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Legislators advance ballot issue

CARSON CITY – Should legislators be allowed to call themselves into special sessions? That question will be answered by voters in November election.

Members of the Legislative Commission agreed Friday on the language and pro and con arguments for the ballot question after a mild partisan debate.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, suggested adding a sentence to the con argument that would inform voters that legislators could use a special session to impose a business margins or other taxes. He said voters should be told the full extent of what could occur.

“That should be in the very first paragraph,” added Settelmeyer about the tax possibility.

Only the governor can call special sessions. If the ballot question is enacted, legislators could call themselves into special session if two-thirds of the members of both houses sign a request. Such sessions could last no more than 20 days.

The question should sound familiar to voters. A similar measure was on the 2006 ballot when voters rejected it, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, objected to Settelmeyer’s plan. He noted special sessions could be called to impeach a state elected official or for malfeasance in office. Legislators should not just mention that special sessions could be used for passing tax increases because they could be called for many reasons.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said there was a good reason for voters to allow legislators to call special sessions. A governor probably wouldn’t call a special session if he were facing criminal prosecution or other problems, so the Legislature needs the power to call one.

He pointed to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now serving a 14-year prison term for corruption over the sale of the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama became president. If Nevada has a governor like Blagojevich, then that person could avoid sanctions from legislators, he said.

Because Nevada has formal legislative sessions for 120 days every other year, it is possible a governor could stop a legislative probe on his behavior for 20 months.

Settelmeyer insisted voters should be aware of the high costs they would incur if the Legislature went into session and passed taxes or cut the budget. He noted most special sessions are over tax and budget matters.

The Republican-Democrat impasse ended when Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said legislators must pass the ballot question immediately. He pointed out state law required the committee to agree on the ballot language on Friday, or Secretary of State Ross Miller would prepare the pro and con arguments for them. Roberson said he would rather accept the arguments prepared by the legislative staff lawyers rather than whatever Miller would draw up.

Settelmeyer and Republican Assembly members Richard McArthur of Las Vegas and Ira Hansen of Sparks still voted against the bill.

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