It’s popular to blame the Legislature for Nevada’s problems, or—and here I’m comfortably onboard the bandwagon—to blame the dilettante, term-limited, every-other-year nature of our Legislature. But when you stop to think about it, most of what we dislike about the institution can be traced straight back to ourselves. Here’s a starter list:
- Term limits. The Legislature has its third speaker, majority leader and state Senate minority leader in as many sessions, and new party and committee leaders. Nevadans voted for term limits and continue to support them. But we complain the Legislature is in thrall to lobbyists. With all due respect to some fine lawmakers, the lobbyists have the most experience legislating of anyone up there—and several of them will tell you that the Legislature is a disaster.
- Unblissful ignorance. You can read and track bills and watch legislative hearings. Reporters and lawmakers even tweet and post on Facebook. One component of lobbyists’ power is their knowledge of their subject. You can know a lot, too.
- Disengagement. Write a nice note to your legislators about what you want done, or don’t complain when they don’t do what you want done. Check out the legislative website and get their addresses; they read their email, and many of them are Twitter fiends.
- Steven Brooks. Beyond his personal issues, voters electing him and his party having supported him, wouldn’t it have been nice if the media paid a little more attention to legislation and a little less attention to his doings? Of course. But whenever we claim that the media ignore the “real” issues, we should remember that media outlets are businesses and need to concentrate on what sells. If you follow the clicks on websites, they go more often to crime stories and cute puppies, not to in-depth analyses. If we do some work, the media can do better work.
- The state’s reluctance to invest. As many a wise man has said, you’ve got to spend money to make money. But somehow we don’t apply the concept to state government. State Senator Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, has a couple of great bills. One continues and extends a fine measure from last session: intermediate correctional facilities for some offenders who shouldn’t be in the regular prison population. The idea is to help them avoid recidivism and become productive members of society. If so, they might get regular jobs, pay taxes and accomplish some good.
- Every-other-year-sessions. Legislators have also been reluctant to support Segerblom’s effort to hold annual sessions. They’re necessary, but because the proposal makes good government more feasible, it flies in the face of our opposition to government. Too many of us think the best government is one that doesn’t govern.
- Denying the Legislature important powers. The Legislature is considering AB 150, which would set up “legislative review of governmental agencies to promote governmental oversight and accountability.” In other words, our legislators want to make government run better. So the Nevada System of Higher Education opposes being part of it on the grounds that they don’t need oversight. Oh, they do, they do. If you love or hate government, you should want it to run correctly, which means watching it more closely and protecting whistle-blowers.
- The failure, so far, to increase mining and margins taxes. The Legislature punted on a business tax that the state teachers’ organization supports, and Republican state Senator Michael Roberson caught Democrats swimming and stole their clothes by advocating a higher mining tax in return for dropping the teachers’ tax. Taxes, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, are “what we pay for civilized society.” Polls show Nevada voters support higher taxes on gaming before anything else because that way, they figure, tourists pay our way. If we stopped to think about whether mining and other businesses really give back to the state, our legislators wouldn’t be so afraid of these issues. Don’t blame them. Blame us.