Two bills were passed in the final days of the legislative session which change the way the public can access information we are entitled to as taxpayers. They are Senate Bills (SB) 224 and 287. Ostensibly, both bills were intended to grant easier access and provide consequences for not providing that information. And, for the most part, that’s what they do. However, an amendment to Senate Bill 224 made a simple, yet important change which, in some ways, makes accessing complete information even more difficult.
To provide some background, SB 287 was amended by Assembly Democrats in an unrecorded huddle known as a “behind the bar” meeting. While those meetings had been criticized the entire session, this time the intention to pass SB 287 was supported by both sides of the aisle. The bill is designed to remove hurdles to getting public records from Nevada government entities. In “no nonsense” language the bill says that access to public records should be provided promptly and without unreasonable fees. And, for the first time ever, state and local governments could be penalized for willfully violating Nevada’s public records law. Officials could face between $1,000 and $10,000 in fines for impeding access to records. This is good news to those of us that have been frustrated by the outright non-compliance of government agencies to provide access to public records.
Now for the bad news, SB 224. Called the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) secrecy bill, the amendment to SB 224 called to make the names of those receiving tax-funded pensions public. Great, that’s what we want. We want to know who is receiving what money, how much they are receiving, how long they’ll get it and why. As that’s money from our pockets, we’re entitled to that information. Making the names confidential was conservative’s, myself included, only complaint with the original bill. So, I’d like to know why, when the Assembly decided to release the names, they felt the need to make information that was explicitly made public before, confidential. While the names will be disclosed, public agencies can now withhold information such as last employer, years of service credit, retirement date and whether the benefit is a disability or service retirement. That is all vital public information that can now be hidden.
The purpose of these bills was to, “make as much information public as possible to allow the press to investigate how PERS benefits are managed.” That’s according to SB 224’s sponsor, Senator Julia Ratti (D). In its revised form, SB 224 actually increases government secrecy. It keeps non-sensitive, and yet contextually relevant, information from the public making it much more difficult for the public to understand the system. Hiding under layers of bureaucracy is certainly nothing new, but I had hoped that these bills would create more transparency in Nevada government, not less.
Call to Action: Public employees work for the citizens, we don’t work for them. “We the People” have a right to know how much we’re paying, to whom and for what. Once again, the Democrat-controlled legislature has told us that they know better than us. They’ve blocked our ability to analyze and judge compensation for public employees. This is especially frustrating in light of the fact that a lot of good had been done with these bills and this change was so counter to their purpose. SB 224 needs another amendment to comply with it’s original purpose of providing complete information to taxpayers.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”