Posts Tagged ‘ben kieckhefer’

State Senate GOP Leaders Support Medicaid Expansion

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:56 pm December 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – State Senate Republican leaders today commended GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s decision to expand the state Medicaid program as a commitment to the health of all Nevadans and a boost for a critical sector of the state’s economy.

“Ensuring that poor Nevadans have access to primary health care through Medicaid is very simply the right thing to do, both for our citizens and our economy,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. “It will reduce our rate of uninsured and provide individuals with greater economic security.”

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson.

“Nevada’s health care indicators continually trail its neighboring states and regularly rank among the worst in the nation,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno. “Expanding Medicaid to poor childless adults will help address this.”

“Nevada has higher-than-average rates of such things as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and asthma,” he said. “Access to primary health care is critical to both prevention and treatment of these diseases and conditions. Our citizens deserve this.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said expanding the program will allow Nevada to improve its return on federal tax dollars and ensure that money is reinvested into Nevada’s health care economy, which is in need of a boost.

“Fully implementing health care reform is expected to boost Nevada’s economy by up to $6.2 billion over the next six years,” he said. “Medicaid expansion could also result in the creation of up to 8,600 much-needed jobs in Nevada over that time. With the low state match over this period, that’s a solid return on investment.”

All three Republican Senate leaders said they look forward to working with their colleagues during the 2013 session to approve this expansion, but also believe it’s imperative that Nevada protect its economic future and require a sunset on the expansion should federal reimbursement rates drop below 90 percent for this population.

In addition, Republican Senate leadership supports the governor’s proposal to include a cost-sharing component in Medicaid and plans to pursue that initiative during the 2013 Legislative Session.

Sandoval announced yesterday that he will include 78,000 additional people in Nevada’s Medicaid program as provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Though I have never liked the Affordable Care Act because of the individual mandate it places on citizens, the increased burden on businesses and concerns about access to health care, the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement. “As such, I am forced to accept it as today’s reality and I have decided to expand Nevada’s Medicaid coverage.

“My fiscal year 2014-2015 budget will provide 78,000 additional Nevadans with health insurance coverage through Medicaid, which is estimated to save the state general fund approximately $17 million dollars in mental health savings,” Sandoval said. “My executive budget will also help Nevada businesses cope with the burden placed on them by decreasing the modified business tax. My decision to opt-in assists the neediest Nevadans and helps some avoid paying a health-care tax penalty. As part of my proposal, I will also call upon the Legislature to pass Medicaid patient responsibility cost-sharing measures.”

Federal funding will pay for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first three calendar years beginning in 2014, with the state required to pick up a percentage of the cost beginning in 2017. The first year state cost is 5 percent, in 2018 the state cost is 6 percent, in 2019 the state cost is 7 percent, and in 2020, the state cost is 10 percent.

The expansion in Nevada would mostly cover childless adults who are not covered by the state program now. The other expansion will come from parent caretakers of children who are covered at 75 percent of poverty now, according to Mike Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, who spoke on the subject earlier this year.

Willden said there are also administrative costs to the state that are not fully covered by the expansion but instead are shared between the federal government and the state at a 50-50 match. They include information technology costs and the cost to hire new eligibility workers, for example, he said.

 

Democrats Call On Sandoval To Release Budget Data

By Sean Whaley | 3:46 pm December 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Democratic Party today said Gov. Brian Sandoval should immediately disclose state agency budget requests to the Legislature and public.

Some state lawmakers expressed concern at an Interim Finance Committee meeting in October that the Sandoval administration had not provided them with information about state agency requests over and above their base budget requests, known as “items for special consideration.”

“Governor Sandoval’s refusal to disclose his administration’s budget requests is deeply disturbing and likely violates Nevada law,” the statement says. “The governor is not entitled to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. Governor Sandoval should immediately disclose his budget requests, as required by the law, so Nevadans know how he wants to spend their tax dollars.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The items of special consideration include data on expanding Medicaid to a new group of eligible Nevada residents as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The story about the failure to provide the budget information was first reported by the Nevada News Bureau. Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, also expressed concerns about the failure by Sandoval’s budget office to provide the information.

Kieckhefer was particularly concerned about the Medicaid data, saying that if Sandoval decides not to propose expanding Medicaid to the new eligible population, then the budget data collected to provide background on this item of special consideration might never be provided to lawmakers or the public. Kieckhefer said he would have a problem if that information was never made public.

Sandoval is not expected to announce his decision on expanding Medicaid until his State of the State address in January.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said today he again asked the Sandoval administration for the budget information last week.

In an email, he said in part: “I was told that they were hoping to have a response for me last week. I haven’t heard anything from them about it since. We have not received access to the Items for Special Consideration, so we are unable to review it or provide it to the public.

“The (LCB) Legal Division has looked into it and believes that the law requires the Governor’s Office to provide to us and make available for the public the requests that agencies made for the upcoming biennium,” Combs said. “We believe it was the intent that the Legislature and the public have access to what the agencies requested rather than only a portion of what the agencies requested.”

The information has been provided to lawmakers by past governors.

In response to questions from the NNB, Sandoval said in October he had complied with the state laws requiring transmittal of the budget information to lawmakers.

“The agency requests have been presented to the Legislature in accordance with the law,” he said at the time. “I don’t see any problems.”

Sandoval said it was unfair for anyone to suggest his administration failed to follow state law in the release of the budget data without providing any specifics about the alleged violation.

“There is no violation of law,” he said. “We’re perfectly consistent and in accordance with Nevada state law.”

State Senate GOP Leadership Endorses Drivers’ Licenses For Deferred Action Program

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:08 pm November 30th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s state  Senate Republican leadership today expressed support for a state policy that makes thousands of young immigrants living in Nevada eligible for a state-issued driver’s license or ID.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, with the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, announced this week that its policy would be to honor the employment authorization card granted to successful applicants under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Deferred Action program.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said he supports the DMV policy and hopes those eligible will take advantage of this opportunity.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson.

“These young men and women are living, working and attending school here in Nevada, and are doing everything in their power to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Roberson said. “A driver’s license from the state of Nevada will aid in their ability to commute to and from work and school; will afford a sense of self-sufficiency; and will provide greater opportunities for thousands of Nevada families.”

Deferred Action, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a directive from the secretary of the DHS that grants temporary permission to stay in the U.S. to certain undocumented young people. Individuals who receive deferred action may apply for and obtain employment authorization. It is estimated that more than 20,000 young immigrants could benefit from this program in Nevada.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, also applauded the policy: “This DMV policy allowing young immigrants living in our communities to obtain driver’s licenses will benefit not only the young people and families eligible for deferred action, but will also help strengthen Nevada’s education system and our economy at large.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, commented on the safety aspects of the policy: “In order to secure a driver’s license, an individual must obtain the proper knowledge and skill level to pass a test to ensure they can safely drive on the streets. This policy will not only provide greater opportunity for so many young people in Nevada, it will also make our streets safer by ensuring training for those who may otherwise be driving without a license or adequate preparation.”

The Las Vegas Sun reported the drivers’ license policy earlier this week.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on June 15 announced that effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria, would be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings.

Napolitano said the deferred action program will offer the young immigrants two-year work permits and not deport them as a temporary measure until the country’s immigration policies could be changed with the adoption of the DREAM Act.

 

Nevada Voters To Weigh In On One Controversial State Ballot Measure In November

By Sean Whaley | 7:43 am September 19th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada voters will determine the fate of only one statewide measure in the Nov. 6 general election, but the proposal put on the ballot by the Legislature is somewhat controversial.

Question 1 on the ballot asks Nevada voters if the state constitution should be amended to allow the Legislature, on extraordinary occasions and only with two-thirds support of lawmakers in each house, to call itself into special session. Sessions would be limited to 20 days, but could be convened on a continuous basis if the extraordinary occasion requirement was met and with two-thirds support from lawmakers.

The term “extraordinary occasions” is not defined in the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Nevada state Senate in session, 2011. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The constitution now says that only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature.

Currently, legislatures in 34 states are authorized to call a special session.

Nevada voters have rejected this concept once before, in 2006, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The measure is on the ballot after Assembly Joint Resolution 5 was approved by the Legislature in both 2009 and 2011. In 2011, the proposal passed both houses only by a party line vote with all Republicans opposed.

Opponents of the proposal are concerned the change could move the Legislature away from its tradition of meeting on a part-time basis.

In a discussion of the ballot language for the question by the Legislative Commission in June, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the ability of lawmakers to continue special sessions indefinitely was a concern.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said at the commission meeting that giving lawmakers the authority to call themselves into special session could be important if a situation like that in Illinois arose with impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It is unlikely that a governor facing impeachment would call a special session to allow for his removal from office, he said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said in an interview this week that with the state getting bigger and issues sometimes requiring immediate attention, there are times the Legislature may need to convene itself into special session.

“I think it is closer to the people if the Legislature has the ability to do that,” he said.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said this week he likes the way the system works now.

“I like the fact that we have a strong chief executive state,” he said. “That the Legislature can’t call itself into session for whatever purpose it chooses. I think the system that we have is functional for our state.

“And the idea that the Legislature can start calling itself into session whenever it wants just doesn’t really fly with me,” Kieckhefer said.

Special sessions of the Nevada Legislature have become more frequent in recent years, in part because of the state’s ongoing budget problems. But they have all been called by the sitting governor at the time. Gov. Brian Sandoval has not yet called for a special session in his 21 months in office.

The last special session was called in February 2010 by then Gov. Jim Gibbons to deal with a shortfall in the state budget. It lasted seven days.

There have been 10 special sessions of the Legislature since 2001. They were called for a variety of reasons, including tort reform for the medical industry and the impeachment of the late state Controller Kathy Augustine. Many were called because the Legislature could not finish its work by the constitutionally-mandated 120 days, a limit approved by voters in 1998 and taking effect for the first time in 1999.

Previously there had not been a special session since 1989.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Mo Denis says there are times when the Legislature may need to call itself into special session:

091812Denis :22 into special session.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he likes the system as it works now:

091812Kieckhefer :28 fly with me.”

 

 

Lawmakers Approve $11.7 Million Plan From Attorney General To Help Homeowners In Foreclosure Crisis

By Sean Whaley | 2:55 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Several lawmakers raised questions today about a proposal put forth by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to spend $33 million over three years on outreach, counseling and legal assistance to homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

The program outlined for the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC) by Masto is proposed to be the first phase of a plan to use $57 million Nevada received from the country’s five largest banks as part of a national settlement over the mortgage crisis. Nevada received another $30 million in a separate settlement with Bank of America.

Despite the concerns expressed during a lengthy discussion, the vote to approve the program was unanimous.

Photo posted by Gruntzooki via Wikimedia Commons.

The program is expected to provide a one-stop shop for homeowners to get free access to certified counselors and legal assistance if needed so they can access the many programs available to those who qualify.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, expressed concerns that the IFC, made up of the members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, was being asked to approve a program before it could be evaluated by the full Legislature in 2013.

He also questioned whether the $33 million in expenditures for the services outlined by Masto was the best use for the money rather than getting it directly into the hands of homeowners in need.

Concerns were also expressed by a number of other Republican members of the IFC about aspects of the proposal.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned if the IFC even had the legal authority to implement such a major policy decision.

“I mean, if this was a proposal that came to the Legislature, we would have days of hearings on it in multiple chambers,” he said. “This is a, I think, major policy decision about how we’re addressing one of the most significant problems facing the people of this state and it’s being made by a small subset of the legislative body and there are voters in this state who are disenfranchised from making this decision.”

But the Legislative Counsel said it was appropriate and similar actions have been taken in the past by the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the program outlined by Masto will help distressed Nevada homeowners access $25 billion available nationwide that will be doled out on a first-come, first-served, basis. Failing to get the program started now could mean that Nevada homeowners, among those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, will not get their share of those funds, he said.

The debate over the $33 million is missing the big picture, Horsford said.

The approval today was only for the first year’s worth of funding of $11.7 million. The $10.8 million in years two and three will be part of the Attorney General’s proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium that will be reviewed by lawmakers in 2013.

The first year budget includes $9.4 million for public outreach and access to HUD-certified counselors. Another nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners. Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Nearly $570,000 will be spent on expanding an existing call center operated by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation (NAHAC), a non-profit arm of the Nevada Housing Division. Just under $500,000 will go to the Attorney General’s office for staff and expenses to investigate mortgage fraud and administer the entire program.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, expressed concerns about the funding for the legal aid, questioning if the money would be used to commence new legal actions against the banks on behalf of specific distressed homeowners. Her concerns were echoed by Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Masto assured lawmakers the spending on legal aid will be used to assist homeowners, not initiate lawsuits.

“This is not about giving legal aid so they can go out and start suing,” she said. “This is actually about providing relief to the homeowners who are distressed. There’s a lot of legal issues they may deal with beyond just suing the banks. And that’s what legal aid provides.”

Despite the concerns lawmakers agreed the urgency of the situation required their action.

“We do need to get the ball rolling,” Goicoechea said. “It isn’t doing us any good in this state to have people living in homes, not making any type of mortgage payment on it, destroying that home, and the bank doesn’t have the ability to foreclose it, can’t get the certification in place, and it isn’t doing our state or our economy any good.”

The funds to be used for the program were paid by the banks to settle state and federal investigations into robo-signing allegations.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the major policy decision should be made by the entire Legislature:

082312Kieckhefer :26 making this decision.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says that while he has concerns, the state needs to take action:

082312Goicoechea :17 economy any good.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says the legal aid funds won’t be used to sue the banks:

082312Masto :13 legal aid provides.”

 

Lawmakers Respond to Poor Marks on Teachers’ Union Report Card

By Anne Knowles | 5:45 am August 30th, 2011

School just started and every Republican state lawmaker has already received a failing grade from Nevada’s teachers’ union.

The Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) has released its 2011 legislative session report card and the 16 Assembly and 11 Senate Republicans all earned an F, according to the statewide association.

“Taking away educators’ rights is not education reform, it’s union-busting,” said the report. “You cannot have proper reform unless the proper funding is in accompaniment. In this regard, the 2011 Legislature came up woefully short.”

But the report didn’t spare either political party.

“NSEA believes this unfortunate outcome lies at the feet of the leadership in both parties, along with Governor Sandoval,” the report says.

Only one Democrat, Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, received a failing mark, while the rest of the members of the Senate Democratic caucus got A or B grades. But more than half the Assembly Democrats fared little better than their Republican colleagues, receiving eight C and seven D grades in total.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, for example, the speaker pro tempore, who is known for her interest in education issues, received a D.

Smith was chairwoman of Assembly Ways and Means, where two major education bills, Assembly Bill 225 and AB 579 originated. AB 225 changed teacher probationary rules and supersedes collective bargaining, while AB 579 funded K-12 education. Smith was also a primary sponsor on two other key bills: AB 222, which created a leadership council to evaluate teacher performance, and AB 229, a broad reform bill.

“I’m disappointed, of course,” said Smith in reaction to her grade. “My whole adult life I’ve worked as an advocate for K-12. I understand the teachers’ union has a job to do, to represent their members on jobs and benefits.  But I’m comfortable with the packages we put forth.”

Republicans lawmakers were less concerned with the report.

“I’m not really as bothered by the failing grade for all the Republicans as I am by the failing grades in our schools,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden.

Settelmeyer said the Republicans were right to work to reform collective bargaining and get rid of the so-called “last in, first out” way of laying-off teachers that protected seniority regardless of performance.

“I think the report shows how out of touch with reality the association is with both the economic situation and the desires of both parents and students,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Kieckhefer said NSEA’s stand on legislation showed it cared more about protecting its adult members than students.

The NSEA disagrees.

“Kids right now are going to school with fewer services and more kids in the classroom,” said Craig Stevens, director of government relations at NSEA. “If they were truly putting kids first, they wouldn’t have done what they did.”

The NSEA says the legislature gutted the budget, cutting $300 million from the previous budget and forcing a 9 percent pay cut on school employees.

In addition, says Stevens, the legislature did nothing to address the state’s budget deficit.

“To truly fix the funding problem we must fix the deficit. They’re going to walk into the next session with a billion dollar hole,” said Stevens. “At least the Democrats came out with a plan to try to fund the budget responsibly. The Republicans made no effort and sat there saying ‘no, no, no.’”

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) said she thought lawmakers did the best they could on education measures in light of the challenges of balancing the state budget.

“In my mind, we are sent up to Carson City to make hard choices,” said Kirkpatrick. “And it could have been so much worse. If the taxes that were set to sunset had not been extended, I don’t know that I would have supported deeper cuts — but they were, so we found a way. And I think the reforms were fair.”

The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas, characterized the report as misleading, especially on funding issues.

Victor Joecks, communications director for NPRI, said the education budget was cut in a 2010 special session by several hundred million dollars so the budget passed in 2011 actually increased funding slightly.

“It’s a false narrative that flies in the face of reform,” said Joecks of the report.

Joecks said per pupil spending will increase from $5,192 last year to $5,263 this fall and $5,374 in 2012-2013.

He also said that the nine percent cut in teacher pay cited in the report includes contributions teachers will now be making to their Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) accounts. Previously, teachers did not contribute to their retirement accounts.

 

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.

 

 

Democrats Identify “Key” Republicans Who Might Vote For Taxes

By Andrew Doughman | 5:06 pm May 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Democratic Party today called for Nevadans to press nine GOP “key legislators” to vote for new taxes.

Democrats are urging Nevadans to email these nine Republican legislators, saying that “grassroots action will turn the tide, but it will only happen if you participate.”

The list included four Senators and five Assemblymen. To override a veto from Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has said numerous times he will veto any new tax, three Republican Senators and two Republican Assembly members would have to join all Democratic legislators in voting for a tax.

“We think it’s important that these folks hear from their constituents, not just fellow legislators and lobbyists,” said Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

Many Republicans on the list have already been identified by advocacy groups and political commentators.

Representatives from the governor’s office were quick to condemn the letter.

“This letter is nothing more than a letter of desperation,” said Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval. “It’s clear the Democratic majority do not have the votes to pass a tax increase.”

Republicans in the Assembly earlier released a list of reforms that they hope Democrats will pass. Only after the reforms pass will they consider voting for extending $626 million in taxes passed during 2009 that are due to expire June 30. Those sunsetting taxes are part of a $1.2 billion Democratic tax plan that includes a new tax on services and a new business “margin” tax.

In the message today, Democrats say theirs is a “balanced approach” that restores harmful budget cuts to education and social services while also giving the state a more stable tax base.

For Republicans, the approach is more about reforms they can convince Democrats to pass.

“My attitude from the get go was: they give us substantial reforms, we give them sunsets,” said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks. “They’re not new taxes … That’s our negotiating point.”

Lobbyists in the legislative building also called the Democrats’ move “desperate,” speculating that if Democrats had the votes they needed, they would keep mum about who those legislators were.

Democrats, however, say budget negotiations about government reforms and taxes are proceeding.

“Conversations with legislative Republicans are productive and ongoing,” Oceguera said.

But Hansen and other Republicans have said the reforms proposed so far are not enough.

“I don’t think there’s any chance they’ll [the reforms] meet anyone’s price,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who earlier said on the political television program “Face To Face” that all lawmakers have a price for voting for raising taxes.

Both Hansen and Kieckhefer are on the Democrats’ list.

That did not surprise Kieckhefer.

“People have considered me a swing vote on taxes since the day I announced my candidacy for office,” Kieckhefer said.

Another Republican on the list, Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he is already receiving emails about taxes and the budget.

“I don’t mind hearing from people,” he said. “That doesn’t bother me.”

The full list and letter are here.

 

Senators Sit On Floor In Impromptu Debate With Camping Activists

By Andrew Doughman | 5:18 pm May 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Senate Republicans gave new meaning to the legislative jargon “floor debate” today.

Several lawmakers sat on the floor outside their offices today as they talked to activists who have been camping on the Capitol lawn since yesterday night in support of new revenue.

The impromptu, hour-long debate featured a variety of popular budget topics including teacher pay, textbooks in schools, higher education tuition and taxes.

It all started when about two dozen campers requested an audience with Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who did not have room for them in her office. So she stepped outside, and they sat on the floor together.

Several other Republican senators joined her soon after, and Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, offered shortbread Girl Scout cookies all around.

“I’ve never seen this before,” said Warren Hardy, a former legislator and current lobbyist who watched the debate. “It’s a great dialog. If I were still a senator, I would be right in the middle of it because I think that’s the respect these people deserve.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, speaks with Michael Flores, a ProgressNOW organizer, outside her office in the halls of the Legislature. //PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Republicans fielded a variety of questions from tough critics, some of whom are from organizations like Progress NOW Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Those groups have supported Democratic plans for new taxes and have opposed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

One girl asked about a shortage of textbooks in her Clark County School District high school.

Responding, Roberson said that many Clark County School District employees earn six-figure salaries and he wants more money going into the classroom.

Bob Fulkerson of PLAN called the response a “good sound byte,” but not a solution for poor rural school districts.

Roberson, in a familiar line, said that collective bargaining is “bankrupting the state,” after which several people shouted: “no.”

“If every teacher makes concessions, you will not have one teacher laid off,” Roberson said.

Republicans touted reforms to collective bargaining and advocated for the governor’s recommendation to cut teacher and state employee salaries by 5 percent, saying that it is the same suffering that private sector employees have had to bear during this recession.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, listens to a young girl ask him a question about the K-12 system as he sits outside legislative offices with a group camping outside the Legislature to show support for taxes. //PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau.

The conversation was mostly an exercise in disagreement: over taxes, over the influence of public sector unions, over teacher pay, over tuition.

“If you want taxes to happen immediately, why can’t reforms happen immediately?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, as Roberson, Cegavske, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, looked on.

McGinness had met with the group of campers earlier.

“They talked to me about taxes and I talked to them about the governor’s budget,” he said. “We agreed to disagree.”

Similar disagreements are happening behind closed doors as McGinness and other legislative leaders from both parties are talking about taxes and the governor’s budget. McGinness said he thinks it is likely legislators will meet almost every night to reach a budget compromise.

Seated on the floor, no Republican had a sudden revelation that taxes will save Nevada and none of the campers disavowed taxes, but both groups seemed pleased with the debate.

“I’m so proud of you for sitting on the floor with us,” Cegavske said. “This is awesome.”

Michael Flores, a Progress NOW organizer, said it was “amazing” to talk to legislators for that long in an open-forum debate.

“This is what Democracy looks like,” he said.

Recession Leading To Exodus Of University Faculty

By Andrew Doughman | 10:14 am February 23rd, 2011

Professor Michael Young began to think last year that he should look for a job outside of Nevada.

It was not the craziest thought; the recession was in full swing and legislators were slashing the higher education budget.

Young was a departmental director at the Desert Research Institute. Now he’s an associate director at the University of Texas, Austin.

During the recession, Nevada has had a difficult time keeping research professors like Young.

The best students already seem to be leaving for out-of-state colleges. The same thing seems to be happening with faculty.

“It turns out, ironically, that the state of Texas has big economic problems as well,” Young said in a phone interview. “But there’s a very fundamentally different level of understanding in terms of what the university does for the economy and for the future of the state [in Texas]. You don’t really hear that a lot in Nevada.”

What you do hear is the president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas telling faculty that the university may go bankrupt. You hear Gov. Brian Sandoval proposing a $163 million cut to the state’s universities and colleges.

At the same time, Nevada’s public figures have championed economic diversification through hiring innovative faculty, providing start-up funds and building a research engine. These professors will presumably leverage millions in federal grants and build Reno or Las Vegas into high-tech research hubs where start-ups will provide manufacturing jobs.

It sounds great. One day we will talk of Silicon Valley, Seattle and Reno as the tech hubs of the West.

But then reality sets in.

“It’s hard to imagine a young faculty member … why would that person go to a university where 30 percent of its budget is being cut?” Young asked. “It’s not an incentive that a lot of young people would take.”

Young said he left Nevada for various reasons, among them the state’s fiscal woes.

Steven Wells, president of the DRI, said that the institution has lost 21 faculty since 2008.

“We’ve had people who have been here five to ten years suddenly leaving and our investment in them goes with them,” he said. “Michael Young is a prime example. I tried to do whatever I could to keep him.”

Wells said that researchers like Young aren’t tenured. They support themselves through grants they receive largely from the federal government.

But the DRI’s administrative costs do come from the state. The state must also attract graduate students to work under researchers like Young.

“These researchers within these institutes have to believe that there’s a future here and that the state is interested in bolstering the fledgling research infrastructure that we have,” said Jim Croce, director at the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization.

Data provided by the Nevada System of Higher Education showed that Young had brought about $3 million into Nevada via grants during the past two years. He’s just one of many professors at the DRI, UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno who collectively brought in millions of dollars to the state and have since left.

Where’s the money?

The recession has left the state’s coffers running dry, the federal stimulus is running out and “new spending” are dirty words at the Legislature.

A Senate committee on economic development heard testimony this week from Croce, who talked about expanding his organization’s link between university research and the renewable energy sector.

Senators immediately wanted to know the cost.

“Does that mean investing general funds into the system so that they have the capacity in their budget to go out and recruit their researchers?” asked Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Croce replied that yes, Nevada would be “literally buying” faculty to come to Nevada.

Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, followed by asking what the state would need to do.

“At a minimum we have to stop the bleeding and make sure we have a healthy NSHE base,” he said.

Higher ed needs “drastic reform”

Others argue that the higher education system already has enough money.

“You’re really good at coming and asking for money,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, to Dan Klaich, NSHE chancellor, at a higher education hearing this week. “But what we need now is help and places where we can make reform. Drastic reform.”

Her comments echo those of the governor’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga.

“You’ve got to have money to spend money,” he said during a January press conference.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said that the universities can help with economic development, even as their budgets shrink.

“It can be done today,” he said. “It’s about directing resources.”

He said that universities can help faculty gear their research toward commercialization.

Nonetheless, those same faculty have been and still are leaving.

“It’s not like you flip a light switch and you get your research back,” Young said. “To me that’s probably one of the saddest parts of the story. …When the economy is doing well, the state is going to continue to suffer through this because the research infrastructure is gone.”

Business Leaders Say Low Taxes Not Enough

By Andrew Doughman | 5:47 pm February 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Business leaders from several large technology companies said today that Nevada lacks the skilled workforce necessary for them to locate in Nevada over the long-term.

When asked whether they favored low taxes or a solid educational system when choosing where to locate their business, a executive from General Electric said both are equally important.

The remarks contradict what Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was also at the meeting with business leaders, said earlier. Sandoval had said that the state’s education system rarely comes up in conversations with business executives.

“Most of the skills we’re looking for we’ve had to bring outside of the state,” said Kevin Doyle of Capgemini, a French-based, information-technology company with business interests in Nevada. “However, frankly, in order to start our business here we need to bring some folks so we know it’s not sustainable long term. Having technology skills is absolutely paramount.”

The businesses said what has been aired in the public sphere before: the lack of educational attainment hurts the state. Legislators said, however, that the meeting was helpful.

“Well, what it helps to do is reinforce that there is commitment on behalf of companies to come and locate to Nevada,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “They want a trained and educated workforce. They need people with the skills to perform certain functions.”

The elected officials gathered at the meeting stressed a renewed bipartisanship as a good sign that they’ll make progress with economic development this legislative session.

The Valentine’s Day meeting brought both political parties to the table.

Horsford and Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, convened the roundtable meeting with business representatives, legislative leadership from both parties and the governor and his staff.

“I challenge any state to bring in a lieutenant governor, a governor, a majority leader, a speaker, the chairmen of the various commissions, the heads of both parties here all in one place to talk about these issues,” Sandoval said. “I think it reinforces some of the things that we all understand, that we have a great business environment in this state.”

Republicans and Democrats seem to be flirting with bipartisanship, but they haven’t yet taken up electoral redistricting or the possibility of tax increases.

For now, however, the consensus among legislators of both parties is that the community colleges should be partnering with businesses. Businesses would ask that students learn certain skills and the colleges would then tailor certification courses to the needs of businesses.

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education that oversees universities and community colleges, said that this is what community colleges already do.

“The community colleges are the most nimble of the institutions in the system,” he said. “They have programs that they regularly tailor to the needs of a particular business.”

He said the governor’s proposed budget cuts, which total about $162 million during the next biennium, could curtail the ability of the community colleges to create new programs for high-tech industries.

The question of funding for education came up again during a Senate committee hearing. Devin Whitney, a government representative from the membership organization Tech-America, had attended the meeting with the governor and legislative leadership, but stressed his points on the record at the hearing.

He praised Nevada’s low taxes, but said they weren’t enough to attract the businesses he represents.

“What is still lacking is the skilled workforce,” he said. “That requires the appropriate investment in the education system to make sure they are churning out graduates.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, asked Whitney to further describe how certification programs at community colleges would work.

Whitney replied that, in some cases, the programs are simple.

“You do the training, you take the course, you pass a test at the end and you are ready to work,” he said.

Whitney brought up information technology centers as an example. Companies may be drawn to Nevada’s low taxes, but they need educated people to staff such a center.

“If they can’t get the people to manage that center, then they’re going to have to import them from out of state even with the good regulatory and tax environment,” he said.

Senate and Assembly education committees will take up the issue of higher education this Wednesday. The Senate committee on economic development before which Whitney testified also has a day scheduled exclusively for debate about high-tech industry.

Psst: They’re Always Watching: New Lawmakers Get Education On Dealing With Media

By Andrew Doughman | 6:05 pm January 21st, 2011

New state legislators got the low-down this past Friday about how to deal with the press. The theme woven throughout the legislative training seminar was one of transparency.

“They’re lurking,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, while addressing about 20 new legislators in the Assembly chamber. “Being able to watch all the (legislative) hearings and click through the channels, there are eyes on you all the time.”

Smith pointed out that while many new lawmakers probably encountered the media during their campaigns, the press at the capitol is a different beast.

Ben Kieckhefer, a newly-elected Republican senator from Reno, noted that reporters were using Twitter at that very moment to comment on the goings-on at their seminar.

With reporters able to tune in and Tweet out the news, the press at the capitol could be more omnipresent.

“It’s a different world with Twitter and Facebook and all the jazz,” said Bob Fisher, president of the Nevada Broadcasters Assocation.

Smith also cautioned legislators that they should remember the cameras that broadcast hearings are always running.

“They can tell whether you’re playing solitaire or not,” he said.

During these next few weeks, new legislators will be getting used to new homes, new offices and hundreds of new faces. The training session regarding the press was the last class for the newcomers; they’d been in various classes for three days straight. All of this to ensure that they’re ready for day one.

As the last day wore down, Fisher told legislators they should be aware of the different types of journalists they’re likely to encounter.

“There’s a spectacular difference,” he said. “It is so far between a journalist who has the opportunity to write opinions and share opinions … from a reporter who is coming in and asking you a question about a legislation that you are supporting.”

Like all relationships, Smith explained, the relationships between legislators and the press must be built on trust.

The national reporter who calls a legislator about a bill and is only looking for a good quote doesn’t care about trust. That reporter will never talk to that legislator again.

It’s a different situation when the local reporter sees and talks to legislators everyday, Smith said.

In that situation, legislators were taught about the various gradations between “on the record” and “off the record.”

When the session ended late Friday afternoon, legislators turned out for dinner. Walking out of the Assembly chamber next to this reporter, one new legislator jokingly said that he would have to be “careful” after listening to all that advice.