There's a bad smell from state offices

If some good comes of the Kathy Augustine impeachment debacle, perhaps it will be clearer guidelines for state whistle-blowing employees and more specific laws on campaign practices by elected officials.

Las Vegas Democrats Maggie Carlton, Dina Titus and Richard Perkins already have said they will propose legislation addressing both issues. The optimist in us says such reforms will help clean up some of the apparent shenanigans going on in state offices, but the pessimist wonders why existing laws weren't adequate.

Nevada does have laws protecting state employees from retaliation if they expose misdeeds by their bosses, but that doesn't address the problem raised in testimony during Augustine's trial in the Nevada Senate.

Even though employees said they feared for their jobs if they refused to work on her campaign, their complaints apparently fell on deaf ears with the Personnel Department. That's because there aren't many rules when their bosses are elected officials.

So when they testified before the Senate - elected officials all, a true jury of Augustine's peers - the state employees didn't have a leg to stand on. Most of the senators weren't about to start undercutting their own authority.

The same goes for the Legislative Counsel Bureau's unfortunate and nonsensical opinion that preparing campaign contribution and expense reports isn't a campaign activity. We look forward to the next election, when candidates statewide (whether they're incumbents or not) should feel free to drop off their paperwork at the nearest state office. Apparently, it's a service the state now provides.

That's why we're worried new laws on the books won't make much difference in the insider game at the Nevada Legislature. If there isn't already a loophole to be exploited, the political power brokers will invent one.

The question for legislators in 2005 will be whether they clean up the mess - or simply sprinkle some perfume so it doesn't smell so bad.


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