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Jake reflects on Legislature

by Christy Chalmers

State Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen has seen a lot of changes in his 36 years as a lawmaker, and he says 1999 brought many more.

Jacobsen, a Republican from Minden, served in the state Assembly from 1963-78 before switching to the Senate, where he is president pro tem and second in command to Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

Unlike previous years, the 1999 session was limited to 120 days by a voter mandate. Reflecting on the session three weeks after it ended, Jacobsen said the accelerated schedule brought some unfortunate changes.

“One of the saddest things, to me, was we never left the building,” said Jacobsen. The lawmakers’ days were filled with committee meetings that often included lengthy hearings, and the tight schedule didn’t allow for the leisurely tours and field trips taken in past sessions.

Jacobsen’s annual Farm Tour, a day-long driving excursion that showcases Douglas County, was one of the few biannual rituals that was held, and he attributes the $2.8 million given to Douglas County to expand the China Spring Youth Camp to that trip.

“The camp was really clean, really well-run and the kids were very presentable. I think that made a big difference (in getting the money),” said Jacobsen. “I think when you don’t get to see the places where the money is going, the process really suffers in that respect.”

n Growing rift. He also lamented the growing north-south rift.

Burgeoning Clark County is gaining power, both in the number of legislative representatives it has and in the political clout they’re building. Jacobsen said the rift is “unhealthy,” but predicted it will only get worse.

“There isn’t the camaraderie there used to be, where they think of the state as a whole,” he said. “They’re thinking of their home issues. None of that is productive to society.”

The shorter sessions, he noted, also aren’t conducive to public comment, because aggressive, well-paid lobbyists often dominated hearings or accosted lawmakers around the building. At the same time, lawmakers have to address perennial problems like funding a growing prison population and education reform.

“I think our ability to recognize them is not helped by having a shorter session,” said Jacobsen.

Despite the session’s shortcomings, Jacobsen highlighted one change he credits for changing the “attitude” around the legislative building: the election of Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Guinn visited the building and even stopped by the legislative chambers a few times, something his predecessor rarely did.

“He was very approachable. We’d see him in the hall, or he’d just stop in to ask how it was going or if he could help,” said Jacobsen. “The atmosphere was completely changed. I just thought that was great.”