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April 25, 2015

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Annual legislative session getting yet another look in Nevada

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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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  1. Perhaps, it is not the frequency of Legislative meetings, but changing the Nevada Constitution to shift the balance of power as stated, "Segerblom said Nevada's Legislature "is not as equal as we could be. We have a very powerful governor system."

    Other states meet yearly and still can't get things done. So maybe, adding an ammendment to have a on-going Budget Committee, which is current and can at the moment meet any financial crisis and deal with it, just might be the ticket to help Nevada more effectively.

    Presently, the real problem is the battle and total lack of compromise between the 2-party system of politics, causing endless gridlock and nothing getting the attention it needs to make proper decisions. We really need to have open elections with any and all parties involved, with popular VOTE. The campaign contribution system needs to be changed so that all those campaigning get an equal amount of money to work with to level the playing field. The present system is about who has the MOST campaign money/support, which has led to great disparity and injustice harming the People of Nevada.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Since the Legislature only represents the State of Las Vegas, and works valiantly to screw the rest of the state, it would be better if they met only once every 5 or 10 years, so rural Nevada would get screwed less. The Nevada Constitution demands one Senator from each County -- what happened to that part of government to balance power?

  3. And that's a bad thing? I think not. This way, the bureaucratic drones can only come up with dopey ways to shackle us every other year. You know, like making it a "crime" to feed pigeons or to have a "pet" on a walkover on the Strip. Yeah, I know, Mrs Gray isn't in the Legislature anymore, but she's typical of their dopey mindset. Now, she's brought that type of Stalinism to Clark County. It would be a joke if she weren't so dangerous to our freedoms, folks.

  4. lv "facts," she is not Mrs. Gray. Her name is Chris Giunchigliani. I know the idea of a woman actually keeping her name is antithetical to those on your side who believe that a woman exists only to be barefoot and pregnant.

    By the way, the reason the annual sessions ended after 1960 is that they were supposed to concentrate only on fiscal matters, but legislators kept attaching riders and amendments, claiming that everything they did was fiscal, and it was an embarrassment and an annoyance. And that was before reapportionment, meaning the legislature then was overwhelmingly tilted toward the rural counties, where, supposedly, government bureaucracy is anathema.

  5. B Lister,

    The U.S. Supreme Court in 1964 ruled the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution requires both houses of a state legislature to be apportioned according to population. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). This is the one-person, one-vote concept. The decision rendered the Nevada practice of giving each county at least one senator unconstitutional.

    Michael, I don't know if that's quite right.

    Nevada had only one annual session, in 1960. That was after proposal by the 1955 and 1957 legislatures and approval of the voters in 1958. The next regular biennial session was in 1959, thus making 1960 the first annual session. However, in the meantime, an initiative petition was approved at the 1960 general election which reversed annual sessions. So the ink was barely dry on the only annual session before voters repealed it. I find it amazing the fickleness of the voters, having adopted annual sessions in 1958 and getting rid of them two years later.

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

    An incredibly bad idea, and self-serving. Never, ever forget every time the legislature passes a law it's one more thing We were all free to do or not do abrogated, often with huge consequences, and a bureaucracy to go with it. That new driving while celling is law is just one example.

    "Other states meet yearly and still can't get things done."

    star -- excellent point! I'd add this one -- currently every lawmaking body, from Congress down to our counties and cities, are in overdrive passing new laws. The effect is rarely good for any of us, since mostly it's expansion of police powers in blatant violation of Constitutional limits.

    The main question could very well be why, after meeting for over 200 years has Congress become a fulltime, self-serving machine far from our Founders' original intentions?

    All legislatures should be repealing laws, not passing new ones.

    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac H Tiffany (1819)