Week in review: five that survived

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

It’s not quite Selection Sunday — that day each year when we all learn which teams have made the cut for the NCAA basketball tournament — but last Friday was nevertheless a crucial decision day at the Nevada Legislature.

Friday was the last day for bills to be voted out of committee, meaning that those that failed to get the green light from committee members by the end of last week are now relegated to the ash heap of history.

Fortunately, there were a number of really good bills that did make the cut, and will now move forward in the legislative process. Here’s a look at five bills in particular that survived decision day and deserve to become law.

Senate Bill 302. Authored by Sen. Scott Hammond, this gem of a bill would establish an Education Savings Account program, which would allow parents who opt into the program to access funds from an account designated specifically for their child, and to use those funds to choose the school or school type they feel is best tailored to their child’s needs.

I testified on SB302 before the Senate Committee on Education, and as I told the committee members, this bill would bring much needed accountability to our education system. That’s because it would empower parents to take advantage of the same competitive dynamics that make the producer-consumer relationship so mutually beneficial in a free-market system. Nevada’s education system has been underperforming for far too long, and this bill (combined with the Opportunity Scholarship bill that Gov. Brian Sandoval has already signed into law), would provide genuine reason to believe brighter days are ahead.

Assembly Bill 182. This bill would enact a number of important labor reforms that would curb the undue benefits from which public-employee unions currently profit. Specifically, it would prohibit government entities from collecting dues on behalf of union organizations; it would end the process of allowing governments to pay union employees for work they do solely for their union; it would exclude management and supervisory employees from the collective-bargaining process; and it would eliminate “evergreen” clauses and mandatory binding arbitration.

For decades, union bosses have wielded incredible and often unchecked power over the policymaking process in Nevada, and the resulting increases in the cost of government are simply unsustainable. The good news is that this legislative session has finally produced some serious efforts to get this problem under control. Speaking of which…

Assembly Bill 280. Another bill I was able to testify on, AB280 would eliminate mandatory collective bargaining for local governments, allowing local officials instead to choose whether to bargain collectively with employees through their unions. The collective-bargaining process has, probably more than anything else, been responsible for the mounting fiscal problems that have caused headaches for policymakers and have threatened citizens’ access to legitimate government services. No surprise, then, that NPRI has been highlighting the need for reform in this area for a long time.

This bill would stop short of getting rid of collective bargaining altogether, and is actually a wonderfully democratic approach to this challenge. Making collective bargaining optional would mean that voters in local communities could elect policymakers that would decide the issue the way their constituents want. If the voters are opposed to collective bargaining, they can elect officials who would do away with it. If the voters think collective bargaining is a good idea, then, well … good luck to them. But let’s at least give them a choice.

Assembly Bill 190. This one would institute a welcome reform to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System, by allowing new hires to choose a 401k-style plan rather than the current one-size-fits-all, defined-benefits approach. The current system hurts government workers because it’s inflexible — and it’s hurting the rest of us through the crippling long-term liabilities it has created. To wit: PERS’ true unfunded liability, based on fair-market valuation, is around $40 billion.

As NPRI’s Victor Joecks said recently of the proposed plan: “This hybrid system is ideal for today’s younger workforce, which values flexibility in their career planning and don’t see themselves working for the same employer for 30 years. It also allows them to leave their pensions to their spouse or children.” Of Nevada’s growing, PERS-driven fiscal crisis, Victor added: “Taxpayers … can’t afford to have lawmakers ignore this problem any longer.” Assemblyman Randy Kirner, who authored this bill, certainly isn’t ignoring it. And neither should his colleagues.

Senate Bill 158. Here’s a bill that would bring some greater transparency to government here in the Silver State. The gist of this one is simple: The bill would require local governments to release any new, extended or modified collective-bargaining agreements to the public 10 days before elected officials vote on the contract.

We’re all about open government here at NPRI, and SB158 is a common-sense way to let taxpayers know more about what politicians are doing with their hard-earned money.

There are, of course, lots of other good bills that warrant a mention, but I didn’t have room to include them all in this space. So do me a favor: Shoot me an email (am@npri.org) and let me know which bill or bills you’ll be watching over the coming weeks. I’ll highlight a few of the more popular ones next week.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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