The legacy of the 2013 Legislature is one of empty promises and wasted hours with few real accomplishments, except for some that made small speciality groups happy.
Gaming and NV Energy nailed what they wanted. But that hardly qualifies as news or a legacy.
First the broken promises. Senate Democratic Leader Mo Denis foolishly told the Las Vegas Sun in late April, “I’m not leaving here without getting more money for education.” By mid-May, he had surrendered and admitted to the Las Vegas Review-Journal it wasn’t going to happen unless there was a miracle.
There was no miracle.
Unless he’s counting the extra dollars Gov. Brian Sandoval put into the budget as a Democratic miracle.
The Democrats continually said Sandoval wasn’t doing enough for education, but they failed to enhance the budget. They pretty much bowed to Sandoval’s budget, which added $484 million in new spending for education. The major beneficiaries were full-day kindergarten for at-risk schools and English language learning.
Lawmakers passed resolutions laying groundwork for real change in the future, but not immediately. Voters will get the chance in later years to legalize gay marriage and raise mining taxes, but neither is a done deal.
If you’re using medical marijuana, the legislators made it easier to obtain, presuming Sandoval doesn’t veto it. If you’re in the United States illegally, you can get an identification card so you can drive legally. If you’re a sex- trafficking victim, your pimp will get a harsher sentence.
But what if you’re not in any of these groups? Did the Legislature do much for you?
The governor of Illinois is calling the Legislature back into a special session June 19 to address his state’s $100 billion underfunding of the state’s pension system. Why the urgency? His state’s credit rating was downgraded. Maybe that’s what it will take for Nevada lawmakers to deal with an issue that Gov. Kenny Guinn predicted would sink Nevada.
Our Legislature didn’t even address the public employees’ pension problem, nor did our governor take it on. Our pitiful special session of about two hours was called because lawmakers dillydallied until the last minute, and when the clock struck midnight Monday, they hadn’t finished. Four bills and one appropriation hadn’t passed, though legislators wanted them passed.
Now let’s get to those wasted hours and hold a civics lesson.
If a legislator doesn’t have the votes to pass a bill and the two-thirds vote necessary to override a governor’s promised veto, then spending time on an issue is a show rather than an accomplishment although it may advance an issue for the future.
State Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, earned plenty of news coverage for his bill to require background checks for all gun purchases, eliminating the largest loophole in which people can buy guns without background checks at gun shows. Politically, he made a smart move for his Democratic district. After all, who wants the mentally ill buying guns? But Sandoval said all along he will veto the bill.
When it came to taxes, it was all about “discussions.” But their discussions ended with nothing significant actually happening this session.
I’m not saying there weren’t some decent things accomplished.
A shifting of higher-education dollars to Southern Nevada was a positive because it was aimed at correcting an inequity and bringing an additional $13 million south is a start. Mental health received $13 million in new funding, courtesy of the patient-dumping scandal.
But why did they waste time on a bill requiring restaurant chains to list their calories when the feds are already doing it? It actually passed only to die by the governor’s veto pen, which he seems to be using enthusiastically. As of Friday morning, Big Daddy had vetoed 25 bills but hadn’t dealt with the most controversial — the gun check bill.
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick’s Assembly Bill 503 to use money put aside for sewer repairs to pay for North Las Vegas’ city services, including fire, police, parks and libraries, hadn’t been signed yet.
It’s another example of pushing financial problems down the road. But then Sandoval used $69 million of the the state’s $84 million rainy-day fund to balance the state’s budget, so maybe he won’t see Kirkpatrick’s bill as a problem.
A devout Democrat told me, all the legislators did this session was tread water. That’s not much of a legacy.
Can’t wait to see them brag about their accomplishments during the 2014 election season.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.