State Senate conducts contentious 3 a.m. session

CARSON CITY - A dramatic 3 a.m. confrontation on the floor of the state Senate brought long-simmering tensions to light, with Democrats accusing Republicans of putting education funding in peril and Republicans accusing Democrats of hostile maneuvering.

By 4 a.m., however, both sides had gone home to get a few hours’ sleep and the issues remained unresolved.

“This is not a tactic to be up at 3:30 in the morning. I respect every member’s time,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “What is a tactic is to throw up 11th hour conditions to a reform package that stands in the way of funding K-12 and higher education, and to renege on the meaningful reforms that have been proposed.”

Horsford had convened the senators around 2:45 a.m., invoking a rule that trapped them in the chamber and allowed absent members to be tracked down and rounded up. The upper house had been in recess since 11 p.m.

During the hours of recess, yet another round of closed-door talks seeking accord on a package of tax hikes and public employee benefit reforms had broken down.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, called Horsford’s action a “threat.”

“I think it is very inappropriate and imprudent if it’s to hold us hostage here until we cave in,” he said.

In between the indignant speechifying, the senators conducted regular business for more than an hour, approving amendments and taking votes on a number of bills. After Republicans voted against a bill containing school funding to protest the conditions, Horsford cited it as evidence that they were putting political posturing ahead of education.

Horsford spelled out changes to public employee retirement and health benefits that he said were significant and painful but offered in the spirit of cooperation. Republicans, he said, were not willing to accept a generous proposal and were creating new roadblocks to passing a budget even as time was running out.

Legislators hope to get the budget to Gov. Jim Gibbons Friday so that they have time to overturn his promised veto, which he has five days to carry out, before the June 1 end of the legislative session.

Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, said it was Democrats who had reneged on previous promises on the benefits reforms and were refusing to budge. He said Republicans have always made it clear that the reforms were a condition of their votes on taxes.

“My perception of a meaningful discussion is a discussion I get to partake in, I get to have a say in,” Hardy said. “To a large degree, that has not occurred. We have been told we have to accept” the Democrats’ offer of reform or nothing, he said.

“I am prepared to vote for a meaningful budget that undoes the damage that the governor’s budget does when we have reforms that help protect the other constituency in this state, the constituency that helps fund this budget,” Hardy said.

The hearing concluded around 4 a.m. Raggio said he believed it had set the process back by creating ill will and tired senators. Horsford said it was necessary to move legislation forward and air differences.

A hearing on the bill containing public employee pension reforms is scheduled for 8 a.m. The full Senate is to reconvene at 9 a.m.

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