Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 | 9:34 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- Lawmakers are fleeing as fast as they can from a proposed trip to Ensenada, Mexico, to see a prison experiment with Scientology ties.
Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno, is proposing a pilot program in Nevada, and has secured 35 seats on a Southwest Airlines flight to San Diego on March 1 -- funded by Arizona Scientologist Randy Suggs -- as part of a trip to the prison.
The program in Ensenada was started by Rick Pendery in 1995 and includes techniques called Narcanon and Criminon, drug treatment therapies developed by the late L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Elements of the treatment include massive doses of vitamins and minerals as well as vastly extended sauna sessions.
Angle, the Assembly minority whip, is sponsoring a bill to launch a similar model in Nevada's women's prisons, and would be seeking grant money through President Bush's faith-based initiatives. That leads many to suspect Scientologists will continue to have ties to the program in Nevada, and is keeping most lawmakers away from the trip.
Angle said she would seek Bush's community-based, not faith-based, initiative grants. She said she is not a Scientologist, just a woman of faith who attends weekly prayer meetings in the Legislative Building. In her office, she has a poster commemorating the first prayer in Congress.
After an Associated Press report appeared about Angle's proposed trip to Mexico, Assemblywoman Genie Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, decided not to attend.
"Ohresnschall canceled her registration stating that after researching the program further, she has decided not to participate," Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said.
Ohrenschall told the Sun she had never confirmed she was going in the first place.
So far Angle has just two legislative takers for her sojourn: Don Gustavson, R-Sun Valley, and Valerie Weber, R-Las Vegas.
Gustavson and Angle are the most conservative lawmakers in the Assembly, often voting as a two-person bloc against bills that other Republicans sponsor. Weber is a freshman Assemblywoman and Christian conservative.
"At a time when our kids might be going without books and teachers it would be impossible to justify spending money on an unproven massage, sauna and vitamin plan for prisoners," Buckley said.
When a similar program was proposed in Arizona, testimony stated the cost was $15,000 per person for three to 12 months of treatment. The Arizona Legislature did not approve the program.
Angle has also invited all six of the state's constitutional officers to attend. She has visited the program twice, once with a group of legislators from around the country, and a second time with Jackie Crawford, director of Nevada's Department of Corrections.
Buckley said she did not think the state should be providing saunas and massages to prisoners.
"These gimmicky programs undermine successful rehabilitative programs, such as the drug court pioneered by Clark County Judge Jack Lehman," Buckley said.