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Desert Companion

A slingshot and a prayer: The activists of Carson City

Sex Ed

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Clark County School District's sex education program is abstinence-based, not abstinence-only. We regret the error.

These hungry activists aren’t letting the deep-pocketed Goliaths intimidate them from taking their shot in Carson City

For all its small-town charm, Carson City can feel like a pretty intimidating place during the spring of every odd-numbered year when the Nevada Legislature swings into gear. Each legislative session, the town floods with politicians and lobbyists, sure — but also lots of grassroots activists. Against all odds, these idealists trek back to the state capital again and again, never letting the death of a bill be the death of a dream. Meet some of the 2013 Legislature’s most promising Davids, taking their shot against an army of Goliaths.

Planned Parenthood

Annette Magnus

The cause: Championing comprehensive sex education

The reason: Magnus got her first job with Rep. Dina Titus, then a state senator, when Magnus was just a teenager. The native Las Vegan sits on the steering committee of the Nevada Women’s Lobby and organized this year’s Grassroots Lobby Days, in which bus-loads of regular folks head to Carson City to learn the ways of the Legislature firsthand. The public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, Magnus has been one of the chief organizers behind a comprehensive sex-education bill (AB230), which would update the school district's current abstinence-based sex education program. “This is something I take very personally, having gone through the Clark County School District (sex education),” she says, adding dryly, “It was two weeks of my swim teacher telling me not to have sex.”

Support comes from

The odds of victory: Too close to call. A similar bill failed to clear committee before the deadline for bills to move from one house to the other last session. And there’s a lot more heat this time around after Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D-Las Vegas) revealed her abortion at age 16, during testimony in favor of the bill at an April 1 hearing. But Magnus is undaunted. “We feel a groundswell. I think we’ve built some credibility in the Legislature building.”

 

Venicia Considine

The cause: Bringing hope to underwater homeowners

The reason: The Legal Aid center of Southern Nevada staff attorney has been in the trenches working to help homeowners who’ve been buried by an avalanche of paperwork and legal red tape, locking them in bad mortgages and forcing them into foreclosure processes that have spanned years. “Prior to 2009, almost every person who walked through our door was a foreclosure,” she says. Considine’s work on the Consumer Rights Project led her to the Homeowners Bill of Rights (SB321), a bill modeled after the legal framework that binds the five biggest banks to the National Mortgage Settlement, which sunsets in 2015. But the settlement, which requires a single point of contact for homeowners (rather than the maze of different loan servicers and banks) as well as consolidated document tracking, doesn’t extend beyond the Big Five. That leaves other banks open to continue the Catch-22 cycle that keeps homeowners in limbo between loan servicing companies (often largely automated by computers) and the actual banks that hold the loan. (Which is what helped turn Nevada’s real estate landscape into the Dead Sea.) In addition, SB321 would keep the settlement protections in place after 2015. Having spent her formative years in Las Vegas, Considine takes the work and this bill personally. “(Homeowners) are not just numbers. They’re not just some nine- or 10-digit number. They are human beings.”

The odds: With similar bills in the works in California, Illinois, and Colorado, the odds are in favor of SB321.

[HEAR MORE: The governor and the Legislature are having a tax policy showdown. Hear a discussion on "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]

 

Howard WattsHoward Watts, III

The cause: Chiseling away at Big Mining’s tax cap

The reason: A Las Vegas native, Watts has a deceptively deep reservoir of knowledge of Nevada’s political history, something that tends to work in his favor in legislative meetings and lobbying trips to Carson City in which he is often one of the youngest people in the room. But now the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada field organizer is taking on perhaps one of the toughest battles at the Legislature this session — the push for SJR15, an amendment that would strip Big Mining of a constitutionally protected tax cap that prohibits taxing net proceeds. Watts says, “No other corporation has those protections in Nevada, not even gaming.” He’s taking what he learned from PLAN’s similarly themed ballot initiative in 2010 that failed due to lack of signatures. “The mining corporations had attorneys from Jones Vargas, (at the time) the biggest firm in the state. And then there’s us,” he says, chuckling. “What it came down to was we didn’t have the money to pay people to go get signatures. We’re a nonprofit. We go out and get the signatures ourselves. But it ended up raising the profile of the issue.” And Watts hopes that translates into the momentum needed to get SJR15 not just through both houses, but passed by the people in two consecutive elections, which is required of any constitutional amendment.

The odds: SJR15 passed easily out of the Senate in April. Watts says at least half a dozen Assembly Republicans have signed on in support. But it may be a fierce battle for PLAN’s lone lobbyist against nearly two dozen lobbyists representing Big Mining and related concerns.

 

Jane Heenan

The cause: The transgender rights watchdog

The reason: Rather than focusing on any one bill, the longtime activist keeps watch over several bills each session, looking for red flags that signal potential trouble for the transgender community. An instructor at the College of Southern Nevada, Heenan is a founding member of Gender Justice Nevada, which got nonprofit status in 2011. The new nonprofit is dedicated to promoting gender equality and diversity. Heenan was a leading voice in last session’s successful campaigns to include protections for “gender identity and expression” into existing the Employment Non Discrimination Act. This session, the activist has an eye on sex trafficking bills, including AB67. “My opposition is to some provisions, as they can criminalize people who aren’t actually sex trafficking — as in human trafficking — but are engaged in sex work, which many transgender people get into because of job security and discrimination issues,” says Heenan. The comprehensive sex-ed bill is also of particular interest. “Gender non-conformity is broader than transgender people. It’s about anyone who does not match what society dictates in the gender binary.”

The odds: Whether or not the bills on Heenan’s watchlist make it through, the odds are good that the activist won’t rest until Nevada is a more equitable place for people of all genders.

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