Plan to let lawmakers call selves into special session draws no public testimony

A brief hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to let lawmakers call themselves into special session drew no public comment Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said that was surprising since he already had 56 e-mails on the subject - most of them opposing AJR5 of the 2009 Legislature.

At present, only the governor can call lawmakers into special session in Nevada.

Former Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, who developed the legislation two years ago, said it is actually the fourth time for the proposal. The Legislature must pass any proposed constitutional amendment twice before presenting it to the voters.

The plan was approved by the 2003 and 2005 legislative sessions but failed to win voter approval by 4 percent in 2006.

"But because of recent events involving governor and so forth, I think it has a better chance now," he said referring to impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who was removed from office for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president.

"If we had a rogue governor who tried to sell a Senate seat, we could not impeach him because he certainly would not call the Legislature into session," said Mortenson.

The proposed amendment would allow lawmakers to call a special session if two-thirds of the members of each house signed a petition. The petition would have to explain the extraordinary circumstances warranting a special session and set the agenda for it.

Special sessions would be strictly limited to 20 calendar days. Current special sessions have no duration limit. He said that shouldn't be a problem because most special sessions last a matter of hours or a day or two.

The proposed amendment exempts impeachment proceedings for governor, Supreme Court justices, lawmakers and other officials from the 20-day limit.

Mortenson said 34 other states already allow lawmakers to call themselves into session. He also said the amendment doesn't change the governor's current power to call a special session and set its agenda.

Language in the body of the proposal, however, states that a special session convened by the Legislature itself "takes precedence over a special session convened by the governor ..."

That language would give lawmakers the power to amend the agenda specified by the governor for any special session - a power they currently do not have.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, asked what would stop legislators from using the power to essentially create annual sessions.

"I believe the Legislature would be crucified by the media if they tried to make this an annual session," Mortenson said.

The proposed amendment was approved 28-13 by the 2009 Assembly and 17-4 by the 2009 Senate.

The Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee took no action on the measure.


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