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Lombardo drops bid to create cabinet secretary positions in governor’s office

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
GovernmentLegislatureState Government
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A proposal from Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office to create new cabinet positions will be amended out of a major bill aiming to modernize state government — an announcement that comes just a day before the bill was set to receive its first hearing before state lawmakers.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer said the removal would come as one of several “substantive changes” to SB431, which would still aim to remove a cap on state salaries, limit the power of the legislative Interim Finance Committee and rebrand the beleaguered Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) as a new Department of Workforce.

“In conversations with the Legislature, it felt like [cabinet secretaries] was probably not something that was gonna go anywhere,” Kieckhefer said. “And we didn't want to spend a lot of money or a lot of time and energy discussing those positions during a committee hearing where there are a lot of other issues that we need to address.”

The cabinet measure was initially proposed as a means to assist governor’s office staff in implementing Lombardo’s agenda, Kieckhefer said in February, in part by mirroring the federal cabinet structure. The bill proposed to create five cabinet secretaries, appointed by the governor, who would interface between various state agencies and the governor’s office and be vested with the power to approve regulations in their specific area, such as health care.

The decision not to move forward with the proposal comes after Assembly and Senate budget committees split over a decision to approve funding for the positions earlier this month.

In a rare split vote during a joint meeting of the two budget committees, a majority of Assembly committee members voted to not approve $1 million in annual funding for the five secretary positions. Members of the Senate budget committee, meanwhile, voted to set aside a more limited pot of $600,000 annually for the positions.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said the funding could be used “for certain positions within the governor's office,” but agreed it would be best to “have the policy discussion” about SB431 before moving forward with the proposal.

Republican members of the committees had expressed support for the proposal, including Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), a former chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval. She noted the difficult nature of fast-paced work within the governor’s office and highlighted the need for additional staff to support the office’s work.

However, the bill will still include the creation of a chief information officer and chief innovation officer within the governor’s office, as well as the creation of a “Nevada Way” budget account. That account, promised during the governor’s State of the State address in January, would divert 5 percent of the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward what Kieckhefer described as “high-leverage projects” that will “make the state less reliant on the existing tax structure.”

The bill is scheduled to receive its first hearing during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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