Nye on Carson, May 15

Primary election could replace presidential caucus

The Nevada Senate voted Tuesday to scrap its caucus system for choosing a preferred presidential candidate in favor of a primary election to be held in February.

Senate Bill 421 was passed 11-9 vote and now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is uncertain.

A key backer of the measure, state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said Nevadans are uncomfortable meeting in small groups and airing their candidate preferences openly, as is done in a caucus. Instead, Settelmeyer said, they’d rather make their selections privately at the ballot box.

Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it wasn’t needed and would upset Nevada’s election calendar.

Under the measure, the primary would be held on the last Tuesday in February, a date that preserves Nevada’s clout as one of four early-voting states. But the Democratic Party could opt out of the primary by giving advance notice.

The move is seen as a way to appeal to more Republican voters and lessen the influence of grassroots party activists.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won Nevada’s GOP caucus, getting 50 percent of the caucus vote. But some members of the Nevada delegation broke ranks at the national convention, voting to nominate former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. That accentuated a long-standing rift within the Nevada Republican Party between conservatives and moderates.

Democrats said Republicans pushing for a primary were trying to manipulate the election process as a way to corral their own party members.

Sandra Chereb

School bullying bill sent to governor

A major piece of legislation sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval to combat bullying in schools was approved Monday by the state Assembly, but not before some members questioned the need to rush the measure through.

The bill, approved 36-6, now goes to Sandoval for his signature.

Senate Bill 504 creates the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment within the Department of Education. It also sets specific requirements on how school officials must deal with incidents of bullying. Administrators, principals and other school officials who knowingly or willfully fail to meet the requirements could be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.

The anti-bullying campaign is part of the Republican governor’s education agenda. His budget includes a new program called Social Workers in Schools, which would provide $36 million in grants to combat bullying. Another $300,000 in each of the next two years is also included in the governor’s budget to establish the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment.

But the measure saw opposition from members of Sandoval’s own party.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said he has not had a chance to read the bill and there is no need to rush the measure through. Similar concerns were expressed by Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, and John Ellison, R-Elko, among others.

Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, urged passage without delay.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said the urgency comes with less than three weeks remaining in the session. Lawmakers should rely on their colleagues who heard the measure, he said.

Sean Whaley

Campus carry bill revived

A “campus carry” bill believed to be dead in the Senate will be amended into another Second Amendment measure on Friday, Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen said Wednesday.

Hansen said that because the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hear Assembly Bill 148 that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons on college campuses, it will be amended into a Senate bill on the deadline day for committee action on most bills.

Hansen said the campus carry language will be amended into Senate Bill 175, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, and co-sponsored by all 10 other GOP senators.

Roberson’s bill would expand and clarify Nevada’s justifiable homicide law and prevent people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing firearms.

It further would prohibit anyone under an extended protection order from acquiring weapons during the time the order is in effect and abolish Clark County’s “blue card” ordinance requiring registration of firearms, a local law that has been on the books for more than six decades.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Brower, R-Reno, said recently that AB148 would not be heard because it does not have enough votes in the Senate to pass.

If amended into Roberson’s bill, the Senate would have to either concur or reject the amended version of the bill. Differences between the two versions of the bill would then likely be worked out in conference committee.

Sean Whaley

PERS reform bill reaches Assembly

Little opposition was raised Monday to a bill the sponsor says would save Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System $1 billion per decade.

Senate Bill 406, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, has the broadest support among several bills targeting PERS reform this legislative session.

Roberson, R-Henderson, told members of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee that the goal of the bill is to “bend the cost curve down over time to increase the solvency of the system.”

SB406 was passed unanimously by the Senate last month and is now winding its way through the Assembly.

Among other things, the measure reduces the multiplier used to calculate monthly retirement benefits and disallows from calculations any time purchased by the employee.

It also provides a new option for survivors of public employees killed on the job, giving a surviving spouse or beneficiary either 50 percent of the public employee’s salary or 100 percent of retirement allowance earned at the time of death.

One big change is a provision stripping public employees who are convicted of felonies related to their jobs from receiving benefits, though they would get back any contributions they made out of their own pocket.

That provision is a response to Steven Jones, a former Clark County family court judge who was sentenced in February to 26 months in federal prison for his role in an investment scheme that bilked dozens of investors out of millions of dollars.

Some committee members questioned whether the punishment of losing retirement benefits was too harsh or lead to legal challenges. The crimes would have to be tied to the public official’s job, offenses like accepting or offering a bribe.

“If a public employee of this state does this, no, I do not believe they should be the benefit of taxpayer contributions to their retirement,” Roberson said.

Provisions of the bill would only apply to new employees hired after July 1.

Judges, who are under the Judicial Retirement Plan, would have to contribute 50 percent of their retirement contribution if the bill passes and is signed into law. Currently, judicial contributions are borne by taxpayers.

Sandra Chereb

Committee recommends ending Foreclosure Mediation Program

A joint money subcommittee May 6 recommended shutting down Nevada’s Foreclosure Mediation Program, citing a recovering housing market and fewer participants than at the height of the recession when the program was established.

Overseen by the Nevada Supreme Court, the Foreclosure Mediation Program was created by the Legislature in 2009 as the state’s economy tanked and the housing market collapsed.

According to statistics presented during Wednesday’s hearing, completed mediations have declined from a high of 7,558 in the 2011 fiscal year to a projected low of 662 in 2017.

Effectiveness is also waning. In 2010, 40 percent of homeowners who went through the program retained their homes. Projections estimate 15 percent by the end of the upcoming fiscal year.

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said if the trend and projections hold, it would mean only about 100 people would benefit two years from now under a program that costs about $3 million to operate.

Democrats on the money panels argued that while Nevada’s economy is improving, the housing market has not fully recovered. Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, said 282,000 homes in Nevada are still underwater, where people owe more than their homes are worth.

The program is supported by fees, with most coming from a $45 fee attached to filings of notices of default. A $400 mediation service fee also is assessed per case.

In 2010, the program collected $7 million in fees, but the revenues dwindled to $1 million last year.

— Sandra Chereb

Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley cover Carson City for GateHouse Media, owner of the Pahrump Valley Times.

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