weather icon Clear

STEVE SEBELIUS: Access to public records thwarted in Carson City

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak didn’t have a big signing ceremony for Senate Bill 224, the way he did for legislation to increase transparency when it comes to the pricing of asthma drugs.

There were no cameras or reporters when he signed state Sen. Julia Ratti’s bill that would make confidential some previously public information about Public Employees Retirement System members. (Under the Sparks Democrat’s legislation, the names and pension amounts of retirees would be public, but the retirement date, years of service and last public employer would be confidential.)

It could be Sisolak didn’t highlight signing the bill into law because it runs contrary to his usual stance in favor of transparency.

In addition to the asthma price bill, the new governor signed a law lifting the veil of secrecy that previously prevented the public from learning who was applying for and receiving licenses to run marijuana-related businesses.

So signing Ratti’s bill — a previous version of which was vetoed by Sisolak’s GOP predecessor, Brian Sandoval — was a bit off-brand, to say the least.

In his defense, Sisolak can say the bill provides for some transparency. (Names and pension amounts are explicitly public.) And he can say that it was a better bill in the end than it was at the beginning. (As I’ve previously reported, the original could have made the names of active and retired employees confidential, linked only to an ID number.) And he’d be right, as far as that goes.

But the very information that makes the PERS data useful to researchers and watchdogs is now secret: What use is it to know a pension amount without knowing how long a person worked for the government? A high pension after a short tenure might be a warning sign. A retirement date is helpful in determining whether somebody may have been given a job just before retirement in order to boost his or her PERS pension amount, which has been known to happen.

Now, that information won’t be available, anywhere. And if you don’t think advocates for secrecy will return in the future to cloak the little information that’s still public, you haven’t lived in Nevada long enough.

Meanwhile, it still appears that Sisolak may not get an opportunity to weigh in on the biggest transparency bill of the session, Senate Bill 287. That bill is being sought by a broad coalition known as Right to Know Nevada. Among the members: the League of Women Voters, the ACLU of Nevada, the conservative group Citizen Outreach, and media organizations including the Review-Journal, the Reno Gazette-Journal, KOLO Channel 8, the Nevada Current, the Nevada Independent and the Las Vegas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The bill as originally written would establish a right to get copies of public records; limit fees for copying records to the actual costs (not including labor, even for requests that require “extraordinary use” of people or resources); require agencies to fulfill requests as quickly as possible and alert requesters when their requests will be fulfilled; require agencies to assist people with their requests; and provide for civil penalties of up to $250,000 against the agency or its employees when requests are improperly thwarted.

The bill grew out of frustrations that the media and regular people faced when trying to get public records. But it ran into plenty of opposition from those local government agencies, who reported that they already do some of the things required by the bill. (If that’s true, however, shouldn’t it be a small thing to include them in the law?)

Late Friday night, the bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee with an amendment that radically reduces the fines (amounts would now range from $1,000 to $5,000 to $10,000 for first, second and third violations). It heads to the Senate floor, and, if approved, to the Assembly for more hearings and votes.

But opposition to the bill is still fierce, and passage is far from certain, which is unfortunate because the right of the people (not just the media, but all the people) to access public books and public records is vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy. And while bumper sticker philosophy rarely captures the nuance of a public issue, in this case a button produced by The Nation magazine will serve quite well: “Secrecy,” it says, “promotes tyranny.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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)
STEVE SEBELIUS: Passing the buck on taxes

The Nevada Legislature passed the buck on raising sales taxes for education and social programs to the Clark County Commission, a gimmick that’s all-too-common when it comes to setting tax policy in the Silver State.

STEVE SEBELIUS: Time is on union’s side

A Clark County School District teacher’s union strike may be understandable, or even justified, but it’s definitely not necessary, given the state of Nevada’s labor laws.

STEVE SEBELIUS: A week of farce

From President Trump’s tweets to a House resolution condemning him for racism to the chanting throngs at a Trump rally, last week was one of farce.

STEVE SEBELIUS: Early start for 3rd District race

Former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz’s announcement last week that he will challenge Rep. Susie Lee in the 3rd Congressional District marks an early start to Nevada’s most competitive House seat.