The push for annual sessions of the Legislature is as tenacious as nutgrass. No matter how many times it’s smothered with Roundup, it just keeps coming back.
The most recent incarnation of this biennial stinker is Senate Joint Resolution 5, which seeks to amend the Nevada Constitution to allow lawmakers to meet every year. Currently, the Legislature — outside of special sessions called by the governor — is confined to a single 120-day gathering every two years. This measure would limit lawmakers to one 90-day session in odd-numbered years and a 60-day session in even-numbered years.
SJR5 would almost certainly result in higher legislative pay.
Because it seeks to amend the state’s founding document, the proposal must pass in two straight sessions and then be approved by voters before it may become law. The earliest that could occur would be 2022.
Proponents — primarily Democrats — make the argument that properly running the state during these complicated and fast-paced times requires lawmakers to convene in Carson City for more than just four months every other year. But there’s no evidence that Nevada is any worse off than states with full-time, year-round legislative bodies. In fact, you can make a good case that the current limit serves as a deterrent to legislative mischief. Even under the current constraints, Nevada lawmakers find plenty of time to dither on ceremonial legislation and minutia. Annual sessions would only exacerbate those distractions.
It’s also worth noting that lawmakers routinely flout the constitutional limits on legislative gatherings already. There are numerous “interim” legislative committees that meet regularly when lawmakers are technically out of session. These panels can re-allocate funds, review regulations and take other binding actions. Whether all this actually conforms with the state constitution is debatable. But until a court rules on the issue, these committees will continue to perform various legislative functions when the body as a whole is adjourned. The 120-day restriction is, in reality, largely symbolic.
The effort to expand legislative sessions has cropped up routinely for decades yet never succeeds. This will be the third time in the past six years that such a plan has surfaced in Carson City, but the only time lawmakers managed to advance it to the voters was half a century ago in 1970. Nevadans rejected the plan by a 2-to-1 margin.
“A lot has changed since it was first proposed,” said state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, a co-sponsor of SJR5. “The voters deserve another opportunity to weigh in on this critical issue.”
Good luck. But if Nevadans again put the kibosh on annual sessions — and they will — will we finally have eradicated this prolific weed? Don’t count on it.