Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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The 2013 Legislature starts today: the odd-year 120-day sprint when the state’s 63 lawmakers and the governor converge on Carson City to determine the direction of the state. Theoretically, at least.
There will assuredly be hearings and bills. There will be horse trading; the figurative kind, not the kind that ends at a slaughterhouse.
Nevada is one of four states without a Legislative session every year. That creates an often-relaxed start that turns to a sense of urgency which can then turn to a sense of panic to get everything done. There will be lobbyist wining and dining leading up to the frenetic final moments of the session when special interests often reign supreme.
And there will be some honest discussion about serious issues that have plagued the state for decades.
Just what is the legislative session all about? Here’s a quick guide to get you up to speed and help you play along with the state’s 77th Session of the Nevada Legislature.
Enough personalities to fill a Hunter S. Thompson novel
Political tension often underlies the pomp and circumstance of the Legislature’s opening ceremonies. This year, a most bizarre drama is unfolding as lawmakers figure out how to contend with Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-North Las Vegas.
Like a car crash you know you shouldn’t look at, the drama surrounding the lawmaker arrested for threatening his own caucus leader will be an unavoidable spectacle this week.
Brooks, who was involuntarily admitted to a rehabilitation center after his initial arrest, has reserved 20 seats in the viewing gallery for the opening day ceremonies, which will make things interesting.
But while Brooks might be the most eye-catching personality of the session right now, he is by no means the only interesting character in the high school soap opera that the Legislature sometimes feels like.
Assembly Speaker-elect Marilyn Kirkpatrick has her own fascinating story .
Sen. Mo Denis will be the state’s first Hispanic caucus leader. Assemblyman William Horne will be the Assembly’s first black majority leader. And Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey may be the only legislator to have participated in a mass wedding arranged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
What’s with the lobbyists?
We elect the lawmakers as part-time lawmakers and pay them modestly — $8,777.40, plus per diem totaling $18,240 and $10,000 for living expenses.
Smart people generally go where the money is. So there are the lobbyists.
They distribute the campaign contributions. Sometimes write the bills. And serve a vital role in the process, as de facto staff and “friends” to lawmakers.
Which is the most interesting one? We submit George Flint, brothel and wedding chapel lobbyist.
What are the big issues they’ll tackle?
Although the Legislature often can take on a Carnival cruise-like sense, lawmakers will deal with a raft of serious issues.
Some are systemic, such as how to fund the state budget and deal with an education system that is producing substandard results.
Others are the product of the turning tides of politics, such as gun control, gay marriage and other social issues.
Amid it all, the state’s largest businesses will have legions of lobbyists plying their trade for legislation beneficial to their interests. For a little background reading, remember tow trucks and power lines from last session.
Where the heck is Carson City, anyway?
What Carson City lacks in population and political clout, it makes up for quaint coffee shops, thumpin’ cigar bars and scenic mountain vistas.
Most lawmakers and Southern Nevada lobbyists take the Southwest flight from Las Vegas to Reno, then drive the 30 miles south to Carson City on Monday mornings and do the reverse on Friday afternoons.
That drive is now a little easier thanks to a fancy new bridge — the largest highway contract in state history.
Or, if you’re inclined, you can make the drive from Las Vegas to Carson City, a 441-mile jaunt through scenic Nevada.
How do I contact my legislator, track a bill or watch a hearing?
Often lawmakers hope that what happens in Carson City stays in that insulated bubble in Northern Nevada. But for public policy to be strong, the Legislature shouldn’t remain a spectator sport.
So how do you get involved?
The Legislative Counsel Bureau makes it pretty easy.
Want to watch a hearing online? Easy. Watch it here.
Want to see what a bill actually says, whether it’s withering away in a committee chairperson’s desk or up for a vote on the Senate floor? Track its progress here.
What did Mark Twain have to say?
Let’s turn to Mark Twain, the man whose brief toe-tap in Nevada included a stint covering the Legislature for the Territorial Enterprise in the 1860s.
That darn fact checker of Nevada, historian Guy Rocha, has cast doubt on the veracity of the Greatest Quote about the Nevada Legislature. “It's far better the Legislature meet every sixty years for two days than every two years for sixty days." There’s no record of Twain actually saying it, though many agree he would or should have.
But he did have some choice things to say about the Legislature.
"I think I can say, and say with pride, that we have some legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world," he said.