Did I see the same session as speaker?


Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, is a pragmatic, policy-oriented lawmaker who did a fairly good job helming the Assembly her first time out this year.

But I’m starting to think we attended different sessions, especially after reading an op-ed piece she wrote in the Las Vegas Sun on Wednesday.

Kirkpatrick rightly touted some of the session’s accomplishments — increasing school budgets, full-day kindergarten funding, and English Language Learner programs. Those are good starts, although much more remains to be done. And she’s right to single out for praise a resolution to repeal the ban on gay marriage and a transgender hate-crimes bill, too.

A little less praiseworthy is her touting of a DNA testing bill, which requires all people arrested — not charged, not convicted — for a felony to give up a DNA sample that will be retained in a state database. Nevada’s law is more aggressive than a similar Maryland statute recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which means our state rule may yet be challenged successfully.

Kirkpatrick says Nevada “maintained our gold standard in gaming by being the first Legislature in the nation to license Internet gaming.” But I’m sure I read recently an admission by the head of the Gaming Control Board that Nevada lacks the jurisdiction and manpower to fully police the activities of Nevada gaming companies operating in foreign markets such as Macau.

But it’s when we get to taxes that memories really diverge.

“We passed a bipartisan bill on fuel indexing that will be used for critical infrastructure projects and job creation in Southern Nevada,” Kirkpatrick wrote. But she doesn’t say the bill only allowed the Clark County Commission to decide to impose a tax, and that it will only build infrastructure and create jobs if the risk-averse commissioners muster a two-thirds vote. Meanwhile, the Legislature fumbled a straightforward vote on raising the sales tax in Clark County to pay for police officers, before finally passing that decision to the commission in a special session. Profiles in courage it wasn’t.

Kirkpatrick says, “Too often this legislative session, Democrats in the Legislature found themselves confronted by a rigid Republican orthodoxy. I had high hopes going into this session that we could work together on a tax package. Unfortunately … we could not come to the table and have an honest discussion about what our state needs in terms of tax policy.”

If that’s true, why are conservatives railing against the lack of Republican orthodoxy shown by Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, who personally crusaded for eliminating mining tax caps and called for increased taxes on that industry?

And what about the Republicans who said they were willing to discuss taxes, so long as Democrats were willing to discuss construction defect and public employee pension reforms? If you don’t have the votes or the will to force a tax package through the Legislature, you have only one other option: compromise. Any honest discussion has to include that.

Kirkpatrick deserves some respect for at least standing behind her own tax idea, an admissions tax that would have slapped a levy on everything from going to the movies to going to the gym. But are we really to believe that only Republicans opposed that tax plan, and not a few Democrats, too?

There’s clearly a basic division between the parties on the advisability of a business tax — but there was certainly bipartisan agreement to ignore both an initiative petition and a duly introduced (and subsequently neglected) Assembly bill on that topic. A discussion could easily have been had, if majority Democrats wanted to bring those matters forward.

The bottom line is, tax policy in this state won’t be set by one side saying we need a tax “for the children” and the other side saying, “no!” A real honest discussion is going to require both sides to give up things they really don’t want to give up.

Now that I think about it, Kirkpatrick may be right again: We never really did have that discussion, did we?

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@ reviewjournal.com.