Votes and vetoes
Report ranks state legislation in racial terms
A report on racial issues in the 2011 Nevada Legislature presents a gloomy picture of a state that is still struggling to overcome its racist past.
The 27-page report by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) examined bills processed by state legislators that clearly addressed racial disparities, that sought to eliminate color bars to public services and that enhanced voting and civic participation. Using those criteria, PLAN came up with a list of 15 bills that were favorable to racial minorities and then graded lawmakers and the governor on those measures based on voting and veto records. Only eight of the 15 measures became law, though all were approved by lawmakers. Points were also given or taken away based on introduction of bills that were clearly hostile or helpful to the aspirations of racial minorities or other reasons.
“Overall, both the Assembly and the Senate passed all 15 pieces of racial equity legislation,” the report reads. “Twenty-six assembly members received a score of 90 percent or higher, and 16 received a score of 58 percent or lower. Ten senators received a score over 90 percent, one received a grade of 84 percent, and 10 received a grade below 48 percent. The governor received a score of 53 percent for his vetoes of seven of the 15 racial equity bills. Because of the late veto of these bills after the session had adjourned, there was no opportunity for the Legislature to override those vetoes. Thus, all seven of those bills died. A total of eight pieces of racial equity legislation became law: two bills in education equity, three in economic equity, one in health equity and two in civil rights.”
Among Washoe assemblymembers, Teresa Benitez Thompson received a score of 93 percent; David Bobzien, 93; Richard “Skip” Daly, 90; Ira Hansen, 24; Pat Hickey, 39; Randy Kirner, 32; and Debbie Smith, 90.
Among Washoe senators, Greg Brower received a score of 30 percent, Don Gustavson, 24; Ben Kieckhefer, 48; and Sheila Leslie, 96.
Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed seven of the 15 measures, giving him a score of 53 percent. Here are details of the seven vetoes, which give the flavor of the issues selected by PLAN:
• Assembly Bill 136 would have extended an existing program of prison inmates receiving good time credits to more serious crimes. Currently, inmates serving time for category C, D and E felonies can earn credits. This measure would have allowed inmates serving time for category B felonies to participate. The governor said in his veto message that the bill could “allow dangerous criminals to be prematurely released from prison, thereby increasing risk to Nevada’s communities and sending a message to offenders that this state is soft on crime.”
• A.B. 137 sought to deal with Nevada’s ranking in providing school breakfasts and lunches at 53rd in the nation, behind all other states and two territories plus the District of Columbia. The bill would have required more breakfast programs at more schools and tracking of the state’s performance. PLAN argued that Nevada rejects $43 million in federal funding for this purpose for which the state is eligible. The governor’s veto message said that under federal law local school districts are given a range of options for how to distribute breakfasts for low-income children, and he did not believe the state should substitute its judgment for that of the districts.
• A.B. 300 sought to make changes in a home disclosure mediation law enacted in 2009 that had disappointed its advocates. Sandoval said the Nevada Supreme Court had formed a committee to deal with problems and was also expected to rule on several cases involving the law. “In light of the rapidly developing body of law related to residential foreclosures and the fact that an advisory committee has been charged with considering ways to improve the Foreclosure Mediation Program, I cannot support a bill that represents duplicative and possibly conflicting efforts.”
• A.B. 301 would have provided for restoration of civil rights to felons who have served their sentences. Nevada already has a program for doing this, but it involves applications and other administrative procedures and some election officials have had difficulty with establishing who is or is not eligible to vote. This measure would have made restoration of the right to vote automatic upon completion of a sentence. Sandoval vetoed the bill because the arguments presented to him “are not compelling reasons to overlook the severity of certain offenses and alter the just punishment that is delivered to those who commit these offenses. … [T]he right to vote is a privilege that should not lightly be restored to those few individuals who commit the most egregious crimes in our society.”
• A.B. 456 would have allowed innovative arrangements for troubled or working students who have difficulty handling high school routines to qualify for their diplomas. The governor’s veto message said that “if the number of students is as small as has been represented [in legislative hearings], other remedies may exist besides a wholesale change in graduation requirements.”
• A.B. 309 would have created a consumer advocate to represent insurance ratepayers similar to the state’s consumer advocate who already represents power company ratepayers before utility regulators. It would also have required disclosure to the public of a variety of information in the insurance field. The governor vetoed the bill because it “does more harm than good and seems to impose duplicative regulatory requirements.”
• Senate Bill 304 would have allowed voters in Reno and other towns to decide whether to go to district elections for city governing board sets. In Reno, it would have let voters decide whether to go to district elections instead of the current mixed formula of running within a ward in primary elections and then running citywide in general elections (“Veto,” RN&R, June 30). Proponents of the change say that citywide elections cost huge amounts of money and restrict elections to the affluent. Gov. Sandoval’s veto message said he did not object to the purpose of the bill but said he had found “a technical error” in the language of the measure, a supposed error that legislators and some attorneys said is not the problem the governor claims.
The PLAN report was also critical of some legislators for measures that were antagonistic to minorities. Three legislators—including Washoe County’s Ira Hansen—were faulted for what PLAN called “voter suppression” measures that tried to prevent residents without identification from voting. Election officials have said that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in Nevada and the nation (“A solution without a problem,” RN&R, March 29), leading PLAN to argue that the three legislators were trying to erect “barriers to voting which will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.” Minority citizens have a lower rate of possessing driver licenses.