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Failure to pass More Cops bill forces Legislature into special session


Cathleen Allison / AP

Lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members nap after lawmakers failed to meet their midnight deadline for the end of the 77th Legislative session Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Carson City.

Updated Tuesday, June 4, 2013 | 9:35 a.m.

Nevada Legislative Session Ends

Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, naps after lawmakers failed to meet their midnight deadline for the end of the 77th Legislative session in Carson City, Nev., Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Launch slideshow »

In a twist of political irony, Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has vowed to not raise taxes, called a special session early Tuesday to do just that.

Nevada lawmakers lost their game of chicken with the clock late Monday and the biggest casualty was a long-fought bill to raise taxes in Clark County to hire more police officers.

Assembly Bill 496, which was lobbied intensely by Las Vegas Metro Police Department and personally by Sheriff Doug Gillespie, succombed to a last-minute effort by the Assembly to amend it.

Lawmakers simply ran out of time.

As a result, it became the impetus for Sandoval’s first special session.

“The bill failed and public safety is extremely important in Clark County,” Sandoval said of his decision to call a special session. “The crime rate has gone up. This was an extremely important bill for the people of Clark County.”

Sandoval said it was “not my first choice” to call a special session, but he felt it could be finished quickly based on how close lawmakers got to passing the bills in question.

The measure authorizes the Clark County Commission to raise the sales tax by .15 percentage points, allowing Metro Police to hire an additional 150-200 officers.

It wasn’t the only bill on the special session agenda.

Lawmakers also were asked to divert $2 million to the Millennium Scholarship from Sandoval’s failed effort to fund Teach for America, a nonprofit that recruits teachers for at-risk schools.

An economic development bill worth millions in tax incentives to draw new and expanding businesses to the state also was considered. And two education bills-- one to change the management of the state’s charter schools account and another on class-size reduction-- rounded out the agenda.

Lawmakers made quick work of the bills once the session finally convened at 6:47 a.m. All five measures were passed out after little floor debate.

The session was supposed to start at 4:30 a.m., but it was delayed as an exhausted legislative staff ramped up to revive the special session.

Of the five bills Sandoval chose to consider, legislators would have passed three if only they had had more time.

The Teach For America bill, however, would’ve failed in the Assembly and a charter school bill died in the Ways and Means committee, said chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

“That bill did not have a hearing in Ways and Means,” she said. “We didn’t support it.”

The Assembly ended up throwing its support to the charter school bill in the special session and an agreement was brokered with Sandoval to divert the Teach for America money to the Millennium Scholarship.

That Sandoval was put in the position of calling a special session wasn’t exactly surprising.

Longtime legislative observers had speculated about the dynamic of having four legislators in leadership positions for the first time. Were they prepared to manage the complexities of the frenzied last days of a legislative session?

The answer appeared to be “no.” And the mismanagement will cost the state about $25,000 for the special session, said Rick Combs, the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Combs added that legislators received $308 each for the brief special session, a cost of about $18,800.

On Monday, legislators whittled away at the daylight hours as they praised their colleagues in the Senate who would not be returning because of term limits.

They succeeded in passing the $6.5 billion budget, and a comprehensive energy bill.

But legislative leaders waited until the last possible minute to begin addressing the differences between the Senate and the Assembly on the More Cops bill.

They also put off until the final moment the simmering disagreement over Senate Bill 517, the bill containing Sandoval’s coveted Teach For America funding.

With dozens of bills left on the agenda in both houses, the process crashed headlong into the midnight deadline.

They’d failed to pass the sales tax hike bill, as well as the key economic development and education bills.

After adjourning the regular session, Assembly members filed out of the legislative building, but the Senate had already heard rumblings of the governor’s displeasure. Rumors spread that he’d call the Legislature back again to convene a limited special session.

Assembly members began to stream back toward the building, with one throwing up her hands and spitting an expletive-laced outburst.

Once it became clear that the governor would summon legislators back to the building in the early hours of Tuesday morning, legislators had little to do but wait for the governor’s office to issue the proclamation declaring the special session.

Lounging in a chair in the Senate Minority Leader’s office, Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, watched to clock tick toward 2 a.m.

“We’re here because the majority party (Democrats) mismanaged the end game,” he said.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, disagreed.

“It takes two to tango,” he said, noting the Senate had an even 10-10 split because Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, is home with her gravely ill husband. “Particularly with Sen. Woodhouse gone, everyone is in power, so it’s a joint responsibility.”

He also pointed out that term limits has emptied the Legislature of veteran lawmakers adept at the arcane legislative process.

“If you want to blame something, blame term limits,” Segerblom said.

Even seasoned lawmakers have fell victim to the clock.

Governors have called overtime special sessions in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

While the latest special session sapped the energy of legislators and staff who stayed awake for more than a day, Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said that move helped save the state money.

“At least we did it right after (the end of session) and there was no travel expense,” he said.

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