CARSON CITY — A Republican-backed bill overhauling Nevada’s construction defect law, the first in a long line of GOP priorities for the 2015 session, cleared its final legislative hurdle Friday in the state Senate.
Assembly Bill 125 whizzed through the GOP-controlled Legislature at jackhammer tempo and was on its way to the governor’s desk after it was passed by the Senate 11-8, with two Democratic senators absent.
The vote came after a lengthy and often tense debate on the Senate floor peppered with back-and-forth accusations of political roughshod, stifling transparency, and gamesmanship.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in his State of the State address called on lawmakers to pass “reasonable” construction defect reforms to help stimulate Nevada’s construction industry that was slammed by the Great Recession and housing market implosion.
The issue has long been a priority for Republicans, who complained that what was once a consumer protection law morphed over the years into a bottomless money trough for trial attorneys at the expense of building trades and contractors.
Assembly Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, hailed the Senate’s passage.
“Today is historic. Although both Republicans and Democrats have labored for most of these reforms in prior legislative sessions, we were never able to get both houses of the Legislature to pass a bill.
“We finally did so today and we look forward to Governor Sandoval signing this bill.”
Called the Homeowner Protections Act of 2015 by supporters, the legislation would restrict the definition of what constitutes a home defect, repeal a provision allowing attorney fees and costs in a home defect judgment, and require specific descriptions of defects.
It also would reduce the statute of limitations to six years from as many as 10 years in current law and disallow homeowner association boards from filing a defect suit on behalf of homes within the communities.
Senate Democrats on Friday made a failed attempt to amend the bill to allow a prevailing party in defect cases to recover attorney fees, and extend to 15 years the time frame in which suits can be brought.
“All this amendment is trying to do is level the playing field for everybody,” said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas. “This bill as written does nothing to protect the homeowner.”
Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said the amendment “parrots what’s in other consumer protection statutes.”
“This is about fairness,” he said.
But Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, would have none of it.
“It’s interesting to me that the focus of the changes are in regard to the trial lawyer piece,” he said.
Sen. Greg Brower, chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, railed against what he called “exaggerated rhetoric.”
“This amendment as I read it is nothing but about attorneys’ fees,” he said. “Let’s talk about average Nevadans and what’s good for them.”
He added, “The bill that’s before us today … this is a very good bill.”
Democrats then accused Republicans of riding roughshod over the process and stifling transparency. Republicans in November gained majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate in November. It’s the first time in decades the GOP has controlled both chambers and the governor’s office, and leadership has not been shy about exerting its authority.
“You want us to keep our eye on the ball but you can’t hide the ball if that’s what you want us to do,” Ford said. “You went fast but it wasn’t deliberative,” he said, calling the legislation the “homeowner rejection act.”
The tiff escalated into bickering about partisanship and decorum just three weeks into the 120-day session that ends June 1.
“I’ve heard there’s actually whining out there about how we’re arranged here in the chamber,” Brower said.
That brought a retort from Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas.
“When a member of this house stands and tries to discipline the rest of us, someone has to speak out,” he said.
“We won’t be bullied. We won’t be disrespected,” he said. “We don’t need a lecture from you …”
Brower said Senate and Assembly committees held a joint hearing on the bill, and hundreds of people attended. But Democrats were miffed the Senate committee voted to pass the bill Wednesday without listing the bill on the agenda. The agenda did say the committee could take action on items previously heard.
Brower’s response to the complaints — get used to it.
“We heard the process has moved too quickly,” he said. “And it has moved quickly. It really has.
“And it will continue to move quickly.”
Contact Sandra Chereb at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.