Judge Orders Question Onto November Ballot

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A judge ruled Tuesday that Nevadans should get to vote on proposals to raise Nevada's hourly minimum wage and to block frivolous lawsuits - even though state election officials said they don't qualify for the November ballot.

Carson City District Judge Bill Maddox ruled in favor of proponents of the two questions after a two-hour hearing, saying, "We should favor the people of the state of Nevada expressing their opinions."

The secretary of state's office had said petitioners had turned in what appeared to be more than enough names - but some of the petitions lacked an affidavit from a petition signer, attesting that other signatures were those of registered voters.

That resulted in thousands of signatures being rejected - and leaving the petitioners with less than the mandatory minimum of 51,337 signatures on each proposal.

Petition gatherers also sign an affidavit that says the signatures are valid, but election officials said the Nevada Constitution requires that one of the people who signed the petition must do the same thing.

"The 'boy, is that stupid' test applies here," Maddox said, adding that would be the reaction of a petition signer when asked to sign another document attesting that other signatures of total strangers also were valid.

Maddox said the person stating the other signatures were those of registered Nevada voters would have to take the petition circulator's word for it, or stand around for hours witnessing each of the signatures.

The judge said the double-signature requirement that's in the Nevada Constitution is unconstitutional and clashes with a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision on ballot proposals.

Nevada AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson, who's pushing the plan to raise the minimum wage in the state by $1, to $6.15 an hour, praised the judge's decision and criticized Secretary of State Dean Heller and Attorney General Brian Sandoval for the state's argument that the wage petition didn't qualify.

"You should put crime-scene tape around the secretary of state's and the attorney general's offices for trying to stop the will of the people of this state," Thompson said.

Sam McMullen, representing the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely. Renee Parker, chief deputy secretary of state, said her office wouldn't initiate an appeal, but probably would support a petition to overturn Maddox' decision.

Attorney Bob Crowell, representing advocates of the petition aimed at blocking frivolous lawsuits, told Maddox that the rules for petition signatures amounted to a violation of constitutionally guaranteed free speech rights.

Eric Myers, representing Give Nevadans a Raise which is backing the minimum wage plan, echoed Crowell and said the double-signature requirement imposes on signature-gatherers "another hoop they must jump through." He added there's no compelling government interest for the standard.

Deputy Attorney General Victoria Oldenburg, representing the secretary of state, argued the signature requirement doesn't result in a free-speech violation or conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

Oldenburg was backed by McMullen, who said abuses can result if professional signature-gatherers get the names and only they attest to the validity of the names. He termed the requirement "extremely meaningful - although Maddox said it looked meaningless to him.

Also joining in the effort to preserve the requirement was attorney Weldon Havins of the Clark County Medical Association. The group has opposed the petition against meaningless lawsuits.