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EDITORIAL: Lawmaker mischief

Gov. Brian Sandoval and Nevada lawmakers were able to pass a $1.1 billion tax package last year aimed at improving education. Fortunately, state legislators weren’t also able to push through a joint resolution that would allow them to get together every year to see how much of the public’s money they can spend.

Nevada lawmakers are limited by law to one 120-day regular session every two years. In 2013, however, both the state Senate and Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 8, calling for 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years and 30 in even-numbered years. The proposal would have gone to voters had the resolution also passed the Legislature in the 2015 session. But lawmakers failed to act last year.

That’s good. There are plenty of arguments against annual legislative sessions — and the state of California has just provided another one.

The Associated Press reported last week that California lawmakers took a combined 325 days off during their recent session to stay home sick, be with their families or to engage in other activities unrelated to their jobs. But that didn’t stop them from taking home a collective $56,000 in taxpayer-funded living expenses for time spent away from Sacramento.

The AP obtained payroll documents through legislative open records requests and compared them to daily roll calls published in journals from December 2014 through last Aug. 8. The data show lawmakers were absent from the Capitol a total of 1,093 days, and the vast majority of them regularly collected payments for living expenses on days they were away.

Here’s how that happens: The AP noted that, in addition to their six-figure salaries and benefits, California’s 120 lawmakers are compensated for cost of living and meals when they travel to Sacramento to write and pass bills. Unlike in many other states, however, California lawmakers have crafted loosely worded rules for themselves that allow them to collect those payments regardless of whether they ever show up to work.

In other words, lawmakers collect per diem when they’re nowhere near the state capitol or even doing legislative business. For example, Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of West Covina — 401 miles from Sacramento — took 24 sick days this session due to high blood pressure, and collected $4,168 in per diem, which he never considered waiving. Said Mr. Hernandez: “My landlord in Sacramento didn’t consider waiving my rent.”

Mr. Hernandez is hardly alone. Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, who lives just two miles from the capitol, initially waived per diem, but then began collecting it in January. He told the AP that he donates the sum to a children’s charity, which he calls a “mini-appropriation” of money in the state budget.

No, it’s a mini-appropriation of taxpayer funds, brought about by lawmakers’ never-ending appetite for other people’s money. The push for annual legislative sessions in Nevada is just the first step toward this kind of nonsense and much more.

Lawmakers in Carson City should resist future resolutions calling for annual sessions. The 120-day biennial sessions — coupled with the many “interim committees” that meet when lawmakers are adjourned — are plenty adequate.

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