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July 31, 2014

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Legislature 2013:

First day of Legislature is festive, but who will be smiling on Day 120?

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Assemblymen Peter Livermore, left, and James Ohrenschall chat on the first day of the 2013 legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 in Carson City.

2013 Legislative Session - Day 1

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick's granddaughter Emma Krumme is held by her mother Tara Kirkpatrick on the first day of the 2013 legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 in Carson City. Launch slideshow »

Opening day of the Legislature is usually the happiest.

Legislators give flowery speeches about working together. Republicans compliment Democrats, and Democrats return the love to the GOP.

But what happens 119 days later, in the hours just before the Legislature adjourns sine die and lawmakers go home for two years?

Usually the scene isn’t quite so happy.

On the final day, lawmakers, staff and journalists typically work around the clock in a mad dash to the 1 a.m. adjournment.

Bills are killed. Bills that died 60 days earlier are resurrected. And lobbyists earn their paychecks by doing both.

Legislative leadership promise that it won’t happen this year on June 3. They’re committed to upholding the integrity of the process, which they acknowledged turned ugly in 2011 as arena bills, a toll road proposal, a transmission line paid for by ratepayers and a Lake Tahoe bill got thrown into the legislative sausage maker at the end.

But others are skeptical.

“We’re always going to make a push on the last day of session,” said one lobbyist, involved in a policy push at the end of the 2011 session. “That’s what we do.”

The last day of the 2011 session was an orgy of special-interest legislation, as the state’s most powerful special interests — NV Energy, casinos, developers and others — tried to ram through bills they desperately wanted.

There were repercussions.

Environmentalists were so upset about a bill that began to take Nevada out of the compact with California to protect Lake Tahoe that they backed a primary challenger to Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas. And they won, helping elect Sen. Patricia Spearman, D-North Las Vegas.

Another bill, which would have paved the way for a transmission bill for NV Energy, passed the Legislature late that night. After considerable media attention, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill.

Despite those repercussions, a similar final-hours push is expected this year.

One lobbyist repeated the axiom: He who knows the rules wins. Lobbyists know the rules, so they will find ways to use the process to advance their clients' agendas, even if that means resurrecting bills that “died” in committee or through deadline.

Another lobbyist, on the losing end of one of those last-minute policy battles last session, had a similar assessment. Powerful interests would push on the last day, although the blowback on Lee and NV Energy, he hoped, would serve as a cautionary tale.

One senator hopes measures will be put in place this year to prevent last-minute amendments. Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who was in the Assembly last session, was the sponsor of an energy bill that was “hijacked” by NV Energy. The company’s lobbyist persuaded another senator to attach an amendment to Atkinson’s bill with the transmission-line measure.

“A lot of us are irate about that,” he said. “We’re talking about putting measures in place to avoid that so that you don’t get to throw amendments on there and the citizens don’t even know what happened.”

There’s a recognition from leadership that the process last session was ugly.

Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said, “You have leaders through the ranks committed to having a better process through the session ... a smoother, more informative process.”

The last day determines the winners and losers in the special-interest race for legislation benefiting the bottom lines of some of Nevada’s most powerful industries.

It also determines the winners and losers in the partisan tug of war between Democrats — still the majority party in control of both houses — and the Republicans.

“The last day is going to be just like this. It’s going to be just as happy,” Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said in a brief interview. “We are going to get a lot done, and everybody is going to feel good walking out of this building.”

Kirkpatrick’s No. 2, Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, was similarly optimistic.

“We’re going to see some relieved faces, we are going to see some tired faces, and hopefully, if everything goes right, we are going to see some happy faces,” Horne said.

Asked who will be looking happy and who will be looking sad, Horne demurred: “I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Some Assembly Republicans — the smallest caucus in the building — weren’t quite as encouraged.

“Well, it won’t be this festive,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno. “But I hope we will have accomplished at least some of what Nevadans would appreciate.”

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Reno, was even more realistic.

“Well, with Kirkpatrick as speaker, it will go better because she’s not as partisan,” Hansen said. “But when you’re in the minority, you’re lucky to get anything at all. I’ll probably leave fairly frustrated because I’m more conservative than most of my colleagues.”

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