Have Something to Say? Your Legislators DO Listen

By Sheila Freed

LEAN has been urging everyone to do Advocacy by using the Nevada legislative website. We’ve told you how easy it is to connect with your state Senator or Assembly Member. I know many of us are skeptical, and doubt that our legislator or anyone else actually reads what we send. Well, I can tell you someone must read at least some of them. I recently emailed my Assembly Member, who happens to be Pat Hickey, about AB 223, a bill dealing with protection of elders and other vulnerable persons. The bill was due for a hearing a couple of days later, and I wanted to point out a possible unintended consequence of the legislation. I asked that the language of the bill, which I support, be tailored to address the unintended consequence. I copied the chair of the committee that would hear the bill, the ranking minority member, and the primary sponsor of the bill. I received an acknowledgement message from Assemblyman Hickey, which did not surprise me. But I was really surprised to find my email included in the “exhibits” package that was prepared for the hearing. I think this proves that legislators really do seek thoughtful input. My faith in the system received a big boost. Try it!

So Just What Is a Fair Minimum Wage for Nevadans?

Since America began pulling out of the Great Recession, a lot has been said and written about the struggling middle class, and how the recovery has only been for the wealthy.  Sixteen years ago, the ELCA adopted a Social Statement titled “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All, A social statement on economic life.” In the very first paragraph, it says the current market-based economy meets people’s needs to an amazing degree and many are prospering as never before. At the same time, others continue to lack what they need for basic subsistence. The Statement goes on, “Our faith in God provides a vantage point for critiquing any and every system of this world, all of which fall short of what God intends. Human impoverishment, excessive accumulation and consumerism driven by greed, gross economic disparities, and the degradation of nature are incompatible with this reign of God.”

These strong words predate the current debate over whose politics and what economic policies are most beneficial, but the issues haven’t changed since 1991, and really since the days of the Prophets. LEAN always starts with the ELCA Social Statements when analyzing proposed legislation, and “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” has come into play a lot in the current legislative session. A number of bills have been introduced that really do chip away at the status of working people.

Earlier in this year’s Nevada legislative session, State Senator Tick Segerblom created a stir when he proposed increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour (Senate Joint Resolution 8). At present, the minimum wage in Nevada is $7.25 per hour if health insurance is offered, $8.25 if no health insurance is offered and the employee must buy insurance elsewhere. A year’s full-time employment amounts to about 2,000 hours (40 hours x 52 weeks) and at $8.25 per hour, a year’s income would be $16,500.  It’s pretty difficult to live on that, even if you’re a single person with no dependents. The $15 per hour rate would make a year’s earnings $30,000, still not a very good living. Senator Joe Hardy introduced a somewhat competing measure, SJR 6. His bill doesn’t overtly reduce the minimum wage, but would have the effect of doing so for many workers. Right now, an employer is considered to offer health insurance if a plan is available through the employer at a cost to the worker of no more than 10% of his wage. So our minimum-wage worker would be able to buy insurance for $1,450 per year.  ($7.25 per hour with insurance x 2000 hours =$14,500.) Senator Hardy’s plan tweaks the formula to say that the employer is counted as offering health insurance (and therefore able to pay at a rate of $7.25, not $8.25) if the insurance costs no more than 10% of wages or 10% of the federal poverty level for a family of four, whichever is greater. That sounds pretty innocuous until you know that right now the federal poverty level for four is $24,250. This means that the employer can still be counted as offering health insurance if the plan costs $2,450 per year. A worker living on $14,500 per year may very well decline the employer plan if the cost goes from $121 per month to $204 per month. But the employer would still qualify as “offering health insurance” and could continue to pay $7.25.

This is just one example of a host of bills that require careful analysis to understand the impact. There isn’t room here to discuss others, but we hope to have more soon. Our Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson, needs your prayers. He works hard to keep up with analysis of the bills, and then in committee hearings he has to speak, sometimes in opposition to powerful business interests. This is why “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” is so important: It’s an anchor for LEAN’s positions, and a clear statement of how we think our beliefs should be applied in this material world. It’s worth reading. Find it at www.elca.org, or through Google.

Another Reason to Visit Nevada Legislature

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada has been working to get parishioners involved in the legislative process. We’ve spread the word about how easy that is by using the Legislative website. But a visit to Carson City is fun and educational. The building itself is impressive, and visitors can watch the Senate and Assembly in session, or visit a committee hearing, or simply prowl the halls and visit legislators’ offices.

Beginning April 6, there is another great reason to visit the Legislature.

Always Lost, a Meditation on War is a memorial to those lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001 will be on display until April 22. This exhibit has been all around the country since its unveiling in spring 2009, but it has local roots. It was begun by three professors at Western Nevada College in Carson City. The description below is from the WNC website, where there is much more information about Always Lost.

Components of the Exhibition

In its entirety, the Always Lost: A Meditation on War art/humanities exhibition consists of several components:

  • The “Wall of the Dead” depicts the faces and names of U.S. military war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, currently numbering over 6,000 dead. As casualties continue to mount, the Wall continues to grow.
  • The Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of Iraq War combat photographs (Breaking News Photography, 2004) by photojournalists David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer, who were embedded with Marine units in Iraq in 2003. The twenty photographs are on loan to Western Nevada College courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.
  • Ninety pieces of literary work, which includes prose and poetry by Northern Nevada writers along with historical and contemporary sayings on the subject of war (the “meditations”).
  • Interviews and photographic portraits of three Western Nevada College student veterans, representing the thousands of military personnel returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
  • The story of Specialist Noah Pierce, who took his own life after completing two combat tours in Iraq, representing the thousands of veteran suicides. Included in the exhibition is Pierce’s poetry about his combat experiences, found after his death. Approximately eighteen veterans commit suicide every day (Army Times, April 22, 2010).  [In 2015, the figure is up to 22 per day.]

The exhibit will be in the second floor Atrium of the Legislative building. It will be open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is free to everyone.

Support Raising Nevada’s Minimum Wage

It is time act! LEAN needs you to come out and support a raise in the minimum wage on Wednesday, March 11 at 2:15 p.m. at the Nevada Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City.

We will have some signs for you to carry. If you are unable to join us, please send a note to the members of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections at their e-mail addresses below.

Please get the word out to everyone you know who cares about the underpaid in Nevada.

Bill: SJR8

Text: Amends the Nevada Constitution to increase the minimum wage per hour worked. (BDR C-425)

What: Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections

When: Wednesday, March 11, 2015. 3 p.m. PLEASE BE THERE BY 2:15

Where: Room 1214 of the Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City, NV. Videoconferenced to Room 4412 of the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, 555 E. Washington Ave., Las Vegas, NV.

Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections Settelmeyer (C), Farley (VC), Hardy, Harris, Manendo, Atkinson, Spearman