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TVs help visitors track lawmakers

Incoming state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis walked the halls of the Legislative Building last week like a new homeowner. His sister redecorated his first-floor leadership office next to the Senate chambers. Denis, D-Las Vegas, also had assigned new offices, as well as parking spaces, to the 20 other Nevada senators.

“There are so many little decisions that you have to make,” Denis said as he toured the second floor, checking out pictures hanging on the walls along with the Senate’s new internal TV system: Channel 21.

It’s named for the 21 senators as well as the idea of bringing the Senate into the 21st century-era of communications, said David Byerman, the secretary of the state Senate who explained how the system works.

The public outside the Legislative Building already can monitor hearings from the Nevada Legislature’s website at www.leg.state.nv.us and get information about lawmakers, lobbyists and the legislative process. The 77th Nevada Legislature opens on Feb. 4 and is scheduled to last 120 days.

Now, with the Channel 21 internal TV system, people in the building can tune in for constantly updated information about what’s happening in state Senate hearings and on the floor as well as other useful facts.

Four different Channel 21 big screen TVs are in the building, each serving a different purpose, Byerman said. The system cost $26,195 and was approved during the interim between sessions, he said.

The channel also features a CNN-like stream of news headlines that run across the bottom of the TV screen.

One TV screen outside Byerman’s first-floor office has welcoming information, he said. It explains the legislative process and includes information such as hearing schedules, weather and flights between Reno and Las Vegas.

The second TV screen is just outside the state Senate chamber. It introduces each senator, explains the lawmaking process and includes the floor agenda for that day, updated as senators work through it, Byerman said.

A third TV screen is on the second floor between the minority leader offices. Byerman called this a “way finder” screen, giving information about how to find senators, including maps of their separate offices.

The fourth TV screen is in the central atrium on the second floor in the middle of four large Senate hearing rooms, including for the Senate Finance Committee that makes money decisions. The feed has no audio, but can show a split screen to visually display the four hearings at the same time, giving viewers a look at who is testifying.

That TV might save a lot of rubber-necking by lobbyists, lawmakers and reporters, who often can be seen peeking through hearing room windows, or cracking open the doors to see who is testifying at the moment.

“We want to make the process more user friendly,” Denis said. “This can be a confusing process.”

Byerman said Channel 21 is “geared toward the person who walks into the building for the first time. The whole project is a way to bring people into the process and the Senate into the 21st century.”

For Luddites, agendas are still available on paper, hung outside hearing rooms using push pins on corkboards.

– Laura Myers


U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s proposal to withhold lawmaker pay if Congress can’t meet deadlines for budgets and spending is getting a push in the early days of the new session.

Republican House leaders said Friday they plan to include a version of “no budget, no pay” in a bill they will pass this week to increase the government’s borrowing authority for three months.

The three-month extension is a temporary fix to one of the big debt and deficit issues on Capitol Hill. It would effectively postpone a showdown between Republicans and President Barack Obama over spending cuts. It also represents a shot at Senate Democrats.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the three months will give the Senate and the House time to pass a budget “that reduces spending,” knowing full well Senate Democrats led by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., have not passed a budget as such “in almost four years.”

After three months, “if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget … members of Congress will not be paid by the American people, for failing to do their job,” Cantor said. “No budget, no pay.”

Reid has accused Republicans of being disingenuous. He has argued there was no need for the Senate to draw up a budget last year because spending caps were included in a deal that lawmakers put together on the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011.

Either way, the new spotlight on “no budget, no pay” was a boon for Heller, the Nevada Republican who has been promoting the idea since July 2011. Heller made it one of the signatures of his election campaign last year.

Heller is preparing to reintroduce a “no budget, no pay” bill on Wednesday.

“The message is clear,” Heller said, calling the plan “a common sense approach that will finally force Congress to take its responsibilities seriously.”

Beyond Republican leaders seeking to employ it as a budget tactic, “no budget, no pay” has received mixed reviews.

The idea has been embraced by No Labels, a good-government group composed of former lawmakers from both parties that promotes consensus and problem-solving.

Others have said the concept is cynical and too easy to explain, a slogan with holes when it is examined closely.

Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in March that “no budget, no pay” is “pandering of the worst sort, playing to voters’ worst instincts about Congress.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Friday raised a new question about “no budget, no pay.” He said it might be unconstitutional, in violation of the 27th Amendment.

The amendment, adopted in 1992, was added to prevent members of Congress from raising their own pay and having it take effect immediately. But it could be interpreted as preventing pay cuts as well.

The 27th Amendment states: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

According to Congressional Quarterly, Republican aides said Friday that lawmaker pay would be withheld only until they passed a budget.

But Issa said that even so, the threat of a pay cut would be an empty one because lawmakers eventually would have to be paid their full salary in order to meet constitutional muster.

– Steve Tetreault

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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