Lawsuit opposes initiative rules

A group representing tip-earning casino workers went back to court Thursday to challenge Nevada’s initiative petition requirements, claiming rules enacted by lawmakers are onerous and unconstitutional.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas argues that limiting petitions to a single subject, requiring a 200-word summary and allowing opposition groups to challenge petitions before signatures are gathered violates U.S. constitutional protections of free speech and equal protection.

Twelve different initiative petitions were filed in Nevada by citizens groups seeking to amend the state constitution or change laws, according to the lawsuit.

"All 12 were challenged by political opponents … and not one is currently left standing," the lawsuit said.

"The fact they knocked them all off makes our case that much more stronger," said Kermitt Waters, a Las Vegas attorney representing the Committee to Prevent Employers from Seizing Tips, or PEST.

On Wednesday, the committee refiled its initiative over tip-sharing with the secretary of state’s office. It also intends to seek a court injunction to block enforcement of the petition laws, Waters said.

If allowed to proceed, petition organizers will have until Nov. 11 to gather 58,836 signatures and force the 2009 Legislature to either take action or send it to a public vote in 2010.

Earlier this year, Waters tried to circulate two other ballot initiatives to raise casino taxes and raise money for teachers’ pay, highway construction and other projects, but those plans were disqualified by a judge as being too broad.

The tip committee, which is backed by the International Union of Gaming Employees, in January filed and later withdrew a petition seeking to ban casinos from requiring casino dealers to pool their tips with supervisors after the practice was imposed at Wynn Las Vegas.

The petition was withdrawn after Wynn Resorts LLC and other business groups that rely on tipped employees challenged the initiative on grounds it violated the state’s single-subject rule passed by the 2005 Legislature.

The new law also lets outside interest groups challenge petitions before the signature gathering process, and allows the winning side of any court challenge to collect attorney fees from the loser.

"Because of the legal harassment, costs and uncertainty of whether they can survive a legal challenge, many citizen groups … forgo from fear their right to file and circulate an initiative petition, rather than exercise their Free Speech rights to do so," the latest lawsuit states.

The lawsuit argues that the procedures give special interests, particularly the powerful casino industry, too much muscle over government.

"Historically, the railroad companies were known as the Robber Barons, controlled the politicians and made sure that the politicians did not pass laws that directly affected their business interests," the lawsuit states. "The casino control over the politicians today seems no different."

The challenge is the latest aimed at Nevada’s initiative petition process.

Several groups argued in U.S. District Court on Wednesday in a separate challenge that the current petition rules discriminate against voters in heavily populated Clark and Washoe counties in favor of the rural counties. They are seeking to have a requirement that signatures must be collected in all 17 counties be thrown out as unconstitutional.

It has been a difficult year for ballot measure proponents.

Two measures that would have taken room tax money from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority were rejected by the Nevada Supreme Court for not following rules regarding affidavits required of petition circulators.

A proposal to cap property tax increases at 2 percent has been rejected in District Court, and is currently before the Supreme Court. Again, affidavit requirements required by the Legislature are at issue.

Other petitions, including those sought by Waters, were abandoned for a variety of reasons, including ongoing legal challenges by opponents.

Review-Journal Capital Bureau writer Sean Whaley contributed to this report.

too late to print ballots with property tax cap question

CARSON CITY — The secretary of state’s office told the Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday it is too late to reprint ballots to add a property tax cap measure for the November election.

Most counties already have printed absentee and sample ballots, and there is no time to redo them should the court decide Sharron Angle’s proposal to cap property tax increases to 2 percent a year should be placed before voters, a brief filed with the court states.

The office also objected to the claim that the judge who tossed the Angle measure off the ballot last week had a conflict of interest.

Angle’s attorney is asking for a new District Court hearing because Senior Judge Charles McGee did not disclose that his wife was a longtime Washoe County School District employee.

The Nevada State Education Association has been fighting the Angle measure in court.

The secretary of state brief says the employment of McGee’s wife with the school district was public knowledge and Angle should have been aware of the information.

The teachers association also responded to the court, noting that there was no conflict because McGee’s wife retired from her job with the district five years ago. McGee’s wife does continue to work as a reading consultant for the district for a few hours each month, but the pay is nominal, the brief says.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule quickly in the matter.

By SEAN WHALEY/REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU

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