Vivian Freeman 1927-2013

Assm. Vivian Freeman, left, with state welfare director Myla Florence at the 1995 legislature.

Assm. Vivian Freeman, left, with state welfare director Myla Florence at the 1995 legislature.

Photo/Dennis Myers

The woman behind the state's first mining reclamation law died on Dec. 5 in Reno.

After considerable activity as a community leader—including advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment and the PTA—Vivian Freeman was elected first to the Washoe County Hospital Board and then to the Nevada Legislature. She served seven terms in the Assembly, from 1986 to 2002.

As a hospital trustee she was instrumental in creation of the Washoe Medical Center pregnancy center. (The county hospital, now Renown, was later sold to private interests.)

In the Assembly, her success in passing a bill requiring that land despoiled by mining be reclaimed nevertheless reflected the culture of the time—when the measure reached the Senate, she was forced to surrender sponsorship of her bill to a male senator in order to get it approved.

After losing a bid for a ninth term, Freeman stayed involved in legislative affairs. In 2003 after local governments went to court to get initiative petitions on the Reno train trench and Carson's Fuji Park overturned, she got legislation introduced to protect initiatives and also prevent governments from using tax dollars to campaign for ballot measures. “In both cases, thousands of voters signed these initiative petitions with the expectation of having a say on those controversial issues,” she wrote in the Reno News & Review. “In both cases, hundreds of hours were dedicated largely on a volunteer basis to collect those signatures.”

She made a final, unsuccessful run for the Reno City Council in 2006, criticizing the council for allowing sprawl in the Winnemucca Ranch/Spring Mountain development. “It's leapfrog development,” she said. “The regional plan calls for contiguous development, and it's 30 miles north of Reno. How close is that?”

This stance reflected concerns she had raised in the Legislature when the city—at the behest of developers and a casino—annexed 3,015 acres of noncontiguous land 30 miles west in Verdi. She also said the council's credibility was undercut by a sense by residents that they could not affect city policies. That was in line with her consistent support for openness issues but also her belief that the trappings of openness, such as public comment, have to be accompanied by genuine respect by officials for the public.

“You get up, you're allowed to be on the record and make your thoughts known,” she said. “But there's a sense that the decisions have already been made. Nobody's really listening.”