LEANING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK

LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY in NEVADA is the new LEAN, and we now have a Policy Council in place.  The Policy Council has set out for our Advocate, Allan Smith, LEAN’s advocacy agenda for the remainder of the legislative session.

Two priorities carry over from the 2015 session, and both have to do with economic justice.  They are “payday lending” and minimum wage.  LEAN continues to be interested in these, based on the ELCA Social Statement, “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.”  (The new LEAN, like its predecessors, takes its policy positions from the Social Statements.)

Assembly Bill 163 provides significant new protection for people who use so-called payday lenders.  These short-term, high interest loans often start a downward spiral of endless debt, because when the borrower can’t pay, lenders simply give them another loan.  AB 163 requires lenders to evaluate the borrower’s ability to pay before making a loan.  AB 163 also restricts a lender’s ability to “cure” a defaulted loan with a payment plan.

There are three measures dealing with minimum wage.  Senate Bill 106 calls for a gradual increase of seventy-five cents per hour every year until the minimum wage reaches $12.00 per hour.  Senate Joint Resolution 6 also gets to $12.00 per hour, but on a different timetable.  Assembly Bill 175 began as a straightforward increase of the minimum wage, raising it one dollar per hour every year to reach $15.00.  Recently AB 175 has morphed into something quite different.  As amended, the bill refers to the Nevada Constitution, which allows a minimum wage of one dollar per hour less if health insurance is provided by an employer.  The amendment defines the kind of health plan required to qualify as “health insurance.”  The amendment significantly raises the standard, and by doing so, gets at employers who offer a “bare bones” plan and pay wages at the lower rate.  This may be a legislative maneuver to make employers, who argue that a higher minimum wage kills jobs, to either pay more on the health care side or agree to the proposed wage increase.

Increasing the minimum wage has been proposed in the past, and like this session, it has encountered resistance.  Rev. Mike Patterson was the LEAN Advocate in the 2015 legislative session.  He spent time with Assemblyman Ira Hansen, one of the most conservative people in the Assembly.  Mike was able to convince Mr. Hansen that apart from the moral considerations, an increase in the minimum wage makes economic sense.  Mr. Hansen concluded that many low wage workers qualify for public assistance in the form of subsidized food, housing, medical care, and other.  In true conservative fashion, he questions the role of government in such programs, and calculated a “breakeven” point of $15 to $17 per hour to shift these costs to employers.  Assemblyman Hansen actually made a chart showing his figures and submitted it to his committee colleagues in support of the original 2017 bill.  Advocacy works!

Advocate Allan Smith is in Carson City, speaking on behalf of the poor as well as others who suffer injustice.  To express your opinions on AB 163, AB 175, or any other bill, go here.   Or start with the Legislature home page, then click on “Share Your Opinion on Bills” in the upper right corner.

Advocacy 101: Cool Tools For Legislation Sleuths

As the 2017 Nevada Legislature moves deep into its 120-day session, nearly 1,000 bills have been introduced, with more to come.  Even people with strong interest in a particular issue can feel they’ll never successfully track what is going on.

Help is available, however.  The Nevada Legislature has a wonderful website that enables private citizens not only to stay abreast of what’s going on, but to register their views.  Let’s walk through a couple of these “cool tools.”

First, you may not know who your legislators are.  Go to www.leg.nv.state.us, the Legislature’s home page.  Down the right side is a list of topics.  Find “Who’s My Legislator” and click on it.  A window will open showing a map.  In the top right corner is a space to put your home address.  You’ll get back information on who your State Senator and Assembly Member are, complete with contact information.

If you want to learn more about that person, click on the name, and it will take you to that Legislator’s page on the Senate or Assembly section of the website.  You can find information on any legislator by choosing “Assembly” or “Senate” from the menu at top left of the main page.  There’s a ton of other information on the “Assembly” and “Senate” pages, including upcoming meetings and the daily calendar.  (Legislative Activities, then “Calendar of Meetings.”)

Politicians often find it safer to study a problem than actually take action to fix it.  Have you ever wondered what happens to those studies?  Back on the home page, right above “Assembly” and “Senate” is an option for “Research/Library.”  Choosing that will get you to the home page for the Research Division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.  Choose “Publications of the Research Division” to get to a menu of all kinds of reports.  Choose “Research Briefs and Issue Papers” to get to brief reports on timely topics, including charter schools, Common Core, “vaping,” drones, firearms, and ethics in government.

If you’re interested in a particular topic, there’s a couple of ways to find all the bills that deal with that topic.  On the main Legislature page, choose “Session Info” — pick the 2017 Session or an earlier one if you are looking for past actions.  Go to “Bill Text Search,” and a box will open where you can write a general term, for example “mental health.”  You’ll get a list of all the documents that have that term, and you can click on the blue letters to read the document.

Just above “Bill Text Search” is “Bill Information” which opens a menu of Assembly or Senate Bills or other action items such as resolutions.  Choose “Senate” or “Assembly” and a list will display of the pending bills. Click on the blue number to get to the text of the bill, plus a status report of where it is in the process.  If there has been a vote, the vote count is shown, along with dates of committee hearings, past and future.

As a bill goes through the committee process, it may be revised.  You can follow the revisions because they will be captioned “Reprint” and the changes will be in different colored ink.  If you want to know why a bill gets changed, go back to the page where you first looked for the text.  If there have been committee meetings, you will see “Agenda.”  Open the agenda and click on your bill.  That will take you into “NELIS,” a comprehensive bill-information system.  Toward the top right, you’ll see “Meetings” and “Exhibits.”  Here you can see learn about the testimony presented to the committee.  (On the NELIS home page, there is a user manual in the top right corner.)

So by now you’re well informed on the bills you have an interest in.  You know how to contact your legislator because you looked at the “Assembly” and “Senate” choices on the legislative home page.  Their email addresses and phone numbers are right next to their names, and it only takes a few minutes to express your views.

If you want to reach a wider audience, go back to the Legislative home page and choose “Share Your Opinion on Bills” from the list at top right.  That opens a box where you can enter a bill number, then indicate “for” or “against” and add comments.  Identifying information is required, to show you’re a live voter, not the creation of some activist or publicist.  But here’s another cool thing:  At the top of the “Share Your Opinion” box you can choose “View Comments.”  Enter a bill number, and you’ll see all the comments others have made about that bill.  You can choose “Reports” and see the results sorted in a dozen different ways.  Reading the comments can be pretty entertaining.

So who needs video games?  It’s possible to spend hours on the legislative website, getting smart and having fun.  There’s no shortage of issues, many of them controversial.  Part of our vocation as people of faith is to “speak truth to power,” and the webmasters at the Legislature make it easy.

 

LEAN Returns With New Lutheran Life

By Sheila Freed

Many Nevadans have wondered why the legislative advocacy effort known as LEAN has been dormant recently. Indeed, advocacy in Nevada has been re-organizing, and now it’s time to move forward.

The previous organization represented by this Web site, Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada, is now LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY IN NEVADA.  Adding “engagement” to the organization’s name highlights the fact that everyone is invited to do advocacy and to be an engaged citizen.  Nevada is a fast-growing state with many acute needs, and since the 2016 election there has been a huge outpouring of activism on the part of individuals.  As with its past iterations going back to LAMN (Lutheran Advocacy and Ministry in Nevada), LEAN will provide tools and information to enable all to work for good within Nevada at the legislative and policy-making levels.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada now has a lobbyist at the legislature, just as our predecessor organizations did.  Mr. Allan Smith is already working at the Legislature.  Allan was the lobbyist for Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN) until it ceased operations last year.  In that capacity, he provided a unified voice for Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics as well as Lutherans and Episcopalians.  Allan has become familiar with the Lutheran Social Statements and supports the LEAN/LAMN commitment to base all policy positions in the Social Statements.

Allan is a member of Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church, and serves on the Session (ruling board of a Presbyterian church).  He has held other offices and chaired various committees as well.  Allan is retired from the State of Nevada, where he was Manager of Information Systems for the Legislature.  The award-winning legislative website, to which LEAN has often referred, was begun by Allan.  He has a deep understanding of the legislative process, and will be an enormous asset to LEAN as we move into the future.  The Legislative Session is about half over now, and we are grateful that Allan has the skills to regain some of the momentum lost while LEAN has been reorganizing.

Our former LEAN Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson (Gift of Grace Lutheran Church, Fernley) has agreed to “re-engage” (pun intended) as a member of the new Policy Council.  He is joined by Vic Williams and Sheila Freed.   Diane Drach-Meinel, Pastor of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Henderson, will join Dr. Ed Cotton in Las Vegas to represent the south.  Appointment of a third person from the south, plus a secretary and a treasurer, are still pending.

Until we finish getting the new LEAN up and running, please check this website for news and updates. We hope that engagement will be the hallmark of this new effort.  Please join us.

ELCA Initiative Addresses Voting Rights

As the 2016 election season comes to a conclusion over the next few weeks, it’s timely to note that mainstream Christian churches such as the ELCA are outspoken advocates for voting rights. The following are excerpts from a press release issued by ELCA Headquarters in April, 2016, regarding its recently introduced initiative to promote voting rights and fair elections.

Affirming its commitment to ensure voting rights for all U.S. citizens, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has introduced ELCAvotes, an initiative to help members advocate for fair elections and engage in local efforts to guarantee the right to vote.
            “ELCAvotes is about linking faith, civic engagement and theology in the public square,” said Rozella White, program director, ELCA Young Adult Ministry. “It is our hope to invite more people, especially young adults, into fuller conversation as they live out lives of faith in society.”
ELCAvotes was developed in response to “Voting Rights to All Citizens,” a social policy resolution adopted by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The resolution states that “members, congregations, and synods of this church be encouraged to ‘promote public life worthy of the name’ by speaking out as an advocate and engaging in local efforts such as voter registration and supporting legislation to guarantee the right to vote to all citizens.”

The ministries leading the initiative include ELCA Advocacy, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries and ELCA Young Adult Ministry.

“In this election year filled with divisiveness and at times hateful rhetoric, it is easy to forget that our electoral process exists to ensure all voices are heard in the shaping of our representative democracy,” said Tia Upchurch-Freelove, program director, ELCA Advocacy communications and grassroots outreach. “Voting is one of the most important ways Americans can be involved in our democracy. As part of our ELCAvotes initiative, we will share resources and work together to find ways to ensure all citizens have the right to vote.”

ELCAvotes provides faith-based resources to encourage faithful and non-partisan voter participation and a context for all Lutherans to learn about issues such as economic and racial justice that influence voting rights. The resources also provide tools to help young adults understand what it means to be a young person of faith who is civically engaged and will help equip ethnic communities to talk about race and voting rights and the connection with the election year.

The press release goes on to explain how court decisions and legislation in many jurisdictions have eroded voting rights of many groups over the past few years.  The social policy statement was developed in response to this trend.

“We have to be a church that not only thinks about engagement and has prolific documents on our theological views as they pertain to public life, but we also have to be a church that models active, living, daring faith in Jesus Christ,” said [Rozella] White. “Our faith calls us to action, and this initiative is one way of being a church committed to doing God’s work with our whole being.”
Twitter is where the action is: #ELCAvotes.  Or Google ELCAvotes.

Get Out Of Jail Free?

PRETRIAL RELEASE OUTCOMES STUDIED BY NEVADA JUDICIARY

By Sheila Freed

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada is proud to be part of a movement that could radically change the justice system in this state.  The proposed changes line up beautifully with the ELCA Social Statement, “The Church and C criminal Justice:  Hearing the Cries” (2013).

James Hardesty, Associate Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme court, spoke to members of LEAN in May.  Then at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in June, the featured speaker at the LEAN-LOPP Advocacy Breakfast was Washoe County Public Defender Jeremy Bosler.    Justice Hardesty has worked for many years to make the criminal justice system in Nevada fairer and more efficient.  As the Public Defender, Mr. Bosler sees first-hand how the justice system is much harsher on the poor.

Both Mr. Bosler and Justice Hardesty spoke about something lawyers call “pretrial release,” which for most people means making bail.  A person gets arrested and either is able to muster the money to bail out or raise enough to post a portion of the bail and get out on bond.  It goes without saying that the bail system works against those who lack the financial resources to make bail.  Justice Hardesty pointed out that the system also releases the wrong kinds of people.  He used the example of a drug dealer, who can easily raise cash and therefore is back on the street within hours, as against a low-income single parent, who writes a bad check.  When that person must remain in jail, someone must be found to care for children, a job can be lost, and more.  Judge Hardesty reminded the audience that although both the drug dealer and the single parent enjoy the same legal and constitutional presumption of innocence, the negative consequences of arrest fall disproportionately on one.  Mr. Bosler noted that simply remaining in jail for more than a few days actually increases the likelihood that a person will commit another crime.  The reason is that the “pro-social connections” we all have in our daily routines begin to wither.

Many jurisdictions around the country have looked at the bail system and concluded that it isn’t fair.  Furthermore, it doesn’t work.  Justice Hardesty said that the federal courts have concluded that “a money bail system is unconstitutional.”  He cited a little known fact: In Nevada, it can cost a different amount of bail for the same offense, depending on what jurisdiction you’re in.  Washington, D.C., the states of Kentucky and Ohio have all moved to an “evidence-based” pretrial release system.  Their experiences are that if released with no bail, most people appear for court.  In Washington D.C., 92% appear, a higher percentage than with the bail system.

Justice Hardesty and his colleagues on the Supreme Court are now studying how moving to an evidence-based system would work in Nevada.  The key questions a judge must decide are whether the arrestee is a flight risk, and whether he or she is a danger to the community.  If neither is true, release on one’s “own recognizance” is appropriate.  In some cases, a person is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, but should not be released unsupervised because they are addicted or mentally ill or otherwise not functioning well.  Judges have authority to release that person with conditions.  So a release with a requirement to go into treatment could be issued.  The justices have reviewed various “assessment tools” used by other courts to determine the best course of action for a particular person.  In July, several courts around Nevada will begin “field testing” the assessment tools.  Washoe and Clark District Courts are among those participating.  At some point, the Supreme Court will issue rules that will standardize pretrial release practices throughout the state.

Judge Hardesty noted that no legislative action will be required to make the change; judges now have discretion to release people on their own recognizance, and often do.  Bail bondsmen are understandably against eliminating bail for most arrestees , and some legislators could try to stop the change because they don’t want to appear “soft on crime.”    Judge Hardesty urged LEAN to participate in the Court’s study and discussion of this topic.  To learn more, go to http://nvcourts.gov/AOC/Committees_and_Commissions/Evidence/Overview/.  For all details, click on “Documents and Forms” to the right.  Parishioners are invited to join the dialog by contacting LEAN Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson, at mp4675@att.net.