CARSON CITY – Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., today said she will introduce legislation to permanently end a Bush era ban on cities - including Las Vegas and Reno – from hosting federal agency and executive branch conferences and conventions.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he will join Berkley in the effort.
A similar effort in 2009 by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not pass.
Heller and Berkley are both seeking the same U.S. Senate seat, filled by Heller in 2011 when he was appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The announcement by the two Nevada members of Congress comes as the fallout continues from a now infamous conference held by the General Services Administration (GSA) in Henderson in 2010.
In remarks on the floor, Berkley said some GOP members of Congress are seeking to attack Nevada’s tourism industry because of the abuses reported regarding the GSA conference.
“These Republicans are trying to bring back the last administration’s so-called ‘blacklist’ of resort cities like Las Vegas and Reno – prohibiting federal agencies from traveling to hold conferences and seminars,” she said. “This policy has damaged the reputation of my state, hurt our economy and killed jobs.”
Berkley said the blacklist has been lifted by the Obama Administration, but that it is time to make such a policy permanent.
“Las Vegas wasn’t the problem, the irresponsible behavior of the GSA was,” she said. “And that’s why I am going to introduce legislation to prohibit the blacklisting of any city in America.”
Later in the day Heller said he would join in the effort.
“Despite our differing views on the bailouts for Wall Street and Detroit, Obamacare, and stimulus spending that has left many Nevadans out of work, I am pleased to join Congresswoman Berkley in the effort to end the blacklist process by the federal government,” he said.
“Nevada offers the best hospitality and convention services in the world, and Las Vegas, Henderson, Lake Tahoe, and Reno have long been favorite destinations for millions of visitors,” Heller said. “I have always taken pride in the Nevada delegation working together on Nevada issues, and plan to introduce legislation in the near future.”
While Berkley praised President Obama for ending the federal travel blacklist, she did not bring up his controversial remarks made in 2009 when he told companies receiving federal bailout money that they should not “take a trip to Las Vegas” on the taxpayer’s dime.
Then-Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, among others, criticized Obama’s remarks, saying they helped stall the state’s economic recovery.
Obama later compounded the controversy when he remarked that responsible people don’t “blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college.”
Nevada is one of several “battleground” states where the 2012 presidential election is expected to be played out in November.
Several congressional committees have held hearings into the GSA conference, which resulted in the resignation of GSA chief Martha Johnson after she dismissed two deputies and suspended other career employees over the incident.
The $823,000 conference was held at the M Resort and Casino, and included a clown and a mind reader. It was the subject of a critical report by the GSA Office of Inspector General.