Plan to end limit on lawsuit awards will be examined

CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers will start the 10th week of their 2009 session today by reviewing a plan stemming from the Hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada that would allow bigger lawsuit awards as a result of negligence by medical professionals.

Assembly Bill 495, up for an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing, would remove a $350,000 limit on noneconomic damages in such cases, and increase to five years the period in which someone can go to trial on a professional negligence claim.

The proposal is a response to a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas that led to the largest patient notification in U.S. history.

More than 50,000 patients at two now-closed outpatient clinics were notified last year that they might have been exposed to blood-borne diseases by shoddy injection practices. Nine people contracted hepatitis C, and another 105 cases might be linked to the clinics.

Also today, Senate Finance holds a hearing on Senate Bill 346, which calls for annual performance evaluations of agencies by the state budget director. That’s a step up from the current requirement for documents submitted by agencies to the budget chief when they’re drafting their budgets.

Assembly Ways and Means will review Assembly Bill 507, which would transfer the state Cultural Affairs Department to the secretary of state’s office; and Senate Commerce and Labor considers several bills dealing with alternative medicine practices in Nevada.

Assembly Government Affairs will review Assembly Bill 493, which would prohibit state agencies from contracting with companies that do business in Sudan, a ravaged but economically booming African nation that has been widely criticized for human-rights abuses.

On Tuesday, Senate Taxation will consider Senate Bill 369, which would impose a $5 tax on sex acts by prostitutes and use the estimated $2 million a year raised by such a tax to help cover the state’s revenue shortfall and to set up an ombudsman service for sex workers.

A survey of Taxation Committee members shows that at least four of the seven members don’t support the plan, which is backed by representatives of the legal brothel industry in Nevada.

Assembly Government Affairs will review Assembly Bill 463, which would impose a cooling-off period of at least one year before a former local or state government employee can be hired as a consultant. The bill also would require reports every six months to lawmakers on consultants employed by school districts.

Another cooling-off bill will be reviewed by Senate Legislative Operations and Elections. Under Senate Bill 104, responsibility for observing a one-year “cooling off” period before ex-state regulators can take jobs in industries they once oversaw would be shifted from the industry to the former regulator.

The panel also will consider Senate Joint Resolution 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would turn the elective regents who oversee Nevada’s higher education system into appointees of the governor.

Also Tuesday, Assembly Transportation will consider Assembly Bill 504, a “photo cop” proposal that would let authorities use cameras to catch drivers running red lights or committing other traffic offenses. Lawmakers in 2005 and 2007 shelved similar plans.

On Wednesday, Senate Commerce and Labor will consider Senate Bill 397, which would require stores to charge a dime for every nonbiodegradable plastic bag given to a customer to carry purchases. After July 2011, plastic bags that don’t break down would be outlawed.

Assembly Health and Human Services will review Assembly Bill 485, which would extend the time that welfare benefits can be provided without a break in those benefits.

On Thursday, Senate Legislative Operations and Elections is scheduled to vote on Senate Joint Resolution 10, which would erase the 12-year limit on service in the Nevada Legislature; and on Senate Joint Resolution 6, providing for annual legislative sessions instead of the current every-other-year sessions that run for 120 days. The sessions would be 30 days in even-numbered years and 120 days in odd-numbered years.

Several committees have scheduled work sessions throughout the week, and those sessions will get busier and busier as the week draws to a close. By Friday, decisions must be made by the panels on whether to endorse or shelve hundreds of measures.

Under the Friday deadline, part of a tight schedule to ensure lawmakers can get their work done and adjourn as required by law on June 1, most bills must advance from the first committee to which they were routed after being introduced.

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