Lawmakers accidentally violate state Constitution

Inexperience reared its head in dramatic fashion on the Assembly floor Monday as members passed a major budget bill in violation of the Nevada Constitution.

Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, presented members with the Authorizations Act, which spells out how all non-general fund money in the budget will be spent over the coming two years. Then Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, opened the voting roll.

The problem? The Constitution requires that the K-12 education funding bill be passed before any other major budget bill. That measure hasn’t yet been sent to the floor by the Ways and Means Committee.

The board registered 38 members for and four against by the time Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs charged into the chambers and up to Kirkpatrick’s place on the podium.

After an explanation from Combs, Kirkpatrick called back the Authorizations Act and had the body vote to undo its untimely passage.

Later, Carlton asked Ways and Means to move the K-12 funding bill to the floor, where it can be voted on.

“Lets go ahead and take care of our priority, which is SB522, so the chair doesn’t violate the Constitution again today,” she told the committee.

When fiscal analyst Cindy Jones mentioned that SB522 must be passed first, Carlton told her, “I promise I won’t ever forget that again.”

“We like to keep it interesting,” said Kirkpatrick after the body recessed a short time later.

“We’re new at this,” said Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno.

None of the lower house members had seemed aware the vote was a violation.

Across the street in the Counsel Bureau, those watching were in a panic, calling on Combs to stop the vote.

“Poor staff was having heart attacks,” Carlton said in the Ways and Means hearing.

The incident points up what a number of lobbyists and longtime observers have been concerned about since the session opened. With the impact of term limits over the past two sessions, leadership has changed completely. Between the two leaders of the Senate and Assembly and the heads of the money committees, the only real experience with finalizing the budget belongs to Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who chaired Ways and Means two years ago and was a member of that committee for nearly a decade.

“Thank you, term limits,” said one lobbyist who witnessed the incident.


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