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Nonpartisans to leave Research Division

For the most part in state government, agency heads come and go, but the work goes on pretty much uninterrupted.

Research Director Bob Erickson and Chief Deputy Fred Welden hope that’s exactly what happens when they leave the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Research Division later this month.

“If we did our job, that’s what will happen,” said Welden.

But they can be forgiven if they are missed more than personally. Between them, they built LCB research from three researchers and a couple of secretaries to a 33-member unit that handles more than 7,000 requests for research and information annually – staffing all but the money committees during the Legislature and nearly all interim studies.

When Erickson and Welden leave, they take with them a combined 50 years of institutional history.

The two were recruited separately by the state Lands Division 30 years ago. Erickson, 60, came from California, where he received his master’s degree in geology from Fresno State University; and Welden, 56, from Texas, where he received his master’s in resource planning from Texas Tech.

They moved to the Legislative Counsel Bureau at about the same time in the late 1970s, and have been director and deputy director respectively since 1984.

The Legal Division handles requests for legal research and opinions and writes proposed legislation. It negotiates fiscal deals on budgetary, financial and economic issues. In a nutshell, Research handles everything else members of the Legislature want or need to know about.

Erickson describes the division’s span as “soup to nuts.”

When they started, the only staff actually sitting in committee with lawmakers were two fiscal analysts in the money committees. Erickson said he began sitting in the Natural Resources Committee when Sen. Norm Glaser, an Elko County Democrat, said he wanted support during hearings on such things as the “Sagebrush Rebellion.”

Erickson said it wasn’t long before he noticed Glaser turned his hearing aid off during some of those hearings, relying on him to take notes and keep him advised.

“So the initial reason for staff was so the chairman could turn off his hearing aid,” joked Welden.

While Erickson worked on the Sagebrush Rebellion, Welden was responsible for much of the staff work in negotiating the Tahoe Regional Compact. Gov. Bob List commented at the time there might not have been a Tahoe Regional Planning Compact without Welden. He was instrumental in developing the state’s ethics legislation for public officials.

Welden said their job is to “filter and balance” so lawmakers get the information they need to make a decision on any issue.

“We don’t decide for them,” he said.

Staff also reviews documents to compile information on issues lawmakers will deal with in committee meetings and detailed records of what happened in each hearing.

Erickson and Welden were instrumental in developing expanded bill summaries, the floor statements explaining legislation before each vote, and material for floor statements by individual legislators on any topic. They also created the system of work sessions where lawmakers hammer out the final form of legislation in committee – in public rather than some back room.

Erickson and Welden say a primary concern has been to maintain professional neutrality.

“We serve both parties, both houses and all 63 legislators,” said Welden.

“Down deep in their hearts, they think we have a leaning because they can’t understand how anybody can be nonpartisan,” said Erickson. “But that’s what we are. We put together the pros and the cons.”