Wednesday, May 8, 2013 | 8:45 p.m.
Republicans at the state Legislature haven’t had much success getting their favored bills through the legislative process this year.
That’s because Democrats have the majority in both the Senate and Assembly. Democrats set the agenda and can decline to give Republican ideas a committee hearing, much less pass lots of Republican bills.
So Assembly Republicans decided to take their ideas straight to the people Wednesday afternoon, hosting a town hall meeting with the theme of “making public dollars go further.”
The meeting at the Legislature highlighted three changes: modifying the state’s public employee retiree plan, changing how the state pays for public works projects, and implementing school choice programs.
“We’re in the minority party here, so we stick to our guns on those issues especially because we do think that along with money that is obviously needed in education and spent in education, there are also ways to save money,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno.
The Republican agenda at the state house remains largely similar to the 2011 agenda, the pieces of which became potential bargaining chips for Democrats who wanted to pass a tax increase. Republicans then noted that they might vote for the Democratic plan if Democrats passed some of their changes.
This year, some of those same bills did not get a hearing. Others got a hearing in a legislative committee that amounted to little more than just that: OK, we heard you.
Those bills never came up for a vote.
The town hall forum presented Republicans with a chance to deliver speeches about their bills, but the presentations were unlike committee hearings because nobody presented criticisms or opposing views of the proposals.
At times, Republican legislators took the opportunity to vent to a sympathetic audience, which sometimes clapped and cheered for the GOP ideas.
“I’m just going to throw darts here, and I probably shouldn’t,” said Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, whose public works prevailing wage bill was opposed by unions. “It never got a vote. It’s frustrating to me that we don’t get to see where people stand on these issues.”
Assembly Bill 318 would have raised the threshold at which contractors and builders have to pay prevailing wage from $100,000 to $1.5 million, a move that Hardy said would save taxpayers money by allowing for more competitive bids.
Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, spoke of Assembly Bill 342 to change the public employees retirement system to provide for a hybrid retirement plan composed of a 401(k) plan and a pension plan. As is true with states nationwide, retiree pension plans aren’t fully funded, endangering their long-term sustainability.
Kirner, who is a former administrator of the public employees benefits plan, said his plan would set the system on a firmer financial footing.
Assemblyman Wes Duncan, R-Las Vegas, spoke of Assembly Bill 373, which creates a business tax credit for donations to organizations that provide tuition scholarships to low-income students who want to go to private schools.
Unlike the other proposals, Duncan’s bill has received a hearing and could pass this year. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval endorses this idea and has a similar bill, Senate Bill 445.
While Hickey said there’s “disappointment” among Republicans over unheard bills, he did praise Democratic Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, for giving some Republican bills a fair chance.
“We have a great deal of respect for her,” he said. “She is policy driven, as is said around here. It’s not all about money, one way or another. It’s also about finding good policy.”