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Crunch time near at Nevada Legislature

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press

Crunch time is fast approaching at the Nevada Legislature as lawmakers begin week 15 of the regular session Monday with only three weeks to go.

The week will also bring a hefty dose of politics, with a court hearing scheduled Thursday in Carson City over whether political parties should pick their candidates to run in a special election to fill Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District seat left vacant when Republican Rep. Dean Heller was appointed to the U.S. Senate to replace John Ensign.

Secretary of State Ross Miller said the special election would be open to anyone. The state Republican Party wants to narrow the field to prevent a repeat of last year’s U.S. Senate primary, when a dozen candidates sought the nomination and tea party-backed Sharron Angle won with 40 percent of votes cast. Angle lost to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid in November.

At the Legislature, lawmakers face a third big deadline Friday, when any bills not otherwise exempt must pass out of the committee in the second house or they fail. That means committees in both the Senate and Assembly will be holding marathon meetings throughout the week to tidy up unfinished business.

Measures that survive Friday’s deadline then have a week to clear floor votes.

Democrats plan more hearings on two major tax bills that face an uncertain future. SB491 seeks to phase out the existing modified business tax and replace it with a margin tax based on business revenue. The bill won key endorsements Friday from the powerful Nevada Resort Association and the Nevada Mining Association, both of which have called for a broader-based tax structure to insulate the state from economic volatility.

The bill would also extend about $700 million in temporary taxes passed by the 2009 Legislature that are set to expire June 30.

Another component of the tax package is AB569, which would impose a 1 percent transaction tax on services.

Meanwhile, a Nevada advocacy group is organizing a massive campout at the Legislature to push lawmakers to raise taxes. Progress Now Nevada is planning to camp on the Carson City campus from Monday to Wednesday to bring attention to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to schools and other services.

Inside the legislative building, the Senate Government Affairs Committee on Monday will consider bills dealing with state contractors and the Open Meeting Law, while the Assembly Government Affairs panel may take up an amendment to a collective bargaining bill, SB98.

Senate Education will consider AB393, requiring criminal background checks when teachers renew their licenses; and AB117, which would allow school district to shorten the school year by up to 0 days if it would prevent layoffs during times of fiscal emergencies.

The Assembly Committee on Education, meanwhile, hears testimony at SB230, which would ban trans fats in Nevada public schools .

On Tuesday, The Senate Judiciary hears AB143 dealing with concealed weapons permits and AB149, which involves affidavits needed to file medical malpractice lawsuits.

Senate Legislative Operations and Elections hears AB260, requiring more training for new lawmakers; AJR5, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to call itself into special session under limited circumstances. Currently, only the governor can call a special session.

The committee will also hold a work session and possible votes on SB206, requiring lobbyist reports when the Legislature is not in session; and SRJ9, another proposed constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote in both houses to decrease revenues or reserves, or imposed unfunded mandates on local governments.

Assembly Ways and Means will consider several bills on renewable energy programs, energy auditors and energy assistance programs.

A sweeping campaign finance reform bill backed by the secretary of state will be discussed Wednesday by Senate Legislative Operations and Elections. The panel will also discuss AB501 authorizing a study on costs associated with the death penalty.

Agendas for later in the week were not yet posted Friday afternoon on the Legislature’s website.