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.


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.


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.

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.


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?


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.