Harried lobbyists yell down suddenly crowded hallways. Lawmakers disappear for hours on end in private meetings. Bills are held hostage, last-second amendments abound.
Bursts of frantic activity mark the final days and hours of every session, but financial stakes are higher than ever with adjournment of the 2003 Legislature just days away. Votes are expected on an unprecedented $850 million-plus tax increase, a record $5 billion two-year state budget and some major policy shifts.
Over 160 measures -- most containing state appropriations -- remain pending before Assembly and Senate fiscal panels. Several could be pushed through quickly with enough support from lawmakers and lobbyists, if there's money to fund them.
It's a time of reduced public oversight. Hearings that previously had been posted days in advance are now called at the whim of committee chairs. Scheduled panel meetings start hours late.
At a Thursday afternoon conference meeting on anti-telemarketing efforts, five lawmakers sat around a table in a small room, surrounded by over a dozen lobbyists. The informal, small-scale affairs are the norm late in session.
Though at least 30 more are planned, on issues including medical malpractice lawsuit reforms, less than a third of the conference committee meeting times were set Thursday.
Lobbyists and lawmakers fear their favored bills and issues will get lost in a shuffle that many say is more intense than past sessions.
Keith Lee, lobbyist for the state Medical Examiners Board, is pushing senators for amendments to legislation revamping state regulation of doctors. But he acknowledges "they've got bigger fish to fry."
"There's only two issues holding us in this building right now," Lee said, referring to tax and spending plans. "We'd go home tomorrow if they ever reached a deal."
Lawmakers are sanguine. Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus maintains the 120-day session's multiple early deadlines has reduced the amount of bills procrastinating lawmakers must hurry through.
"It's nothing like it used to be," the Las Vegas Democrat said, adding that she doesn't feel rushed.
"There's nothing new. Yeah, the decisions are made now, but it's all on things that we've been talking about for months."
Sen. Mark Amodei said he's cleared his Judiciary Committee for the final days, adding "everything else is chugging along pretty well."
"The only rush element right now is taxes," the Carson City Republican said. "I think the budgets are close enough where they can lock themselves in a room for a couple hours and make soup."
Key Assembly members want to spend about $80 million more over the next two years than senators. The key difference is K-12 education funding. No massive appropriations bills will be completed until they agree.
Terry Hickman, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the informal meetings focus his push for schools spending.
"Instead of having to see all 63, there's now a core group that seems to be making all the decisions," Hickman said. "So we're working with them, working on them, to reach agreement."
"This is the fourth quarter, and this is when the game is decided."