Extortionary initiatives may flourish under recent court ruling

“Hey, you’ve got a great casino industry. Be a real shame if someone comes along and adds another category to the gambling tax, say something around the 9.75 percent. A real shame.”

That’s not exactly what John “Big Johnny V” Villardita said to the Nevada resort maker in 2020, but it could have been.

Instead, the Clark County Education Association — of which Villardita is chief executive — has qualified a pair of initiatives in 2020, one to raise part of the state sales tax and the other to increase the toy tax.

But in the 2021 legislature, it turned out that the real target was not either petition. Instead, Vellardita used the threat of a public vote on those petitions to pressure the casino industry into joining a coalition that supports an increase in the state’s mining tax, where the money goes to schools.

Once the deal was struck, Vellardita agreed to drop both petitions, using newly passed state law that allowed such withdrawals, even though the petitions collected more than enough signatures to qualify and went to the legislature without action.

Under Section 19, Section 2 of the state constitution, the procedure is clear: If the petition qualifies, and if no action is taken by the Legislature, “the Secretary of State shall submit the question of approval or disapproval of this law or amendment to the Statutes for Voting in Elections The next general next.”

But what is a small constitutional procedure when you go your way? Democrats in the legislature, with time horizons that rival the common fruit fly, unwisely passed a law specifically allowing petitions to be withdrawn, anytime up to 90 days before the election.

Here we must note that the reasonable policy argument against such a law—that initiatives and referendums can be turned into mechanisms for blackmail to force any industry to yield to the demands of any group that can successfully qualify a ballot—was not just a theory. It was just done right in front of their faces.

However, Secretary of State Barbara Segavsky wasn’t buying it. Although the attorney general’s office saw the withdrawal law as legal, she refused and said she intended to put both measures on the ballot.

A district court judge dissented, and Cegavske appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. There, the majority blessed the law, saying “We have concluded that NRS 295.026 is a permissible exercise of the legislature’s power to make legislation to facilitate the authority of popular initiative and is therefore not unconstitutional.”

Ah, but instead of “facilitating” the power of the popular initiative, this particular law shortens it, ending a petition that was eligible for a suffrage in its course. What is this law? truly Extortion is facilitated by the ballot measure.

A majority of four justices, in a critical paragraph, essentially blessed this approach: “The sponsoring participants withdrew the petitions after increased funding for education was secured by the legislative representatives of the people during the legislative session,” they wrote. “The circumstances that led to the petitions have changed, and the project proponents have concluded that the legal amendments proposed by the petitions are no longer justified. Providing a means for initiative sponsors to respond to changing circumstances or achieve undesirable and unintended outcomes facilitates exercising the power of the initiative by making the initiative process more flexible. “.

And people tend to become very resilient with a legislative weapon in their heads, right?

The most plausible was the minority of three justices, who said the constitution establishes a separate process: propose action, collect signatures, verify signatures, refer the matter to lawmakers for consideration and, if they fail to act within 40 days, send it to the ballot. Nothing in the constitution mentions withdrawal.

“Withdrawal after referral that prevents voters from considering the motion at the next election is not one of the options provided by the Constitution,” stated in Dissent, by Justice James Hardesty. “This impediment shows that the Court should have deemed NRS 295.026 unconstitutional, as applied to allow withdrawal after the motion has qualified for the Legislature and forwarded it to the Legislature.”

But now, things are more – what’s the word? – flexible. Initiatives can be used to make offers to specific industries that they cannot refuse. This can be done in public with the approval of the legislature and the Supreme Court.

You have to hand it over to Big Johnny F. He has devised an entirely new way of making policy. He has to keep the gun And the The cannoli.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius @ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow Tweet embed on Twitter.

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