With the reluctant support of Gov. Jim Gibbons, the Board of Examiners on Tuesday approved a six-month exemption from furloughs for the staff of the Consumer Advocate's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
One of the bureau's prime functions is to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices and fraud. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said the staff is overloaded with complaints generated by "scammers coming into the state" to take advantage of people facing foreclosure.
"They are taking advantage of the people who are losing their homes and jobs as well," she said.
Masto said the bureau is investigating some 144 companies each with 50 or more complaints against them.
"It's the furloughs that are hurting us," she said. "We're only asking a six months exemption to let us get a handle on this."
Gibbons, however, said he was concerned approving exemptions for these employees would open the door to numerous other departments seeking exemptions.
The main group of employees exempted thus far are correctional officers on grounds they are necessary for public safety. Gibbons said the bureau's staff includes secretaries, assistants, regulatory analysts and investigators, among others.
"These are very different positions than we've looked at in the past," he said.
Gibbons said the Health and Human Services Department hasn't asked for exemptions even though several thousand of its employees deal directly with the health and welfare of the public through programs like Medicaid and welfare.
He said he was concerned this approval was the start of a "slippery slope."
Masto said she understands the concern but that the bureau is on the frontlines of defending homeowners in trouble from unscrupulous scammers.
She also pointed out that the majority of the cost of exempting these 32 people is borne by mill tax money, not the General Fund, which would only be hit for about $14,400.
In the end, Secretary of State Ross Miller moved for approval of the exemptions. With Masto abstaining, it was up to the governor who, after a pause, voted to support the exemptions.