Lawmakers save a few million, leave abused kids with less legal help

As always, there's good news and bad news coming out of the Legislature these days.

The good news is, by declining to act on Senate Bill 292, Clark County will save an estimated $10 million a year. The bad news, of course, is that children in abuse, neglect and parental termination cases might not receive all the legal representation their interests deserve in the family justice system.

In brief, SB292 was crafted by the state's uniform law commission to make a lawyer available for any child in the system who might need one.

Advocates said the change was long overdue and would raise the quality of protection available to some of society's most vulnerable citizens.

Critics, meanwhile, said the bill created an unfunded mandate that would be a huge financial burden on Clark and Washoe counties while also devastating the successful and cost-effective Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

CASA veteran Lorrie Curriden observed, "It is my opinion that if we have the money to spend providing children with additional services, it would be far better spent hiring enough social workers so that each one represented 25 children instead of 50. These children do not need more well-intentioned people in their lives. They need for the people already there to have the time and resources to make a difference. ... CASA is an outstanding program. We get the chance to love children during a time in their life when they most desperately need someone to care."

State Sen. Terry Care of Las Vegas told me earlier this week that, while he agreed with the bill's goals, its fiscal impact was too great at a time Nevada finds itself mired in recession and facing an unprecedented budget crisis.

The bill passed out of the Senate recently, but sources confirmed the Assembly will not act on it. The bill's presence generated controversy within the child advocacy community.

Volunteers with the CASA office expressed concern this week that SB292 would effectively push them aside in favor of child-advocate lawyers. The bill, in fact, didn't eliminate the CASA role, but it did promise to double the number of lawyers needed to represent young clients.

That won't happen now.

PRO DECISION: Defense attorneys for Anthony Eppolito and Guido Bravatti, who face drug charges related to the "Mafia Cops" case, took their best shot when they challenged U.S. District Judge Philip Pro's denial of their motion to dismiss indictments on double jeopardy grounds. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week slapped down the appeal and sided with Pro. The appeal was argued March 9.

RACEL RESTS: Locals familiar with the amazing Gilcrease Orchard, which has grown produce consumed by valley residents for generations, are sure to have met Mary Ellen Racel. Her 40-year relationship with the Gilcrease family began when she met Ted Gilcrease while out buying hay for the family cow. Until her recent retirement, she led the board of the Gilcrease Orchard Foundation.

Located at 7810 N. Tenaya Way in the northwest end of the valley, the 67-acre self-service farm is still a going concern.

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VEGAS CRIME: Former Review-Journal reporter Glenn Puit's latest true crime book is breaking into print. "Father of the Year Bill Rundle All-American Jekyll and Hyde," tells the twisted tale of a man who gained local celebrity as the dedicated dad of little Richie Rundle, a boy killed by a drunken driver. Bill Rundle later was convicted of killing his wife, Shirley.

ON THE BOULEVARD: Sports betting hall-of-famer Lem Banker likes Dunkirk in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Normally I make my own picks before I throw away my money, but Lem has many decades of experience betting the ponies. Not to give his age away, but Lem still has his winning slip from when he placed a bet on "Trojan Horse" to win.

BOULEVARD II: Giving is always in fashion. The recent Clark County Medical Society Alliance fashion show at the Four Seasons generated more than $50,000 for the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

BOULEVARD III: Did you hear that energetic octogenarian university regent and former legislator Jack Schofield isn't through with politics and, in fact, is contemplating a run for Congress? That's the good news. The bad news is, I hear he says he wants to challenge Walter Baring.

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