LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY in NEVADA is the new LEAN, and we now have a Policy Council in place.  The Policy Council has set out for our Advocate, Allan Smith, LEAN’s advocacy agenda for the remainder of the legislative session.

Two priorities carry over from the 2015 session, and both have to do with economic justice.  They are “payday lending” and minimum wage.  LEAN continues to be interested in these, based on the ELCA Social Statement, “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.”  (The new LEAN, like its predecessors, takes its policy positions from the Social Statements.)

Assembly Bill 163 provides significant new protection for people who use so-called payday lenders.  These short-term, high interest loans often start a downward spiral of endless debt, because when the borrower can’t pay, lenders simply give them another loan.  AB 163 requires lenders to evaluate the borrower’s ability to pay before making a loan.  AB 163 also restricts a lender’s ability to “cure” a defaulted loan with a payment plan.

There are three measures dealing with minimum wage.  Senate Bill 106 calls for a gradual increase of seventy-five cents per hour every year until the minimum wage reaches $12.00 per hour.  Senate Joint Resolution 6 also gets to $12.00 per hour, but on a different timetable.  Assembly Bill 175 began as a straightforward increase of the minimum wage, raising it one dollar per hour every year to reach $15.00.  Recently AB 175 has morphed into something quite different.  As amended, the bill refers to the Nevada Constitution, which allows a minimum wage of one dollar per hour less if health insurance is provided by an employer.  The amendment defines the kind of health plan required to qualify as “health insurance.”  The amendment significantly raises the standard, and by doing so, gets at employers who offer a “bare bones” plan and pay wages at the lower rate.  This may be a legislative maneuver to make employers, who argue that a higher minimum wage kills jobs, to either pay more on the health care side or agree to the proposed wage increase.

Increasing the minimum wage has been proposed in the past, and like this session, it has encountered resistance.  Rev. Mike Patterson was the LEAN Advocate in the 2015 legislative session.  He spent time with Assemblyman Ira Hansen, one of the most conservative people in the Assembly.  Mike was able to convince Mr. Hansen that apart from the moral considerations, an increase in the minimum wage makes economic sense.  Mr. Hansen concluded that many low wage workers qualify for public assistance in the form of subsidized food, housing, medical care, and other.  In true conservative fashion, he questions the role of government in such programs, and calculated a “breakeven” point of $15 to $17 per hour to shift these costs to employers.  Assemblyman Hansen actually made a chart showing his figures and submitted it to his committee colleagues in support of the original 2017 bill.  Advocacy works!

Advocate Allan Smith is in Carson City, speaking on behalf of the poor as well as others who suffer injustice.  To express your opinions on AB 163, AB 175, or any other bill, go here.   Or start with the Legislature home page, then click on “Share Your Opinion on Bills” in the upper right corner.

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.

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