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County to prepare sage-grouse comments

ELKO — To ensure delivery of timely and relevant input about greater sage-grouse issues, Elko County plans to collaborate with its neighbors to submit comments to the Bureau of Land Management.

In late October, the BLM announced opportunities for the public to comment on the agency’s consideration of potential amendments to the Nevada and California land use plans addressing greater sage-grouse conservation. A public comment period in Elko is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Elko Convention Center, 700 Moren Way.

The commissioners voted Nov. 1 to work with the Nevada Association of Counties and other state counties to submit comments. The board also approved budgeting up to $5,000 to hire a consultant and voted to request BLM cooperating agency status for the process.

“Getting in now, especially since we have the cooperation that we do from the new administration, and the opportunity they have given us to participate on this, I think we are way ahead to just jump right in and start saying, ‘No, for us, this is not the direction we need to go. We need to do this instead,’” Commissioner Demar Dahl said.

He explained that the county commissioners’ decisions “give us the latitude to get our comments in properly and on time.”

County action comes after the Department of Interior announced its plans Oct. 5 to revisit land use plans in 10 states, including Nevada, “to improve greater sage-grouse conservation and to strengthen communication and coordination between western states and the federal government,” according to a BLM statement.

In a summary of greater sage-grouse land use amendment history, the Nevada Association of Counties stated that amendments approved in 2015 to protect the bird failed to address planning issues, including the withdrawal of areas with minerals. Nine counties, including Elko County, sued over the amendments. In March 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered the BLM to reopen plans.

The BLM let expire the withdrawal of 10 million acres of public lands on Oct. 11, citing Fish and Wildlife Service findings that mining is not a significant threat to greater sage-grouse.

Sen. Dean Heller told the Elko Daily Free Press that the idea behind re-examining the plans is to ensure that public land has multiple uses: “Not to hinder the protection for the sage-grouse itself but to make sure that mining is healthy, that agriculture is healthy.”

The BLM is in the process of a 45-day scoping period ending Nov. 25. In addition to the Elko meeting, sessions are scheduled for Sparks at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at The Nugget, Sierra Room 1, 1100 Nugget Ave.; and Ely 4:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Bristlecone Convention Center, 150 W. Sixth St.

Gov. Brian Sandoval released a statement urging involvement in the scoping process.

“I encourage our stakeholders to participate during this period to make recommendations to better align the Nevada State Plan with the federal plan in a meaningful way,” Sandoval said. “This is an opportunity for state partners to improve the federal plan and Nevada is committed to this process.”

Laxalt campaigns in Elko

ELKO — In the wake of announcing his gubernatorial bid, Attorney General Adam Laxalt launched a 17-county tour in the campaign’s opening week, including a stop in Elko on Nov. 2.

“Certainly you guys know how much I care about Elko, how much I care about rural Nevada,” Laxalt said. “I’ve been around the state tons and tons the last three years as I’ve promised and I will continue to do that in this coming year. If you all get me in as your next governor, you know I am going to be here for Elko.”

Laxalt addressed a standing-room only crowd at the Coffee Mug with guests including Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko; Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka; County Commissioner Cliff Eklund; Elko Mayor Chris Johnson; and Elko City Councilman Reece Keener; along with area residents and business owners.

The fourth-generation Nevadan, a Republican, described his upbringing, education and career, and reviewed his accomplishments since taking office as attorney general in 2015.

He shared that he was raised by a single mother, then struggled with alcoholism as a young adult. Later in life, he served in the U.S. Navy, through which he volunteered to go to Iraq and was trained as a prosecutor and legal adviser.

During the 2014 race for attorney general, Laxalt said critics from both political parties only further motivated him in his resolve to hold the public office.

“I felt like we needed an attorney general that was going to stand for Nevada,” he said. “We were facing unprecedented federal overreach, and I promised all of you that I was going to fight against the federal government to try to protect our state.”

Once elected, Laxalt said he worked to protect Nevada’s lands, veterans and victims of sexual assault.

He touted his office’s military legal assistance program, through which 2,000 service members have received pro bono legal service over the past two years. He also worked to eliminate the backlog of sexual assault kits.

Laxalt touched on his efforts to protect the use of Nevada’s public lands by filing a lawsuit in conjunction with other states to slow down greater sage-grouse rules after “the federal government ignored us,” he told the Elko Daily Free Press after his presentation. The litigation slowed down the process long enough to vote in a new presidential administration that Laxalt said is more receptive to partnering with the states.

Turning to the race for governor, Laxalt said character and principle would win over politics.

“I think a lot of us are concerned the direction we are headed,” he said. “We are concerned about the “Californication’ of Nevada, right? I think we are a Republican governor away from keeping this state the way it’s been.”

Former Nevada Gov. Robert List, who served 1978-1982, attested to Laxalt’s character, having known the family for four generations.

“So I know the history and integrity of his family. They’re really servants in every way,” said List, who is volunteering on the Laxalt campaign. “I got to know Adam, and I could see that he had all the same character. ... I got back involved because of who this guy is. Nevada needs him.”

Goicoechea commended Laxalt for his achievements and for remaining dedicated to Nevada more than politics.

“His total commitment to the state is what impresses me,” he said.

Proudly wearing a Laxalt sticker reminiscent of a campaign button, fourth-generation Elko resident Judi Boyce, with husband Francis “Buck” Boyce, said she was grateful that Laxalt spoke in Elko.

“I’m a supporter at this point, and I like what he’s done with the state,” Judi Boyce said, explaining that she values state sovereignty and quality education. “It’s a privilege to have someone come and talk to us.”

Big GOP tax bill would cut rates — but also popular breaks

WASHINGTON — With fanfare and a White House kickoff, House Republicans unfurled a broad tax-overhaul plan Thursday that would touch virtually all Americans and the economy’s every corner, mingling sharply lower rates for corporations and reduced personal taxes for many with fewer deductions for home-buyers and families with steep medical bills.

The measure, which would be the most extensive rewrite of the nation’s tax code in three decades, is the product of a party that faces increasing pressure to produce a marquee legislative victory of some sort before next year’s elections. GOP leaders touted the plan as a sparkplug for the economy and a boon to the middle class and christened it the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“We are working to give the American people a giant tax cut for Christmas,” President Donald Trump said in the Oval Office. The measure, he said, “will also be tax reform, and it will create jobs.”

It would also increase the national debt, a problem for some Republicans. And Democrats attacked the proposal as the GOP’s latest bonanza for the rich, with a phase-out of the inheritance tax and repeal of the alternative minimum tax on the highest earners — certain to help Trump and members of his family and Cabinet, among others.

“If you’re the wealthiest 1 percent, Republicans will give you the sun, the moon and the stars, all of that at the expense of the great middle class,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

And there was enough discontent among Republicans and business groups to leave the legislation’s fate uncertain in a journey through Congress that leaders hope will deposit a landmark bill on Trump’s desk by year’s end.

Underscoring problems ahead, some Republicans from high-tax Northeastern states expressed opposition to the measure’s elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah called the House measure “a great starting point” but said it would be “somewhat miraculous” if its corporate tax rate reduction to 20 percent — a major Trump goal — survived. His panel plans to produce its own tax package in the coming days.

GOP lawmakers concede that if the tax measure collapses, their congressional majorities are at risk in next November’s elections.

The package’s tax reductions would outweigh its loophole closers by a massive $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. Many Republicans were willing to add that to the nation’s soaring debt as a price for claiming a resounding tax victory. But it was likely to pose a problem for others — one of several brushfires leaders will need to extinguish to get the measure through Congress.

Republicans must keep their plan’s shortfall from spilling over that $1.5 trillion line or the measure will lose its protection against Democratic Senate filibusters, bill-killing delays that take 60 votes to overcome. There are just 52 GOP senators and unanimous Democratic opposition is likely.

The bill would telescope today’s seven personal income tax brackets into just four: 12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent and 39.6 percent.

The 25 percent rate would start at $45,000 for individuals and $90,000 for married couples.

The 35 percent rate would apply to family income exceeding $260,000 and individual income over $200,000, which means many upper-income families whose top rate is currently 33 percent would face higher taxes.

The top rate threshold, now $418,400 for individuals and $470,700 for couples, would rise to $500,000 and $1 million.

The standard deduction — used by people who don’t itemize, about two-thirds of taxpayers — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. That’s expected to encourage even more people to use the standard deduction with a simplified tax form Republicans say will be postcard-sized.

Many middle-income families would pay less, thanks to the bigger standard deduction and an increased child tax credit. Republicans said their plan would save $1,182 in taxes for a family of four earning $59,000, but features like phase-outs of some benefits suggest their taxes could grow in the future.

“The plan clearly chooses corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers over teachers and police officers,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

One trade-off for the plan’s reductions was its elimination of breaks that millions have long treasured. Gone would be deductions for people’s medical expenses — especially important for families facing nursing home bills or lacking insurance — and their ability to write off state and local income taxes. The mortgage interest deduction would be limited to the first $500,000 of the loan, down from the current $1 million ceiling.

Led by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the authors retained the deductibility of up to $10,000 in local property taxes in a bid to line up votes from Republicans from the Northeast. The panel planned to begin votes on the proposal next Monday.

“It’s progress, but I want more,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., who wants the entire property tax deduction restored.

Reduced to 25 percent would be the rate for many “pass-through” businesses, whose profits are taxed at the owners’ individual rate. But some of those companies would face higher rates.


A male sage grouses fight in 2008 for the attention of female on public land southwest of Rawlins, Wyo.

Sportsmen groups oppose oil leases in Ruby Mountains

ELKO – Five sportsmen groups in Nevada have come out against a proposal that could allow oil and gas development on 54,000 acres of public lands on the western edge of the Ruby Mountains.

Trout Unlimited reported the opposition to the Elko Daily Free Press less than 12 hours before public comments are due to the U.S. Forest Service.

Other groups that have submitted written comments in opposition to the proposal are the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Nevada Muleys, and the Nevada Wildlife Coalition.

The groups stated that the Ruby Mountains offer prime habitat for native cutthroat trout and big game populations.

“Nevada sportsmen understand the need to develop resources,” said Pam Harrington, the Nevada field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. ”But this is not the place for extraction. The most valuable resource in the Rubys is the hunting, fishing and recreational values.”

The proposal, if approved, would impact wintering habitat for Nevada’s largest mule deer herd, as well as critical sage grouse habitat and core populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout.

“Negative impacts to the habitat of these three valued wildlife species, already suffering declines, is a serious concern to sportsmen and all who care about our Nevada wildlife resources,” said Karen Boeger of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Nov. 2 is the last day for comments until the Forest Service releases a draft environmental assessment in 2018.

Comments can be made at until midnight.