Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, March 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — The party in the majority in the state Senate and Assembly gets the posh first-floor offices in the Legislative Building, two suites with comfy couches and plenty of room for hammering out deals.
But besides getting an opportunity to rearrange the furniture, why else would it matter who controls of the Legislature?
Sometimes the majority can impose its will.
One example will come Thursday, when Democrats have scheduled a legislative meeting where they plan to repeal a small-business exemption to a $200 state business license fee.
The fee has become a partisan issue, with Democrats, including Secretary of State Ross Miller, arguing these businesses should never have been exempted and Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, fighting it as an undue burden on small businesses.
The vote will be made by a subcommittee stacked with Democrats.
It’s policy issues like this that have political operators focused on who will control the state Senate after 2012.
Democrats see maintaining their majority as key to their relevance in Carson City and as a counterbalance to a popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval. Republicans, backed by business lobbyists and the business community, see regaining control of the state Senate, which they lost in 2007, as key to bringing balance back to the Legislature.
Republicans’ chafing under Democratic hegemony in the Legislative branch recognize that majorities get to chair committees, determining which bills get hearings during the session and setting the agenda during the interim.
On that agenda this week: that exemption from the state’s $200 business fee for home-based businesses.
From 2003 to 2009, companies that incorporated with the state were required to pay the fee to the state. But in 2009, that changed, costing the state $10 million a year in tax revenue.
It’s a shift in state policy that Miller takes responsibility for and said should never have happened. Miller has been on a yearlong attempt to require thousands of home-based businesses on file as limited liability companies and corporations to again pay the business license fee.
His effort failed at the 2011 Legislature and at a legislative subcommittee meeting in December.
Last month, in a Legislative Commission meeting — where membership is split 6-6 between Democrats and Republicans — Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, declined to put the issue to a vote.
State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said last week the proposal will come up Thursday at a legislative subcommittee on regulations.
While Denis, who chairs the committee, balked at passing the regulation in December, he said he is now comfortable with it.
“I have had my concerns answered,” Denis said.
The subcommittee is made up of four Democrats and two Republicans — two Democrats each from the Assembly and Senate and one Republican from each house.
That committee’s makeup was approved unanimously, without comment, by the Legislative Commission in June.
Roberson complained at last month’s Legislative Commission meeting that the subcommittee had already considered the regulation and shouldn’t be doing it again. (He did not return calls for comment on Friday.)
The business fee, of course, isn’t the only symptom of his frustration at being in the minority.
During the same commission meeting, he objected as Democrats raised the issue of the whereabouts of then-state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas. And he protested again when Horsford declined to hold a vote on whether to allow Laughlin to incorporate as a city.
Horsford, at the meeting, acknowledged Roberson’s concerns. But, he explained, “it’s the prerogative of the chair.”
It’s good to be in the majority.