Author: Thomas Mitchell

Nevada Court Rightly Upholds Public Right to Know

The Nevada Supreme Court has made it clear that public officials cannot skirt the state public records law by using privately owned electronic devices to conduct the public’s business. This past week the court unanimously overturned a lower court ruling that rejected a request for records from Lyon County commissioners because those records were not stored on devices owned by the county. The county conceded that public business was indeed conducted using personal phones and email addresses. The county website even lists those phone numbers and email addresses as the commissioners’ contact information. “The use of private entities in the provision of public services must not deprive members of the public access to inspect and copy books and records relating to the provision of those services,” wrote Justice Michael Cherry, author of the opinion. The Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) states that, unless otherwise specifically exempted by law, “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied or an abstract or memorandum may be prepared from those public books and public records.” Cherry further clarified, “In light of these requirements, (NPRA) cannot be read as limiting public records to those that are physically maintained at a government location or on a government server and are immediately accessible to the...

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Customers Should Be Able to Shop for Electricity

Question 3 on the 2016 General Election ballot — the Energy Choice Initiative — passed by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. The measure failed in only one county, White Pine, but by only four votes. Because the measure would amend the state Constitution it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but this time around a coalition headed by the state’s largest power monopoly, NV Energy, has vowed to spend $30 million to defeat it. The Energy Choice Initiative proposes that the Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission or distribution systems. One of the chief arguments for the measure is that competition would drive down cost. Nevada and many other states were well on the way to breaking up their electricity generation monopolies 17 years ago until the Enron market manipulation debacle that led to blackouts and price spikes that scared lawmakers into backing off, even though the free market was not the problem. The problem was collusion and manipulation. According to a Wall Street Journal article at the time, Enron charged California’s...

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Wildlife Panel Drops Unwise Weapons Restriction

At its March meeting the the commissioners on the Nevada Board of Wildlife wisely tabled a proposed regulation that would have required hunters to obtain permission of the occupant of a dwelling before discharging a weapon within a certain distance. The board was responding to reported instances of hunters engaging in unsafe practices near residences, but such a rule would have allowed dwelling occupants to create de facto no hunting zones. The proposal was first prompted by an incident in 2016 in Genoa in which a hunter with an archery deer tag wounded a deer that then wondered into a residential area. The hunter went knocking on doors asking permission to finish off the deer in peoples’ yards, causing some consternation and raising the issue of whether there should be regulations dictating safe hunting distances from dwellings. The proposed rule would have amended the Nevada Administrative Code to make it unlawful to discharge a firearm within 5,000 feet of any occupied dwelling without the permission of the owner or occupier of the dwelling. That is almost 1 mile. Further, the rule would prohibit firing a shotgun, bow or crossbow within 1,000 feet of such a dwelling without permission. Under such a rule owners of land could conceivably be barred from hunting on their own property if there were a home within a mile in any direction where someone objects....

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Court Case Is About Free Speech Not Abortion

This past week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case — NIFLA v. Becerra — that could answer the question of whether forcing speech on certain professionals is a violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment. NIFLA is the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which gives legal advice to pro-life pregnancy centers, and Becerra is Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California. At issue is a California law, the Reproductive FACT Act, that requires “crisis pregnancy centers” to post notices informing pregnant women about state-subsidized free or low-cost abortions. The law also requires pro-life, religious-oriented unlicensed centers to place extensive disclaimers in large fonts and in as many as 13 languages in their ads and on billboards telling people about abortion services, significantly increasing their cost to advertise. The law exempts abortion providers, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The Ninth Circuit upheld the law. The case could reverberate in this year’s Nevada gubernatorial election, because Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for the Republican nomination to be governor, signed onto to an amicus brief in the case with 21 other states, challenging the law as an unconstitutional burden on free speech. According to the donation-funded news website The Nevada Independent, the two leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani, have sharply criticized Laxalt for taking sides...

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Latest Wind Turbine Project Is a Bad Idea

Less than a year after backers of a proposed wind turbine farm near Searchlight threw in the towel after failing to convince a federal judge their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was accurate, an even bigger project just 10 miles to the west has started the environmental review process. A week ago a notice was published in the Federal Register by the Bureau of Land Management initiating a 90-day public comment period for the proposed Crescent Peak Renewables wind farm that would occupy more than 32,000 acres of public land on the California-Nevada border adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness in Nevada. All of the wind farm land is in Nevada. According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, the wind farm would have 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. By comparison, the rejected Searchlight wind farm would have had only 87 turbines on 9,000 acres of federal land, generating 200 megawatts of power. A federal judge ordered the Searchlight wind farm developers to start all over again on an environmental assessment, noting that the Interior Department’s approval of the project failed to adequately address concerns about impacts on bald eagles, golden eagles, desert tortoises and migrating bats. The judge pointed out...

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