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Proposal would clarify Nevada petition process

Associated Press

SPARKS — The Legislature will be asked to clarify the state’s initiative petition process after the Nevada Supreme Court had to resolve a series of disputes last year.

Petitions to block the railroad trench through downtown Reno and save Fuji Park in Carson City were dismissed by the high court because they dealt with administrative actions, while a billboard ban in Reno was upheld because it dealt with a legislative act.

Assemblyman Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, plans to introduce a draft request seeking clarification of what questions are appropriate for a citizen’s initiative.

Under Nevada law, initiative petitions cannot dictate administrative actions. Despite the fact enough voters signed these petitions to get them on the ballot, the petition’s fates were decided by the high court, which had to determine if they were legislative or administrative in nature.

“I definitely feel, as a result of the Fuji Park and trench decisions, that there needs to be clarification so these initiatives can’t be stopped by loopholes,” said Doug Smith, chairman of Citizens for a Scenic Reno, which got the billboard question on the ballot and later became Scenic Nevada.

Smith said the billboard question survived in court primarily because of the way it was worded. The question only dealt with limits on the number of billboards, not their size or location.

“If we had been more specific we could’ve been told by the court it was administrative,” Smith told the Daily Sparks Tribune. “That would have been a disservice to all the people who worked so hard to put the question on the ballot.”

The billboard question was passed overwhelmingly by voters, but the trench question was quashed before it could be voted on.

Freeman lost her re-election bid in November, so Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, will sponsor the bill draft request when the Legislature convenes next month.

“It is one of the topics we’re going to be addressing,” said Anderson, who is chairman of the Elections and Procedures Committee.

“We’ve seen problems over the past couple of years with regard to initiative petitions, especially in California where people choose to bypass the Legislature.”

Anderson said people who draft petitions often don’t anticipate some of the problems they create, resulting in lawsuits where the courts determine the outcome.

A piece of legislation, however, is subject to public hearings and scrutiny from both houses that result in a compromise. Successful initiative petitions become law without that scrutiny.

Smith said it comes down to the First Amendment right to petition government to redress grievances. He said the Nevada Supreme Court decision upholding the billboard ban makes the petition a model for similar groups in other areas.