Cooling-off bills get chilly reception in Senate

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Bills aimed at restricting influence peddling by slowing the revolving door between leaving public office and returning to the same halls as a lobbyist received chilly receptions from lawmakers Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 77, sponsored by Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, would establish a cooling-off period for state lawmakers, barring them from lobbying at the Legislature until after the next regular session following their exit from office.

Members of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections questioned why such laws are needed, raising doubt about whether the proposal can advance.

“I think it does say to the public, and importantly to ourselves, that we should be clear from either the perception or the temptation to use ... your last term in office to prepare yourself, ingratiate yourself, to a future employer,” said Hickey, R-Reno.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction toward open government.”

An amendment added in the Assembly would allow legislators to lobby if it’s not the primary duty of their new job, and if they are only lobbying for their immediate employer. It wouldn’t take effect until after the next election, so no sitting legislators would be affected unless they were re-elected.

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, took exception to Hickey’s reference to scandals in Washington, D.C., involving lobbyists as justification for a cooling-off period at the Nevada Legislature, a part-time body that meets every two years for 120 days.

“I’m trying to figure out why we’re doing this,” Atkinson said.

He added, “This legislative body is not open to things like that. ... We’re not them.”

“We don’t have such a scandal here in Nevada,” Hickey agreed. “But I think it comes down to the same question, is it the right thing to do?”

Martin Dean Dupalo, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, spoke in favor of the bill.

“Good policy doesn’t need to be scandal-driven,” he said.

Another bill, AB 438, would extend from one year to two a cooling-off period for local elected or appointed officials and members of the Nevada Board of Regents.

“Simply, we wanted to hit the revolving door,” said Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. “We didn’t want a county commissioner to lobby their own county commissioners.”

The local officials would be allowed to communicate with the same body they served if employed by that body or another public body or agency.

That bill, too, drew criticism from Atkinson and Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, who referenced a former Douglas County commissioner, Jacques Etchegoyhen. After leaving office, Etchegoyhen formed a company to protect ranch land in the scenic Carson Valley.

Settelmeyer said he believes AB 438 “would have prevented my friend” from working with the county commission to save 20,000 acres of agricultural land from development.

Atkinson said delaying lobbying opportunities does “an injustice in our own state” by limiting the “best and brightest” from participating in the government process after leaving office.

The committee took no action.


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