Posts Tagged ‘Susan Fisher’

Politicking Legislators Threatened To Delay, Kill Bills On Deadline Day

By Andrew Doughman | 8:34 pm May 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – In the end, it was Sen. Joe Hardy who saved the day. He also saved one of his pet bills in the process.

The Republican doctor from Boulder City patched up a broken legislative process that threatened to kill bills after ideological disagreements between two Democratic committee leaders had resulted in an impasse.

Today is a deadline day for bills to pass, so if the two Democrats did not reach an agreement, the bills would die.

A dispute between the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Committees on Government Affairs endangered a number of bills dear to the hearts of lawmakers in both houses.

Caught up in the standoff were Hardy’s bill establishing toll roads in Boulder City, a bill revising state contracting in an attempt to mitigate abuse and a bill revising the open meeting law, among others.

“This committee made the boycott,” said Sen. John Lee, D-North Vegas, chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee. “I’m determined to see that the rights of the Senate are not abused by the Assembly … We’re not enemies, but it’s not just about me and her now.”

Lee was referring to his Democratic counterpart in the Assembly, Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.

At this point in the legislative session, bills have swapped houses so Lee’s committee was considering Assembly bills and the fate of Senate bills were in the hands of the Assembly.

This morning, Lee said he was concerned Kirkpatrick would not vote Senate bills out of her Assembly committee.

Kirkpatrick said her committee would vote on bills that are likely to pass.

“I don’t play the hostage game,” she said. “We hear them [the bills] and the committee decides.”

The standoff resulted in a day-long delay before Hardy convened the two lawmakers and struck a deal behind closed doors.

In the meantime, lobbyists from local governments – government affairs committees usually address bills affecting cities and counties – waited to hear the fate of bills they were tracking.

“It’s hectic but with so many people playing politics, I don’t remember it being this bad,” said Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayer Association.

In the end, Lee heard the Assembly bills and Kirkpatrick passed Hardy’s toll roads bill out of her committee. Before the deal was struck, Hardy had declared that bill dead.

“Joe Hardy put both teams back together,” Lee said. “Joe Hardy saved the day.”

With so much action on a deadline day, legislators are under pressure to ensure their bills pass. Sometimes that means they have personal disagreements with the legislators in whose hands the fate of their bills rests.

It happens every legislative session, said one lobbyist.

“The Legislature is like labor pains,” said Susan Fisher, a lobbyist representing several clients. “We forget and then we come back and do it all over again.”

At the end of the day, several Senate bills did not meet the deadline and the Senate voted down the open meeting law bill.

But the proposal to revise state contracting rules passed.

Hardy praised Lee and Kirkpatrick for negotiating with “grace and aplomb.”

“They are both to be commended for being able to get together after having had feelings that were so tender come to the surface,” he said. “People were depending and counting on us.”


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.