Over-ruling democracy on the Nevada plantation
Expanded from the 1-9-00
Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So commands what is arguably the greatest law ever written, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Thanks to our national compulsions toward theocracy and autocracy, only one tiny sliver of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) stands unmunched by the triple termites of arrogance, diffidence and indifference. You still remain protected against being forced to house troops in your home during peacetime. Feel better?
The right to petition your government goes back to the original initiative, the Magna Carta presented in 1215 by the landed barons of Britain to King John Lackland (brother of King Richard the Lionhearted and villain of every Robin Hood story).
Perversion of that right affects your pocketbook every day. In 1952, Reno casino moguls won passage of an initiative establishing a "right to work" law. Nevada remains one of 21 states with such a provision.
There's no such thing as a "right to work" in free society. The misleading label masks a mandate forcing employment of non-union members under a union contract without payment of union dues. It gives freeloaders full union pay and benefits and requires unions to spend member dues money representing those non-union workers.
A half-century of confiscating member dues to benefit non-members has had the desired withering effect. Reno was a totally unionized town before right-to-work and it showed in paychecks. Adjusted for inflation, union cooks, restaurant hosts and bartenders in 1949 Reno made more than their local counterparts today.
Right after WWII, about one in three U.S. workers was unionized. Today, that's fallen to less than one in six. About one in five Nevada workers are currently union members.
Silver State employees without a union contract have few rights and can be fired at their employer's whim for no reason at all.
Nevada courts have legalized age and sex discrimination. The Nevada Supreme Court has relegated worker-plaintiffs to permanent second class citizenship, making them jump through hoops required of no other type of litigant. Workers who complain of their employer's illegal racism and discrimination may be fired thanks to another decision.
The Nevada Legislature has outlawed punitive damages in wrongful termination lawsuits, largely preventing workers of humble means from retaining legal counsel. (Watch NevadaLabor.com for a new section on labor law and workers' rights.)
Organized labor was able to place repeal of Nevada's right-to-work-for-less law on the ballot in 1954 and 1956, losing both times. The "right to work" label was not only too powerful to beat, but also resulted in creating in the public's mind a right which never existed. Today, many workers think their "right to work" protects them from wrongful termination. Not so. Nevada has always been a "fire at will" state.
In 1958, to keep repeal of the right-to-work law off future ballots, the gambling-industrial complex won passage of a state constitutional amendment making initiatives much harder to qualify.
Since then, another half-dozen roadblocks have been erected, further eroding the fading right of Nevadans to petition their government.
The latest assault begins this Thursday, Jan 13, at 1:30 p.m. in the old Supreme Court chambers at the capitol building in Carson City. Secretary of State Dean Heller will convene rulemaking hearings in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision which found unconstitutional some Colorado restrictions on initiatives.
In Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation (525 U.S. 182, January 12, 1999), the court held that petitioning constitutes "core political speech." Heller and Gov. Dudley Do-Right apparently do not agree.
The Supremes found unconstitutional Colorado's requirement that only registered voters could circulate a petition. On December 13, 1999, Heller and Gov. Guinn published emergency rules turning that decision on its head. They require a registered co-signer for every petition circulated by an unregistered person. That's a distinction without a difference bringing us back to not only registered circulators, but requiring two for the work formerly done by one.
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Even worse, Heller has continued a flawed requirement, apparently invented out of whole cloth, that a person may only gather signatures in the county of his/her residence. The court found that circulating petitions constitutes the same type of protected expression as speaking from a soapbox in the park. But in Nevada, Sparks and Reno residents have been barred from such political activity in Carson City or Las Vegas because they cannot circulate petitions there.
Even though the court ruling came down before the Nevada Legislature went into session, Heller and Guinn neglected to go to lawmakers with these issues. Their inaction has turned petitioning into a game of political Russian roulette where the rules can change at any time.
The Guinn-Heller emergency regulations expire on April 10. The Legislative Commission, comprised of incumbent lawmakers, must sign off on any new rules. Kateri Cavin, deputy attorney general in charge, was uncertain last Friday as to what happens if they object.
Conveniently for the gambling-industrial complex, this adds new uncertainties to Sen. Joe Neal's initiative to raise the gross gaming tax on the state's largest, most profitable casinos. The North Las Vegas Democrat must now play that game of roulette never knowing how many bullets are in the guns of gamblers and their political hitmen.
Secretary of State Heller holds a similar rulemaking hearing in Las Vegas on Friday, January 14, at 1:30 p.m. in the Grant Sawyer Building on E. Washington Ave. Show up.
FIRING FIREFIGHTERS. Longtime Reno fireman Carlos Archuleta goes before the Reno Civil Service Commission at city hall on January 27. He says he has evidence that a number of his colleagues falsified their employment applications, untruthfully claiming minority status. He will demand the firing of everyone hired under such pretenses.
CELEBRATING MLK. Terri Keyser-Cooper, Nevada's foremost civil rights attorney, will provide the keynote address at an interfaith community memorial service for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, January. 16, at Rev. William Webb's Second Baptist Church at 1264 Montello St., a few blocks east of the Washoe County fairgrounds in Reno. Ms. Keyser-Cooper has never lost a case against Reno, Sparks and Washoe County governments.
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 1/9/00.
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