Advocacy group grades Nevada governor, legislators on racial equity

CARSON CITY — Democratic legislators scored high marks and Republicans received much lower scores for their votes during the 2011 session on bills that would promote greater "racial equity," according to a survey by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval earned a grade of 53 out of 100 and received a tongue lashing from PLAN for his veto of a bill to provide more free breakfasts in schools. That veto "can be described as cruel, callous and inhumane," PLAN stated in "Facing Rage: 2011 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity."

Nevada’s first Hispanic governor needed to show "a little more courage, a great deal more compassion," and not just back bills favored by "clients of the Jones Vargas law firm," said Bob Fulkerson, state director of PLAN, a left-leaning advocacy group whose members include labor unions and organizations such as the Nevada State Education Association and Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada.

Legislators were graded based on their votes on 15 specific bills and whether they introduced legislation that promoted or reduced racial equity. Sandoval was judged strictly on whether he signed or vetoed those bills.

Ten of the 21 state senators and 26 of the 42 Assembly members scored 90 or higher in the study. All were Democrats.

Republicans generally received grades in the 20s and 30s. Sens. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, and Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, each received a 48, the top score among Senate Republicans.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, scored a 58, the highest GOP score in the Assembly.

With a score of 96, Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and Assemblyman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, earned the highest marks of all lawmakers.

Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s policy adviser, noted that the governor signed three bills giving transgender people equal rights.

Sandoval vetoed the school breakfast bill because it was opposed by school districts, Erquiaga said. He said the bill would have required schools to offer breakfasts during the first hour in classrooms, rather than in the cafeteria before school.

"All students are getting breakfast," Erquiaga said.

During hearings on the bill, witnesses testified that many students eligible for free breakfasts are skipping them so that they can play with classmates before school.

PLAN said Nevada lost $43u2007million in federal funds by Sandoval’s veto of the school breakfast bill. But Keith Rheault, superintendent of public instruction, said schools are reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the meals they actually prepare and they never get "100 percent participation" by students.

The other bills Sandoval and legislators were scored on included giving more good-time credits to allow the earlier release of prisoners and allowing the restoration of civil rights for paroled felons. PLAN argued that both measures concerned racial equity because 28.7 percent of the prison population is African-American, compared with 7.7 percent of the overall Nevada population.

Sandoval vetoed both bills.

Fulkerson said black people do not necessarily commit more crimes than white people, noting that a much higher percentage of whites smoke marijuana but most inmates in prison on marijuana offenses are black.

In response to questions, PLAN acknowledged that many of the bills would have helped poor people in general and were not specifically based on race.

PLAN representatives noted some successes during the 2011 session. All eight anti-immigration bills died, with only two even having hearings.

"We are seeing improvement," said Jan Gilbert, PLAN’s legislative lobbyist.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@ or 775-687-3900.


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