Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 | 6:10 p.m.
Gov. Jim Gibbons said he hopes the 2009 Legislature will be a bipartisan one, but there were reasons Monday to expect it won’t be.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said in his opening remarks to the 75th session of the Legislature that the people of Nevada “do not want to see their university system dismantled,” a reference to the proposed 36 percent cut to the Nevada System for Higher Education in the governor’s budget.
The state also doesn’t want lawmakers to balance the budget on the backs of teachers, referring to the proposed 6 percent cut in salary for teachers and state workers, Horsford said.
After being officially notified by committees of the Senate and Assembly that the Legislature is ready to begin business Monday, Gibbons said, “I’m looking forward to a session in which we work on issues that are important to the people of Nevada -- solving this budget problem. I’m looking forward to bipartisanship.”
Reminded that Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, have been critical of him and his budget, the governor said “So far I haven’t seen much” bipartisanship.
“It wasn’t me. Don’t ask me the question how rocky it was. Go ask those who don’t seem to be too interested in bipartisanship,” he said. “Those are the ones who are making statements constantly.”
The Senate got a late start – 24 minutes behind schedule.
The minister for the Senate, Rev. Robert Fowler of the Victory Baptist Church in Las Vegas, recognized lawmakers are going to need divine help as they address a massive budget shortfall. “Our state needs your direction … your guidance,” said Fowler.
There were many breaks during the Legislature’s opening sessions for photographs and the introduction of the lawmakers and their families and friends.
Lawmakers were quick to pass Senate Bill 1 that carries a $15 million price tag to pay for most of the legislative session. There were more than 241 bills introduced in the two houses but the only action was taken on the pay bill.
Former Senator Joe Neal, D-Las Vegas, the first black senator in Nevada, was honored. He was a member of the Senate for 32 years and was noted for his passionate and long speeches.
Buckley, in her opening remarks to the Assembly, said “we must stem the hemorrhaging in our housing market with meaningful measures to prevent foreclosures.”
“This session we will have an opportunity to enact legislation that would institute mediation for homeowners who wish to remain in their homes and who are desperate for a workout agreement.”
Job creation will be a top priority with the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent and more than 128,000 people out of work, she said. The Legislature will consider an initiative to create green jobs, she said.
Both Buckley and Horsford said Nevada must diversify the economy to be less reliant on tourism. The state, said Horsford, must “chart a different economic course, one that attracts new industries and lessens our reliance on tourism to sustain ourselves as a state.”
The two Democratic leaders also said health care is a priority. The public has lost confidence in the health care system following the Hepatitis C crisis in Southern Nevada, Buckley said.
“We were all horrified by the news reports that more than 40,000 patients received letters telling them they needed to be tested for Hepatitis C and AIDS because an endoscopy center in Southern Nevada used unsafe medical practices,” Buckley said.
Horsford said Medicaid, which provides medical care for low income families and Nevada Check-Up, which gives preventive care to youngsters, must be preserved.
Both talked about the federal stimulus package that may help the state. But Horsford said the package "will not solve all of our problems. We will still need to make cuts and even eliminate some program that are ineffective or have simply run their course."
Every program will be audited for efficiency and “everyone will have to make sacrifices in order to help us get through this critical budget shortfall,” he said.
Cy Ryan may be reached at (775) 687-5032 or [email protected].