Published Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Updated Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 | 9:26 p.m.
A state legislator is now lobbying a state agency for a paid client on a bill he helped pass into law — and it’s entirely legal.
Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, recently testified as a lawyer with a client at a public hearing on regulations for Nevada’s new medical marijuana dispensary law, which was established at the Legislature this year in a bill that Horne voted for.
“I know you’re fishing for an ethics thing, but there isn’t one there,” Horne said. “I fully disclosed that I am an Assemblyman, but I am working on behalf of a client as an attorney.”
Many lawyers in Las Vegas have recently obtained clients seeking to apply for a medical marijuana establishment license under the state’s new law. Horne declined to disclose his client but said that the client retained him as counsel just like other prospective applicants have been doing.
He said he asked the Legislature’s legal counsel if he’s permitted to lobby a state agency now that the Legislature is out of session and was told this would be acceptable.
The Legislature sets the budget for state agencies and votes on legislation affecting the operation of state agencies. The Legislative Commission, a panel of lawmakers that meets during the interim between sessions, also signs off on regulations passed by the administration. Horne does not sit on the commission.
Once the budget has passed and the 120-day legislative ends, legislators are largely free to lobby whomever they want. Horne said he was hired by his client after the session ended.
“As a lawyer, we can’t take money to advocate for the passage of a bill,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas. “But we can represent clients before state agencies.”
The law says that legislators, who are all part-time elected officials, can “represent or counsel a private person before an agency in which he or she does not serve”.
The Nevada Commission on Ethics tracks such occasions when a legislator turns lobbyist; in 2011 the commission learned of 11 such instances and in 2010 noted 14.
Nevada’s Legislature has at times considered the public perception of legislators who quickly become lobbyists after leaving office, cashing in on their knowledge of the legislative process and existing relationships with legislators.
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, sponsored legislation this year that would limit legislators from becoming lobbyists for at least one legislative session after they are no longer a lawmaker.
Horne had argued against such legislation in the past, saying “I have a fundamental disagreement with some of my colleagues that you should prohibit someone from doing what they’re gainfully employed to do.”
The bill failed to pass the Legislature this year.
Horne, who can’t seek re-election because he’s reached Nevada’s term limit, won’t go to another regular legislative session as a legislator.
But he said he’d be open to returning to Carson City as a lobbyist.
“If I have the client, I will certainly be there,” he said.