End of 2005 session comes haltingly | NevadaAppeal.com

End of 2005 session comes haltingly

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, asks questions in a late-night committee hearing Monday as lawmakers hammer out the final details of a Department of Motor Vehicles fees rebate. Cathleen Allison Nevada Appeal

With less than two hours left on the clock, lawmakers found a compromise on the tax rebate. But a first-conference committee composed of leadership from both houses deadlocked over how to fix the Millennium Scholarship program.

That dispute left doubt whether the session would be able to adjourn by midnight Pacific Standard Time – 1 a.m. Carson City time – as required by the state constitution.

The issue was whether to limit the credits a student could take under the program to 12 per semester. There is no limit at present, but Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said Treasurer Brian Krolicki told legislators without that limit, there is no way the program can survive financially more than three years.

Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said the credits limit prevents a student from graduating in four years. She said legislative staff says the program would survive through 2013 without the limit.

Senators did agree to remove the requirement that Millennium scholars have a Social Security number. But in conceding it, Beers set the tone for the meeting by saying, “We concede the Assembly’s point to offer the scholarship to illegal aliens.”

Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, ended the meeting a few minutes later, calling their members to their respective floor sessions.

They convened a second conference committee 20 minutes later, but held it behind closed doors – in violation of rules requiring conference committees be open to the public.

That committee reportedly was near a compromise of allowing students to use the scholarship for 15 credits their first year. They could continue doing so if they achieved 3.25 grade-point average or higher, but if they fell below that, they would be limited to 12 credits using the scholarship.

That deal had not been confirmed at press time.

Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, and Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, confirmed the Department of Motor Vehicle rebates will be based on vehicle registration rather than driver’s licenses, as per Gov. Kenny Guinn’s plan. But they said he agreed every check would be at least $75, and to reduce the maximum rebate per vehicle to $275, instead of $300.

Buckley said the original plan was unfair to well over 100,000 Nevadans who would get checks less than $25 – some as low as $1.

The deal also eliminates rebates to 120,000 registered trailers, rental fleets and all vehicles heavier than 26,000 pounds.

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The state budget, however, was put together and headed for final action well ahead of the deadline

The total spending plan, including state, federal and all other money, comes to just about $15 billion.

General fund spending in the budget – money from the state treasury – totals just over $5.8 billion. That includes about $3.7 billion in the Appropriations Act, $1.55 billion in the Distributive School Account, $138 million to cover state worker pay raises, $262 million for class-size reduction and more than $80 million for construction and maintenance.

A series of smaller appropriations, including more than $20 million for mental health courts, crisis beds and residential beds in Southern Nevada, makes up the rest of the $5.8 billion plus.

When Highway Fund money is added in, the total is $6 billion.

The biggest pot of money, however, is the Authorizations Act: non-state, mostly federal money which totals $8.84 billion.

In addition, lawmakers have committed to spend more than $750 million in one-time surplus funds, bond money and other revenues. That includes the $300 million tax rebate, $71 million pumped into the state’s Rainy-Day Fund and about $320 million in capital construction and maintenance projects, plus $36 million to beef up the Millennium Scholarship program.

One remaining issue was Buckley’s bill to assist Nevadans needing prescription medications in finding safe and much cheaper Canadian pharmacies. She said SB195 could save people up to 50 percent on pharmaceuticals in some cases. It remained on the desk at press time.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.