Federal court to consider petition law
Attorney General Brian Sandoval has decided not to issue an opinion on whether Nevada’s initiative and referendum law is constitutional.
The Nevada Constitution requires petition organizers get signatures from at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last election – a total of 51,243 valid signatures – but that they make the 10 percent minimum in at least 13 of the state’s 17 counties. Opponents say that is a violation of the one-man, one-vote principal mandated by the U.S. Constitution because it gives undue weight to the small number of rural county voters. About 85 percent of the state’s population lives in just Clark and Washoe counties.
The requirement became an issue four years ago when Sandra Tiffany, now a Republican Senator from Henderson, tried to put a question on the statewide ballot allowing counties to have more than one school district. She argued the Clark County School District, one of the 10 biggest in the nation, should be split into at least two districts.
She had well over the minimum number of signers but her petition drive failed to make the ballot because it failed by just 28 signatures in Mineral County, leaving her with enough names in only 12 counties instead of 13.
To prevent a repeat and to cut costs of getting signatures to try repeal the 2003 legislature’s tax package, organizers of the repeal drive filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Joined by the Initiative and Referendum Institute and U.S. Term Limits, Inc., they argue Nevada’s law is very similar to an Idaho statute which was recently tossed out by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Sandoval advised Secretary of State Dean Heller this week he would hold off on the opinion because the issue is now before a federal judge.
“It has long been the general policy of this office to abstain from issuing an official attorney general opinion on a law that is being challenged in the courts,” said Sandoval in a letter to Heller.
But the letter also advised that, until the issue is resolved by the federal court, Nevada’s constitutional provision requiring not only a certain total number of signatures but that they meet that percentage in at least 13 counties will remain in effect.