Middle class attacked by GOP legislature

The harsh November election results were sobering and humbling for progressives. Losing the Assembly was unthinkable, until it happened. Trading solid constitutional officers like Ross Miller, Kate Marshall and Kim Wallin for people like Adam Laxalt, Dan Schwartz and Ron Knecht still makes many a stomach churn with disappointment.

But it’s hard to see how Republicans expand their base in 2016 as they spend the 2015 legislative session attacking the middle class. One-third of the way through the 120-day session, the Republicans have put forward bills that reduce salaries, make it harder for workers to recover wages they’re owed, and put retirement funds at risk. They’ve proposed selling public lands to the highest bidder, taking away access to affordable recreation for the working class. And they seem determined to put a gun in every pocket, everywhere.

They seem oblivious to the cumulative effect of their pent-up proposals and the steady rumble of a growing bipartisan throng of union members, retirees, students, outdoor enthusiasts and parents who worry about keeping their children safe. While they crow about their legislative victories, they’re missing the warning signs of a constituency newly reminded of the differences between the two parties.

The loss of prevailing wage in school construction was the first salvo in paycheck reduction for middle class construction workers, just as the industry begins to recover. These workers can now count on a much smaller paycheck, or no paycheck at all, as out-of-state construction companies underbid local contractors. No Democrat voted for the bill.

Another anti-worker bill eliminates overtime pay when employees making $12.38 an hour or less are forced to work more than eight hours a day, as long as they don’t work more than 40 hours a week. The chambers of commerce were supportive of the workplace flexibility, but the only worker present at the hearing testified against the bill. Democrats spoke up loudly in opposition.

And two days before Sen. Tick Segerblom’s bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour was heard last week, Sen. Joe Hardy presented his legislation to repeal the existing constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2006 to raise the minimum wage. He promised a follow-up bill to give the Legislature the ability to set Nevada’s minimum wage, but he’s probably the only person in the building who believes that will lead to higher wages for those already on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Assemblyman Randy Kirner saw one of his bills to change the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System go down to defeat in committee, but, undaunted, he placed an even worse one before the legislative body. Assembly Bill 190 would create a “hybrid” retirement program, with all new public employees being forced into a defined contribution plan—benefiting stockbrokers, not workers. After a fiscal note of $800 million and widespread testimony against Kirner’s pension reforms in front of hearing rooms packed with retirees, the bill seems all but dead. Democrats were vociferous in their opposition to the plan.

By the time Democrats issued the “Nevada Blueprint,” their outline of legislative initiatives designed to help the average Nevadan, there wasn’t much left to say. But Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick said it anyway: “Without the middle class doing well, no one is moving forward.”

And as Democratic Sens. Ruben Kihuen and Kelvin Atkinson marched with hundreds of protestors demonstrating against Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s wasteful and mean-spirited immigration lawsuit, Laxalt and Republican legislators chose not to engage with the Latino families.

If the Republicans continue with this behavior and their rash of overreaching bills making wage theft easier, gun violence more likely, and the livelihood of the middle class under threat, they shouldn’t be surprised when people vote differently in 2016.

They’ll have no one but themselves to blame.