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A couple of legislative roses bloom amid the thorns

CARSON CITY — Who says the Nevada Legislature is only capable of producing bad ideas? A couple of bills are reasonable, much-needed changes.

First is Sen. Sheila Leslie’s Senate Bill 206, which passed unanimously out of the Senate Monday. The bill would close a gaping loophole that allows Nevada lobbyists to spend money on state lawmakers when the Legislature is out of session without having to report the expenses. (Spending during sessions must be reported.)

The issue arose earlier this year when it was revealed PokerStars, the Internet gambling giant now under federal indictment in New York, paid for Assemblymen William Horne and Kelvin Atkinson to fly to London to observe the outfit’s operation. (Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford accepted travel from New York to the Bahamas to attend a PokerStars convention as well.)

Because the trip took place outside the narrow window in which lobbyist spending must be reported, the trips were secret until Horne introduced a bill to legalize Internet gambling in Nevada and journalists started snooping around.

The nexus is obvious: Although Horne and Atkinson said the trip wasn’t a junket and there was little personal time, the fact remains Horne introduced a bill tailor-made to PokerStars’ specifications, just two months after returning from an expensive trip underwritten by the company.

(The measure was later watered down to prevent Nevada from moving forward on legalizing or overseeing Internet poker operations until the federal government acts to legalize the practice.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, lobbyists are not opposed in general to Leslie’s bill, probably because London trips are rare. It’s not as if lobbyists are waiting for the session to end to shower lawmakers with gifts.

But where the law may need a further tune up is in the definition of who is a lobbyist: Under the law, only a person who appears in the Legislative Building or other buildings where lawmakers do business, and who speaks to politicians on behalf of another person counts as a lobbyist. If a person never appears in a government building, he or she isn’t a lobbyist by definition.

A good change might be to remove the part about appearing in government buildings, and identify as a lobbyist any person who communicates with a lawmaker on another person’s behalf, regardless of where the conversation is held. Anyone who meets that definition should be required to register as a lobbyist within 48 hours after beginning his or her lobbying career.

Another bill — Assembly Bill 571 — would reverse one of the enduring mysteries surrounding Nevada’s anti-smoking bill: If your goal is to protect children from secondhand smoke, why ban smoking in places where children aren’t allowed to go by law anyway? The bill would reverse the ban on smoking in bars where no one under 21 is allowed, even if that bar serves food.

The 2006 Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act classified bars that served food as restaurants where smoking should be banned. In the wake of that law, bars and taverns spent millions remodeling to separate the "restaurant" portion of the establishment from the "bar" portion, hoping to keep smoking and nonsmoking customers happy. Others simply closed their kitchens, costing jobs.

While AB571 won’t compensate for lost revenue, it is a sensible step in the right direction. And it appears the votes are there to pass the measure. It won’t make those who simply want to ban smoking everywhere very happy, but it will let adults choose to engage in adult behavior in places where only adults are allowed. And that’s always nice.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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