Southern Nevadans talk about priorities for 2015 Legislature

Southern Nevada leaders are starting to scope out priorities for the 2015 state legislative session.

Among the anticipated priorities: tighter controls on the state’s highway fund for transportation needs, so it doesn’t go to other parts of the state budget.

Another priority would reshape the state’s mental health system, putting a regional mental health authority in place for Southern Nevada.

They also want to see the Legislature tackle funding equity, getting Clark County schools a larger share of revenue.

About 300 community members, state lawmakers and local officials gathered for three hours Friday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to zero in on legislative goals for next year’s session.

The public forum’s purpose was broad in scope, covering a swath of areas such as education, economic development, transportation and health care.

The ideas and input came following months of community meetings with lawmakers and others to examine ideas.

The specifics of the proposals — and bill language — are yet to be crafted. But Friday’s forum gave the public a chance to weigh in, with separate sessions for individual topics.

With mental health, for example, Nevada is one of just three states that still has a state-level system for services.

A regional mental health authority would help Southern Nevada make local decisions about programs and needs, Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, said in an interview.

He said a regionalization shift would help the rest of the state, too.

“This is not purely a Southern Nevada thing,” he said. “I think the same thing applies to Washoe County.”

The details — such as who would be on the authority — are undecided, but the goal would be regional accountability, Eisen said.

The state still would have a strong role under any changes, he said. There are also regional models to look to for ideas when crafting the details, Eisen said.

Officials also want to see the state prioritize transportation funding. The state’s highway fund has been tapped by about $250 million for other budget needs in the past several years as revenues declined during the downturn.

Assemlyman James Healey, D-Las Vegas, said it’s crucial that the highway fund be used for the intended purpose so the state has a solid infrastructure for industry, residents and visitors.

“If we don’t have those things, we can’t grow,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirk­patrick, D-North Las Vegas, told the audience to continue providing feedback, even if their item didn’t make the list.

“It’s never too late to get involved,” she said.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin @reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.