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Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Grassley trade barbs over Supreme Court vacancy

Even before President Barack Obama sends up his next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, the clubby reputation of the Senate has taken a hit. One might even say the upper chamber is less senatorial than its once-storied past.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada unleashed usually sharp remarks on his longtime colleague Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reid questioned Grassley’s independence for joining the Republican leadership’s strategy to deny Obama’s choice a hearing and a vote on whether to let his successor fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“The chairman of the Judiciary Committee was too timid to even meet with President Obama without the Republican leader’s consent,” Reid said, accusing Grassley of “blind Republican obedience.”

For his part, Grassley has not held back.

“It’s another day, and another tantrum from the minority leader,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter how much he jumps up and down, and stomps his feet, we aren’t going to let the far left get away with denying the American people the opportunity to be heard.”

— Jim Myers

Dem leadership team

The Nevada Senate Democratic caucus has shuffled its leadership team after the death of one of their colleagues and as candidate filings for the 2016 election is about to start.

Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, last week announced state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson will serve as assistant minority leader, a position previously held by the late Sen. Debbie Smith of Sparks.

Smith died last month after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, was co-minority whip during the 2015 legislative session. State Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, was tapped to replace Atkinson in that position.

“Kelvin and Joyce have proven themselves as dedicated, hardworking, team-oriented leaders, and they have earned the respect of their fellow senators,” Ford said. “Our caucus will be well-served by having them as part of our leadership team.”

— Sandra Chereb

Budget planning

The next session of the Nevada Legislature is about a year away, but the budget planning process starts this week.

Agency leaders will attend a daylong “budget kickoff” session hosted by administration officials and members of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s executive team.

Sandoval’s Chief of Staff Mike Willden will give an introduction and overview of the planning and budgeting process, and Budget Director Jim Wells will instruct state agency administrators on parameters for building their spending plans for the next two-year budget cycle.

The budget kickoff sometimes provides a clue as to whether budgets will be cut, increased or kept the same. During the recession, agency heads were given warning to prepare for lean times and make cuts.

Agency requests must be submitted to the governor this fall. It’s then up to the governor to decide how much he wants to include in his final budget recommendation, which he will present to lawmakers when he delivers his State of the State address before the 2017 session starts.

The 2015 Legislature approved a $7.4 billion, two-year general fund budget that included a $1.4 billion tax package to fund Sandoval’s public education improvement agenda.

— Sandra Chereb

New Senate race

The recent death of state Sen. Debbie Smith, a Democrat from Sparks, has created a new race in the Legislature this year.

Smith, who died last month after a battle with brain cancer, was in the middle of her term in Senate District 13 in Northern Nevada. Her seat now will be open for the 2016 election season with 10 other state Senate seats.

A few days after her funeral, Sparks City Councilwoman Julia Ratti, with Smith’s family in support, announced her decision to run for the seat.

She won support from the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus.

“Julia is an impressive leader who has used her time on the Sparks City Council to fight for Nevadans in need,” Ford said. “She is also an accomplished businesswoman and a leader in the nonprofit community. Her experience and perspective will be invaluable as we work to continue Debbie Smith’s legacy. We enthusiastically endorse Julia for State Senate.”

“I am devastated by the passing of my friend and mentor Senator Debbie Smith and heartbroken for her family, friends and all those who loved and admired her,” Ratti said. “I have spent the past week reflecting on her life of service and have made the decision to ask the voters of Senate District 13 for the honor of completing her term. While it feels so early to discuss this next step, I felt it important to be candid with the voters about my intentions in advance of the opening of candidate filing next week.”

The Senate seat has a strong Democratic voter registration edge. A Republican has yet to announce a run for the seat.

— Sean Whaley

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