Law and Public Policy

New laws for the new year

The National Council of State Legislatures has a list of some of the new laws that become effective January 1, 2007. Several states will see increases in minimum wages, some will have new criminal penalties on the books and others will have new health care law. The list does not include states like Nevada where laws enacted in the last election are already in effect.

Nevada Supreme Court decides important water rights case

The Nevada Supreme Court published their opinion in Bacher v. State Engineer on Wednesday. The case speaks to several critical areas of Nevada water law and incorporates the "anti-speculation doctrine" in interpretation of Nevada water law.

The court also gave indications of a number of items around beneficial use like the following footnote:

Some projects, including the theme park, had contingencies attached to them. In other words, the projects may be speculative in nature. Although we do not reach whether contingent projects may be considered in evaluating a need for water under NRS 533.370(6) because we conclude that the State Engineer abused his discretion on other grounds, we note that speculative evidence of development projects is not sufficient to survive a substantial evidence inquiry on review.

Investigators: Innocent man executed in Texas

There are many cases where new evidence has led to overturning convictions of those on death row. Now a panel of fire investigators commissioned by the Innocence Project finds:

Faulty evidence masquerading as science sent two men to death row for arson in Texas and led to the execution of one of them. -- New York Times

The report is critical of the lack of training for arson investigators and says:

There is no crime other than homicide by arson for which a person can be sent to death row based on the unsupported opinion of someone who received all of his training “on the job.”

The report is a disturbing read at best. Throughout are examples of places where experts are testifying that they know arson when they see it. On that basis a man was executed and another lost 17 years of his life to death row.

What does the video say?

Earlier this month a Florida woman was exonerated after spending two and one-half years in jail charged with child abuse. The video from the parent's "nanny cam" appears to show Claudia Muro shaking the child violently. However the nanny cam used shoots video at about 1/10th the rate of a regular video camera. This difference can change gentle back-and forth motion into motion that appears violent. The local CBS station has copies of the video footage.

With the advent of the inexpensive video camera the instances of using video in courts of law or public opinion have increased. At the same time the multitude of ways of capturing and processing video have grown more powerful and complex. These advances bring great possibility to the consumer while making it imperative that video be looked at with a critical eye to ensure it actually shows what is first perceived.

The freedom of information

Last spring I wrote about Westlaw having RSS feeds available for searches. Then in the late summer a note about Lexis adding web feeds to their searches as well. In the time between it turns out that PubMed added feeds too.

There is an important dichotomy in the areas of law and medicine, however. In the area of law we depend upon two large companies to compile and publish the law of the land, cases and other important notes. If one wants to engage in the practice of law they must subscribe to these services. Medicine, to be sure, has its own databases of publications and information. However, for the lay person there is a big difference. In order for the lay person to search case law they must find a way, which generally includes shelling out bucks, to search the holy grail databases. In medicine it is possible for anyone to search PubMed's database.

Lest it be lost on anyone the ultimate irony would be that it is the government in its various forms that produces the law and the cases that interpret the law. In medicine they provide funding and have some agencies involved in medical research but it is not the primary job of two-thirds of the government as are law making and interpretation.

Meeting minutes

Nevada's Open Meeting Law has quite a bit to say about the keeping and providing of minutes that are both timely and complete.

The OML requires that written minutes be kept of each meeting of the public body, for both closed and open sessions. Written minutes must include the date, time, and place of the meeting, the members of the public body who were present, the substance of all matters proposed, discussed or decided, the substance of oral or written remarks made by a member of the public if he so requests, and any other information which a member of the public body requests to be included.

Written minutes, and any audio or tape recordings of an open meeting must be available for public inspection within 30 working days after adjournment
of the meeting. Minutes of public meetings must be retained
by the public body for at least five years. Upon request,
minutes of closed sessions must be provided to the person
to which the closed session pertained within 30 working days
of adjournment of the meeting. Minutes of closed sessions
are generally not public records.

This raises a few questions. In many of the meetings of the Clark County town advisory boards and community advisory committees. For example a recent 2-hour meeting in Laughlin resulted in thirteen pages of minutes while an hour and a half meeting of nearly the same length in other boards warrants only one sentence that there was a long discussion.

Another challenge is boards that don't meet more than once a month. It is likely that the minutes of a meeting won't be approved in the timeframe suggested. A few boards seem to post draft minutes to the website but there are also those that have, sometimes long, gaps in the minutes being posted.

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