Bill would limit ability to close meetings

CARSON CITY — A Nevada Senate panel was presented Wednesday with a compromise bill that limits the ability of government entities to hold closed meetings — a measure that’s a response to a closed-door Tax Commission vote on a $40 million refund.

Senate Government Affairs members were told the amended version of Assembly Bill 433 is now backed by the Tax Commission, the state attorney general, the Nevada Press Association and the Nevada Taxpayers Association.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the measure “provides for much greater openness” than the existing law that figured in the Tax Commission’s 2005 closed-door vote on the big refund to Southern California Edison.

Buckley said AB433 now states that a Tax Commission hearing can be closed for review of proprietary or confidential information but “can’t be closed just because someone wants it closed.”

Under current law, such a request is all that’s needed to close a hearing.

Buckley also said that if a meeting is closed, the commission must still deliberate and vote in public. She said the process is similar to the one that has been used for years by the state’s casino regulators.

The result of the compromise is a measure that will “ensure people have trust in the decisions of our regulatory bodies,” Buckley said.

Attorney Thomas “Spike” Wilson, who has served as private counsel for the Tax Commission in the dispute over its closed meeting, termed the compromise “a good step forward” that is supported by commissioners.

“It does solve a problem,” added Barry Smith, head of the Nevada Press Association.

The Tax Commission had contended previously that limiting public disclosure prevents release of confidential information that could give a business competitor an unfair advantage.

Carson City District Judge Mike Griffin in October tossed out a state attorney general’s lawsuit that contended Nevada’s open meeting law didn’t permit completely closing proceedings such as the one to decide the utility’s tax refund. The Supreme Court is now considering the state’s appeal.

Senate Government Affairs Chairman Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, said he was glad to see “a meeting of the minds” that resulted in “a nice balance.”

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