Minimum Wage Proponents Win Court Order

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Backers of an effort to raise Nevada's hourly minimum wage by $1 won a court order Monday temporarily blocking a decision by state election officials to prevent a public vote on the plan in November.

The temporary restraining order was granted by Carson City District Judge Bill Maddox at the request of attorney Eric Myers, representing Give Nevadans a Raise and the state AFL-CIO which supports the effort to raise the wage to $6.15 an hour.

In a 2-page order, Maddox said a restraining order is warranted because the petition advocates "are likely to prevail on the merits, or at least have raised very serious questions."

Supporters of three other initiatives also threatened by Secretary of State Dean Heller's decision Friday against the minimum wage plan were expected to join in the litigation. Judge Maddox scheduled a hearing on the controversy for July 20.

Gail Tuzzolo of Give Nevadans a Raise said she was pleased that the judge granted the restraining order, adding, "I'm convinced that when we have a chance to argue our points that the minimum wage initiative will be back on the ballot for November."

Heller spokesman Steve George said Heller looked forward to a court resolution of a dilemma resulting from clashing state Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on signature requirements for such ballot petitions.

"It was unfortunate for these people that the petitions were signed in good faith but because they didn't follow the proscribed constitutional rules they were not allowed," George said.

Heller, relying on legal advice from Attorney General Brian Sandoval, stated the minimum wage proposal 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.

Sandoval 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.

Petitioners 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.

Nevada AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson has termed the actions of Heller and Sandoval "a low-down rotten deal," adding, "For an elected official to suppress the will of the people based on some technicality is the height of injustice."

Thompson and 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."

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.