Bid To Boost Minimum Wage Fails

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A petition to raise the hourly minimum wage in Nevada by $1 has failed to qualify for the November ballot - based on legal advice from the state's attorney general that also threatens three other initiatives to amend the Nevada Constitution.

Secretary of State Dean Heller said Friday the Raise the Minimum Wage petition met a requirement to have signatures from 10 percent of the voters in at least 13 of the state's 17 counties - but the overall signature total fell short of the minimum of 51,337 signatures by 2,618 names.

Petitioners trying to raise the hourly minimum wage to $6.15 submitted more than enough signatures, but nearly 14,000 were rejected after Clark County Voter Registrar Larry Lomax said he spotted a procedural flaw in the petitions.

Some of the petitions lacked an affidavit from a petition signer, attesting that the signatures on the petition were genuine. Petition gatherers sign an affidavit that says the signatures are valid, and Lomax said one of the people who signed the petition must do the same thing.

Lomax said he also found the same problem in initiatives involving the legalization of marijuana, frivolous lawsuits and insurance rate reductions. Heller's office said the status of those petitions won't be known until Monday at the earliest.

In the case of the minimum wage proposal, Heller said he relied on legal advice from Attorney General Brian Sandoval, who said a requirement in the Nevada Constitution for the double signatures should be followed despite a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, according to the petitioners, invalidates the requirement.

Nevada AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson termed the actions of Heller and Sandoval "a low-down rotten deal," and said a restraining order request would be filed Monday in Carson City District Court.

"For an elected official to suppress the will of the people based on some technicality is the height of injustice," Thompson said.

Thompson and petition advocate Gail Tuzzolo said the prominent Jones Vargas law firm was hired by the insurance industry to fight the insurance rollback proposal, and came up with arguments that are similar to parts of Sandoval's advice letter on the minimum wage proposal.

Those arguments were presented to Lomax and other county election officials around the state, Tuzzolo said, adding, "It's amazing that this powerful law firm would go to the extent it did to prevent wages from being raised and insurance from being reduced."

Tuzzolo also said the group's signature-gatherers followed specific instructions from the secretary of state.

Attorney Joe Brown of Jones Vargas said his law firm did send its arguments to county clerks on behalf of the insurance industry, but he hadn't talked to Sandoval and was certain Sandoval's office conducted independent research.

"We did our research and wrote a letter based upon what we thought was the law and what was right," Brown said, adding there was no intent to have any adverse effect on the minimum wage plan.