Perhaps a bill that said, “North Las Vegas Constable Robert Eliason doesn’t have to follow the law,” would have been too obvious.
But that’s exactly what Senate Bill 250 would accomplish, in a highly questionable way.
The whole mess started when former North Las Vegas Councilman Eliason was elected as the city’s constable in November 2014. Under state law, constables in larger jurisdictions have one year to become certified as a Category II peace officer under the Nevada Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training.
Eliason didn’t, and requested the legally allowed six-month extension, which was granted. But by July 2016, he still hadn’t received the required certification.
At that point, state law says the offending constable forfeits his office and the Clark County Commission must appoint a replacement. But commissioners failed to do so, and their lawyer claimed an administrative legal proceeding stayed the commission’s hand. The nature of that proceeding was confidential, of course.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, introduced SB 250. (He later acknowledged that he’d introduced the bill at Eliason’s suggestion.) In the original version, it would simply have done away with the POST certification requirement entirely. But that drew objections from law enforcement, so the Senate Government Affairs Committee drew up an amendment.
And that’s where things get really interesting.
Under the amendment, would-be constables would have to get POST certification before seeking election or appointment to the offices. But that requirement would apply only in cities where the population is 220,000 or more, as measured by the 2010 census.
And back in 2010, the census found North Las Vegas’s population was … 217,000.
It’s more than obvious that somebody decided to play fun with numbers in order to allow Eliason to slide, at least until the next census is reported in 2021 (North Las Vegas now has an estimated population of 234,807, according to the census bureau). But because the bill would apply equally to all cities with fewer than 220,000 people, it cannot be disqualified as an unconstitutional “local or special law.”
But it can be disqualified as a ridiculously obvious sop by a lawmaker to an elected official who has flouted the requirements for an office that by rights he should not be allowed to hold, a lawman who himself is violating the law.
SB 250 passed the Senate by a 15-6 vote April 24, and is now in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. At a hearing Monday, Denis said constables are administrators with no need for POST certification. But that’s belied by Eliason himself, who acknowledged to the Review-Journal’s Michael Scott Davidson last month that he works in the field and sometimes carries a weapon, despite his lack of POST certification.
Denis also pointed out that the certification requirement has only been in place since 2013. He should know: He voted for Assembly Bill 223 that year along with every other lawmaker in Carson City. But that was obviously before Eliason decided to run for constable and ignore the law, although Eliason obviously knew what the rules were when he put his name on the ballot.
Significantly, the most pointed criticism came from Denis’s fellow Democrats. Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, a retired corrections officer, asked how an uncertified boss could supervise deputies who must still comply with POST requirements. Such a boss couldn’t even back up his own officers, she said. And Assemblyman William McCurdy II said he believed the bill was before the committee only because Eliason didn’t comply with the law.
Denis denied it. “If this bill was just about Constable Robert Eliason, I would not have brought this bill,” he said.
That’s obviously false. Because if the bill wasn’t just about Eliason, there’d be no need to use creative math to exempt him from the law. As long as that language remains in the bill, notwithstanding its other provisions, it needs to die.
In the meantime, and regardless of what happens with SB 250, Clark County commissioners need to follow the law and appoint a long-overdue replacement for Eliason, who long ago forfeited his office. Every day they delay is another inexcusable dereliction of duty.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5276. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.