Boosting legislative calendar, pay invites trouble


Nevada is almost 150 years old, and parts of its government structure are antiquated and in need of reform. The Legislature’s 120-day biennial sessions are not among them.

Voters enshrined in the state constitution a four-month cap on lawmakers’ gatherings in Carson City every odd-numbered year. The intent of voters was pretty clear: limit the ability of citizen legislators to create volumes of new laws and drag out the process of passing a budget. Voters absolutely, positively wanted nothing approaching a Legislature of full-time politicians.

The year Nevada voters dialed back the Legislature: 1998.

So it was somewhat amusing to hear Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, harken back to the 19th century in calling Tuesday for the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 8. The resolution would overturn that voter-approved amendment and allow lawmakers to meet annually, for more days — while also quintupling legislators’ salaries.

Ms. Flores reminded her fellow lawmakers that it isn’t 1889, and that they no longer ride horses to Carson City.

In those days, there was more manure in the streets than in the State Capitol. That’s no longer the case. Today, legislative staff can’t keep up with lawmakers’ bill draft requests, and lawmakers can’t possibly read every bill that comes before them. The bad ideas for new, intrusive, costly laws and expansions of government power never stop. Lawmakers consistently show no restraint and no sense of prioritization. Lobbyists’ primary job in the capital is playing defense.

Indeed, Ms. Flores argued that too often, lawmakers pass a poorly written bill that has unintended consequences. “You can’t do a single thing about it for two years,” she testified.

If anything, that’s a case for shortening regular sessions, not lengthening them. And it certainly doesn’t justify increasing lawmakers’ pay from about $9,000 per regular session to $24,000 per year. If they’re doing such a poor job managing the time they have now, why in the world would voters reward them with even more time and money? Besides, contrary to Ms. Flores’ claim that lawmakers are interested in cleaning up their messes, the Legislature almost never amends or repeals bad laws. Lawmakers are far too interested in passing new ones.

SJR8, sponsored by Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, would allow the Legislature to meet for 90 working days every odd-numbered year and 30 days in even-numbered years. Weekends and days not in session wouldn’t count toward those caps, as they do now under the 120-day limit. That would allow the Legislature to meet for more time than it does now in odd-numbered years — a little more than four months — while throwing in a six-week session in even-numbered years. For SJR8 to amend the Nevada Constitution, it must pass the Legislature this year and in 2015, then win voter support in 2016.

Lawmakers asked voters for a pay raise in 2006 and were rejected. If their current pay was such a deterrent to legislative service, lawmakers wouldn’t seek re-election, and no one would file to replace them. But there is no shortage of candidates for the Legislature, and there would no shortage if they collected no pay at all. Their power is priceless. That’s why they’re so eager to exercise it.

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said Tuesday that lawmakers from other states consider Nevada a laughingstock because of its two-year legislative cycle. So we’re amending our constitution because officials from other states think we should? Please.

The 120-day cap is not a relic of the pioneer days. Voters put it in our constitution for good reason. It should stay there. The Legislature should reject Senate Joint Resolution 8.

 

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