80th Nevada Legislature opens for business Feb. 4
R-C Capitol Bureau
The 80th regular session of the Nevada Legislature officially opens for business Feb. 4.
But legislative business is already under way as leadership in both houses and both parties sorts out who will serve on which committees and hold which positions.
The review of the governor’s proposed budget also commences in advance of the opening gavel. A full week of budget briefings will begin after Gov. Steve Sisolak delivers his State of the State address before the combined membership of the Senate and Assembly at 6 p.m. Jan. 16.
The Economic Forum has projected total General Fund revenues at $8.84 billion for the coming two-year budget. While that total is $590.7 million more than the current General Fund total, it’s far less than the more than $9.4 billion agencies requested in October.
If Sisolak and lawmakers want to spend more than what the forum projected, they have to raise taxes to pay for the difference.
The General Fund, however, is just part of the total biennial state budget. The total two-year budget is expected to end up a bit north of $27 billion.
Outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a release last week containing his recommendations for Sisolak. In fact, the outgoing governor builds most of the budget his successor sees after he takes office. But according to all reports, Sandoval and Sisolak and their staffs have been working together to ensure a smooth transition, giving Sisolak significant input on the proposed budget.
Those recommendations include pay raises for state workers and major increases in a variety of K-12 education programs as well as Medicaid spending, which is largely outside of state control.
Taken all together, Sandoval’s recommendations would require more revenue than the Economic Forum projected.
Incoming lawmakers have also been busy since the election. In just the past two weeks, the legislative Counsel Bureau has received 246 requests for legislation, bringing the total number of bills in the hopper to 968 as of year’s end.
While a number of the new bill drafts being sought are fairly well fleshed out proposals presented by interim study committees, many are for legislation sought by the newly elected members of the Senate and Assembly.
With strong majorities in both houses, Democrats are looking to a variety of proposals including ways to implement the voter-approved gun background checks law and to ban bump stocks that caused so much carnage at the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas. There are several other measures dealing with firearms as well.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson say they are also considering resurrecting some of the bills vetoed by Sandoval last time.
Frierson said that includes Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle’s bill in 2017 that would have created a Medicaid option for all.
Both expressed interest in the vetoed measure that would seal the records of people convicted of certain marijuana crimes that they say prevents people from getting jobs for crimes that are no longer crimes in Nevada.
They are also interested in making sure marijuana tax money goes to education instead of the Rainy Day Fund that now gets a significant amount of it.
There are bill drafts in the works that would provide collective bargaining rights to both university and state workers similar to those enjoyed by local government workers.
Tick Segerblom has a bill that would restore home rule to Nevada’s large counties but he is no longer in the Senate, having won a seat on the Clark County Commission, so it’s future is unclear.
Sen. Joe Hardy has a bill that would make Nevada’s brothels illegal and shut them down. Sen. James Ohrenschall has one to abolish the death penalty in Nevada.
As always, there are at least two-dozen proposed measures dealing with Nevada election law.
The Assembly will have 15 freshmen members and the Senate seven, although five of them are former Assembly members. The only true freshmen in the Senate are Dallas Harris and Melanie Scheible, both of Clark County.
In the Assembly, the freshmen Democrats are Alexander Assefa, Shea Backus, Michelle Gorelow, Susan Martinez, Connie Munk, Sarah Peters, Selena Torres, Howard Watts, Rochelle Nguyen and Beatrice Duran.
Alexis Hansen, Melissa Hardy, Glen Leavitt, Greg Hafen and Tom Roberts are the Republican freshmen.
There are two major changes in the makeup of the Legislature. For the first time in state history, women hold a majority in the Assembly with 23 of the 42 districts. They also hold nine of the 21 Senate seats.
Second, Assembly Democrats won a supermajority with 29 of 42 seats. That is one more than the two-thirds necessary to pass legislation containing appropriations or new and higher taxes or, for that matter, override a gubernatorial veto.
Democratic senators, however, don’t have two-thirds of the seats in that body. At 13, they fell one short, giving the Republican senators the ability to block taxes and spending as long as they can hold all of their caucus together.
Sisolak and the other newly elected officials will be sworn in Jan. 7.