Passing and failing with the Nevada Legislature

After every legislative session, there are regrets.

Bills that should have passed didn’t. Others that shouldn’t have passed did. Some made the last-minute rush to close the session, others died somewhere in the process.

Some good measures died in the 2013 Legislature. Assembly Bill 402, which would have legalized marijuana outright, the way Washington state and Colorado have, got a hearing but not a vote. Assembly Bill 141, which would have banned taking tips from employees and redistributing them without permission, didn’t even get a hearing.

While all manner of tax ideas were proposed and then ignored — from an admissions tax that would have hit movie tickets, bowling and miniature golf to an admissions tax that would have hit nightclubs and concerts to a payroll tax — an oft-introduced business tax bill from Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, went nowhere.

A sensible bill on sex education sought by Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, died after surviving some grueling hearings. State senators elected to dodge controversy by setting the bill aside, to the detriment of Nevada’s students.

And, predictably, a bill sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller that would have brought more transparency to money in politics — including lobbyist gift-giving — was first watered down and then killed on the final night of the session. A Nevada tradition lives. (Miller also lost on a bill that would have matched voter files with DMV photos, making for a more secure election. It was killed because of the cost.)

Yet all is not lost. The 2013 session actually saw some really good legislation approved.

■ Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would remove the constitutional cap on mining taxes in Nevada, was approved for a second time, thanks to the advocacy of Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. Democrats had previously owned this issue, but Roberson picked it up and even offered to pair it with a bill to double mining taxes, a plan that ultimately failed. But the upshot is, voters next year will decide whether the Legislature should be able to raise mining taxes.

■ Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would not only erase the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage but actually authorize same-sex unions, has to be approved a second time, in the 2015 session. But if it is — and if voters concur in 2016 — Nevada will become the first state in the union to constitutionally authorize marriage equality. And why not? In decades past, Nevada was a haven for quickie divorce; it’s about time we do something for the institution of marriage.

■ Senate Bill 374, from Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, will finally fulfill the constitutional promise voters made in 1998 and 2000, when medical marijuana was legalized, by establishing dispensaries in the state. This bill was helped immensely by the backing of Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, a devout Mormon who said he didn’t like the idea, but felt compelled to obey the will of the voters. This bill is awaiting Gov. Brian Sandoval’s signature, but the governor has remained mum on whether he’ll approve it.

■ Assembly Bill 114 — heard in both houses and passed in a single day! — allows Nevada casinos to venture into online gambling and accept wagers from other states if the governor signs interstate compacts. It was introduced by Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas.

■ Senate Bill 303, from Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, will allow the DMV to issue “driver authorization cards” to illegal immigrants in the state. The cards, which can’t be used for proof of identity or government benefits, would require applicants to take a driving test and certify they’ve purchased liability insurance. Denis said when he first introduced the issue eight years ago, he couldn’t even get a hearing. This time, he got Sandoval’s signature.

■ Senate Bill 121, by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, which would extend the existing system of background checks done in gun stores to private-party gun sales, including those conducted at gun shows. The bill was the most controversial of the session, and Sandoval is expected to veto it.

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

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