Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2015

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Court to tackle confidentiality of state workers’ pensions

How much privacy do the 47,000 retired state government workers have?

That’s the question the Nevada Supreme Court will grapple with when hearing oral arguments Tuesday.

The Reno Gazette-Journal in early 2011 asked the State Public Employees Retirement System for the names of all retirees, their on-the-job salary and the amount of their pension checks.

The system refused the request, saying these records were confidential.

District Judge Todd Russell ruled in December 2011 that Nevada’s public records law applies and granted a petition by the newspaper to force the disclosure of those records.

But the retirement system appealed, arguing there are specific laws on the books that make these personal records exempt from the open records law.

Joining the legal battle are the Clark County School Administrators group, which argues there is a right to privacy for these workers, and the Retired Public Employees organization, which maintains that disclosure will have an adverse impact on its 9,600 members.

The newspaper asked for the names, their agencies, their salaries when they retired, how long the workers were employed and their benefits.

Judge Russell of Carson City, in his ruling, said there is nothing in the law, as argued by the retirement system, that these records are confidential.

The law, said Russell, “expressly states that the names and compensation amounts of (existing) state employees are public information.

“It thus follows that the names of retired public employees and the amounts of pension benefits flowing to them as a result of the compensation amounts paid to them while they were active public employees are likewise public information,” he wrote.

The pension of a government worker is computed on the length of his service and his salary.

The judge put a limit on what could be disclosed. The system is not required to disclose the address and the Social Security number of the retiree. He said the information may not be disclosed of “sensitive law enforcement positions where public access to those names could jeopardize their personal safety or job performance …” Their names should not be released.

The court is expected to take the arguments under submission and rule later.

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