CARSON CITY — A resolution that could lead to annual sessions for the Nevada Legislature, including regular sessions in Las Vegas starting in 2018, won approval from a Senate committee Thursday.
The vote on Senate Joint Resolution 8 in the Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections was 4-1, with Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, voting no.
Four Southern Nevada lawmakers voted for the measure.
Provisions in SJR8 that would have increased lawmaker pay and required state Senate approval for Cabinet appointments by the governor were removed in an amendment proposed by the measure’s sponsors, Sen. Tick Segerblom and Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, both D-Las Vegas.
The resolution, which would have to be approved by voters before it could take effect, proposes to change the constitution to allow limited annual sessions of 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years and 30 legislative days in even-numbered years.
The sessions in the proposed resolution would not count weekends or other days lawmakers did not actually meet, so they would extend over more consecutive calendar days.
The maximum number of consecutive calendar days would be 120 for the 90-day sessions and 45 days for the 30-day sessions.
Sessions now run 120 calendar days in odd-numbered years as mandated by the state constitution.
ONE GOAL: LAS VEGAS SESSIONS
The resolution included direction from the committee that the 30-day sessions be held in Las Vegas.
The constitution mandates that the Legislature hold its sessions in the state capital. That provision would be repealed as part of the resolution if approved by voters.
Segerblom did not support the idea of mandating in the constitution that the 30-day even-year sessions be held in Las Vegas because it could hamstring future legislatures.
Committee member Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said the shorter session should be held in Las Vegas and that is the expectation of those voting for the resolution in committee.
But the language will not be part of the resolution if it goes to voters. Instead, the Legislature would establish the rules for a Las Vegas session in its 2017 session.
Segerblom and committee members on Thursday joked about where a Las Vegas legislative session could be held.
“We can start holding a discussion about whether it’s going to be at The Venetian, the Palazzo, the Sands. ...” Settelmeyer said.
Segerblom added: “And whether its a union hotel or nonunion hotel.”
In his previous testimony on the measure, Segerblom said it is not his intent to relocate the state capital to Las Vegas, but that the Legislature should be able to meet in more populous Southern Nevada on occasion.
“I think we ought to be able to hold a session there, and vote, and let the people of Southern Nevada see what we do,” he said.
Committee Chairwoman Patricia Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said her constituents are excited about the idea because they could participate more in the legislative process.
At a recent hearing of the committee, people participating from Las Vegas by videoconference could not follow the entire discussion because the feed was lost when another committee needed to connect to Las Vegas for a hearing, Spearman said.
COST WOULD BE SUBSTANTIAL
The annual sessions would come at a substantial cost. The fiscal note from the Legislative Counsel Bureau estimates that the even-year sessions would cost $7.2 million in addition to the nearly $20 million cost for the longer odd-year sessions.
The fiscal note does not include potential costs for increased staff or even-year sessions in Las Vegas.
Any change to legislative sessions will take time. The resolution would have to be passed both in this session and in 2015. Voters would have their say in 2016.
If approved, the first annual session would be in 2018.
Cegavske said she was pleased to see the $2,000-a-month salary provision removed but noted that all references to salary would be removed from the state constitution if the resolution is approved. That would allow members of the Legislature to set their own pay, she said.
But Flores said lawmakers already have the power to raise their own salaries now.
Lawmakers are paid just under $150 a day for the first 60 days of the session. Their last payday in the current session was Thursday. The 60-day pay limit is in the constitution, but lawmakers can set their own day rate.
Cegavske also asked for a commitment that the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, which function between the odd-numbered sessions, would be eliminated.
Segerblom said he would support such a move.
Voting for the amended resolution were Spearman, Cegavske, Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, and Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas. The measure will go to the full Senate.
Segerblom said he is optimistic the resolution will see support in both the Senate and Assembly, given the bipartisan vote in committee and the fact that only a simple majority is needed in each house to approve it.
The governor’s signature is not required to send it to the voters.
“It is fantastic, and its time has come,” Segerblom said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.