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Horsford weatherization apprenticeship program delayed

CARSON CITY — A federally funded program that state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford wanted to use to train unemployed workers for future renewable energy-related jobs was delayed today at least until September at his request.

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said during a legislative meeting that the state Housing Division is breaking state law by refusing to hire workers from state-approved apprenticeship programs to carry out more than $30 million in federal weatherization programs.

He said Senate Bill 152, a bill he sponsored, requires the state to hire workers through apprenticeship programs, as well as those from state-approved private contractors.

At his request, the Democratic-dominated Interim Finance Committee, on a party-line vote, delayed implementation of the program until a Sept. 17 meeting during which the committee can discuss the program in more detail.

Some of the apprenticeship programs are run by unions and community colleges, while others are management controlled.

The Housing Division for years has run weatherization programs under which more energy-efficient windows, appliances and improvements are made to low-income homes. But Horsford also wanted to use federal stimulus funds to secure training for unemployed workers that gave them skills useful in renewable energy facilities.

“They (Housing Division officials) don’t want to follow state law,” said Horsford. “We have 25 percent unemployment among construction workers and because they don’t follow the law we are not awarding dollars.”

But Dianne Cornwall, director of the Department of Business and Industry, which oversees the Housing Division, said in an interview that the state intended to follow the law.

Cornwall said to acquire the stimulus funds, the Gibbons administration had to submit a program to the U.S. Department of Energy in April that included a plan to send out requests for subcontractors to do the weatherization work as quickly as possible.

They received proposals to do weatherization from five contractors even before the Horsford law went into effect on July 1. The Housing Division had wanted to award about $10 million in contracts now to get the weatherization program running, she said.

“Our goal is to put people back to work and get the money into the community,” Cornwall said, adding that if some of the money isn’t used quickly, DOE might say the state isn’t making significant progress and the funds could be jeopardized.

Cornwall said the agency planned to send out new requests for weatherization work in October that would have included state-approved apprenticeship programs. She said she doesn’t know what to do now.

“We are kind of in limbo,” Cornwall said, adding that the Gibbons administration has no problem with Horsford’s law but just needed time to set up a committee to oversee awarding of weatherization contractors and approve apprenticeship programs.

She said legislators didn’t even allow them to spend $2.5 million on already approved weatherization programs, although Horsford said current projects will be completed.

But Danny Thompson, state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said in an interview the law is clear and in several meetings supporters tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Housing Division to follow it.

It is not just union-trained workers, but those from management apprenticeship programs who are being denied jobs by the Housing Division, he said.

If the state just uses five already approved subcontractors to carry out weatherization programs, then unemployed workers will not receive the proper training they need to secure a career in renewable energy work, Thompson said.

“The law has been changed, but they won’t follow it,” he added. “They want to do business as they have been doing it.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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