Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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CARSON CITY:

Buckley slams Gibbons on consumer health office

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley introduced the bill in 1999 to create the state’s Consumer Health Assistance Office.

So it’s understandable that she is opposed to Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan to abolish it.

During hearings of the Senate Finance and the Assembly Ways and Means committees Thursday, Buckley said the office “fights for the consumer” and saves them “millions of dollars.”

Gibbons estimates that eliminating the office, which is part of the governor’s office, would save $1 million a year and eliminate 10 positions.

Budget Director Andrew Clinger told the committees other state offices already handle consumer matters. For example, he said, the state Attorney General’s Office has a consumer protection unit.

Buckley countered that the AG unit prosecutes fraud, while the consumer assistance office aids individuals. The office saved consumers an estimated $3.1 million last fiscal year in health care costs, said Buckley, calling the governor’s proposal “shortsighted.”

Buckley’s criticisms were echoed by other Democratic Assembly members during the hearings.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the office finds free and discounted prescription drugs, mediates disputes over hospital bills and provides an “unbelievable service” that no other agency offers.

•••

James Elste, the former security chief of the state’s computer system who claimed he was fired for disclosing improper government actions, has lost an appeal of his dismissal.

District Judge Todd Russell upheld the finding of state Hearing Officer Bill Kockenmeister, who ruled that evidence showed Elste was fired because of insubordination and outbursts in meetings with officials of other agencies.

Elste, hired in September 2006 by the state Information Technology Department, had maintained he was fired in July 2007 after he turned “whistleblower” and disclosed that hundreds of computer disks bearing the personal information on thousands of state employees were missing.

Workers were never notified of the disks’ disappearance, Elste said.

Elste had claimed the department’s director, Daniel Stockwell, fired him to protect Gov. Jim Gibbons from embarrassment.

•••

Former Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt-Bono is opposing Gibbons’ proposal to combine the Tourism Commission with the Economic Development Commission as a cost-saving measure.

Hunt-Bono, a Republican and member of the Tourism Commission, said in a letter to Gibbons that combining the agencies could hurt efforts to attract visitors from one of the Silver State’s most lucrative tourist markets. Nevada is the only state with a tourism office in China.

More than 600,000 Chinese visited the United States in 2007 and more than 90 percent spent time in Nevada, she noted.

“After arriving in the United States, Chinese visitors spent an average of $6,000 compared to the Japanese visitor who averaged $4,700 and Canadian visitors $900-$1,200,” Hunt-Bono wrote.

“We need to recognize the value of the China tourism office for the unique opportunities it has given us to position Nevada as one of the top three United States locations for Asian visitors,” she wrote.

When she was lieutenant governor, Hunt-Bono was chairwoman of both the Tourism and Economic Development commissions.

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