Thousands Take to Streets for Northern Nevada March for Science


Science marchers gather at Reno City Hall on Saturday, April 22, for the Northern Nevada March for Science. Photo accredited to Joey Lovato, Nevada Sagebrush.

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on April 25, 2017.

Scientists and science supporters adorned in lab coats and carrying signs flooded downtown Reno, Saturday for the Northern Nevada March for Science. Marchers took to the streets to show resistance towards President Donald J. Trump’s anti-environmental policies and budget proposals.

The Northern Nevada March for Science, along with over 600 other marches worldwide, showcased homemade signs from doctors, biologists, archaeologists, teachers, parents and their children and a diverse group of speakers.

The Reno Police Department estimated around 2,000 attended the Reno march.

As the last few stragglers of the crowd cleared the Virginia Street Bridge, they gathered into City Plaza where the marchers heard from a number of speakers.

“The science community many times has evaded participation in community activism, but not anymore,” said Sarah Mahler, chairperson for the Democratic Party of Washoe County.

Mahler emphasized her work as a doctor in veterinary medicine and as a mother before her efforts as chair, in which she facilitates the participation of Democrats in party activities and assists party members seeking public office and other positions.

“They’re just as active as any other community member,” Mahler said of the science community. “There’s a certain population that strives to remain non-partisan as a scientist, until this presidency. It’s united masses of people that otherwise would not spend a day together.”

Other demonstrators said they borrowed lab coats and drew up signs to express the importance of science. Those signs expressed the marcher’s desires to save bees, promote clean energy, encourage science education in elementary schools, political participation and scientific literacy.

On March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that scrapped six Obama era climate change policies and called for a complete review of the Clean Power Plan. The plan was essential for the U.S. to meet its goal for carbon emissions set in the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. His budget proposal to Congress calls for an 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health and a 31 percent cut and elimination of 3,200 EPA employees from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ana Casareto and other community organizers held the first meeting for the Northern Nevada March for Science four days after the Trump administration ordered a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. Trump’s order came four days after the Jan. 20 inauguration.

“We’re standing up against fiscal cuts to the scientific endeavor,” Casareto said. “To be a science advocate, you can be anybody and you should be everybody.”

Lack of political will from Nevada representatives Dean Heller and Mark Amodei was one of the reasons several marchers gave when asked why they had chosen to show their support for science. Heller and Amodei’s names appeared on several signs on Saturday, pleading them to vote against the president’s budget proposal and other policies.

“We don’t need coal-fired power plants, we don’t even need natural gas power plants,” said Christopher Ginac, a Reno resident. “Amodei and Heller, we need to make sure that they start voting the way that Nevadans want them to vote versus what their donors want. It’s all the money and lack of political will.”

Heather Simms, a kindergarten teacher at Natchez Elementary School in Wadsworth, Nev. said she marched to promote integration of science education in the earlier years of school.

“I think in elementary schools the focus is so much on reading and math, and we really need to integrate more sciences,” said Simms.

Simms also expressed the lack of political will in Nevada as a major hurdle.

“When we have representatives up for re-election we need to make sure their focus is science,” Simms said.

One sign seemingly out of place at the march read, “No Pebble Mine, Save Bristol Bay!” The sign was carried by Jason Barnes, a biologist for Trout Unlimited, a nationwide group of scientists that protect, restore and sustain cold water trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.

Bristol Bay is a global wild salmon stronghold in Southwest Alaska that has supported Native Alaskans for thousands of years. Currently, it supports a $1.5 billion commercial and sport fishery.

Pebble Mine is a proposal for the largest mine in North America that would be located at the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers in Bristol Bay and is a part-time advocacy issue for Barnes.

“My big fear is that they will make permitting easier and possible,” said Barnes. “The EPA was one of the big roadblocks to permitting Pebble Mine. If they weaken the EPA than all those roadblocks to putting a bad mine in a bad place will be taken down.”

Carlos Perez-Campbell, a University of Nevada, Reno, student and president of the Washoe County Young Democrats said he marched to garner attention to climate change effects, specifically air pollution already observed in Reno.

“Reno already has one of the highest air pollution rates in the country,” Campbell said. “We often see in the dry summer months high rates of asthma and other respiratory issues.”

A report by the American Lung Association in 2016 found Reno tied for No. 11 most polluted city in America for short-term particle pollution.

Proposed Trump EPA Cuts Could Affect Local Initiatives Battling Climate Change


Photo accredited to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA building as it stands on September 10, 2014.

By Rachel Spacek and Gabriel Selbig

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on April 11, 2017

Last month, President Donald J. Trump proposed a 31 percent budget cut to the Environment Protection Agency, a move that even Republican lawmakers in Washington are expected to fight. Nevada is already seeing the effects of climate change according to University of Nevada, Reno researcher Maureen McCarthy, and the proposed budget cuts could have significant impacts in the state.

More than that, even the City of Reno could be seeing effects of these cuts sooner rather than later.

“Some of the more significant issues in the long run, if the EPA is gutted, specifically are the city’s plans to launch a better building program, which asks commercial building owners to voluntarily benchmark their energy efficiency,” said Lynne Barker, sustainability manager at the City of Reno.

Better Buildings is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy, proposed by President Barack Obama in 2011, that is designed to make homes, commercial buildings and industrial plants more energy efficient.

In a press release from the White House in 2011 they said, “The President’s Better Buildings Initiative will make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade by catalyzing private sector investment through a series of incentives to upgrade offices, stores, schools and other municipal buildings, universities, hospitals, and other commercial buildings.”

The Better Buildings initiative is used in over 100 cities in order to help cities and communities work with building owners to reduce energies in the commercial and building industry.

In addition to affecting the City of Reno’s plans to launch the Better Buildings initiative, the EPA cuts could also disproportionally affect the city’s low-income families, Barker said.

“Some impacts already identified in Reno are increased heat waves and air quality,” Barker said. “If the Clean Power Plan is cut, low-income families, seniors and other vulnerable populations will feel the effects first.”

McCarthy, a senior researcher in physics at UNR and the Desert Research Institute, told KNPR that Nevadans need to start worrying about the effects climate change will have in the state.

McCarthy said the major floods in Elko and the record-breaking amounts of snow in the Reno/Tahoe area are evidence of the local effects of climate change.

McCarthy said Nevadans should not expect the weather to change steadily, she believes the next few years will experience temperatures that are 20 degrees higher than normal with more record-breaking amounts of snowfall, rain and floods.

“That average is going to come from much more extremes – very low years followed by very high years. Unstable communities, whether they are here in the U.S. or abroad, they are a source of instability,” McCarthy told KNPR.

In Washington, Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei released a statement in which he discussed his commitment to a resolution expressing his commitment to “conservative environmental stewardship.”

“In order to legislate effectively, Washington must have a willingness to have frank and honest discussions on the issues that affect us all,” Amodei said in a statement. “I’m pleased to be joining the Climate Solutions Caucus with Congresswoman Bonamici and I look forward to joining the rest of my colleagues in examining fact-based policy and research.”

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts would shrink the EPA’s spending from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion. The cuts would also eliminate a quarter of the agency’s jobs.

Along with Amodei, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairperson of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee is skeptical of the cuts and reminded Trump last month that his budget request is only the first step in a long process of decision-making.

Schieve Announces Bid for Re-Election


Mayor Schieve takes questions from a class of Reynolds School of Journalism students. Photo accredited to Gabriel Selbig.

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on April 5, 2017

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve announced her run for a second term to a class of Reynolds School of Journalism students on Wednesday, April 4.

Closing out a 30 minute press conference with the students, Schieve hesitantly made the announcement when prompted by Professor Caesar Andrews.

“More than likely I will run for mayor again,” Schieve said.

Schieve then took a moment to assess the room and said, “I will be running again for mayor. I love my job.”

The announcement comes just one day after local casino executive, Brandon Siri, announced his own bid for Reno Mayor in the 2018 election. He is a fourth generation Reno resident, and the 2018 campaign for mayor will be his first run for political office.

“My campaign exists to see a fundamental shift in the city management of Reno,” Siri said in a statement. “This will be a historic election as Reno turns 150 years old, and will be pivotal in determining the future of Reno.”

Siri is running on a platform that includes creating more affordable housing and a focus on safe communities among others.

Schieve comes from a business background as well. She is one of four founders of Midtown in Reno, a thriving urban neighborhood with various shops and boutiques lining S. Virginia Street. She owns Plato’s Closet, Clothes Mentor and is set to open a third business in the neighborhood. Her business experience led to her first bid for Reno City Council in 2012.

Siri’s background is also steeped in business, but more specifically in the Downtown Reno gaming industry. He is an executive with Club Cal Neva and Siri’s casinos.

The Reno mayoral election is more than 18 months away, but already the city has two lifelong Nevadans vying for the seat.

Nevada Legislature to consider eliminating death penalty

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on March 14, 2017

Nevada could soon join 19 states and Washington, D.C. in ditching capital punishment. Assembly Bill 237, to be introduced later this legislative session, would abolish the death penalty and commute the sentences of current inmates on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

“I am philosophically against the death penalty,” Segerblom said. “I just don’t believe that society has the right to decide who lives and dies, but the primary reason is that it doesn’t work. No one is ever going to actually be executed in Nevada; in the meantime, we’re wasting millions of dollars trying to enforce capital punishment.”

Nevada has executed just 12 inmates since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1977, and most recently executed Daryl Mack in 2006 for the 1988 rape and murder of Betty Jane May, a Reno native.

Experts say the punishment will grow increasingly rare due to the lack of availability of the combination of drugs used to make the lethal injection. One of the two drugs required has expired, and the state has searched to no avail in recent months for a pharmaceutical company willing to replenish its supply.

“We have no way to kill somebody even if the appeals ran out and the individual is just sitting there on death row, we couldn’t kill them,” Segerblom said. “We’d have to get a new set of drugs or go back to the electric chair, firing squad or hanging, and any change in the process would require a huge amount of testing.”

Dr. Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, explained further that a change to the method of killing inmates or to the lethal injection itself would simply lengthen the time spent in the courts.

“If they make any change then that is grounds for an appeal. So there you’ve just added maybe two years [to the trial],” he said.

The appeals process is a long, last-ditch effort for defendants sentenced to death. For this reason, such defendants are in court almost up until the day they receive the injection. This also comes at a great cost to the public.

Sen. Segerblom postulated the cost of maintaining the death penalty to Nevadans at one to five million dollars annually. Once a defendant is sentenced to death, the prosecution and the defense double their numbers of lawyers. Each side hires psychologists, psychiatrists and any change in court proceedings may garner another appeal.

“The amount of errors that can take place is incredible,” Segerblom said. “When you look at the appeals process and the rights to have a conviction challenged, you realize even the most heinous criminal probably has all kinds of psychological issues, the jury pool is easily tainted, the prosecutor probably overreached and the defense attorney was probably incompetent.”

Herzik said there is a lack of evidence in academic literature that states whether or not capital punishment is affecting the calculus of potential murderers. He also discussed the social vengeance aspect of the death penalty.

“In the Nevada Revised Statutes and in sentencing, you are sentenced to a term of ‘x’ years for punishment,” Herzik said. “There is nothing about rehabilitation, and you can make that argument that ‘I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care that it’s not a deterrent.’ It brings closure to the case.”

There’s also the matter of systemic racism within the justice system. Of Nevada’s 81 inmates on death row, 42 are racial minorities. Thirty-three of those inmates are African Americans. Accounting for just 9.3 percent of the state population, African Americans make up 41 percent of Nevada’s population of inmates on death row.

Even so, Herzik cautions against applying a racial or ethnic lens to the actual use of capital punishment.

“If they say it’s disproportionately applied to minorities, that’s incorrect,” Herzik said, alluding to the fact that no executions in Nevada are presently scheduled. “It’s disproportionately given to minorities, but there’s not a lot of evidence indicating that African Americans are more likely to actually be executed. African Americans are far more likely to get harsher penalties and they’re disproportionately represented in prison populations and you can carry that over to death row, but then be careful about the actual application.”

Ahead of the Nevada Legislature’s 79th Session, lawmakers have maintained that restorative social vengeance is an efficient justification for capital punishment in the state.

“It’s a philosophical question,” Herzik said, “and there is no social science answer to that one.”

Nevada Legislature considers ditching existing citizenship requirements for Victim Fund payouts


Photo accredited to the American Immigration Council, 2015

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on Feb. 28, 2017

The Nevada Legislature is considering a bill allowing the eligibility for compensation of victims of violent crime, regardless of their citizenship status. If the bill is written into law, undocumented immigrants living in Nevada will qualify for a program that provides financial support to victims of crimes involving physical injury, threat of physical injury or death.

Assembly Bill 122 was heard by the Joint Meeting of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation on Monday, Feb. 13.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, is the primary sponsee of Assembly Bill 122. Her testimony in last week’s joint committee meeting was matched by members of the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and Tu Casa Latina, a northern Nevada-based nonprofit that advocates for immigrant women, men and children who are victims of violence and abuse.

“This is a human rights issue,” Benitez-Thompson said. “If a person violently attacks another person, that person’s citizenship status shouldn’t matter in terms of being able to get assistance.”

The Victims of Crime program provides support to victims during the fallout of a violent crime. It is not funded with taxpayer dollars, but with forfeited  appearance bonds, gross misdemeanor fines, DMV fees and other revenues. It covers lost wages, hospital bills and even funeral expenses and accepts claims as high as $35,000.

In 2016, it denied the applications of 54 violent crime victims because they were not documented U.S. citizens.

“Nevada is only one of two states that have a prohibition from allowing victims of a crime to apply if they are not a citizen of the United States,” Benitez-Thompson said.

Alabama is the other state with a citizenship qualification for victims.

Lizzie McElheney, a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, fears that hateful rhetoric will dominate students’ discussion and understanding of the bill.

“The buzz around this bill will be more harmful than the bill itself because of the extreme polarization of the word immigrant,” McElheney said.

She described what she called an exceedingly common American narrative: the term immigrant is rarely associated with white faces.

“I’m a Jew, and in Judaism I was taught to stand up for the voiceless,” McElheney said. “For me, it’s not hard to imagine being in a sh — situation because of how powerful institutions treat you.”

Victims seeking financial support in Nevada must meet a myriad of requirements other than citizenship.

“In order to qualify for these dollars, they have to file a police report within three days and they have to participate with law enforcement in the persecution of their defender,” Benitez-Thompson said.

Assembly Bill 122 will delete the citizenship qualification of the Victims of Crime program, but not the long, grueling process of a violent crimes victim.

When asked if information from the program’s undocumented applicants is made available to federal agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Benitez-Thompson said the Victims of Crime program assists victims with beginning the U visa process so that they start on the path towards citizenship.

Congress passed the U nonimmigrant visa along with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. Law enforcement, bolstered by the legislation, can more easily work with undocumented victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and trafficking.

“This bill has been misconstrued as something that helps undocumented people stay undocumented and that is not true at all,” Benitez-Thompson said.

The Las Vegas Sun reported the bill was not passionately debated in the joint committee meeting.

“I would agree it’s a human rights issue,” said Keith Pickard, R-Henderson. “Where someone comes from should not be a factor when receiving compensation for these crimes.”

The bill caters to violent crime victims who have every legal fear of talking with law enforcement. Its supporters said undocumented victims are more apt to stay with their abusers rather than jump through the hoops of few legal options. According to the Victims of Crime office, these victims often do not reach the office’s doors for fear of their immigration status being flagged.

“This bill provides a supportive environment where victims are able to come forward and, ultimately, it puts offenders of violent crimes behind bars,” Benitez-Thompson said.

Fitness center first of many new projects


A student lunges away from a punching bag in a specialized boxing studio. Photo accredited to Gabriel Selbig

Originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush on Feb. 21, 2017

With the completion of the E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center on campus at the University of Nevada, Reno, the university looks to new capital improvement projects.

The fitness center opened its doors to the community and the media last Wednesday, Feb. 15, during an open house showcasing nearly every room of all four floors of the $47 million project.

“There’s something for every person on every floor,” said Sheena Harvey, the sports and events coordinator at the Wiegand Center. “I don’t think we missed anybody. People still have to go up to Lombardi and swim, but other than that I think we’ve covered everything here.”

Upon entrance, one stands immediately adjacent to a towering “fitness stairway,” leading from the bottom floor to the top. Trudging upward, one passes a field of weight-lifting machines that eventually fade into a wide-open CrossFit area.

On the second floor, there are exercise-specific rooms: yoga, pilates, rowing, Zumba, and others. The third floor consists of three full-length basketball courts near a cardio area equipped with treadmills and stationary bikes. The staircase ends at the foot of a one-eighth mile running track that overlooks nearly all 108,000 square feet of the facility.

In the 2013-14 school year, University of Nevada students voted on and passed a referendum that allowed each undergraduate be charged $15 per semester for the facility and $30 per semester for operations once it opened.

“The students particularly chose this funding mechanism so that every student is paying for it up front and each additional activity doesn’t cost any more,” UNR President Marc Johnson said.

Ian Reh, a junior at the University of Nevada, has already visited the new facility five times in its opening week.

“I would say the lighting and the space,” Reh said regarding major differences between the new Fitness Center and Lombardi Recreation Center. “I think it’s fine [students] still pay for it because they still have the ability to use it anytime. I mean it’s the same thing as signing up for a gym membership. You’re paying for it and you usually won’t go, so I think that every kid ought to see it’s not a big price to pay for having a state of the art gym accessible at any time.”

Johnson echoed this sentiment and gave disillusioned students and staff a cause for hope.

“We’ll be looking at a groundbreaking in late spring for a new arts building. It’s about 37,000 square feet of new facilities with practice rooms for band, a bigger museum and a recital hall of 300 seats,” Johnson said.

Johnson also disclosed that the university has legislation before the Nevada Legislature asking for a new engineering building. Johnson said Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed the state would pay for half the cost of constructing the potential new building.

According to the UNR College of Engineering, the University has committed $12 million in renovations out of an expected $80 million needed to completely fund the complex. Johnson said he hopes they can break ground sometime in 2018.

On-campus parking is a common dilemma for University of Nevada students. One of the larger lots was excavated for the Wiegand Center’s groundbreaking in June 2015.

“I’ve just got a report this week on our parking demands for the next five years,” Johnson said. “We are likely going to build another parking garage and it needs to be on the south side of campus.”

The University of Nevada, Reno campus is swelling. High rates of incoming freshmen have increased funds for capital improvements. Bruce Shively, the university’s budget director, and his department released a report that estimated an additional 3,200 students by 2020. Governor Sandoval’s budget recommendation for the 2018 fiscal year is $222 million, just over $17 million more than that of 2017.

Beyond more large-scale capital improvement projects, UNR also looks to hire hundreds more faculty members by 2020. Shively’s report calls for improvement of student-to-faculty ratio, aiming at a change from 22:1 to 18:1. Of the future positions, 272 will be tenure-track.

The landscape of the University of Nevada, Reno, will continue to change over the coming years.

Recreational Marijuana, Sustainable Education Funding for the 21st Century


Photo accredited to

On election night 2016, Nevada went mostly blue and even a little green. As vote-counting concluded in Nevada, ballot measure 2 succeeded in legalizing recreational marijuana by a margin of just under 100,000 votes. Thus, recreational marijuana will be legal across the state, ensuring that all Nevada schools receive a slice of the 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana revenues.

State counties will be able to determine the location of dispensaries, however, they will not be permitted to outright prohibit businesses from entering their towns.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Assistant Manager at Reef Dispensaries in Sparks, Angel Pailor had this to say, “Cannabis has a bad perception but now after 50 years or so, I think that times are changing, and it’s a good thing to change that perception of like ‘Oh, it’s a hardcore drug’ and it’s a gateway drug when it’s totally not like that.”

“I think it’s awesome because you don’t see people in the alcohol lobby or in pharmaceutical drugs offering even to help schools out”, she added.

The law allows for adults of at least 21 years of age to possess, consume and cultivate a small and personal amount of marijuana. Fiscally, recreational marijuana business will begin to pump money into local schools once their tax infrastructure is built. The Department of Taxation will be charged the duty to regulate and administer facilities that produce, cultivate and dispense marijuana products.

According to the initiative’s specifics on, one major aspect of this is collecting a 15 percent excise tax upon the wholesale value of marijuana sold by these facilities that will then be deposited into the State Distributive School Account. Supporters of the bill have projected profits of more than $350 million statewide by the end of 2018, according to an article written by Seth A. Richardson in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

How will this affect my kids and our schools? It is a question surely on many Nevadan parents’ minds, one month removed from election night. Stacey Smith is a teacher of world history at Wooster High School in Reno. “They’ve learned to use it when they’re vaping.”, she said.  “They’ve caught kids using in the vape pens, so then they don’t actually get busted for it. We had an incident a couple weeks ago where a kid was actually caught smoking in class.” Still, she does not see a large-scale problem of high accessibility in her school.

Smith went on to differentiate between a few bold students and that of the entire student body. “As far as if it’s a real issue [at Wooster] I don’t think it’s a huge issue.”

A parent of students at the University of Nevada, Reno and Fernley High School, Ramona Campbell offered her opinion. “I don’t do it and I don’t like it, and even I don’t agree with other people who smoke, but I prefer it be legalized and that people pay the right taxes.” On the 15 percent excise tax, she added, “It’s good, it’s the right thing to do.”

Additionally, a common fear is the accessibility to edibles packaged similarly to common candies. Pailor admonishes, “We have our own Sour Patch Kids, but we call them Sour Hash Kids.” Countering the parental fear, she offered her business’ explanation, “We want to support schools and also keep the kids safe. I feel like the reason they kind of make them look like [candy] is it’s appealing to adults, it’s just the nostalgia factor to a lot of people.”

“I don’t like that idea, sorry”, Ramona Campbell responded. She feels that the market for edibles is made up of young and future smokers. “Children who have access to candies with marijuana, can you believe it then? They’re going to start to be addicted, and it’s not good.”

Still, Nevada smokers may be in for a wait before they can enter Reef Dispensaries without a medical card. Angel Pailor explained a halting transfer of power, “We’re hoping the earliest will be summer of 2017, but realistically it’s probably not going to be until the beginning of 2018. The Department of Behavioral Health are the people that handle health cards and everything like that, and when it goes recreational the Department of Taxation is going to be handling that. Once they get their tax infrastructure set up, that is what we’re waiting on for us to get the go ahead to become recreational.”

“I don’t think the district is doing anything about it across the board because it’s going to take awhile. They’ve got to get that infrastructure, get the licenses out for people to have dispensaries”, Smith responded to a question on steps the Washoe County School District is taking in regards to marijuana legalization. She supports the taxation from the bill benefitting schools like Wooster High, but still addresses the fact that schools will not see a dollar from recreational marijuana until the tax infrastructure is built.