Planned agency axing weighed


CARSON CITY -- Nevada lawmakers start their second week of the 2009 session on Monday with a review of Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons' plan to save money by abolishing the state's Consumer Health Assistance Office.

Assembly Ways and Means Committee members will review the plan that would save $1 million a year, according to Gibbons. But Democratic Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, who pushed for creation of the office in 1999, said it saved consumers $3.1 million last fiscal year alone.

Also Monday, Senate Health and Education will get reports on Nevada's K-12 and higher education systems, which account for just over half of the entire state budget. Gibbons wants to cut funding for education by an average of about 15 percent.

Assembly Government Affairs will review the state's Public Employees' Benefits Program, which faces several cuts under Gibbons' budget plan, including a 50 percent reduction in subsidies for current state retirees.

All such subsidies would be erased for Medicare-eligible retirees, and for anyone retiring after July 2009. The proposals are among changes aimed at saving the state nearly $159 million. Lawmakers already have questioned whether some of the proposals could lead to lawsuits.

Assembly Judiciary is scheduled to hear a report on regulation of Nevada's multibillion-dollar hotel-casino industry from state Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander.

Agencies dealing with conservation and natural resources, including the state's park system, are up for a review in Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining. Gibbons wants to reduce the budgets for such agencies by an average of 18 percent.

State Senate Finance members will review the budgets for several elected officials, including Gibbons, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Controller Kim Wallin and Treasurer Kate Marshall.

On Tuesday, Buckley will be in Assembly Taxation to talk about plans for an expanded reserve fund that would be a "forced savings account" to protect the state against a future economic downturn; and Senate Taxation will hear local government concerns about Gibbons' plan to redirect part of the property tax collected by Clark and Washoe counties to the state.

Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation hears from Howard Skolnik, head of the state's prison system, and from state parole chief Bernie Curtis. Lawmakers are expected to discuss, among other things, Skolnik's plan to shut down the old Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

On Wednesday, Senate Finance reviews the governor's plan to cut staffing for the state Agency for Nuclear Projects, which has led the fight against federal plans for a high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

Assembly Judiciary reviews Nevada's court system, records and fees, along with the state's efforts to comply with a long-standing U.S. Supreme Court requirement that indigents charged with crimes get adequate legal counsel.

Senate Government Affairs and Assembly Natural Resources both will hear from Southern Nevada Water Authority representatives.

The agency is seeking pumping rights to huge amounts of underground water in rural Nevada valleys, to be piped to Las Vegas.

Assembly and Senate Commerce and Labor committees will consider measures to help homeowners facing foreclosures, including one that would require good-faith mediation between lenders and borrowers.

Also Wednesday, the state Senate will consider whether to override the governor's 2007 veto of Senate Bill 146, which would have allowed small counties to raise property taxes by 4 cents for every $100 of property value to build juvenile detention facilities.

On Thursday, Senate Judiciary and Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation will hear from Chief Justice Jim Hardesty, who chaired a commission that has conducted a wide-ranging review into Nevada's justice system.

A Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee will discuss Gibbons' proposed budget cuts for mental health services. The governor proposes closing eight of 20 rural mental health clinics, and increasing the number of patients per staff member in Las Vegas and Reno.

On Friday, another Senate-Assembly budget panel will review proposed spending for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Also Friday, Assembly Judiciary considers Assembly Bill 99, which expands circumstances in murder cases that can lead to a death sentence.

The added "aggravating circumstance" would be for cases in which a murder is an act of retaliation against a judge or other "participant in the legal process."

The bill also would let judges list phony addresses when they apply for documents such as a driver's license or file for re-election.

 

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