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Senate OKs bill to suspend wage rules for school construction

Updated Monday, Feb. 16, 2015 | 4:47 p.m.

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Nevada Senate approved a bill Monday that would provide more money for school construction but also would suspend prevailing wage rules favored by unions and Democrats.

The Nevada Senate passed SB119 on Monday in an 11-9 party-line vote, with Democrats opposed. A Democratic amendment that would have separated the two prongs of the bill died on the Senate floor.

"A bond rollover is historically an uncontroversial idea and it's something our school districts have specifically asked us to do," said Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who taught school for decades and proposed keeping only the construction bond language. "It's a shame to see a good idea get bogged down in partisanship."

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, one of two Republican bill sponsors, argued that prevailing wage rules raise the price of building schools and reduce the amount of work that can be done.

"This amendment will reduce the number of schools we can build, it will reduce the amount of repairs that can be done, and it will leave more students without adequate technology," Kieckhefer said.

The bill would allow school boards to extend construction bonds beyond the period approved by voters, and would clear the way for building to ease overcrowding.

But the measure is attached to a much less popular provision that would suspend prevailing wage rules on school construction. The rates are set by the state labor commissioner, apply to public works project and vary by the type of work and the county. For example, the labor commissioner requires that a journeyman carpenter on a public works project in Clark County must be paid $53.76 an hour.

Union leaders say suspending the rules would devastate wages for middle-class workers and hand jobs to out-of-state contractors.

Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, who opposes the bill, asserted that buildings constructed under prevailing wage rules are better.

"Why are we sacrificing the safety of our kids by bidding out their schools to the lowest bidder?" Atkinson said.

Republican Sen. Scott Hammond countered that point.

"If your concern is safety, I do not believe that SB119 removes any provisions of standards, quality or inspections," he said.

The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled Assembly for consideration.

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