87°F
weather icon Clear

Nevada Legislature excuses itself from public records law

NOTE: National Sunshine Week started Sunday. The American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 launched the first Sunshine Week, a celebration of access to public information that has been held every year since to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights.

LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Legislature gets to write the public records laws that compel state agencies and local governments to turn over emails and other documents upon request. But ask for the lawmakers’ own emails and documents, and you’ll hit a brick wall.

The Associated Press received a meticulously annotated, 28-page denial in response to a recent request for emails sent and received by four legislative leaders’ official accounts during the first week of February.

The AP was also rejected in its request for calendars detailing a week of appointments for the legislators: Democratic Sen. Aaron Ford, Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, Republican Assembly Speaker John Hambrick and Republican Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams.

Lawyers with the Legislative Counsel Bureau cited a buffet of reasons, starting with: the Legislature and its staff couldn’t be considered a “governmental entity,” and emails and calendars couldn’t be defined as “public books or records” under the state’s public records law.

They also argued that giving up such records conflicts with “legislative privilege and immunity,” a principle rooted in 16th and 17th century England when British monarchs used civil and criminal proceedings to harass members of Parliament who were critical of the Crown.

According to LCB, compelling lawmakers to disclose behind-the-scenes communications would “chill legislative speech and debate because Legislators might censor their remarks or forgo them entirely to protect the privacy of their sources from being revealed.”

“It would also allow improper inquiries into the motivations of Legislators,” added LCB, which provides information and assistance to lawmakers.

Finally, LCB lawyers cited a bill that passed on the chaotic final day of the 2015 legislative session, a little over 24 hours after it was introduced at LCB’s request. The bill, AB496, clarifies that immunity applies to every action lawmakers could take “within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity,” whether in session or out, and in any form — written, oral or otherwise.

Critics called the policy overkill, and said it prevents the public from evaluating the factors influencing legislation.

“I’m appalled by the breadth of the arrogance in this response,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, which represents the news media and advocates for transparency in government. “The extent of the reaction makes you wonder, ‘What do they have to hide?’”

While the Legislature rejected the AP’s request, the executive branch provided specific documents in response to the same query. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office released a detailed calendar of his week that included phone calls with legislative leaders and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a “veteran of the month” ceremony and a private black tie dinner in Las Vegas.

Lawyers for his office pointed out a single retraction in the calendar — a flight confirmation number — and said they needed more time to meet a request for his emails.

Smith said the Legislature, which has wide latitude to make its own rules, is being hypocritical by holding others to a far higher standard of disclosure than themselves.

“It does say over and over again that we pass laws for other people to follow, not ourselves,” Smith said. “If the leadership of the Legislature actually agrees with this, I’d be very, very worried.”

Michael Schaus of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, says constituents who send representatives up to Carson City have a right to know the business happening there. While voters can find videos of legislative meetings and copies of bills on the Legislature’s robust website, the more subtle backstory remains out of reach for most.

Without access to emails, calendars and other correspondence, constituents often don’t know why bills died, which lobbyists their representatives are spending the most time with and what bargains lawmakers cut to save certain bills and kill others. They can only find out if the lawmakers themselves voluntarily give up the information.

Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he understands that lawmakers need some freedom to speak candidly about legislative matters. But he said their confidentiality protections need to be reined in.

“The exemption they have now is far too broad,” Story said. “Certainly anything in the direction of transparency would be welcome.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
THE LATEST