Lawmakers finish special session | NevadaAppeal.com

Lawmakers finish special session

For the third time in four tries, the Legislature was unable to finish its business in 120 days.

The Monday’s midnight deadline came and went because of what Majority Leader Bill Raggio described as a “meltdown.” It started with a dispute over how to fix the Millennium Scholarship program. But tied in to the impasse were several other key programs including all-day kindergarten in low-income schools and the Canadian prescription drug plan.

It took lawmakers until nearly 1 p.m. today to finish the job and adjourn sine die.

Only in 1999, the first session under the 120 day limit, did lawmakers finish on time. In 2003, it required two consecutive special sessions to get business done.

With just two hours left on the clock Monday, tempers erupted during a conference committee on legislation to rescue the Millennium Scholarship program. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, objected to limiting the scholarship to 12 credits a semester and to requiring participants have a Social Security number.

“We concede the Assembly’s point to offer the scholarship to illegal aliens,” Sen. Bob Beers, R-Henderson, said sarcastically.

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Gov. Kenny Guinn ordered lawmakers right back to work after the midnight deadline, directing them to convene a 3 a.m. special session to deal with kindergarten and the scholarship. He said once those issues were resolved, he would consider adding other measures important to legislators.

Under the gun, it took only an hour to work out a compromise on the scholarship program.

Lawmakers also settled on a tax rebate program guaranteeing every car and truck owner at least $75 and providing the same checks to seniors with valid ID cards who don’t have drivers’ licenses.

And they finalized a deal on the bill providing $22 million to start all-day kindergarten in Title I schools.

Guinn then added a half dozen other pieces of legislation for consideration. But distrust and anger flared again as Senators noticed language in several of those bills was different from what they expected. They charged Democrats with doctoring the bills and passing the work off as consensus legislation.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, denied any shenanigans saying it was a simple error caused when bill drafters provided the last reprint of each piece of legislation instead of the versions conference committees agreed on.

Finally convinced it was a simple error, each side passed the other’s measures including the Senate pork bill and a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with initiative petitions and referendums.

The last two pieces of legislation moved were Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley’s Canadian drug program and Sen. Randolph Townsend’s renewable energy bill – paving the way for adjournment before 1 p.m.

Titus described the tension, bickering and distrust as “awful.”

“He described it right when he said it was a meltdown,” she said referring to Raggio’s comment.

Despite the battles with the Assembly, Raggio praised Senators for what he termed “an unusually civil session.”

He said in the end he believes lawmakers “did a lot right for the citizens of this state.”

Buckley said she was extremely pleased to get the Canadian pharmaceutical bill approved.

And, while he has hedged when asked in the past, Guinn finally said he would sign the bill designed to help Nevadans access safe and cheap Canadian sources for prescription medicines.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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