How citizens can change state law
Kathleen Rand got lousy service at a Sparks pharmacy, so she called another to have the order moved. But the old pharmacy wouldn't let it go. When she learned that Nevada law allowed pharmacies to refuse to transfer prescriptions, she called a lawmaker to see what could be done.
Ivory Endacott's 9-year-old cousin was walking home from a Sun Valley swimming pool when she was struck and killed by a careless driver. When the case went to court, the driver walked away with only a traffic ticket. The community wanted justice, so they called their legislators.
Karen Goodman has seen too many dogs grow aggressive because they were chained or penned and neglected. She called her state senator and helped write a bill to change the law to prohibit people from tethering animals in a way that deprives them of food, water or shelter.
In each case, average citizens were faced with situations they felt needed to be addressed. Instead of ignoring the problem or assuming the system was too difficult to navigate, they pursued their passions and sought to make Nevada a better place to live.
As lawmakers gather Monday for the 2007 Legislative session, they'll face more than 1,000 bill drafts brought by lobbyists, agencies, counties and other legislators. But they'll also debate measures brought by concerned community members driven by an injustice or problem.
While time-consuming, nerve-wracking and even frustrating, many of those who take on these projects say it's a rewarding endeavor.
"It was a whirlwind experience," said Susan Severt, 45, who joined a handful of Sun Valley residents in their mission to urge the 2005 Nevada Legislature to pass a misdemeanor manslaughter bill that toughened penalties for careless drivers responsible for fatal accidents.
"I had never done anything like that before and all of us were pretty much scared out of our wits," Severt said. "But it was well worth the time -- to see this signed into law, Lexi's law," named for 9-year-old Alexis Kiles.
"Maybe it brings a purpose to a death."
Kathleen Rand had a number of prescriptions in 2004 at a pharmacy in Sparks. But she continually had trouble with the store -- they put the wrong doctor's name on several of her drugs, they were rude, unhelpful, "they would throw the meds at you," Rand said.
"I thought these people really needed to go to training," she said of the counter help.
Doing what any logical consumer would do, she called a different pharmacy and said she wanted to transfer her prescriptions. But later that day they called her back and said the old pharmacy wouldn't allow that to happen.
"I was really mad then," she said.
When she contacted the state pharmacy board to complain, she learned that pharmacies had the right to refuse transfers.
"I said, OK, that needs to change," Rand said.
So she called Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who jumped in.
"I immediately thought, here is the perfect example of a glitch in a law that doesn't allow the consumer the right consumers should have," Smith said. "It was clearly something we could do something about."
As the bill worked its way through the Legislature, more supporters came forward and urged its passage. Representatives from Retired Public Employees of Nevada and from AARP said the change was a great way to ensure that people who need prescriptions, including seniors, have a choice.
Just before it was voted out of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor and sent for the final vote, chairman Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, noticed the measure did not have a date set for when it would take effect, meaning it would not be law until the following October. He made it effective when the governor signed it into law in May.
Rand said she was so happy with the way the process worked, that she has suggested other changes. Rand has multiple sclerosis and has a handicap license plate, but Nevada does not offer handicap-access speciality plates, such as the Children in Arts plate or the Lake Tahoe plate.
"I just want the same choice as everyone else," Rand said.
And she wants insurance companies to pay for the new vaccine for cervical cancer.
"If a vaccine can save women's lives, insurance should cover it," she said.
Lexi Kiles and her 8-year-old brother, Destyn, were walking along Sun Valley Boulevard from the community pool to their mother's house in 2003 when a sport utility vehicle struck them, killing Lexi and injuring Destyn.
The driver was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, was cited for careless driving but nothing would appear on her driving record to show that a death occurred, said Susan Severt of Sun Valley. That outraged many people in the community, she said.
"At a very heated citizen's advisory board meeting, we had the (district attorney) out, the sheriff, people from the department of transportation, and they all said there was nothing they could do," Severt said. "(Washoe District Attorney) Dick Gammick basically said there was a hole in the law. He said he couldn't fix it, but we could.
"So the people in the community took it on."
Severt, Endacott and two others contacted Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and asked for help. In the meantime, Leslie had been contacted by Gammick about the same issue. Together, they crafted a bill to add the crime of misdemeanor manslaughter to Nevada's law.
Under the law at the time, the felony manslaughter law required proof of criminal negligence. But under the proposed vehicular manslaughter bill, it would be a crime if a driver killed another while "committing an act or omission that constitutes simple negligence."
If convicted, the driver would lose his or her license for a year and the conviction would be included on the driving record.
"It was a big learning experience," Severt said. "We went down to testify and kept in touch with legislators to make sure they knew we were keeping an eye on the bill. We learned how amendments can stop the process, and you want to tear you hair out."
But she and Leslie were struck by the number of other people who came forward with similar stories and who were eager to see the law changed.
"It was one of the most emotional bills I've ever worked on," Leslie said. "For a lot of the victims, the grief was very fresh."
Severt and other community members also succeeded in getting a pedestrian crosswalk and light added to that intersection of Sun Valley Boulevard, in the hopes that no other children become victims of that road.
Having worked for years with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Karen Goodman helped rescue countless animals that had been mistreated by their owners. She said she saw too many pets chained and ignored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"It's gut-wrenching to hear them every day, barking, crying and see them freezing to death," Goodman said.
She saw dogs with collars so tight that they became embedded in the animals' necks. She witnessed animals ignored for long periods in hot summer weather without water or shade from the sun.
And she met many dogs that became vicious after being chained too long. The animals became aggressive and protective of the little space they had, she said.
"What happens in many fatal dog attacks is the dogs are tethered or penned, with their water bowls overturned and no food," Goodman said. "We don't treat them humanely, but we expect them to act humane."
So she contacted Townsend and made her case for a change in the law to prohibit certain treatment of animals.
During this legislative session, lawmakers will consider, debate and vote on Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Townsend and directed to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.
Under the measure, it would be illegal to "deprive an animal of necessary food, drink or shelter," or "restraining the animal continuously for more than nine hours or in any other manner that deprives the animal of the ability to eat, drink, shelter or avoid injury to itself."
The change would fall under the current law prohibiting torture, cruelty or the killing of an animal and would carry the same punishments.
The first offense would be a misdemeanor and could mean up to six months in jail, up to 120 hours of community service and a maximum $1,000 fine. A second offense would be similar, but require more community service.
A third and subsequent offense within seven years would be a category C felony.
The bill also calls for a change in the state emergency management plan to allow a person with a disability who uses a service animal and must be evacuated, transported or sheltered to have that animal with them.
Townsend said that, while he doesn't agree with each and every idea suggested by constituents, he believes that carrying bills for concerned citizens is what his job is all about.
"We're supposed to be responding to their needs," Townsend said. "It's one of the last bastions of direct contact, and that's the way it should be."