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April 24, 2014

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Horsford keeps Senate late into the night

Majority leader issues ‘call of the house’ to hunt down missing lawmakers

This week in Carson City

Nevada Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Sen. Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, discuss the final amendments to SB429 before the body voted in the Senate Chambers at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Friday, May 22. Launch slideshow »

CARSON CITY -- The brinksmanship of the 2009 legislative session went to a whole new level in the wee hours Thursday when Sen. Steven Horsford used procedural rules to call recalcitrant senators to the floor at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Horsford's motion would have had three missing Republicans "taken into custody" and brought to the floor, but he lifted the call of the house after moving to have the Senate start passing out bills.

The Senate proceeded to spend an hour and a half hearing bills, debating the propriety of Horsford's legislative maneuver and then debating the real sticking points of getting a tax and spending plan passed: Democrats' and Republicans' differences over how much to reform public employee pensions, health benefits for retirees and collective bargaining between local governments and employee unions.

Horsford issued the "call of the house" after talks between Republicans and Democrats broke down. While a $780 million tax package has been settled, Republicans say their votes are conditioned on significant changes to the benefits.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, emerged from talks visibly angry.

"Everybody is physically exhausted. We're not going to be held hostage like this," he told reporters. Later, he said, "If he wants to bring tax bills out, it'll be a 12 to 9 vote," a reference to the Democratic and Republican split. (Tax increases need a two-thirds majority.)

Raggio was on his way to leave, but the secretary of the Senate told him that the Senate was in recess and needed to adjourn. After Democrats caucused for about 15 minutes, they emerged from the majority leader's office.

Asked what they were doing, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said, "we're going to work. We're going to hear bills."

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, asked the Senate president, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, to have a roll call.

Missing were Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City; Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks.

"I would indicate the doors shall be closed, all missing members found by the sergeant of arms and taken into custody," Horsford said. Those members "absent without leave" would be presented at the bar of the Senate.

"That's ridiculous," muttered Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas.

Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, got up to leave. "Anyone have a tea cup? I have to use the bathroom."

Senate sergeants at arms staff didn't move or respond.

Hardy turned to Horsford. "Can I use the bathroom?"

Horsford said, "I'm just following the rules."

One sergeant arms staff said, "he can take a leak."

Hardy stormed to the other side of the room and left out the side door.

"I'm not in the third grade," he said as he left.

Shortly afterward, Washington and Amodei returned.

The call of the house was suspended, and a series of bills pending were voted mostly along party line.

This is the first time the "call of the house" rule has been used since 1999. Under it, legislators are called back to a recessed meeting. If they cannot be located, or are unwilling to come back, sergeant at arm staff have the authority to bring them back to the meeting.

When the meeting adjourned at 4 a.m., Raggio said, "The impact is I think we've moved a step backward. The tactic was not a wise tactic. I don't think it helped."

Raggio said on the Senate floor that talks had been progressing, but he had been told the Democrats pulled back a promised reform, to add additional years to minimum age requirements for police and firefighters to qualify for full pensions.

"The tactic that I think the distinguished young majority leader has done tonight, works to his disadvantage," he said. "We've been working together. I told him earlier our folks are tired. We haven't reached an agreement. I think we can. We're 12 days away from the end of session. It's not the end of the session tonight."

He also added: "The call of the house, at this time, is simply a tactic, to hold these people here, Republicans in this house hostage. That's not helpful."

Horsford responded that a tax plan has to be on the governor's desk by 5 p.m. Friday, "otherwise we have the governor's budget."

He said Democrats have agreed to significant reforms of PERS and PEBP, as well as made concessions on collective bargaining.

"If we do not pass a budget and a plan to fund it, we end up with the governor's budget," he said, pointing to 36 percent cuts to higher education and children kicked off of health care rolls. "People may be tired, but the consequences are high, consequences are great if we don't complete the people's business in a timely manner."

Among the bills heard early Thursday was Assembly Bill 146, which would create a business portal through the secretary of state's office and raise the business license fee to $200. That bill failed, though it can be resurrected.

But it seemed Horsford's real aim was the bill to fund k-12 education. The education funding bill passed, with all Republicans voting against it, despite having agreed in committee vote to restore some of Gov. Jim Gibbons cuts.

Horsford brought up their no votes to question the Republicans' commitment to funding an alternative to Gov. Jim Gibbons' budget.

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