Special session: Nevada to enter Race to the Top | NevadaAppeal.com

Special session: Nevada to enter Race to the Top

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

The Nevada Senate and Assembly both approved bills Wednesday eliminating a law that bars Nevada from applying for up to $175 million in federal education funds.

While the House voted unanimously to approve the measure, the Senate split 16-5, with conservative Republicans opposing.

The bill strikes language that barred teachers from being evaluated based on student performance. Because of it, Nevada could not compete with other states for $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top grants.

The new language says student performance “must be considered, but must not be used as the sole criterion, in evaluating the performance of or taking disciplinary action against an individual teacher, paraprofessional or other employee.”

But Senate Republicans said they were concerned that the language would make Nevada – the only state with the language – less competitive for the money.

Despite Senate GOP opposition, including a veto threat from Gov. Jim Gibbons, House Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said the bill was “a step in the right direction.”

“It’s an opportunity to improve our education system,” Gansert said.

Applications for the funding are due June 1. Nevada could not apply for the first phase of funding in January because of the previous law.

Also Wednesday, lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate rejected Gibbons’ proposal for a Michigan company to set up highway cameras to nab uninsured motorists and expired registrations,

an idea Gibbons said would have guaranteed the state $30 million but some lawmakers described as “wacky.”

The Senate and Assembly, meeting as committees of the whole, voted not to pursue bill drafts on the proposal.

After the Assembly vote, Gibbons issued a statement that said it was “incredible that the Assembly would prefer to consider even more tax increases over accepting a $30 million guaranteed revenue stream for simply enforcing an existing law.”

The Assembly also introduced two bills Wednesday, which leadership said would probably be non-controversial.

• AB1 directs businesses with at least 50 employees to automatically deduct child support payments from their worker paychecks and electronically transmit the money to the state. They were told that will save money by reducing the number of workers needed at the state Health and Human Services Department to process the checks. It passed unanimously and will be addressed by the Senate.

• AB2 removes restrictions in state law that require both state and local offices to be open at least five days a week. The measure is designed to allow public entities to assign workers to four 10-hour shifts a week if that will save the agency money. AB 2 will be voted on today.

The governor called lawmakers into special session Tuesday to find ways to plug a nearly $890 million budget gap. The session cost taxpayers $100,000 the first day, and $50,000 each day after that. The governor has said it will end by 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

Lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors with representatives of mining, casino and other business groups on new fees to try to spare deep cuts to public schools and higher education, but no bills have yet emerged.

• Nevada Appeal Reporter Geoff Dornan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.