Taking initiative

Having trouble keeping track of all those crazy citizens’ initiatives? You know, there’s one to legalize small amounts of marijuana in Nevada, one to raise the minimum wage and another that’d roll back insurance rates. Among others.

On the first, Southern Nevada signature-gatherers forgot to turn in a few thousand signatures, threatening efforts to get the pot question on the ballot. Reminds me of the Simpsons’ episode in which Homer joins hippies to rally for medicinal marijuana, but they miss Election Day.

Hard to recall why pot’s still illegal. Gateway drug? Nah. Remember the argument that cops don’t arrest people for marijuana possession anyway? Not true. Read the paper, and there they are going to jail—evildoers with gro-lights in the basement.

Decriminalize pot, and law enforcement officials could spend more time focusing on real crime, like investigating utility executives or going after insurance companies that deny legitimate claims even after sending rates through the roof.

Few Nevada lawmakers will fight to end pot prohibition. Hence, citizens’ initiatives. Hit streets. Gather signatures. Still, elected officials try to stymie these efforts, most recently because petitions lacked—huh, what’s this?—some procedural step that appears to have been nixed by a Supreme Court ruling five years ago. I tried to make sense of this and ended up with a headache.

That’s not the point.

The point is that when people care enough about an issue to collect signatures, hire lawyers and fight, that alone should draw lawmakers’ attention. Even if the question doesn’t make the ballot.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we just elected those who’re interested in what interests us?

Same goes for the minimum wage. A few lawmakers will step up for Nevada workers. Most won’t. Not when their biggest campaign contributors are the same businesses that balk at the thought of paying the astronomical sum of $6.15 an hour.

Oh yeah, let the marketplace work this out. Jobs are going overseas. To compete with India and Haiti, we oughta be getting about a buck an hour. We can live in shacks along the Truckee. More families can live in their vehicles.

Speaking of living in cars, I spent Saturday answering the phone at the Interfaith Hospitality Network’s day center. A woman with two kids called—stranded in Reno, needing help. The previous day, I’m told, a single dad with five kids called.

It pains the blood-pumping chest muscle to tell these folks that IHN is full. No waiting list. Call back later on the off-chance there’ll be an opening.

Since there’s no emergency shelter for families in Reno, the IHN fills the gap by shuffling families around to area churches each night. It handles 14 guests at a time, around four working-poor families, a drop in the leaky bucket of need.

I guess it’s too much to ask that two adults working full time make enough to pay for modest rent, utilities, insurance, child care, food, gas and dental floss.

Three years ago, before the housing market went ballistic, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada calculated the living wage for Nevadans—nothing special, just the basics—to be around $14.50 per hour for a family of three.

At that time, around 90 percent of Nevada growth-industry jobs paid less than that. Now, many of the much-touted “new” jobs pay no better. With fewer benefits. Higher insurance deductibles.

Speaking of insurance, the rate rollback initiative is the greatest idea since the Nerd rope—a gummy strip of candy rolled in those little sugary nuggets that otherwise get all over the floor.

Bottom line: We pay legislators to represent us. Initiatives shouldn’t have to exist. The fact that they do—and that some of our elected ones freak out at the thought of democracy in action—proves that something is wrong with the Nevada lawmaking process. Guess whose fault that is.