Dozens of bills die but tax increase legislation survives

CARSON CITY — Legislation to do away with coroner’s inquests in Clark County and to allow city and county fire departments to merge in both Washoe and Clark counties were among the dozens of bills that died Friday by failing to make it out of committee.

Still clinging to life support were four tax increase bills by Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, which were granted an exemption from the deadline. Pierce’s bills would levy a 4.5 percent business income tax, place a 5 percent tax on services and increase mining, cigarette and liquor taxes.

No action, however, is expected on any tax bills until late in the legislative session scheduled to adjourn June 6 — and then only if Democrats can secure enough Republican votes to raise taxes and overcome a certain veto by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Legislative leaders imposed the bill passage deadline several sessions ago as a way to reduce the workload needed to handle more than 1,000 bills proposed each session. The sessions are limited to 120 days by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998.

Since that time, however, there has been a special session called to handle matters after all but one regular session.

Among the bills dying were Assembly Joint Resolution 8, a proposal sought by Sandoval to amend the state constitution and allow vouchers to be given to parents who want to send their children to private schools, and Senate Bill 343, a proposal by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, that he said would save local governments as much as $2.3 billion by amending collective bargaining laws.

Democrats continued to hold out hope they could use surviving bills, or dead bills revived by legislative leaders, to serve as bargaining chips as they seek Republicans who might defect from Sandoval.

"Every bill is in play until the end of the session," said Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored a bill to require service stations to check pressure and properly inflate tires on customers’ vehicles. "You could take a simple little bill like a darn tire pressure bill and it becomes important at the end as trading stock."

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said upcoming floor sessions aimed at highlighting Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts could wear down Republican resolve.

"I don’t think the public wants ‘no’ for an answer," Leslie said.

Republicans, especially in the Senate, don’t seem ready to bargain or buckle, though.

Their overriding concern is to avoid tax increases and adopt a budget that does not exceed the $5.8 billion budget proposed by Sandoval.

"I’m not trading," said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. "Very candidly, none of our bills are worth trading for."

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, set a unique condition for his support of taxes.

"If I could get Jesus to walk through that door, I might trade taxes for it," Kieckhefer said.

Assembly Republicans have shown more interest than their Senate counterparts in negotiating with Democrats over taxes, but only in exchange for major reforms to education, collective bargaining for public employees and state spending.

They’ve left open the possibility of extending expiration or "sunset" dates on about $650 million in taxes approved in 2009 in exchange for drastic reforms.

"I think it will save us so much more than the little bit of money that sunsets," said Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite.

Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson , however, said Democrats so far have been content to let Republican reform bills die, suggesting there’s no compromise in the works.

"They are killing all the bills to do that," Sherwood said. "When you have a hostage negotiation you don’t kill the hostages. That’s what they have done."

Assembly Government Affairs Chairman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, adjourned her committee without voting on Assembly Bill 278, a bill to authorize city and county fire departments to merge, and on AB320, which would have ended coroner’s inquests.

Kirkpatrick said the coroner’s inquest bill came just before the deadline and was designed to repeal changes approved by the Clark County Commission on how inquests into police shootings are handled. No inquests have been conducted since changes were implemented. The bill was favored by the police union, but opposed by lobbyists for Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"They should go back to Clark County to make the changes they want," Kirkpatrick said.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said he might propose the same bill in 2013.

Kirkpatrick said the fire department merger bill should prompt a lot of discussion, but there was not enough time to make changes needed to pass the bill.

The merger plan, proposed by Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, was challenged repeatedly during a hearing. Segerblom had contended that consolidation would bring cost savings, but under the bill critics pointed out firefighters would receive the same rank and pay under a merged fire department.

"It is an idea whose time has come," he said. "This is a long-term process. You keep coming back and never give up."

Perhaps the most disappointed legislator was Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas. He proposed bills to tax junk food and to require alarm systems in child seats in cars and around swimming pools. With the alarm system requirement, Munford hoped to reduce the number of death of children who were accidentally locked in cars or wandered into the family swimming pool.

Those bills, however, were not completed so Munford never even received a hearing.

His Assembly Bill 178 to set up a fund to help boxers with medical expenses also failed to receive Assembly Judiciary Committee approval.

Faring better was the newspaper industry, which survived a move by Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, to repeal a law that requires local governments to publish property tax rolls and public notices in newspapers. Passage of the bill would have cost newspapers in Nevada a combined $800,000 a year. No vote was taken on the bill in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Contact Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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