Federal court asked to reject legislative suit

The Legislature and the Attorney General's office both say federal court has no business interfering in Nevada's tax-budget constitutional battle.

The issue is in U.S. District Court for a hearing today after a group of Republican lawmakers and businessmen filed a lawsuit to block a tax plan, arguing its approval by the Nevada Assembly violates Nevada's Constitution because it received only a simple majority and not a two-thirds majority.

The two-thirds requirement was lifted by the Nevada Supreme Court in a decision last week when six of seven justices ruled it must "give way" to the competing constitutional requirement that the Legislature fund public education.

On Tuesday, a brief filed by the Legislative Counsel Bureau argued the Assembly was following the lawfully issued orders of the state's highest court.

"It is a fundamental principle of law that the highest court in a state is the final arbiter with respect to the interpretation and application of the laws and constitution of that state," the brief states.

The brief filed by Attorney General Brian Sandoval makes the same argument: "The decision was within the Nevada Supreme Court's sole authority to definitively interpret the Nevada Constitution." He argued it is "settled in law that the supreme court of any state is the authoritative interpreter of its constitution."

The briefs were filed in preparation for today's hearing before a panel of seven federal judges in Reno and Las Vegas.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau also argues lawmakers are immune from suit "when acting in their legislative capacities."

"Absolute legislative immunity applies not only to individual legislators but also to the Legislature as a whole," the brief argues.

The GOP lawmakers and businessmen filed the case in federal court arguing the public's rights under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment were violated when the Assembly ignored the two-thirds majority requirement. Nevada voters put the requirement in the constitution in 1996. The GOP lawmakers have asked the court to bar action on any tax bill that doesn't receive a two-thirds majority in each house.

The governor's office went to the Nevada Supreme Court after lawmakers failed to pass a tax plan raising enough money to fund the budget by the start of the new fiscal year. Republican holdouts in the Assembly said they would refuse to pass taxes until the budget is reopened and cut back. But they have never said exactly what they would cut from the budget. Instead, Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, suggested they give the governor flexibility to make those decisions.

Mike Hillerby, Guinn's deputy chief of staff, rejected the idea, saying approving less taxes than the budget spends and telling the governor to fix it would not be a balanced budget. The constitution requires lawmakers produce a balanced budget.


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