Special session ends quickly with bill approvals

CARSON CITY – It really wasn’t very special at all.

The 27th special session of the Nevada Legislature called Tuesday by Gov. Brian Sandoval to deal with a handful of issues — including the More Cops tax bill for Clark County — that were not finished in the regular session was anticlimactic.

The various measures were passed and the session was over less than two hours after it began.

In his proclamation calling the Legislature back to work, Sandoval identified four bills and a $2 million appropriation to the Millennium Scholarship for eligible Nevada high school graduates as issues for legislators to consider.

The session started about seven hours after the regular session midnight deadline cut off lawmakers in the midst of passing bills and approving conference committee reports.

Sandoval’s decision to call his first special session, and the first in Nevada since 2010, was due primarily to the failure of lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 496, known as the “More Cops” bill.

Sandoval said he decided to call lawmakers back after seeing the measure come so close to passing only to fail due to time constraints. The measure was moments away from passage when the deadline passed.

“Public safety is extremely important in Clark County; the crime rate has gone up,” he said. “I’ve had an opportunity to meet with Sheriff (Doug) Gillespie. This was an extremely important bill to him and the people of Clark County. So I thought it was appropriate given how close it got to the finish line.”

Sandoval said calling a special session was not his first choice.

But the bills passed Tuesday dealing with economic development, education and public safety made his call the right one, he said.

“Those are all important priorities for me,” Sandoval said.

The More Cops bill allows the Clark County Commission, with a two-thirds vote, to increase the sales tax from the current 8.1 percent to 8.25 percent to raise more revenue for police starting Oct. 1.

The Senate version of the bill limited the increase to four years, which was a point of contention between the two houses. That limitation was removed in the special session bill.

The tax increase would generate an estimated $34 million in the nine months of the 2014 fiscal year and more than $46 million in the following three fiscal years for police agencies in Southern Nevada. The Metropolitan Police Department, which serves the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated areas of the county, would get 73 percent of the new revenue.

Gillespie said in previous testimony the additional tax revenue would allow him to fill a $30 million hole in his budget and ensure 300 police officers continue to patrol the streets of Southern Nevada.

Sandoval said he will sign the tax hike bill because voters already approved the increase.

The Millennium Scholarship funding was proposed as an alternative to the Teach for America measure that failed to win approval in the Assembly.

Sandoval was pushing the $2 million Teach for America plan, which would have recruited 50 teachers for high-risk schools in Clark County.

But he opted instead to put the money in the scholarship program, named for its creator, the late Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Students who graduate from Nevada high schools with a high enough grade-point average are eligible for the scholarship if they attend the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Senate Bill 445, which would have given tax breaks to Nevada businesses that donated to scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, was his Sandoval’s legislative priority. It never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee.

He vowed to continue to pursue school choice.

“School choice is a big priority for me and that is something that I’m not going to give up on,” Sandoval said.

Also on the proclamation and passed were Assembly Bill 38, an economic development measure relating to the partial abatement of taxes on a new or expanded business; Assembly Bill 162, which requires county school boards to report pupil-teacher ratios in kindergarten and grades 1, 2 and 3; and Senate Bill 471, which transfers the account for charter schools from the state Department of Education to the State Public Charter School Authority.

In the Senate, the More Cops, Millennium Scholarship and charter schools measures were introduced as Senate Bills 1, 2 and 3, respectively and passed quickly to the Assembly.

The Assembly introduced Assembly Bill 1, the tax abatement measure, and Assembly Bill 2, the class-size reporting measure, and quickly passed them to the Senate.

When the two houses signed off on the other house’s respective measures, the session was over.

Lawmakers earned a day’s pay of about $150, plus per diem, for the special session.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.