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November 21, 2014

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legislature:

Plenty to do, even without budget crisis

Renewable energy standards and oversight of medical clinics and building sites are among issues lawmakers are likely to address

Second Day of the Legislature

Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, asks a question during a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee in Carson City Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Special Sun Coverage

The 75th session of the Nevada Legislature will be about — what else? — money, but as capital veterans point out, only 10 people or so will be deeply involved in the negotiations over how to solve the state’s $2.3 billion fiscal crisis.

That leaves more than 50 legislators and hundreds of lobbyists needing something to do.

So what else is on the docket?

Usually money is required to advance policy. Without money, for instance, it will be hard to build up the Health Science Center to develop homegrown doctors.

Still, legislators do have some opportunities for impact by rewriting bad or outdated laws. Or, as sometimes also happens, writing new bad laws to replace old bad laws.

As is often the case, the Legislature will react to past crises.

So bills are in the pipeline to address last year’s hepatitis C crisis at Las Vegas endoscopy centers.

The crisis stemmed from reuse of syringes, the tapping of single-dose bottles of anesthesia for multiple patients and in some cases the failure to clean equipment thoroughly between patients. More than 100 cases are potentially linked to the bad practices, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

Proposed laws would strengthen regulatory oversight of these facilities and give government the ability to act more decisively in any future crisis.

Work site safety will likely be an issue, in part because of a series of Sun stories about workers dying at CityCenter and other construction sites.

The stories detailed how Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration often backed off safety accusations made against contractors after informal settlement conferences with the builders.

Safety experts and federal OSHA called the practice unusual; families of the victims were angered.

Workplace injuries and workers’ compensation policies will also come under review. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for a fight on these issues, expecting that the newly Democratic-controlled Legislature will tilt rules in favor of workers.

Building contractors are unhappy with the existing mediation system for resolving construction defect cases and want it scrapped.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford unveiled a plan last week to stop the flood of foreclosures. They’ve called for legislation that would force banks and borrowers into mediation before foreclosure, crack down on predatory lending and keep neighborhoods affected by foreclosures from deteriorating into blight.

With the state’s one-dimensional economy reeling from the tourism recession and everyone clamoring for an escape from carbon-heavy, dirty energy sources such as oil and coal, renewable energy policy will be an important focus this session.

Gov. Jim Gibbons will offer his own plan, while Democratic Sen. Mike Schneider, chairman of a new energy, infrastructure and transportation committee, is watching the federal stimulus plan to see what Nevada can claim for a new energy economy.

Expect the renewable energy portfolio standard — the minimum amount of renewable energy a utility must produce — to go up.

With help from the federal stimulus money, new transmission lines could create vast new opportunities for the state’s renewable energy industry. But the effort will require significant oversight to resolve issues that include the route of the lines and whether the energy can be exported out of state.

State workers want to gain collective bargaining rights, but the prospects are poor in the current fiscal climate.

A related issue is whether to give local governments more power and flexibility in their contract negotiations with local government employee unions. The financially strapped state is expected to take money from local governments this year. Giving counties and cities a better negotiating position with their unions would be a fair trade, by some measures.

Expect considerable resistance from labor, including the powerful firefighters and police unions.

Plenty to keep everyone busy.

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