RAIN Asks Nevada Legislature to Preserve State's Social Safety Net

February 05, 2009

By Larry Struve

RAIN Advocate


On February 2, 2009, just prior to the start of the 2009 Nevada Legislative Session, more than 130 committed Christians from all over the state of Nevada met at the First United Methodist Church in Carson City, for a Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN) Legislative Forum.


In attendance were two ELCA Lutheran Bishops (Mark Holmerud of the Sierra Pacific Synod in northern Nevada and Stephen Talmage of the Grand Canyon Synod in southern Nevada), as well as Episcopal Church Bishop Dan Edwards of the Diocese of Nevada. The heads of the other denominations comprising RAIN (United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic) also had representatives present. [Nevada-Sierra District Supt., the Rev. Jerry Smith - at left - represented Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.]


These faith leaders of Nevada - eight in all - later participated in the opening ceremonies of the 2009 Session by standing behind the invocator, Pastor Tom Beck of Faith Lutheran Church in Reno (and RAIN President), who offered the opening prayer to start the session [below]. They did so to emphasize to legislators that people of faith expect their government to consider the common good when legislating, which requires careful consideration of the impact of budget cuts on the most vulnerable people in the population. 


During the program itself, powerful presentations were made, featuring some key issues facing the people of Nevada: the impact of the economic downturn on children and families (including the increase in homelessness and loss of homes due to foreclosure), the deterioration of the state's health care safety net (especially for the uninsured and unemployed), wasteful spending in our criminal justice system (without a corresponding reduction in the rate of recidivism, or sufficient help to victims of crime), and the inability of state government to set realistic budget priorities and raise the revenue needed to fund basic services.


Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty summarized some of the recommendations the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice will make to the 2009 Legislature. They include authorization of a first step in establishing a reentry program for persons released from prison (using fees assessed on defendants, grant monies, and donations as start-up funds), development of alternatives to long prison sentences for non-violent offenders, and full use of funds designated to help victims of crime. The suggestions were innovative, thought-provoking, and challenging.


Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley [with the Rev. Dixie Jennings-Teats of Carson City FUMC, at right] invited the people in attendance to follow the budget hearings carefully in the 2009 session. She promised that every item in the budget will be scrutinized, and intimated that some programs will be reduced, consolidated, or eliminated completely. Once this budget review is completed, the Legislature will turn its attention to raising the revenue to fund basic services in the budget, as determined by the money committees.


It was apparent to the group present that the current fiscal problems of the state cannot be solved solely by making draconian cuts in the budget, nor by raising taxes substantially. Neither approach will work. A compromise will be needed, and it will require legislators to be patient and understanding of each others' points of view. 


Others who spoke included Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford [at right]; the executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, Larry Matheis; the president of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Nancy Hart; and the chairman of the Clark County Housing Authority, Tim O'Callaghan.


Nevada's First Lady, Dawn Gibbons, also attended, as did Sen. John Ensign's regional representative, Pam Matteoni, and Sen. Harry Reid's regional representative, Susan Lisagor.


Most of those in the audience were active members of Christian churches throughout Nevada, who are deeply engaged in works of social justice, charity, and advocacy for the least among us. 


It was a very moving, powerful experience. Many who attended spoke of how much they were touched by the event. It had the flavor of a church service, and those who attended were sent out committed to spread the word to Nevada legislators that people of faith are in no mood for platitudes, empty slogans, and meaningless rhetoric. They want action to preserve programs that serve the least among us, and will judge legislators by their words and their deeds, as they negotiate and struggle to find the right combination of budget cuts and taxes in order to preserve the state's social safety net while serving the common good.


For Christians, events like this remind us that we are obliged by our faith to reach out in love to our neighbors who are less fortunate. As was so poignantly stated in the video (produced by RAIN Board member Rev. Wayne Brown) at the start of the program, quoting from Matthew, Chapter 25: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or, when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' And Jesus answered: 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'"


All in the RAIN network need to pray, to speak out, and to act in accordance with their faith, to help their neighbors and their legislators to follow Christ's teaching (as noted above). Together we can play a part in preserving the state's social safety net.