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Law that reined in Nevada lawmakers’ freebies remains intact

I’d like to take credit for writing a killer column on the topic, but the credit for killing one bad bill belongs to Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson.

Assembly Bill 396 would have allowed legislators to take secret junkets and resume accepting gifts and meals from lobbyists. The bill to overturn reforms put in place less than two years ago passed the Assembly unanimously, with one person absent. Democrats and Republicans backed a return to the days when they were treated royally all year long by lobbyists seeking their votes.

But when it moved to the Senate, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Sparks, never got a vote.

I wrote a column that posted to the Review-Journal website May 17 and promised to watch the bill. That same day, the bill was made exempt from the May 19 deadline for passage. That opened the door to the resurrection of Daly’s “I want some more” bill.

Daly sought to gut the lobbying reforms Roberson pushed through the 2015 Legislature. Roberson’s bill did three primary things:

■ It banned lawmakers from accepting food, beverages and gifts from lobbyists. Even a cup of coffee.

■ It made the ban year-round, not just during a legislative session.

■ It required the reporting of legislators’ trips and who paid for them.

Daly, a business manager for Laborers Local 169, wanted to allow lawmakers to accept up to $20 worth food and beverage from “any one source in a calendar day.” That could add up to big bucks if someone went out with three different lobbyists every day, year-round. Hypothetically, a lawmaker could accept more than $21,000 worth of free food and drinks per year.

“What were you thinking?” Roberson asked after AB396 passed the Assembly. “Senate Republicans were never going to consider it.”

But about two or three weeks ago, he said a Senate Democratic leader, whom he declined to name because he respects and works well with him, asked if Roberson would make a big deal out of it if they passed the bill. Democrats held the majority and could pass it over his objections.

He said he certainly would speak out, and the Democratic leader said it wouldn’t go forward.

And it didn’t.

Roberson introduced his gift ban two years ago because of all the stories about legislators being wined and dined at the most expensive restaurants in Carson City. “You saw legislators at a table with lobbyists, and you know they were talking about bills. You cannot tell me that votes are not influenced.”

Before 1995, lobbyists had to report how much they spent on the entire Legislature, not specific legislators. In 1993, lobbyists spent an average of $4,800 on each lawmaker during the session.

When the reporting requirement was changed to identify spending on specific lawmakers, the average plummeted to $380 per legislator. By 2011, it was down to an average of $72 per legislator.

Yeah. Right.

Former Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, tried to require year-round reporting in 2011, and her bill was deep-sixed by then-Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, chairman of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

Now he’s a senator. “I support the concept of allowing something worth $20 or less,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “At some point the public needs to accept that we kill ourselves to get elected and are not available to be bought for $20.”

Nothing stops lawmakers from paying for meals with campaign cash. Some do.

Others refuse to take freebies. They meet with lobbyists in their offices.

Roberson, who started his legislative career in 2011, said it’s not as bad now as it was years ago, but he wanted to close the door to abuses.

He laughed and said he heard his name was mud with some legislators who met with lobbyists and had to pay their own way.

Boo hoo.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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