Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Supreme Court ruling on term limits affects ballot

CARSON CITY – The constitutional amendment limiting state and local elected officials to 12 years in office is valid, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled today in a decision that knocks some prominent local officials off the ballot.

The ruling stops Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and university regents Thalia Dondero of Las Vegas and Howard Rosenberg of Reno from appearing on the ballot this time.

It will, however, allow such stalwarts in the Legislature as Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley of Las Vegas to seek re-election this year.

Matt Griffin, deputy secretary of state in charge of elections, said notices will be posted reflecting the changes on the ballot for this primary election. Early primary voting begins tomorrow.

Griffin said he will meet with the attorney general’s office to determine the form of the notices and where they should be distributed.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, chairman of the Legislative Commission that authorized a challenge to the validity of term limits, said he “respects” the decision. He declined to say whether he was disappointed but added the lawmakers will now get ready for the business of the next session.

The Legislature argued that in voting to adopt term limits in 1994 and 1996, the public didn’t understand the term limits applied to all state officials and 127 local boards or commission, and there wasn’t an adequate explanation whether this was a ban for a lifetime or just to consecutive terms.

The court, in the unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, rejected the claim that voters were confused voting for the term limits.

Gibbons wrote the Legislature “has not provided us with any evidence – much less evidence beyond a reasonable doubt – that the voters were indeed confused or misled by that language approximately 12 years ago.”

The court said the constitutional amendment took effect Nov. 27, the day the votes were canvassed. State legislators, elected in 1996, took office the day after the election and weeks before the canvass, which is the final count of the ballots.

Other elected officials who won office in 1996 were sworn into office in January 1997, more than a month after the voter canvass. The court ruled they were impacted by the amendment.

“Therefore, calculating the 12-year term limits from the first year of service occurring after the November 27, 1996 effective date, as the amendment’s plain language directs, constitutes a prospective-only application,” wrote Gibbons.

The court issued a writ of mandamus directing the names of those parties elected in 1996 to be excluded from the 2008 general election ballot.

This decision will permit those members of the Senate elected in 1996 to appear on the ballot this year: Raggio, Mike McGinness, R-Fallon; Dean Rhoads, R-Elko; Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, and Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas.

Assembly members who may run who were elected in 1996 are Buckley, Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks; Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas; John Carpenter, R-Elko; Ellen Koivisto, D-Las Vegas; Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas; Mark Manendo D-Las Vegas and John Marvel R-Battle Mountain.

Other local officials who will be excluded from the ballot by the decision include Clark County school trustees Ruth Johnson and Mary Beth Scow.

Voters approved the amendment 259,211-108,780 in 1994 and 233,177-196,313 in 1996.

After approval in 1994, the term limits for district judges and Supreme Court justices was split from the original ballot issue. And term limits for judges was defeated in 1996.

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