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December 19, 2014

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Legislature begins session amid bleak financial outlook

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Sam Morris

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and his daughter, Ella, greet Sen. Barbara Cegavske before a Leader’s Prayer Breakfast in the old assembly chambers in Carson City on Monday.

Legislative Leadership Roundtable

Four state lawmakers discuss the looming budget crisis and other issues on the agenda ahead of the start of the next session of the Nevada Legislature.

Democratic majority's agenda

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CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Legislature opens at noon today, facing one of the worst financial pictures in the state’s history.

It looks like it has the potential to be a raucous session with Democrats controlling both the Senate and the Assembly, where they will duel with Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

For the first time ever, the president of the Senate will serve while being indicted on criminal charges. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is accused of mismanagement of millions of dollars in the college fund while serving as state Treasurer. He denies the allegation.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, is the state's youngest Senate majority leader.

The opening session will be devoted to ceremonial events. There will be an election of Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, as speaker of the Assembly, plus the formal selection of staff in the Senate and Assembly.

Two new members join the Senate and there will be seven new faces in the Assembly, all from Las Vegas. Sen. David Parks of Las Vegas has moved from the Assembly to the Senate and Don Gustavson of Sparks is returning to the Assembly after defeating long-time incumbent John Marvel.

It will be the last regular session for seven of the 21 members of the Senate as term limits kick in. Ten of the 42 members of the Assembly are also in the final term.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, says some 500 lobbyists have already registered. And he expects the total to reach 800-900 to sign up to pitch their cause or try to stop a bill that might hurt their client.

The first real business will be passage of Senate Bill 1 that carries a $15 million price tag to pay for the 120-day session. The actual cost of the session may be closer to $18 million and Malkiewich said the difference may have to come from the present budget.

Legislators will receive $146 per day for the first 60 days and their salary is then cut off. The senators who are holdovers and did not run for re-election last year will receive $137 per day. The per diem is $167 per day for the full session.

The Legislature will have 250-300 added staff for the session. Each lawmaker will have at least one secretary.

Democrats hold a 12-9 majority in the Senate, the first time the party has been in charge since 1991. Horsford will be majority leader; Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, will be assistant majority leader and Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, will be president pro tempore. The minority leader will be William Raggio, R-Reno.

Democrats hold a 28-14 majority in the Assembly. The party has been in charge since there was a Democrat-Republican 21-21 tie in 1995. Buckley will be speaker, John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, will be majority leader and Bernie Anderson D-Sparks, will be speaker pro tempore. Heidi S. Gansert, R-Reno will be minority floor leader.

There’s a staff of 30 attorneys to prepare bills. There are currently 241 bills -- 128 in the Assembly and 113 in the Senate -- ready for introduction on the first day. About 1,000 bills will be requested.

There are major tax or fee bills ready to be introduced.

Assembly Bill 57 would permit the county commissioners, buy a two-thirds vote, to boost the property tax to pay for public safety, health and welfare services. The Nevada Supreme Court has a bill ready to raise the fee for filing many lawsuits by $99 -- it would raise $16.5 million in Clark County alone to finance eight or nine new district judges and their staffs.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, has asked for three tax bills but he has not determined what he wants to put in them.

Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, has a bill to raise the fee charged for issuing a marriage license by $5. The money would go to programs to help domestic violence victims.

Gibbons has submitted a $1.7 billion two-year budget and he opposes any new taxes. But he will go along with the tax approved by voters for a hike in the hotel-motel tax. His budget includes 6 percent salary reductions for state workers, school teachers and university professors.

And there are cuts in health programs, such as Medicaid.

Sen. Horsford and Assembly Speaker Buckley are talking about overhauling the tax system in a four-month session. And they are already exchanging barbs with Gibbons over his program reductions in the budget.

Buckley may be a candidate for governor in the next election.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, has a resolution ready to introduce to schedule a 30-day budget session during the even numbered year between the regular meetings of the lawmakers. Since the regular 2007 session, there have been three special meetings.

Woodhouse’s resolution would have to pass this and the 2011 Legislatures and then be approved by the voters.

Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, wants to impose a moratorium on the death penalty until there is a legislative study. There are 82 men on death row.

The new members of the Senate are Shirley Breeden and Allison Copening, both of Las Vegas. New faces in the Assembly are Paul Aizley, Marilyn Dondero Loop, John Hambrick, April Mastroluca, Richard McArthur, Ellen Spiegel and Melissa Woodbury, all of Clark County.

Hambrick, McArthur and Woodbury are Republicans and the rest are Democrats.

Those in the Senate serving in their final term are Mark Amodei of Carson City; Terry Care, Maggie Carlton and Coffin all of Las Vegas: Mathews and Randolph Townsend both of Reno and Maurice Washington of Sparks.

The ten who are “termed out” in the Assembly are Anderson; Morse Arberry, Buckley, Jerry Claborn, Ellen Koivisto, Mark Manendo, Kathy McClain and Harry Mortenson, all of Clark County; Sheila Leslie of Reno and John Carpenter of Elko.

Cy Ryan may be reached at (775) 687 5032 or [email protected].

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