Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2014

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MEMO FROM CARSON CITY:

Week 1: Money, or the lack thereof

Price of gold rising; might it become a source of revenue?

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Sam Morris

Senators meet Thursday during the first week of the legislative session in Carson City. More than 200 bills have been assigned to committees for the biennial regular session.

Sun Special Coverage

Here’s your Legislature, week one, wrapped up and summed up, jamming on some Comma Coffee espresso (that’s the coffeehouse across the street from the Legislature, next to the — yes, it’s true — hookah bar.)

From the start:

• Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, both Las Vegas Democrats, begin with lengthy prayers, and with good reason. They’re trying to close a $2.3 billion budget hole, which will likely require a tax hike, or, in the parlance of this session, “revenue enhancement.”

Despite the crisis, and the fact that everyone is two years older and sometimes a little puffier, there are good feelings: The weather is warm and bright for Carson City this time of year, and Horsford is the state’s first black and youngest majority leader, so everyone is celebrating that Nevada milestone.

After the prayers, a few legislators and lobbyists head to a wine bar. Throw in some forgiveness for past sins — “I forgive you for killing my bill” — and it’s like the Catholics have taken over Nevada.

• The real business begins on Day Two with a Senate Judiciary hearing on construction defect law. One contractor after another gives story after story of outrage and woe to state Sen. Terry Care, who is chairman. The law favors attorneys who sue contractors, they charge. It’s clear this is a sleeper issue of the session, and a gold mine for lobbyists, maybe even more of a gold mine than the actual gold mines they also represent.

Though as one mining lobbyist lamented, it’s such a shame gold is on a steady rise, hitting $900 an ounce, just as the session begins and legislators hunt for money.

• At his first hearing as chairman of the Senate taxation committee, Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, puts on a show, and seems to take joy in going off message: Taxes are coming.

• More than 200 bills are assigned to committees. As commentator Steve Sebelius points out on his blog, many are baffling: prohibiting protests near funerals; paying lawmakers who serve on the Commission on Special License Plates (there is such a thing.)

But many are interesting for all sorts of reasons: Changing regulations for state contractors, pesticides, milk, seat belts, taxis, solar power distribution, chiropractors, Medicaid recipients, county commissioners’ second jobs, volunteer firefighters and dead bodies. That’s just a few, and only out of the Senate.

• On Wednesday Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto appears in front of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee to ask for broad authority to investigate mergers to determine whether they’ll lead to monopolies. Big business makes its opposition clear (for more on this, see Monday’s Sun.)

• Also Wednesday, legislators hear about how the federal stimulus bill could help rescue Nevada. All well-and-good, except the state may not receive some of the aid if it doesn’t keep services at current levels. “We may have to spend some money to get some money,” says Mike Willden, director of the state’s Health and Human Services Department.

More than likely that would require a tax increase.

And an energy committee hearing Thursday chaired by Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, offers more evidence that developing a renewable energy economy here won’t be cheap or easy.

The problem, of course, is that Gov. Jim Gibbons, the first-term Republican, has pledged to veto any tax increase aside from the voter-approved hotel room tax increase.

Gibbons repeats his pledge in a new feature of state government, the governor’s weekly “podcast,” though it’s less a podcast than video message for download.

In his message, the governor attacks Democrats and repeats his months-long mantra of opposition to tax increases.

By the end of the week, it is cold and snowy up north, and the planes back to Vegas are hitting turbulence.

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