Excuse Them While They Clear Their Throats

What has the Legislature done so far?

latestorchestra.jpgThe 2013 Nevada Legislature has been something like that period of time at The Smith Center between the bartenders pouring your beer into a sippy cup and the orchestra making warm-up sounds from the pit. In fact, you might say our lawmakers have continued gargling salt water and doing scales behind the velvet curtains well into the first act.

In any case, fellow showgoers, if you were last in line in the bathroom and just found your seat, don’t sweat it: You didn’t miss much.
We’ve seen the usual emotional appeals to Nevada’s special brand of libertarianism: Senator Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, introduced a bill to up the speed limit to 85 mph on some highways, while Assemblymen Tick Segerblom and Joe Hogan, both Democrats from Clark County, pushed for legal marijuana—medical and otherwise.

Considerable effort, meanwhile, has been put into poking figurative fingers in the federal government’s eye. U.S. Senator Dean Heller, a Republican, got the floor for a joint session, which he used to talk about protecting citizens’ right to bear arms and fighting big government. U.S. Representative Mark Amodei also used a joint session to announce he would keep trying to wrest Nevada public lands from the feds’ control. And with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear two cases related to the legality of same-sex marriage—currently determined by the national Defense of Marriage Act—our Legislature heard testimony on whether the Silver State should, someday, pass its own law.

Some issues have gotten lots of public attention, despite having little to do with the economy, education or health care—ostensibly the most pressing issues of the day. Senator Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, drew cheers and testimony from animal-rights advocates with two bills to strengthen our laws against animal cruelty. And Assemblyman William C. Horne, D-Las Vegas made waves far and wide with his proposed legalization of online gambling.

As if to one-up these popular moves, some lawmakers have adopted causes that are downright silly. Senator Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, for instance, proposed to make the Blue Weimaraner the state dog, eliciting barks and yips from his colleagues in the senate.

And all this has been punctuated by episodes in the ongoing tragedy of former Assemblyman Steven Brooks.

Still, amid the dramatic posturing and pompous throat-clearing, some legislators have been rolling up their sleeves and tackling the dirty work. Education made its way into bills backed by both Democrats (who want a statewide expansion of full-day kindergarten and limits on class sizes in public schools) and Republicans (who want to reform existing methods for getting rid of poorly performing school administrators and teachers). Economic reform has come up, too, most notably in the form of Senator Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, proposing to remove the constitutional limit on mining taxes.

There’s more serious work to come—and soon. Two bills, SB322 and AB413, would set the stage for expanding and upgrading Southern Nevada’s ailing transportation infrastructure; and access to guns is getting a much-needed public airing via bills related to background checks and registrations.

Meanwhile, the moving target of the UNLVNow project has entered a new phase. For the second straight Legislature, the project is seeking approval of a special tax district to offset development costs. Now, after jettisoning private partner Majestic Realty, the university may have just enough political support from major Strip players to push the district through.

As the big show enters its second act—and inevitable special-session encore—the public should remember: This is an interactive performance. Don’t like the acting, singing, directing? You can launch your rotten tomatoes at Carson City via the Legislature’s online opinion forum.

What do you think should be the Legislature’s top priority? Tell us in the comments section.

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