Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Sun weighs in

The Las Vegas Sun publishes a superficial front-page feature today on public employees in the Legislature. It's long on information but woefully short on analysis. The point of the story seems to be that barring public employees from legislative service will change the Legislature, but it doesn't really explain how ... or argue why anyone should care. The story mentions that there's a concern that dual service might violate the separation of powers clause in the state constitution, but then brushes aside that argument because the Legislative Counsel Bureau -- the Legislature's hired legal help -- has ruled the provision doesn't apply, so the story abandons the issue entirely. (The LCB also decided in 2002 it was OK for an employee of the state Department of Transportation to sit in the Legislature and hold both jobs. Amazing.)

It also completely ignores the question of home rule, which is (or should be) the basis on which the forthcoming opinion by Attorney General Brian Sandoval rests. If Sandoval agrees with former AG Bob List, and determines that Nevada is a home rule state, then local employees can serve in the Legislature (though the Sun story does point out that Nevada is apparently the only state that allows public employees to continue drawing pay and benefits at their full-time jobs while the Legislature is in session). If it isn't a home rule state, public employees will have to quit their tax-paid jobs if they want to become lawmakers.

Failing to address the home-rule issue head-on also leaves some important questions unanswered. Consider this, from the story:

A survey of 1998 financial disclosure statements prepared by the nonprofit organization Center for Public Integrity, a Washington government watchdog group, found that 20 percent of Nevada lawmakers or family members derived income from a government agency. Topped by New Jersey at 43 percent, 30 states ranked ahead of Nevada, including many whose constitutions seemingly place severe restrictions on legislators holding government jobs.

But the comparison is irrelevant, because New Jersey is a home rule state (as at least some of the others no doubt are); it's perfectly permissible for local government workers to serve in the Garden State's legislature. Of course, the reader who's unaware of the home rule question -- because the story neglected to address that crucial point -- might think Nevada's just like other states, and that the intrusion of double-dipping government workers on the legislative process is lower here than elsewhere. It's a conclusion you wouldn't be as likely to draw had the article told the entire story.

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