Here’s an idea for a new rule: State lawmakers can take up ceremonial bills and resolutions only after they’ve passed all policy bills and budgets.
Call it the Eat Your Dinner Before You Get Dessert Act of 2019.
That idea got a mixed reception on Twitter last week, although those with Carson City experience seemed to like it the most. That’s probably because they are the people who’ve seen the most time wasted.
Under the Constitution, the Legislature has only 120 calendar days to finish the business of the state for the following 18 months. That’s 2,880 hours, 172,800 minutes, 10.3 million seconds.
Sort of puts those all-too-frequent “one-minute recesses” into perspective.
Everyone who has spent time in Carson City has fallen past the event horizon into the wormhole known as “legislative time,” hours spent waiting while lawmakers and lobbyists work out deals behind closed doors. Then, like Mojave Max in spring, they emerge from their rumination and — presto! — a bill is passed.
The point? There’s precious little time to waste on bills that do nothing, mean nothing, change nothing and signify nothing.
As of this writing, Gov. Steve Sisolak had signed 23 bills, with three more waiting on his desk. By the end of the session, he’ll have signed hundreds into law.
But two of those bills — designating neon as the state element and declaring April 16 as “Healthcare Decisions Day” in Nevada — were utterly unnecessary. Another was the bill appropriating money to pay for the 2019 session.
Is it too late to get a partial refund?
It’s true that not much time was spent honoring neon, or on any of the 16 regular, concurrent or joint resolutions that have zero effect on anything. But some time was spent: time to write the bill, introduce it, hold a hearing in a committee, pass it on the floor and send it to the other house, where the process repeats itself.
That’s time the Legislature really doesn’t have to waste. And it’s time lawmakers will undoubtedly wish they had back as the clock ticks toward midnight on the fateful 120th day of the session.
If there’s a need for a special session in June at the end of the regular one, the blame won’t fall on bills to create new special license plates, designate special days or resolutions calling on Congress to do something. But wasting any time at all on those things surely didn’t help.
Oh, but the children! The children worked so hard on the bill to make neon the state element (and, in past sessions, to designate an official state insect and a state soil). They get to learn about the legislative process and see their representatives in action!
Sure they do. And then they go back to their schools, which are (as of this writing) still funded under a formula designed and implemented when Lyndon Baines Johnson was president of the United States.
The kids have certainly experienced legislative inaction. Why not let them get a taste of legislators (kind of, sorta) in action?
If lawmakers determined to turn to ceremonial matters only after the real work was done, there might be more time to debate policy matters, to answer questions raised by critics of bills and to ferret out and fix unintended consequences.
Yes, Nevada may have to go without an official state celebrity (Wayne Newton, obviously), state pastime (waiting in traffic next to workerless construction zones) and state film series (the “Tremors” hexalogy, of course). How will we live without those things?
But think of what we might get in return: Lawmakers focused on doing their jobs during the oh-so-brief period they are charged with doing them.
No, there’s certainly no guarantee the policy will be better, but there’s a slightly better chance it may be vetted more thoroughly.
And remember, legislators: When you finally pass the last bills and the two-year balanced budget (with more than 15 minutes to go on the session’s final day, I hope) there will be plenty of time to designate the mushroom cloud as the Official Nevada State Iconographic Cold War Symbol.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.