Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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State Government:

Panel mulls changes to Legislature but ultimately votes for more study

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The Nevada Legislative Building is seen Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, in Carson City.

Tick Segerblom

Tick Segerblom

A committee of legislators was created in 2011 to study improvements in the Legislature such as holding annual sessions and revising lawmaker pay.

But after five meetings, the Legislative Committee to Study the Structure and Operation of the Legislature came up with only one suggestion: appoint a commission to study the same issues.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the committee, said he was not advocating annual sessions nor increasing the pay of lawmakers. That would be up to the commission that would be created by the 2013 Legislature.

The budget for the six-member committee was $7,200.

Segerblom said the Legislature's structure was last studied in 1988.

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, raised the only dissenting voice. He said this legislative committee conducted the study, and "I'm not sure a commission is needed. But I will keep an open mind." However, he ended up voting for another study.

The committee heard several suggestions during its meetings, ranging from holding annual sessions to paying salaries based on the average state wage.

The committee heard testimony Monday from Gary Wilhelms, co-chairman of a public commission in Oregon that studied its Legislature. One suggestion adopted in Oregon was to continue biennial sessions but to hold limited 35-day annual sessions to consider emergency issues and to tweak the biennial budget that was adopted.

Making some of the changes would require approval of the voters.

Randolph Townsend, a 28-year member of the state Senate, also had suggestions. The first day of the Legislature is "wasted," he said. The legislators introduce their families and all the "pomp and circumstance" is conducted.

"On the first day, nothing gets done," he told the lawmakers.

He suggested that this be conducted on the Sunday preceding the opening day.

Greg Brower

Greg Brower

Through the session, both houses spend time introducing and passing resolutions in memory of dead Nevadans or honoring someone for his or her achievement, and the Legislature has to listen to speeches from visiting congressional leaders from Nevada.

"We honor everybody, and that becomes tedious, and a great deal of time is wasted," Townsend said.

His recommendation is to set aside a specified time for these resolutions and speeches, freeing up the rest of the time for work sessions.

He also suggested the terms of Assembly members be extended from two to four years and senators from four to six years. Townsend, now a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission, disagrees with term limits of 12 years, which was approved by the voters.

"It has not been helpful for the institution," he said.

He said lawmakers, faced with 12-year limits, are using the Legislature "as a stepping stone."

Currently, a legislator is elected in November of the even-numbered years and the Legislature starts in February of the next year. Townsend suggests the Legislature start in February of the even-numbered years.

He said the lawmaker elected in November of the even-numbered years could be appointed to committees to get familiar with the issues during the 15-month interim.

"That one single issue would make every legislator better," he said.

The public would benefit because it would remember what the lawmaker voted for or against going into an election campaign, which would be in the same year as the legislative session, he said.

"It would give more time to hear from the public," he said.

Segerblom said no other state has changed years for the Legislature.

Details about the bill or resolution to be presented to the 2013 Legislature are still being worked out.

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