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Nevada legislators to study taxicabs’ governing bodies

CARSON CITY — Since its creation by the Legislature five years ago, the Legislative Commission’s Sunset Subcommittee has recommended the ax for a number of outdated or inactive boards and commissions, finding that their missions were no longer relevant or could be delegated to other agencies.

Although the panel has mostly operated under the radar, that’s about to change.

On Tuesday it will discuss the future of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which an executive branch audit recommended should be disbanded. Also coming under the microscope is the Nevada Transportation Authority, which the audit suggested could assume the duties of the Taxicab Authority, and the Executive Branch Audit Committee itself, which conducted the highly critical review of the Taxicab Authority.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said the subcommittee’s timing to consider all three was not dictated by the audit.

“Talk about fortuitous timing,” said Settelmeyer, chairman of the sunset panel. “All three were put on the list prior to the audit ever coming out or knowledge of the audit.”

Legislators created the Sunset Subcommittee in 2011 to review hundreds of state boards and commissions to determine if they are still relevant.

“Our charge is to determine whether or not a board is doing its job,” Settelmeyer said. “Are they meeting their task? Have they already met their task?”

Under the law, the subcommittee that meets between biennial legislative sessions is to review every board and commission at least once every 10 years.

Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank that advocates for small government, said subcommittee is a good step.

“The main concern for average Americans of all political stripes has been that all too often government overreach is part of the problem rather than part of the solution when it comes to our economy,” said Michael Schaus, the institute’s communications director. “Most of the time rules and regulations are designed to protect the politically connected, and discourage their competitors.

“This committee has a real opportunity to address some of these concerns,” he added. “As the committee continues its work, we will soon find out if it is truly dedicated to reducing the burden of government on average Nevadans, or if it is simply playing political theater.

“Given the committee’s stated goal, there is certainly reason for taxpayers to be cautiously optimistic,” Schaus said.

The subcommittee was recommended by the Savings and Government Efficiency Commission, an independent body convened by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to look at ways to make government more efficient and cost conscious.

In the past three interims, it has focused on so-called “low-hanging fruit” — boards or commissions still on the books but with few if any responsibilities.

Two dozen panels have been abolished or combined.

“We all know on occasion boards can be created and continue on without much inspection by the entities that create them,” Settelmeyer said.

The Collection Agency Advisory Board, established in 1989, was abolished last year. So were the Advisory Committee Concerning Sickle Cell Anemia and the Advisory Committee on the Arthritis Prevention and Control Program. The functions of those two committees were absorbed by the Health and Human Services Department.

The Board of Hearing Aid Specialists, established in 1973, and the Board of Examiners for Audiology and Speech Pathology, created in 1979, were consolidated because of their similar missions.

Some bodies emerge from the scrutiny restructured and better organized. In 2013, the panel recommended disbanding the Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services because of numerous problems. Instead, legislation was passed terminating existing board members and staff and implementing other mandates to make it more responsive to industry concerns and the public.

The law that created the Sunset Subcommittee states: “A board or commission has the burden of proving that there is a public need for its continued existence.”

“If you look at the committee so far, I really don’t think we’ve done anything that was politically charged,” Settelmeyer said. “Now we’re kind of getting into different territory.”

That territory on Tuesday will focus on the taxicab industry in Clark County.

A report issued last month by the Executive Branch Audit Division skewered the Nevada Taxicab Authority, an appointed board that oversees cabs in the state’s tourism mecca of Las Vegas. Among other things, it alleged the board overcharged customers by $47.3 million in high credit card usage fees and unnecessary fuel charges.

It also alleged the board meddles in administrative matters and exceeds its statutory authority, exposing the state to potential liabilities.

State Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, a new subcommittee member, said he’s had growing concerns about Taxicab Authority members.

“I personally think they’ve gotten out of hand over the years, and they need to be looked at and restructured,” he said.

But he’s not going into the meeting with his mind made up.

“I’m open to listening to everybody,” he said. “What can we do to resolve these issues?”

The Nevada Transportation Authority is a separate entity that oversees the operation of limousines, buses and ride-hailing companies, as well as taxi operations in all but Clark County.

Gustavson has unsuccessfully sponsored bills to combine the agencies, he said.

Even though the sunset committee reviewed the Nevada Transportation Authority in the last interim and recommended it be continued, Settelmeyer said it makes sense to look at it again in conjunction with the Taxicab Authority because their functions are similar.

Having both the taxicab and transportation authorities on the same agenda was not a coincidence, Settelmeyer said. “If you hear one, you should hear them both.”

The subcommittee will issue its initial recommendations by June 30. Those proposals would go the full Legislative Commission for consideration of bill draft requests for the 2017 Legislature.

— Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb

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