2017 Nevada Legislature opens Monday
Lawmakers both new and veteran had better be ready to hit the ground running on Monday.
The 79th session of the Legislature will get off to a fast start, introducing more than 200 bills and resolutions on the first day.
That will enable committees at both ends of the building to start hearing those measures on day two of the 120-day session — a major change from the past when, often, committees had to wait a couple of weeks before they had enough bills to justify hearings.
In addition, this time around lawmakers were required to provide details about what they wanted in their legislation before they could officially request the bill. Too often in the past, they simply filed requests saying something like “Makes various changes to elections,” without saying what they wanted the bill to accomplish.
Speaker Jason Frierson of Las Vegas will gavel the Assembly to order at 11 a.m. Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison will call the Senate at noon.
The pomp and formalities along with time for legislators to introduce their families and friends will take about 90 minutes, after which all those bills will be introduced and referred to committee en masse.
Where in 2015 Republicans held majorities in the Senate and Assembly, this session, Democrats control both houses.
A big difference this session is unlike the past four Legislatures, there’s some money to spend. Mind you, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommended budget pretty much spends every available dollar – a total of $8.1 billion in General Fund revenue. That is some 10 percent more than the current General Fund budget of $7.3 billion.
The total budget when General Fund, federal, highway fund and other sources are added together is a hair more than $26 billion for the biennium.
Finance Director Jim Wells said during an overview of the proposed budget for lawmakers “there are very few places where there are actual reductions in spending.”
Certain to generate a battle is the attempt by the Sandoval and Republican lawmakers to resurrect the school vouchers program that was killed when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled its funding source unconstitutional.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, the driving force behind last session’s Educational Savings Accounts bill, has already thrown down the gauntlet saying without the vouchers program, he won’t support the budget. Majority Leader Aaron Ford of Las Vegas has said he doubts any senator will vote for the vouchers program.
Sandoval included $60 million to fund the program in his budget.
Another controversial proposal is the bill to eliminate the death penalty in Nevada.
There have been serious questions raised by Sandoval’s reliance on nearly $100 million in taxes from medical and recreational marijuana to balance the education budgets. Lawmakers said they have serious concerns the Trump administration might clamp down on recreational marijuana, eliminating that revenue stream.
In addition, there are concerns over what the Trump Administration might do to the Affordable Care Act — specifically the expanded Medicaid eligibility. Cutting the funding without changing the rules could dump huge costs on Nevada’s Medicaid program.
In addition, some lawmakers have already said they want legislation to ensure cuts by the Trump Administration don’t deny women the right to reproductive coverage including access to abortion.
There isn’t likely to be much opposition to the governor’s proposed 2 percent a year pay raises for state workers. That will be their first actual pay raise in eight years since the current budget’s raises were eaten up completely by the increase in the retirement system premiums.
Between unpaid furlough days, elimination of longevity pay and step increases among other cuts, many of those workers saw their take home pay cut 30 percent during the recession.
Sandoval also proposed a one-grade increase for the state’s correctional officers and IT professionals. That’s worth about 5 percent more pay.
COs routinely get hired away by Metro in the south and Washoe County in the north once they pass probation. Director of Corrections James Dzurenda told lawmakers he’s proposing legislation that would require the state be reimbursed for correctional officer training if those officers leave too soon after probation. He didn’t provide details of how that would work.
The state loses IT professionals because they simply aren’t paid what their counterparts in the private sector and local government make.
To handle all those and other issues are 63 lawmakers, a roster that includes four new senators and 17 new Assembly members. But several of those aren’t true freshmen since they’re coming back after a lapse in elected service.
The Senate Finance Committee gets to work promptly at 8 a.m. Tuesday with a review of the Public Employees Retirement System budget. That won’t be a heavy lift this year since, unlike two years ago, PERS isn’t asking for an increase in the employee contribution rate.
While most Senate committees will meet Tuesday, on the Assembly side, only Ways and Means is scheduled and just for an organizational session to get new members up to speed on how the process of reviewing the budget works.
Assembly committees get under way on Wednesday.
Under the constitution, the Legislature must adjourn by midnight June 5 — the 120th calendar day of session.