Posts Tagged ‘auto insurance’

Alliances, Politics And Honor Trump Policy In Legislative Vote

By Andrew Doughman | 9:15 am May 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman John Ellison had a choice.

He wanted to push the red button, but he was supposed to push the green button.

The seconds ticked by on the floor of Nevada’s Assembly. In the wide angle shot, the other 41 members eagerly cast their votes. In the close-up shot, Ellison’s hand hovered over the green and red buttons. He hated it, but he punched the green one.

He had made a promise to vote ‘yes,’ and he voted ‘yes’ this time after voting ‘no’ the day before.

“The honor, that ate on me for two days,” he said after the vote. “If you’re word in here is no good, you’re no good.”

Politics and policy are never fully divorced at the Nevada Legislature. Bills are the bargaining chips in shifting, cross-party alliances that hinge upon trust and honor.

Whether deemed artful negotiation or political skullduggery, such trades may only grow more prevalent as legislators wheel and deal to close the budget.

Longtime lobbyist Carole Vilardo says bills live and die by “public perception, political palatability, policy and politics.”

“It’s part of the game,” says lobbyist Susan Fisher.

And Ellison had already broken the rules once. The Elko Republican had voted down Democratic Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson’s bill when he had promised to vote for it.

The result was a 27 – 14 split vote, one vote shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. Ellison’s initial ‘no’ vote caused the bill to fail the first time.

It took a parliamentary procedure for a wily Democrat to resurrect the bill. So when it returned for a vote before the Assembly, Ellison was under even more pressure to keep his word.

“He got a chance to fix his vote and keep his commitment, which is very important in this building,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

Atkinson, a North Las Vegas Democrat, wants to establish a low-cost auto insurance program through his bill. All Nevadans would pay an extra 50 cents on their auto insurance policies to help subsidize the pilot program in Clark County.

Ellison’s vote for that fee increase earned him the title of a Republican “voting badly” from conservative activist Chuck Muth.

Muth employs as a lobbyist Janine Hansen, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Ellison during the 2010 election.

Out in Elko, the electoral fights pit conservative against even more conservative, giving Ellision good reason to restate last week that he is a “very, very conservative person.”

“This was a thing of honor, not a thing of taxes,” he said.

Ellison cast his vote last week on a deadline day for the Legislature. The Assembly slogged through floor vote after floor vote. Legislators voted to adopt amendments to bills hours before they voted on them.

Under so much pressure, legislators could not always make a bill’s policy merits their paramount concern.

“It was just a last minute confusion – my biggest fear was the confusion and the promise,” Ellison said.

Ellison’s rural constituents would get nothing but a 50 cent fee increase from Atkinson’s bill.

But Atkinson had a favor to return to Ellison.

As chairman of a committee, Atkinson is the arbiter of which bills live and die. So when Ellison finally voted for Atkinson’s bill, Atkinson kicked Ellison’s bill downstairs to the Assembly floor. The bill lived.

“I believe, in this building, all you have is your word,” Atkinson later said. “If he [Ellison] had not honored his commitment, would I have sent his bill down [out of committee]? Probably not. …You shouldn’t be rewarded for making false promises.”

Ellison’s bill would relieve some rural businesses of fees from Carson City-based regulators and allow local governments to conduct some inspections locally.

Democrats fast-tracked Ellison’s bill through a fiscal committee last week. Now it is eligible for a floor vote on the Assembly.

For all the talk of partisan rancor, most votes do not fall along party lines. Legislators dissent. They tepidly endorse and unanimously approve. They break ranks and make promises, and in Ellison’s case, they get criticized by colleagues.

“There was some behind the scenes arm twisting,” said Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley. “…A lot of people have their pet legislation they want to slide through and they’re able to hold their noses and vote for a bill that they don’t like in exchange for a vote on their bill.”

Two other Republicans voted for Atkinson’s bill. One, Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Las Vegas, claimed that he liked the bill because it was coming to Clark County.

The other, Assemblyman Pete Livermore, R-Carson City, said he made an honest mistake.

“ I mistook the bill,” he said. “I made an error. …I’m new and I’m a freshman and even though I try my darndest, that one got by me.”

For Ellison, the experience rattled him. He later said he just wanted to vote and “get out of here.” The fate of his bill, he said, was the last thing on his mind.

“I didn’t care if they sent it to the moon,” he said.

Democrats, though, also kept their word. Ellison’s bill could come up for a vote soon. Meanwhile, Atkinson’s bill is alive and well in the Senate.

Fisher, the lobbyist, said that these negotiations are not only part of the process, they work.

“In the end, they both got what they wanted out of it: win-win,” she said.



Lawmakers, Governor at Odds Over Budget Plan

By Sean Whaley | 7:07 pm February 22nd, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons is sticking with much of his plan on how to find $890 million to balance the state budget even as lawmakers continue to question the viability of some elements, including $50 million in additional mining revenues and $30 million from an automobile insurance verification program using highway cameras.

The plan was altered today after several new revenue sources were identified that allowed Gibbons to eliminate a proposed $35.7 million reduction in public teacher salaries.

But Robin Reedy, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the vast majority of the governor’s plan remains intact as the way to balance the budget.

“We’ve worked up through Saturday with various members of the Legislature,” she said after making comments to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee. “We have yet to see a list from them of what is good so we’ve not taken anything off ours.”

One other change to Gibbons’ plan provoked some strong exchanges between Reedy and lawmakers. Taken off the table are three fee increases initially proposed by Gibbons: $1.1 million in state park hikes, $550,000 for the cost of restaurant inspections and $337,000 to obtain state vital records.

Some lawmakers questioned the removal of the fee increases, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who said the proposals were appropriate to free up general fund money to offset 10 percent cuts to education and state agencies.

Buckley said the Gibbons administration appears to be inconsistent on the issue of fees, with support for some increases but opposition to others, and suggested politics are at play.

“The governor gets beat up on the campaign trail or from the right wing about the mining deductions and all of a sudden we see vital records and consumer health fees being yanked,” Buckley said.

Reedy said the governor’s tax and fee policies are not based on politics.

“If the people who are being assessed agree to the fee or the tax, he will do it,” she said.”I think that is consistent.”

The questioning about the change of course on the fees also prompted Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to forcefully tell Reedy that he would direct any questions to administration officials he believed were appropriate.

The comment came after Reedy suggested that the repeated questioning on the governor’s tax and fee policy was not productive.

The exchanges came as the 26th special session of the Nevada Legislature is set to being tomorrow to find ways to close the nearly $990 million gap in the current two-year budget.

The proposal to use traffic cameras to identify uninsured drivers to generate $30 million in the second year of the budget was called “wacky” by Buckley.

Raggio continued to question the constitutionality of the proposal to reduce the allowable deductions on the net proceeds of minerals tax to generate $50 million to the state. If the proposals cannot be accomplished or are rejected by the Legislative majority there is at least an $80 million hole in Gibbons’ budget balancing plan.

Beginning the special session without firm agreement could mean for several days of discussions before the budget is finally balanced.

Some lawmakers also questioned the claim made by Gibbons today that when all funding for public education is counted, including local support, the actual cut for the state’s schools is only 2.4 percent. The comment came in a press release from Gibbons announcing the identification of enough new revenues to eliminate his proposed 1.75 percent teacher pay cut.

The 10 percent cut being proposed by Gibbons for public education is only on the state share of the tax support.

Some lawmakers suggested the change to include local funding would only confuse and mislead the public.

But Reedy said calling the reduction to public education a 10 percent cut was disingenuous and a “scare tactic.”