One week left in session

Nevada lawmakers start their last full week of the 2007 session today - Memorial Day - with a heavy workload that includes budget negotiations and work on many remaining major issues such as highway funding, tax breaks, water and anti-meth initiatives.

The legislators, who met until midnight Friday and returned on Saturday to deal with dozens of measures, expect to work through the following weekend in efforts to adjourn by June 4, the statutory deadline for the session. If the job's not done, a special session could be required.

Today, Senate and Assembly negotiators will meet behind closed doors to finalize a record state budget of $7 billion. They came close to that point on Saturday, but were still debating issues such as state business tax rates.

As the lawmakers start their last full week, they faced a renewed warning from Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons to not increase any taxes. Gibbons said the budget for the coming two fiscal years will be up 16.5 percent over the current budget as is.

Gibbons has warned that he'll veto any budget that boosts taxes and leaves out programs he wants. But also said he's willing to compromise - on anything but taxes.

Besides the budget, legislators will be working today on a new highway construction funding plan that would generate about $2 billion by 2015. That's separate from Gibbons' plan, also up for discussion, that would fund construction mainly through diverting - rather than raising - existing taxes.

Today's committee hearings include a Senate Commerce and Labor session on AB621, a "green" construction bill that would sharply reduce the nearly $1 billion in tax revenues from developers that would be lost without changes in a 2005 tax break law.

Senate Judiciary has a hearing scheduled on measures dealing with Nevada's overcrowded prisons. They include AB510, which would increase the credits offered to inmates who exhibit good behavior while imprisoned, and complete educational or drug treatment programs.

Prison officials estimate that if passed, the bill could lower the state's 2009 projected prison population by about 1,500 inmates.

For the rest of the week, there are some scheduled committee hearings - but the focus will be on Senate-Assembly conference panels that don't meet at specified times and instead meet as time permits to resolve differences on certain bills.

Among the expected conference meetings is one on a new anti-methamphetamine measure, AB148, that would limit sales of legal products that can be used by meth manufacturers.

A conference committee meeting also is likely for SB487, a Senate bill to create a big water authority in Washoe County. The plan was gutted by an Assembly amendment which would turn the proposed Northern Nevada Water Authority into an advisory panel.

Conferees also will discuss AB142, an Assembly bill that would have required lobbyists to take an ethics course. As amended in the Senate, it now simply requires the state Ethics Commission to make an ethics course available to all members of the public.

Also up for a conference committee session is AB335, which changes the manner in which candidates disclose their expenses and contributions and requires local governments to regulate activities of lobbyists.

Another bill headed for a conference committee is SB425, which imposes reporting requirements and controls for legal defense funds - a measure stemming from a furor over Gibbons' fund set up to deal with various allegations against him.

Conferees also must work out differences over AB404, which would have banned insurance companies from considering the closing and opening of credit accounts when setting rates. The bill was amended in the Senate to require insurance companies to provide better explanations of how they use credit information to establish rates.

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