A road map for the Legislature | NevadaAppeal.com

A road map for the Legislature

Nevada Appeal editorial board

The Nevada Supreme Court says it can’t decide whether state-government employees can serve in the Legislature, but it might be able to decide whether members of the Legislature can work in state government.

Well, that’s helpful.

For those of us who aren’t attorneys, the ruling this week sounds like typical legal mumbo-jumbo which would tend to obfuscate an already murky issue. Ultimately, however, it does provide the road map to sort out the question – although probably not in the clear-cut, satisfying way we would prefer.

The court’s opinion was founded on the power in the Nevada Constitution for the state Senate and Assembly to determine exactly who is qualified to serve in the Legislature. Therefore, justices said, it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the court to usurp that authority.

The court could, if a case were brought to it, determine the issue the other way around, though. Theoretically, it could decide that a state employee has a conflict of interest if also serving in the Legislature.

The solution, however, appears to be a clear definition by the Senate and Assembly of conflict of interest. It could be strict (no state employee may serve in the Legislature), or it could be lenient (no legislator may vote on bills directly affecting his or her paycheck).

It’s likely, however, the definition will fall somewhere in between. That means potential conflicts – Carson City Assemblyman Ron Knecht is an economist for the Public Utilities Commission, for example – will have to be examined case by case.

We’ve seen the difficulties in sorting through such thickets – witness Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins’ navigation of the Hatch Act – and expect it could remain an issue for years to come.

With the justices’ opinion in hand, we can expect at least a few of those issues to be decided in court.