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April 18, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Legislators’ few hits offset by embarrassing misses


Cathleen Allison / AP

Nevada Sens. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, top, and Greg Brower, R-Reno work during a break on the Senate floor at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Sunday, June 2, 2013. Lawmakers continue working long hours as the final, end-of-session deadline of midnight Monday approaches.

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

I’ve been accused of being a Kenyan-born, Muslim socialist. The truth is, however, my aims are far more moderate — for Nevada to be a little more like Massachusetts, though of course retaining our cherished ideal of ready access to guns, booze and the craps table.

Why Massachusetts?

The birthplace of the revolution has had some of the best schools in the nation for years and — thanks to Mitt Romney — near-universal health insurance, too. It’s a high-tax state (the horror!) and in another way basically a mirror of Nevada — at the top of the good lists and the bottom of the bad lists. More college graduates, fewer criminals.

If you don’t like Massachusetts, there’s always Maryland, Iowa or Colorado.

Insofar as Nevada’s Democratic majority shares this modest goal of mine, how did they perform during the recently ended legislative session?

On the social issues — beginning the long process to approve gay marriage, establishing medical marijuana dispensaries, allowing driving privilege cards for undocumented immigrants, and a modest gun control measure to require background checks of all private firearm sales — they did fine. They mostly followed public opinion, and particularly that of the Democratic base, but in any event, they got the job done.

There was one social issue where they Legislature completely failed. They blew an opportunity to begin doing something about our mental health care crisis.

One of their own members, Assemblyman Steven Brooks, allegedly threatened Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and was briefly institutionalized before winding up in a California jail. At the same time, Nevada was accused of dumping patients on other states in a series of embarrassing media reports. After that, University Medical Center reported being overrun with patients in crisis.

If not now, when?

The Legislature should have held high-profile hearings — both in Carson City and here in Las Vegas — calling experts as well as those directly affected by our epidemic of untreated mental illness, which includes patients and their families, police and health care providers.

On tax and spending issues, the Legislature was similarly ineffective.

Legislators did pass Senate Joint Resolution 15 for the second consecutive session, which means in 2014 voters will decide whether to remove the mining industry’s enshrined place in the state constitution and eventually raise the tax on gold, the state’s undertaxed, nonrenewable resource. It’s not clear the Legislature would have acted without a motivating shove from Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, the Henderson Republican who became the mining industry’s toughest foe. But whatever. They got there in the end.

That won’t yield revenue for years, if ever, however.

Not only did Democratic leaders fail to secure any meaningful new money for education, their efforts were amateurish.

They came into the session with no evident plan. They knew they needed Republican votes to overcome an expected veto from Gov. Brian Sandoval.

When the Republican Roberson offered a plan to tax mining, the Democrats, for whatever reason, ignored his entreaty.

Then, with just weeks left in the session, the Assembly and Senate released dueling plans that didn’t raise enough money while failing to address the other key flaws in our tax system, which relies too heavily on tourism and is one of the most regressive in the nation, meaning it taxes the poor at much higher rates than the rest.

The roll-out of the Assembly plan to tax fun activities such as movies — paired with a spectacularly ill-timed trip to the Legislature by Nic Cage to argue for tax cuts for movie productions — was so bad that it almost seemed intentional, some sort of three-card monte that I wasn’t following.

The Legislature only meets 120 days every other year. Legislators need to use the moment to build a policy narrative that over time will yield results.

Think of Ted Kennedy or our own former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley. They could hold a highly publicized hearing to drum up support or outrage, craft a policy and then work their colleagues of both parties — with the press and the public as the wind at their backs — to pass legislation, be it Kennedy expanding health care and deregulating the trucking industry, or Buckley cracking down on health insurers or payday lenders.

Finally, while I acknowledge I was viewing it from afar, the whole process looked as screwy as usual, a bunch of headless poultry running about, or college kids cramming for the exam, up all night, missing the deadline.

If you’re the party that believes government is an important tool for social progress and you’re asking the voters to put their faith in that idea, it helps if you don’t embarrass yourselves, and us.

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  1. What was much more embarassing this session was the behavior of the 'political reporters' covering the legislature. In the same breath they would complain that the legislators couldn't compromise within 120 days they would also bitch that legislators weren't taking their time. In the last week they personally tweeted hashtags to legislators about 'Iwanttogohome' or other nonsense proving that they had no business there to begin with. At least the legislators worked. All the reporters did was complain on social media.

  2. With age and wisdom, I've learned not to expect much from politicians and legislators. In this way, I'm never disappointed but pleasantly pleased when they prove me wrong. Which sadly, is not often.

    Carmine D

  3. "The Legislature only meets 120 days every other year."

    That's way too often and way too long.

  4. Part 1 There is not much to be happy about over this 77th Nevada State Legislative Session. Very disappointed with them over Nevada's mental health access and system. You would think that the incident with Brooks would have convinced them how broken the current system is. Lack of mental health care access is especially acute in our schools, where we have children coming to school, "Kids in Crisis" (the new epidemic being addressed even on PBS Sesame Street) who are unable to focus on their education because of the mental states they are in. A troubled mind cannot positively perform to its potential towards academic and social success. It is rare, the exception, that a parent will follow through on a school counselor's referral. We have to do better.

    Nevada's infrastructure needs support and better funding, and the Legislature made a tiny step in their meager attempt to have mining pay their fair share...but it still is not a reality, and in a few years will be decided by voters (the blood will be on their hands, not the Lawmakers!), and then the wait for implementation.

    How could anyone demand mental health records be tied to gun registration when the current system is so broken? Fix it, then ask voters and the Governor to decide. The people who should not have any sort of weapon, are typically those who fly under the radar, unreported. Long-term school discipline records hold some good indicators towards the perpensity of being unstable and need of mental health. Why not tie them into a "registry" data base as well? We have to do something, because what we (society) have been doing, isn't enough to curb violent crimes.

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. Part 2
    Follow the money trail....
    It is clear that Nevada wants those tourist dollars to keep it on life support. No more, no less. The new Nevada motto should be, "Visit Nevada, unload all your money here, and then go back to your home state, happy that's all you left"! But there is a fair exchange here, tourists come knowing that they plan to spend, have a great time, and go back home with memories. For the everyday, Nevada Citizen Taxpayer, that may not be the case.

    This 77th Legislative Session was kept viable with the likes of Tick Segerblom, Michael Roberson, Maggie Carlton, and Marilyn Kirkpatrick. Also, keeping vigil, was our Governor, Brian Sandoval. Commuting back and forth to Carson City from Las Vegas, representing Clark County School District's concerns, was then interim, now Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who made sure educational concerns were represented, as was the Clark County Educators Association. Although no one got EVERYTHING they hoped for, much work was done, and it could be said things for the good of all, were accomplished for the greater good. Thanks!

    Lest we forget, the fine folks who report the news, should be given equal share of our love and appreciation. Without you, few would ever know what is going on! Nevada is most fortunate to have the finest, most balanced, award winning jounalists around. You are what keeps the freedom of speech and expression alive and well: in our homes, in our community, at our jobs, and in our leisure. The press keeps the American heart beating, for without the press, our American democracy would surely die. Thanks for being there to get that story, and keeping up with the pulse of the People!

    Based on recent scientific research: If you want to stay! It activates your brain and your passions.

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. I agree, John 6:12. Too often for too long. If Legislators had more time, they'd think up more ways to screw things up. Endless "laws" and fines for things like texting while driving with a whole $20 or $50 fine--costs more to enforce and won't do much--IF additional "laws" are needed, give them a real fine.

  7. I was born and raised in Massachusetts and as soon as I was 19 years old I got the hell out and moved to Nevada...only to discover "sin city" really isn't that sinful at all. What can you find here now that cannot be found elsewhere? Gambling? Sex (strip clubs, we have very few "brothels" that are only allowed in rural areas)? Guns? We have honestly less and less to offer each year. I would advocate loosening of gun laws even further, legalize recreation use of marijuana, legalize person-to-person prostitution transactions and let people do what the choose with their bodies, allow someone to get a license to operate a one table casino or lease the rights to a casinos individual tables so people could truly better themselves and not corporations, and LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE! These should be the sorts of things that Nevada is known for....the true free state...the wild west. Harvard square is about as free as Tiananmen me....this is coming from someone BORN AND RAISED THERE his entire life! So Patrick, if you would like, you could always move there...they welcome people like you.

  8. Time to do the job that never gets done - campaign and work for the Education Initiative.

  9. Commenter Tanker1975 adds to the anguish list from this 77th Legislative Session, with,

    "In 1960, the TOTAL population of Nevada was approximately 200,000 people. In 1967, the Nevada Plan which allocates education funding to the counties was developed and is still in use today.

    In 2013, the enrollment of CCSD is approximately 311,000 students. There are more students in CCSD than the number of residents in Nevada in 1960. In 1970, the population of Nevada was approximately 450,000 people.

    Because of the Nevada Plan, CCSD gets approximately $5500 per student while some of the small rural counties get $15000 per student as a result of the Nevada plan. The Nevada Plan doesn't take into account ELL and Special Education students.

    I would like to thank all of the legislators who represent Clark County for failing to address that issue."

    Southern Nevadans will only continue to suffer. Remember to vote for only those who are committed to listening and acting on behalf of the little guy citizen next election. Unfortunately, it takes a major disaster or crisis to wake some people up and get them moving into action. Although I pray that a crisis doesn't happen, I sure pray for less apathy and more citizen involvement.

    Blessings and Peace,

  10. As a former 25 year Boston resident, I wonder whcih part of Massachusetts Coolican wants to emulate....

    I'm assuming it's the unfettered one-party system whcih has led to 4 straight Speakers being investigated for corruption, the last 3 of whom were convicted.

    Yes, those limosine-liberal crooks strike again...

  11. We need a corrolary to Godwin's Law....Call it the Progressive Phallacy.

    When you have no argument, and are reduced to calling your opponents "racists" with no evidence or reason, you lose.