Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

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Annual legislative session getting yet another look in Nevada

Sun Coverage

CARSON CITY — For all the reasons Nevada distinguishes itself among its sister states, here’s one that isn’t mentioned too often:

Nevada is only one of four whose legislative body meets every other year. Ours gathers for 120 days every two years.

What, besides legal brothels 10 minutes outside the state capitol, says laissez-faire more than a branch of government that is out to lunch five out of every 6 days?

A legislative committee is studying that, with some members advocating annual sessions.

The Legislative Commission’s Committee to Study the Structure and Operations of the Nevada Legislature — of course it has to have a mind-numbing bureaucratic name — held its first meeting Wednesday, getting a rundown on lawmaker compensation in other states (Nevada’s 63 lawmakers make about $28,000 per session in salary and per diem), the number of lawmakers in other legislatures (New Hampshire has 400 members in its Assembly) and how often they meet.

“I’m a legislative junkie,” said Karl Kurtz, director of the Trust for Representative Democracy, part of the National Conference of State Legislatures, “And this committee is legislative junkie heaven.”

That endorsement aside, this meeting could result in another attempt to push annual sessions.

“The tide has been very much toward annual sessions,” Kurtz said.

It’s an idea bandied about nearly Nevada every odd year and just about always goes down in defeat.

But this committee is conducting the first study on Legislative operations in 20 years.

Proponents of annual sessions have included liberal Democrats such as former Assemblyman Bob Price, who biennially introduced a resolution, and conservatives such as former state Sen. Bob Beers, who thought the state needed annual budget sessions.

Indeed, the Great Recession forced former Gov. Jim Gibbons to call three special sessions to cut the budget because the Legislature wasn’t in session to make the changes needed.

“It’s pretty tough to budget for two years,” said Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the committee. Segerblom has sponsored unsuccessful resolutions to change the state’s constitution to hold annual sessions.

Kurtz, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, emphasized that state constitutions call for branches of government to be equal in power, to serve as a check and balance.

Often, though, power is concentrated in the hands of the executive branch.

Segerblom said Nevada’s Legislature “is not as equal as we could be. We have a very powerful governor system.”

As for concern that an annual session would lead to a Legislature run amok, Segerblom, a fourth-generation legislator who’s great-grandfather first served in the state senate in 1906, said, “That was good in 1864, but is it good when you have 3 million people and a lot of problems?”

The state held one annual session in its 150-year history, in 1960. The next year, voters overwhelmingly nixed that model.

Annual sessions would require a change in the constitution. The Legislature will have to approve it in consecutive sessions and then voters would get an up and down vote. That means the soonest it could go into effect, if an effort begins in 2013, is 2018.

Only Texas, Montana and North Dakota also only biennial legislatures. Texas compensates for its infrequent meeting with a powerful budget committee, according to Kurtz.

Critics of the Legislature like to dust off this quote attributed, though unverified, to Mark Twain, who covered the Nevada Legislature for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City: “It’s far better the legislature meet every sixty years for two days than every two years for sixty days.”

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