And the session's winners are ...


The 2013 Nevada Legislature wraps up in a couple of days, so it’s time to assess the biggest winners and losers of the session.

The biggest losers, as usual, are you and me. A handful of taxes and fees are going up (more on that in a bit), and lawmakers made no strides toward badly needed, money-saving government reforms. The public employee pension bubble is getting bigger; we’re still being ripped off by inflated prevailing wages on public construction projects; and public employee unions can still hold government budgets hostage by making unreasonable, unaffordable demands and having contract provisions roll over before an unelected, out-of-state arbitrator gives them what they want.

On the other hand, lawmakers did manage to end dog breed discrimination as we know it, so things clearly could have been worse.

On the winning side, predictably, were electricity monopoly NV Energy and the Nevada Resort Association. NV Energy is poised to win approval of fuel-switch legislation that will drive up power rates by ending coal-fired generation. (You lose again.) And the gaming industry succeeded in banning sports betting kiosks from taverns. (Loo-hoo-ser!) But those victories were predictable. Everyone expects the utility monopoly and gaming to conquer Carson.

No, the real winners of this session were an unlikely pair: illegal immigrants and cops.

Last week, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law the creation of driver authorization cards, de facto driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that, hopefully, will push them to purchase car insurance. We all pay for the huge number of uninsured drivers in Southern Nevada, and we all know a lot of them aren’t living in the country legally.

Reluctant supporters of the legislation point out that the cards are not official government identification. So we’re making tens of thousands of people wait in line for hours at the DMV, take a written exam and a driving test and giving them a government-issued photo card in return, but it’s not valid ID? They’re going to hand their non-ID cards to police when they’re pulled over, and present it at the liquor store to buy beer, aren’t they?

I think the cards are good policy. But I also think we’re kidding ourselves if we think this valley’s sizable illegal immigrant population will suddenly be able to afford car insurance.

Illegal immigrants also scored big bucks for their children’s schools. About $50 million in new funding will be poured into programs to try to more quickly lift the English proficiency of more than 50,000 Clark County School District students. About one in six of the county’s students speak another language at home. Most of them are citizen children of illegal immigrants.

Most of the county’s ELL-majority schools already had full-day kindergarten. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget expands fully subsidized full-day kindergarten into more at-risk schools, a spending boost that also will benefit illegal immigrants. And this year’s session laid the groundwork for future tax increases, perhaps as soon as the next legislative session, to put even more money into ELL schools and institute fully subsidized pre-kindergarten there, as well. If voters approve the creation of a business margins tax in 2014, a good chunk of that dough will go into ELL schools.

Whether our approach to ELL education actually works got significantly less attention.

Police were victors as well. Thanks to enabling legislation, signs point to the Clark County sales tax rate going up 0.15 percentage points, to 8.25 percent, with those new revenues supporting police operating funds, averting the need for salary concessions or layoffs. Cops will get to keep their jobs and get pay raises to boot.

The North Las Vegas Police Department will get a cut of that money, and would be in line for even more if a bill to bail out the city wins approval. Assembly Bill 503 would allow the city to tap its sewer maintenance fund to preserve police positions, perhaps hire a few more officers and grant them pay raises.

If only the rest of us could be such big winners.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.