census Bureau has already been thanked for his service,” she said. “So they’ve already been winding down, which makes it that much more difficult.”

Marshall did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday about the implications of the extension.

Nevada’s current response rate is 66 percent, slightly below the national rate which is 66.3 percent. Although Nevada’s response rate statewide is higher than its 2010 rate, rural counties have been struggling. Both Clark and Washoe have exceeded their 2010 rates, but 10 of the state’s 17 counties have not been able to hit those marks set 10 years ago.

The Justice Department appealed the extension decision Friday afternoon, filing a notice with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Although a bill has been introduced in Congress that  includes deadline extensions, no official extension to the Dec. 31 reporting deadline has been passed. The department has pitched the September counting deadline as a way for the Census Bureau to meet that December date.


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Congress | Government | IndyBlog

Congressional delegation calls for more aviation industry aid to help with pandemic recovery

September 24th, 2020 - 12:59pm

With the state suffering from a drop-off in visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress should immediately provide about $45 billion in aid to the aviation industry and its workers, members of the state's delegation said in a letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties.

“In 2019, both of Nevada’s major airports saw record levels of travelers which helped support strong economic growth,” the lawmakers said in the letter spearheaded by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and dated Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic decreases in air travel and the resulting economic crisis has harmed Nevada disproportionately." 

“Without strong support for this key component of our state’s economy, Nevada may suffer years of slow growth and high unemployment,” the letter continued.  

Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment rate.

The lawmakers want $32 billion for an extension of the aviation payroll support program (PSP), which was part of the $3 trillion CARES Act signed into law in March. PSP, designed to prevent aviation layoffs triggered by the pandemic, is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Of the $32 billion, $25 billion would go to passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $3 billion for airline contractors.

They requested $10 billion for airports to help with lost revenue and allow them to continue with construction projects. Another $3.5 billion would go to airport concessionaires at airports. 

The letter also calls for the removal of any obstacles to airlines accessing aid, including opening up the air carrier loan program for new applicants.

The letter comes after airline executives and unions, including United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, recently called for a six month PSP extension to avoid layoffs and furloughs beginning Oct. 1. 

Two GOP senators on Monday introduced legislation that would provide the PSP with $28 billion. 

At a hearing in May, Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen said McCarran International Airport saw more than 50 million passengers in 2019, generated nearly $35 billion in economic output, supported approximately a quarter of a million jobs and was responsible for 18 percent of Southern Nevada’s gross domestic product. McCarran’s 2020 revenue is expected to be, at most, half of 2019.

“The hundreds of thousands of jobs that are supported by the aviation industry in Nevada will be jeopardized, straining our state’s unemployment system further and harming countless families,” the letter said. “Providing more support at this time will help our state recover faster when the pandemic is over and ensure that Nevadans are able to pay their bills, retain their jobs, and fuel economic growth.” 


Education | IndyBlog

Washoe County School Board selects former principal as replacement trustee

September 23rd, 2020 - 9:28am

The former principal of Incline Middle School has been appointed to the Washoe County School Board of Trustees for the remainder of the year.

The school board voted unanimously late Tuesday night to appoint Sharon Kennedy as the District A trustee, replacing Scott Kelley who resigned last month. Kennedy was among 13 people who applied for the position, and the board interviewed four candidates during a meeting that spanned seven hours.

The shakeup followed a story published by This Is Reno detailing multiple allegations in divorce filings, including that Kelley placed a GPS tracking device on his wife’s vehicle and was having an affair. The court records also allege that Kelley was operating fake social media accounts, one of which defended the school district and trustees.

Kelley’s resignation came shortly before the end of his term, but his school board career may not be over. The District A seat is on the November ballot, meaning Kennedy will serve until the winner of that election begins in January.

Kelley is running for re-election against Scott Church, a retired Reno Police Department sergeant. Church had applied to be the replacement trustee, but the board did not select him for an interview Tuesday night.

After his resignation, Kelley sent the Reno Gazette-Journal a statement saying he was resigning so the “final months of my divorce don't distract the amazing staff at Washoe County School District.” But he’s letting voters make the final call in the upcoming election.

“My name will remain on the ballot in November and I’m hopeful my constituents in District A will consider the facts and circumstances surrounding disclosure of the false and inflammatory allegations when casting their vote,” he wrote in his statement to the RGJ.

Kennedy, a registered nurse before becoming an educator, served on the Washoe County School District’s Reopening Task Force this spring.

“Upon hearing of the resignation of the Trustee for my district, I realized that I likely possessed significant knowledge of the workings of schools and WCSD to be of assistance for the limited amount of time remaining on this term,” she wrote in her application. “In short, I want to help during this very difficult period for my community and our district.”



Election 2020 | IndyBlog

New online tracking service allows Nevada voters to check the status of mail-in ballots

September 22nd, 2020 - 5:13pm

With many people likely choosing to vote by mail in the coming general election, the secretary of state’s election division is offering voters a tool for tracking their ballots once they are mailed.

Some voters have raised concerns about the security of mail-in voting, and the tracking service could offer them some peace of mind that their ballot is proceeding through the postal system and being counted properly.

All the information voters need to provide to see where their ballot is located is their first and last name, date of birth and ZIP code. The service is free and voters can sign up for it by visiting https://nevada.ballottrax.net. Once enrolled, voters will receive alerts about the status of their ballot by text, email or a call.

BallotTrax bills itself as a mail ballot locator and notification system. It provides ballot tracking for voters in several other states already.

“Voters are used to buying something online and then tracking the package from the retail outlet to their doorstep. We can now offer this same service, and the peace of mind that comes with it, to voters who vote by mail,” said Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley.

Active registered voters in Nevada should expect to see their ballots show up in the mail sometime in the next three weeks. All active registered voters will receive a ballot in accordance with AB4, which was passed during a special legislative session in July. Voters still have the option of voting in person if they chose to do so.

Early voting in Nevada is from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30, and Election Day is Nov. 3. For more information on mail-in voting, check out our explainer.



Election 2020 | IndyBlog

National Democratic political committee launches ad framing Republican congressional candidate as 'dangerous'

September 22nd, 2020 - 12:04pm

A new ad from a Democratic political committee targeting former professional wrestler and Republican congressional candidate Dan Rodimer argues that he’s “something much worse” than “just a big meathead.”

The 30-second television ad went live in the Las Vegas media market Tuesday as part of a six-figure ad buy launched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Rodimer is running against Democratic incumbent Susie Lee, who has held the competitive Southern Nevada-based seat since 2019. 

The ad’s title comes from an interview Rodimer did with Fox News, where the candidate attempted to assure viewers his background as a wrestler does not mean he’s “just a big meathead.” The ad also references multiple reported incidents from Rodimer’s past, including 2010 assault accusations, an arrest warrant which described him as “armed or dangerous,” and calls to the police made about domestic disturbances. It features images of Rodimer overlaid with police reports. 

Rodimer’s campaign manager, Ed Gonzalez, condemned the new ad as a pattern of “baseless attacks.”

“These same baseless attacks didn’t work when they were tried against Rodimer earlier this year in his primary, and they won’t work now,” he told The Nevada Independent. “The fact is, Dan Rodimer was arrested once in his life, standing up to a bully in college on a Halloween night. That charge was dismissed, he has zero criminal convictions and no criminal record,” he said.

Lee launched her own six figure ad buy earlier this month with a similar focus to the DCCC campaign, accusing Rodimer of maintaining “an alarmingly violent rap sheet.”

Rodimer has been running online ads targeting Lee since his primary victory in June, including a four-minute video released Monday with the tagline “America is Hungover from Democrat Policies,” which features a tiger, an Elvis impersonator, and Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars fame.

Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District is considered Republicans' best chance to flip one of the state’s three Democrat-held House districts, given the only 3 percent difference in active registered voter numbers between the two parties.


Education | IndyBlog | State Government

Nevada joins federal lawsuit challenging changes to Title IX mandate on campus sexual misconduct

September 22nd, 2020 - 2:00am

Nevada has joined a coalition of 18 states and territories in a federal lawsuit to block the U.S. Department of Education's new Title IX mandate, which Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office said could weaken protections for survivors of sexual violence and lead to increased underreporting of sexual harassment and violence on college campuses.

The new Title IX mandate came as part of a federal regulatory change proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The changes were designed to ensure fair treatment for victims and those accused of sexual misconduct, as well as address fears that students who were falsely accused had their lives ruined unjustly. Still, the mandate has drawn criticism from educators, students and lawmakers around the country. 

"Title IX is a landmark law that for almost 30 years has required schools with federal funding to provide students with an educational environment free from sexual harassment," Ford, a Democrat, said in the press release. "Sexual harassment can have no place in our schools, and the State of Nevada is proud to be a part of this fight. As we mourn the passing of Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, a stalwart vote for gender equality in schools, I am honored to continue this fight in her memory." 

The new Title IX rule narrows the definition of sexual harassment and raises the burden of proof for accusations, among other changes. 

Critics, including student leaders and the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, said they fear the new law will prevent victims of sexual violence from reporting.

"I, along with NSHE's campus presidents, feel strongly that these changes to Title IX are a step backwards towards maintaining open, inclusive, respectful, safe, and secure campuses," Chancellor Melody Rose said in a press release from the NSHE. 

To ensure higher education institutions in Nevada could receive federal funding, including money for student financial aid, the Board of Regents adopted the mandated Title IX regulations on Aug. 7 but authorized support for participating in the lawsuit during a meeting on Aug. 21.

"The Board of Regents is prepared to take all necessary action to protect our students, faculty, and staff. We will continue to provide support and implement necessary policies that extend beyond the new federal regulations in order to ensure appropriate responses to all allegations of sexual harassment and assault," said Board of Regents Chair Mark Doubrava in the press release.

Dominique Hall, student body president of the University of Nevada, Reno, said the Title IX changes would dissuade sexual assault and harassment victims from speaking out and applauded the attorney general's decision to join the lawsuit.

"To all the @NSHE students who helped spread the word and give public comment about their concern about the new federal Title IX policies, this wouldn't have been done without you," Hall tweeted on Monday. "Thanks to @AaronDFordNV & our regents for this lawsuit and for listening to #Survivors like myself!"


Election 2020 | IndyBlog

DNC up with first Nevada ad targeting Trump over coronavirus response

September 16th, 2020 - 3:00am

The Democratic National Committee is going up on air in Nevada for the first time this election cycle on Wednesday with an ad focusing on President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 30-second ad, called “Red Handed,” contrasts statements the president has made about the severity of the pandemic, saying in August on Fox News that “children are almost immune” to the virus when he had told the journalist Bob Woodard in February that the virus is “deadly stuff” and was affecting “not just old, plenty of young people.” The ad also cites the rising coronavirus death toll, which has claimed the lives of more than 190,000 Americans.

“You took an oath to protect our citizens. Mr. President, these deaths are on your hands,” the ad says. “It’s time to put America back in the hands of a president who will protect the country and tell us the truth.”

The ad comes as Trump has been under fire from Gov. Steve Sisolak and state health officials for holding two rallies in Minden and Henderson this weekend attended by thousands of his supporters in violation of the state’s 50-person limit on public gatherings amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Few attendees wore masks at either event.

During one of those rallies, Trump suggested that if his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, had been in charge of the U.S. coronavirus response “hundreds of thousands of more Americans would have died,” though it is not clear how he arrived at that specific figure.

“We launched the largest national mobilization since World War II, you know that, especially with ventilator and equipment and masks, shields,” Trump said. “We’re delivering life-saving therapies that have achieved among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country in the world.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. does rank fairly low for its case-fatality ratio — the number of deaths per confirmed cases — though it does have one of the highest death tolls per capita. The case-fatality ratio in the U.S. is 3 percent, ranking 51st among nations, but it has seen 59.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, coming in at 11th.

The ad is part of a six-figure buy from the Democratic National Committee and will air on cable in Las Vegas. It is the 11th ad released by the DNC since June.

Watch the ad below:


IndyBlog | Local Government

Sparks swears in new mayor, city councilwoman after death of Mayor Ron Smith

September 14th, 2020 - 3:53pm

The City of Sparks swore in Mayor Ed Lawson and City Councilwoman Dian VanderWell during a council meeting on Monday following the death of Mayor Ron Smith last month.

Smith died Aug. 14, two years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and almost two years after being elected mayor. He was 71.

“I’m extremely honored to have the great privilege of serving as mayor of the City of Sparks,” Lawson said in a statement. “I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend and mentor, Mayor Ron Smith, and plan to continue the amazing work he has done for this great city.”

Lawson was first elected to the City Council in 2010. Appointed in November 2018 as mayor pro tempore — the person who will serve in the absence of the mayor — Lawson will complete Smith's term and will be up for election in November 2022.

The council unanimously approved VanderWell, whom Lawson appointed to take his place as the representative for Ward 2. VanderWell has served on the Sparks Planning Commission and Regional Planning Commission since 2016, serving as chair for both organizations in 2018 and 2017, respectively. She will hold the Ward 2 seat until the 2022 election.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Charlene Bybee became the new mayor pro tempore after being nominated by Lawson and unanimously approved by the council.


IndyBlog | Local Government

Efforts to recall Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore at a standstill after organizers fail to collect enough signatures

September 9th, 2020 - 6:22pm

A petition to recall Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore failed to garner enough signatures by its Wednesday deadline, but organizers say this is not the end of their efforts.

Expel Michele, the group that started circulating the petition in response to what it calls Fiore’s “divisive rhetoric” after racially insensitive comments she made at the Clark County GOP convention, has had since June to collect the required signatures in order to trigger an official recall against the former mayor pro tempore. However, on Wednesday, organizer Molly Taylor announced the group did not have enough signatures to move forward.

“We deserve better. We need someone who will serve us, not a self-serving politician,” said Taylor in an email to The Nevada Independent. “[Fiore] has done nothing for Ward 6. She has embarrassed a large portion of this ward, and far more in 2020 than ever before.”

Fiore represents Ward 6, the city’s northernmost ward, on the Las Vegas City Council and serves as a committeewoman for the Nevada Republican Party. She previously served two terms representing Assembly District 4. 

The group filed its intent to circulate a recall petition on June 11. From that date, organizers had until Sept. 9 to collect the 1,911 necessary signatures. It wasn’t immediately clear how many signatures the group did obtain during the 90-day period.

According to Taylor, the COVID-19 pandemic “absolutely” posed a hindrance to the campaign’s ability to collect signatures. Although they were able to make calls from home, the organization was unable to hire walkers to collect physical signatures.

“If we decide to file again it will be after the restrictions have been lifted and life is back to near-normal,” Taylor said.

The organization also accused Fiore of “threatening” and “intimidating” voters who had signed the petition, causing organizers to be wary about sharing the names of those who signed with the county clerk’s office, citing stories of voters asking the organization if they will “have any trouble” if they sign. Fiore did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Nevada Independent.

In August, Fiore responded to recall efforts by saying “so whoever it is that jots their name and signs a signature claiming something about me, I will find out who they are and what they're about.”

During the same interview, Fiore defended referring to Roxann McCoy, the president of the Las Vegas branch of the NAACP, as a “criminal.” The remark came after McCoy criticized the councilwoman for proposing a “Blue Lives Matter” event in June.

Fiore first came under fire in June for “racially charged remarks” made at the Clark County Republican Party convention, which were “rebuked” by the party. Fiore stepped down as mayor pro tempore later that month.

Taylor was clear that this will not be the end of the group’s effort. In addition to continuing to “expose” Fiore’s “unusual behavior, divisive rhetoric, and lack of integrity,” the organization is open to the idea of filing another petition in the future and will be “paying close attention” to Fiore’s reelection campaign in 2022.

“We ran a solid, clean campaign. [Fiore] said that we had done ‘some very, very fraudulent things’ and she said she would hold a press conference today or tomorrow to expose our dirty deeds,” Taylor said. “Prove it. I ran this effort with the utmost integrity, never crossing any lines.”


Education | IndyBlog

Clark County superintendent says in-person schooling may not happen until January

September 9th, 2020 - 5:03pm

Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara said the nation’s fifth-largest school district is eyeing a possible return to in-person instruction for the second semester, but the decision will hinge on local health metrics.

His comments came Wednesday afternoon during a virtual town hall put on by the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. The Clark County School District began the new academic year with online instruction last month because of the region’s elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Jara said the district will be giving the Clark County School Board of Trustees an update about learning models and health considerations during a Sept. 24 meeting. While no decisions have been made, the superintendent said planning is underway for the eventual transition back to in-person schooling.

“If we see miraculously (a) drop, then, you know, we look at and try to pivot back to where we need to be,” Jara said, referring to COVID-19 cases and reopening plans. “Right now, you know, unfortunately, it may just be in January.”

In the meantime, Jara credited federal coronavirus relief funding with helping equip the district’s students with Chromebooks. He said the district has whittled the number of students needing a device from 64,000 last week to about 25,000 as of Wednesday. 

Jara urged families to contact the school district if their child needs a Chromebook. The district recently received another shipment, he said, and has plenty to distribute. If Congress authorizes additional relief funding for schools, Jara said the money would support professional development for online education as well as mental health initiatives.

The superintendent also touched on some challenges that have surfaced with online education — one being controlling the virtual class environment. Jara said the district has been communicating with Google about obstacles educators are facing when using the company’s video-conferencing platform.

“These kids are smarter than we are, and they’re finding ways to jump into other classrooms,” Jara said as an example.

While proud of the efforts made by community members, educators and students to make distance education a success, Jara didn’t gloss over the ongoing difficulties.

“Is it perfect?” he said. “I can tell you it's not. That's why when we opened school the first day, I said to the press, ‘patience, flexibility and grace.’”


Congress | Government | IndyBlog

Trump puts Nevada judge on list for SCOTUS

September 9th, 2020 - 2:29pm

In an effort to energize his supporters ahead of the November election, President Donald Trump Wednesday added former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke and 19 other conservative judges to his list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court.

Among the 20 additions to Trump’s list were Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Trump said that under a Joe Biden administration, the court would be packed with ideological judges and that issues that Republicans care about, such as the right to bear arms, would be under threat. 

He said that in the next four years as many as four justices could retire. In 2016, the president also campaigned on installing conservative judges on the Supreme Court, which resonated with Republican voters. 

He challenged Biden to release a similar list.

VanDyke serves as a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overseeing Nevada. 

His nomination to the Ninth Circuit was contentious, and both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen opposed his confirmation. 

“Lawrence VanDyke isn’t qualified to serve in his current position holding Nevada’s seat on the Ninth Circuit, much less on the Supreme Court," said Rosen spokeswoman Katherine Schneider in a statement. "When last nominated, he was a partisan and anti-LGBTQ nominee who faced bipartisan opposition in the Senate."

The American Bar Association (ABA) wrote a scathing letter last fall to the Senate Judiciary Committee against VanDyke’s nomination, citing concerns about his ability to impartially adjudicate cases involving members of the LGBTQ community.

The ABA, which traditionally vets judicial candidates, also wrote that VanDyke was “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.”

At his confirmation hearing, he tearfully defended himself against allegations of bias against the LGBTQ community and pledged to be fair and impartial. 

He was confirmed by the full Senate in December on a 51 to 44 vote with one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, joining with all Democrats in opposing the judge.

This article was updated on September 9, 2020, at 3:27 p.m. to include comments from the offices of Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.


Elections | IndyBlog

Sharron Angle files lawsuit challenging expanded mail-in voting

September 4th, 2020 - 2:59pm

Sharron Angle, a Republican former assemblywoman and failed U.S. Senate candidate, has filed a lawsuit against Nevada’s Republican secretary of state in an attempt to stop the planned expansion of mail-in voting for the 2020 election.

The Election Integrity Project of Nevada, a vote-monitoring nonprofit group closely linked to Angle, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Clark County District Court. An emergency hearing has been set for Oct. 8.

The 27-page complaint argues that any vote cast by Angle or others will be “diluted and compromised” if the law created by AB4, which allows for expanded mail-in voting during emergencies such as the pandemic, is carried out for the upcoming general election. The bill passed along party lines during a special legislative session and was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

The lawsuit, which names Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske as the defendant, contends the law contains unfunded mandates and other unconstitutional provisions that, ultimately, will affect voters like Angle.

“Plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law and will suffer serious and irreparable harm by transferring almost the entire burden of funding the all mail-in ballot election costs, which will result in either an increased tax burden or a decrease in county services to the Plaintiff Sharron Angle unless Defendant is enjoined from implementing and enforcing AB4,” the complaint states.

It also asserts that the law puts voters’ constitutional rights at stake because of an “unequal” geographic allocation of in-person voting sites, no statewide uniform standards for counting or recounting ballots and what the plaintiffs believe is an increased risk of voter fraud.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar legal challenge filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign, which is still pending in federal court


Coronavirus | Education | IndyBlog

UNR President: Students, orgs who break conduct code with off-campus parties could face investigation, sanction

September 3rd, 2020 - 1:55pm

In a letter sent to students, faculty and other staff at UNR Thursday, university President Marc Johnson said “troubling reports” of off-campus behavior — including a number of parties and gatherings with frequently un-masked attendees and little social distancing — could warrant the investigation and sanction of students who break the university’s Student Code of Conduct. 

Citing a provision of the code that bars conduct in violation of state and local laws and gives the university latitude to investigate off-campus conduct that “adversely and directly affects the health, safety, or property of the University community,” any student found in violation would be subject to the “full range of sanctions.” 

That includes possible suspension, expulsion or a loss of recognition by an affiliated organization, the letter said.

“These parties put not only the University Community at risk — they jeopardize the entire public health effort that Washoe County has been following since the outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March,” Johnson said. 

Johnson’s letter comes just days before the Labor Day holiday weekend, and after reports from Reno police and the Washoe County Health Department that parties near the university in the last month have, in part, driven new infections in the area. 

“Let me be clear: Students should not engage in off-campus behavior that violates the Code and adversely and directly affects our community. If they do, they face sanction from the University,” Johnson said. 

Across the country, colleges and universities have grappled with the increasingly rapid spread of the coronavirus among students returning to in-person or hybrid classroom settings. A handful of universities have already been forced to reverse their in-person instructional offerings, while some state governments and health officials are explicitly warning students not to party while the pandemic continues. 

In Nevada, officials at both the Nevada System of Higher Education and the state’s colleges and universities have stressed the “flexibility” of existing reopening plans, pointing to contingencies that would theoretically allow institutions to switch between varying degrees of in-person, online or hybrid instruction. 

But at least some students and faculty remain uneasy or frustrated with existing guidelines, saying they often don’t go far enough or provide the protection necessary to stop the spread of the virus in Nevada through university campuses. 

In closing his letter, Johnson noted the “vast majority” of the campus community was following guidelines and precautions, adding that “so many of you understand that taking individual responsibility for what you do helps keep other individuals safe.”


Education | IndyBlog

Health district will not set threshold to close schools as cases climb in Washoe schools, UNR

September 2nd, 2020 - 5:48pm

Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said there's no "line-in-the-sand" criteria to determine when schools should be closed as reported cases at Washoe schools increase midway through the third week of classes.

Such a threshold wouldn't be "prudent," Dick said in a press call on Wednesday, because of the individual situations of each school and the uncertainty of the virus. The Washoe County School District has reported 17 cases across 14 schools as of Wednesday, and the health district plans to use incoming data to evaluate the safety of in-person schooling day by day.

"Establishing ahead of time that we're going to use this criteria and that's going to be it leaves us open to having some severe situations happening in individual schools. And if we've chosen the wrong indicators, it might never trigger a school closing," Dick said. "So we'll assess it as we move forward with this and we see what's occurring.”

Dick originally advised the school board not to reopen schools for in-person learning, but trustees voted to completely reopen elementary schools and do hybrid models of in-person and distance learning for middle and high schoolers. All families have the option of doing full distance learning at any point during the school year; Clark County School District has moved completely to remote learning.

"We're seeing what we expected to see with the … elevated levels of disease transmission that we have in the community. We are seeing cases that are occurring within the schools," Dick said in a press call on Wednesday. "That's what we anticipated that we would see." 

The health district has not identified any cases where the individual caught the virus at school, according to Dick. He said he expects to start seeing cases from transmissions within schools in approximately the next week or two, although he is hopeful that preventative measures, such as mask-wearing, within the schools will help prevent the spread of the disease.

Dick said the health district has added additional staffing for contact tracing so that each disease investigation team of 10 to 12 staff members will have four people dedicated to tracing pediatric cases. This will help reduce transmissions in schools by ensuring students who test positive are not attending school and contact tracers are quickly notifying those who may have been exposed to keep them from attending school as well, Dick said. 

Neither the health district nor the school district discloses whether the positive individual is a student, staff or faculty member, citing privacy concerns.

Meanwhile, the University of Nevada, Reno has reported 15 cases, including 12 students and three faculty members, since its first day of school on Aug. 24, according to the most recent available data. The university's hybrid model brought concerns from faculty, who were hoping for an option to opt-out of in-person teaching similar to what is offered at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The health district is working with the university as cases are reported. Dick said he's primarily worried about gatherings, a concern that applies to everyone but particularly social interaction-deprived college students.

"I think it's really important that all of the students understand their responsibility and are working to prevent the spread of disease, so that the university can remain open, and they can get the education that they're seeking," he said.


Election 2020 | Elections | IndyBlog

Democrat Susie Lee nabs endorsement from U.S. Chamber of Commerce

September 2nd, 2020 - 5:29pm

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — normally a steadfast booster for Republican congressional campaigns — announced Wednesday that it was endorsing incumbent Democrat Susie Lee in the race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. 

Lee’s endorsement comes as one of nearly two-dozen from the chamber for House Democrats in 2020. It is the largest single sweep of such endorsements from the right-leaning organization in recent memory, though the chamber also endorsed 29 House Republicans. 

At least one other pro-business organization, the National Federation of Independent Business, chose to back Lee’s Republican opponent, former wrestler and Las Vegas business owner Dan Rodimer. 

The race between Lee and Rodimer to win the swingy District 3 is among the most competitive in the state, with just a 3-percentage point registration advantage separating Democrats (36.8 percent) from Republicans (33.6) in the largely suburban district. 

No public polling has been released in the race, but outside election observers have slightly favored Lee, who won the seat in the 2018 midterms by a 9-point margin. The Cook Political Report, which assesses the competitiveness of House races, rates the race as “Lean Democratic,” despite a slight historical voter advantage for Republicans. 


Economy & Business | IndyBlog

Nevada submits application for short-term, $300-per-week federal unemployment bonuses

September 2nd, 2020 - 4:31pm

Nevada has turned in an application for a $300-per-week, federally funded unemployment benefit add-on nearly a month after the program — which comes in absence of an agreement from Congress on whether to extend $600-per-week bonuses — was first announced.

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said Wednesday that it has submitted the application Tuesday to seek about $300 million from the Lost Wages Assistance grant program. If approved, the money would pay claimants who were unemployed for the first three weeks of August.

The submission comes after 44 states have already been approved for the money. President Donald Trump announced the program in early August, and Nevada said last week that it had decided to apply.

If Nevada’s application is approved, eligible beneficiaries include claimants whose unemployment is COVID-related and who are receiving at least $100 a week in benefits through regular unemployment or the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig workers and self-employed people.

DETR officials say they will “immediately begin working on the necessary technology changes to the current system to accommodate the new program” if the agency gets the green light from the federal government. States must reapply each week after the three weeks of initial benefits dry up, to divvy any remainder of the $44 billion allocation.

Nevada also announced it is applying for $1.7 million in federal funding to assist with fraud investigations. Officials have said large volumes of fraud have jammed the system for legitimate claimants.

To help with the backlog — which DETR has not publicly quantified — 200 welfare eligibility workers will assist with processing claims starting next week.


Elections | IndyBlog

Clark County registrar says mail ballots will be accepted at all voting sites

September 1st, 2020 - 5:28pm

If voters prefer to personally deliver their mail-in ballots on Election Day, they will be able to do so at all 125 voting sites in Clark County.

“All voters are getting a mail ballot and we want to encourage them to use that and if they’re not comfortable putting that in the mail — which we don’t have any indications that say that they should be concerned putting it in the mail — but having 125 sites, plus 35 early voting sites will give them a lot of access to drop the ballot,” Clark County’s registrar of voters, Joe Gloria, told the Clark County Commission on Tuesday.

During a special legislative session in July, state lawmakers passed along party lines Assembly Bill 4, which expanded mail-in voting during emergencies such as the pandemic. By law, the ballots must be mailed to in-state residents at least 20 days before the election.

Gloria said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if mail ballots get sent locally during the first week of October, but he didn’t make any guarantees because it depends how the printing process plays out. The registrar predicted that 40 percent to 50 percent of voters will participate in the upcoming election via the mail ballots. Less than 5 percent of Clark County voters participated via mail during the general elections in 2016 and 2018.

Gloria also said he’s “very confident” the county will have enough poll workers to staff both the early voting and Election Day voting sites. Election officials have estimated they will need roughly 3,100 poll workers for the effort. 

As of Tuesday morning, the county had secured 2,459 poll workers, Gloria said. Staff are working through another 1,257 applications.

Last month, Clark County increased the pay for poll workers as an incentive to overcome hurdles finding enough people amid the pandemic. Gloria said the pay bump and heightened public awareness appear to have succeeded.

“We have seen a steady stream of people coming in and my staff is going through those applications as quickly as we can,” he said.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom raised the possibility of increasing poll worker pay even more to help ensure enough people stick around through Election Day. The commission didn’t take any action Tuesday, but county staff are going to look into it.


IndyBlog | Real Estate

With majority of $20 million allotment still available, application period extended for commercial rental assistance

September 1st, 2020 - 3:06pm

State officials say they are extending the application deadline for commercial rental assistance because they believe a little more than half of the $20 million in aid is still available for businesses and nonprofits.

The Nevada State Treasurer’s Office and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced this week that they were expanding an application window that was set to close on Monday. The new deadline for the Commercial Rental Assistance Grant is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“Since launching a week ago, incoming applications have highlighted just how many small businesses and non-profit organizations throughout Nevada have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and are in need of assistance,” officials said in a press release.

Erik Jimenez of the treasurer’s office said that the program has received about 500 completed applications and an additional 270 that were not finalized.

Of those denied so far, about half were because of issues with the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which offered businesses forgivable loans. Previously, Nevada businesses were deemed ineligible if they received more than $5,000 in PPP or other similar funds; the program this week removed those restrictions and is allowing businesses to apply regardless of other grant awards.

Businesses that were denied on account of such awards do not need to reapply, but will be re-reviewed by state staff for eligibility under the adjusted rules, officials said.

Other applicants were denied for reasons such as not having business licenses in Nevada or not being in business for at least six months.

The program this week is also changing parameters to give all recipients who show a loss of at least 30 percent of revenue compared with the previous year the maximum award of $10,000.

“Our office and GOED are looking for ways to most effectively help small businesses here in Nevada and will continue to adjust programs as we get better data,” Jimenez said.

The commercial rental assistance program — which is prioritizing disadvantaged businesses, those that lost the greatest amount of revenue and did not receive PPP loans — is separate from a program disbursing $70 million to residential tenants in Nevada. Commercial evictions were allowed to resume in July, while residential evictions for non-payment of rent are barred until mid-October.


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