LEAN Urges Public Land Stewardship

Editor’s Note: The following plea for protection of public lands, a version of which ran as an opinion piece in the Reno Gazette-Journal, is by Allan Smith, outgoing LEAN advocate. It’s a timely reminder of the sanctity of God’s creation, now that United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has recommended the alteration of several National Monuments, including two in Utah, that will most likely open previously protected lands to fishing, ranching and even drilling.

As a Lutheran Christian, I put a high moral value on careful public lands stewardship. In the Book of Genesis, God calls on humanity to tend and to keep the earth, and God entrusts all Earth’s plants and creatures to our care. Most Christians believe we are stewards, not owners, of all Earthly riches. We manage these riches for the time we are alive, and ensure they are passed on to future generations. Today, we are called to live out this vocation to tend and keep the Earth at every level of society: in our consumer choices, our property management, and our civic engagement. Civic engagement deeply matters to public lands stewardship, and the answering the call to care for our public lands may never have been more urgent.

Secretary Zinke, a fellow Lutheran, visited Nevada at the end of July, and I have prayed that these stewardship values will be in the forefront of his mind. Still, on Aug. 24 he recommended reducing the number and size of several National Monuments, as explained in the following video from the Washington Post.

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/8dcfd57c-8901-11e7-96a7-d178cf3524eb

In Nevada, the majority of our state is made up of public lands. Private property owners can make choices about ecological stewardship of our own properties, and often our choice is to accommodate human comfort. Public lands are meant to serve the common good. Public lands are home to a vast array of plant and animal life. They are also places for recreation, cultural and historic preservation, scientific research, and energy development. Striking the right balance between these many needs is a difficult job which is Secretary Zinke’s primary responsibility. This job also requires citizens’ active participation, input, and attention.

Unfortunately, right now, all signs indicate that the Trump Administration is throwing caution to the wind when it comes to balanced stewardship of our public lands. President Trump has called for American “energy dominance” through more fossil fuel production on public lands and in our national waters. He is particularly interested in offshore drilling, which imperils our nation’s coastlines and fishermen. Commercial interests are lining up to use public lands in ways that would promote short-term profit, yet will rob future generations of the rich natural and cultural heritage we enjoy today.

Within months of taking office, President Trump is directing the Department of Interior to pursue an agenda which could undermine decades of thoughtful energy stewardship and conservation planning. He has called on the Department of Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess how to eliminate or shrink national monuments as well as marine sanctuaries. These reviews will take a matter of months to un-do conservation protections that in many cases were decades in the making. The Department of Interior has also been instructed to stop taking climate change into consideration when engaging in land use and management planning activities, and to scrap environmental assessment requirements in Master Leasing Plans. After years of public stakeholder processes about re-evaluating the price of coal mining leases on federal public lands, the Department of Interior has decided to leave cheap coal leasing prices as they are. The Bureau of Land Management is also attempting to delay methane pollution limits on public and tribal lands, endangering our public health and our climate. It is unlikely the Department of Interior will use the carefully crafted plans to sustain the Western sagebrush sea and its indicator species, the sage grouse prairie chicken. Protections for endangered species are in jeopardy at a time when one in five species are threatened or endangered. The list goes on.

Our public lands are collectively cared for by all people in the United States: with our tax dollars, our votes, and our civic engagement in decision-making processes. If there were ever a time to answer our Genesis call to tend and keep the Earth, now is it. We can and must conserve God’s creation now, before our climate is too damaged, our land and waters too polluted, and many species gone forever.

When Secretary Zinke visited our state, and assessed the value of Gold Butte, Basin and Range, and other public lands, I called on him, and my fellow Nevadans, to consider carefully what your faith tradition says about stewardship of the Earth. May we live our faith and care for God’s good creation.

Download the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s official social statement on Caring For Creation.

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LEAN Completes Successful 2017 Session

Nevada Legislature Passes Majority of Supported Bills

Lutheran Advocacy in Nevada is not dead, but back in a new way.  We were last known as LEAN, for Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada.  That entity has been replaced with a new, all-Lutheran effort.  We kept the acronym LEAN, but we’ve “re-purposed” the name to stand for LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY IN NEVADA.  We wanted to bring “engagement” into it, to highlight the fact that everyone is invited to do advocacy and to be an engaged citizen. Lutherans have such a great tradition, dating back to Martin Luther, of speaking out in the public square in order to hold accountable those in authority.  LEAN’S mission is to educate and equip every parishioner in Nevada to advocate for issues they care about.

For the 2017 bi-annual Nevada Legislative Session, which wrapped up in mid-June, LEAN lobbyist Allan Smith worked through the last frantic days of negotiation among assembly and senate committees and members. He reports that 31 of the 52 bills that LEAN supported were signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval. LEAN support was based strictly on current nationwide ELCA statements regarding social justice issues ranging from prisoner re-entry and environmental protection to children, family and senior citizen support. 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 LEAN’s commitment to base all policy positions in the Social Statements.

Allan is Presbyterian, and before retirement oversaw the award-winning legislative website to which LEAN has often referred.  He has a deep understanding of the legislative process, and will be an enormous asset to LEAN as we move into the future.

At present, the Policy Board of Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada consists of Pr. Diane Drach-Mienel, (Christ the Servant, Henderson), Chair; Vic Williams, Vice-Chair, members Pr. Mike Patterson (Gift of Grace, Fernley), Dr. Ed Cotton, and Sheila Freed.  LEAN is anxious to add new people to the Policy Board, especially people from the south.  A secretary and treasurer are needed.

Engagement will be the hallmark of the new LEAN.  To that end, plans for the remainder of 2017 and beyond include:

  • Workshops and trainings throughout the state to enable parishioners to learn about the issues.
  • Publishing monthly newsletter items highlighting activities and calling for action by parishioners.
  • Maintaining an active and up-to date website
  • Identifying at least one resource person in each parish to lead education and advocacy, and to work with the Policy Board to identify issues of concern.
  • Coordinating with ELCA Churchwide on their advocacy initiatives.
  • Using social media for immediate communication and calls to action.
  • Though the next Nevada legislative session isn’t until February 2019, there’s plenty of planning and short-term advocacy, planning and outreach to accomplish in the meantime.

For information on how to Engage in Advocacy, e-mail us at leanforjustice@gmail.com with your contact information and a LEAN representative will get back to you.

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.