Justices take up initiative guidelines
March 5, 2014
LAS VEGAS — Restricting Nevada initiative petitions to a single subject invites legal challenges that stall the process and prevents backers from gathering signatures by a mandated deadline, critics of the requirement told the Nevada Supreme Court.
Las Vegas attorney Kermitt Waters on Tuesday asked justices to make it easier for groups to qualify measures for the ballot.
Waters brought the challenge on behalf of Citizen Outreach and two other groups. They argue the limitation makes it nearly impossible for citizens to bring proposals before voters.
Waters said requirements for citizen petitions should be the same as those for the Legislature, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
At issue are two bills passed by the Legislature. SB224, passed in 2005, enacted the single-subject rule for initiative petitions. AB81 from the 2011 session requires signatures to be gathered in each of the state’s four congressional districts.
Opponents in the case range from the Nevada secretary of state and the Legislative Counsel Bureau to the Nevada Resort Association and the Nevada Mining Association. Justices heard oral arguments in Las Vegas on Tuesday and will rule at a later date.
Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson, representing the secretary of state, said the rules for creating laws are different because the processes of direct and representative democracy have almost nothing in common.
“So it naturally follows that there are different rules to govern those different processes,” he said.
Benson also argued that the proposed change to the legislative rule would be stricter than that used in any other state.
“Every state that has a similar rule in their constitution has applied that very liberally,” he said. “So there is simply no reason to change the rule in this case.”
Kevin Powers, deputy legislative counsel for the Nevada Legislature, argued that if the liberal interpretation for the single-subject rule used by lawmakers is restricted by the court, it would have a drastic effect on the legislative process.
Waters has argued that the two bills at issue should have been drafted as 20 separate measures to satisfy the single-subject rule, Powers told the court.
Such a rule would require the Legislature to draft thousands of more bills than the 1,300 or so measures requested each session, Powers said.
Waters included in his appeal a proposed initiative petition to amend the state constitution to establish a two-pronged tax measure in Nevada to raise the mining tax and impose a broad-based gross receipts tax.
But Waters said he wants the Supreme Court to sign off on the language of the measure before filing it to head off any legal challenges over the single-subject rule. Otherwise, once the petition is filed, it will be challenged in court and the groups will simply run out of time to qualify it for the ballot, he said.