by Whatsblem the Pro
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.