Government Affairs passes bill to protect initiative process

Supporters of initiative petitions such as Douglas County's Sustainable Growth Initiative won support Thursday for their effort to keep local governments from trying to block their petitions.

Assembly Bill 292 would prohibit governmental entities from using public money to challenge initiative petitions before the election occurs unless there is a clear constitutional problem or the petition fails to meet requirements such as getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

It's designed to head off challenges such as Carson City put up against the Fuji Park initiative and Douglas County's support for a developer effort to block the Sustainable Growth Initiative.

Supporters including John Garvin of Douglas County say it's not fair for a government to use large amounts of public resources to try prevent people from voting on an initiative. He said it's an unfair burden on citizen initiative groups which don't have the money for a long court fight to get on the ballot and, in effect, denies them their right to use the initiative petition process.

In the Fuji Park case, the district judge ruled the initiative could go on the ballot but the Nevada Supreme Court took it off saying the issue was an administrative decision. The same thing happened to the petition seeking to block the train trench project in Reno.

In Douglas, however, activists convinced the high court their issue was not administrative but an attempt by the public to set a policy they want local government to follow. The initiative was put on the ballot and approved by three quarters of voters in Douglas to limit new dwellings to just 280 a year.

That limit is now being challenged again, this time on its merits.

The measure passed the Assembly. On Thursday, it received a "do pass" recommendation from Senate Government Affairs members. But it was a split vote with committee chair Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, casting the tie-breaking vote in favor.

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