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With 6 Weeks Left, Tempers Begin To Flare In The Legislature

As Nevada's bi-annual Legislature blazes toward its end six weeks from now, tempers are beginning to flare as a number of controversial bills come up for votes.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius talked to KNPR's State of Nevada about those bills and votes, or lack thereof. 

By now everyone knows Republicans are the majority party in the Assembly and Senate and our governor is a Republican. As such, Republicans have power to squelch any dissent or angry debate. Yet anger came through over a bill that would have given children of military veterans preference. Tell us about that bill and what happened earlier this week?

We’re getting to the part of the session now where the partisan differences are starting to show and this was a bill by St. Sen. Patricia Spearman, who is a veteran herself, questions were raised about the bill because the military has child care currently. Spearman did some research and discovered in Nevada national guard, Nellis Air Force Base have waiting list for their child care. So she wanted a bill that would give priority into private child care for people who have been killed in action or people who were missing in action. Some questions arose, specifically from St. Sen. Greg Brower, who is a veteran himself. It ended up with Spearman calling Brower a liar, and in terms of senate debate, it was pretty intense.

It doesn’t sound like a controversial bill?

You would think that something like that would be relatively non-controversial and would pass with flying colors and Brower said ‘I just have questions about this bill and when my questions are answered I’ll be more than happy to support it, assuming the answers are acceptable to me.’ Sen. Spearman was insistent on getting a vote on this bill and she did not get that vote.

But really you gotta look beyond the subject matter to the authorship. This is a democratic bill. Sen. Spearman is also the author of an alternative tax plan that distracted a little bit of attention from the governor’s plan, which doesn’t make her a the most popular person with the republicans leadership and so this kinda thing is the result is of that.

Democratic Senator Tick Segerblom had a bill to begin the process to end term limits. Is relatively quick turnover – term limits say no one can be in office more than three terms – is that the reason so many questionable bills have been proposed this session?

I think a lot of the bills brought up in this session have been brought up by freshman not familiar with the process or sophomores, who know the process, but just have some crazy ideas that they wanted to try to enact into law.

But certainly when you lose veteran lawmakers you lose institutional knowledge that comes in a specific subject. I think of Randolph Townsend and NV Energy issue. The man is an encyclopedia of that issue and knows about it and would be much more qualified to sit in judgement of bills on that subject than someone who just got there and who just has to get the lay of the land.

Segerblom made the argument that it weakens the legislative branch which is already weak, meeting only 120 days every other year in comparison to the other two branches, which are full time. I got the sense that it was half-hearted effort that he didn’t really think his bill would go anywhere but certainly some of the other senators that were there, Greg Brower, St. Sen. Patricia Farely, the chairwoman, seemed to be amenable to it. So I was surprised it didn’t come up before the deadline that passed last week.

Democrats killed a bill to allow ride-sharing company Uber operate in Nevada. They were angry, reports say, because Republicans would not allow debate on amendments they wanted – this included requiring criminal back ground checks on drivers and regulation of pricing. The bill may come back. But is this a sign that Republican tactics of squelching debate is starting to backfire?

The democrats were quite upset about this one. They tried to pull this bill off the agenda for voting and bring it for purposes of amendment. The republicans voted that down. That is typically a very routine matter that neither party objects to but in this case the republicans did not agree to have those amendments. St. Sen. Aaron Ford tried to bring them to the floor when the measure came up for a final vote. He was voted down in both of those cases.

It really is a sign that democrats are getting fed up. This is an important bill as St. Sen. James Settelmeyer, who was the committee chairman that processed this bill, said ‘look technology has changed this is needed in the state of Nevada.’ He compared the Legislature to people who were defending candle makers from this new-fangled invention the light bulb, if they didn’t approve it.

A lot of that rhetoric is getting caught up but the tensions are certainly starting to show.

This is something where Republicans need Democratic votes because this is tax increase, so it has to have a super majority. Is there any sign Republicans may allow debate on amendments Democrats want?

I think at this point they’re probably going to have to, because as you pointed out you can do one of two things: You can amend the bill and take out this 25 cent fee that would have gone to the highway fund. Nevada would have been the only state in the country that would have charged Uber a fee to support the highway fund. But if that item was amended out of the bill it could pass with a simple a majority.

There are two ways you go: The republicans can at least allow debate on the amendments St. Sen. Ford wanted to bring or they could amend the bill but one of the two those things is going to need to happen, if we’re going to get Uber regulation. And I think the powers-that-be want Uber regulation to pass sometime in this session and I think it probably will.

Why wouldn’t Republicans allow debate on this?

We’ve kinda seen a trend here the republicans are in charge, and let’s be honest, there’s no question that when the democrats were in charge they threw their weight around just as much as the republicans are doing now. They stifled just as much debate. They didn’t hear bills that republicans wanted to hear and there is a certain amount of payback that is going on.

Second of all St. Sen. Michael Roberson has the majority leader as set a tone early on, I think, with shutting down debate on other issues to basically say ‘look we’re in charge now. This house is going to function differently than it has in the past and this is how it is going to be under new management.’

You have those two factors going on. But I think democrats are saying ‘we realize yeah we did some of these things but at least in the past there was a certain amount of give and take between the two parties but we’re just asking for that.’ So, it’s not an entirely one sided thing and there’s probably fault on both sides going back many years.    

Steve Sebelius, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.