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Overtime bill discussed at legislature

A proposal to change Nevada’s overtime law was touted Wednesday by employers as a way to give businesses and workers more flexibility, but critics said it would subject employees to long hours without adequate compensation and jeopardize workplace safety.

Existing law requires employers with some exceptions to pay workers time and a half for hours worked in excess of eight hours within a 24-hour period. The law does not apply to workers covered under collective bargaining agreements where such work rules are negotiated.

Under Senate Bill 193, which was heard in the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee, overtime provisions would not kick in until 40 hours are worked within a week.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said Nevada is one of three states that require overtime after eight hours, and the only state that has the 24-hour rule.

Settelmeyer gave examples of restaurant workers who might work a dinner shift and want to pick up more hours the next morning but can’t because it would require overtime pay.

Backers of the bill — contractors, small-business groups and restaurant owners — said changing the law would give employees flexibility to work more hours and juggle their shifts to accommodate family and other obligations. The measure is also supported by the Nevada Taxpayers Association.

But critics said it would expose mostly low-wage earners to potential abuse by employers.

Labor representatives raised questions about workplace safety and the potential for employers to take advantage of workers. State Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, was concerned service workers would be disproportionately affected.

The committee took no action Wednesday.

Sandra Chereb

Charging for public records finds supports from agencies, governments

The Nevada League of Cities &Municipalities is pushing Senate Bill 28, which would allow government agencies to start charging fees for public records after a government staffer has worked more than 30 minutes to comply with the request. That’s the definition the bill gives to the public records law’s existing language allowing fees when an “extraordinary use” of resources is needed to comply.

Under the bill, fees also would kick in if the records are more than 25 pages, regardless of how long the request takes. Government agencies also could charge Nevadans who opt to simply inspect records without seeking copies.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday about the bill without taking action. Supporters, all from the association or government agencies, said the legislation would clarify existing language in the public records law.

But media organizations and open-government advocates said the changes would restrict the public’s access to information about government and the spending of taxpayer dollars.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the 30-minute threshold is too easy to hit: It would be reached simply by three staffers who spend 10 minutes talking about a request.

Government support appeared broad. Supporting testimony came from the Metropolitan Police Department, Clark County, the Nevada Department of Corrections and the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson.

The league also outlined an amendment that would change the maximum per page fee from 50 cents to 25 cents.

The amendment also would eliminate language that would have allowed agencies to charge 50 cents a page even for electronic records. In the new amendment, agencies could charge for the storage media used to deliver electronic records, such as disks.

Ben Botkin

PERS bill starts Assembly debate

A bill seeking to change the public employees retirement system for future hires by switching to a mostly defined-contribution plan generated a lengthy debate Tuesday with government employee groups opposed and some business groups supportive.

Teacher, firefighter and police officer groups all opposed Assembly Bill 190 by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, to change the existing defined benefit plan to a hybrid system for new public employee hires beginning on July 1, 2016. Existing public employees would not be affected by the proposed change.

Representatives of the Reno-Sparks and Las Vegas Metro chambers endorsed the measure.

But Ruben Murillo Jr., president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the shift to a hybrid plan could jeopardize the existing retirement plan for its 24,000 teachers and support personnel. As the shift occurs, those remaining in the defined benefit plan will see increased costs and unfunded liabilities, he said.

Such a change would make recruitment of new teachers even more difficult, Murillo said.

PERS Executive Officer Tina Leiss also spoke in opposition, saying there are numerous concerns with the bill. The current plan needs to be fully supported going forward to retire the unfunded liability even if there is a shift to a hybrid plan, she said.

The bill was heard in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. No action was taken. If it does pass the committee, it will likely be referred to the Ways and Means Committee to discuss the financial implications of the proposed changes.

Kirner said his plan, which would maintain a smaller defined benefit element along with a defined contribution plan that would be similar to a 401(k)-type plan used in the private sector, would help eliminate a long-term unfunded liability in the existing plan of more than $12.5 billion. Nevada’s plan is currently 71 percent fully funded.

His bill would also set the retirement age for regular public employees at the same as those in Social Security, and at Social Security age minus 10 years for police and firefighters.

Currently, regular employees can retire at any age with 30 years, and at age 62 with 10 years of service.

Some Republican lawmakers have long sought to make changes to the Public Employees Retirement System because of concerns that taxpayers could be forced to pay to support the plan should the unfunded liability not be eliminated over time.

The current system is a pure defined benefit plan, where retirees collect a monthly pension based primarily on salary and years of service. A defined contribution plan would eliminate any potential taxpayer liability.

Sean Whaley

Sandoval awaites prevailing wage law exemption bill

A bill that would exempt school and university construction projects from Nevada’s prevailing wage law passed the Assembly on Thursday on a narrow 23-19 vote.

Senate Bill 119 will now go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his signature.

Passage of the bill is the second major legislative victory for Sandoval in two days. He quickly signed a school bond rollover bill into law on Wednesday after it won final approval in a bipartisan vote in the Assembly.

With SB119 dealing only with the prevailing wage exemption issue, it mustered enough Republican votes to pass. All 17 Democrats opposed the bill. Two Republicans, Ira Hansen of Sparks and Glenn Trowbridge of Las Vegas, also voted no.

Removing public works projects from prevailing wage requirements has long been a priority for Republicans, who argue the law inflates costs to taxpayers and is not reflective of private-sector market rates. Supporters argue that more schools will be built with the exemption from the law.

Democrats and union supporters countered that prevailing wages ensure quality construction and argue that there is no evidence they add substantially to project costs. They also said it would hurt the middle class and Nevada’s building trades, which lost tens of thousands of jobs during the Great Recession.

Nevada’s prevailing wage law requires contractors who win publicly financed construction projects to pay workers according to a wage schedule established by the state’s labor commissioner. The original purpose of the law was to require local wage rates to be paid on public projects so that out-of-state competitors could not come in and undercut the local labor pool.

There is debate about how much will be saved on the school projects without requiring the prevailing wage.

– Sean Whaley

Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley cover Carson City for Stephens Media, owners of the Pahrump Valley Times

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