Nevada

ALEC and OREGON PROTESTERS

ALEC and OREGON PROTESTERS

Most of us are now aware of the ongoing takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and dozens of followers. Ammon and Ryan Bundy are sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who notably took part in an armed standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, in Nevada in 2014.

The protesters cite convictions in a local arson case against ranchers for burning more than 130 acres of federal land in 2 separate fires as being the initial cause for the occupation of the refuge. Rancher brothers, Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 and after losing an appeal, were sentenced and to turn themselves in the week of the takeover. The Bundys demand that the two Hammonds be released from custody as their first demand.

A second and more important demand being made by these protesters as they continue to occupy the buildings and grounds of this federal reserve, is a demand that Washington return federally owned land back to the states. Ryan Bundy laid out the militants’ demands: that the surrounding federal lands be ceded to local control.

This reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land.

According to the Congressional Research Service, in Nevada the U.S. owned more than 81 percent of the land in the state in 2010. In Oregon, that number hovered right around half — 53 percent of the land, more than 30 million acres of which were administered by either the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service.

The federal government owns, maintains and cares for millions of acres nationwide. Over the past two decades the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed for the federal government to turn over much of this land to the individual states. Once transferred, the use of such land becomes the responsibility of the states.

ALEC’s model legislation pertaining to pursuit of taking federal land began back in 1995 and was titled the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act”.

Today, you’ll find no reference to this model legislation at ALEC’s web site because of the exposure it and other proposed “model” legislation has been given upon the “ALEC Exposed” website. ALEC has scrubbed much of their model bills following publication of their entire stash of proposed legislation in 2011.

I urge everyone to read the Sagebrush Rebellion Act to understand exactly what this conservative organization was attempting to accomplish with this proposed state legislation. At a minimum, it proposes to transfer ownership of tens of millions of acres of land to each state and allow them to continue existing leases, grazing, ranching and other income generating pursuits, with the income transferring to the states as well.

Included is the transfer of all mineral, water, oil and similar rights to the states to do with as they please….including leasing the rights to private companies, individuals and/or corporations.

…to permit ranching, mining and timber production and the development, production and transmission of energy and other public utility services under principles of multiple use which provide the greatest benefit to the people of this state“.

As I indicated previously, ALEC has erased all traces of this model legislation from their website of model bills. However ALEC Exposed retains a copy of the legislation as does the Heartland Institute (linked to above).

However, ALEC is still pursuing a takeover of federal lands today. They’ve simply changed the model legislation to a Policy Statement entitled Public Policy Statement on Transfer of Public Lands.

ALEC’s “policy” on the takeover of federal land was approved in January of last year. Below is an excerpt of that document, showing admission that though you won’t find any model legislation pertaining to this issue upon their website, they advise current legislation does exist:

This Draft Model Policy, ratified by unanimous consent on October 9, 2014 at American Lands Council (ALC) Multi-State Workshop convened in Salt Lake City, UT and on October 20, 2014 by ALC Board of Directors, resulted from that summit. This statement is supported by existing ALEC model policy and calls for the restoration to the western states their most basic right – control over their land with important exemptions for national parks, Congressionally-designated wilderness area, Indian reservations and military installations.”

They provide several uses of the land once transferred all of which ensure economic productivity. Section X provides:

x. GENERATE SELF-SUPPORTING FINANCE: Foster compatible economic productivity to support essential government services such as local roads, utilities, emergency services, public health and safety, education, justice, and other civic functions while reducing tax burdens on citizens nationally and offsetting federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools funds“.

The ALEC Board of Directors approved this public policy on January 9, 2015.

Essentially our friends at ALEC are working to cut federal income generated off these tens of million acres of land. I find this attempt at reducing federal income consistent with their pursuits of lowering corporate and high income taxes. Both the transfer of federal land and reducing taxes cuts off income to the government. With less income, the federal government would have difficulty paying down the national debt, maintaining federal employee workforce and consequently, less of an ability to function. This would allow for a louder hue and cry from the Conservative political right about our government being unable to function and meet budget requirements.

If this sounds far-fetched to you…consider what’s happened to the U.S. Post Office (USPS) since 2005 as ALEC pursued privatization of that federal agency. In 1995 ALEC proposed privatizing the USPS. Then as now, Fed Ex and UPS were members of ALEC with representatives holding positions upon ALEC’s various task forces. Both of these private companies then (and now) complain that the USPS’s first class mail and parcel post contracts are a monopoly owned by the “government” and seek access to both. Fed Ex and UPS argue that back when the USPS was enacted, there were no private companies available or willing to take on the task of delivering mail and packages…but today there are private companies willing and demanding they be allowed to deliver both at a profit.

By 2005 through ALEC they were successful in getting legislation passed by Congress to make the USPS fund retirement and healthcare for workers for the next 75 years! In 2006 the legislation passed and became known as the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act”.

Since then the USPS has been forced to set aside billions every year to fund healthcare and projected retirement benefits for workers who haven’t even been born yet. This diversion of income has caused the USPS to be unable to modernize facilities, close many facilities, lay off workers and to defend themselves against the onset of emails to replace “snail mail”.

Once the income was diverted in the manner I described above, ALEC’s Republican Alumni in Congress began expressing their views that the USPS was failing, unable to properly fund themselves or operate. They started the pursuit of privatizing the post office.

Unfortunately this is how ALEC and their Koch funded and backed politicians operate…cut off funding, tax revenue and then offer up a solution of privatization or the selling off of assets – such as federal lands and all the mineral rights.

Today it’s an armed “militia” taking over a federal facility in a remote part of Oregon demanding the federal government release convicted criminals and hand over publicly owned land to the states. It isn’t a stretch of fact to realize that the Bundy boys and their supporters are conservative believers following the proposed legislation and acting upon the ideology provided by ALEC and their conservative state members and Congressional alumni.

For a full comprehensive expose on ALEC’s attacks upon the federal level, please take a few minutes and review VLTP’s “American Legislative Exchange Council – Federal Government and Corrupt Practices” article published in 2011. In this document the chronological attack upon the USPS is laid out beginning on page 24.

Yesterday it was the USPS, today it’s the acquisition of federally owned public land. One can only wonder where ALEC’s next attack will be and when.

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

In mid-September Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval asked for the resignation of Gregg Cox, Director of the state Department of Corrections. The action was taken by the Governor because a report about prisoner shootings and abuses by staff in the state’s prisons was late.

The report completed by the Association of State Correctional Administrators was to be presented by Cox at a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners, which the Governor is a part of.

The governor felt that it was time to move the department in a new direction,” according to a statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office on the departure of Greg Cox. The corrections department is facing several lawsuits due to prison shootings in the past few years.

One incident at High Desert State Prison left inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. dead. Sources say Perez was handcuffed when he was shot and killed, and accuse prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by allowing inmate fights to go on before firing into the fray. It wasn’t revealed until four months afterward that Perez died from gunfire.

Earlier in 2013 Cox’s department came under fire for allowing the DOC’s prison industry program to be used by a private company, Alpine Steel and company owner, Randy Bulloch to use inmate labor – without paying them wages.

Alpine Steel owner, Randy Bulloch

Alpine had been able to avoid paying rent, utilities, inmate or staff labor wages for more than a year, running up a tab of nearly $500,000 – while Deputy Director Brian Connett of the NDOC Prison Industry, (Silver State Industries) – turned a blind eye upon the climbing debt, allowing Bulloch’s steel fabrication operation to continue virtually free of overhead, at taxpayer expense. Connett went so far as to approve Alpines new contract with the NDOC, failing to report the back debt owed while reporting Alpine had fulfilled all requirements under the expiring contract.

The facts surrounding the Alpine case began to emerge in late 2012 when steel companies started protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities arguing they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Governor Sandoval eventually stepped in and ordered the closure of the Alpine operation following those complaints. The challenges centered upon unfair competition by a private company using inmate labor to reduce labor costs and thus underbid complainants for lucrative state and private contracts involving fabricated steel materials.

Alpine quickly paid over $78,000 in back wages owed to inmate workers. The NDOC entered into an agreement with Alpine to repay the state the remaining money owed for staff wages, utilities and lease of prison facilities. Surprisingly the agreement had no provision for Mr. Bulloch to be personally responsible for any of the accrued debt owed.

Within months Bulloch defaulted on the terms of the agreement and the state secured a judgment against Alpine for more than $400,000. Alpine also incurred state and federal tax liens for non-payment of income taxes. These totaled more than an additional $680,000.

The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight,” Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall said in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21, 2013. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts related to Alpine Steel that prompted his concerns.

Unfortunately Mr. Ohrenschall was too optimistic in his assessment of oversight, but his claim of “taxpayers have been left holding the bag” is still accurate. To date the state has been unable or unwilling to pursue collection of the nearly half million dollar debt owed to taxpayers by Bulloch and his company.

Though Bulloch voluntarily surrendered his contracting license to the Nevada Contractors Board in October 2013, saying he was closing down his business…Alpine Steel’a website remains open for business while the company owner continues to avoid paying the state any of the money owed taxpayers under the court ordered judgment. Additionally, along with the Alpine website still showing it is an active business, Mr. Bulloch is now selling structural steel and fabricated components as Hunt Steel, also in Las Vegas. Links to fabrication, etc. on the Alpine site, takes visitors to Bulloch’s Hunt Steel site.

Director Cox managed to retain his position after the Legislature enacted new revisions to existing Nevada law to prevent potential or new industry operators from starting up without posting a surety bond to guarantee payment of leases and utilities owed to the state. Known as Senate bill 478, this law also provides that the public be notified of any potential new prison industry proposals, to date there has been no such notice given to the public or possible competitors though there have been new industries proposed to the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs.

Just prior to Cox taking over as Director in 2011 he was a Deputy Director when the prison industries “wrote off” more than $800,000 in outstanding noncollectable debt owed to the Prison Industry Program. With Alpine’s additional $428,000, Nevada taxpayers have lost more than $1.2 million dollars. The now pending lawsuits against the NDOC, it’s staff and officers, could result in another $1 million or more needed to settle inmate abuse and shooting claims and/or court judgments.

It appears Director Cox avoided one serious controversy involving a lack of transparency only to succumb to another controversy involving transparency before the same Board of Prison Commissioners that again, included Governor Sandoval.

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

by Bob Sloan

silver state industries

Following a full year of investigating complaints and revising Nevada’s prison industry program statute(s), a new Administrative Rule (AR 854) regulating the operation of that state’s prison industry operation has been submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) by NDOC Director, Greg Cox.  In December this regulation was adopted and became effective.

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

In October the NDOC submitted a long list of new or amended AR’s to the BPC for approval and implementation.  At that time Cox withheld the proposed AR 854 addressing the operation of the agency’s prison industry operations.  Cox held back on this single AR by advising the Board he wanted to work with former Senator Richard Bryan on the language of that particular regulation.

On December 17th Director Cox submitted the final negotiated regulation to BPC members, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller for consideration.  Following approval by the Board, the new prison industry regulations are now in effect.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-crop

NDOC Dir. Cox

Critics and opponents of the prison industry program have now adopted a position of “monitoring” the state’s prison industry program. They’re doing so in an effort of ensuring there are no further infringements upon Nevada’s workers and businesses that compete against prison industries.  Last year it was discovered that the NDOC regulations were not being fully enforced and state statutes controlling prison industry operations were insufficient to protect both Nevada’s private sector workers and competing non-prison partnered businesses.

Alpine SteelAll of this came about after lawmakers, the media and general public learned that the prison industry program was more or less operating without any real oversight.  This allowed the NDOC to “partner” with a local Las Vegas business – Alpine Steel, LLC –  in a manner that provided that business with an unfair advantage over competitors and reduced the number of available private sector jobs.  Not only did this single business enjoy prison labor far below standard wage rates, but it also received low cost taxpayer subsidized utility costs and lease terms for state owned property that was far below the state averages. Additionally the NDOC failed to enforce most of the terms of the contract it had with Alpine, allowing the company to default on paying the salaries of NDOC staffers, prison workers and monthly lease payments or utility costs and making no effort to cure the defaults.

When this partnership was finally terminated by Governor Sandoval and the smoke cleared, the state was left with an owed debt of nearly half a million dollars.  Alpine’s owner entered into a negotiated agreement to repay the state but almost immediately defaulted, leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid leases, staff salaries, utility costs and owed taxes.  This failed partnership resulted in the revamping of the state’s statutes controlling Nevada’s existing prison industries and all proposed new industries.

During the lengthy legislative activities related to the failed Alpine partnership, other issues were discovered that prison labor activists are continuing to pursue at both state and federal levels.  These include the hourly wages paid to inmate workers in the program, deductions taken from prisoner paychecks and working conditions.

Nevada is a participant in a federally run program (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program or PIECP) that encourages prison industry/private business partnerships such as the one involving Alpine.   However in order to establish and operate under such partnerships both the state and the private business must agree to abide by stringent mandatory conditions required by the federal government.  Two of the imposed mandatory requirements are that inmates be paid prevailing wages and that the state can only take approved deductions from those wages.  In the case of Alpine, the contract with the state required that inmate workers receive “prevailing wages” (section 8.6) or the same wage paid to private sector workers performing the same duties on the outside.  Instead, the NDOC and Alpine set the inmate wage rate at or below the state minimum wage scale, exploiting the labor of inmate workers and further enriching Alpine.

Subsequently it now appears Nevada is underpaying inmates working in the federal program and taking an unapproved deduction of 5% to fund new prison industry operations.  In effect Nevada’s inmate workforce are being made to fund operating expenses of the prison industry out of their already meager wages.

DD ConnettPrison labor advocates are attempting to work with the NDOC, Nevada authorities and the responsible federal agency to cure any purported violations regarding the PIECP program to ensure Nevada is in full compliance with current state and federal provisions regarding the use of inmate labor.

Currently the Deputy Director of the NDOC’s Prison Industry, Brian Connett has indicated there are no proposed new industries being considered by the agency. However prior to the furor caused by the Alpine situation, Connett was advocating for a new industry in Nevada operated by a California company. The operation would have used inmate labor at minimum wages to sort through collected trash and remove recyclables. The collection of trash and refuse across the state would have been accomplished by the same California company.  This project was moving forward over objections voiced by the labor representative of the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, Mr. Mike Magnani.  This recycling “industry” was tabled once the Legislature began looking into the prison industry operations.

CONWAY ROBERT PDBusinesses and a second labor representative, Rob Conway now sitting upon the legislative Interim Finance Committee will continue to monitor activities of the prison industry to eliminate the possibility of another situation arising that could jeopardize business owners or private workers.  Additionally the amended statute requires the Board of Prison Commissioners to review and approve any new industries or expansion of existing ones.  Hopefully vigilance by the labor representatives will keep the prison industries and expanded partnerships in check and allow more of Nevada’s unemployed to find employment due to the reduction in new prison labor programs that eliminated positions in the past.

Only time will tell if the new regulations prevent another Alpine-styled incident from reoccurring.

Nevada Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

Nevada Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

By Bob Sloan

The Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) made up of Governor Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, met early on the morning of October 15th to discuss key issues involving the state’s Department of Corrections.  On the agenda was a “hot topic” involving the prison industrial program’s perceived unfair competition with private businesses.  Since last year controversy has surrounded the use of prisoners to compete with Nevada’s unemployed and against companies producing the same products in the private sector.

The NDOC Director presented proposed new administrative regulations for approval.  These “AR’s” covered a gamut of issues from installing trailer/RV spots at remote facilities to use of restraints on pregnant prisoners during labor, housing new hires who cannot find housing locally, and compliance with federal standards on prison rape elimination.  Not much new was learned from attending this Board meeting with one exception – withholding proposed AR 854, “Prison Industrial Program.”  Director Cox advised the Board that he was not presenting this one AR until he could confer with former Senator, Richard Bryan on language contained in the proposed regulation.

This proposed AR was in response to an ongoing controversy involving a partnership contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the NDOC’s prison industries division.  Nearly a year ago steel companies discovered a competing business, Alpine Steel, LLC had partnered with the NDOC prison industries since 2006 to use inmate labor to manufacture or fabricate structural steel components.  This partnership included low cost facility leases, low paid inmate workers and utilities provided at reduced state rates.  In effect the NDOC was knowingly subsidizing the operations of one private company with tax dollars which provided a distinct advantage for Alpine over competing businesses.

During the investigations that followed, it was learned Alpine had been in serious default for years.  It had not been paying wages to inmates or NDOC staffers, lease and utility payments were in arrears and the state was owed nearly $500,000.  Alpine eventually agreed to a forbearance agreement to repay the money owed to the state and purportedly paid the back wages due to inmate workers.

In June of this year Alpine defaulted on that agreement and the state was awarded a summary judgment of $428,208 plus 1 ½% interest on the debt.  Alpine also surrendered its contractor’s license and is no longer bidding on projects (though their website is still advertising and offering services).  These developments came after new legislation (SB 478) was proposed to strengthen current laws on prison industry operations, providing more oversight and transparency involving prison industry operations.  Additionally wording was inserted to protect competing businesses from being disadvantaged from the use of prisoners as a cheap labor force.

Senator Bryan became involved early on, suggesting changes to the state’s law(s) pertaining to oversight, control and operation of the prison industry program that would eliminate any unfair competition with private manufacturers from the use of prison labor and protect private sector workers.  At last month’s BPC meeting Director Cox stated Senator Bryan had reservations or concerns about one section of the AR, feeling it would not provide the proper protection(s) to private sector companies if/when new prison industry projects were implemented.  Director Cox advised the Board he planned on conferring with Senator Bryan to rewrite AR 854 and present a modified version of it to the Board at the next BPC meeting on December 10th.

Cox advised the objection voiced by Senator Bryan and others was the ability of the Deputy Director to both enact and vet new programs by determining the impact – if any – upon businesses and labor.  Cox indicated Senator Bryan wanted that provision modified.

Senator Bryan is correct in objecting to or having reservations about that proviso.  These precise duties were the Deputy Director’s responsibility previously and as demonstrated by the Alpine situation, he handled them poorly.

 

TRANSPARENCY

Prior to the scheduled meeting a copy of the actual NDOC/Alpine Steel contract was received and researched.  In reviewing the contract and form submitted to the Nevada Board of Examiners several critical issues were immediately noticed.

Deputy Director Connett renewed Alpine Steel’s prison industry contract in 2011.  On the prepared form provided to the Board of Examiners, Connett informed Alpine was chosen because it had been contracting with the NDOC since 2006 with “satisfactory performance.”

There was no mention the company was in default on the old contract as the new one was submitted for official approval.  The form and contract itself were prepared and submitted by Connett – who obviously knew Alpine was in default and went forward without disclosing that fact to the Board of Examiners, the Legislature or the BPC:

 

satisfactory performance

Board of Examiners Contract Form on Alpine Contract 5/11

 

Additionally, Connett certified that the “contracting agency” (the NDOC) would not be providing worker space to Alpine, no Nevada State employees would be assisting Alpine under the contract and the state would not incur an “employment liability” if Alpine’s contract was terminated for failure to “perform.  Each provision initialed by Bulloch:”

Alpine NDOC Contract excerpt

from 2011 Alpine/NDOC Contract

In December 2012 the BPC requested the NDOC to stop all Alpine Steel operations at the High Desert State Prison and take steps to recover the outstanding money owed to the state.  On December 22nd, 2012 Director Cox officially closed the Alpine Steel fabrication operation.

Following the closure and during negotiations to recover the debt owed by Alpine it was learned that more than $438,000 was owed.  This sum included; $143,224 for past due wages to NDOC officers and another $115,270 in “rent” on agency space for workers:

forbearance excerpt 1

From Alpine Forbearance Agreement

Another important provision contained in the contract was the wage scale to be paid to the inmate workers.  The contract provided inmates were to be paid “the prevailing wage rate for the type of work performed”:

Alpine - prevailing wage requirement

2011 Alpine Contract Section 8.6

As I reported in February, Nevada’s Occupational Employment Statistics set the prevailing (median) wage for structural steel fabricators at $16.91 per hour worked:

NV OES struct steel fab

2012 NV OES Website

Yet the NDOC allowed Alpine to pay prisoners the minimum hourly wage for their labor.  From 2006 through 2012 when the operation was closed down, inmates were paid as little as $5.25 per hour to a high of $8.25 per hour regardless of knowledge, time on the job or experience.  Paying inmates less than ½ the scale paid to workers in the private sector allowed Alpine to underbid competing private sector companies for labor projections on projects.  Obviously this important contract provision was ignored by Alpine and the NDOC.

Just as obviously state employees were “assisting” Alpine in the performance of its duties by supervising the inmate workers in a facility space rented to Alpine by the NDOC – and Alpine was delinquent in paying wages to those officers.

Whether considered an “employment liability” or not, the fact that Alpine defaulted on paying officers more than $100,000 in wages meant the state had to pay those wages with tax dollars – and that is a liability.

Realizing how deeply indebted Alpine was, Legislators, Assemblymen, Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs members and a BPC member all voiced concerns at the amount owed by Alpine and worried about collecting the huge debt.  Official requests were made to Connett and Director Cox to secure a personal guarantee on the debt from Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch.

In September and October 2012 IFC members: AllenPuliz (manufacturing representative), Assemblyman John Ellison, Mike Magnani (labor representative) and Mr. Aguilera (business representative) all requested Alpine Steel’s owner provide a personal guarantee on payment of the debt owed by his company.  This request was made directly to Mr. Bulloch at the October 2012 meeting:

“Mr. Puliz asked if the pay back proposal had a personal guarantee or a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Bulloch said it was strictly a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Puliz stated he was a businessman and constantly provided personal guarantees. He asked if Mr. Bulloch was willing to do a personal guarantee on the debt owed to the state.”

Bulloch’s response was:

“…(He) was not prepared to provide a personal guarantee, but he would have further conversations with Mr. Connett to discuss other options.”

At the October meeting, Mr. Nicolas C. Anthony, Senior Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel, Legal Division, summarized the statutory authority and duties of the Committee on Industrial Programs.  In his summary the Deputy Legislative Counsel informed the Committee that their duties were “advisory” only:

”The Committee contains both members of the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch due to separation of powers. Since the Committee only functions as advisory in nature, any recommendations made by the Committee have no official capacity…

“…Final programs and contracts, including leases of space, were established and entered into by the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) pursuant to statute, which was a function of the Executive Branch and not a function of this Committee…

“…Mr. Anthony indicated the recommendations of the Committee were purely advisory in nature. Mr. Anthony said its advisory recommendations can be submitted to the IFC, full legislature, or director of NDOC. If a recommendation was provided to the director of NDOC, it must pertain to new programs or the review of existing programs’ profitability within the first three years.”

In other words, the IFC Committee can only make “recommendations” to the Director or Deputy Director on new programs or review existing ones – and their recommendations carry absolutely no weight.  Neither Cox nor Connett would be bound to implement the recommendations of the Committee tasked with direct oversight of prison industry operations.

Legislative and private sector members charged with review of prison industry programs were prohibited from forcing the NDOC to seek a personal guarantee on the debt owed the state or formally request Bulloch post a personal guarantee.  The hands of the Committee were effectively tied.

With the NDOC circumventing the requirement that all industry projects be submitted to and approved by the BPC and ignoring the recommendations of the IFC, the agency was operating independently without any genuine oversight.  It appears the 2011 contract with Alpine, though provided to the Board of Examiners for approval, was never submitted to the BPC as required and the Board had no knowledge of the contract or actual operations of Alpine.

In January Connett ignored all calls for a personal guarantee from Bulloch.  Instead, he negotiated a forbearance agreement that allowed Bulloch to shirk personal responsibility for Alpine’s debt to the state.  The agreement also did not include; interest on that debt, a fine or penalty for defaulting on the contract and allowed Alpine to repay the past due money in small monthly payments over several years – and let Alpine’s owner off the hook for any debt owed.

On January 11th, 2013 Attorney General Masto’s office agreed to this proposed deal and Bulloch’s personal property and wealth were thus “officially” protected in case of any default in the future.

At the BPC meeting nine months later, the Governor and other members learned Alpine Steel had very quietly run up a tab of more than $450,000 with the NDOC’s apparent acquiescence and then defaulted on the negotiated and personally lenient repayment plan.  The Board questioned NDOC Director Greg Cox and Connett about the Alpine debt and both were forced to admit Alpine was indeed in full default.  When the Governor asked point blank the total amount owed, Connett stammered and said that though he did not have the “exact figure” he thought the amount was in the “neighborhood of $468,000.”

To anyone following this story it was readily apparent that default was more than likely in the case of Alpine Steel.  Already facing substantial IRS tax liens, litigation from creditors and outstanding state tax liens, Alpine was in dire financial straits when Connett negotiated the forbearance agreement and the Attorney General approved it.

When I forwarded questions to the NDOC and the AG’s office as to who/which agency negotiated the forbearance agreement without pursuing a personal guarantee from Bulloch, both responded the information was “attorney client privileged” refusing to answer.

On the important question as to actual ownership of the Alpine equipment seized and being held by the NDOC as collateral, both NDOC and the AG’s office again cited attorney client privilege and refused to provide any information on value or legal ownership (a third party now claims ownership of some of that property).  On the question of sale or disposal of that equipment to pay down the judgment amount, both again cited attorney client privileged information, refusing to answer.

In June of 2012 the prison industry financial records showed Alpine was $347,778.11 in arrears on payments to the NDOC.  Yet with at least this amount owing, Connett still did not call the contract in default or cease operations.  Instead he kept the operation open – over the recommendations of the IFC – and over the next six months Alpine ran up another $67,131.78 in bad debt.

In the end the taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands of dollars and any effort by lawmakers exercising oversight to attempt to fully inform and protect the taxpayers by guaranteeing the debt would be paid, were ignored by state actors at the highest levels of the NDOC – and ultimately, the Attorney General’s office.

Even when all the owed money and failures to enforce contract terms were made public, both of those agencies cite attorney client privilege in an effort to deny taxpayers any information on which agency or individual bears responsibility for negotiating away their rights or interest in recovering the money lost by the prison/Alpine operation.

Connett bears responsibility for forcing Alpine’s inmate workers to perform duties for Alpine without receiving wages – slave labor?  Bulloch and Connett admitted to the IFC that Alpine owed prisoners $78,000 in unpaid wages and only after the story became public did Bulloch finally pay those wages in September and October 2012.

If the NDOC paid the owed inmate wages out of department funds, they did so without legal authorization and in direct violation of the terms of the Alpine contract.  In either case though the inmates finally got paid, the balance of nearly half a million dollars is now the responsibility of taxpayers to reimburse.

This is why the legislature proposed, passed – and Governor Sandoval signed – SB 478 to strengthen oversight, require posting of security, bond or personal guarantees on proposed new prison industry projects; to protect inmate workers, local businesses, workers and taxpayers equally.  It is also why Senator Bryan had reservations concerning the wording of proposed AR 854.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

After the last BPC meeting concluded, several questions remained unanswered.  One is why Deputy Director Connett continued to allow Alpine steel to default from 2009 through 2012 without taking any steps to cure the default or stop the operation as allowed under the agreenent?  The contract has specific actions to be taken within 30 days of any default yet Connett failed to initiate any of the provisions called for in the contract when a default was triggered.  This lack of action led to more and more debt piling up that ultimately has cost the state.

Some have conjectured that possibly there was some form of corruption involved in the relationship between Bulloch and Connett, suggesting a possible “quid pro quo” situation.  There is no evidence to support this theory, no document or verifiable statements made by third parties have surfaced to sustain such a speculation so it remains just that – an unfounded speculation.

However, what isn’t speculation is the fact that Nevada’s prison industry program has been operating like an uncontrolled private venture with company executives avoiding any accountability or responsibility to shareholders for their actions.  Only in this case the “venture” had access to unlimited funding with tax dollars and the “shareholders” are Nevada taxpayers.

One of the worst elements of this default was the forcing of prisoners to work for a private company without wages – especially at a scale below that required under the contract.  Cox and Connett not only have a duty to the taxpayers to not waste the department’s appropriations, it also has a duty to not exploit prisoners in their care, custody and control.  Inmates have no choice in their work assignments and cannot simply walk off the job when not paid.  These NDOC officials made a conscious decision to force prisoners to work for this private manufacturer without pay which financially benefited Alpine substantially

None of the concerns voiced by the legislature, administration and media address the fact that prisoners in state custody were made to work for a private company without pay.  This wasn’t working in the laundry; kitchen or cleaning up the prison…this work was for a private company that profited from that forced labor.

Since Connett’s appointment as Deputy Director, several key and important changes began to take effect.  One was an immediate increase in debt owed to the NDOC.  Contractors such as Alpine began falling behind on lease and other payments indicating a failure by the NDOC to enforce contract provisions and cure such defaults.  The industry’s accounts receivable (outstanding or uncollected accounts due) rose sharply to nearly $1 million dollars in uncollected income and in 2010 Connett turned over $800,000 of that outstanding debt to a collection agency to attempt to recover.

When Connett assumed control of the prison industry it had a “contingency fund” of $1.5 million dollars to work with.  Since 2008 this fund has been used to the extent it now contains only $500,000.

With the Nevada prison industry oversight authority limited to nothing more than an “advisory” body, the NDOC continuously ignored the Committee’s recommendations and operated as it wished.  The agency began to successfully bypass the legislative requirement that the BPC review all new or proposed industries, further hiding industry operations.  This led to the NDOC operating the prison industry program without oversight, legislative controls or interference.

Contributing to this portrayal of the state’s faltering prison industry program is the real possibility that Deputy Director Connett’s duties to the people of Nevada and the NDOC have been compromised due to a concurrent position he holds with the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA).

The NCIA is a trade association that actively lobbies at the federal, state, and local levels for continued funding for the expansion and effective administration of prison industry programs and conversely, opposes legislation that would adversely impact correctional industries programs.[i]

Collectively this group represents the largest and most active advocacy in support of continued use (and expansion) of prisoner labor and maintaining inmate wages below the fair minimum wage – as shown in the below “Resolution” adopted by the NCIA in 2010:

NCIA Minimum Wage Resolution

From NCIA Library – Last Accessed 3/10

Compliance with this resolution is demonstrated by Connett’s establishing actual wages paid to Alpine’s inmate workers at or below the minimum wage, in direct violation to the terms of the NDOC contract’s prevailing wage provision.

Individual citizens, companies and others in opposition to prison labor used by private companies find themselves face to face with this large and influential group operating as a trade/lobby organization with more than forty state prison industry administrators sitting upon the NCIA Board.

Connett NCIA position

From NCIA website: http://www.nationalcia.org/

Connett is the current Chairman of the NCIA Board while also serving as Deputy Director of Silver State Industries and as such he has one foot in each camp.  As Chairman of the NCIA Connett has a duty to expand prison industry operations, keep companies partnered with each state prison industry operation and limit the wages paid to inmate workers.  It would be detrimental to the NCIA to have to disclose that in his own state Connett had to pay inmates a prevailing wage or had to close a prison industry.  This could be one reason Connett failed to act responsibly, refusing to take any curative actions when Alpine first began to default.

There may be other theories as to why Connett failed to enforce the terms of the Alpine contract and spent time and energy attending Committee meetings and legislative hearings in an attempt to keep the Alpine operation open – in spite of numerous calls to close it down and the growing debt to the state.  Unfortunately to date, no one has been able to secure any response on the “why” from Connett or Director Cox, who continue to cite attorney client privilege on all questions posed on this topic.  Though the media has posed those questions, the BPC, IFC and legislature has not.

Several requests for documents and information have been made to the NDOC and Director Cox in an attempt to gather information necessary to establish precisely the reason for Connett’s actions.  As this article goes to publication, there has been no response from the NDOC – other than citing attorney client privilege – from Director Cox or Deputy Director Connett (who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer).

NDOC public relations officer

As the Deputy Director, Public Information Officer and the Chairman of the NCIA, Connett has a vast amount of power and influence.  He is able to choose new industry programs, decide the material released to the public about proposed or existing programs…and he holds a key position in the private agency overseeing, determining and enforcing policies and standards involving all prison labor and industries in the U.S.

As the DD, Connett failed to enforce compliance to protect the agency and taxpayers when Alpine began to default and in the end he attempted to withhold public information about Alpine’s failures while publicly applauding  the use of prison labor to manufacture steel components for the SkyVue Observation Wheel.

Responses to questions sent to Director Cox come from Connett as the PIO.  Each official response to queries for this article has come via email without Connett’s name or signature affixed.

The BPC, IFC Committee, Board of Examiners and lawmakers rely upon data, compliance certifications and other information provided to them by the NDOC Deputy Director.  The DD has a duty to advise these Committees, Boards and lawmakers with full, factual information for those bodies to use when making critical decisions regarding prison industries; new projects, status of existing operations and contract compliance.  Connett has demonstrated he is willing to withhold critical information and facts from these official bodies when it benefits his operations.  Under his authority there has been little transparency in prison industry operations.

As shown, Connett simply has “too many dogs” in the hunt to remain the sole authority selecting new programs, or determining the impact upon private sector workers and businesses from his industry operations.  Those important determinations should be made by others with no personal involvement riding on the outcome.

Failing to provide full facts to Boards and Committees, or withholding important information that is significant when considering prison industry expansions is negligent and as demonstrated can result in a huge loss to the state and taxpayers.  It also can result in underpaid inmate workers being used to lower operating expenses by one company to the detriment of his/her competitors – even working them without pay for extended periods.

NCIA Bylaws require any company partnered with a prison industry using inmate labor to become a member of their organization.  This may explain DD Connett’s continued support of an NCIA member company by his attending numerous meetings and hearings where he urged administrators and lawmakers to continue to allow Alpine to operate once the company’s defaults became public.

Hopefully the language of AR 854 will contain sections allowing for a committee or board to make determinations as to the impact upon competing businesses and labor when new industries are proposed or considered.  Having those important tasks in the hands of the one individual – or agency – seeking to implement any new contract or anticipated new industry truly is a case of the “fox guarding the hen-house…”

To avoid any appearance of impropriety the NDOC should operate under joint authority of the BPC, IFC and legislature.  The prison industry has to operate within the parameters set by those state bodies without deviation and under tight oversight provisions.  Continuing to allow the NDOC and prison industries to operate without requiring adherence to recommendations made by responsible legislative and control authorities, makes another Alpine-styled situation a real possibility.

It is now generally known and accepted that the SkyVue wheel is a stalled project that may never be completed.  Bulloch’s claim that he had this contract sewn up and would pay back his outstanding debt to the state once the project started in earnest was a promise he would not have been able to fulfill.  It is likely that if the BPC allowed Alpine’s prison industry operation to remain open as Connett suggested, the state could now be on the hook for millions more in unpaid debt from Alpine as prisoners manufactured components for the SkyVue project.

In this case it was half a million lost through the NDOC Deputy Director’s failure to apply available cures to a single contract’s defaults.  It could easily have been millions more if local business had not raised the alarm last year and organized labor had not joined forces with them.

As the Alpine story has shown us all, a lack of adequate oversight will result in Nevada’s workers, businesses and prisoners to suffer.  Taxpayers bear the burden of making up losses that accrue in the absence of true oversight and firm controls.  Without proper oversight the NDOC and its programs can operate in a fiscally irresponsible manner without fear of consequences.

Next month Director Cox will present the BPC with new finalized Administrative Regulations pertaining to operating the state’s prison industry program(s).  It is hoped that those regulations will provide genuine safeguards to protect everyone (staff, inmate workers, private businesses, unemployed workers and taxpayers) from exploitation such as that which occurred with Alpine Steel.


New Reports Expose a Hidden Conservative “Cabal” Masquerading as Think Tanks

New Reports Expose a Hidden Conservative “Cabal” Masquerading as Think Tanks

An Analysis by Bob Sloan

ALECExtremeRightWingCPS2001The above graphic charts the relationship(s) between dozens of extreme right-wing organizations, foundations, institutes, conservative owned companies and wealthy individuals working together to advance a pro-conservative agenda against a majority of Americans.  I used this graphic in May of 2011 in an effort of exposing the formation of a secretive “Cabal” dedicated to changing the way our democracy works.  Now other sources have revealed – and corroborate – the existence of such a cabal is in fact true…

Yesterday twelve new reports were jointly announced by CMD and ProgressNow research groups in a press release.  The findings of these comprehensive reports expose the involvement of a nefarious network operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network (SPN), an $83 million web of right-wing “think tanks” embedded in every state across the country.  This network, operating under guidance from the Koch brothers, Charles and David, is responsible for many “spin-off” organizations and groups such as American’s for Prosperity, American’s for Tax Reform and the Tea Party.  Through their joint efforts our public school systems, healthcare, rights to vote, tort “reforms” and other key initiatives are funded and the conservative position on each advanced.  In effect this is a highly organized and influential network used to advance a political agenda expressing only one point of view.  Additionally nearly every member of this Cabal operates as a non-profit entity with tax exempt status, allowing the millions spent to be recouped as tax deductible “contributions” and/or operations. The goal sought is to allow a minority to gain and exert control and power over the majority.

For three plus years now VLTP, CMD and several other research groups have reported that through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers along with well known affluent and influential “families” such as the Waltons, (WalMart), Coors, Scaifes, DeVos’  and Bradleys have funded numerous organizations, institutes, think tanks and foundations to coordinate and advance a RW agenda against American workers, consumers and voters.  I have continuously referred to this network as “the Cabal”.  Websters defines a cabal thus: 

“1 :  the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government); also :  a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues”

Wikipedia provides perhaps the best description of a cabal – and it precisely describes this heretofore secret network…

“A cabal is a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests in a churchstate, or other community, often by intrigue. Cabals are sometimes secret societies composed of a few designing persons, and at other times are manifestations of emergent behavior in society or governance on the part of a community of persons who have well established public affiliation or kinship. The term can also be used to refer to the designs of such persons or to the practical consequences of their emergent behavior, and also holds a general meaning of intrigue and conspiracy. The use of this term usually carries strong connotations of shadowy corners, back rooms and insidious influence. The term is frequently used in conspiracy theories…”

The founder of ALEC, Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and co-founder of Christian Voice and the Moral Majority was Paul Weyrich who used initial funding provided by the Coors family to launch those RW organizations.  Previously we reported on Weyrich’s “manifesto” (written by Eric Heubeck) that was published by Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation in 2001, titled; The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement.  This document provides a literal written road map used by ultra-Conservatives to subvert democracy and wrest it from the hands of Americans.

A read of this disgusting but important document reveals that this is indeed the path used over the past 13 years that has totally changed the political atmosphere of the U.S. Prophetically, Heubeck and Weyrich describe their methodology as “dominionism”:

“According to TheocracyWatch, and the Anti-Defamation League, both Weyrich and his Free Congress Foundation were closely associated with Dominionism.[22][23]TheocracyWatch listed both as leading examples of “dominionism in action,” citing “a manifesto from Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation”, The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement[24] “illuminates the tactics of the dominionist movement”.[22] TheocracyWatch, which calls it ‘Paul Weyrich’s Training Manual’ and others consider this manifesto a virtual playbook for how the “theocratic right” in American politics can get and keep power.[25] The Anti-Defamation League identified Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation as part of an alliance of more than 50 of the most prominent conservative Christian leaders and organizations that threaten the separation of church and state.[23] Weyrich continued to reject allegations that he advocated theocracy, saying, “[T]his statement is breathtaking in its bigotry”,[26] and dismissed the claim that the Christian right wished to transform America into a theocracy.[27]Katherine Yurica wrote that Weyrich guided Eric Heubeck in writing The Integration of Theory and Practice, the Free Congress Foundation‘s strategic plan published in 2001 by the FCF,[28] which she says calls for the use of deception, misinformation and divisiveness to allow conservative evangelical Christian Republicans to gain and keep control of seats of power in the government of the United States.”

The above treatise has been more successful than even Weyrich could have predicted.  Today two key ALEC alumni sit atop the pinnacle of our House of Representatives – Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor.  From positions of nearly unlimited legislative power, these two men ensure that the wishes of the Cabal are carried out at the federal level.  Another 80 members of the House of Representatives are also ALEC alumni – as are 11 U,S, Senators.  We see the guidance of the Cabal in the behavior of ALEC affiliated lawmakers today on key initiatives: Senators – James Inhofe, Michael Enzi (R-WY), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), James Inhofe (R-OK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jerry Moran (R-KS),Jim Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS).  Many of these Senators appear in the media daily, sent out to speak on behalf of the Cabal for or against issues important to Americans; healthcare, voter suppression, right to work, privatization of public schools and dozens more.  They represent the true face of disinformation. Nationally ALEC’s membership of elected state lawmakers number nearly 2,000 today and are used to disseminate legislation written and then pursued by the Cabal state by state.  Over the past decade or so ALEC’s influence has spread from states through the federal level and internationally to foreign governments.  Currently ALEC has more than 18 foreign elected officials holding full membership and sitting down alongside corporate representatives and state lawmakers to help craft legislation that later becomes the law in many U.S. states. Other devoted alumni now hold positions as Governors of many states: Ohio (Kasich), Wisconsin (Walker), Arizona (Brewer) and many former Governors were also alumni or acolytes of ALEC and the cabal, as reported in ALEC Alumni data compiled in 2002 :

Michigan Governor John Engler 1993 Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award Recipient Louisiana Governor Mike Foster Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating 2000 Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award Recipient Colorado Governor Bill Owens New York Governor George Pataki Connecticut Governor John Rowland Past Governors Idaho Governor Phil Batt South Carolina Governor David Beasley Iowa Governor Terry Branstad ALEC Founding Member/1996 ALEC Pioneer Award Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson Illinois Governor Jim Edgar

This alumni list reveals that the first Homeland Security director, Tom Ridge was in fact an ALEC alum – as was Andrew Card who served as the White House chief of staff for the first five years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Additionally, as in Ohio, an active ALEC member, Representative Todd Snitchler was chosen by ALEC alum Governor Kasich as Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).  In that capacity Snitchler immediately raised rates for electric power for two of ALEC’s corporate members, American Electric Power (AEP) and Duke Energy – only to have to revoke the rate increases two months later.  Just this week news from Ohio involving PUCO and AEP revealed the Commission refused to negotiate on behalf of an aluminum company with AEP to ease rates and keep the company in business.  Snitchler’s action caused the shuttering of Ormet Corp., an aluminum smelting giant along the Ohio River and the onetime largest customer of American Electric Power. About 1,000 workers — mostly unionized steelworkers — are out of work.  This development comes as no surprise to most after Governor Kasich’s pursuit of anti-union legislation a couple of years ago. Two weeks ago in Nevada, ALEC’s state Chair, Senator Barbara Cegasvke announced she will run for the office of Nevada’s Secretary of State in next year’s election.  With appointments and election wins through the backing of the Cabal, it now has a sprinkling of hundreds of alumni or members serving as lawmakers, holding key cabinet positions, chairmanships of state departments and agencies.  Each of these individuals pursue the mandates of the Cabal with regard to education, energy, state and federal regulations and contribute to the continued successes of this network.

Kudos to the hard work, research and connecting of the dots by CMD and ProgressNow’s team of researchers.  I know this report took a substantial amount of effort to ferret out the connections, track the exchange of money through tax exempt contributions and donations.  What their work reveals – quite clearly now – is that in America a truly “shadow government” operated by a minority faction is secretly operating at all levels.  Due to it’s secrecy this Cabal has enjoyed success after success  for two or more decades without the public ever knowing of it’s existence. Now that this existence has been made public, I hope American’s will realize how they have been duped by Cabal owned media outlets into accepting this network’s deception and misinformation as fact – and will take the steps necessary in their communities and at the polls to free us all from their talon-like grip.  The CMD/ProgressNow report findings clearly show the efforts of this network to permanently change important programs to all of us; education, healthcare, social security, medicare and operations such as the USPS – in search of control and through that control, enrichment of the families at the top of the SPN “food chain”.

Slavery in Nevada?  Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

Slavery in Nevada? Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

by Bob Sloan

Over the past year I made several trips to Nevada, wrote numerous articles and interviewed dozens on the topic of Nevada’s prison industry working inmates without pay.

Under a contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the Nevada Department of Corrections’ (NDOC) Silver State Industries (prison industry program) inmates were made to work for as much as four years without receiving any wages from Alpine.  During that time frame, many of Nevada’s unemployed steel workers were denied jobs due to the use of inmates to perform Alpine’s steel fabrication production.  Other businesses were harmed by this contract as they could not compete against a competitor with little or no labor costs when bidding on projects.

Late last year the Board of Prison Commissioners ordered the closure of the prison industry operation run by the NDOC and Alpine Steel.  At the time of the closure, Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch, acknowledged he had failed to pay the prisoner’s wages and agreed to pay $78,000 in back wages owed to prisoners by November 2012 .  Alpine still owes the state nearly a half million dollars in unpaid leases, utilities and wages for NDOC Supervisory personnel after agreeing to repay the state and defaulting on that agreement as well last June.  Alpine eventually agreed to voluntarily surrender its contractor’s license to the state and steps are being taken to attempt to recover the huge debt still owed to Nevada taxpayers.

Throughout I believe I accurately described the act of forcing state prisoners to work for a for-profit company without pay as “Slave Labor.”  Though this story has blossomed into one reported nationally and internationally, most have concentrated upon the issue of a lack of proper state oversight, the NDOC using tax dollars to subsidize a private business and misuse of state tax dollars by the prison industry division.

Most of the media totally ignored the fact that the employees actually performing hours of work under the contract between the state and Alpine, were not compensated for their labor by the company.  Though this and other important clauses were in the actual contract, Alpine was allowed to default without enforcement by the NDOC Director or Deputy Director.  Without the complaints and objections voiced by organized labor and business owners, this arrangement would be continuing with state prisoners being deliberately exploited for their labor.

Though NDOC officials have a duty to provide “Care, Custody and Control” of those incarcerated within Nevada’s prison system, administrators failed to protect Alpine’s inmate workers from exploitation of their labor.  Agency officials in fact condoned such acts by their refusal to enforce the contract provisions requiring  inmates to be paid “prevailing wages” by Alpine.  In effect the NDOC was acting as a labor contractor for private companies, providing a captive labor force for a handful of select businesses.  A captive workforce without an ability to voice complaints, quit or refuse to work when not paid.  Prisoners also have no say in the wage scale, work conditions or safety requirements in their workplace.

Many thought this to be simply a case involving a lack of oversight or enforcement by a state agency and its administration.  However when this story broke and the dust settled, the legislature passed new laws strengthening the state’s statutes involving prison industries and the use of inmate labor. Governor Sandoval signed the legislation into law, effective July 1, 2012.

While this new law protects other businesses and organized labor in Nevada, it does nothing to ensure prisoners are compensated for their labor when employed by private companies.  With the Alpine contract that company was required to pay prevailing wages to the inmate workers.  Instead they were paid minimum wage or less – and for years received no wages at all – and used in place of Nevada’s unemployed private sector workers.

wheelerWhen the actual vote was taken on this new law by the Nevada Assembly, there were only three dissenting votes against it.  One of those voting in opposition to SB 478 was Nevada Assemblyman, Jim Wheeler (R-Gardnerville).  It appeared Wheeler was content with the status quo of allowing the NDOC to work prisoners under contract to private companies without paying them required wages.  In essence he would sanction continuing such slave labor…

More recently Assemblyman Wheeler has come under fire for voicing similar sentiments on common slavery in Nevada, saying, “I’d Bring Back Slavery If Constituents Wanted…”  Since a YouTube video of Wheeler speaking at a Republican gathering and making that statement surfaced, Nevada Democrats, Governor Sandoval and others have denounced Wheeler, with some properly calling for his resignation.

Wheeler’s “constituents” however are backing him.  The Douglas County, Nevada Republican Central Committee issued a “Resolution Supporting Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler“, in which they proclaim:

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has come under attack by forces employing unethical pressure in an attempt to manipulate Nevada’s Legislature, diluting the voice of The People; and

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has honored the trust placed in him by his constituents by keeping faith with The Nevada Republican Party Platform and honoring his oath of office; and

WHEREAS, The People of Douglas County, under the Nevada Constitution, firmly assert our exclusive rights to select our representatives to be our voice and advocate for our rights and interests; and

WHEREAS, The continued intentional misrepresentation of statements and positions of our elected representatives, as well as exertion of unwarranted pressure to resign, violate the constitutional rights of The People of Douglas County to choose our representatives, and must end now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee offers its strongest, unqualified support to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler for the leadership example he displays in representing The People of the Great State of Nevada; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee gives notice to all that The People of Douglas County choose their representatives, and that no longer will we ignore the corporate, media, and other interests that seek to undermine the will of The People by unethically twisting the message of our elected officials; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee will ensure that this resolution is transmitted to Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus.

Adopted this 1st day of November, 2013 by the Douglas County Republican Central Committee Executive Board.

Obviously this Republican “Committee” supports Wheeler – and apparently takes no umbrage that he would agree to introduce legislation allowing out-and-out slavery if that is what Republican’s of Douglas County determined was appropriate.

As with other politicians over the years who have uttered reprehensible statements, Wheeler has tried hard to put a spin on the facts of his utterance and his District 39 Committee is attempting to assist in that by accusing the “corporate media” of undermining the “will of The People” and twisting Wheeler’s words.

What Wheeler and the Douglas County Republican’s don’t get is that the Assemblyman’s excuse that he was just trying to exhibit that he would do whatever his constituents wanted, demonstrates he would be amenable to mob rule.  That is precisely what would happen if a lawmaker’s constituents insisted he/she introduce legislation wanted by them over objections or concerns of others.  An elected lawmakers must weigh all the facts, look at issues logically and make legislative decisions based upon all factors – not simply the will or whim of his constituents.  Voters in one small area may support one issue completely, while the remainder of the state opposes it.  Attempting to apply the will of a small minority upon the majority would be attempting to legislate by mob rule.

So Nevada – one of the last states to join the Union and a state that never involved itself in slavery – finds itself in the headlight of the “racist” topic that has been on our national radar since 2008.  While political factions and groups in other states have argued over whether voter ID laws sought by predominantly GOP controlled states is racist, denying votes to minorities, Nevada remained absent in that conversation.  Maybe Nevada Republicans now seek to join their voice to those of others on an issue such as slavery, weighing in on that topic – right or wrong.

In 21st century America, the concept of and very term “slavery” should be extinct, not being raised for the first time in Nevada.  Hopefully the NDOC will stop using prisoners as a private slave labor workforce for select businesses and companies – and legislators such as Jim Wheeler will stop making such inflammatory statements in the future.

In today’s political arena a lawmaker sitting with fellow legislators of all races who utters a statement such as Wheeler did, must make fellow Assemblymen/women uncomfortable – especially African-Americans and Hispanics.  Perhaps he should resign his post and let Douglas County select someone else to represent them in the Assembly…someone less inclined to inflame other members of the Assembly and voters from outside Douglas County.

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

by Bob Sloan – Cross-Posted from PRWatch

“The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight.”

Private prison profitsThose were statements made by Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts that prompted his concerns.

Ohrenschall was speaking of prison labor and Nevada prison industry’s partnership with Alpine Steel, LLC, that has resulted in nearly half a million dollars of debt owed to the state and a legislative reform of the state’s prison industry program.

When Vegas Inc. anchor Dana Gentry asked the Assemblyman if Nevada’s Department of Corrections (NDOC) or prison industry officials were being held accountable in any way, he responded, “I believe that they will be held accountable…” The oversight authority for prison industries is the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs (IFC-IP). Critics had accused the committee of not providing sufficient oversight or vetting of NDOC contracts with private companies and not enforcing compliance with key statutory duties of the committee. The Committee served, more or less, to “rubber stamp” proposals brought before it by the NDOC without fully determining the impact a new proposed industry would have on Nevada workers and competing businesses.

The Nevada labor force is now represented by two members on the IFC: Robbie Conway of Ironworkers Local 433 and Mike Magnani of Teamsters Local 986. With their dedication to protecting the rights and jobs of Nevada’s workers, it is likely that situations similar to the one involving Alpine will not reoccur.

After the investigation of Alpine Steel, members of the IFC appear to realize that prison labor competing for jobs needed by Nevada’s unemployed is a serious issue that needs constant vigilance. Doubling the number of labor representatives on the committee overseeing prison industries is expected to improve oversight.

With the addition of Conway to the Committee and a new Chairman, the current IFC appears to be a genuine “oversight” body now. They asked key questions, probed for responsive answers and asked IFC member Cox and Deputy Director Connett to provide materials to them supporting answers they provided to the Committee at the initial meeting on the 20th.

Despite Huge Subsidies (and Prison Labor) Alpine Steel Incurs Big Debt

The sad saga of prisoners being used for their labor by private contractors in Nevada continues to amaze the citizens of this state.

Randy Bulloch, CEO of Alpine Steel

Alpine Steel, LLC owner, Randy Bulloch

The story began late last year when steel companies began protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities saying they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Claims were made that dozens of Las Vegas steel workers were being denied jobs and others possibly displaced due to the use of prisoners as a slave-labor force by Alpine Steel, LLC. The NDOC had given Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch, a “sweetheart deal” consisting of inmate wage scale set at or below minimum wage (less than 1/2 of the current prevailing wage for Nevada’s steel workers), manufacturing facility leases (set at 66% below the going rate for such space outside prison), and utility costs at NDOC’s reduced rates.

Such state subsidies provided Alpine with a definite advantage over competitors when bids were sought for new projects in and around Las Vegas. Bids won by Alpine due to reduced overhead costs provided by the NDOC included: the “SkyVue Observation Wheel“, the Wet ‘n’ Wild water theme park, bridge work on an overpass over I-15, and the expansion of a mental hospital, among dozens more since 2006.

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

As this story unfolded earlier this year, it was discovered that in spite of receiving the huge financial benefits mentioned above, Alpine was in arrears on payments for inmate wages, staff salaries, utility costs, leases, and workers compensation premiums. In essence, the evidence suggested that the bulk of Alpine’s Las Vegas operation was being quietly financed by the NDOC with state tax dollars.

In addition, prison industry critics learned the IRS had recorded a lien of more than $600,000 dollars against the company; a tax lien had also been filed by the state DOR and several steel suppliers had placed liens against Alpine for failing to pay for materials. (These liens continue to pile up: last month, the IRS recorded a second tax lien upon the company for more than $30,000.)

The story became public through the media and in December 2012 — under pressure from the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) and an order from Governor Sandoval — NDOC Director Greg Cox closed down Alpine’s steel fabrication operation at the High Desert State Prison complex. Members of the BPC and the IFC-IP called for some form of personal guarantee from Bulloch to ensure the taxpayers were not left on the hook for nearly half a million dollars owed by Alpine.

Estate of Alpine Steel CEO Randy Bulloch

Randall Bulloch’s estate in Summerlin

In January, Connett and Bulloch reached an agreement on repaying the money Alpine owed to the state. Connett negotiated through Deputy Attorney General Carrie Parker on AG Catherine Cortez Masto’s staff and got her to approve a proposed forbearance agreement setting the Alpine debt at $438,000+ with no interest, penalties or additional fines.

Incredibly, the terms of the agreement failed to include any personal guarantee from Alpine’s owner Bulloch — who resides in a multi-million dollar, 9,400 square foot, guarded and gated estate — while owing millions in state, federal and personal liens — much of that owed to taxpayers.

Though many including the Interim Finance Committee and Secretary of State had demanded such a provision, the final document left any personal guarantee out of the agreement. If a default occurred, Randy Bulloch’s personal property and other assets would be untouchable — and the debt likely uncollectable. The substantial IRS lien precedes and takes precedence over the newly filed NDOC summary judgment, making it less likely the state will be able to recover any of the outstanding debt until the IRS lien is satisfied.

It is incomprehensible to most that in the face of more than a million dollars owed to the IRS, creditors and the state of Nevada, the NDOC would negotiate an agreement on additional debt owed by Alpine without seeking any form of personal guarantee from the company’s owner. Similarly it defied belief that a member of the AG’s staff failed to demand such a personal guarantee for the debt, knowing the repayment plan was being sought for a company that was already in deep financial trouble.

The Alpine contract is at the core of this problematic situation involving the use of state owned facilities and prisoner labor. The NDOC failed to take appropriate action to cure Alpine’s continued default for more than three years. Incredibly, Connett issued a new contract to Alpine in 2011 while the company was in serious default — without requiring the company to come current on its debt — and the IFC-IP approved the contract without knowing of the default(s).

Allowing a contractor to operate for more than four years without making required payments and taking no steps to stop the bleeding of tax dollars before renewing a contract, demonstrates a total lack of responsibility to the state administration and the taxpayers.

Only after the story broke in the media was the Governor, the IFC members and the BPC made aware of the full amount owed due to nonpayment(s). With Attorney General Cortez-Masto sitting on the BPC, the absence of any personal guarantee from Bulloch in the forbearance agreement signed off on by her agency is puzzling.

The NDOC Defends Alpine and Dodges Questions about the Money Due

NDOC Director James "Greg" Cox

NDOC Director James “Greg” Cox

The NDOC’s Director Cox was contacted about details of this debt and any related negotiations. His office forwarded the query to NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett, who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer. Connett is also the current chairman of the board of the “National Correctional Industries Association” (NCIA), which oversees the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).

As of press time, both the Director and Deputy Director have declined to respond. In the discussion at the IFC meeting on the 20th, Connett and Cox specifically directed the members and public to address questions to the AG’s office for a response.

Due to the costly default by Alpine, the state Senate proposed legislation — SB 478 — to amend the rules governing the IFC (NRS 209.461). In addition to adding a second labor representative to the IFC, the bill created a new provision requiring any company wishing to contract with the prison industry program to post a personal guarantee, surety or bond of not less than 100% of the pro-rated annual amount of the contract.

The measure passed and became effective July1, 2013. The NDOC was told to propose new administrative regulations to comply with the changes at the upcoming October 15 meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC).

The NDOC’s prison industries (PI) accounts receivable increased rapidly in 2009 to nearly $900,000.

In 2010, the prison industry turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and, for fiscal year 2012, it claimed an additional outstanding accounts receivable balance of $614,200 for a combined potential loss of $1.4 million in revenue in just two years of operations.

On September 20th, the new IFC-IP held its first meeting following the end of the biennial session. One of the main items on that agenda was the discussion of Alpine Steel and the debt owed to the state and state taxpayers.

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director of Prison Industries, Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett read a prepared statement regarding Alpine Steel to the Committee:

“I will read the statement that we have in regards to addressing Alpine Steel…”

“The prison industry has been working very closely with our deputy attorney general and the attorney general’s office on the Alpine Steel situation through our counsel. PI entered into a forbearance agreement with Alpine Steel in January. Basically the terms were that Alpine would make $5,000 monthly payments with balloon payments of a minimum of $20,000 due at the end of June and at the end of December. Alpine made their monthly payments for February through June. Those payments totaled $25,000. Alpine could not make their balloon payment due at the end of June.”

“Again, working with our DAG [Deputy Attorney General], an amendment to the forbearance agreement was created. It amended the balloon payment due to a minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than August 30th and an additional minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than October 15th.”

“Alpine defaulted on their $5,000 payment due July 15th [and] our DAG and the prison industries quickly filed a summary judgment against Alpine Steel as a result of the breach. The state has been awarded a summary judgment against the Alpine Steel for $428,208 plus post judgment interest growing at the rate of 1/2 percent per month. So being a state agency, this judgment creates a lean on the Alpine’s real and personal property. The collection of these has been turned over to the state controller’s office for the collection process. Thank you.”

Under questioning from Committee members, NDOC’s Deputy Director Connett and NDOC’s Director Cox at times gave somewhat evasive answers.

For example, when asked point blank if any of Nevada’s prisoner-made products were “exported” out of state, Connett responded that state services were the prison industry’s largest customer.

On another matter, they admitted that Alpine’s equipment was still in place at the “High Desert State Prison” (HDSP), saying Alpine had been “locked out” of the facility since December and the NDOC was actively attempting to rent the space to another contractor. Apparently these officials are comfortable with losing a potential $5,000 per month in lease income by keeping the space filled with Alpine’s equipment.

Connett’s new demeanor concerning Alpine has done an about-face of late. Previously, Deputy Director Connett had appeared at several hearings and meetings in support of Alpine, advocating that the company and its prison labor program be kept open, even in the face of the increasing debt. Connett was the sole defender of Alpine in the media and before the BPC and IFC hearings. He now no longer speaks favorably of Alpine in public.

The newest IFC member, Robbie Conway, asked how long it had been since Alpine had been at the prison shop. Director Cox indicated he’d shut the operation down on December 23, 2012, but he did not confirm that Alpine had not been there after that date. Conway went on to ask, “Are we certain that Alpine’s equipment is wholly owned by them or is there is a chance that it is in debt also?”

Connett answered: “There may be some questions on the ownership of some of that property out there.”

Director Cox quickly added: “It is clear and it’s my understanding there is property out there that does not belong to Alpine. So before anything is released, it will go though the attorney general’s office and go through the process.”

Connett added he had inventoried Alpine’s equipment but had failed to secure an appraisal of it.

In a situation such as this where a substantial debt has been incurred, with an ongoing default on a contract and equipment has been seized and being held as collateral against that debt, an evaluation of the “collateral” should be secured quickly to determine the actual financial risk at stake if a judgment results.

Alpine had been in arrears for several years when the NDOC closed down the prison project last December due to the outstanding debt. It is more than odd under those circumstances that since December the NDOC failed to determine the value of the collateral they hold against a $428,000 debt. Now finding that some of the equipment seized and held is not even owned by Bulloch or Alpine puts the state in an even more untenable position to recover the debt.

Key Questions about the Debt Owed Taxpayers Remain Unanswered

Unfinished Alpine Steel SkyVue Observation Wheel

View of stalled SkyVue Observation Wheel project

In response, the Deputy Attorney General — with whom the NDOC has been working on the Alpine case, as noted by Connett’s statement — was asked the following questions that NDOC had failed to answer:

  1. Did the Deputy Director of the NDOC, Mr. Connett and Alpine owner, Mr. Bulloch, negotiate the terms and conditions of the forbearance agreement and then seek approval from the AG’s office?
  2. If the answer is no, that the AG’s office negotiated the terms, did your office seek a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch on the debt owed?
  3. In the face of multiple ongoing liens, defaults and creditor/vendor litigation(s) against Alpine Steel, did you suggest a condition that a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch be included to ensure repayment should a default occur?
  4. Has anyone come forth and filed a claim of ownership on any of the equipment held by the NDOC at HDSP? [S]ome of the equipment seized by the NDOC as collateral on the debt owed by Alpine has been determined to be the property of a third party. If this is factual, will your office release any Alpine equipment that is claimed by another individual or company?
  5. With IRS and other liens pre-dating the summary judgment awarded to the state last month, will any assets owned by Alpine and held as collateral by the NDOC first go to satisfy those preexisting liens? If so how does the state intend to recover the loss of the $428,000+ debt of Alpine?

The official response from the AG’s office came from its Public Information Officer, Jennifer Lopez:

“My colleague Carrie L. Parker, Deputy Attorney General, Bureau of Government Affairs, mentioned you had questions about Alpine Steel, LLC, Randall Bulloch and the Nevada Dept. of Corrections. We have discussed your question and think because you are seeking attorney-client privileged information, it is best for you to direct this inquiry to Silver State Industries,” which is part of NDOC.

So the “official” response redirects inquiries back to the NDOC which has already directed questions to the AG’s office. Between the two agencies, it appears that in the Alpine matter transparency is non-existent and deliberately so.

During the meeting Connett stated that the PI’s accounts receivable is now $119,567.66 — which would represent a serious decrease from 2012. However, the debt owed by Alpine has been not been collected.

Although the past due account shows a marked recovery, that may be an illusion. Alpine’s $428,208 has merely been transferred from one state department to another state department creating the appearance that PI is recovering financially. The loss of nearly half a million tax dollars still exists but is no longer on PI’s books. Adding Alpine’s default amount to the AR figure provided by Connett shows that without transferring Alpine’s debt, PI’s accounts receivable would be $547,775.66, not significantly different from 2012’s levels.

Earlier this year, Alpine’s license with the Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB) was reduced to $500,000, but the NSCB allowed Alpine to remain in business.

Despite multiple defaults to the IRS, Nevada’s Department of Taxation, the NDOC contract, vendor invoices and payments on worker’s compensation payments, Alpine has continued to operate, putting out bids on new projects even as Bulloch lays off Alpine employees. Some of those let go have stated that they worked for the company at reduced wages and without receiving overtime due them.

Will Alpine Steel’s License Be Revoked on October 9?

NSCB was asked if that agency is considering revocation of Alpine’s license. NSCB’s Public Information Officer, Jennifer Turner  responded:

“Alpine Steel is scheduled to come before the Board October 9, at which time it is requested they voluntarily surrender their license.”

The NCSB appears to be the sole state agency/department that has decided enough is enough and has taken less than eight months to “cure” Alpine’s non-compliance with state law and hold the company and its owner personally responsible for their actions in some way.

Had the NDOC and the Attorney General’s office adopted the same position months ago, perhaps the amount of the debt owed by Alpine would be guaranteed by Bulloch, providing some hope to taxpayers that the more than half a million dollars owed would be recovered.

It remains to be seen if members of the BPC will ask tough questions — similar to those previously posed to the NDOC and AG’s office — at the upcoming meeting on the 15th. Perhaps they will get complete answers to important questions regarding how and when the state can recover the Alpine debt.

After the Board of Prison Commissioners meeting on the 15th of October, a follow-on article will be published. With the introduction of the new regulations and the removal of Alpine from the prison industry program, perhaps the Alpine saga will finally be put to rest.

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

By Bob Sloan

Today prison industries are booming with hundreds of thousands of prisoners employed in factories manufacturing a myriad assortment of products and providing services such as call centers, customer service, marketing, reservations and manual labor for municipalities.  Thousands of American workers have been displaced by companies choosing low paid prisoners as a labor force.  Many of these companies realize additional profits from subsidized leases for state manufacturing facilities within prison compounds.  This has been the trend since 1999 but today, as a Burl Ives lyric proclaims, “times, they are a changin’…”

Nevada represents the latest resistance to prison programs taking jobs out of the private sector and allowing unfair competition between private businesses where one company has access to low paid prisoners for their private workforce.

On May 29th legislation reining in control of Nevada’s prison industry program, passed the state Senate and was sent to the desk of Governor Brian Sandoval.  On June 1 the Governor signed the new legislation and it becomes law in Nevada on July1, 2013.  The introduction, passage and signing into law of this necessary legislation is a huge victory for opponents of prison industry programs in the U.S. – and signals to other states the need for similar vigilance of prison industrial programs.

Sen Smith 4-29

Senator Debbie Smith

Known as Senate Bill (SB) 478, the Nevada legislation was introduced and sponsored by the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee as a means of tightening controls over Nevada’s prison industry partnerships. Author of the bill was Senator Debbie Smith, Chair of the Senate Finance and Interim Finance Committees.

Private companies (union and non-union) joined ranks with union leaders in support of changing state laws regarding prison industry operations in Nevada.  

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

Former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator, Richard Bryan, met several times with the state Board of Prison Commissioners and appeared before both Senate and Assembly committee meetings where he argued that necessary changes must be made to the existing prison industry regulations.

Senator Bryan was not involved in the actual writing or introduction of this measure (Senate Bill 478), but in interviews he stated he supported the proposed original legislation as it would open the program to needed transparency that would limit unfair competition complained of by workers and businesses in Nevada.  The Senator has not spoken publicly since the legislation was amended and passed, so it is unknown if he continues to fully support the amended language of SB 478.

Danny Thompson

AFLCIO Exec. Sec. Treasurer, Danny Thompson

sb 478 hearing conway

Ironworkers Local 433 Bus. Agent, Robbie Conway

Support also came from the AFLCIO, the local Ironworkers union and several law enforcement unions.  The AFLCIO’s Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Ironworkers Local 433 Business Agent, Robbie Conway were the most vocal and outspoken union representatives on the prison industry issue.  Both made appearances before the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Nevada Senate and Assembly at hearings and meetings to object to the use of inmate labor to openly compete for the jobs of unemployed Nevada workers.

While both Thompson and Conway objected to prisoners being used by private companies to compete against other private businesses and workers, they were very concerned about the safety of Nevadans from projects built using prisoners in a “training program”.  One such project was the bridge over Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas.  Another is the Wet ‘N Wild water park project being built in Summerlin.  A third is the SkyVue Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

wet n wild

SkyVue pic

All of these projects were scheduled to be built with structural steel components manufactured by prisoners working in a prison industry training program located at High Desert State Prison.  That was the intent until the public became informed about the use of prisoners manufacturing key structural components for such projects and in response the Governor ordered the closure of the prison industry where the steel was made.

This state action in Nevada follows similar legislative amending in Texas in 2009-2010 after businesses complained of unfair competition from prison industry operations there.  The Texas circumstances are nearly identical with a situation that consequently evolved in Nevada just three years later.

Lufkin Industry’s trailer division was shut down due to an undisclosed operation by a prison company making the same products and selling them competitively in Lufkin’s market.  Following this discovery, the Texas legislature enacted laws to protect workers and competitors from prison operated industries using inmate labor.

This legislative session, Nevada was forced to take similar steps to protect workers and business owners from suffering the same fate as workers in Texas.

Silver State Industries (SSI), operated by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) enters into contracts with private companies to allow the use of inmates as a labor force for manufacturing goods.  Previously these partnerships were developed quietly with a total lack of transparency or notice to competing companies regarding any possible impact upon private business or Nevada’s unemployed workers competing for business or jobs.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-cropDirector Cox of the Nevada Department of Corrections candidly admitted earlier this year that he and his department had not been following requirements and protocols called for by state law and department regulations.  Besides the undisclosed competition using inmate labor, there is an issue of lost money from possible mismanagement of the NDOC.

One of more of these “industry” operations using prisoners as a labor force for select private companies resulted in substantial dollars lost to the state due to non-payment of leases, wages, utility costs and other expenses advanced to companies in an effort of keeping them operating and prisoners employed.  SSI’s current account receivables are in excess of $600,000 and previously in 2010 $800,000 was sent to collectors to try and recover.

As a result of poor business practices, SSI has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly exhausted a $1.5 million dollar contingency fund.  The industry closed by order of the Governor was a metal/steel fabrication plant at the High Desert State Prison.  This single operation is at the center of the controversy surrounding prison labor and unfair competition that formed the basis for the new legislation.

Silver State Industries had a long standing contract with Alpine Steel, LLC that allowed inmates to manufacture structural steel used in public and private projects secured through standard industry bid procedures.  Alpine used the cheap labor they paid to inmate workers as a means to secure numerous competitive contracts utilizing low labor projections/costs.  Other companies protested they were losing work and thus unable to hire more unemployed steel workers due to unfair competition from Alpine using state prisoners as the company’s “private workforce”.

When it was discovered Alpine was not paying the lower wages owed to the inmate workers or salaries of NDOC supervisory staffers, the story elicited strong reactions from taxpayers and lawmakers alike.  In addition to these payroll defaults, Alpine was behind on agreed lease and utility payments and had failed to reimburse the state for worker comp premiums on the inmate workers – for a period of approximately four years.  The state paid the wages of staffers, the work comp premiums and utility costs which mean the “taxpayers” were subsidizing a substantial amount of Alpine’s operation.

Under media and public pressure, the Governor became involved in December of last year.  Almost immediatelyAlpine’s prison industry operation was ordered closed.  Following the closure Alpine and the NDOC negotiated a repayment agreement with the Attorney General’s office that was very favorable to Alpine’s owner.  The agreement allows Randy Bulloch to make monthly payments to the state over a period of another four years until the debt is paid.  Surprisingly, this agreement does not provide for any interest, fine or penalty for the huge debt from the default(s).  Ultimately the state wound up on the hook for $438,000+ owed by Bulloch.

DD Connett

NDOC Deputy Director, Brian Connett

These default(s) were known to NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett (Deputy Director of the Prison Industry) but neither took any positive steps to recover the money owed and bring Alpine current.

As originally proposed, SB 478, subsection 7 required notices and an opportunity to be consulted about proposed new prison industry projects be provided to private companies and labor organizations.  It further required the NDOC Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries to provide the Senate Interim Finance Committee (IFC) on Industrial Programs with information on possible impacts upon labor or sales from proposed new prison industries.

Instead of requiring the NDOC to consult directly with businesses that may be affected by new or proposed industries, the amended legislation (subsections #7 in the amended text) calls for other state agencies or departments to conduct studies and submit reports of possible conflicts involving labor or market sales.

Though the legislation as passed does not contain all the provisions hoped for by supporters, necessary key provisions calls for more transparency and oversight over prison industries – and their competition against private companies having to compete against low prison wages.

Two key provisions of SB 478 are the provision that the NDOC must provide documentation to the IFC for approval of new programs and then if approved there, any proposed program must be considered by the Board of Prison Commissioners (composed of the Governor, AG and Secretary of State) for final approval.  Though this provision was already in place, these were circumvented previously.  The second change is the addition of a second union representative added to the IFC Industrial Program Committee.  This will help ensure Nevada workers are protected from unfair prison labor displacing them or taking jobs from a constantly dwindling job market.

Provisions that the NDOC seek approval for new industry projects from the Bureau of Prison Commissioners, provide notice to the private sector, consultation with businesses and labor on proposed new industries and that any industry have an “insignificant” impact upon displacement of workers; were requirements that were not followed.  These actions – or lack of action – were behind the need for this new legislation in the first place.  Ironically this failure to inform or consult directly with competing companies and unions necessitated SB 478…yet as passed, that critical component has been removed from the final language of the bill.

Cox originally took the position of “neutral” on the proposed legislation…then changed that to “opposed” to the bill.  Finally after negotiating out the requirement to provide direct notice to labor or competing companies, Cox and the NDOC came out in “support” of the measure.  This manipulation gives the appearance that the NDOC wants to avoid any direct notice or contact with the very businesses the prison industry program will be competing against.

The default by one company resulted in complaints against the NDOC for using inmate labor to compete unfairly against private companies.  Everyone involved realized the potential for lost jobs in the private sector along with lost sales to competing companies and led to hearings and meetings before the Board of Prison Commissioners and several Senate and Assembly Committee meetings in 2012 and early this year.

Ultimately information that came out in those hearings and through the media revealed that the NDOC’s prison industry program was “off the chain” (to use the vernacular) and being operated without any true oversight – by the NDOC or other government authorities.  In the end Alpine Steel did Nevadans a favor by their defaulting across the board.  The action of this one company is what angered the public and led to a quick response from lawmakers and the Executive branch.

Unexpectedly, the NDOC continued to use Randy Bulloch as a spokesman for continuing prison industry operations as they were.  Bulloch appeared at nearly every Committee hearing; before the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Senate Judiciary Committee and before the General Assembly – side by side with SSI Deputy Director, Connett – speaking in support of continuing the prisoner “training program” and arguing that using such labor was really not unfair competition.  At one point he argued if he and other companies using inmate labor had to pay prisoners fair or comparable wages, it would result in closing prison industries altogether.  In advancing that argument he failed to realize that while the low wages and cheap lease of state owned industry facilities to his company provided increased profits, such came at the expense of workers displaced by the prisoners and businesses that lost contracts to Alpine due to the use of prison labor.

This was the “unfair competition” businesses, the public and organized labor protested against and the legislature agreed with them on.  That’s why it was unexpected to see Bulloch, Cox and Connett continue to confer and present arguments against reform of the prison industry in the face of widespread calls demanding reform by everyone else.

SB 478 surprised everyone – lawmakers and public alike – by how quickly it advanced through the Senate and then Assembly once introduced.  Historically proposed legislation takes a substantial amount of time being discussed, amended and again discussed before ever getting to the point of a vote.  This bill introduced on March 25th passed in just over 60 days and will become law approximately 90 days after submission.

The NDOC and the department’s head of SSI will remain in charge of the state’s prison industry program.  Even after demonstrating the agency and top administrators violated the state laws and administrative regulations, the NDOC has been able to successfully maintain overall control.

I weighed in on this issue in Nevada as soon as the issue became public.  As the Executive Director of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP), I provided research, a “white paper” report with documentation to Governor Sandoval, AG Cortez-Masto, Secretary of State Miller, members of the state Assembly, the IFC on Industrial Programs, the Senate and personally to Director Cox.

VLTP Directors and staff traveled to Nevada to be in attendance at some of those meetings and spoke directly with Mr. Bulloch and others on the issues.  Many of the tough questions posed to Cox and Bulloch in subsequent hearings or meetings originated from the VLTP analysis and report.

VLTP has publicly supported the legislative efforts to bring the prison industry program in Nevada under control and force it to operate in a transparent manner.  I’m gladdened that all the effort put into solving this issue has been successful and will benefit workers and businesses moving forward.

The final version of SB 478 came as a result of compromise between lawmakers, businesses, union leaders, workers and the NDOC.  None of those involved got everything they wanted but that’s how “compromise” works.  It’s a needed step in the right direction and now new SSI industry programs or projects will come under intense scrutiny and vetting prior to implementation.  Such scrutiny was absent previously.

Expecting the same government bodies; the Legislature’s IFC and the Board of Examiners to protect the interests of workers and competing business owners is difficult.  Oversight and transparency will be the key ingredients to keeping the prison industry program from once again getting out of control.  This new legislation appears to provide both.

Nevada Sex Trafficking Bill AB67: The Final Showdown… Or Is It? (Part 2)

panic-button(Part 1: What Happens in Vegas… Could Get You 10 Years to Life)

The final Nevada Senate Judiciary hearing of sex trafficking bill AB67 took place on May 28th during the last full week of the regular 2013 legislative session. In contrast to the dominant media portrayal of the bill being a no-brainer to pass to protect women and children from violent pimps forcing them into sexual slavery, the original 39-page (!) bill drafted by the Washington, DC anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project contained numerous problematic sections. One major opposition raised was the potential to severely punish a lot of people consensually engaged in the sex industry who have no involvement in the sex slavery black market.

After extensive revisions from the bill as introduced into the Assembly on February 20th, the Senate hearing was a 3-hour showdown over additional revisions. While everyone agreed that real situations of sexual servitude must be seriously addressed (although there is no valid evidence on the extent of the problem in Nevada), representatives from the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice (NACJ), Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Las Vegas, and a major Las Vegas Gentlemen’s Club voiced concerns about the potential for violating human rights and wasting limited resources ensnaring innocent people as sex traffickers given the bill’s overly broad definitions and removal of certain defenses for the accused.

Nevada Attorney General (AG) Catherine Cortez Masto who sponsored the bill and Special Deputy AG Brett Kandt continually shot back at those who proposed further amendments saying that they were unnecessary as it was not “the intent” of the bill and to “trust prosecutorial discretion” not to use the law in whatever particular way the amendment aimed to remedy. A tense back and forth ensued with the ACLU of Nevada’s Allen Lichtenstein arguing that the language in the bill should carefully reflect the stated intent as the law’s language is what is used in court for prosecution. What about overzealous prosecutors? Although the legislative intent of AB67 was placed on record, lawyers contended that the courts rarely agree to go to legislative record to determine judicial interpretation when legislation is ambiguous.

While ultimately the committee voted to give the AG the tools provided in a 32-page version of AB67 to go after sex traffickers, serious reservations remained as to how these tools will be used on the ground and against whom. For example, the pandering statute states that it does not apply to the customer of a prostitute; however, the new sex trafficking statute does not include this provision. Tourists come to “Sin City” Las Vegas often thinking that prostitution is legal. (It was quickly pointed out that brothels are only legal in rural Nevada counties and “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”)

As anyone under the age of 18 who engages in prostitution is defined as a victim of sex trafficking under federal law and AB67 disallows the defenses of reasonable mistake of age or consent of a victim to an act of prostitution, what if a 17-year old actively acquires false identification that reads she is 21-years old so that she can work in a Vegas Gentlemen’s Club? What if a tourist solicits a 17-year old for commercial sex in a Vegas club assuming she is 21-years old because she is being served alcohol based on her fake ID? Can the tourist be charged with sex trafficking and sentenced a 5-year minimum mandatory?

AG Masto and Kandt argued that these are far-fetched situations with Masto sharply retorting, “But it is a crime to solicit someone anyway!” First, are these far-fetched situations? Second, opponents responded that

there are already laws on the books to address solicitation and pandering and that great care should be taken to make a marked distinction between those and the severity of the particular crime of sex trafficking with the intent of profiting from sex slavery, especially given the harsh penalties for conviction.

Senate Judicial Chair Tick Segerblom stated that the law will be watched closely for how it is used and revisited as needed next legislative session. NACJ and the ACLU indicated that a constitutional challenge is possible. Stay tuned!

 

Written by Jennifer J. Reed, MA
PhD Student, Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

5/20 ALEC/Koch News – Weekly Recap…

5/20 ALEC/Koch News – Weekly Recap…

By Bob Sloan

This has been a busy week for us here at VLTP.  To catch our readership and visitors up with news involving ALEC and their cabal, we’re publishing a larger segment today.

Click on the headline link(s) to read the full article or document from the original source.

First a development involving the Occupy Movement and how government resources have been used to suppress the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups.

Obama Admin. Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

“On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

“As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt theAmerican Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

“ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

Government Surveillance of Occupy Movement

– by Beau Hodai, CMD/DBA

“On May 20, 2013, DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy ?released the results of a year-long investigation: “Dissent or Terror:? How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, In Partnership With ?Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”?? The report, a distillation of thousands of pages of records obtained? from counter terrorism/law enforcement agencies, details how? state/regional “fusion center” personnel monitored the Occupy Wall? Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012.

“The report also examines how fusion centers and other counter terrorism entities that ?have emerged since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have? worked to benefit numerous corporations engaged in public-private? intelligence sharing partnerships. ??While the report examines many instances of fusion center monitoring? of Occupy activists nationwide, the bulk of the report ?details how counter terrorism personnel engaged in the Arizona Counter? Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC, commonly known as the “Arizona fusion center”) monitored and otherwise surveilled citizens active in? Occupy Phoenix, and how this surveillance benefited a number of ?corporations and banks that were subjects of Occupy Phoenix protest ?activity.

“?While small glimpses into the governmental monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement have emerged in the past, there has not been any reporting — until now — that details the breadth and depth with which the nation’s post-September 11, 2001 counter terrorism apparatus has been applied to politically engaged citizens exercising their Constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.”

ALEC & Your Communications: Part 1: How AT&T, ALEC and the Other Communications Companies Created Model State Legislation to Harm You

“Let’s connect the dots.

“Starting in 2007, AT&T, Verizon, Centurylink and the cable companies, working with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), created state-based model legislation and principles designed by the companies to accomplish one thing — the removal of all regulations, obligations and oversight on the companies’ businesses. As the NRRI report outlines, 25 states have removed some, if not all regulations and oversight, and there are more to come in 2013…”

BOYCOTT KOCH BROTHERS, MONSANTO AND OTHER INDUSTRIES’ PRODUCTS LINING SUPERMARKET SHELVES

“The guessing game is over. No longer will consumers wonder what companies are behind the millions of products that fill supermarket shelves because there’s an app for that.

Buycott, now available on Apple and Android platforms, is a tool that allows consumers to organize their spending depending on personal values.

“The app helps consumers determine whether their spending is funding causes or campaigns that they either support or oppose. Buycott offers consumers the opportunity to align their principals and spending by avoiding products made by controversial big businesses such as Koch Industries, Monsanto and George Soros and, instead, buying products to help support the companies behind initiatives like local and sustainable food.” 

The States That Use the Most Green Energy

“California and Texas might be leading the nation’s rollout of solar and wind power, respectively, but Washington, where hydroelectric dams provide over 60 percent of the state’s energy, was the country’s biggest user of renewable power in 2011, according to new statistics released last week by the federal Energy Information Administration.

More than half of the 29 states that require utilities to purchase renewable power are currently considering legislation to pare back those mandates, in many cases pushed by (surprise, suprise) the American Legislative Exchange Council. “We’re opposed to these mandates, and 2013 will be the most active year ever in terms of efforts to repeal them,” ALEC energy task force director Todd Wynn recently told Bloomberg.”

On Paid Sick Days, Will Gov. Rick Scott Side with Moms or Mickey Mouse?

“Florida Governor Rick Scott is under pressure from Florida moms to veto a bill that would deliver a “kill-shot” to local efforts to guarantee paid sick days for workers. The legislation, which can be traced back the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is backed by major corporate players with questionable labor records, including Disney.

“In April, the Florida legislature passed a corporate-backed bill to preempt local paid sick day laws, largely in response to a small-d democratic effort in Orange County to have residents vote on the issue. More than 50,000 Orange County voters signed petitions to place a paid sick day measure on the ballot, which would be effectively blocked if Governor Scott signs the law.

“As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, paid sick day preemption bills have spread across the country after legislation that passed in Wisconsin was shared at an August 2011 ALEC meeting. The legislation in Florida was sponsored in the House and Senate by two ALEC members, House Majority Leader Steve Precourt and Sen. David Simmons.” 

Turning people who report corporate crime into criminals

by Jim Hightower

“In most state legislatures today, bizarre is not unusual, and off-the-wall has become the political center.

“Still, it seems strange that legislators in so many states — from California to Vermont — have simultaneously been pushing “ag-gag” bills that are not merely outrageous, but downright un- American. Each is intended to prevent journalists, whistleblowers, workers and other citizens from exposing illegal, abusive or unethical corporate treatment of animals confined in factoryfeeding operations.

“Oddly, each of these state proposals is practically identical, even including much of the same wording. That’s because, unbeknownst to the public and other legislators, the bills don’t originate from the state lawmakers who introduce them, instead coming from a corporate front group named ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council. Lobbyists for corporate funders of ALEC convene periodically to write model bills that serve their corporations’ special interests, then the bills are farmed out to the group’s trusted lawmakers across the country. The secretive ALEC network produced the ag-gag model in 2002, titling it the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. 

The terrible price of ag-gag laws

Rather than shutting observers out of slaughterhouses, we should open the doors even wider

“When the “pink slime” scandal exploded online last March, Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad called a press conference. But Brandstad and beef industry leaders weren’t there to apologize for processing scraps through centrifuges, then spraying American meat with ammonia gas. The event featured officials showing off t-shirts with the slogan “Dude, it’s beef!”

“After dismissing the public’s concerns about “pink slime,” agribusiness is now trying to stop the public from learning about practices like this in the first place.

“These laws are modeled on an “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the group behind voter ID laws and “stand your ground” gun laws.”

Open the Slaughterhouse Doors: It’s Time to See How the Sausage Gets Made

“In February in Salt Lake City, Amy Meyer stood on the street and used her cell phone to record what was happening outside a slaughterhouse. She then became the first person charged under one of the new so-called “ag-gag” laws.

“Six states currently have such “farm protection laws,” deliberately designed to stop video recording at slaughterhouses. The bills are largely industry-funded and based on a template drawn up by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Another eight states have similar legislation in the works. Although the effort to clamp down on slaughterhouse recording has never been more organized, two such bills, in Indiana and here in California, recently failed, and the historic prosecution of Meyer also failed when her case was dropped last month.

 

MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: ‘I think that you do evil’

Google and Amazon face fresh attack over claims that their multibillion-pound UK-facing businesses should not be taxed

“Google and Amazon came under fierce attack from MPs and tax campaigners after fresh whistleblower allegations put further strain on claims by the internet giants that their multibillion-pound UK-facing businesses should not be taxed by Revenue & Customs.

“Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, told Google’s northern Europe boss, Matt Brittin, that his company’s behaviour on tax was “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical”.

“He had been recalled by MPs after being accused of misleading parliament over the firm’s tax affairs six months ago. Hodge said: “You are a company that says you ‘do no evil’. And I think that you do do evil.” Hodge was referring to Google’s long-standing corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” which appeared in its $23bn US stock market flotation prospectus in 2004.”

This news about Google and Amazon follows the discovery that Starbucks has also been avoiding paying their full tax in the UK.  (Starbucks, Google and Amazon are all affiliated with ALEC or are/have been corporate members).

The shadowy conservative group ALEC has members in Nevada’s Legislature

“For years, liberal interest groups have slagged the American Legislative Exchange Council as a front for right-wing legislators and their supporters among the corporate elite. And with good reason. Corporations and corporate and industrial trade groups formed ALEC and still appear to control the group’s policy-making, legislation-writing apparatus.

“ALEC’s other side is its legislative membership. The group proudly proclaims on its website that it has 2,000 state-level legislators as members, presumably ready to advance its right-leaning agenda. And advance that agenda they do.

“Privatizing education, ditching workers safety and environmental protections, thwarting efforts to develop alternative energy, blocking gun control — the history of ALEC is a history of the modern right and its successes and failures.

‘Big Gulp’ bill passes House

“RALEIGH, N.C. — Cities would not be allowed to ban large servings of sugary drinks under a bill that passed the state House Wednesday night.

“House Bill 683, the “Commonsense Consumption” bill, would also prohibit people from filing “frivolous lawsuits” against food manufacturers or packagers for obesity, weight gain or health issues related to consumption of their products.

“The bill is model legislation promoted by pro-business advocacy group American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

“Sponsor Rep. Brian Brown, R-Pitt, said the measure “requests that individuals make smart decisions.”

GOP backs down on “right to work” in two states

“COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fearing public reaction which could hurt their party at the polls next year – symbolized by a mass May Day protest on the state Capitol lawn in Columbus, Ohio – Republican state legislative leaders in Ohio and Missouri effectively stopped drives for so-called “right to work” lawsin those legislatures.

“But the fight isn’t over yet, at least in Ohio. The Buckeye State’s statewide tea party affiliate says it will gather signatures, facing a July deadline, to put “right to work” on the ballot this November.

“Right to work (for less) is a longtime cause of business and its legislative handmaidens. Since the 2010 GOP mid-term election sweep, the radical right – led by the secretive, extremist American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and so-called tea party groups – have joined that cause.

ALEC’s Most Wanted: Exposing a Front Group for Fossil Fuel Interests (and Other Corporations)

“The Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) Brendan Fischer and Nick Surgey uncovered an internal document from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the controversial organization’s meeting last week in Oklahoma City. The document entitled “OKC anti-ALEC photos” featured the headshots of eight reporters and public interest advocates that have written about ALEC or been critical of ALEC’s activities (as a front group working on behalf of its corporate membership).” 

Congressmen Pocan and Ellison Introduce “Right to Vote” Constitutional Amendment

“The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected,” wrote Thomas Paine in 1795.

Yet contrary to popular belief, there is no affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. This gap in our founding document has provided an opening for the wave of voter suppression measures that swept the country in recent years, and before that, the poll taxes and Jim Crow restrictions that disenfranchised millions. This week, two Congressmen — both from states at the epicenter of today’s voting rights struggles — are seeking to fix that.

“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” said Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who is co-sponsoring an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote.

“Pocan’s state, Wisconsin, passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country in 2011 after Governor Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated legislature took power. The law threatened to disenfranchise more than 300,000 voters who did not have the required forms of ID, primarily people of color, students, and the elderly. (Like many of the restrictive voter ID laws proposed since 2011, the bill tracked a “model” Voter ID Act from the American Legislative Exchange Council). But just months after Wisconsin’s law was enacted, a state court struck down the law based on the Wisconsin Constitution’s protections for voting rights.” 

Grading schools based on conservative ideals

“With the release of letter grades for Maine’s schools, Gov. Paul LePage unveiled yet another aspect of his misguided plan to reform education in the state. Looking to Florida as a model, he and his education commissioner assigned each school a grade on a scale of A to F and then published the results without ever explaining to the schools on what basis they were being graded. Imagine if your child were to bring home a letter grade on a test that he or she knew nothing about. You’d be outraged.

“Maine, by the way, also outranked Florida at No. 14 in fourth grade reading and No. 7 in eighth grade scores. So why choose Florida as a model? Why fly a delegation of politicians more than 1,000 miles to tell us how to change our schools when Massachusetts is a car ride away?

“We need look no further than The American Legislative Exchange Council for an answer. ALEC is a conservative think tank and lobbying group that writes model legislation on a variety of topics, including education. ALEC’s favorite education state is Florida, and LePage is one of ALEC’s biggest fans. In fact, his “Putting Students First” plan for Maine takes its language directly from ALEC.

“Among the strategies that ALEC promotes is assigning grades to schools. It assigned Florida the highest grade and awarded Massachusetts a C. ALEC’s grading system is based on how well states implement its conservative platform that includes privatizing education through school vouchers, lifting caps on charter schools, watering down teacher licensing requirements, supporting private schools at public expense, eroding local control through school choice programs, lifting homeschool regulations and encouraging virtual schooling.

Traffic Ticket Camera Company Channels Kafka, Threatening Court Appearances, Even Though “No Such Court Exists”

In fact, the plaintiffs say, a state judge has told the city that its system is illegal.

“May 15, 2013  |  A class action suit claims the City of Center Point and Redflex Traffic Systems illegally ticket drivers by threatening them with a court appearance if they refuse to pay fines, though “no such court exists.”

“Redflex owns and operates the traffic cameras for Center Point, which photographs cars believed to run red lights or stop signs or speed. 

“Similarly, the Notice of Violation sent to Stubbs and other members of the Class did not explain that the $100 ‘fine’ could not be collected unless the City filed a later, separate civil suit. Neither Ms. Stubbs nor any other Class member was informed that the Notice of Violation was not judicial in nature but was actually a non-binding collection notice.”

These laws allowing ticketing of vehicle owners based upon camera’s operated by a private company, are ALEC adopted model bills.  Originally submitted by American Traffic Solutions (an ALEC member) this legislation is being used in several states.  Those ticketed receive notices from the private company to pay traffic fines directly to the company.  Once received the private surveillance camera company takes their cut and forwards the balance to the clerk of the court.  In this way as described in this article about Mississippi, this removes any pretense of judicial review or appeal.  The cities using this form of surveillance often increase fines to cover the cost of additional paperwork or court appearances sought for defending such “camera tickets.”

NASDAQ Data Reveals Who’s Getting Rich Off the Prison-Industrial Complex

“Using NASDAQ data, I looked through the long list of investors in Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, the two biggest corporations that operate detention centers in the US, to find out who was cashing in the most on prisons. When we say “prison-industrial complex,” this is who we’re talking about. 

Retired People and Probably You
“The Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments are America’s top two 401(k) providers. They are also two of the private prison industry’s biggest investors.

“Together, they own about 20 percent of both CCA and GEO. That means if you have a 401(k) plan, there’s a good chance you benefit financially from private prisons. And even if you don’t, there are many more mutual funds, brokerage firms, and banks that invest in private prisons—it being a growth industry and all—so if you have money somewhere other than your wallet or your mattress, it’s a good bet you’re involved in some way with companies that are locking up and probably abusing inmates.

“This is especially true for government employees like public school teachers because their retirement funds are some of the biggest investors in private prisons. According to NASDAQ data, the retirement funds for public employees and teachers in New York and California together have about $60 million ($30 million each) invested in CCA and GEO. Teacher retirement funds in Texas and Kentucky have $8.3 million and $4 million invested in prisons respectively, and public employees in Florida ($10.3 million), Ohio ($8.6 million), Texas ($5.6 million), Arizona ($5.3 million), and Colorado ($2.25 million) are also connected to the industry. Except for New York, which has only one privately run detention facility, each of these states has several prisons run by CCA and GEO Group facilities. And it’s not just Americans who have ties to prisons. Foreign investors have money in them as well, including the pension fund for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which recently sold off its $5.1 million worth of GEO Group stock.”