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May 19, 2019

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education:

Constituents push lobbyists aside for a day

constituents

CATHLEEN ALLISON / NEVADA APPEAL

Tami Berg, director of the Washoe County region’s Parent Teacher Association, speaks with state Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, on Thursday at the Legislative Building in Carson City. PTA groups made the trek to press legislators on education funding.

The halls of the Legislature had a surprising look Thursday. A few dozen people roamed the corridors without ID badges — they were ordinary residents up from Las Vegas who had come to talk to lawmakers about education.

It’s a fact of Nevada state government that almost everyone except legislators is required to wear an ID: lobbyists (blue), staff members (white), media representatives (yellow).

The color-coded participants are paid to be here on behalf of large institutions or interest groups. You spot the badge, you know the purpose.

But a day like Thursday, when the halls included people with nothing hanging around their necks or clasped to their pockets, is a refreshing reminder of the reason the badge wearers show up.

On such a day, a blank lapel becomes its own kind of ID.

So is a double stroller.

Legislators and lobbyists had to veer around Tonya Pack’s six-wheeled contraption Thursday morning. Pack had journeyed to the Legislature with her children — 8-year-old Amelia, 3-year-old Eric and 10-month-old Isaac — on an overnight bus ride from Las Vegas organized by the Nevada Parent Teacher Association. Her husband stayed home to work.

“We want to let them know that funding is needed for education,” she said. “If we’re not going to fund education, we might as well put the money in prisons, because that’s where the children will end up.”

About 30 members of the PTA endured with Pack the 450-mile bus ride — it left Las Vegas at 10 p.m. and arrived in the capital at 6:30 a.m. — to voice their concerns. They were joined by 30 PTA members from Northern Nevada.

They wore black arm bands to protest proposed cuts that would put Nevada “dead last” in education spending, organizers said.

Their plea was familiar — focus on funding for education. But the messengers were a rarity for Carson City.

The reasons why are various.

One is distance. It’s an onerous trip from Las Vegas. Legislators say they try to alleviate that by video conferencing hearings to Southern Nevada. But that doesn’t address how most of the advocacy actually takes place — in hallways and legislators’ offices.

Some are intimidated by the process.

“The word ‘advocacy’ scares people,” said Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson. “People think it’s bigger than it is, scarier than it is. It’s talking about things you feel strongly about.”

And then there’s the excuse that a constituent’s voice doesn’t matter.

Legislators said because it is so rare to have constituents cornering legislators and testifying at hearings, when they do it carries more weight.

Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas and president of the state PTA, said lawmakers get plenty of e-mail, but “when a person makes the effort to come here, you listen.”

“We’re all in this building listening to each other,” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said of lawmakers and lobbyists. “When an average citizen testifies, we listen more than with the lobbyists.”

By 2:30 p.m., as the PTA served cookies and soda at a reception in the Legislative Building, Pack was exhausted. But she was glad she had made the trip.

“I really think Amelia knows why we’re here today,” she said of her daughter.

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