Lawmaker calls for annual legislative sessions


CARSON CITY -- Assemblyman Tick Segerblom wasted no time Wednesday in saying he wants voters to amend the state constitution and allow annual sessions of the Legislature instead of the current 120-day sessions every other year.

Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, opened a meeting of the Interim Committee on Legislative Structure and Operations by declaring that the every-other-year legislative sessions are a failure. He pointed out that special sessions have been called 10 times by the governor since 1998 to handle unforeseen matters.

"It is not working any longer," Seger­blom said of the every-other-year sessions that only four states use. "The reality is we are meeting every year anyway."

The committee he chairs could recommend that the Legislature in 2013 approve a ballot question to put Nevada on an annual session schedule. It would have to be endorsed by two consecutive legislatures and by registered voters in 2016 before any change could be implemented. That could be difficult because voters in 1998 backed 120-day sessions in odd-numbered years by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Before that vote, legislators typically met for more than 165 days every other year.

The panel took no action on Seger­blom's proposal Wednesday.

Legislatures in Texas, North Dakota and Montana also meet every other year. In the early 1960s, just 19 state legislatures met annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Although Nevada legislators meet in regular sessions every other year, members also serve on interim committees that meet frequently. Three interim committees met Wednesday.

Most of the interim committees meet about six times between sessions and have little power other than recommending changes for the full Legislature to consider. But two, the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, make limited policy decisions for the entire Legislature. Their constitutionality has been questioned by many people but not challenged in court.

Segerblom and three other members of his interim committee recently visited Oregon, where voters in 2010 approved annual legislative sessions.

"That they were able to pass this thing in this day and age is amazing," he said.

Even if Nevada voters do not pass annual sessions, Segerblom and state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, hope the state imitates the Oregon Legislature and has its interim committees all meet at the same time for three days each quarter.

Such a change would allow all legislators to talk with one another about current problems on a regular basis, Denis said. It also would make it easier for legislators to schedule time off from their regular jobs, he added.

"Most of our constituents think we are available to them all the time," Denis said. "They don't know we work regular jobs. We don't have offices in our districts. Many folks have moved other places and think they should just call up their legislators and get a return call in a short time."

Besides annual sessions, the committee also is looking at legislators' pay, now $146 a day for the first 60 days of the session. Legislators also are paid $154 a day in living expenses during the session. Those who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol receive a $736-a-month housing allowance during the session.

According to legislative staff calculations, Nevada legislators receive $43,774 in compensation every two years.

That is not out of line with many states. Alabama pays its legislators $10 a day. New Mexico pays nothing but gives them a $159-a-day housing allowance. Utah, which has about the same population as Nevada, pays $5,200 a year for salaries and $185 a day in living expenses.

On the top end is California, which pays legislators $95,291 a year and a $173-a-day living allowance. New York pays $79,500 a year. Texas pays only $7,200 per session and like Nevada meets only every other year.

A move to increase Nevada legislators' pay drew support from only 29 percent of voters in 2006.

Las Vegas resident Knight Allen said legislators should base their pay on the average pay of the working population in Nevada. Since they work for four months, their pay should be one-third of the average private worker's pay, or $232 for each day they meet, he said. That would be $27,840 during the year they are in regular sessions.

"Tie your pay to what the average citizen makes," said Allen, a member or the public who testified Wednesday. "Anybody who wants to challenge you (on their pay) would be a fool."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

 

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