Drama At The Nevada Legislature

By Sheila Freed

“I will never forget an older man coming up to me after, in tears, thanking me for bringing a voice of faith in support of this cause.”                                 

That was LEAN advocate Bill Ledford, reporting back to the LEAN board about a hearing at which he testified. The hearing was about Senate Bill 97, which deals with criminal defendants who attack LGBTQ people because of their sexual orientation.

Bill reported that the hearing was long and very emotional, including a story about a father who murdered his own son when the father learned he was gay. Bill’s testimony was brief. He commented that we Lutherans are called to love our neighbor, and that includes persons whose sexuality we may not understand or agree with. Bill referred to the ELCA Social Statement on sexuality, which calls us to “promote, value, and respect the human dignity of each individual, and to protect all from physical, emotional, and spiritual harm,” among other things.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to speak out on difficult social issues, always in light of the ELCA social statements. By speaking on behalf of Lutherans in Nevada, Bill brings a moral perspective to debates that can otherwise be controlled by financial or other special interests. LEAN can provide political “cover” for legislators to do the right thing.

LEAN is working on seveal criminal justice bills bills. AB 125 is about releasing more people without bail while they wait for a court date. Drug dealers have no problem posting bail, but someone who bounces a check and can’t raise bail can lose their job and their children. SB 110 allocates more money to rehabilitate state prison inmates and prevent recividism. Prisoner re-entry has been a LEAN objective for several years.

Payday lending is a concern of LEAN. Senate Bill 201 was recently heard in committee, and Assembly Bill 118 is waiting for a hearing. Although Bill Ledford did not testify for SB 201, there was no shortage of emotional testimony. Both bills are aimed at controlling predatory lenders who make small loans to individuals with poor credit. When the borrower can’t repay, the lender simply makes a new loan, often trapping the borrower into years of increasing debt. Payday lenders are fighting the bills’ plans to cap interest rates at 36%. Right now, 200% or more is common.

Bishop Hutterer of Grand Canyon Synod supported these bills when she spoke to legislators in Carson City in February. A pastor from a Methodist church commented in testimony, “Theologically, payday lending is immoral and unethical.” She cited a passage from Ezekiel, saying, “profiting off someone’s hardship is abominable.”

Advocate Ledford attended hearings on Senate Bills 7, 8, and 9, and described the experience as “pretty intense.” All three bills are related to sex trafficking, and are in many ways “technical corrections” bills.

A few years ago the Legislature did a major reform of the law around trafficking, but some gaps have been discovered. So one would think hearings on these would be pretty dull. Not so. Existing law makes soliciting a prostitute (not in a legal brothel) a crime, but it doesn’t address children, creating a defense of the “john” believing the sex worker to be an adult.

SB 7 closes this loophole. In support, a woman who works in victim advocacy wrote, “There is no such thing as a child prostitute,” meaning no child voluntarily becomes a sex worker. She urged passage to “hold those who pay to rape someone else’s child to the same high standard of justice as those who rape their own.”

LEAN is at the legislature to join others’ sometimes emotional calls for justice. Jesus calls us to nothing less.