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Government transparency complaints not enough to sway vote in Nevada Legislature

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s Assembly Government Affairs Committee ignored the protests of open-government advocates on Thursday to pass a bill that would make confidential the names of retirees who draw benefits from the state public employees retirement system.

The committee voted 9-4 on the bill, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks. Assembly Republicans Jim Marchant, Al Kramer, Richard McArthur and John Ellison opposed the bill.

Ratti said in a prior hearing that her proposal is meant to find a middle ground between the need for public access to data and fears by retirees of the potential for identity theft.

Opponents say the bill’s supporters never proved their argument that making the names confidential is necessary to avoid identity theft.

“It’s an affront to transparency,” said Robert Fellner, director of transparency research at Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that makes public information about government salaries and pensions.

Fellner said some 35 states make pension names and amounts a matter of public record, but the committee did not hear from pensioners who were victims of identity theft.

“We’re talking millions and millions of retirees,” he told the Review-Journal, describing the national scope of available records.

Currently, only names and pension amounts are releasable; data like Social Security numbers and addresses are confidential.

“I still think it should be a matter of public record whenever anybody is being paid with tax dollars,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association. “This was a matter of privacy versus public accountability, and it has come down on the side of privacy for ex-government employees.”

Transparency in Nevada?

Even without a law specifically banning the names of retirees, Nevadans have faced resistance getting the information from the Public Employees Retirement System.

A Nevada Supreme Court decision issued a few years ago said select information held by the Public Employees Retirement System, including retiree names and pension amounts, is public if it is contained in a report outside the retiree’s confidential file.

Ratti’s bill would provide some data about retirees, but without names. Instead, an identifying number would be provided along with selected data points: the last public employer of the retiree, total years of service; retirement date; amount of annual pension benefit paid to the retiree and whether the retiree is receiving a disability or service retirement allowance.

PERS retirees and many government organizations support the bill.

The bill now goes to the full Assembly for a vote. It passed the Senate on an 11-10 vote.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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