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Legislature 2013:

Senator’s gravely ill husband throws control of Senate into question

Updated Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 12:53 p.m.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, flew home to Las Vegas late Friday to be with her husband, who is gravely ill with liver cancer, throwing control of the Senate into question in the final days of the legislative session.

Her husband is former Assemblyman Al Wittenberg. His condition quickly deteriorated Friday, prompting Woodhouse's swift departure from Carson City.

Her absence means the Senate is evenly split 10-10 between Republicans and Democrats. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, a Republican, is the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, meaning the GOP could potentially take control of the body from the Democrats.

Legislative lawyers are scrambling to determine exactly how much power Krolicki has as the tie-breaking vote.

Under Senate rules, Krolicki cannot cast the deciding vote to pass or defeat a bill, or a joint resolution. But it's possible he can vote on amendments and conference committee reports, actions that have a significant effect on legislation.

With only three days left in the session, a cadre of major bills remain on the table, including an overhaul of the state's energy policy, a live entertainment tax proposal and a contentious gun control measure. The state's $6.5 billion budget also must still be voted on.

It's unclear how long Woodhouse will be absent from the Legislature.

Senate Democrats spent the morning assessing the situation, while Senate Republicans took a wait-and-see approach, making no immediate moves to take control of the Senate.

"We'd expect, given the circumstances, that the Republicans wouldn't play games or take advantage of the situation," said Mike Luce, the Senate Democrats' caucus director. "If they did, it would be incredibly shameful on their part."

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said he only learned of the situation this morning. He said he had no comment on how the Senate GOP would react to the situation.

"My thoughts and prayers are for Joyce and her husband," Roberson said.

Despite the rules, according to legislative lawyers, the lieutenant governor has the constitutional authority to vote as a tie-breaker on any matter before the Senate, even bill passage.

But later Saturday morning Republican caucus director Jodi Stephens said the "will be no tomfoolery" with the rules. GOP leaders identified the remaining bills that the caucus will be voting against, allowing them to be pulled from the agenda until Woodhouse can return.

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