A ballot measure approved by Nevada voters last century is still up for debate today and could upend at least two mayoral races on opposite ends of the state – in Reno and north of Las Vegas.
Nevadans voted twice, as required by law, in 1994 and 1996, to amend the state constitution to limit the terms of elected officials.
“Proponents argue that the pass will stop the careers of politicians since no one will be able to hold office for multiple terms,” said the argument for the pass provided to voters in 1994 and 1996.
The attached explanation saidin part, that “…membership of the local governing body would be limited to twelve (12) years.”
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve has already served 10 years on the Reno council and would pass the 12-year mark a year and a half into her next term, if re-elected.
In North Las Vegas, councilwoman and mayoral candidate Pamela Goynes-Brown has served on the council since 2011. She would pass the 12-year mark six months into her first term as mayor.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that for most cities in Nevada (including Reno and North Las Vegas), mayors and council members share the same offices and that term limits apply to years in office. service on the same board, regardless of position.
Do Schieve and Goynes-Brown intend to bow to the will of the voters and resign while in office, if elected? Neither candidate responded to Current’s request for comment.
“As an already-elected leader, Pamela Goynes-Brown is committed to upholding the Nevada Constitution. Yet she blatantly ignores the constitutional amendment voted twice by voters to limit public office to 12 years,” says Lisa Mayo-De Riso, campaign manager for Sen. Pat Spearman, who faces Goynes-Brown in the Las Vegas North general election.
George “Eddie” Lorton, who came second in the primary and faces Schieve in the Reno general election, declined to comment.
A district court ruling issued earlier this year by Judge Connie Steinheiner said nominees are eligible for a term that will take them beyond 12 years in office, so long as they have not been in office for 12 years at the end of their current mandate.
The decision stems from a challenge from William Mantle, an unsuccessful candidate in Reno’s mayoral primary in June, who questioned Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus’ eligibility to run for mayor. Brekus, like Schieve, joined the board in 2012.
Steinheiner, in confirming Brekhus’s eligibility, cited the Nevada Constitution’s Term Limits Amendment, Article 15, Section 3(2), which reads:
No person shall be elected to any state office or local governing body who has served in that office, or upon the expiration of his current term if he does, will have served, 12 years or more, unless the permitted number of terms or length of service is otherwise specified in this Constitution.
Steinheiner’s decision contradicts the explanation provided to voters in 1994 and 1996 which limits local elected officials to 12 years in office. It also contradicts a 2014 Nevada Supreme Court opinion, discussing the same constitutional provision cited by Steinheiner.
“It is undisputed that under this provision an individual cannot hold the same state office or position in a local governing body for more than 12 years,” the court wrote in 2014 in Lorton v. Jonesa case that kept then-Reno councilor Jessica Sferraza, fired after 12 years on council, from running for mayor.
“The voter would look at the explanation and say ‘yes, I agree with this explanation.’ of Nevada with experience crafting and advocating for ballot measures.
“It’s not how long you served on Election Day or some sleight of hand with years of service,” Mayo-De Riso says. “It’s very simple: if you will serve more than 12 years in a position that is considered the same as the position you currently hold, you are terminated.”
Cosgrove says the “division in the courts” needs to be resolved.
“There must be a case that definitely decides, if voters voted on this explanation, are we going with voter intent?” she asks rhetorically. “Or are we saying they should have read the actual amendment and realized there was a gap between the explanation and the amendment?”
Coat appealed to the Supreme Court, even though he and Brekhus lost in the primaries. But Brekhus is asking the court to dismiss the appeal, saying it is moot.
“The Nevada Supreme Court adjudicates only actual controversies and does not adjudicate on academic questions or abstract propositions that cannot affect the issue at hand,” states a motion to dismiss filed with the Supreme Court. by Brekhus on Monday.
“There’s nothing ‘moot’ about issues that challenge our constitution,” Mayo-De Riso said, adding that Brekhus should want the dispute resolved by the state high court.
“Because there are some who have been on this path for over 12 years and others who are well on their way to doing so, I think the question needs to be answered with respect to the candidacy of others. “Brekhus said via email. “This ongoing legal case is a burden on me. I am not financially supported by a partisan caucus and I respectfully ask the Court to allow my candidacy to be unquestioned.
She does not believe she violated the will of voters by attempting to hold office for more than 12 years.
“That’s why we spend so much time discussing the description of the effect and whether or not it’s clear,” Cosgrove said of the ballot initiatives, adding that the law allows participants 200 words to “say voters what they are voting on”.
When a ballot question is initiated by the Legislative Assembly, the LCB writes the explanation, according to Cosgrove. But the secretary of state’s office is writing the explanation of a voting question that arose from the petition process. Republican Cheryl Lau was secretary of state in 1994, the first year the question appeared on the ballot.
“When issues like this arise with laws, the Office of Legislative Counsel runs ‘cleanup’ bills through the legislative process,” says Cosgrove. “I’m not sure what the court or the legislature can do when there is a problem with an amendment to the state constitution other than to present another amendment for a vote of the people.”