(Updated at 12:58 p.m. on Jan. 8)
CARSON CITY – If Governor Jim Gibbons wants to bring his entire education reform agenda to a special session of the Legislature, from eliminating mandates for class-size reduction to repealing Nevada’s collective bargaining law, he will have to draft the bills himself.
The leadership of the Legislature has rejected a request by Gibbons to draft the several bills implementing his education proposals he released earlier this week in advance of a possible special session.
Instead, his own legal counsel, Adriana Fralick, will draft the bills Gibbons wants the Legislature to consider in a special session, if one is called. But there is no guarantee they will get introduced, let alone get a hearing.
Legislative leadership has indicated that the only bills that will be considered in a special session will come from the Committee of the Whole in each house, not from the governor or individual lawmakers.
Even a request by Gibbons for a bill draft to remove a few words in a state law making Nevada ineligible for federal “Race to the Top” school improvement funds has been rejected by legislative leadership.
Robin Reedy, chief of staff, to Gibbons, said she was shocked to hear of the decision by legislative leadership. The governor’s proposals only seek the repeal of mandates for class-size reduction, all-day kindergarten and collective bargaining, not their elimination, she said.
“I’m tired of their partisanship in not releasing ideas and not giving us ideas,” Reedy said. “They criticize us in the newspapers, but they don’t sit at this table and tell us how they want to tweak it to make it better.”
Reedy said sending over the bill draft requests is an attempt to be transparent and tell lawmakers the issues Gibbons wants to be discussed if a special session is called.
Gibbons, in a letter sent today to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, has threatened legal action over the failure to draft his proposals.
As first reported by RalstonFlash, Gibbons said in the letter he does not believe it is “legally permissible” for the legislative counsel to decline to draft legislation for the governor.
“A prompt reply to this quandary is appreciated, as the necessity for a definitive answer vis-a-vis the court system is imminently ripe should the Legislative Counsel not perform her Constitutional and statutory duties to draft legislation for the Governor.”
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said a special session is no time to take up complex policy issues.
“Special sessions are called for special reasons,” she said. “They are costly. We need to stay focused on the issue at hand, which is solving our imminent budget crisis.”
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said the dispute is all about politics as Gibbons and Democratic lawmakers gear up for a session in the midst of an election year.
“I don’t take it too seriously,” he said. “It is gamesmanship, going back and forth preparing for the match.”
Coffin said he would not be opposed to having legislative staff prepare Gibbons’ bill drafts as a courtesy, but it is unlikely his proposals will get a hearing. If a special session is called, the emphasis will be to get any pressing issues resolved and the budget balanced quickly, he said.
There won’t be time for a lengthy debate on the policy issues raised this week by Gibbons, Coffin said.
Gibbons raised the bill drafting issue in a meeting this week with lawmakers. According to one source, Gibbons said at the meeting that if he is limited to a single bill draft for a special session, then he will call a separate special session for each of his proposals.
There is a prohibition on raising money for political campaigns for a limited time around any special session.
There is no bill draft allotment specified for a governor for a special session, unlike regular sessions where a governor gets to submit a specified number of proposals for drafting.
Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the direction on the bill drafting policy came from leadership. Democrats control both the state Senate and Assembly.
In the past it has not been an issue, because the governor and lawmakers have agreed before hand on the agenda and the bills necessary to be considered at a special session, he said.
There is a concern about whether legislative staff time should be spent drafting a bill repealing the state’s collective bargaining law if there is no appetite to take up such an issue, Malkiewich said.
Only Gibbons can call the Legislature to special session, and only he can dictate the agenda for the Legislature to consider. But what bills are drafted and introduced are in the purview of the Legislature.
Gibbons on Wednesday unveiled his plan to reform education and help balance the budget.
Included is the repeal of class size mandates in lower elementary grades and repeal of a requirement for all-day kindergarten, along with the collective bargaining repeal.
Reedy said: “We’re not drawing lines in the sand and saying we’re getting rid of collective bargaining. We’re saying this is an option that we can look at – and lets work on these ideas from now until a special session, if one is called.”
Reedy said Gibbons wants to have a discussion on important public policy issues, not just measures to bring the state budget into balance. It is currently $67 million short of anticipated tax revenues.
The idea is not to repeal class size reduction and take all that funding for use in balancing the budget, she said. The plan is to eliminate the mandate and let schools, parents and teachers decide how best to spend the money.
“I’m tired of the partisan scare tactics that they throw up in order to have a smoke screen to not analyze the real problems,” Reedy said. “The real problem is for 20 years we’ve been doing the same thing the same way and getting the same result.”