Deadline? What deadline?
Once again, the Nevada Legislature needed overtime to wrap up its work. A merciful Gov. Brian Sandoval called an early morning special session Tuesday to ensure a handful of bills made it to his desk. Lawmakers who couldn’t find a minute for those votes over four months somehow managed to pass them in a little more than an hour.
Only after subverting the will of voters do lawmakers discover their time management skills.
Regular legislative sessions are not open-ended affairs. In 1998, voters imposed a 120-day limit on the biennial gatherings. The electorate enshrined the calendar constraint in the Nevada Constitution to compel legislators to prioritize their business accordingly.
Yet there lawmakers were Monday night, in the final hours of the 120th day of the 2013 session, scrambling and sprinting through the Legislative Building to get legislation passed by midnight’s deadline. Incredibly, one of the most important bills of the session, Assembly Bill 496, didn’t make the cut. That legislation would have allowed the Clark County Commission to increase the sales tax rate to prop up police department budgets, prevent officer layoffs and put new cops on the streets.
Hundreds of bills are ignored to death every session. However, lawmakers had every intention of passing AB496, and they could have done so anytime over the previous week. But instead of passing it, they spent hours on ceremonial and self-congratulating pablum. They wasted part of Monday passing a gun background check bill that Gov. Sandoval had pledged to veto. And they finally took up the police tax issue about 11:30 p.m. There wasn’t enough time to pass it by midnight. AB496 died.
Yet the day before, lawmakers put in the work to pass Senate Joint Resolution 8, which — get this — would allow the Legislature to meet in annual sessions. Instead of attending to the public’s most important business — whether you agree with the policy or not — the Legislature took time to try to give themselves more time. As if they’d make the best use of that time.
SJR8 would give lawmakers the same four-month session in odd-numbered years, but add a six-week session in even-numbered years. The proposed constitutional amendment would have to pass the Legislature again in 2015 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. Want to bet the Legislature passes that resolution in two years, with time to spare?
In Tuesday’s brief special session, lawmakers resuscitated and passed the “More Cops” bill, as well as economic development, charter school, class-size reporting and Millennium Scholarship legislation. They shouldn’t have needed the extra session. And they have the nerve to demand more time, at more public expense, to pass more laws we don’t need so pressing policy matters can be delayed — or ignored?
Blowing a deadline is not grounds for a reward.