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Legislative Counsel Bureau to decide state worker-legislator issue

by Geoff Dornan

The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the Legislative Counsel Bureau to respond to Attorney General Brian Sandoval’s petition designed to settle whether public employees can also be legislators.

Sandoval filed the petition just before 5 p.m. Friday, arguing if the court agrees state executive branch workers should be barred from also serving as lawmakers, then the five legislators in that situation should be removed from office.

An attorney general’s opinion last month says state workers cannot also serve as lawmakers because of the separation of powers mandates built into Nevada’s Constitution. The counsel bureau and the attorney general’s office, since the 1970s, have said local government employees can at the same time serve as legislators.

The counsel bureau has advised for the past few years that state employees can serve, but state officers cannot serve, according to an opinion requested most recently at the beginning of the 2003 session at the request of Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick.

Sandoval’s petition, filed on behalf of Secretary of State Dean Heller, who serves as the state’s chief elections officer, says the issue must be resolved before the opening of filing for candidacy for those offices in May.

The legislators who also serve as state employees are Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor; Republican Assembly members Jason Geddes of Reno, a University of Nevada, Reno employee, and Ron Knecht of Carson City, a Public Utilities Commission employee; and Las Vegas Democratic Assembly members Chris Giunchigliani and Mark Manendo, both employed by Community College of Southern Nevada.

Sandoval also asked the court to rule whether local government and school district employees should be allowed to serve even though both his and the counsel bureau opinions said there was no conflict with separation of powers in that case since they are local, not state employees. There are several local government employees in the Legislature including Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, who is that city’s deputy chief of police.

Chief Justice Miriam Shearing Monday directed the Legislative Counsel Bureau to respond to the petition.

“Having reviewed the petition, it appears that petitioner has set forth issues of arguable merit and that petitioner may have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law,” the wrote. She ordered the counsel bureau to respond by May 5.

Contact Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.