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July 1, 2015

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Some real-world advice for incoming lawmakers


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The dome of the Nevada Legislative Building is seen Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, in Carson City.

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Sen. Mo Denis asks a question during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in Carson City.

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Marilyn Kirkpatrick

The 14 freshman legislators arriving in Carson City for the first time last week had a packed three-day schedule for their new-lawmaker orientation.

They went on a tour of the building, learned how to fill out their expense reports, got a 30,000-foot view of how the budget is put together, listened to a spiel on ethics and tried to figure out the legislative website.

Legislative leaders gave brief, platitude-laden introductory remarks.

But incoming Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis only skirted around the edges of giving the newbies legislative street-smart advice.

So here’s a handy real-world guide to reading between the lines of the leaders’ remarks and a bit of unsolicited insight into the process, as well:

• What Kirkpatrick said: “You are no longer a private citizen. Everything you do or say is public. So remember you are on 24/7 watch, and remember you represent the state.”

What Kirkpatrick likely was referring to: Carson City’s robust legislative bar scene.

The 120-day legislative session has often been likened to a cruise-ship atmosphere on steroids. The majority of lawmakers leave families and real jobs to travel up to the northern hinterlands of Carson City.

Add to that dynamic the lobbyists, booze, fancy restaurants and the fact that Lake Tahoe is less than 30 minutes away and you’ve got the makings for some real drama.

But the dirty secret of all that partying? It’s where much of the deal-making, intel-gathering and relationship-building occurs.

From the cigar-bar karaoke nights to the sumptuous dinners in the Victorian-themed Adele’s restaurant, lawmakers can ignore the nightlife at their own peril.

• What Denis said: “Don’t buy into the gossip. You’ll hear a lot of that, too. In some ways, it reminds you of college or high school up here during session.”

Gossip runs rampant at the Legislature. And not the just the smutty kind that sometimes, but definitely not always, has a kernel of truth from the above-mentioned nightlife in Carson City.

Policy can be affected by such rumors as who is or isn’t supporting a bill, what the governor will or will not do on the budget, and what sneaky plan a lobbyist might have for hijacking certain legislation.

Any smart lawmaker will keep an ear to the rumor mill but verify before taking action.

And now for the unsolicited insight:

• No bill is truly dead ... or alive.

If you were to hearken back to your “Schoolhouse Rock” days, you’d know that a lawmaker proposes a bill, a committee holds hearings on the bill before voting it up or down, and then it proceeds to the floor for a full vote. That process is completed twice in each house before the legislation goes to the governor for a signature.

But that’s not what always happens. Indeed, there are myriad ways for a bill to die, be resurrected or be completely gutted and rewritten at the whim of another lawmaker.

Committee chairmen can table a bill, letting it sit in a drawer until deadline passes and it dies. The same can happen on the secretary’s desk in the Senate or the Assembly at the direction of the legislative leaders.

But the real craziness happens at the very end of the session, when bills long “dead” are inserted into other pieces of legislation, thereby killing both or ensuring both survive.

Keeping tabs on the quickly moving pieces can be nearly impossible.

• Reporters are everywhere.

The Sun imparts this advice at our own peril, fully recognizing that cautious legislators can rob of us of good stories. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember.

Reporters are everywhere in the legislative building, and with the help of Twitter, their reach has greatly expanded. A quick catnap in a committee meeting can quickly become an Internet sensation — well, at least for those who pay attention to politics.

• When you’re on the floor, people in the gallery can see what’s on your computer screen.

And those screen guards don’t really work.

So, be careful when playing solitaire or researching your next vacation.

One Republican assemblyman was reprimanded in 2009 when someone in the gallery saw him looking at explicit photos on this laptop during floor session. His excuse: He was just researching his summer vacation to Brazil.

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  1. So then, they didn't remind them of the importance of caring for their major campaign contributors and how to nurture relationships that will financially prepare them for their inevitable departure from politics, or don't they have to because they feel that it's well recognized?

  2. As a former lobbyist and legislative staffer I would add that it is useful to get to know and use legislative staff. Many have years of experience and are more educated as to issues than are elected legislators. Distance yourself from lobbyists, always make sure that your relationship[s] with the lobby are professional and above board. The gossip part is right on the money. Every session legislators are reviewed and ranked....stuff fit to print like most collegial and most effective, and stuff for the backroom like stupidest, heaviest booze hound and the like.

  3. "The 14 freshman legislators . . .went on a tour of the building, learned how to fill out their expense reports, got a 30,000-foot view of how the budget is put together, listened to a spiel on ethics and tried to figure out the legislative website."

    Damon -- what exactly did you mean with "got a 30,000-foot view of how the budget is put together"? Otherwise a good piece by giving us a peek under the new legislature's skirts. Overall I see mainly another example of how detached government is from the reality the rest of us have to live with every day. Our legislators seem to get to indulge themselves in luxuries so many Nevadans can't afford, nearly 500 miles from where most of Nevada lives and works and does without.

    "The gossip part is right on the money. Every session legislators are reviewed and ranked....stuff fit to print like most collegial and most effective, and stuff for the backroom like stupidest, heaviest booze hound and the like."

    wharfrat -- good post. As a former, seasoned citizen lobbyist, my view has always been watching laws being made is a lot like watching hot dogs being made. A bill can start as a noble, populist concept, but after being gutted and stuffed the final version is too often an evil version. Although the influence of lobbyists is controversial, most don't know the majority are government suits seeking job security by burrowing their agencies' deeper into our lives where the Constitutions forbid they go.

    Just a reminder our lawmakers represent We the people who elected them, not the insulated and privileged government elite.

    "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

  4. Here's a tip: Nevada is the strongest SANCTUARY STATE around. Illegals who can't find employment in Arizona or Alabama come here. More than 12% of employees here are illegals. So of course, there are many more demands on K-12, UMC, local housing free vouchers, food banks, St Vincent DePaul food programs..... And we do NOT have a corresponding increase in the local economy--actually, it's a decrease as we pull more and more money out of our businesses, economies, personal wealth to support expanded programs for everybody else. There is no way we can keep increasing tax rates without spiraling down the drain. Find a way to do more with less or DO LESS WITH LESS--government can provide ONLY the essential services. And, we need to RIGHT-SIZE EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION so that government payrolls are scaled back to comparable levels.

  5. You can always count on Ms. Anderson to lay the downfall of the city/county/state/country on the immigrants. Never misses a chance.

  6. Here's a tip---if you're a conservative, the LV Sun will hate you no matter what. Just stick to your guns.