Analysis of SB384

Robert Fellner

Update: A proposed amendment makes Section 2 much worse by making PERS names private as well, leaving only payout amounts to unknown recipients! 

As written, section 1 of SB384 makes all information about public employees, with the exception of their name, job title and salary, confidential under state law. Existing law already provides robust protections that make sensitive information about public employees — such as social security numbers and home addresses — confidential. By declaring that, absent their name, job title and salary, “all other informationabout public employees is confidential, SB384 would represent a dramatic reversal of existing law by enshrouding the activities of government in a veil of secrecy.

Section 2 addresses retirees who are currently receiving a benefit from the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada (PERS). By declaring that the name, benefit amount and last employer of those receiving a benefit from PERS is public and making everything else confidential, SB384 would significantly narrow existing law. Furthermore, it would make confidential the very information necessary to provide context to benefit amounts — such as years of service, year of retirement and retirement type.

Without those contextual fields of data, the public value in disclosing name and benefit amount is greatly reduced. Just as salary information is intertwined with the number of hours worked — the value of a $25,000 salary changes drastically if it comes with a 1-hour workweek instead of the standard 40 hours — a similar relationship exists between years of service and pension benefit amount.

This is why this information is currently public in Nevada and 35 other states nationwide. The State of New Jersey even publishes these supplemental fields, and several more, on the official state government website: https://data.nj.gov/dataset/YourMoney-Retired-Pension-Members/nma7-ti96/data.

As written, SB384 would overturn existing Nevada law and make these fields of data — which are necessary to lend perspective to the payout amounts and identify cases of disability fraud — confidential. Moreover, it is not clear what benefit, if any, this would provide. In fact, making the contextual data private would only undermine the public interest that SB384 seeks to provide in making retirees’ name and benefit amount public.

Or, to put it another way, why would years of service be considered more sensitive than a retiree’s name and benefit amount?

Existing law already makes truly sensitive information — such as social security number, home address, etc. — private. If SB384 seeks to reaffirm this, it can do so by specifying that the entirety of the necessary contextual elements of a retiree’s benefit are public, while then reaffirming the unrelated, sensitive pieces of information remain exempt from disclosure.

SB384 will be heard March 31, 2017 at 1:00PM by the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. Click here to share your opinion with your legislator on SB384 or any other bill currently before the Legislature.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Vice President & Director of Policy

Robert Fellner joined the Nevada Policy Research Institute in December 2013 and currently serves as the Institute’s Vice President and Director of Policy. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.