Fears of special session growing
With less than two days to go in the regular session, Senate leaders and some veteran lobbyists are questioning whether majority Democrats can adjourn the 2013 Legislature by Monday night.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, pointed out that none of the five budget bills that close everything down has received a vote in either house and that one — the Distributive School Account bill that funds K-12 education — wasn’t drafted until late Saturday. A separate measure that extends hundreds of millions in tax sunsets to balance Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget also is in limbo, Roberson said.
“We have serious concerns about ending this on time,” he said, referring to the GOP caucus.
The situation was further complicated by the absence of Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas. She took an emergency flight south Friday night to be with her husband, who is gravely ill with cancer. That erased, at least temporarily, the one-vote majority Democrats have in the Senate.
Late Saturday, however, there was word her husband’s condition was more stable and the senator might return to the Legislature today.
“I think they’ve got a tough row to hoe,” said lobbyist Ray Bacon, who represents the Nevada Manufacturers Association. “They can get the budget stuff done pretty fast.”
But he said other issues, including the renewable-energy bills, still need a lot of work to ensure they don’t hurt consumers.
“They can get it done, but that will leave a lot on the board,” said veteran lobbyist Jim Wadhams. He, too, said the energy bills may be a sticking point.
Most other bills can be left behind without serious problems for the state, Wadhams said.
George Flint, who has lobbied in the Legislature since 1963, said he thinks inexperienced leadership is the problem.
“Leadership is young and green enough they don’t know how to shut it down,” he said. He said Senate Finance Chairwoman Debbie Smith, who chaired Ways and Means two years ago and has a dozen years of legislative experience, is the exception.
“I’ve got the feeling that at 11:30 Monday night, somebody is going to say, ‘What are we going to do now?’” Flint said.
But Democratic leaders at both ends expressed confidence they will finish by the end of day 120 — midnight Monday.
“It’ll get done,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. “Of course, something could go off course, but we’ll get it done.”
Denis effectively emphasized his lack of concern about the deadline by telling his membership he wasn’t starting business until noon today to give people the opportunity to attend church.
On the Assembly side, no meetings were scheduled before noon today.
Asked about the lack of progress on the budget bills, Denis said, “All these were already heard in committee, so they’re just coming down here to go out.”
“We won’t let you down,” said Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.
She expressed her confidence in getting the job done by spending time honoring several termed-out members of the Assembly on the floor Saturday evening.
But more than one person said that, behind closed doors, Kirkpatrick was growing frustrated with the slow pace in the Senate.
The Appropriations Act, Capital Improvement Projects bill and Employee Pay Bill have all been introduced in that house. Neither the Authorizations Act nor the K-12 Education bill had been introduced in the Senate late Saturday.
Smith was confident, saying the Authorizations Act was to be introduced Saturday evening and that the education bill was being drafted and would be introduced today.
As of late Saturday, the Senate Finance Committee still had not taken action on SB475, a bill that would extend for another two years taxes that otherwise will expire June 30. Revenue from extending the taxes is included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $6.5 billion general fund spending plan. But the bill also includes more breaks from the state’s Modified Business Tax for Nevada businesses — a provision that doesn’t sit well with some members of the Democratic leadership.
It wasn’t clear Saturday whether Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, had won his fight to add $6 million back into the budgets for Western Nevada College and Great Basin Community Colleges. He promised a “no” vote on the budget unless those campuses were saved from additional cuts of 11 percent next year and 15 percent the following year.
The energy measures were to be heard this afternoon in the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, and Bacon said three of the four need changes. He also suggested that the best alternative for consumers might be that they don’t get passed.
Among the energy proposals many lawmakers are pushing is the one that would shutter NV Energy’s two coal-fired generating plants in favor of more eco-friendly developments. The problem is the provisions removing the utility from control of the Public Utility Commission in making those decisions.
Bacon said the priorities should be protecting ratepayers and ensuring the utility doesn’t escape oversight.
Kirkpatrick’s Live Entertainment Tax bill also is still in the mix. She pulled back on the idea of taxing all recreational activities. The measure hasn’t yet had a hearing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.