Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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4 ways to be better involved in Nevada’s citizen Legislature

Legislature Opens

Lance Iversen / AP

Spectators look down on the Nevada Assembly on the opening day of the legislative session, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 in Carson City.

Nevada’s citizen Legislature was designed to keep the state’s political process small and local. Each session lasts only 120 days and is held every other year. But this design, along with Nevada’s geography, can make it difficult for citizens to participate in the process.

Because of the short time period, issues can be brought up, debated and dismissed relatively quickly. And of course, everything happens in Carson City and Las Vegas (via videoconferencing) so people in remote parts of the state must travel quite a distance to personally tell politicians how they feel about a bill.

Here are four tips to make participating easier:

First, understand it’s all about committee meetings

Lawmakers debate bills and resolutions on the floor of the Senate and Assembly. But the public can’t participate in those discussions. The place and time to have your voice heard is during committee or subcommittee meetings.

During these meetings, senators and Assembly members hear testimony about bills they are considering, first from the bill’s sponsors and then from interested groups and the general public.

Second, find the bills that address your concerns

For the most part, the Legislature discusses three things: bills, resolutions and budget items. You’ll need to know which bill, resolution or budget item addresses the issues you care about.

An easy way to do that is to use Nevada Electronic Legislative Information System, or NELIS, website.

NELIS lets you search for bills, bill draft requests, resolutions, committee and subcommittee meetings, budgets and a lot more. It contains information on legislative sessions back through 2013. To be sure you’re searching this session, the 79th, select it in the menu underneath the word “NELIS” in the top left corner of the website.

There’s a large button titled “Bills” on the homepage of NELIS, which takes users to a list of all the bills (and other items) under consideration by the Senate and Assembly. However, the descriptions on the list are short and don’t offer much information.

An easier way to find bills you’re interested in is to use the “Document Text Search” menu on the NELIS home page, which sits directly above the “Bills” button. It allows you to search for specific phrases and words in bills, budget items, committee minutes and journals.

Third, find the who and the when

Once you find (and of course read) the bills that address your topic, go back and use the bill button on the NELIS homepage to find the specific bill.

Clicking on the bill number will take you to a page with all the details surrounding that bill, including what committees will be discussing it and when they will meet. You can even watch a video recording of the previous committee meetings in which the bill was discussed.

Fourth, go to the meeting

On the bill’s detail page, look for a menu under the number of the bill. To the right of that menu you should see a small arrow. Clicking on that arrow moves the menu to the right revealing a button titled “Meetings.”

Click on it and you’ll see details about the next meeting being held to discuss the bill. Typically, there will be two locations listed, one in Carson City and another in Las Vegas.

For example, the details section for a committee meeting to discuss Senate Bill 32 reads like this:

Location(s): Room 2134 of the Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City, NV. Video conferenced to Room 4412E of the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, 555 E. Washington Ave., Las Vegas, NV.

The video conference system is scheduled by each committee on a first-come, first-serve basis. So if you don’t see “Video conferenced to Room …” listed under locations, you’ll have to come to Carson City if you want to testify.

If a video conference is scheduled, there’s plenty of room to attend in Las Vegas. The Sawyer Building has five rooms dedicated to committee hearings: Two are capable of seating 100 or more, and there are three smaller rooms.

The procedures and rules for testifying in Las Vegas are the same as if you were speaking in Carson City.

If you plan on going, first read the agenda for the meeting. Your concern could be just one of several items on the agenda. And be flexible. Committees usually hear every item on the list, but not always in the order they are listed.

If you want to speak, talk to staff members who are sitting at a desk, usually just inside the main door to the room. You’ll have to sign in and leave a business card if you have one.

You can bring and leave written copies of your comments if you want, and it’s not a bad idea. The committee only has the rooms and video conferences scheduled for a certain amount of time.

If the meeting runs long, the committee chair may limit the time each person may speak to just a few minutes. Also, the video conference may be cut off and people in Las Vegas will be out of luck.

By leaving written comments you can be certain your concerns will be entered into the formal record of the hearing if you get to to talk or not.

Typically, sponsors of bills get to speak to the committee first, and members of the committee may or may not ask that person questions.

If the committee is examining a budget item for a state department — like the DMV, for example — people from the department will give a presentation about that department’s recent accomplishments.

That presentation will also include any changes they want to make in their budget, and the committee members may ask the department to justify their requests.

When you speak, you’ll be asked to state and spell your name for the record. If the committee asks you questions, each time you answer you’ll have to repeat your name for the minutes like this: “Thank you, Chairman Johnson, this is John Doe for the record.”

All committee meetings and floor sessions are broadcast from the NELIS website, which allows you to watch, but not participate. In addition, you can watch recordings of meetings.

Don’t wait for the minutes of the meeting to be posted. Depending on the length and other issues, it could take up to three months before those minutes are posted.

It doesn’t end there

Typically, bills are discussed many times before they make it into law. A bill that addresses the issue you care about can be heard by more than one committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.

It’s good to understand the mechanics of exactly how a bill becomes law in Nevada. The Legislature has provided a chart that explains the process here.

Also, the NELIS website has a function that allows you to track the bills you care about. It’s called “Personalized Legislative Tracking.” You can find a link to it on the right-hand side of the NELIS homepage below the date and the “Reports and Links” menu.

Another important resource is the Legislative Council Bureau (LCB). The LCB is a nonpartisan agency that supports the Legislature and provides information to citizens and groups.

If you want to understand a specific bill or the legislative process in general, the LCB’s research division is a good place to start

Of course, it’s important to remember that the legislators work for you. While it’s great to be on hand for committee meetings, there’s no rule that says you can’t call them or email them, or make an appointment to meet with them.

If you want, you can walk right up to members of the Senate and Assembly in the halls of the Legislature to ask them questions and tell them, politely of course, exactly how you feel.

Just be prepared for some competition. There were 628 lobbyists registered by the middle of the first week of this Legislature, and more lobbyists are expected to register as the session progresses. At the end of the last session in 2015, there were more than 1,000.

Las Vegas Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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