Nevada Assembly OKs bill to allow reducing school year

CARSON CITY — The school year could be shortened by as many as 10 days under a bill passed 42-0 Tuesday in the Assembly without any floor debates.

Under Assembly Bill 117, public school districts suffering from “economic hardships” could petition the state to cut their school year, now 180 days, by 10 days to avoid laying off teachers and other education personnel.

The Nevada State Education Association and other school employee unions would have to agree to the reductions before they could take effect.

Before any instructional days could be cut from the schedule, school districts first would reduce “professional days” for teachers, generally four in most districts. The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee would vote on whether to authorize any decreases in school days.

The bill advanced on a day when the Assembly approved more than 60 bills as members rushed to meet a deadline to pass bills out of their house of origin. Most bills had to be passed by either the Senate or Assembly by Tuesday, or they were dead for the remainder of the session.

AB117, which goes to the Senate for more hearings, comes at a time when the Clark County School District is talking about laying off 1,800 employees, and the Washoe County School District, 200.

Clark County School District officials anticipated the instructional days reduction in the school year and made them part of their budget planning for 2011-12.

To save about $74 million, the district is asking employees to take furlough days equivalent to 5 percent pay cuts, according to a tentative budget.

Teachers on nine-month contracts would have to take eight furlough days.

But it is not clear yet how many days the school year will have to be reduced because district officials still have to bargain over the amount of furlough days with the four unions representing teachers, support staff, administrators and school police.

OCEGUERA: BILL IS NEEDED

“It wasn’t something we liked to do, but it was something we needed to do,” Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said after voting on the bill.

Assembly Education Chairman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said the bill provides a “release on the pressure valve” that school districts can use to limit layoffs. The bill will be in effect only for the next two years.

Bobzien said school district officials testified that they worked with unions on past spending cuts and felt they could do so again on plans to reduce the number of school days.

“We are going to have dramatic cuts to education,” Bobzien added. “We had to give school districts a tool to deal with it.”

Under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget, public school spending would be cut by slightly more than $200 million from current spending, about 9 percent.

But Democrats have said the actual reduction is close to $1 billion, considering the loss of stimulus and other federal funds, declines in local support, and education spending reductions made during a special legislative session in February 2010.

The Clark County School District has estimated its reduction at slightly more than $400 million.

GUN PERMIT BILL ADVANCES

In 40-2 vote, the Assembly also backed Oceguera’s Assembly Bill 282, which he said will reduce qualified gun owners’ costs to secure concealed-weapons permits.

Under the bill, a gun owner would be required to pass a training course on the use of special weapons and on revolvers once. If they acquire additional weapons, they would not need to take additional courses for the new weapons or to pay another $25 for each gun they add to their concealed-weapons permit.

“A semiautomatic is a semiautomatic is a semiautomatic,” Oceguera said.

The bill clarifies that state law allows concealed-weapons permit owners to take weapons to state parks. They may not discharge them unless their lives are at peril, he said.

The bill stipulates that the names of concealed-weapons permit holders are not public records that can be released by authorities.

The measure also stipulates that permit holders renew their permits every five years. Upon renewal, they would have to have their fingerprints checked and go through a background check for any criminal records.

“This bill is an opportunity to strengthen the rights of gun owners,” Oceguera said.

OTHER ASSEMBLY VOTES

In other actions Tuesday, the Assembly advanced the following:

■ Assembly Bill 508, which would require owners of mopeds to wear helmets and to register their vehicles with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The vote was 33-9.

■ Assembly Bill 257, which would require public bodies to let citizens speak on each item on their agendas and to set time at the conclusion of the meeting for citizens to speak. The vote was 42-0.

■ Assembly Bill 299, which would set up a low-cost automobile insurance program for drivers in Clark County who earn less than 250 percent of federal poverty levels. The bill had failed Monday, but Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, requested reconsideration and prevailed in the second vote Tuesday. The vote was 29-13.

■ Assembly Bill 473, which would allow people to use the Internet to register to vote as late as midnight the day before early voting starts. When they vote, they would have to show identification at the polling place. The vote was 42-0.

■ Assembly Bill 192, which would establish “inland ports” or business and manufacturing areas near major airports, highways or railroads where cargo containers from ships would carry goods for distribution to local businesses. Industry also could be developed in the inland port zone. The vote was 42-0.

■ Assembly Bill 373, which would make it a crime for homeowners facing foreclosure to deliberately trash their home in retaliation or anger. In a long floor debate, supporters said that prosecutors would have to prove the owner deliberately wrecked the home and that it wasn’t done by squatters who moved into the home after it was abandoned. The crime would be a misdemeanor. The vote was 31-8.

Reporter James Haug contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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