Interim Lawmaker Panel OKs Drafting Resolution To Provide For Study Of Legislature, Including Pay, Annual Sessions

CARSON CITY – A legislative panel today voted to seek a resolution in the 2013 session to authorize the creation of a public commission to study the operation of the Legislature and make recommendations on issues ranging from lawmaker pay to moving to annual sessions.

The Legislative Commission’s Committee To Study the Structure and Operations of the Nevada Legislature voted to pursue such a review, which has not occurred in Nevada since 1988. The study would be performed by a public commission which could make recommendations for consideration by the 2015 Legislature.

Details of who would serve on the public commission, along with other aspects of such a review, will be worked out in committee hearings in the 2013 session that will start next February.

Currently the Nevada constitution requires the Legislature meet every other year for 120 days. The constitution also limits legislative pay to the first 60 days of a session and imposes term limits for state lawmakers. Voters would have to approve any changes to these requirements before they could take effect.

While the legislative panel approved the drafting of a resolution providing for a public commission to review these and potentially other legislative rules and mandates, one lawmaker said he will reserve judgment until he sees the final working of the proposal.

“I’m all for studying virtually anything and this is certainly a topic worthy of study,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, a member of the panel. “But I don’t want to mislead the chair of the committee. I’m not convinced that creating a commission is necessary, especially in light of the fact that this committee has been meeting throughout the interim to do largely what the commission would do.

“But I will keep an open mind on that, and I will look at the resolution once it is created as a result of this committee’s work, and I will study it carefully during the next session,” he said.

Before the discussion on the resolution, the committee heard from former state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, who now serves as a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Townsend was termed out of office in 2010. He had served in the Senate since 1983.

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend. / Photo courtesy of Project Vote Smart.

Townsend suggested a number of ideas for the Legislature to consider, including changing the length of terms for state Senators from four years to six, and for Assembly members from two years to four, to reduce the frequency of campaigns that he said interfere in the legislative process.

“Whether you change term limits or not, I think you take a lot of the money and vitriol out of these things,” he said. “Because it’s gotten to the point where campaigns overcome policy making, and that is not fair to any of you no matter what party you are in or what section of the state you live in.”

Townsend also suggested that legislative sessions be changed to even-numbered years if there is no move to have annual sessions. Those elected to the Legislature in each general election every November in even numbered years would then have more than a full year to learn the legislative process before a session would begin. Now lawmakers are elected in November and must start a session early the following year, he said.

“Move it off a year,” Townsend said. “Leadership can appoint those folks to their interim committees, and they can start learning the process, and the issues, and their colleagues and the people that they affect. That one single change will make every legislator better, whether you’ve been there a long time or whether you are new.”

The change would also mean a shorter campaign season for lawmakers if sessions continued to end in early June in even-numbered years, Townsend said.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the interim study committee, questioned how lawmakers would raise campaign funds in such a scenario but said such issues can be discussed at a later date.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says he is not convinced such a study is needed but will consider the issue in the 2013 session:

082012Brower :32 the next session.”

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend says Assembly terns should be four years and Senate terms six years:

082012Townsend1 :11 you live in.”

Townsend says legislative sessions should be moved to even-numbered years:

082012Townsend2 :24 you are new.”