ACLU gives legislators high marks on voting rights, low marks on privacy

State Senate
(Nevada Current file photo)
State Senate
(Nevada Current file photo)

Democrats flunked on promoting privacy and open government, received high marks on expanding voting rights, and earned a barely passing grade in ensuring immigrants’ rights, according to a new legislative scorecard from ACLU of Nevada. 

“Under the leadership of Nevada Democrats, the legislature missed several opportunities to pass bold legislation to fully address our state’s issues regarding capital punishment, immigration, cash bail, comprehensive sex education and more despite taking control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office during the 2018 midterms,” according to the newly released report from the civil rights group.

The ACLU took into consideration bills dealing with criminal and juvenile justice, immigrants’ rights, voting rights, open government and privacy, reproductive and women’s rights and LGBTQ issues. The scorecard assessed lawmakers’ individual votes as well as collectively by each chamber.

For individual grades, which averaged the six categories, the highest score any lawmaker received was 94 percent — Assemblyman Skip Daly. The most common score was 87 percent. The lowest score was 42 percent — received by both Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler and Assemblyman John Ellison. 

Several Republican lawmakers scored higher than the 71 percent received by Democratic state Sen. Marcia Washington, who was appointed to fill District 4 after former Majority Speaker Kelvin Atkinson resigned over misappropriating campaign funds. She was the only Democrat to not get 100 percent in the LGBTQ category — she received 75 percent. 

Overall, the Assembly averaged 76.6 percent while the Senate got 69.6 percent. The highest score was 100 percent, which both chambers received for LGBTQ and voting rights legislation, while the lowest  The lowest overall score, 45 percent, was given to the Senate in the juvenile justice category. Both houses scored only 50 percent for open government and privacy legislation.

The ACLU blasted lawmakers for passing legislation that expanded rights for police officers who are under investigation for misconduct — SB 242, which was sponsored by the Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizarro — and another bill, SB 224, which provides confidentiality of state pension information. 

All but one Democrat failed in the open government and transparency category with the majority scoring only 33 percent — Daly, who got a 67 percent, was the only Democrat to pass. 

Despite all but one Democrat collecting a perfect score on immigrants’ rights legislation, both the Senate and the Assembly each scored 60 percent.

The ACLU wrote: “the most disappointing outcome of the 2019 legislative session was the lack of meaningful action to create statewide protections for Nevada’s immigrant population.” 

The group highlighted progress made on criminal justice reform — Assembly Bill 236, which was an omnibus bill; AB 267, which compensate wrongfully imprisoned people; and AB 183, which banned private prisons — but also argued there is still work to be done. In addition to failing to overhaul the cash bail system, decriminalize traffic tickets or abolish the death penalty, the group specifically criticized lawmakers caving in negotiations for AB 236.

“Despite legislators amending out some of the most important provisions at their request, the Nevada District Attorneys Association and Joint Chiefs’ and Sheriffs’ Association continued to oppose the bill,” notes the ACLU. “Critical reforms, such as pretrial felony diversion programs and a stronger overhaul of the state’s draconian drug trafficking statutes that unfairly impact low income and minority communities, did not make it into the final version of the bill.” 

Overall, the Assembly scored a 76 percent on criminal justice while Senate the got a 72 percent. The only individual lawmaker to receive 100 percent on criminal and juvenile justice was Assemblywoman Dina Neal. The majority of Democratic lawmakers received in the high 80s.

Voting rights reforms — enacting same-day registration, restoring voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals, adding polling centers for tribal lands and moving city elections to even-numbered years — contributed to the 100 percent in both chambers and high scores among Democratic lawmakers. Only four Democrats didn’t receive a perfect score in the category.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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