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Nevada Legislature knows drama as session begins Monday

CARSON CITY – Never has a Nevada Legislature convened with as bizarre of a beginning as the one that opens here Monday.

All eyes will be on embattled District 17 Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-North Las Vegas, as he walks into the Assembly chambers. Some expect a meltdown.

Brooks is the 40-year-old man who was arrested last month on felony charges of threatening Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. She has said there will be no attempt to remove him from office, but it is a sure bet that the 29-member legislative police force will watch his every move.

Following opening day, a bipartisan committee of Assembly members will begin discussing in public whether to retain Brooks as a member or make moves to strip him of his office.

Then there is the matter of seating District 9 Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas. Martin won a decisive 1,300-vote victory in November over Republican Kelly Hurst, despite District Judge Rob Bare’s decision that his candidacy was invalid because he does not live in the district. But Hurst never filed a challenge with the Legislature to unseat Martin.

The Democrat-dominated Assembly likely will seat Martin under a constitutional provision allowing them to set the qualifications of members.

Much less controversial will be the seating of the Legislature’s first admitted lesbian, state Sen. Patricia Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. She scored a landslide primary victory over incumbent John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, in June and then won the seat in November. Spearman already has been named chairwoman of the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

Counting state Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, the Legislature now has a record two known gay members.

As for the expected central issues of the session – tax increases – Truckee Meadows Community College professor Fred Lokken expects Republicans will block any moves by Democrats to impose higher taxes. Instead he sees legislators hoping the state Economic Forum decides in May the economy has rebounded and additional tax revenue is available for the state to spend.

The Economic Forum is a group of economists and business leaders who by law determine how much money is available for state government.

"The governor has a session under his belt," Lokken added. "I think he will stick to his no-new-taxes pledge."

Democrats control the state Senate 11-10 and the Assembly 27-15. Despite that advantage, they are four votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass tax increases and override a Sandoval veto.

A united Republican Party could block anything Democrats want.

Higher education and state workers – who have gone through four years of pay cuts and furloughs – may be downright disgusted by the legislative session.

Lokken sees a generally cooperative, bipartisan session where Sandoval and legislators do little but wait for the economy to improve by the next legislative session in 2015.

As far as the Assembly deciding to expel Brooks, former State Archivist Guy Rocha does not see that happening, particularly because there is no procedure in state law on how he can be removed.

The Nevada Constitution only says that a legislator can be expelled with a two-thirds affirmative vote.

Over the last 100 years, 23 elected officials across the nation, including Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., D-N.Y., have been expelled from their offices, according to Rocha’s research.

Powell was expelled by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1967 after allegations arose that he took trips at federal expense while accompanied by two women. He then won the special election to fill his vacancy, and in 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled his dismissal was unconstitutional, in part because there was no procedure on expulsions.

If Brooks suffers from mental illness, then Rocha said "he will do something" disruptive in the opening days of the Legislature. Once that occurs, legislators would have grounds to expel him.

"He may threaten Marilyn Kirkpatrick," Rocha said. "Legislative police will do what they have to do. There could be a circus atmosphere. This time it will be on film and available for everyone to see."

Lokken believes the saga of Steven Brooks is over.

"I don’t think this will drag on," Lokken said. "He will be exceedingly quiet and not draw any attention."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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