A complaint filed with the state against a legislative lobbyist for her interpretation of a court order could prevent others from speaking their minds before lawmakers for fear of retaliation, according to a coalition of labor lobbyists.
The complaint, filed last week with the Attorney General and the Legislative Counsel Bureau by Robert Fellner of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a think tank that is hostile to government, alleges Marlene Lockard intentionally lied during her testimony on a measure to limit the information made public about government retirees.
“Mr. Fellner’s cowardly attack upon Ms. Lockard will place a chilling effect upon all lobbyists and the public in general who take adversarial positions against contemptible but well-funded organizations like NPRI — lest we be forced to defend ourselves against baseless charges of offering ‘willful misrepresentations’ before legislative committees,” wrote Richard P. McCann, executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, to Richard Combs, director of the LCB.
Lockard, a veteran lobbyist, says the allegation is a fabrication designed to kill Senate Bill 224, which would replace retirees’ names with identification numbers on actuary reports made public by the Public Employees Retirement System.
State law requires PERS to make public the names of retirees, the amount and type of their pensions, last employer, years of service and years of retirement.
Senator Julia Ratti, a sponsor of SB 224, says the measure is needed to reduce the threat of cyber and identity crimes against retirees.
NPRI has long waged court battles to obtain employee and retiree information it argues is public record.
“For more than 35 years, PERS personal information was considered confidential,” Lockard told lawmakers at a March 1 hearing, on behalf of her client, the Retired Public Employees of Nevada. “As a result of the court cases that have been mentioned, we are now at a point where one standing order continues to make public, if requested, date of birth, beneficiary information, gender, passports, addresses of ex-spouses, birth certificates and marital status. What is the purpose of releasing this personal information to the public?”
“Both the 2013 and 2018 Supreme Court opinions are extremely clear on this issue, writing that while the individual files themselves are confidential, the requested information (name, pension amount, govt employer, years of service, retirement date) are public records and do not become confidential simply by virtue of also being contained within the individual file,” Fellner wrote in an email to the Current (bolding original).
“While an individual retiree’s physical file, which contains personal information such as social security numbers and beneficiary designations, may not be inspected in its entirety, that does not make all the information kept in the file confidential when the information is stored electronically and PERS can extract the nonconfidential information from the individual files,” then-Chief Justice Michael Douglas wrote in a Nevada Supreme Court opinion last year.
“Lockard’s claim that any court has ever required PERS to disclose such information as passport or birth certificates is a complete fabrication, and thus a violation of Nevada’s law prohibiting false testimony before a committee,” Fellner said via email.
But Lockard says she testified only that such information may be available upon request.
“I feel I’m on very solid ground with my testimony. They are trying to kill the bill and ruin my reputation in the process,” she said. “It’s a new tactic I’ve never seen before.”
“To say that we are appalled at Mr. Fellner’s unfounded allegations against a veteran lobbyist who is known to have impeccable integrity and vast institutional knowledge, would be an understatement,” McCann wrote to Combs. “Sadly, in their continuing attempts to find solutions for problems that do not exist, they have now decided to personally attack the integrity of a lobbyist who just as fiercely opposes their position on this bill. Quite simply, an attack upon one lobbyist who holds a position on this issue, is an attack upon all of us who hold the same position.”
In a response to NPRI’s allegations, Lockard wrote to LCB Director Combs, noting the 2014 order of Judge James T. Russell, which states “there is no question that PERS has an obligation to provide the entirety of the pension information” to the public.
“Subsequent to that order, there have been several rulings, none of which in my interpretation, negates that portion of Judge Russell’s order that I referenced,” Lockard wrote to Combs, noting a Supreme Court opinion from 2018 states “If disclosure of a government retiree’s information includes more personal information, such as birth date, sex, marital status, beneficiary information, and beneficiary birthdates, the balancing test may weigh in favor of nondisclosure” (Bolding original).
“It’s really pretty outrageous. Just really dirty tactics by the opposition,” Lockard said. “I don’t want to say everyone’s doing it, but it’s certainly employed by NPRI.”
The Attorney General’s office and the Legislative Counsel Bureau have yet to comment on the complaint.