by R.W. Munk
In Nevada we have a full-time governor and many full-time state officeholders, but a part-time Senate and Assembly. The founders of this state thought that was a good idea for several reasons. The size of the state and the small population were major factors. It is doubtful the state budget of those early years could have afforded a full-time legislative body, and it made good sense to have part-time citizen legislators: farmers, ranchers, miners and shop owners could not leave their businesses for more than a few months every two years to serve constituents.
A lot has changed since 1864, yet we have not changed our system of governance from the horse-and-buggy era. Are we being shortchanged by having a Legislature that meets for only a few months every two years? I think the answer is a big YES.
Many people are not aware that our Assembly representatives are elected to a two-year term, and people elected to the Senate serve a four-year term, yet the reality of their service is that they are all “in session” for just four months every two years — and only get paid for two of those four months. In order to serve, most of our state lawmakers have to make a move to the Carson City area for that time-frame. Try and find 63 landlords that will offer decent and affordable housing for only four months. Many legislators stay in a motel or hotel for the entire session. It’s expensive.
To add to this, unless they already have substantial assets or can raise an awful lot of money in campaign contributions, serving in (and running for) the Legislature requires an expensive outlay of personal funds. It costs more money than you might think to get your name and ideas out to the constituents in your district, whether during the campaign or during the session. One quality mailer to just a portion of the people in one district can run between $3,000 to $6,000. Road signs and billboards also run into the thousands of dollars. It’s a lot of spending. Paying lawmakers for the entire time they serve would help.
Do we need a full-time Legislature? Maybe not, but we absolutely need one that meets for more than a few months every two years. As it is, bills are jammed through as fast as possible at the end of each session with legislators working 12-hour days and crossing their fingers that they get it right. And often, good bills don’t even make it to the floor because they are not a high priority, and there just isn’t enough time to get to them at the end of the session.
There are only four remaining states that call their lawmakers into session every other year: Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Nevada. We are not living in the 1800s. It is time we move to a modern system of state government where our citizens can get the quality representation they deserve — and those who serve are paid fairly for their time.
R.W. Munk is a semi-retired insurance broker living in Las Vegas with his wife, Assemblywoman Connie Munk. He is active in Democratic politics and enjoys writing an occasional op-ed.