Victory! But for Whom?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

The Nevada Assembly passed AB374 in a 26-15 party line vote today.

The bill, which prohibits county commissioners from imposing fees or regulations on festivals operating under a federal license or permit, was sponsored by Assemblyman David Bobzien (D). The version that passed this morning is the second rewrite since our last report on March 30th of this year.

Opponents of the bill sought amendments to remove county liability and responsibility of prosecuting crimes, due to the high costs of providing law enforcement at Burning Man. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks said the bill would undermine the county’s authority, and make funding law enforcement difficult. In response, the bill was amended to give the counties the right to contract with and charge the Burning Man organization (and other event promoters) for law enforcement services. The new provision reads as follows:

2. A board of county commissioners may:

(a) Enter into an agreement, with a person or organization which has been issued a license or permit by a federal agency for an assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land, for the county to provide reasonable and necessary law enforcement services for the assembly, event or activity and to receive compensation for the provision of such services; and

(b) Regulate or license, or require any type of permit or fee for organizing, managing or attending, any assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land that is the subject of a:

(1) Lease between the Federal Government and the county; or

(2) License for recreational or other public purposes from the Federal Government to the county.

What this means is that while the corporation that holds the trademark on Burning Man will be more profitable thanks to the elimination of the necessity to pay county authorities for permits or other fees, the Org may still choose to contract with the counties to bring their law enforcement personnel to Black Rock City. It’s possible that this won’t even be a choice; one of the “special stipulations” of the 2012 BLM permit, after all, was this:

23. BRC shall complete formal agreements with all affected parties e.g. Pershing County Sheriff’s Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, Nevada Department of Public Safety-Investigations Division, Nevada Highway Patrol, and Nevada Department of Health and Human Safety for the purpose of addressing concerns and impacts associated with social services e.g. law enforcement and emergency medical services and physical infrastructure e.g. transportation systems and human waste disposal. Written evidence of these agreements showing compliance with this stipulation must be provided to the BLM by BRC 30 days prior to the start of the event.

Since special stipulation #23 demands compliance but doesn’t spell out what compliance actually involves beyond “complete formal agreements,” we’re left to speculate. Doesn’t this put huge leverage into the hands of Washoe and Pershing counties? They can simply demand that one or both of them be contracted with to provide law enforcement services – and be paid for doing so – or threaten to take their ball and go home; no formal agreement means no BLM permit.

It remains to be seen how the Burning Man Org will actually handle this; they could demand a renegotiation of the special stipulations, given that the terrain has changed significantly in the wake of AB374. Given their track record, however, I predict that nothing in particular will get better for those who attend the event. The Org will become more profitable, as is their apparent primary goal always, and the rest of us will be graciously allowed to eat whatever cake we can find in the middle of the desert. The only question is if the Org will be willing to bend over so far backward to county law enforcement that the heavy increase in on-playa officers continues at the alarming pace of the past few years.

How happy I would be if I turned out to be wrong about that.

17 comments on “Victory! But for Whom?

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  10. This seems like one of those cases where we think the legislation is going to help, but then they stitch us up in the fine print. As you’ve pointed out Whatsblem, the wording of the BLM permit still seems to line the pockets of the counties. So it would seem that the relationship between them and the Winnemucca Field Officers of the BLM , and the various local sheriffs and politicians, is a key factor still. This bill might end up achieving nothing in the end. Or, if the BLM sides with the BMOrg, it could turn the tide back in favor of the jailbait instead of the jailors !

  11. Every formally-organized event of any size I know of here in Portland (except perhaps the charitable ones) has to pay for the extra police required. It’s standard government practice.

    The issue in this case is that the event’s not taking place in an area where illicit behavior threatens to interrupt others going about their business nearby, and there is no actual requirement for more than whatever handful of officers are required to respond to violent crimes including sexual assaults.

  12. With apologies, the statement “This temporary city pays no taxes, nor do the people passing through to the cities they impact.” is incorrect. Every gallon of fuel, every pound of bacon and jug of water is taxed. Every speeding ticket, every possession of banned substance citation is money in the local economy. Understand that Law Enforcement is a business. Left as is this law could open the door for local governments to “Bill for Services” until BM moves to survive.
    Burners do not need more Law Enforcement presence. We do a pretty good job of self regulating on our own.

    • Excuse me officer, could you give me a quotation for the law enforcing activities involved in case we would have a party of wich you estimate that illegal activities or activities that threaten social order might take place? Please include discount options for when this would happen 10 fold and 100 fold. I will then ask my tax consultant for deduction options of your costs. Thank you.

  13. This temporary city pays no taxes, nor do the people passing through to the cities they impact. If you want to have law enforcement be a public service paid for by taxes, Joost, don’t be surprised when that tax is in the form of a tariff.

  14. Weird…
    I thought law enforcement is a part of public services that come with a democratic society. That’s what you pay taxes for. Now you’re forced to buy this service?

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