Voters guide to the ballot initiatives |

Voters guide to the ballot initiatives

It’s up to Nevada voters to decide a total of 10 constitutional and statutory issues – ranging from legalization of small amounts of marijuana to making it harder for governments to condemn private property.

Six of the questions were put on the ballot by initiative petitions; the remaining four by the Legislature.

All but one of the questions will become either law or part of the constitution if approved by voters this year. The exception is the Nevada Property Owners Bill of Rights, a constitutional change that would have to be approved again by voters in 2008.

Question 1:

Education First

What it would do:

Education First would amend the constitution to require the Legislature to approve the budget for Nevada’s public schools before passing legislation funding any other portion of the state budget. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Jim Gibbons after the 2003 Legislature, which he claims held school funding hostage to force approval of large tax increases.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say the change will prevent school funding from being held hostage again.

Opponents say changing the constitution because lawmakers had problems finishing the budget once in 73 legislative sessions is an over-reaction. They also say the change won’t actually do anything because, as a practical matter, lawmakers will work out the entire budget then simply pass education funding five minutes before passing the rest of the package. But they say it could cause delays by preventing lawmakers from settling small, non-controversial budgets early in the session, making them wait until the end when total funding is known.

Question 2: Property Owners Bill of Rights

What it would do:

The initiative is designed to toughen the rules before government can condemn private property, including barring condemnation when the land is to be given to another private party. It allows the owner to ask a court to determine whether the reason for condemnation is a legitimate public use. It requires the government to pay the owner the highest potential market value of the land and requires the land be used within five years or ownership reverts back to the original owner for the original purchase price.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say it gives property owners the tools to protect themselves from government seizure of their land unless the government can prove it’s for a legitimate public use and ensures the owner gets the best price possible.

Opponents say many of the provisions in the proposed amendment will benefit only lawyers and special interests. State transportation officials and regional transportation planners estimate it will cost taxpayers a minimum of $640 million more for transportation projects over the next decade. In addition, they say it appears to violate federal transportation regulations, which could cost the state $210 million per year in federal highway funding.

Finally, they say the complicated rules would greatly delay or even prevent badly needed highway projects.

Question 4:

Smoking restrictions

What it would do:

Proposed by convenience stores, tavern owners and casinos as a response to the tougher anti-smoking statute offered by the American Heart Association, Lung Association and other health organizations.

Smoking would be banned at most child care facilities, public school property, hospitals and medical offices, theaters and concert halls, government buildings and grocery and convenience stores except the gaming areas. Smoking would still be allowed in casinos, bars and restaurants where those under 21 are not permitted, strip clubs, brothels, hotel and motel rooms.

The statute would also prevent local governments from regulating smoking, leaving that power only to the Legislature.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say the plan would help keep smoke away from children and non-smokers without damaging the state’s tourist economy and “without stripping us of the personal choices that a free society should enjoy.”

Opponents say the question is a sham designed to block the stronger ban and that it has too many loopholes that fail to protect non-smokers and children from second hand smoke. They say it contains provisions that actually weaken existing smoking prohibitions, such as repealing the requirement restaurants seating more than 50 provide non-smoking areas. And opponents say it allows any restaurant with a liquor license to become a “bar tavern or saloon” where smoking is allowed.

Question 5: The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act

What it would do:

Would prohibit smoking in most public places including restaurants and all bars with a good handling license as well as child care facilities, theaters, government buildings, public places, malls, retail stores including grocery stores as well as school buildings and property.

It does not prohibit smoking in hotel and motel rooms or casinos or stand-alone bars that don’t serve food.

Nor does it bar local governments from adopting stricter anti-smoking rules.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say it would do a much better job of protecting children and non-smokers than Question 4.

Opponents say it goes too far and would harm Nevada’s tourism industry. They also argue the statute would infringe on people’s personal liberties by banning smoking in nearly every place frequented by adults.

Question 6:

Minimum wage

What it would do:

Current law adopts the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. The amendment would permit employers to pay workers $5.15 an hour if they provide health benefits and $6.15 an hour if they don’t. The plan also requires annual adjustments to the minimum wage by the rate of inflation, up to 3 percent a year.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say low income workers currently don’t earn enough to cover basic living costs. They say the federal and Nevada minimum wage hasn’t increased in more than a decade and that a disproportionate number of these workers are women and single mothers. They argue these workers deserve a wage they can live on and that the change won’t hurt businesses.

Opponents say the amendment would actually increase poverty in Nevada because fewer businesses will be able to hire unskilled workers and train them into skilled, higher paying positions. They argue the amendment would put Nevada at an economic disadvantage compared to “states without these high wage requirements.”

Question 7: Allow and regulate the sale, use and possession of marijuana

What it would do:

The statute would increase penalties for providing marijuana to minors and for driving under the influence of the drug. But it would legalize the possession and use of an ounce or less of marijuana. And it would require the state to license, regulate and tax businesses to sell marijuana. Use of marijuana in a public place would still be illegal.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say marijuana laws are a failure, that the drug is still widely available and that the illegal market is a free-for-all with no safeguards. They say the result is the money generated finances violent gangs and drug dealers while wasting police resources. They argue it’s time for a new approach – taxation and regulation of marijuana sales. Half the tax generated would go to drug education and treatment, the rest into the general fund for programs including education.

Contrary to claims marijuana is dangerous, they say it’s actually safer than alcohol and that there are no recorded deaths from a marijuana overdose.

Opponents say legalizing any possession and use of marijuana sends a bad message to young people. They say legalization will increase use by both adults and minors. They also say new varieties of marijuana are much stronger and often cause psychotic effects. And they argue smoking three to four joints a day causes as much lung damage as a full pack of cigarettes.

Question 8:

Sales tax exemption

What it would do:

The proposed amendment would exempt all vehicles and machinery used in agriculture from the state sales and use tax. In addition, it would allow the value of a used vehicle used as a trade-in to be deducted from the purchase price of another vehicle when calculating the sales tax owed.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say many states already provide an allowance for trade-in value when determining the sales tax owed on a newly purchased vehicle. They say allowing the deduction is fair to the buyer.

Supporters say many farmers and ranchers are going out of state to buy equipment and machinery because neighboring states don’t impose sales and use taxes on those purchases. Nevada’s farm equipment dealers say that is costing them a lot of business.

Opponents say more exemptions only reduces the revenue collected by state and local governments and school districts. They argue that can mean revenues from other sources have to be increased to make up the lost funding. Estimates are the change will cost the state nearly $20 million a year and local governments another $1.6 million.

Question 9:

Board of Regents

What it would do:

Changes the Board of Regents from an elected body to a board with a majority appointed by the governor. Instead of 13 elected members, the board would have three – one elected from each of Nevada’s congressional districts – and six appointees for a total membership of nine. It would also reduce the term of service from six to four years.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say Nevada is the only state to elect a single board to govern all public institutions of higher education. Most are appointed by the governor of the states. They say allowing appointees would permit the governor to select members with the necessary education and credentials to administer the university system. Keeping three elected members would still provide a direct tie to the voters while the remaining appointees are responsible to the governor, who can remove them if they aren’t accountable. They also say the current board is too large and unworkable.

Opponents say the proposal takes away people’s right to vote on some members of the board. They say the appointees would be less responsive to average citizens and that there would be friction between the elected and appointed members.

Question 10: Special legislative sessions

What it would do:

The state constitution currently allows only the governor to call for a special session and reserves to the governor the power to decide what issues can be taken up at that session. This proposed amendment would allow the Legislature itself to call a special session by a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each house. As under the existing law, the special session would only be allowed to consider the specific matters and would be limited to 20 calendar days.

Pros and cons:

Supporters say the Legislature should have the ability to operate with a reasonable degree of independence from the executive and judicial branches and should have the power to call itself into a limited special session “when deemed to be in the best interests of the people of the state.” They say an extreme example would be to call a special session to begin impeachment proceedings against a governor. Nevada’s Legislature is one of just 16 in the nation not authorized to call a special session.

Opponents say the amendment would shift the balance of power toward the legislative branch. With the ability to call itself into repeated special sessions, they say the Legislature could get around the historic opposition by voters to annual legislative sessions. Nevada’s Constitution created a part-time citizen Legislature, they say, and this would shift the state away from that toward a full time Legislature.

Question 11:

Legislative pay

What it would do:

The Nevada Constitution currently limits pay for legislators to 60 days per regular session and 20 days per special session. That limit was set when Nevada became a state. At the same time, the original limit on each Legislature was 60 days. Since then, the length of the Legislature has been changed to 120 days, but the portion dealing with pay was never changed, which means members of the Legislature don’t receive salary for the second half of each session.

The amendment would pay lawmakers for each day of each Legislature in which they serve. Supporters say that is fair.

Pros and cons:

Opponents say candidates are well aware of this situation when they run for office and that the added salary will just increase the cost of legislative sessions. The estimated financial impact of the proposal is $554,400 for each regular session.

• Written by Geoff Dornan

Appeal Capitol Bureau