Archive for May, 2011

Bill Requiring Posting Of State Financial Information On Controller’s Website Signed Into Law

By Sean Whaley | 2:53 pm May 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill requiring more of the state’s financial data to be posted online at the Controller’s office website has been signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Assembly Bill 276, sought by Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, will require the office to post data concerning the expenditures and revenues of the state, including a table displaying all revenues received during each month from certain sources; a table displaying all expenditures made each month for certain purposes; a graph displaying certain cumulative expenditures by month during the current biennium and the immediately preceding biennium; and additional information as well.

The bill received unanimous approval in both houses of the Legislature, and takes effect July 1, 2012. It was signed into law Sunday.

State Controller Kim Wallin already hosts financial on her website, as does Sandoval. Conklin, however, said in a hearing on the bill earlier this session that the current data-displays lack charts, graphs and year-by-year comparisons that his bill would require.

“Information is not readily available,” Conklin said. “It is very hard to find. … As some of you know in my private capacity, I do some economic research from time to time. … I can tell you from personal experience, finding good, usable consumable data is very, very difficult.”

Performance-Based Budgeting Bill Signed Into Law By Governor

By Sean Whaley | 1:59 pm May 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill implementing “performance-based” budgeting, including requirements for agencies to set benchmarks and goals and be held accountable for their spending priorities using quantifiable measurements, has been signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Assembly Bill 248, sponsored by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, passed both houses of the Legislature in unanimous votes. It was signed into law on Sunday.

The bill is part of a package of Democratic legislation to reform state government to make it more efficient, transparent, and accountable to Nevada’s taxpayers. The new budgeting process would replace the current practice of taking every agency budget approved by the Legislature and adding to it every session to accommodate rising caseloads, inflation and other cost increases.

“Performance-based budgeting is a proven approach to making government more efficient, accountable and making sure every taxpayer dollar is working harder and being spent wisely,” Smith said.

The bill also requires a governor’s budget prepared under the new guidelines to be posted on his official website, as well as on the Department of Administration website, as soon as practicable after the spending plan is transmitted to the Legislature.

The bill takes effect Oct. 1.


Health Insurance Transparency Bill Sees Final Legislative Approval, Heads To Governor

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill imposing more transparency on rate increases sought by health insurance companies is now on its way to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his review.

Assembly Bill 309, sought by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, requires health insurance companies to publicize their rate increase requests online and allows the public to participate in rate hearings before the Nevada Division of Insurance.

One supporter of the measure said the bill was weakened with the changes made by the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee but called it a good first step. The Assembly accepted the Senate amendment on Monday.

The bill passed the Assembly on a 33-9 vote, but saw only a 12-9 vote in the Senate. Democrats in the Senate were joined by Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, in supporting the bill.

“This legislation would improve health insurance transparency by requiring health insurance companies to publicize rate increases online and hold health insurance companies responsible by requiring them to publicize the information justifying rate increases,” Oceguera said. “AB309 would make Nevada the fourth state to allow its citizens to request public hearings on rate increases.”

The bill would also benefit Nevada’s health insurance consumers by allowing the state to apply for almost $4 million in additional federal funding for increased rate review and online transparency, he said.

It would require insurance companies to post rate hearing information on their websites. The Division of Insurance will be required to link to the information as well.

“I am pleased this legislation passed the Senate, and I urge the governor to sign this common sense legislation,” Oceguera said.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, called the amended bill a positive step.

“But we’ll have to do much better to make the health insurance industry’s actions and decisions transparent,” he said. “If we don’t, reforms can’t work. Over the next few years this may prove to be one of the most challenging aspects of health care reform. AB309 is a small step in the right direction.”

Matheis said more needs to be done to ensure the public knows what their health insurance policy actually covers and how premiums are used by the insurance companies.

The bill was amended to allow insurance companies to withhold some information deemed to be trade secrets.

“We took a step in this session, but it will have to be followed with much more in future sessions for the public to have any confidence that they can make meaningful decisions about health plans,” Matheis said.

Major Campaign Finance Reform Bills Pass Senate, Move Closer To Final Approval

By Sean Whaley | 11:12 pm May 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two major bills seeking reforms to and transparency in Nevada’s campaign finance laws won approval in the Senate today and now must await review in the Assembly before they can go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration.

The Senate approved amended versions of Assembly Bills 81 and 452 on the final day for action on policy bills in the Legislature. Lawmakers have a week remaining to finish their business.

The third major reform measure sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller, Assembly Bill 82, has already passed both houses of the Legislature but also awaits final legislative action.

The Assembly must still act on amendments to all three of the measures added by the Senate before the bills can go to the governor.

The vote on AB81 could spell trouble for its future, however. It passed on a party-line, 11-10 vote with Republicans opposed.

The vote on AB452 was 14-7, but was brought back for reconsideration on a second vote where it picked up unanimous support in the Senate.

There was no debate on the measures before the votes, which occurred during two different floor sessions during a long day at the Legislature.

Miller said he was pleased with the progress of the legislation, and that chances are good for major campaign finance reform this session.

“All three bills that deal with campaign finance transparency and election reform have passed both houses, so we just need to have them reconciled in the Assembly and then eventually have the governor sign them, so, very, very promising,” he said. “We won’t count our chickens before they are hatched, but a very good sign.

“I think collectively taken together this will take a substantial step forward in terms of campaign finance and election reform,” Miller said. “It has been clear for a long time that Nevadans deserve better. This will dramatically improve Nevada’s elections statutes.”

AB81 contains a provision restricting the creation of political action committees to circumvent limits on how much money can be contributed to a campaign as is now being reviewed in Rory Reid’s failed gubernatorial bid.

Miller’s office is investigating Reid’s use of 90 shell political action committees his campaign established to funnel $750,000 into his failed race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal.

Another section of the bill would allow for bigger financial penalties if a third-party group spends money in a Nevada campaign without filing the required disclosure information.

AB452 would require on-line filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates and require earlier reporting of the information so voters could review the data before casting their ballots.

Reports would be filed four days before early voting and would be updated to reflect any additional contributions and expenses four days prior to the primary and general elections.

It would also make the Secretary of State’s office the central repository for the campaign reports for all elections, as well as for financial disclosure statements required of candidates and elected officials. These reports would also be filed electronically.

The information would be maintained in a searchable database so the public could review the reports in a simple and comprehensive way.

In testimony before the panel earlier this session, Miller said: “A big part of the transparency we want to provide is letting voters know who is funding the campaigns. The reasons of course are obvious, and the need is equally obvious, even to those outside of Nevada.”

A provision in the bill requiring a two-year cooling-off period for former lawmakers to lobby the Legislature was deleted by the Senate Operations and Elections Committee. The provision, which also applied to other public officers, was seen as problematic for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

The prohibition had been sought by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Legislative Affairs and Operations Committee, supported the deletion in the Senate committee hearing, saying other sections of the measure were too important to lose.

AB82, which would allow a county to establish an electronic voter registration system, was amended to include a provision prohibiting candidates from accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

The amendment was sought by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in response to a controversy over a separate bill seeking to legalize Internet poker in Nevada. Several lawmakers received contributions from PokerStars, the foreign-based company seeking the measure. Most lawmakers receiving the contributions said they were unaware the company, based in the Isle of Man, was foreign.

Federal law prohibits contributions from foreign nationals, but Nevada’s law was not clear on the issue.

Audio clips:

Ross Miller says opportunity for campaign finance reform looks good in 2011 legislative session:

053011Miller1 :24 very good sign.”

Miller says three measures are a major step forward for transparency in Nevada’s election processes:

053011Miller2 :16 Nevada’s elections statutes.”


Attorney General Declines to Petition High Court as Budget Negotiations Continue at Legislature

By Elizabeth Crum | 5:11 pm May 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto will not follow through on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s request to ask the Nevada Supreme Court for clarification on Thursday’s ruling that the state cannot use $62 million it took from the Clean Water Coalition during the legislative special session in 2010.

A letter issued by Masto’s office said, “there is no procedural mechanism” for seeking a clarification of the high court’s decision.

The Nevada Rules of Appellate Procedure allow for a Petition for Rehearing, however the attorney general’s letter said, “no grounds exist” for such a motion.

Petitions for Rehearing are filed only in cases where the court has overlooked or misapprehended a material fact or when the court has overlooked, misapplied or failed to consider a statute or rule, the letter stated.

Sandoval, a former state attorney general, said he is “profoundly disappointed” in Masto’s decision and has “lost confidence” in her office, adviser and spokesman Dale Erquiaga said in statements Friday morning.

Masto responded with a statement later in the day saying she was “disappointed” that Sandoval chose “politicize” her legal advice.

“I understand the pressure the Governor is under to balance the state’s budget. I also recognize the fiscal crisis our state is in,” said Masto. “That’s why I am surprised the Governor chooses to create dissension between our offices rather than face the crisis at hand.”

The high court’s ruling raised questions about whether the governor’s proposed use of other sources of local money for state purposes are unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court decision … has far-reaching implications for how Nevada governors and legislatures will do business from this date forward,” Sandoval said in a statement Thursday.

Legislators had approved the funding shift in order to fill a budget gap, but broad applications of the high court’s ruling could mean the governor’s 2011-2012 budget is short by as much as $685 million.

As a result of the ruling, Sandoval must remove the $62 million from his budget. Gubernatorial legal advisers fear it may also mean the state cannot use another $247 million in school construction bond reserve money, $225 million in a voter-approved diversion of room taxes and roughly $83 million in property tax diversions.

In addition, an analysis done for a lobbying group and reported today in the Las Vegas Sun indicates the total monetary impact of the ruling could be over one billion dollars because of possibly questionable fund grabs in the current biennium’s budget.

It is unclear whether Sandoval will look for other ways to seek counsel or clarification on the court’s ruling, but limited time and options likely mean the key to sine die lies on the negotiating table.

Sandoval has said he will now agree to reauthorize at least some of the $679 million in taxes set to expire June 30, a position he previously eschewed.

Lawmakers are in negotiations over how to fund the governor’s budget. Trade-offs against the extension of some or all of the tax sunsets may include reforms to education, collective bargaining and public benefits.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, today said there is still no agreement on the size of the problem and that a final solution cannot be devised until all parties agree on the number.

Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, declined to speculate how close to an agreement lawmakers are on the budget and policy reforms, hinting that they are still far apart from a solution.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said today that current discussions include the possibility of putting a tax plan before voters that would go beyond extending the sunsets.

“I believe the voters should have a say in having a broad-based business tax that is fair and equitable and that that should be part of the discussions this legislature has as we finish all the rest of the budget discussions,” said Horsford.

“It’s been part of our talks from the very beginning of the session, and we are not backing off or stepping away from the need to reform our revenue code, which has not substantially changed since the 1950s, just like we agree that we need to have discussions on reform policy,” added Horsford.

Meetings between Sandoval and lawmakers of both parties continued today under pressure to reach an agreement on the budget with just nine days left until the legislative session is scheduled to end.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says voters should have a say on reforming Nevada’s tax policy:

052811Horsford1 :17 the budget decisions.”

Horsford says reforming the state’s revenue code has been part of the discussion since the beginning of the session:

052811Horsford2 :21 reform policies, so.”



‘Campus Carry’ Bill Wins Approval In Senate, Heads To Assembly

By Sean Whaley | 2:40 pm May 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill allowing Nevadans to carry concealed weapons on college campuses passed the Senate today and now heads to the Assembly for consideration as the legislative session draws to a close.

Senate Bill 231, sponsored by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, passed 15-6.

Current law prohibits anyone from carrying a concealed weapon on the property of the higher education system unless an individual has written permission from the president of the campus.

In testimony earlier this session, Lee said the bill would allow properly licensed concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holders to carry concealed weapons on the Nevada System of Higher Education campuses.

The bill was amended to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons at large campus events such as football games.

Lee said there are over 40,000 people nationally supporting this movement through the grassroots organization known as Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

“Nevada colleges and universities are labeled ‘gun-free zones,’ ” he said in his committee testimony. “I argue these zones are ‘defenseless-victim zones.’ Gun-free zones are often referred to as ‘criminal empowerment zones’ because they take away the ability for citizens to protect themselves.”

Also testifying for the bill earlier this session was Amanda Collins, who recounted an emotional story of her brutal assault at University of Nevada, Reno campus. Collins said she was defenseless when serial rapist and convicted murderer James Biela attacked her in a UNR parking garage and that having her weapon would have saved her from the assault.

Collins had a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but had left it at home knowing that it was illegal to carry her weapon onto campus.

Officials representing police departments throughout Nevada have opposed the bill, saying it would make campuses less safe if guns were to be allowed.

In a brief debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, argued against the bill, saying allowing students to carry guns will not make Nevada’s college campuses safer.

Leslie said criminologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, have analyzed the pros and cons of the bill and found that the arguments in favor do not hold up.

The assumption that armed students would prevent a Virginia Tech type of massacre is not accurate, she said.

“The typical mass murderer, however, in school shootings is often so mentally impaired that he is unable to make rational decisions,” Leslie said. “Many are already prepared to die for their acts so the supposed deterrence of armed students is of no use.”

There is no need for the bill, but there is much danger in it, she said.

In response, Lee said only trained and qualified individuals would be able to carry a gun under the law. Predators know that students are not able to protect themselves from attack, he said.

“There is nothing there that can allow these people who get out late at night after work to take these classes, security,” Lee said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Sheila Leslie says allowing guns on campuses won’t make students safer:

052811Leslie :19 of no use.”

Sen. John Lee says without the ability to carry a weapon, students are vulnerable to predators:

052811Lee :12 these classes, security.”



Gov. Sandoval Taking Two Pronged Approach To Addressing Potential $656 Million Budget Shortfall

By Sean Whaley | 5:35 pm May 27th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Sandoval administration is pursuing two paths in an effort to resolve a potentially massive budget shortfall, seeking clarification from the Nevada Supreme Court on the case that created the issue and working with lawmakers on potential additional revenues should they be necessary.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, briefed a number of interested parties on the developments since the state’s high court dropped the potential budget bombshell on the Legislature yesterday.

“The Supreme Court, in a rather dramatic decision, presented us with a math problem,” he said. “They didn’t present us with a crisis, and they didn’t present us with something insurmountable.”

In a decision rejecting the Legislature’s right to use $62 million from a Southern Nevada water fund to help balance the current budget, the court intimated that as much as $656 million proposed by Sandoval to be used in the upcoming budget could be legally unavailable.

Erquiaga said the first course of action was for Sandoval early this morning to ask Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to ask the court to clarify if its decision was narrowly focused on the $62 million clean water fund sweep, or if the decision should be interpreted more broadly to cover other proposed uses of local funds to help balance the governor’s proposed $6.1 billion spending plan.

“Again, did the court mean $62 million, or did the court mean to take the broadest interpretation possible, thus putting at risk an amount ten times that size, and really, forever changing the way we budget in the state of Nevada,” Erquiaga said.

“These revenue mechanisms have been used for anyone’s recent memory here,” he said. “All of the revenue mechanisms that the governor included in his budget except one have been used by prior legislatures. For the court to say you can’t use that kind of money anymore will forever change the way we budget.”

Erquiaga said that if the issue is only the $62 million water fund sweep, the Legislature can move forward with adopting Sandoval’s proposed two-year budget. Sandoval would like the court to act quickly on the clarification request so the Legislature can complete its work by June 6, the constitutionally mandated final day of the session, he said.

On the budgetary front, Sandoval has met with lawmakers from both parties and both houses to discuss the possible continuation of some of the tax increases set to sunset June 30 as a source of new revenue should it be needed to balance the budget, Erquiaga said.

About $679 million could be generated if the taxes were extended another two years. The taxes include a sales tax piece and a higher modified business tax for the state’s largest employers, but Sandoval will not support continuing all of the higher levies, he said.

So if $656 million is needed to balance the budget, Sandoval will look to other revenues, but not new taxes, Erquiaga said.

“If sunsets are called into play, you may be assured that the margin tax and the service tax are not,” he said.

These new taxes were proposed by legislative Democrats in recent weeks as a way to augment the budget.

As part of these tax discussions, Sandoval and Republican lawmakers are seeking a number of policy reforms as part of any such continuation, Erquiaga said.

Some of the reforms being discussed this session include changes to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, the elimination of teacher tenure, and others.

“It is critical to the governor that reforms be included in any final solution,” Erquiaga said.

He would not disclose the specifics of the reforms under discussion.

Charles Blumenthal, communications director for the Assembly Democratic Caucus, said legislative leadership is having productive discussions every day trying to work through the process and get a budget agreement.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the Supreme Court presented the governor and Legislature a math problem, not a crisis:

052711Erquiaga4 :10 with something insurmountable.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval wants the court to clarify its intent:

052711Erquiaga1 :14 state of Nevada.”

Erquiaga says the revenue mechanisms used in Sandoval’s budget have been used before:

052711Erquiaga2 :16 way we budget.”

Erquiaga says policy reforms have to be part of any budget solution:

052711Erquiaga3 :05 any final solution.”


Governor Estimates $656 Million Lost In Budget Due To Supreme Court Decision

By Andrew Doughman | 11:54 pm May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY — The state’s budget just took a $656 million hit, according to members of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s staff.

Following a Supreme Court decision earlier today, the governor convened the press at 11 p.m. to outline his opinion of how the decision effects funding streams used in the state budget.

“The problem is much worse than we thought,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser.

Erquiaga, Andrew Clinger and Lucas Folleta, the governor’s budget director and legal counsel respectively, would not speculate as to how they will replace the dollars they assume are lost in the state’s proposed two-year budget.

This morning, the court ruled in the Clean Water Coalition case that the state government could not take $62 million in local revenues to bolster the state budget.

Later this afternoon, Sandoval said he believed the case could have wide-reaching implications for his proposed general fund budget.

“The ruling raises questions about certain assumptions in the proposed executive budget, despite some having been used in the past,” he said in a statement. “As a former federal judge, I am cognizant of the legal issues.  As governor, I am forced to deal with their ramifications and I am responding by reworking the state budget.  I will announce a revised plan on Friday.”

Erquiaga said that the governor has kept legislative leaders appraised of the situation.

Erquiaga also said the governor and his staff plan to work throughout the night to find a solution to replace the lost revenue.

The governor, however, has already announced that he is considering extending taxes that are set to expire June 30. Doing so would bring the state an estimated $712 million, enough to offset the reductions due to the court decision.

In addition to the $62 million, the governor is assuming $594 million in lost revenue.

“The court’s decision forced us with this decision,” Folleta said.

The decision holds that the state cannot siphon money from a local funding stream, thus making the Clean Water Coalition money grab unconstitutional.

The governor’s staff spent the late afternoon and evening evaluating where the money in Sandoval’s budget is coming from and arrived at a “conservative” decision that the court’s ruling could endanger five other revenue sources.

“To take a less conservative approach, if the state were sued, revenue streams will have to be backed out,” Erquiaga said.

In addition to the $62 million lost due to the court’s decision, the governor’s office assumes these revenue sources would be lost if challenged in court:

  • Supplemental account for medical assistance to indigents: $38,427,584

  • Transfer from school districts’ debt service reserves: $247,420,312

  • 4 cent Clark and Washoe counties operating property tax: $52,994,482

  • 2.6 cents in fiscal year 2012 and 2 cents in fiscal year 2013 in Clark and Washoe counties capital projects property tax rate: $30,475,264

  • Room tax dollars: $225,455,400

State Agencies Asked To Document Settlements Paid To Employees, Vendors

By Sean Whaley | 4:40 pm May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has asked state agencies to document payments made to employees and vendors after learning at a meeting earlier this month of several undisclosed settlements, including three made by the Department of Transportation.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger sent out a memo today requesting the information by June 1.

“Agencies will need to document all settlement payments made to employees and vendors; indicate whether or not those settlements have been approved by the Board of Examiners; and identify the funding source used to pay them,” he said in the memo.

Payments made through the Tort Claim Fund administered by the attorney general’s office are not included in the review. Settlements made from July 1, 2006 through May 13 of this year must be provided to Clinger’s office.

Sandoval asked earlier this month for a statewide review of cash settlements with former state employees after state Controller Kim Wallin uncovered three payments to former Department of Transportation workers that were not approved by a public board.

The undisclosed settlements were first reported by the Nevada News Bureau.

One of the payments, to former NDOT employee Chris Sanseverino, totaled $150,000. The others were $22,500 paid to Brenda Hale and $10,000 paid to Dorothy Sewell. Reasons for the payments, authorized in 2010, have not yet been made public, but Sandoval was told the $150,000 payment was a settlement for three separate matters. Sanseverino also received a $25,000 settlement from NDOT in 2008.

The three payments were authorized by top officials with the Department of Transportation, but were never reviewed by the Nevada Transportation Board or the Nevada Board of Examiners.

Wallin has also discovered another payment for $12,000 made to an employee of the state Insurance Division this year.

A further discussion of these payments, and any others disclosed as requested in the memo, is expected to occur at the Board of Examiners meeting set for June 14. The board is made up of Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.


Bills Sought By GOP Senators ‘Returned’ To Assembly As Tax Discussions Continue

By Sean Whaley | 12:00 pm May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Republican state senators who are refusing to go along with a call by Democrats to increase funding for the state budget say bills they have sponsored are being held hostage as a result.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said Assembly Democrats, who have a 26-16 majority, “called back” seven Senate bills that had already been voted on and sent to the Senate for final action.

Senate Bills 89, 96, 111, 134, 225, 322 and 337 were requested to be returned to the Assembly, said David Byerman, secretary of the Senate. He said such requests are routine and are accommodated without requesting an explanation. Various reasons can prompt such a request, such as a reconsideration of a measure, he said.

All seven bills passed the Assembly unanimously on Monday. On Tuesday, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, including Cegavske, Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, refused to support a proposed budget relying on the extension of sun-setting taxes to add more than $700 million in funding.

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee today passed out a bill extending the sun-setting taxes on a party-line vote. But a two-thirds vote will be required in the full Assembly and then in the Senate to approve the measure.

Democrats in the Legislature need three GOP members of the Senate of 10 to vote to extend the sun-setting taxes. So far the Senate GOP caucus has remained firm in its opposition, holding with Gov. Brian Sandoval against any tax extensions or increases to fund areas of the budget.

On Wednesday, the seven GOP Senate bills were recalled by the Assembly leadership.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, who said he is working to win support from Senate Republicans for additional revenue for the state budget, acknowledged the bills were called back by the Assembly.

“I think the issue is the budget is the most important thing we have going right now,” he said. “Any policy bill is not that important right now. So we’re absolutely looking at holding all the policy bills until we have a budget.

“Call it what you will, I think what we’re doing is, there is nothing more important than getting this budget done so no policy bills are moving right now,” Oceguera said.

If the bills remain in the possession of the Assembly, they won’t see final approval or be signed into law by the governor, he said.

Oceguera said a lot of reform bills are caught up in the discussion over new tax revenue.

“Obviously if there is not reform on the tax side of things there’s not going to be reform on anything else either,” he said.

Cegavske said Republican senators are being punished for their opposition to tax increases but the bills are good legislation that don’t deserve such action.

Cegavske said failing to act on her Senate Bill 225 won’t hurt her personally, but it will harm the efforts of the American Heart Association.

“Yes my name is on it and if you want to punish me, punish me, don’t punish the American Heart Association,” she said. “Because it is truly a bill that will help them and there is nothing wrong with sending policy bills through while you are still debating budgets. There is nothing wrong with that.

“It saddens me that you would act in a manner that is unprofessional,” Cegavske said.

“It’s an angry attempt to say we didn’t like the fact that you voted against the sunset bills so we’re going to do something that affects you,” she said. “Well, it doesn’t affect me personally but it does affect the American Heart Association and what they’re trying to accomplish for the good of the citizens of Nevada.”

“One would hope we don’t need to go down such a partisan road,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville.

SB89 imposing reforms on homeowners’ associations is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. SB96 making changes to the Guinn Millennium Scholarship is sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City.

SB111, sponsored by Settelmeyer, would make changes to help children who are kept in protective custody. SB134 is sponsored by Rhoads and would make changes to the Elko City municipal elections.

SB225 sought by Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, would designate certain hospitals as stroke centers. SB322, relating to weight limits on vehicles, is being sought by Settelmeyer, Hardy and Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas. SB337 is being sought by Kieckhefer and Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, and would make changes to the donation of anatomical gifts.

None of the measures have anything to do with policy reforms sought by some Republicans in exchange for consideration of taxes, such as collective bargaining.

Audio clips:

Sen. Barbara Cegavske said Senate GOP bills are being held up as punishment for opposition to tax increases:

052611Cegavske1 :17 wrong with that.”

Cegavske said there is no reason the bills should not be passed while the budget is being debated:

052611Cegavske2 :24 all that way.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer said the Legislature should not have to go down such a partisan road:

052611Settelmeyer :04 a partisan road.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says the budget is the most pressing issue right now:

052611Oceguera1 :05 going right now.”

Oceguera says policy bills are not that important right now:

052611Oceguera2 :09 have a budget.”

Oceguera says the budget is the top priority:

052611Oceguera3 :09 moving right now.”

Oceguera says if there is not reform on taxes, there won’t be reform on anything else:

052611Oceguera4 :14 anything else either.”





Beneath Partisan Politics, Personal Relationships Hold Sway At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 5:00 am May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – On Assemblyman Harvey Munford’s desk lies his teacher’s edition of an American government textbook.

The former high school history and government teacher said he brought it as a guidebook to the legislative process. But he has not used it much.

“It wasn’t applicable to a whole lot of things,” he said.

Munford, a Democrat from Las Vegas, describes himself as “disillusioned” with the Legislature.

He sits in his office, shunted aside from most of the budget battles and without much to do except cast his vote for others’ bills; most of his bills are dead.

Munford was a teacher of government processes, but not a student of the personal politics that are so important at the Legislature.

A social undercurrent has developed as the session has progressed, intimately shaping the fates of bills and the budget. It is part of the milieu that makes every session unique, and those who do not play well with others lose.

“In a small state like Nevada, it’s all about relationships,” said former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who is now a lobbyist.

And Munford is not popular.

He has served four terms, but he said he feels slighted that other colleagues have jumped ahead of him and secured leadership appointments to committees.

Munford said he has not found many people to work with. Before the session, he requested from legislative staff a bill that would ban texting while driving. He said a constituent had asked him to sponsor such a bill.

But his bill did not carry much weight. Instead, a bill from Democratic leadership became the vehicle for the proposal to ban texting while driving.

“The leadership seems to carry all the leverage,” he said. “You have to be a foot soldier for them or they’ll cut you out.”

Munford does not always vote with his party. He reluctantly attends caucus meetings, listens and leaves. He has contemplated ceasing to attend altogether.

“I should have pulled a Joe Lieberman on them and went independent,” he said, referring to the Connecticut senator who relinquished his title as a Democrat.

Munford said he likes to sponsor social policy bills. In doing so he naturally avoids the imbroglios that can develop when lots of money is at stake, but he cannot avoid the social shifts and politicking behind his bills.

“This is about regular people and emotions,” said Jim Waddams, a powerful lobbyist for a number of Nevada industries.

Legislators must be savvy enough to develop relationships and participate in the give-and-take compromising that sometimes determines the fate of bills.

Munford characterizes it differently. He calls the hushed chatter in offices and hallways a symptom of legislators’ “hidden agendas.”

“You can see where they jockey around with these bills,” he said. “They cut deals.”

Sitting in his office with Motown music softly playing in the background, the former basketball coach and high school teacher said he certainly understands how relationships matter between people.

“If you’re going to learn one thing, it’s about relationships and personalities,” Munford said of the Legislature.

The problem is, he said, he has not found many people to work with in the Legislature.

“I never wanted to identify myself as a politician,” he said. “I wanted to be a statesman whose goal was to work for the state.”

His independent attitude has relegated him to the sidelines, a man whose vote matters as much as the other 62 legislators but whose influence pales in comparison to some of his colleagues.

“I think part of the problem is he is more interested in trying to develop policy and not so much in simply cultivating relationships,” Waddams said.

Assemblyman Mark Sherwood echoes Munford’s complaints.

Sherwood, a neophyte Republican legislator from Henderson, sat in his office earlier this week and peppered his chat about the legislative process with negatives, at various times calling it “disappointing,” “frustrating,” “disheartening,” and “disturbing.”

Sherwood’s frustrations have sometimes transformed into anger. He has called a committee meeting a “farce” and once referred to a Democratic colleague by her first name, a breach of decorum in the Assembly chambers.

He has also consistently argued that Republican bills have received short shrift from the Democratic majority in the Assembly, earning him a reputation as a caustic outsider unafraid to hurl political firebombs.

Many of the bills Sherwood sponsored are dead.

“They try and destroy you,” he said. “When somebody comes up here who doesn’t conform to the politics as usual, they will try to destroy you.”

Over the course of the session, his views of the Legislature have evolved and soured.

“It becomes group think and all the sudden we’re done,” he said. “We don’t ask the questions.”

He went on to praise lobbyists as the “best politicians in this building” because they must know their issues, build consensus and work across the aisle in order to achieve the aims of their clients.

Sherwood called himself “naive” for not expecting the legislators to unjustly kill bills, steal bills, tack on last-minute amendments and sometimes push legislation for questionable reasons.

“That’s troubling,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. … The cronyism is disheartening.”

But not everyone is so bitter.

“In many ways this is one big family and the analogy you can draw is these are sibling rivalries you would find in any family,” Perkins said.

As the end of the legislative session nears, fatigue and stress scratch at the veneer of rationality. Passions run high and tempers flare.

The legislative process is a war of attrition. It wears down the corps of lobbyists, legislators, staff and press. The climate in the building inevitably sours. People miss their families and feelings get hurt. Everyone aches for the days to have two or three more hours, if only to catch up on sleep.

Like journalists, legislators turn to the colleagues and lobbyists they trust for information.

Waddams, the lobbyist, said the legislative process is essentially about information; some people have it and others do not. The ones who do are empowered to make decisions and close deals.

Legislators inevitably make deals, the most important of which will be the final budget deal.

“This is about regular people and emotions and pushing and pulling,” he said. “What is done is never perfect but generally, it works.”

Just the Facts, Jack: Secretary of State Issues New FAQs for Special Election

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:48 pm May 24th, 2011

For those of you wondering “what happens now” while we wait for the Nevada Supreme Court to make a decision on the Secretary of State’s (and Nevada Democratic Party’s) appeal(s) of the special election case, Secretary of State Ross Miller has the (possibly temporary) answers along with filing and calendar information:

Here is today’s release in its entirety:

Candidate Filing for Special Election to Fill Vacancy in U.S. House of Representatives Begins Tomorrow

(Carson City, NV; May 24, 2011) – The public and the media are advised that candidate filing for the September 13 special election to fill the vacancy in Nevada’s U.S. Congressional District Two seat begins tomorrow, May 25, at 8 AM. Candidate filing will take place only in the Secretary of State’s Capitol office. Filings will not be accepted in the Las Vegas office. The filing period will close at 5 PM on Thursday, June 30.

Candidates are asked to call the Secretary of State’s Elections Division at 775-684-5705 to schedule an appointment with a filing officer. Each candidate will be required to show a government-issued photo ID and proof of his or her physical residential address. No filing fee will be collected.

For more information, see the updated Special Election Calendar (at link below) and the list of Frequently Asked Questions (below) .


Special Election Calendar

Frequently Asked Questions
Special Election: Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Q: Who can run in the Special Election?
A: Any qualified elector as defined in NRS Chapter 293. Pursuant to Article I, Sec. 2 of the United States Constitution, the candidate must be at least 25 years of age, a United States citizen for at least 7 years and a resident of Nevada when elected.

Q: Does a candidate have to live in Nevada’s Congressional District 2 to be placed on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: No. Pursuant to Article I, Sec. 2 of the United States Constitution, a candidate for United States House of Representatives need only be a resident of the state when elected.

Q: Can a candidate change his or her political party affiliation prior to declaring their candidacy for the Special Election?
A: Yes. Pursuant to NRS 293.175, the statutory deadline relating to changes in political party affiliation does not apply to special elections.

Q: How does a candidate of a Major Political Party appear on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: A candidate of a Major Political Party must be designated by his or her party’s central committee pursuant to NRS 293.165. The designation must be made no later than June 30, 2011. The designated Major Political Party candidate must also file the appropriate Declaration of Candidacy no later than June 30, 2011 on the form prescribed by the Secretary of State.

Q: How does a candidate of a Minor Political Party, with ballot access pursuant to NRS 293.1715(2), appear on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: A candidate of a Minor Political Party, with ballot access pursuant to NRS 293.1715(2), must be designated by his or her party’s executive committee pursuant to NRS 293.165. The designation must be made no later than June 30, 2011. Such a designated Minor Political Party candidate must also file the appropriate Declaration of Candidacy no later than June 30, 2001 on the form prescribed by the Secretary of State.

Q: How does a candidate of a Minor Political Party, without ballot access pursuant to NRS 293.1715(2), appear on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: A candidate of a Minor Political Party, without ballot access pursuant to NRS 293.1715(2), must be designated by his or her party’s executive committee pursuant to NRS 293.165. The designation must be made no later than June 30, 2011. Such a designated Minor Political Party candidate must also file the appropriate Declaration of Candidacy no later than June 30, 2011 on the form prescribed by the Secretary of State. In addition, such a Minor Political Party candidate must file the Minor Political Party Candidate Petition signed by 100 registered voters of Congressional District 2 no later than May 18, 2011.

Q: How does an independent candidate appear on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: Independent candidates must file the Independent Candidate Petition signed by 100 registered voters of Congressional District 2 no later than May 18, 2011, and file the appropriate Declaration of Candidacy no later than June 30, 2011 on the form prescribed by the Secretary of State.

Q: Will the Secretary of State’s office accept a Declaration of Candidacy filing from a Major or Minor Political Party member if the candidate has not been designated as the party nominee pursuant to NRS 293.165?
A: Yes. The Secretary of State’s office will accept Declarations of Candidacy from any Major or Minor Political Party candidates during the period from May 25th through June 30th. However, pursuant to order of the First Judicial District Court, which is pending appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, the Secretary of State’s office will only certify the names of candidates to appear on the Special Election ballot if such candidates have been designated by their respective parties pursuant to NRS 293.165. If the decision of the First Judicial District Court is overturned, the Secretary of State’s office will certify names in accordance with its original Interpretation.

Q: Will the Secretary of State’s Office accept a Declaration of Candidacy filing from an independent or Minor Political Party member, without ballot access pursuant to NRS 293.1715(2), if the candidate has not submitted the required signatures to a county clerk or registrar by May 18, 2011?
A: No. Since the deadline for gathering and submitting the requisite signatures has passed, such candidates cannot appear on the Special Election ballot and the Secretary of State’s office will not accept their Declarations of Candidacy.

Q: When do candidates file their Declaration of Candidacy to run in the Special Election?
A: May 25 – June 30, 2011. Declarations of Candidacy must be filled out and filed in person at the Secretary of State’s Office located in the Capitol Building at 101 North Carson Street, Suite 3, Carson City, Nevada. The office hours of the Elections Division are 8am-5pm. Candidates are encouraged to call (775) 684-5705 in advance to make an appointment to file their Declaration of Candidacy. At the time of filing, candidates will be required to provide a government-issued valid identification card containing a photograph of the candidate and the candidate’s residential address or other form of sufficient documentation establishing the candidate’s name and residential address.

Q: When will the Secretary of State release a certified list of the candidates who will appear on the ballot for the Special Election?
A: No later than July 8, 2011.

Q: What are the deadlines for registering to vote for the Special Election?
A: The last day to register to vote by mail is August 13th (must be postmarked by August 13th). If you are a resident of Clark County, the last day to register to vote online is August 13th. The last day to register to vote in-person at the office of the county clerk or registrar of votes, as applicable, is August 27th (registration close at 9:00pm).

Q: How is the winner of the Special Election determined?
A: The candidate receiving the most votes will win the Special Election.

Q: How long will the winner of the Special Election serve as the representative of Congressional District 2?
A: Until a successor is elected and seated at the next general election in 2012.

Q: Why is there no filing fee required to run in the Special Election?
A: Pursuant to NRS 293.175, the Nevada Legislature has explicitly provided that certain provisions of the Nevada Revised Statutes, including the provision which normally allows the Secretary of State to require a filing fee, do not apply to special elections to fill a vacancy in the office of the United States House of Representatives.


Gov. Sandoval Rejects New Tax Revenue For Budget, Democrats Keep Hope Alive

By Sean Whaley | 10:00 am May 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval emerged from a meeting with Republican lawmakers today saying he is not willing to consider extending taxes set to sunset June 30 to provide more money for the two-year state budget.

Sandoval’s pronouncement, combined with a statement released later in the day by Senate Republicans saying they remain in firm opposition to any tax proposals to add money to the budget, put a planned joint money committee meeting to reconsider the two-year spending plan on hold for more than eight hours.

But after a day spent in closed-door negotiations, Democrats held firm to their plan to reduce spending only to levels that would be supported with an extension of the sun-setting taxes. Even so, Democrats ended up about $78 million short of the cuts needed to reach levels that could be supported by the sun-setting taxes.

Among the reductions approved by Democrats when the long-delayed meeting finally got under way were a 2.5 percent cut in school salaries saving nearly $120 million and a reduction in per pupil support saving another $85 million.

The votes on the roll backs in spending were party-line, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed. Republicans said the reductions were inadequate to conform to Sandoval’s proposed $6.1 billion spending plan.

There is no sign yet Democrats have convinced any GOP lawmakers to join them in extending the sun-setting taxes, which would bring in about $626 million in additional revenue over the two years of the budget that will start July 1.

The budget has to be substantially complete by Friday if lawmakers are to adjourn June 6, the constitutionally-mandated deadline.

“We have had plenty of time to thoughtfully prioritize spending and live within our means,” the Senate Republican statement against any tax increases said. “There is no reason to continue crafting a budget that state revenue cannot support. We should not wait until an unbalanced budget is vetoed; we should pass a balanced one now.”

The statement from GOP senators came as indications were that some Assembly Republicans were considering support for the extension of the tax package set to expire next month. This support would be dependent on significant policy reforms to collective bargaining and on other key issues.

Asked if there was a budget deal after an hour-long meeting with Republicans, Sandoval replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval emerges from a meeting with Republican lawmakers, remains opposed to extending sun-setting taxes to add more revenue to budget/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Sandoval said he has submitted a balanced budget and that extending expiring tax revenues is not an option he will accept.

Sandoval said he has discussed with Republicans the idea of using “triggers” whereby tax revenues that come in above projections could be used to increase funding to public education and other areas of the budget.

But Sandoval said he has not had talks with Democrats on the subject.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said triggers are on the table for consideration.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he believes triggers would be an appropriate method of providing additional funding to core state services.

The idea that triggers based on bigger than anticipated tax revenue collections was bolstered with the release of the statewide taxable sales report for March showed a 9.6 percent increase over March 2010, the largest jump in the economic indicator in several years.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she does not believe there is a deal yet on the budget.

“This is the point in the session where passions run high,” she said. “We’ll just take it an hour at a time.”

Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, said after the morning caucus meeting: “There have been better meetings. … Either there’s no deal or there’s too many deals.”

Democrats had to cut their previously approved spending recommendations to get close to the amount of revenue that would be generated from a renewal of the sun-setting taxes. Democrats on the money panels had added $968 million more to these areas than existing revenues will cover over the past several weeks.

This requirement caused problems for Democrats within their own caucus however, with some lawmakers balking at any reductions in spending that have already been approved.

Sandoval has asked that lawmakers finish up by the constitutionally-mandated 120-day deadline. He has said he won’t call a special session right away if lawmakers don’t finish on time.

Nevada News Bureau Intern Andrew Doughman contributed to this report.

Performance-Based Budgeting Bill Wins Approval In Legislature, Heads To Governor

By Sean Whaley | 4:11 pm May 23rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill implementing “performance-based” budgeting, including requirements for agencies to set benchmarks and goals and be held accountable for their spending priorities using quantifiable measurements, passed the Senate today and now heads to Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Assembly Bill 248, sponsored by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, already passed the Assembly.

The bill is part of a package of Democratic legislation to reform state government to make it more efficient, transparent, and accountable to Nevada’s taxpayers. The new budgeting process would replace the current practice of taking every agency budget approved by the Legislature and adding to it every session to accommodate rising caseloads, inflation and other cost increases.

“Performance-based budgeting is a proven approach to making government more efficient, accountable and making sure every taxpayer dollar is working harder and being spent wisely,” Smith said.

In addition to implementing a performance-based budgeting system, AB248 requires the posting of the information about performance on the Department of Administration website, along with report cards on state agencies, to increase transparency.

AB248 further empowers the governor to authorize executive agencies to conduct public hearings on the proposed budget between October 15th and January 15th of the budget cycle, providing additional opportunities for public input and enabling the legislature to have more information when the session convenes.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger produced Nevada’s first performance-based budget for the current legislative session at the direction of former Gov. Jim Gibbons, along with the traditional budget document, for consideration by lawmakers.

If signed into law, AB248 would mandate the creation of such a budget.



Budget Office Says Democratic Spending Plan Nearly $1 Billion Over Sandoval Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 3:56 pm May 23rd, 2011

CARSON CITY — Legislative Democrats intend to spend almost $1 billion more than Gov. Brian Sandoval requested in his $6.3 billion budget, according to a spreadsheet obtained from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget office today.

The majority of the $968 million in spending replaces budget cuts in K-12 education, higher education and social services, which Democrats have long argued will eviscerate the state’s social safety net and destroy the state’s education system.

Throughout the past few weeks, the Legislature’s money committees have closed various state budgets, sometimes at levels higher than the governor recommended in his general fund budget. They finished that process this past Thursday and staff reviewed the numbers this weekend.

The majority of the expenditures come from $626 million in the K-12 budget, $205 million in higher education and $121 million for health and human services.

Democrats plan to pay for their budget with a $1.2 billion combination of extending 2009 tax increases, a business “margin” tax and transaction tax on services.

Extending the 2009 taxes would secure $626 million in funding for the Democratic budget plan, $342 million less than legislators would like to spend.

Since extending the taxes appears to be the most likely to pass, legislators may have to whittle away at their additions to the governor’s budget. They have scheduled a meeting tomorrow during which they intend to “reconsider” some of their earlier budget add backs.

Republicans and Sandoval have so far opposed the plan, and Democrats need at least several Republicans to join them to create a two-thirds majority to override a Sandoval veto of any tax plan.

Republican legislators on the Senate and Assembly’s money committees have also largely voted against the additions to the budget.

“Between Thursday and Monday, they [Democrats] realized they closed a budget that is totally unrealistic,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Kieckhefer had also requested the full expenditure list from the governor’s budget office. The $968 million number has not yet been finalized.

Representatives from the office of Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment since they have not had time to review the governor’s numbers.