2007 Legislature opens for business | NevadaAppeal.com

2007 Legislature opens for business

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, speaks from the floor Monday morning at the Legislature. Buckley was named the first woman speaker in Nevada history. Cathleen Allison/ Nevada Appeal
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The 74th Nevada Legislature opened for business Monday afternoon with most of the attention focused on the election of Barbara Buckley as the first female Speaker of the Assembly.

Amid the applause from the Assembly, a packed gallery and seven former speakers, Buckley took the podium and told the membership it is time to take action on issues including education and health care, renewable energy and ethics.

She quoted President Lyndon Johnson, saying, “it is our obligation to resolve issues, not create issues.”

Buckley is the 57th speaker since statehood in 1864 but the first woman to hold the post. She said she joins not only Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi but women speakers in Vermont, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

“But I look forward to the day when we are not celebrating any more firsts,” she said. “A day when women and people of color are represented in the same proportions as they are in our communities.”

Among the former speakers present was Joe Dini of Yerington, who held that post a record eight sessions and who Buckley named as one of her mentors. He predicted she would do an excellent job of leading the Assembly.

But the sentiment wasn’t unanimous: Freshman Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, voted against her, saying it wasn’t personal but that, as a Republican, he didn’t want to vote for a Democrat to lead the lower house.

The last comparable opening day protest by a member of the Assembly was in 1997 when then-freshman Republican Don Gustavson, who ran on an anti-government spending platform, voted against the appropriations bill to pay for the operating cost of the Legislature.

There were 10 new faces sworn in in the Assembly. In the Senate, only Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, is a freshman. While it is Buckley’s first session in charge, it is Reno Republican Bill Raggio’s 10th session as Senate majority leader.

The first challenge on Buckley’s list was to improve public education in Nevada, which she said continually ranks in the bottom 10 states in the nation. She said the best indicator of educational success is the qualifications of the teachers and that Nevada falls short by not paying them enough to keep them in the state.

“We must pay every teacher more and we must reward the best and brightest with extra pay for performance.”

She said public education must be improved from both ends with all-day kindergarten for students starting out and improved high schools that offer smaller, better teaching environments as well as career education opportunities.

Buckley said health care is another important issue – especially access since one in five Nevadans doesn’t have health insurance. She said lawmakers must help more people get health insurance, help small businesses to provide insurance and insure pregnant women, among others.

She said lawmakers must help develop Nevada’s abundant wind, solar and geothermal resources. She said schools and businesses should use their rooftops to generate electricity.

And she called for ethics reform for public officials.

“The past year was a year of scandal, shame, indictments and dishonor,” she said.

Buckley called on lawmakers to toughen the laws to bar using state employees as campaign workers, prevent candidates and organizations from hiding money and other changes.

Buckley said with the issues facing Nevada, the state can’t have a “status quo” legislative session.

A total of 140 bills were introduced after the formalities of opening the 2007 Legislature were completed.

And one of them, SB1, was passed as an emergency measure and forwarded to the governor. SB1 appropriates $10 million to pay for the operation of the Legislature itself.

Another bill of about the same size is expected half way through the 120 day session to cover the cost of finishing the session.

Work on those bills and on the proposed state budget begins this morning. The first budget before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee is the governor’s office while the Senate Finance Committee will take up the Nuclear Projects Office, Ethics Commission and Public Utilities Commission.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.