Term limits hit home in 2013 Legislature
January 2, 2013
The full impact of term limits will be on display for all to judge when the 2013 Legislature convenes Feb. 4 — especially in the Nevada Senate.Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, will be shepherding a 21-member body that includes 10 new faces. While most of those are transplants from the Assembly, four of them are first-termers with no prior legislative experience.Term limits made their first big hit two years ago when nine new faces showed up for the 2011 Senate.As a result of the turnover, only one member of the Senate has been in that body more than four years — Republican Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas.“It’s not just new legislators,” said Denis. “There are a lot of new staff people; a lot of new lobbyists; a lot of people who were over departments have retired.”The turnover has left Denis with a dearth of experienced leadership that led him to name three of those first-termers committee chairmen. Aaron Ford will chair the Natural Resources Committee and Justin Jones will head the Health and Human Services Committee. Patricia Spearman will head Legislative Operations and Elections.Even so, Denis said, he has confidence because the new faces are intelligent, worked hard through the election season and have a good mix of skills.But he said they no longer have the time to learn the process and ramp up that freshmen enjoyed in the past.All the freshmen chairs are from Clark County — pointing up another effect of the term-limits turnover. The only Northern Nevada lawmaker to head a Senate Committee in the 2013 session will be Debbie Smith of Sparks. In the Assembly, there are three northern chairs in that body’s 10 committees.Smith will chair Senate Finance. But in contrast to some of the other chairs, Smith, who headed the Assembly Ways and Means Committee last session, has the experience.The Republican side of the aisle also lost decades of experience during the past four years as term limits. Voters — in the case of John Lee and Dennis Nolan —and resignation in the case of Reno’s Bill Raggio removed them from the roster.GOP leader Michael Roberson of Las Vegas has just one session as a lawmaker under his belt. His lieutenant, Ben Kieckhefer of Reno, is also a legislative sophomore.Roberson agreed the loss of so much experience will present challenges but said it’s more a burden on the majority party than his caucus.“When you’re in the majority, you’ve got to make the trains run on time,” he said.He said he’s confident the four caucus leaders in the Senate and Assembly will work well together.His and Denis’s counterparts in the Assembly are GOP Minority Leader Pat Hickey of Reno and Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick of North Las Vegas. “What I’m encouraged by is that Mo, Marilyn, Pat and I always get along really well,” Roberson said. “You didn’t see that last session.”He predicted Nevadans will see much more bipartisanship this time than in 2011.Denis echoed that sentiment saying the turnover may enable the Senate to deal with issues it couldn’t in the past.“As Marilyn says, we don’t have the baggage some of the people had before,” Denis said. “The way to make things work is we have to be willing to talk.”Another change is that six of the 10 Senate standing committees will have just five members instead of seven this coming session. That is double the number of five-member panels in the 2011 Senate and is the result of the Democratic need to maintain a majority in every committee despite holding the majority by just one — 11 to 10 members. To make that happen, six Republican Senators — including Roberson — have just two committee assignments while the rest of the members all have three.“That’s just the way things worked out,” Denis said.While not hit as hard as the Senate, the Assembly was far from immune to the impacts of term limits this year. Eleven of the 42 members are new to the Legislature. That is a smaller turnover than in the 2011 session when 18 new members took seats in the Assembly.Kirkpatrick, whose first term was in 2005, will become the second woman in state history to hold the title of Speaker. She got the job after Marcus Conklin, the odds-on favorite to succeed John Oceguera, was defeated in November by Republican first-time candidate Wes Duncan.The Ways and Means Committee will be headed by Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas. While this is only Carlton’s second session in the Assembly and only her second time on Ways and Means, she is a veteran of 12 years in the Senate.Most of the other Assembly leadership positions are filled with members who have at least a couple of sessions under their belts. But six of them are chairing committees for the first time: Elliot Anderson, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Jason Frierson, Skip Daly, Irene Bustamonte-Adams and Richard Carillo. Three of the 10 chairs are northern lawmakers. David Bobzien, Benitez-Thompson and Daly all represent parts of Washoe County.Hickey is entering his third term in the lower house while his top lieutenant Crescent Hardy of Mesquite is a sophomore.In several statements, he has made the same points Roberson and Denis made, saying the public is demanding “solutions-oriented government.”“And in that sense, our parties recognizes that and I think the Democrats do as well,” he said.Hickey added that means having the courage to go up against not only the unions but conservative ideologues as well.“It’s definitely an interesting dynamic,” said Denis.