The bill to help Nevadans access cheaper Canadian prescription drugs was sucked into the budget battle vortex in the wee hours Saturday.
Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, tried to take control of the budget debate on Thursday, issuing an ultimatum demanding Senators fund all-day kindergarten before the lower house would consider any other budget issues.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, angrily charged Perkins with demanding "my way or the highway."
Just after midnight Friday, he made his move, having fellow Reno Republican Randolph Townsend amend the Canadian drug bill so it can't take effect without permission from the federal government. That amendment would render the bill meaningless since the federal government has banned re-importation of pharmaceuticals and is unlikely to ever give that approval.
A furious Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, accused Raggio of breaking the deal between the two houses to process each other's priority measures.
She had stayed out of the budget battle, dealing instead with other issues and trying to keep bills like the Canadian drug legislation out of harm's way.
"They assured me my bill would be passed and then they amend it at 2 in the morning? We never had a word," Buckley said. "No honor."
After a heated exchange with Townsend, she said he confirmed the move was designed "to get our attention on the budget."
Gaming lobbyist Greg Ferraro, a veteran trusted at both ends of the Legislature, shuttled between Assembly and Senate leadership offices for most of the next hour trying to resolve the conflict. He finally advised Buckley the Senate had no intention of rescinding the amendment to AB195.
Buckley and Perkins initially said they would kill all remaining Senate bills in their house, but after reviewing them, realized most were necessary legislation and bills needed by powerful interest groups. They ended up passing all but four measures.
Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, who is challenging Perkins for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said the Assembly leadership set themselves up.
"They've been acting like Raggio's senile or something," she said. "I guess he showed them."
Buckley, Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and Perkins all met with Raggio before both sides decided to adjourn for the night.
Buckley said she was confident they would reach a compromise that would save the Canadian drug access bill as well as settle other issues but, "not tonight - Monday."
Raggio made a similar comment.
"There has been no movement on the budget," he said as he left the Senate floor. "Hopefully Monday all that has to be decided."
Ways and Means Chair Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said that intensifies the pressure on fiscal and legal staffs who need at least a week to process the budget and draft legislation implementing it. But he said with tension high and emotions flaring, odds of a compromise are probably better if everyone cools off until Monday.
Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said Monday is critical to concluding the Legislature on time.
"Unless it gets done Monday, there's a good chance we'll go to a special session," he said.
The two major budgets in dispute are the Distributive School Account which funds public schools and the university system budget. Together they make up more than half of state general fund expenditures.
The biggest sticking point is the Assembly call for mandatory, statewide all-day kindergarten. The price tag in state funds is more than $72 for part of this fiscal year and all of 2007. The total cost could be double that in future budget cycles and that doesn't include the cost to school districts for adding class rooms, bus schedules and other requirements.
Supporters say all-day kindergarten has proven to be the single best way to improve student achievement in states across the nation.
"All-day kindergarten is worth fighting for," said Perkins.
But Raggio said all-day kindergarten is one option schools can request from the governor's proposed Commission on Educational Excellence. The governor put $100 million in that trust fund saying schools and districts could decide what programs best serve their efforts to improve achievement whether that is English language training, reading programs, kindergarten or something else.
No meetings are scheduled Sunday.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.