Victims’ rights question debated at League of Women Voters event
Proponents and opponents of six questions on the Nevada ballot in November argued their cases during a public forum Monday.
The League of Women Voters hosted the event at the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall, where a large audience was able to ask follow-up questions.
Don’t we already have victims’ rights law in place, asked one attendee, after discussion of Question 1, the so-called Marsy’s Law, which would amend the Nevada Constitution.
“We’re trying to strengthen what is in law so it can’t be pulled on a whim in the next (legislative) session,” said Brady Griffiths, Marsy’s Law for Nevada, making the case for passage.
Holly Welborn, ACLU of Nevada, said there are approximately eight existing statutes protecting victims rights.
“Where we’re failing victims is in helping them enforce those rights,” she said.
If passed, the measure would add a victim’s bill of rights to the state constitution, including the right to be protected from the defendant, the right to prevent the disclosure of confidential information, and the right to be informed of all public and post-conviction proceedings.
“Take a restraining order, for example. As a victim you have to submit locations you frequent, that’s turned over to the accused, and you’ve just given them a roadmap,” said Griffiths,
Welborn agreed such information used to harass victims should be prevented from being used by defendants.
“But the language is so broad and vague, what will it mean in practice?” said Welborn. “It could interfere in the discovery process.”
She said the law would allow victims to enter into the system before the defendant is charged, undermining the presumption of innocence.
“We need to be very careful what we amend into the constitution because it’s hard to change,” she said.
Question 2, if passed, would amend the sales and use tax act to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax.
“We believe this recognizes the systemic inequality. Women are the only ones paying it,” said Caroline Miller, NARAL, arguing for passage.
Miller said nine states have already instituted the exemption, including two which exempt the products under medical exemptions.
“It is something we all need, something we shouldn’t have to pay extra for,” said Miller.
Mary Sanada, a concerned citizen who said she was a former chief accountant for the state controller’s office, provided the argument against.
“I’m a bean counter and my opposition to this proposition is based on counting the beans,” she said. “It may be laudable to exempt feminine hygiene products, but either programs are going to be cut or you have to find an additional revenue source.”
The fiscal note prepared for the ballot question projects a loss of $4.96 million to $7.11 million in sales tax annually, based on the population of 867,000 females between the ages of 12 and 55 living in the state.
Question 4 would also provide a sales tax exemption, for durable medical equipment such as oxygen delivery equipment.
Sanada again took the stance against using the same argument the state shouldn’t be narrowing its tax base.
The Fiscal Analysis Division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau said the fiscal impact of the question couldn’t be determined, but Doug Bennett, speaking in favor of the measure, said an estimate was a loss of $925,000 in sales tax annually.
“The argument against is we don’t want to take revenue away from the general fund, but in our case it’s so small, it’s insignificant,” said Bennett of Alliance to Stop Taxes on the Sick and Dying PAC.
Bennett said the tax exemption is on non-optional equipment, and affects all age brackets, from infants to elderly adults.
“If they didn’t get the equipment the condition could get worse or they could die,” he said.
Question 5 would establish a system that would automatically register to vote an eligible person getting or updating a driver’s license or state identification card at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Chelsey Winninger, Nevadans for Secure Elections, argued in favor, saying it would create a more modern and accurate system.
When asked by the audience, Winninger said individuals would be able to still use other methods to register, including through the county clerk-recorder’s office, and the DMV would be the first step and registered voters would still be vetted for eligibility by the secretary of state.
The argument against was delivered via video, and said the people can now register at the DMV in an opt-in system that complies with law. The proposed opt-out system, the opponent said, shifts the responsibility from the individual to the government.
The fiscal note on the question has a range of impacts. The DMV estimates it would cost $60,000 to make initial programming changes and $56,000 annually to conduct. The Secretary of State’s office estimates a cost of $110,000 to implement. The cost to counties ranges from none to $200,000 in Clark County to implement and from $1,000 to $500,000 for ongoing expenses.