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.

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Another Reason to Visit Nevada Legislature

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada has been working to get parishioners involved in the legislative process. We’ve spread the word about how easy that is by using the Legislative website. But a visit to Carson City is fun and educational. The building itself is impressive, and visitors can watch the Senate and Assembly in session, or visit a committee hearing, or simply prowl the halls and visit legislators’ offices.

Beginning April 6, there is another great reason to visit the Legislature.

Always Lost, a Meditation on War is a memorial to those lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001 will be on display until April 22. This exhibit has been all around the country since its unveiling in spring 2009, but it has local roots. It was begun by three professors at Western Nevada College in Carson City. The description below is from the WNC website, where there is much more information about Always Lost.

Components of the Exhibition

In its entirety, the Always Lost: A Meditation on War art/humanities exhibition consists of several components:

  • The “Wall of the Dead” depicts the faces and names of U.S. military war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, currently numbering over 6,000 dead. As casualties continue to mount, the Wall continues to grow.
  • The Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of Iraq War combat photographs (Breaking News Photography, 2004) by photojournalists David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer, who were embedded with Marine units in Iraq in 2003. The twenty photographs are on loan to Western Nevada College courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.
  • Ninety pieces of literary work, which includes prose and poetry by Northern Nevada writers along with historical and contemporary sayings on the subject of war (the “meditations”).
  • Interviews and photographic portraits of three Western Nevada College student veterans, representing the thousands of military personnel returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
  • The story of Specialist Noah Pierce, who took his own life after completing two combat tours in Iraq, representing the thousands of veteran suicides. Included in the exhibition is Pierce’s poetry about his combat experiences, found after his death. Approximately eighteen veterans commit suicide every day (Army Times, April 22, 2010).  [In 2015, the figure is up to 22 per day.]

The exhibit will be in the second floor Atrium of the Legislative building. It will be open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is free to everyone.

Cool Tools for Staying Informed … And Heard

By Sheila Freed

We are already a quarter of the way through the 120-day Legislative Session. There are about 1,100 Bill Draft Requests and in less than a month, they all must be introduced. 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, go back to the home page. Look at the top left corner where it says “Legislator Information.” Click on “Assembly” or “Senate” and then choose from the menu at the top of the page to get to an alphabetical list with each legislator’s background. There’s a ton of other information on the “Assembly” and “Senate” pages, including upcoming meetings and the daily calendar.

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. The Bureau’s reports on all kinds of policy issues are there.

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 Research Library page, scroll down to “Session and Interim Info” and find “Quick Look-Up by Bill or Subject. Using the subject search for the 2015 session will get you to the same alphabetical sort that is used to index the entire Nevada Revised Statutes, and you’ll find bills from Abandoned Property to Youth Parole Bureau. (Sorry, no Z’s.) If you click on the blue bill number, you’ll go to a page showing the current status of the bill, and a link to the text. As the bill goes through the committee process and the text is revised, you can follow the changes. Each new version shows in a different color.

Another way to find topics of interest is from the Legislature home page. Near the top of the list on the right side is “BDR List.” Clicking there will take you to a page where you can look at the “full list” or “divided list.” Choose “divided list” and you’ll get a search window. You can put in your Legislator’s name to see which bills that person has  sponsored, or you can put in a topic such as “education” or “health care.” This is not a comprehensive search, but it’s a start. Eventually there will be a blue number such as “AB 123” next to each BDR number. That’s the bill number once the BDR gets introduced as a bill. If you click on the blue, you go to the same place described earlier, with the status of the bill and a link to the text.

If you want to know why the language of a bill gets changed, go back to the page where you first looked for the text, the one that says “Status of Bill.” Toward the right, you’ll see information about the committees that have debated the bill. You can read the minutes of those meetings and look at the exhibits or handouts that are presented by people who testify about a bill.

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 home page and scroll down the list on the right side. You’ll find “Share Your Opinion on Legislative Bills.” 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. Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) urges you to do just that.

Join ‘Backpack Challenge’ on MLK Day

Save the morning of January 19, 2015 to attend a unique event sponsored by Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN).   We all know the Education Initiative, Question 3, failed in the November election. Governor Sandoval has said he has a plan to fund public education, but he has disclosed no details. The LEAN event will give our Legislators an opportunity to do something tangible for education.

Watch Rev. Mike Patterson’s video on this special event here.

All new and returning state Senators and Assembly Members have been invited. Those who attend will assemble backpacks filled with school supplies. The backpacks will go to a Title I (low income) school of the Legislator’s choice, and the backpack will include the name of that Legislator.

We hope this will be a fun exercise that will remind Legislators of the need to seriously address education funding.   We particularly want to highlight the needs of Title I schools, which are chronically without resources. There’s a reason we’re doing a school supplies project in January. Many of our congregations assemble school backpacks in September, but by January, heading into the second half of the school year, most of those supplies have been used. This leaves teachers purchasing basic supplies from their own pockets. So in order to pull off this “challenge to Legislators,” we need your help. Please consider donating five, ten, or twenty dollars to buy the supplies to go in the backpacks. Our Director of Advocacy, Rev. Mike Patterson, has arranged to buy supplies at a huge discount from a local office supply store, so your donation will go a long way. Checks can be sent to LEAN c/o St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, PO Box 737, Sparks NV 89432, or given to your Parish Communicator.

The gathering will feature more than stuffing backpacks. James Hardesty, Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, will speak. Also on the agenda is a representative from Union of black Episcopalians, and a speaker from the State Board of Education. The event will occur simultaneously at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Reno, connected by video conference.   A representative of Northern Nevada Food Bank will speak in Reno, and a representative of Three Squares will speak in Las Vegas.

Members of all Episcopal and Lutheran congregations are urged to attend. The event begins at 10:00 am, and lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to mp4675@att.net.