Nevada lawmakers are technically only in session for 120 days in odd-numbered years, but the state’s part-time legislators end up working something close to a full-time schedule through the vast amount of interim committees and studies that happen between sessions.
Clearing up that interim work schedule — the last interim period saw 21 statutory committees, 7 study committees and 41 non-legislative committees — is the point of AB443, which was heard for the first time last week in the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections (the measure was exempted from legislative deadlines).
Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) presented the bill, saying it was designed to address the “conceptual inefficiency” of the interim legislative process and end the issue of appointing lawmakers to highly technical committees despite having “little or no knowledge of the topics that are being studied.”
“We spend so much time and money jumping into these complex policy issues, and conceptual matters during the interim, we vet the solutions thoroughly before the committees to send them to the session,” he said. “However, these bills are often sent to committees whose members were not there for the discussion. The system is at best inefficient. At worst, it really does relegate some exceptional policy solutions to the legislative graveyard.”
The bill repeals nearly a dozen interim study committees — covering a wide swath of topics from criminal justice information sharing to high-level radioactive waste — and instead transfers all the responsibilities to nine newly formed Joint Interim Standing Committees, based on the committees that meet during the normal, 120-day session.
Those interim committees would be composed of eight lawmakers each, with five alternates. Leadership of each legislative caucus would be charged with making the appointments — five Assembly members and three senators in each committee.
The bill would also require that at least five of the committee members appointed served on the corresponding committee during the regular session, and would terminate members who either don’t run for re-election or are defeated in their reelection bids.
The legislation wouldn’t affect the Interim Finance Committee, Legislative Commission, Economic Forum and any affiliated subcommittees. Yeager also said he was torn on whether to toss the state’s Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice into the scrap heap as well.
No one testified against the bill during its hearing last week, but the concept has drawn partisan battle lines in the past. A similar concept was passed out of the Legislature in 2011 on largely party-line votes, but never took effect after then-Gov. Brian Sandoval unleashed the veto pen over concerns that it would move the state “precipitously close” to annual sessions.
The concept emerged again in 2017, but died before coming up for a floor vote before the full Senate.
Supporters of the bill, including Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, said they would expect the change to both cut down on the dozens of end-of-session appointments to “random interim committees,” as well as more efficiently use staff time rather than spreading them thin across a wide variety of committees.
Helen Foley, a longtime lobbyist and former legislator, said the system proposed in AB443 “makes so much more sense than what we currently have.”
“It's been very frustrating to see interim committees where you put your heart and soul into something, and then when you get to the legislative session, everyone has moved on to something else, or they're on different committees, and they don't have the dedication and passion to the issue,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.