CARSON CITY – The Nevada Legislature, as it always does, ended its 120-day session Tuesday with a bang and a whimper.
With the major budget bills finished, only a smattering of special-interest legislation remained — the usual last-minute machinations of a process that always ends at the last moment.
Republicans went home having failed to achieve their No. 1 priority, funding for Education Savings Accounts. Gov. Brian Sandoval, always cautious and pragmatic, refused to veto the budget over ESAs, which give parents state money to use for private education expenses.
Democrats had a problem of their own. Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, publicly reproved Las Vegas Democratic Sen. Mark Manendo over still-unspecified allegations of sexual harassment. It was the second punishment for Manendo, who was stripped of his Transportation Committee chairmanship with two weeks to go in the session. Ford said further action could be taken once an outside law firm completes its investigation.
As a postscript, with just minutes to go before the end of the session, both houses approved a concurrent resolution to make filing harassment complaints easier, to make harassment rules applicable to lobbyists, and to command that legislators, staff and lobbyists avoid “any improper, inappropriate or dishonorable conduct that is unbecoming to the legislative process or is inconsistent with or undermines the people’s faith, trust and confidence in the integrity of the legislative process.”
Irony abounds, because there’s nothing like the final day of a legislative session to undermine faith, trust and confidence in the process.
That’s the time when utterly unrelated bills are amended to achieve something unrelated to their original intent, as when a bill on criminal procedure was revamped to offer a 1 percent cost-of-living raise to state employees.
That’s also the time when bills that appear to be dead rise again, such as the measure to require Uber and Lyft drivers to get state business licenses within three months of starting work with the ride-sharing companies. (The bill nearly died in the Assembly when it was amended to require drivers to comply with even more rules; the lesser requirements — which ride-sharing companies agreed to — were reintroduced and got a final hearing in the Legislature’s closing hours.)
It’s the time when bills that went down to overwhelming defeat — like one requiring police to record interrogations of suspects — are rumored to be coming back, but don’t. Or bills that started out bad but slowly improved — like one that would have required would-be constables to get certified by the Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training — die because lawmakers can’t agree on amendments.
But that’s not the entire story of the 2017 Legislature. For every cynical bit of chicanery, there’s also a bright spot of compromise.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, didn’t give up when Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed her bill to require more transparency in pricing for diabetes drugs. She worked across the aisle to satisfy the concerns the governor expressed in his veto message, and succeeded in getting most of her ideas into a similar bill proposed by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, that the governor later said he’d be proud to sign.
Although Republicans initially balked at voting for a capital improvements budget full of worthwhile projects because of Democratic opposition to the Education Savings Accounts, cooler heads prevailed and the budget passed. (Republicans and Sandoval got an extra $20 million for Opportunity Scholarships, which give businesses tax credits for donating to a fund that lets students seek education in private schools.)
ESAs, however, were a sore point at session’s end, with more conservative Republicans angry that Sandoval didn’t use a veto threat to force Democrats to give in. Sandoval — never a member of the nihilist wing of his party — said he refused to be put in a position of potentially shutting down state government over ESAs. “I didn’t want to take a position that basically dug me in,” he said. “We took it [ESAs] absolutely as far as we could.”
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5276. Follow @Steve Sebelius on Twitter.