Amendment creating annual legislative sessions wins committee support

A proposed amendment to make Nevada’s Legislature an annual event is expected to get a vote on the Senate floor next week.

Senate Joint Resolution 8 cleared the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on Thursday with only one negative vote.

The proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Tick Segerblom and Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, both D-Las Vegas, would swap the current 120-calendar-day session every two years for a 90-day main session in odd-numbered years, followed by a 30-day session in even-numbered years to handle budgetary and unforeseen issues.

The proposed amendment also would make several other changes Segerblom said are designed to give lawmakers more flexibility. First, the short interim session could be held in Las Vegas if lawmakers so choose.

Second, instead of the strict 120 calendar days, both the 90-day main session and the shorter budget-update session could call a recess for such things as letting staffers catch up to the workload. The existing 120-day calendar runs whether or not lawmakers are actually meeting.

The 90-day session would have to be finished in a maximum of 120 days. The 30-day session would have to wrap up business in 45 days to prevent inappropriate delays in finishing legislative business.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, asked whether Segerblom would be willing to mandate that the interim session be held in Las Vegas.

“I think the less we put into the Constitution as a mandate, the better,” he said.

In addition, the measure would pay lawmakers for all the days they are in session. The existing Constitution provides that lawmakers be paid for just 60 days — the historic length of the Nevada Legislature. When the official length of session was changed to 120 days some 15 years ago, the pay limit wasn’t changed.

“We should be paid for the days we actually work,” Flores said after the hearing.

Douglas County Republican James Settelmeyer voted against the plan. He said afterward that, technically, the change would let lawmakers double their pay.

Flores had argued lawmakers wouldn’t necessarily increase their pay, that they could vote to reduce their daily salary from $140 to something lower once the salary provision was changed.

Cegavske complained that the plan would allow lawmakers to raise their pay without a vote of the people. Flores pointed out lawmakers already have the power to set their own pay and that their expense per diem is set by a formula based on federal per diem rates.

Committee approval came after Segerblom removed a couple of elements — including the provisions establishing legislative advise-and-consent power over major appointments by the governor.

Segerblom said afterward he believes the measure has a good chance of winning legislative approval. If approved — by a majority vote of each house — SJR8 would return to the 2015 Legislature. If approved again, it would go to a vote of the people to make the actual constitutional changes.

In addition, the committee voted to amend and recommend passage of Senate Bill 228, which would make a variety of changes related to financial disclosure and ethical conduct by public officers.

It more specifically defines financial disclosure statements required of public servants and bars them from financially benefitting from governmental contracts they have power over.

The only debate was over whether the provisions — specifically, a one-year cooling-off period after leaving public service — should be applied to local governments as well as the state.

Settelmeyer said that some of those local entities are so small that barring those employees from contracting with or working for them after leaving would effectively deny them work, period.

Ethics Commission lawyer Yvonne Nevarez-Goodson said the simple solution there is for the individual to ask Ethics commissioners for an advisory opinion clearing them to work for the local entity based on specific conditions — such as that person being the only one in the area able to provide the needed services.

With Settelmeyer and Cegavske opposed, the bill was passed to the Senate floor for a vote.


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