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Jon Ralston On The First Two Weeks Of The Legislature

Casey Morell

The pleasantries of the first day are over and we’re two weeks into the Nevada’s legislative session.

The session is only four months long and happens every two years. In those four months, the legislature can make decisions that affect almost every aspect of your life, from how much you pay for parking tickets to property taxes to school funding to policing.

Jon Ralston, founder of The Nevada Independent news website, has been covering state lawmakers for many years. He talked to KNPR's State of Nevada about the first two weeks of the legislative session and more. 

Discussion Highlights:

You just published a blockbuster of a story on your website. A basic synopsis is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson asked Attorney General Adam Laxalt to file a brief supporting his view in a lawsuit and investigation of the Las Vegas Sands. Laxalt said he would go to the head of the Gaming Control Board about the investigation. The head of the board A.G. Burnett agreed to the meeting and secretly taped the conversation. He turned the recordings over to the FBI, which decided that there was no crime. But there are questions about whether it was okay for the attorney general to do this.

Will this have an impact on Laxalt’s political future, which is expected to include a run for governor?

Ralston: Of course the Democrats are all over that angle and of course the people defending Laxalt are saying this is only coming out now – this happened almost a year ago – because he’s put his name out there for governor. I think it is way premature to say that it’s going to derail him.

This is the kind of political reaction that’s to be expected: Republicans being defensive, Democrats smelling blood. Laxalt is a formidable candidate so the Democrats are going to do everything they can to fan the flames of this story. I’m not surprised.     

You had an opinion piece in the Nevada Independent expressing some reservations about the session:

I called it the ‘wasted session’ only because the Democrats seem intent on jamming through things that are going to put Republicans on their heels and maybe force the governor into vetoing bills…

The only way that this session can “work” is if the Democrats make deals with the governor. That is the governor will accept certain things and not veto them. And that the Democrats will accept certain things and will either pass or not pass things that are palatable to the governor.  

There’s a push to phase in, over several years, a boost in the minimum wage. The Culinary Union favors it, but added that their members make an average of $23 per hour already. Is this an issue that state Democrats will go to the mat over?

They may go to the mat over it but it’s not going to matter much if the governor’s going to veto it. The real issue of this session is can the speaker, Jason Frierson, and the senate majority leader, Aaron Ford, make deals with the governor: ‘we’re going to pass this, will you sign it?’ If all they care about is pandering to their base and saying: ‘look what we did for you, we passed this, only to have the governor veto it.’ That’s not leadership that’s posturing.

Voters said yes to energy deregulation, they have to say yes again in 2018 for it to become law. It’s sold as a way to lower energy costs. But NV Energy testified it could lead to problems. How so?

It’s one thing to say it’s great to have energy choice and it may be, but if it’s not done correctly… then people could pay higher prices. They could walk into their houses and the lights don’t go on. It’s a much more complicated issues as most issues are but especially energy.

The bottom line is this is a very, very complicated issue and you’re going to see a lot of competing proposals and ideas. The real issue here is whether the Legislature wants to let that ballot question, which passed with a huge margin, go on the ballot again. It has to pass twice to become law or head it off by passing some legislation.

There is lots of disagreement over property taxes. A proposal would mandate that property taxes increase a minimum of 3 percent annually for residential taxes. A state cap approved in 2005 to combat skyrocketing home values and taxes says taxes cannot go above 3 percent. Give me your best guess on what happens with property taxes.

The Republicans, especially [Michael] Roberson and some others, see an advantage here in portraying the Democrats as wanting a tax increase even though irony is that the Republican legislature passed the largest tax increase in history last time.

Jon Ralston, The Nevada Independent 

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