Many Proposals To Amend Nevada Constitution, Including School Vouchers, Fail To Advance In Legislature

CARSON CITY – Efforts in the Legislature to amend Nevada’s constitution failed for the most part to move forward today as a deadline hit to get measures passed out of committee.

Measures creating a lottery, repealing the minimum wage and allowing tax dollars to be spent on religious schools all failed to advance.

One of the most significant failures came on the issue of vouchers for religious schools. Two measures, including one introduced by Gov. Brian Sandoval, did not make it out of committee by the deadline.

Sandoval has advocated for the change to allow for the use of tax dollars by parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state constitution currently bans the use of tax money for sectarian purposes. His measure would have clarified that using tax money to educate children in religious schools would not violate this prohibition.

But Sandoval’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, did not even get a hearing in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee by the deadline.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, a separate measure by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, had a hearing Tuesday but never came up for a vote in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. It would also have amended the constitution to allow tax dollars to be spent on the education of children in religious schools.

While a number of parents spoke in support of his measure, public school officials and the state teachers union were opposed.

Roberson said he appreciated the Democrat-controlled Senate holding a hearing on his proposal, but was not surprised that it did not come up for a vote.

“The Democratic Party is in the majority, and so many of these folks, their core supporters are the public sector unions,” he said. “They’re being asked to hear legislation and vote for legislation that one of their core constituencies is vehemently opposed to.

“Frankly I think it is shameful that they won’t even consider a vote in the committee on SJR10,” Roberson said. “But they are in the majority and that is their prerogative.”

Roberson said the discussion of school choice will not go away. If Republicans can win another seat in the state Senate in 2012 they will be in the majority, and proposals such as school vouchers will be brought forward again.

“So this is the opening salvo,” he said. “We’re not finished by a long shot.”

Amending the state constitution is not an easy task. Any legislative proposal to change it requires passage in two consecutive sessions, then a vote by the public. So if any pass this session, they will have to be approved by lawmakers again in 2013 and then approved by the voters in 2014 before they could take effect.

Most of the proposed amendments failed to survive the deadline.

A proposal to establish a lottery in Nevada to fund education failed to advance. The proposal has come up in numerous legislative sessions over the years but has never been successful.

Also failing to win a committee vote was a proposal from Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, to repeal Nevada’s minimum wage law.

At a hearing earlier this session, Hardy argued Nevada’s law, which sets the minimum wage at typically one dollar above the federal level, has reduced hiring by restaurants and other businesses that rely on unskilled workers.

The measure was criticized by labor representatives who argued Nevada voters approved the current law and the Legislature should not attempt to override the will of the people.

A few of the proposed constitutional amendments remain alive, including Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would remove the separate tax rate and assessment method established for Nevada’s mining industry. The proposal was given a waiver from the deadline by lawmakers.

If ultimately approved, it would allow the Legislature to set new tax rates for the industry, which has been the focus of some lawmakers this session looking for additional revenue to help fund the operation of state government and education.

Another measure sought by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to impose an unfunded mandate on local governments, is exempted and so remains alive. The idea was embraced by local government officials at a hearing earlier this week.

Lee said the time involved in getting an amendment to the constitution approved should give lawmakers and the executive branch enough time to get the state’s finances in order before it could take effect.

“We owe them the responsibility of running a good state,” he said.

Also still active is Assembly Joint Resolution 2, which would provide for annual sessions of the Nevada Legislature. The Legislature now meets every two years.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says he is not surprised his measure did not come up for a vote:

041511Roberson1 :09 public sector unions.”

Roberson says core Democrat supporters are opposed to school vouchers:

041511Roberson2 :12 vehemently opposed to.”

Roberson says the debate over school choice is far from over:

041511Roberson3 :06 a long shot.”

Roberson says it is shameful the committee did not hold a vote on his measure:

041511Roberson4 :13 that’s their prerogative.”

Sen. John Lee says the time involved in getting his constitutional amendment approved will give the state time to get its finances in order:

041511Lee :10 own personal finances.”