By Richard Karpel

The first truly horrendous bill of 2019 is barreling our way.

Senate Bill 224 would hide the names of all members of Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) from public scrutiny. Anonymized information about the PERS system would still be subject to public records requests, but there would be no way to connect the data to specific state employees.

Proponents of the PERS Secrecy Bill claim they’re just trying to protect seniors from identity theft, but provide no evidence that making vital information about the public retirement system available to the public has caused any damage. In fact, over 20 states — including California, New York and Illinois — go farther than Nevada and put their retirement database online with no apparent harm.

There’s also the problem that the bill, as written, would not apply only to seniors. It would disappear from the PERS database — and potentially elsewhere — the names of all active and retired public employees.

There’s little doubt that if passed, SB224 would increase the incidence of fraud and corruption in the PERS system. It would also prevent the public from understanding where conflicts of interest exist. This point is especially relevant in Nevada, where we have a citizen legislature and many lawmakers are themselves either active or retired PERS members and can benefit from the changes they make to the retirement system.

I’m scheduled to testify in opposition to the bill today (Friday, March 1) in front of the Senate Committee on Government. NPA’s testimony and proposed amendment can be read here.

It’s going to be a decidedly uphill battle to stop this bill. Similar legislation passed both chambers on a straight party-line vote in 2017, with all Democrats voting in favor of it and Republicans opposed. It was vetoed by Gov. Sandoval. (The provision making names confidential was amended out of the bill right before it passed.) This session, of course, the Democrats have increased their majority and now also hold the executive branch.

So it’s possible that the only way this bill can be stopped is with a huge public outcry. Please help start the ball rolling by contacting your representatives in Carson City and asking them to oppose SB224. Of course, you also have the power to generate public opposition in your community through your newspaper and website. If you are alarmed by this step in the wrong direction, we encourage you to consider doing that as well.

There’s better news about another bad bill that has been introduced in the Nevada legislature. Assembly Bill 1 would move public notice for hearings on new regulations proposed by the State Environmental Commission and local air pollution boards in Clark and Washoe Counties, from newspapers to government websites. At a hearing on Feb. 20 before the Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining, the agencies argued the bill should be passed for the sake of “consistency,” since other state agencies weren’t required to publish newspaper notice for their hearings. Seriously. That’s what they argued.

Six different committee members asked questions after the State Environmental Commission’s testimony. I was gratified to find that the tenor of the questions indicated their skepticism about the wisdom of the bill and their apparent strong support for newspaper notice. It left me feeling pretty good about our chances to defeat the bill. My testimony in opposition to AB1 is available here.

Here are the other bills we’ve been tracking so far in the 2019 session:

AB70 – Dozens of mostly minor amendments to the Open Meeting Law, adopted by the OML task force. Among other things, the bill increases administrative fines for violations of the law from $500 to up to $2,500 for a third offense. It also exempts violators who relied on the advice of an attorney for the public body.

AB86 – Comprehensive revision of local government purchasing processes. Increases the minimum threshold for publishing notice of a government contract solicitation from $50,000 to $100,000. Also allows notice on government websites in lieu of newspapers.

AB212 – Allows a state employee who “interacts with the public and performs tasks related to code enforcement” to obtain a court order requiring public information about them to be handled “in a confidential manner.”

SB83 – Requires the Public Employees’ Retirement Board to provide the State Controller with information about the actuarial valuation and soundness of the Retirement System. Also requires the Board to make information it provides to the Controller available “to any person upon request.”

SB183 – Amends Open Meeting Law. Requires meeting agenda revisions to be noted on government websites, and requires cities and counties with population above 45,000 to post supplemental information about the meeting on their websites.

SB220 – Requires website operators not to sell certain information they have collected on consumers who request non-disclosure. Provides a private right of action to consumers “injured as a result of a violation of this requirement” and authorizes the Attorney General to seek injunctions or civil penalties against offending operators.

If you have thoughts on any of these bills, please feel free to call me at 703-945-5807. Or better yet, email me at rkarpel (at) nevadapress.com to schedule a phone call so we can avoid phone tag!