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Freshman lawmakers get crash course in Nevada Legislature

Updated November 19, 2018 - 9:25 am

CARSON CITY — For eight years Alexis Hansen has watched the Nevada Legislature mostly from the sidelines or behind the scenes while her husband served in the Assembly.

But last week, Hansen got her first look on what it’s like from the inside as part of a three-day orientation for new lawmakers where they got a crash course on serving in the 2019 Legislature.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of knowledge of the lay of the land and to know some of the individuals,” said Hansen, who was elected to the Assembly this month.

“But it is a totally different experience now that the responsibility is on my shoulders.”

Hansen represents Assembly District 32, which covers parts of Sparks and stretches all the way to the northern border of the state. It’s the same seat her husband, Ira Hansen, had represented since 2010. Ira Hansen was elected to the state Senate this month.

Orientation started last Wednesday for Hansen and 12 other freshman Assembly and Senate members, barely a week after their victories. The three-day primer is meant to give them the basics of what they can expect come February when the legislative session begins, from how to use the Legislature’s computer systems to dealing with lobbyists and the media.

No skipping class

In 1996, Nevadans voted to implement term limits on lawmakers. As a result, the statehouse saw a major uptick in turnover as experienced lawmakers were forced out in exchange for greener counterparts.

So in 2011, lawmakers passed a bill that required all incoming lawmakers who had never served in the Legislature to take part in the orientation process.

“When the term limits kicked in, we got to a point where we were losing approximately a third of our members every two years,” said Rick Combs, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau. “You can’t have one-third of the Legislature being in the back seats really not participating at a high level.”

The three-day training is the first in a series of classes the new lawmakers will attend before they officially get to work.

They’ll take part in a two-day session in December that will involve deeper dives into key policy issues, and in January they will take part in a final three-day session in Carson City — called the “Academy” — where they’ll go through things like how the state budgets work and how a bill becomes law (think Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill,” but for Nevada).

Learning curve

Hansen and a few others like new Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, a former Las Vegas Metro assistant sheriff who also served as a lobbyist for the department, bring some level of experience or knowledge of Nevada’s lawmaking process to this year’s freshman class.

Others, like Assemblywoman Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas, are more green.

“My experience with lawmaking is definitely limited,” said Torres, a 23-year-old teacher at Eldorado High School in Las Vegas.

She has sat in on Legislative sessions before and occasionally testified in front of lawmakers, but Torres’ experience with the legislative process before the orientation came during her time on her college student government.

“Being so new to this whole political process, there’s definitely a lot to learn,” she said.

And by February, the hope is that all of the new lawmakers don’t quite feel like freshman anymore, Combs said.

“Not to say that experience still isn’t important,” Comb said. ”But we like to think this gives them a little bit of an opportunity to hit the ground running and to be a little more prepared than legislators were in the past.”

Torres, who will be the youngest legislator in the session — and second youngest ever in Nevada — knows what her focus will be.

“I’m an educator, and I’m the daughter of an educator as well,” Torres said. “So working on legislation that’s going to improve the quality of the education that we give our kids is really one of my priorities.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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