The proposed constitutional amendment that would make the Legislature an annual event and allow lawmakers to meet in Las Vegas cleared its first official hurdle Tuesday.
The Nevada Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 8 on an 11-10 vote, with Republicans opposing the idea.
It would trade the current 120-calendar-day biennial session for a 90-day Legislature in odd-numbered years and a 30-day session in even-numbered years. The 30-day sessions could be held in Las Vegas.
Sponsor Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said Nevada has outgrown the current system and that it’s “no longer sufficient to come to Carson City every other year.”
“Things are too important,” he said. “Things are moving too fast.”
The proposed amendment would be up to the voters, Segerblom said.
“We’re not voting to have annual sessions,” he said. “We’re voting to let the people decide whether to have annual sessions.”
To get to that public vote, SJR8 must not only pass the Assembly this time but both the Senate and Assembly again in two years.
Republican Sen. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas said she supports the concept but has problems with the details in Segerblom’s proposal. She said the 90-day session would not be on a strict calendar-day limit like the current 120-day rule, that it could be done in up to 120 calendar days. Likewise, the 30-day even-year session could be stretched to 45 calendar days.
Segerblom said that provision allows lawmakers to take a few days off without the clock running so that, for example, staffers could catch up on backlogs of bills and amendments.
Cegavske also said a provision allowing the 30-day session to be held in Las Vegas has logistical problems because there is no state facility in the south capable of providing meeting space for 21 senators, 42 Assembly members and their various committees. Building that space would cost millions.
“I do look at this as an historical piece,” she said. “This is the capital; this is where we should be voting.”
Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville said he disagreed with the plan because it would technically allow lawmakers to double their pay, because it provides that they get paid for every day they meet instead of just the first 60 days. He said it’s wrong for employees — lawmakers — to be able to tell their employers — the voters — what they should be paid.
The original version of the proposal called for lawmakers to receive at least $2,000 a month for the duration of their terms. That provision was stripped out, as was a clause requiring Cabinet-level appointments made by the governor to be ratified by the Senate.
Segerblom and fellow sponsor Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, pointed out in committee that lawmakers already have the legal ability to raise their own pay.
If the plan survives this session and the 2015 session, it will go on the 2016 general election ballot for voters to decide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.