By Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, June 6, 2023
The tire fire in Carson City has led to renewed calls for a full-time, annual Legislature in order to fix a “broken process.” But that would do little to solve the problem, which can be traced to a number of factors, including today’s hyperpartisan political climate.
Lawmakers were operating under a Monday night deadline to wrap the 83rd regular session. They failed to beat the clock. Gov. Joe Lombardo quickly called a special session to address the unfinished business.
By constitutional provision, the Legislature is limited to a 120-day session every other year. Nevada is one of only four states — along with Montana, North Dakota and Texas — in which lawmakers operate under such a restriction. Critics argue this makes it difficult for the body to properly conduct state business in today’s rapidly evolving world.
Yet the 120-day limit was easily approved by state voters, no doubt because they believe that certain handcuffs serve as a check on legislative mischief. The supermajority requirement to pass tax hikes — also overwhelmingly sanctioned by the state electorate — would additionally fall under that umbrella. Convincing Nevadans to abandon the part-time, citizen Legislature concept would be a heavy lift and is unlikely to succeed.
In fact, opponents of the status quo ignore that various “interim” committees carry out the Legislature’s work long after lawmakers have left the capital. Whether this workaround to avoid the 120-day limit is constitutionally kosher has never been adjudicated, but suffice it to say the legislative branch hardly grinds to a halt in off years.
Before pushing “solutions” that would radically overhaul how the Nevada Legislature operates, it might be more productive for legislative leaders to engage in less political posturing and pay more attention to efficiently running the session within the four-month window. Democrats control both houses, but the governor is a Republican. Letting contentious issues percolate for 15 weeks until the deadline looms may be a traditional negotiating tactic, but it’s also a recipe for exacerbating partisan conflict rather than fostering compromise.
In addition, stricter limits on the number of bills would help the lawmakers focus their attention on matters of greatest importance. Do we really need the Legislature devoting limited time to debate a bill that would force Clark County to create tree-planting goals in its master plan? It’s also utterly ridiculous that major and controversial initiatives — for instance, complicated legislation offering billions in tax credits to lure film production to the state — are considered at all when they drop with just days left in the session.
The process stinks, for sure. But don’t blame the 120-day limit.