Size of freshman class spurs lawmaker training
Historically, members of the freshman class in each Legislative session have been pretty much on their own to figure out how things work, how to get things done. It’s a sink or swim world.
But the 2011 session freshman class, in large part because of term limits, is much larger than normal. More than 20 senators and assembly members are new to the process and, because of the turnover, a number of them are in positions of power freshmen normally don’t get.
A good example is the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said in a normal session, two, maybe three members would be new – and probably none of them would be freshmen. This session, 10 of the 15 members have never served on the money committees before and four are freshmen.
Term limits also produced a large turnover in the Senate where half the faces are new. But most of them moved up from the Assembly and have legislative experience. Only three are true freshmen.
Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the large number of new members prompted leadership to order much more extensive training than in the past. New and continuing members were offered several sessions on how to conduct themselves on the floor and in committee before session started.
“We did much more extensive pre-session training,” he said.
They also are getting more intensive warnings as different steps in the legislative process approach. The first of those is Monday’s deadline for individual lawmakers to introduce legislation. Any bill by an individual legislator not introduced by the close of business Monday is dead unless leadership grants it an exemption.
Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, warned the body earlier in the week about that deadline, cautioning members to make sure they respond to questions by legal staff about their requested legislation so their bill drafts can be finalized.
Malkiewich said that is followed quickly by the second major deadline a week later – the deadline for committee introductions.
After that, Malkiewich said the policy committees have to buckle down and plow through upwards of 500 bills in the 18 days until April 15 when legislation is required to pass out of committee in the house of origin. Again, bills that don’t make it are dead.
None of those deadlines, incidentally, apply to budget bills.
Smith said in the past, leadership could give freshmen the opportunity to take their time learning the ropes.
“When I was new on committee, I didn’t feel there was any real training,” she said. “We don’t have that luxury now.”
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said there was a concerted effort to make sure the new members could “hit the ground running.”
He said because so many freshmen must get up to speed quickly as deadlines approach, more training is being conducted during the session as well.
Ways and Means members got a sample of that Monday when Assembly Fiscal Analyst Rick Combs presented what amounts to Budget Closing 101 – a review of the process in which the committee works out and votes on changes to the governor’s proposed budgets after hearing testimony on them.
Oceguera said there are also plans to brief new members about the process as bills passed by the house of origin move through the second house.
Oceguera and Smith said even though there should be far fewer freshman members in 2013, the enhanced training schedule for members will be made permanent. Oceguera has introduced legislation, which would mandate newly elected lawmakers take training before the start of future sessions and Smith said she completely supports that proposal.
“It’s something I feel very passionate about,” she said.