Call for special session finds little backing from legislators

CARSON CITY — Leaders of the Legislature and key members of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ staff are rejecting a call for a special legislative session to increase the staffs of the state Parole Board and Division of Parole and Probation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, each said Thursday that they see no need for a special session, and Phil Galeoto, director of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Parole and Probation Division, said, “I don’t feel it is necessary at all.”

Buckley said she and other legislative leaders will meet Tuesday with Gibbons and his top aides to discuss the concerns expressed by Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto during a Wednesday meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice. Hardesty and Masto said they wanted to talk with Gibbons and legislative leaders about calling a special session.

During the meeting, witnesses testified that the Parole Board and Division of Parole and Probation cannot deal immediately with the nearly 1,200 prison inmates who will become eligible for early releases when a new law goes into effect Oct. 1. The new law doubles the good-time credits that low-risk, nonviolent inmates are eligible to receive. Assembly Bill 510, passed during the 2007 Legislature, was a move by legislators to reduce overcrowding in the prison system and cut the need for new prison construction.

But the Parole and Probation Division has been unable to craft release plans for about 500 inmates because the Department of Corrections changed its computer system this summer, Hardesty said. The new computer system, which came on-line only Tuesday, is needed to determine credits and other factors used in determining parole eligibility, officials said.

In addition to the technical problems, the Parole Board simply cannot handle the additional workload that the change in the law will cause. The board currently conducts hearings for about 700 inmates a month, but on Oct. 1, more than 625 additional inmates become eligible for parole under the new law. One suggestion was that the board could try to have three-member panels decide whether inmates should be released instead of having the full seven-member board consider each case.

During the Wednesday meeting, Corrections Director Howard Skolnik and Parole Board Chairwoman Dorla Salling each expressed concerns that the two agencies cannot handle the dictates of the new law. The hope was that the Legislature could change the effective date of the new law to Jan. 1, but such a change cannot be made unless the Legislature goes into session. The Legislature is not slated for another session until 2009.

“We want to explore options,” said Hardesty, who added that these inmates might have a legal right to parole if the law goes into effect Oct. 1.

Galeoto said he has not received requests for additional funds and expects the Parole and Probation Division to live within its approved budget.

Raggio and Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ lawyer, said money might be available from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to beef up the staffs of the two agencies.

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