Papers, please?

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted April 1998

Sergei and Maria have turned 18. They now hope to find entry-level jobs, helping out at home while they save up enough to start families of their own ... perhaps within 15 years, given how high the taxes have soared to support all the new government bureaucracies.

So, the hopeful duo report to the Ministry of Labor, where a fat, scowling bureaucrat repeats a lecture they have heard many times in their state schools:

"You understand that working is not a right in our society, but a privilege which must be granted you by the government, after you convince us that your intended labor serves an established need of the collective? And that you must also prove you are morally fit, in the view of our Caudillo, to undertake this public service?"

The young job candidates nod obediently, as they have been taught.

"Alright, then, let's begin. Sergei, it says here you wish to work in a kitchen, preparing food. You will of course have to take the food safety course, taught by our local police department. Maria, on the other hand, has been offered a position making appointments in a doctor's office. Since we can't be too careful in offices which handle drugs, she'll have to take the drug education course, also taught by our local police.

"For both these jobs, we will need written recommendations from your Young Pioneer counselors. You will, of course, also have to be photographed, fingerprinted, and subjected to urine tests before we can issue you your work cards. Then, there will also be the fees ..."

Where could such a nightmarish routine be occurring? In Havana? Algiers? Poland or Paraguay?

No, this is the near future in Las Vegas, if city councilmen Reese, Brown, Adamsen and McDonald have their way.

In February, the four voted unanimously (Mayor Jan Jones was absent) to require Las Vegas apartment managers to obtain sheriff's work cards -- which means being photographed and fingerprinted, submitting to government background checks, and paying $35 for the "privilege." Then all job applicants will have to attend an eight-hour course taught by the Metropolitan Police Department on how to do their jobs ... including how to screen out "potentially bad tenants."

Why? Councilman Gary Reese, who sponsored the measure, said that in a few bad neighborhoods he believes pimps, drug dealers, and other criminals are operating apartments and renting rooms. And, of course, "If a person is managing an apartment and breaking the law, we have no way to control it."

Councilman Michael McDonald, who is a police officer, surely could have pointed out to Councilman Reese that pimping and drug dealing are already against the law. The general theory over at Metro, as we understand it, is that the "way to control" such activities is to arrest the perpetrators.

In the past, police work cards have been required in Clark County for employees of businesses that operate under so-called "privileged licenses" -- casinos and child care facilities. The practice was of pretty dubious constitutionality to start with, but now we really see to how slippery a slope it can lead.

Many folks who take work as apartment managers are struggling young married couples, trading their labor for all or part of their rent. Are these the young folks who we want to dissuade from taking honest work? For make no mistake, it is the 98 percent of apartment managers who are decent, law-abiding folk who will bear the brunt of these new rules. Why would pimps and drug dealers -- already facing serious prison time for the activities -- do anything but laugh at the prospect of being "cited" for "renting a room without a sheriff's card"?

Councilman Reese is a small businessman. Councilman Brown also ran for office on the claim that his business experience made him sensitive to the encroachment of expensive, counterproductive, tyrannical bureaucracy.

Yet they both champion this police-state edict?

Apartment owners already have to comply with numerous state and local laws, including an extensive business licensing program. Most management companies already do extensive background checks on employees before they're hired.

"Where does it stop?" asks Kathy MIller, chairwoman of the Silver State Apartment Association.

In the office of the jefe, of course, where we will all be soberly informed that "Working is not a right in our society, but a privilege which must be granted by the government."

When do we get our flashy new caps, kerchiefs and uniforms, Councilman Brown? When is the first torchlight parade, Councilman Reese? When do we get to start turning in our undesirable neighbors for engaging in "forbidden commerce without proper work papers," Councilman Adamsen? And is there a reward? Ooh, this is going to be fun!

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.


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