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December 19, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

It’s time to fix the Legislature

The good that legislators do too often is interred by the bad acts they commit, which live on to haunt them during the interim and the next campaign.

As Gov. Brian Sandoval finished deciding Friday which bills lived and died, as post-mortems detailed the offal slipped through at the eleventh hour, as special interests celebrated their victories and mourned their losses, we are left with an anachronistic, biennial horror show that the Motion Picture Association of America could not rate.

Welcome to The Legislative Process, banned in 49 states but still the longest-running show in Nevada. (Yes, yes — I know other capitals have their own quirks and even abominations. But there’s no place like home.)

Having watched this movie and its unending sequels since 1987, perhaps like an insane asylum denizen always hoping for a different ending, I still think The Legislative Process defies description. It’s impossible to deconstruct and far from pure — like the difference between real cheese and processed cheese.

Anybody want to talk about how the cheese gets processed? My gag reflex similarly kicks in when talking about The Legislative Process. But I soldier on.

It is an ossified process that favors opacity over transparency (open meeting law? What open meeting law?), that creates a perception of corruption that becomes reality (a lawmaker tells an NV Energy lobbyist he’s owed a bottle of wine after passing an eleventh-hour amendment the company needed) and one that allows lobbyists skilled at either advocacy or schmoozing (or both) to take advantage of part-time lawmakers often too easily swayed (too many examples to list here).

This is a process designed to produce lawmakers of generally low capacity because nothing much is expected of them. And, with some notable exceptions, they generally deliver on those expectations.

So we have a process that pays lawmakers too little so they can be influenced too much ($10,000 biennially with perks), a process that deliberately constrains deliberation (120 days?) and a process that inevitably will produce unintended consequences (again, too many to list).

Some examples linger from Session ’11:

• Whose arena is it anyway? An arena bill that could have paved the way for a renewed dynamism at UNLV and/or the potential of pro sports behind Mandalay Bay was scuttled by the greed of Las Vegas and poor legislative management. No one can argue that an arena, whether it is one of those proposed by Texan Chris Milam or the UNLV NOW boosters, or by Caesars Entertainment on the Strip, could provide a jolt to the still-struggling local economy. But instead, The Legislative Process produced ... nothing.

• London calling: Assembly Judiciary Chairman William Horne took a junket to London paid for by PokerStars, did not disclose it and then Horne introduced a bill essentially as written by the company that paid for his trip. This is the kind of thing people get indicted for in some places, or at least thrown out of office; here it is SOP — or, to be more accurate, it is called ... The Legislative Process.

Later, it became clear PokerStars had spread around a quarter of a million dollars before the session to lawmakers and other officials, including the governor. I think that’s known as watering the garden so the seeds will grow. The money, it turned out, came directly from the Isle of Man, a foreign corporation, which is frowned upon by federal authorities.

But after the trip and the money were exposed and the casino industry got engaged on an obvious attempt to circumvent state regulators, the bill was gutted and eventually reconstituted as a pathway to Web poker should the federal government legalize it.

Ah, yes. The Legislative Process can be entertaining and sickening at the same time. Perhaps that’s why I still watch after a quarter-century.

But I also hope it will get better. And it could. How?

Three modest proposals to get started:

• Change the rules. Either make sure bills are dead when they are supposed to be dead, or ensure there is a waiting period for any legislation before it is voted upon. It will stop much mischief.

• Pay legislators more and make them full time. That would eliminate conflicts of interest and get better people. Lesser of evils.

• Meet every year. At least for a budget session and to fix any inevitable mistakes in the odd-numbered years. It’s time.

Like bad golfers who keep coming back because they hit one good shot, lawmakers occasionally achieve greatness such as with this year’s campaign finance transparency legislation. And I’m the same way: I see something like that and I inter the bad and think of the good that could come if The Legislative Process just had a few edits.

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  1. A full-time legislature, not only no, hell no. With all the antics that go on in a part-time legislature, would continue in a full-time legislature. Need proof, look at California. The legislative process is far from being clean, politics of greed, instead of the good of the people become the overriding factors.

    The Stadium if it is to be built should be built with private funds, no tax dollars need apply. Any stadium built in the last 50 years has lost money for the community in which it resides. We already have the monorail as a good example of public money gone bad. We need no more black holes.

    I am more concerned that the legislature would give benefits and cover to businesses that seek the government sanction to raise prices. Credit card swipes do not cost three dollars each.

  2. Here we go:
    Government = And I quote Alexis de Tocqueville saying, "in every democracy, the people get the government they deserve".

    In a perfect world, Jon, love your suggestions!

    But alas, we are here in Nevada or Nevaduh, depending upon who you talk to.

    In Nevada, we have a serious problem with VOTERS and CITIZENS being actively involved and engaged with their government. It gives people, like Governor Sandoval, and career politicians, Nevada LAWMAKERS, for example, great opportunity to exploit that fact, and slide a bill, like SB 197, through the 76th State of Nevada Legislative Session with all passing it, but one soul. God help and protect that lone soul.

    According to SB 197, the Governor has all powers over schools in Nevada:
    https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/76th...

    Since when, is an attorney, then appointed judge, now elected Governor, suddenly an EXPERT on running an ENTIRE STATE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM????

    That is what has become law folks! This man is cunning, clever, and as we will see in the coming years, ambitious at the cost of millions of innocent lives and purses of Nevada's taxpayers! All the while: educators, students, parents, concerned citizens were out everywhere protesting, petitioning, doing what they could to draw attention to education, no one saw that Governor Sandoval was in the background pushing SB 197 through. Talk about extreme voter remorse going on now that the back stories and what what passed and what was vetoed have been released!

    The Nevada State LAWMAKERS must take the citizens of Nevada for fools. Even when the state has spent countless millions on the already existing, "Parent, Teacher, Student Involvement Contract that is read,discussed, and signed by all parties each and every year, it lacks ANY MEANINGFUL ENFORCEMENT, and thanks to

    SB229,(link: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/76th...)

    continues to lack, ENFORCEMENT TEETH!
    What a waste of taxpayer money! What an insult!

    WHY should Nevada LAWMAKERS change this cozy situation of having a populace that is 50% ILLITERATE and/or ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS and the other 45% apathetic, uninformed/perhaps lacking paying attention to their education in government coursework in high school? This relationship serves them very well! It's the 5% that pay into their campaigns or make all the noise about them for for them, that the LAWMAKERS tend to speak to. This is a sad commentary about the severe disenfanchisement the citizenry of the United States have towards their GOVERNMENT!

    With what appears to be a functioning/or dysfunctional 2 party government system, all people can expect is more of the same unless we enact laws in the Nevada Constitution and change what we have been doing for over 100 years here in Nevada. Anyone interested in real CHANGE?

  3. Real change? LOL Can't happen unless self interest stops driving politics, from politicians to voters.

    Imagine if there were no parties, just citizens informed about the issues and with a desire to consider the welfare of all.

    Imagine if instead of living in fear of others, protecting ours, we could share and have concern for humans instead of categories to box us all into.

    Imagine living in peace rather than waring with each other in thought and word.

    If we cannot join together with a common interest, the welfare of all and our country as a whole, we cannot regain the power we have lost, and we cannot heal the divisions and fear that have been instilled in us as tools to control us.

    Until we can expand our hearts, minds, vision, and will, we will continue to give away what is our only source of power...the vote.

    When we change as a whole, the Legislature will change, and the laws will reflect us. It starts with each individual, and if not, more of the same.

  4. This would expand the government. We don't need full time legislators. We need honest ones.

  5. Tanker, your links are bad, but thanks for the effort.

  6. I agree that, at a minimum, the state legislature needs to meet annually to address budget issues. The challenge with a part-time legislature is that you only get those folks that can afford to take off 4 months every other year. That limits your talent pool. You do get some quality legislators. However, you need to set your priorities and then determine how to fund them. If you try and do everything on the cheap, you get what you pay for.

  7. We can end up with a state government meeting every year but the problem is most Nevadans cannot reach it. Most Nevadans are in Clark County. Having a state government 400 miles away still leaves it in the hands of the lobyists who work for the rich and mineing. The few will still take from the many.