EDITORIAL: Nevada fails integrity survey, but could ace it with more reform

Nevada has finished near the bottom of yet another state survey. But unlike the state’s biggest policy challenges — lifting K-12 achievement, decreasing suicides and improving mental health care among them — Nevada could immediately jump to the top of this particular list at no cost to the public. All it would take is Nevada lawmakers’ full embrace of integrity and transparency.

Last week, Nevada was rated 46th out of the 50 states in public integrity by the Center for Public Integrity. If there was any consolation for Nevada in receiving an F grade, it’s that 10 other states flunked and the top three states in the rankings — Alaska, California and Connecticut — received Cs.

It’s a testament to the sorry state of government ethics across the country. Everywhere, legislators have taken deliberate steps to create perks for incumbency and prevent the public from seeing how their governments function.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Sean Whaley, Nevada’s failing score in the Center for Public Integrity survey went beyond laws that benefit politicians’ self-interest. The state also received low marks for its purchasing and auditing processes, which were labeled vulnerable to abuse.

It must be noted that the 2015 Nevada Legislature, under Republican leadership, passed badly needed campaign and ethics reforms that died horribly in previous sessions. Among the most important policies that were made law:

— The long-overdue establishment of a “cooling off” period for lawmakers that, starting next year, will prevent them from peddling their influence in the session immediately following their retirement, resignation or election defeat.

— The imposition of a ban on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, their families and their staffs.

— More frequent online reporting of campaign contributions and expenses during election years.

But lawmakers could go much further in 2017 by passing additional ethics reforms, including:

— A firm ban on the use of campaign funds for personal expenses. Lawmakers have long used political coffers to pay for electronics, clothing, groceries, household items and even rent.

— Strong penalties for candidates or office holders who do not live in the districts they represent or seek to represent, including clear protocols for removing carpetbaggers from ballots and denying them the ability to serve.

— Most importantly, requiring the Legislature to abide by Nevada’s open meeting law. Too much of the state’s most important business is decided behind closed doors by the politically connected. Full transparency will lift public confidence in government and ensure it works for the people, not just the powerful.

There’s no reason Nevada can’t earn an A in integrity. The public should demand as much during the 2016 campaign.

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