Voting frenzy as lawmakers near another deadline

The Legislature voted on dozens of bills Wednesday, including an Assembly measure that says judges can seal court records only under certain conditions, including when disclosure would pose a danger to the public interest.

The Assembly also voted to repeal a law that doubles a prison sentence when a crime is committed with a deadly weapon, and passed a bill dictating what information should be released by welfare agencies in cases of child abuse or neglect. Other bills passed regarding open government, trade agreements, and domestic violence.

The Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment to have the state's higher education regents appointed by the governor. The Senate also approved measures on nonembryonic stem cells and eminent domain.

The voting frenzy came as the two houses of the Legislature neared another procedural deadline requiring that Assembly measures be voted upon by the full Assembly and Senate measures be voted upon by the full Senate by Tuesday - or go into the wastebasket.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, tried to amend the court records bill, AB519, as it came up for a vote. He said his change would allow judges "a little more discretion" when deciding when to seal documents in a court case.

Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson responded by chastising Cobb for bringing up an issue that the committee had reviewed and rejected. Cobb had suggested a lower standard that only one of the six requirements listed in the bill should be met to allow a judge to close a record, not all of them.

The bill was introduced following a series of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles in February revealing that 115 cases had been sealed in Clark County district courts since 2000, many of them involving high-profile litigants.

The deadly weapons measure, AB63, was the result of an interim committee that studied sentencing rules. It removes the requirement that a judge must double a sentence for a crime if it was committed with a deadly weapon, and instead allows for up to 10 years extra for use of a deadly weapon.

The Assembly also passed AB94, which repeals a 2005 law that excluded some parties from hearings on licenses and permits. The law affected at least two hearing for permits issued by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, which later saw court challenges.

Also passing was AB261, which mandates that child welfare agencies must release information in child neglect and abuse cases.

On the Senate's regents measure, SJR4, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio said it was time to do away with Nevada's system of direct elections of regents, which was established in 1864 before the state had any higher education to speak of. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 12-9 in a mostly party-line vote.

Last year, voters narrowly rejected a proposal to have a mix of elected and appointed regents. Raggio said SJR4, which provides for the direct appointment of all regents by the governor, was a simpler proposal that stood a better chance for success.

In order to become law, the proposal still must be passed by the Assembly this year and then go to the 2009 Legislature. If approved by lawmakers in 2009, it then must win voter approval in 2010.

Other measures passed by the Assembly included:

• AB6, which allows counties to negotiate discount prescription drug contracts

• AB194, which requires someone under a domestic violence restraining order to surrender all firearms

• AB313, which requires the Department of Education to track criminal cases involving teachers

• AB344, would create a felony for falsely activating the statewide Amber Alert system

• AB463, would increase scrutiny of group homes and residential establishments and require more information from unlicensed homes.

• AB470 which prohibits the governor from entering into international trade agreements without the consent of the Legislature

• AB103, which would increases the time a utility has to apply for a rate change from two years to three years.

Other measures passed by the Senate include:

• SB6, which would make it a felony to allow a child to be present where marijuana is manufactured or sold. The Senate voted 18-3 to support that bill after adding language to exempt medical marijuana users.

• SB361, which would allow a state board overseeing alternative medicine to regulate the use of nonembryonic stem cells.

• SB85, a companion bill to an Assembly-approved constitutional amendment, AJR3, to limit the government's use of eminent domain.

Associated Press writer Joe Mullin contributed to this report.


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