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September 17, 2014

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Education funding debated at town hall meeting in Henderson

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

State Sens. Mike Schneider and Joyce Woodhouse speak during a community town hall meeting Saturday at Silver Springs Recreation Center in Henderson.

Nevada Speaks

State Sen. Joyce Woodhouse talks about higher education concerns during a community town hall meeting Saturday at Silver Springs Recreation Center in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

Green Valley High School senior Callie Kitral hopes she can attend the College of Southern Nevada in the fall.

Budget cuts already forced the community college to block out classes for the fall semester that she said she wanted to take.

With additional cuts to Nevada’s higher education institutions looming, Kitral attended a “Nevada Speaks” town hall meeting Saturday hosted by state Sens. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, and Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, hoping to hear the legislators say they had a plan to fund the state’s schools.

Kitral said she would be willing to pay more in taxes if it meant the money would ensure she access to a good education.

“It’s kind of our ticket to life and getting our life started,” she said.

Several others in the audience of about 65 people said they wouldn’t oppose raising taxes if it meant education, transportation and health care could be preserved.

The Senate likely won’t make any decisions on taxes for at least three weeks as committees review and discuss proposed legislation, said Woodhouse, whose 5th District was the site of the town hall meeting at the Silver Springs Recreation Center, 1951 Silver Springs Parkway, in Henderson.

Lawmakers discovered earlier this week that the state’s budget shortfall grew $500 million because of declining tax revenues. Previous estimates had put the funding shortfall to maintain current service levels at $1.8 billion.

That has legislators rethinking where the bottom line is, Woodhouse said.

“I’m going to stay positive and say we’re going to find some dollars,” she said. “If we do raise taxes, we will need everybody at the table. We don’t raise taxes on one group. It’s just not fair. The funds that we raise go out to everyone.”

As for education, Woodhouse, a retired teacher, said funding for K-12 and higher education might take a hit, but it wouldn’t be as drastic as Gov. Jim Gibbons proposed in his budget.

The meeting included a vocal group of about 15 people who want the state to legalize the sale of medicinal marijuana. Nevada is one of 14 states with laws allowing people to grow the plants for medicinal uses but does not allow growers to sell it.

It could be taxed and raise tens of millions to fill a portion of the state’s budget gap and save even more money on law enforcement, said Pierre Werner, who spent 19 months in prison for selling marijuana but said he was punished harshly for a non-violent crime. Werner is opposed to Senate Bill 262, which would increase the prison sentences for marijuana growers.

“It’s barbaric to force medical marijuana users to grow their own medicine,” he said. “I’d like some pit bulls in the Senate to help us. I don’t think non-violent offenders should be treated harsher than violent offenders.”

Schneider has proposed four bills on alternative medicines, which he said relate to a variety of medical issues from stem cells to herbs, but he did not directly mention marijuana.

Politicians have been largely conservative on issues of alternative medicines previously, but that stance is changing, Schneider said.

“We are going to get very aggressive at the state in alternative medicine. People are looking at this through a broader lens now,” he said.

Lawmakers will host “Nevada Speaks” meetings on April 18 at the Doolittle Community Center, 1950 North J St., and May 2 at the Sun City MacDonald Ranch Community Center, 2020 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway.

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