Lawmakers scramble to finish before deadline

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, waits outside the Senate Ways and Means Committee chamber at the Legislature Sunday.

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, waits outside the Senate Ways and Means Committee chamber at the Legislature Sunday.

After lobbying throughout the Legislative Building to keep his administrative secretary in the budget, Speaker Richard Perkins Sunday gave up the fight.

Removal of the funding - a total of $140,000 over the next two years - enabled lawmakers to complete the budget, greatly improving their chances of finishing tonight and avoiding a special session. The constitution mandates the Legislature shut down tonight, after 120 days.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said secretarial support between sessions was offered both to Perkins and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, because the workload is greater for them than most lawmakers.

Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Sparks, moved to eliminate the position, saying she doesn't believe part-time legislators should have full-time staff.

She also objected to how the position was created two years ago, saying Perkins sneaked it into the legislative budget. She said if leadership needs permanent staff, that should be discussed in public and staffing provided to the Assembly speaker, Senate majority leader and both minority leaders.

Perkins and other Assembly Democrats unsuccessfully lobbied every member of Finance, including Mathews, to change their vote. Faced with the possibility of a special session, Perkins relented.

"We just concurred with the Senate," said Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, "We have to shut this place down."

That leaves Gov. Kenny Guinn's rebate plan as the biggest unresolved dispute.

Perkins, D-Henderson, said the issue wasn't if there would be a rebate, but how to do it. Guinn's plan would rebate Nevadans the amount they paid last year in Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees. That would provide an average check of $142 per vehicle, with those owning the newest and most expensive vehicles getting up to $300. But a large number - more than 120,000 vehicle owners - will get less than $25.

Assembly Democrats want to issue a flat rebate check to every Nevadan with a driver's license. That way, they say, poorer people wouldn't be left with nearly nothing and everyone would get the same amount.

"We're still trying to find some middle ground," said Perkins.

Sunday afternoon, the governor's office made an attempt to find that ground, saying it was developing a proposal that would ensure everyone gets at least $50 and reducing the $300 maximum to some lower number. Perkins said the issue would probably be settled this morning.

But Sunday evening, the Assembly voted out the driver's license rebate plan rather than a compromise.

Also caught in the final crunch is AB195, the Canadian prescription drug plan, which was again put on the Senate secretary's desk Sunday evening. A final vote on the bill was expected today.

Other pieces of the puzzle continued to move forward, including a budget package totaling just about $15 billion for the coming two years.

The Senate passed the Authorizations Act, which sets out the $8.84 billion portion of the budget made up of federal funds and other non-general fund money. Also passed was the Distributive School Account, which provides $1.55 billion for public schools.

The Assembly will vote out its companion class size reduction act - worth $262 million - this morning.

The Appropriations Act introduced in the Assembly lays out how a total of $3.7 billion in general fund money from the state treasury will be spent. By state law, that piece of legislation must remain in the Assembly floor for 24 hours before final action, to give everyone a chance to look it over.

The $402.8 million Capital Improvement Program legislation has already been processed by lawmakers.

In addition to the prescription drugs bill, the Millennium Scholarship bill and Guinn's $100 million trust for educational excellence, that leaves the so-called pay bill.

That measure appropriates and authorizes revenues needed to pay the 2 percent and 4 percent pay raises approved for classified state workers and teachers, plus the salaries for unclassified employees in state service. That measure often appears on the final day of the session to prevent last-minute lobbying by agency heads and others.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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