LEILA NAVIDI / LAS VEGAS SUN FILE
Sunday, June 20, 2010 | 2 a.m.
In today's Sun
- Urgency lacking on cash flow proposals (6-20-2010)
In February 2009, when county officials were trying to sort out what needed to be done to survive the budget crisis, their business licensing chief told them eliminating the work card requirement for thousands of Southern Nevadans would save taxpayers money.
Business License Director Jacqueline Holloway also gave another justification for getting rid of many of the cards that are so resented by many workers. In the midst of an economic collapse that would soon be called the Great Recession, work cards are another roadblock to people desperate for jobs.
Commissioners nodded in agreement. But none said anything about it right away, which was probably the politically savvy thing to do because for at least 35 years, work cards have been a touchstone for controversy in Southern Nevada. Clark County has been decried for requiring government approval for employment in more occupations than any other locale.
What began decades ago as a way to ensure the integrity of gambling operations grew to include tens of thousands of jobs far outside of casinos.
Door-to-door salesmen, carnival workers, psychics, martial arts instructors, ice cream truck drivers, telephone solicitors and others were added to the rolls of those required to submit their fingerprints and have their backgrounds scoured.
In fiscal 2000, almost 93,000 people in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County were required to get the cards.
Only in the past decade has the government’s grip on employment eased. Nevada’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has argued for years for a constitutional right to seek work. In turn, thousands of housekeepers, as well as bellhops, desk clerks, room service wait staff and their supervisors were freed from the work card requirement in 2001.
But servers and strippers, mobile food vendors, outcall service operators, locksmiths, temporary merchants, property managers, martial arts instructors, amusement park employees, telephone solicitors, traveling show employees and theater managers all still have to get work cards.
Today, the estimated number of those who get cards annually is about 10,000.
Though the numbers are down, it’s still one of the most politically sensitive topics in Clark County. That much was evident last fall, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said, after the county wrote a draft ordinance that fell in line with Holloway’s proposal to eliminate work card requirements for all but a couple of job categories.
Metro “really didn’t want to do it,” she said. In fact, the police department was upset that the county hadn’t asked Metro what it wanted before greenlighting the plan, she said.
Along with the ACLU and others, Metro had been invited to go over the draft and give feedback.
The commissioners didn’t need Metro’s approval, of course. Giunchigliani could have just introduced the draft ordinance at a county commission meeting then let Metro argue for or against it during a public hearing. But Giunchigliani, who has had political disagreements with Metro before, desperately wanted a “win-win” with Metro on one side and the ACLU on the other.
The result is that nearly 17 months after Holloway proposed letting many more people escape the work card rigmarole, delays have prevented many of those people from benefiting.
Capt. Al Salinas, who is part of the work card discussion as the head of Metro’s Organized Crime Bureau, said the department knew changes were coming.
“Our stance was, we wanted to take each of the changes one step at a time to ensure we were basically not jeopardizing the safety of the community, and to be able to effectively do our job with regard to some individuals who would like nothing more than to victimize our community.”
“It’s still about money,” Giunchigliani counters. “Because if it’s for a public purpose, then make a good argument. We had cases where people would never get employed because they had a misdemeanor. That’s not right.”
The minimum cost of a card is $45. But it can be as high as $135 for bartenders.
And the money doesn’t go to the county. It goes to Metro.
Work cards wind up costing the county money.
Each year roughly 150 people who paid their fees but were denied work cards by Metro file appeals, and the county has to handle those appeals. That takes up the time of five to seven employees of the business licensing department, Holloway said.
In early 2009, Holloway told the Sun that her recommendation would be to require work cards only for child care workers and security personnel.
That idea has changed quite a bit in the interim, Giunchigliani said, mainly because of Metro.
She said that after Metro finally came to the table on the issue — in January — strippers and employees of adult businesses were put back on the list.
Child care workers are also back on, even though the county has turned over child care licensing to the state. Giunchigliani said Clark County still does child care business inspections, which is part of the reason it will also keep doing background checks and issuing work cards. The county is likely to let go of the child care work cards in the future, she said.
After a meeting last week, Giunchigliani said she also agreed with Metro that work cards are needed for those in the massage industry, even though the state regulates that industry.
Giunchigliani said “no side should expect to get everything they wanted,” and she’s proud of the changes she was able to work out. That includes sweeping changes in the rules about how a someone can be denied a work card.
One part of the current code that she expects will be stricken, for instance, says a work card can be denied if an applicant has committed any “moral turpitude during the course of any employment, which crime is of such job-related nature that continued employment of the applicant in that specific occupation will disrupt the peace, health, safety and welfare of the county.”
The draft of the new code says someone can be denied if the applicant has been convicted of a felony related to theft, fraud, violence or controlled substances in the past five years. It also requires an applicant to be free of similar gross misdemeanors and various defrauding crimes for three years.
After the Sun started making calls about the work card issue, Metro officials had a private meeting with the county over the proposed changes last week. Salinas said the meeting was “very productive” and all that’s left is to go through a redraft.
“We’re going to take a look at (the draft) as a group,” he said of his bureau, “and make sure we go through with a fine-toothed comb.”
That suits Allen Lichtenstein, counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, just fine. Lichtenstein said last week’s meeting was news to him and the ACLU, so he will also want to review the proposed changes.
“Frankly, I am quite surprised that they did this without ever contacting us or inviting us to the table to talk about it, to see if we saw some constitutional issue with it.”
Giunchigliani said she plans to introduce the county code changes at the first commission meeting in July.