April 14, 2021 - 9:00 pm
The Nevada Legislative Building is reopening on Thursday. Sort of.
Usually, members of the public usually enjoy broad access to the building and to legislators themselves. Interested parties may walk into committee meetings and offer in-person public testimony. Citizens are able to watch floor sessions in-person as well.
Of greater importance, lawmakers are readily available. Hang around the building for two hours, and you’ll pass many of them in the halls. You may seek an in-office appointment or try to catch them as they take a smoke or lunch break.
This is how it should be. The power lawmakers collectively wield comes from the people of Nevada. Politicians are public servants.
Given the enormous power that government has, it’s important for government officials not to forget this relationship. The public’s face-to-face contact with elected officials is an important check on government. Nevada’s constitution requires public access to the Legislature, too.
“The doors of each House shall be kept open during its session,” it states. It continues, “The meetings of all legislative committees must be open to the public.”
The past year, however, has been anything but normal. Nevada residents have endured pandemic restrictions that would have been unimaginable two years ago. That included eliminating their access to the Legislative Building, which shut its doors at the beginning of the session in February. In a small acknowledgment to the importance of transparency, the Legislature allowed call-in testimony and livestreaming hearings. It was better than nothing but far from ideal. The excuse was that legislators and staff needed time to be vaccinated.
They’ve had that time. But despite steps forward this week, lawmakers are still limiting public access.
Visitors to the Legislative Building must register at least 24 hours in advance. They must either show they’re fully vaccinated or test negative before entering the building. Space is limited, too. Individual lawmakers can resume in-building meetings with lobbyists and constituents but are limited to one per day. Why? Most establishments in the state are operating at 50 percent capacity and itching to go to 100 percent?
Caution is understandable, but this is overkill. It’s discouraging, too, that more elected officials aren’t speaking out and advocating on the public’s behalf. Politicians should not seem so comfortable avoiding those whom they are elected to serve.
The vaccines are highly effective. Everyone in the building has had a chance to receive one. So now is the time to more fully reopen the Legislative Building.