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The Nevada Independent

Our legislative process ‘broken’ by design

Michael Schaus
Michael Schaus
The Assembly during a floor session inside the Legislature in Carson City on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

As the days count down to sine die, the usual lawless shenanigans of Carson City politicking are picking up. 

And like almost every other year, all the most contentious, controversial and expensive proposals are hurriedly being shoved through an expedited and abbreviated legislative process with little opportunity for the kind of robust public debate they deserve. 

On Memorial Day, lawmakers finally held a joint hearing on the proposal to lavish the worst team in baseball with hundreds of millions of dollars in public financing. Meanwhile, a multibillion dollar plan to expand the state’s film-tax credit scheme is still progressing after having been introduced just mere weeks before lawmakers are set to adjourn for the year; the state’s largest electricity provider, NV Energy, finally saw a bill introduced to boost in-state energy generation; and Democrats have thus far ignored most of Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s key priorities in their recently introduced budget bills

In other words, most of the session’s biggest-ticket items are just now coming into frame — despite over a hundred days already being marked off the legislative calendar

It might feel like such an end-of-session crunch is the result of poor time management skills — but the truth is, this ostensibly broken and hurried system isn’t as accidental as lawmakers and lobbyists would like the public to believe. 

In fact, it can be quite helpful to a political class that has routinely negotiated with special interests and lobbyists behind closed doors on major pieces of legislation — rushing such carefully concocted bills forward with little opportunity for public scrutiny to dismantle them before the end of session.

The idea that such last-minute panic might be more deliberate than incidental is buoyed by the mere fact that none of the key issues being hastily discussed in this final week are exactly “surprise” developments. Sony's proposal to vastly expand the state’s corporate giveaways to moviemakers, for example, was years in the making. And yet, it wasn’t until May that a bill was suddenly sprung on lawmakers. 

Similarly, while the Oakland A’s indecisiveness likely contributed to the tardiness of a bill, it’s not as if state leaders hadn’t already crafted some sort of preliminary agreement earlier in the session. The fact that it took until Memorial Day to finally get a bill put before lawmakers in a joint hearing — for something pretty much everyone knew was coming for months on end — feels a bit too convenient to be chalked up to mere incompetence (The A’s blunders notwithstanding.) 

The quickly approaching panic over budgetary negotiations, however, might just be the most profound evidence that lawmakers deliberately wait until procedural anarchy reigns in Carson City to tackle the substantive issues of the session. After all, we’ve known since Election Day that any budget bill would have to cater to the political priorities of legislative Democratic majorities and a Republican governor — and yet, a mere week before sine die, the tug of war between both parties’ priorities shows no signs of relenting

As it turns out, when it comes to budget discussions, sine die isn’t some quickly approaching inconvenience — it’s political leverage. And the very real specter of a special session demonstrates just how unwilling lawmakers are to grapple with substantively contentious issues earlier in the legislative process — instead waiting until a little last-minute chaos can provide a degree of political pressure that wouldn’t otherwise exist. 

No wonder the suspension of legislative rules at the close of each session has become so commonplace it is routinely done with nothing more than a casual voice vote. And with such a guaranteed suspension of the rules, it’s only natural the proposals requiring difficult decisions from lawmakers routinely sit in limbo until late May and early June. 

Undoubtedly, critics of Nevada’s part-time legislature will argue the problem lies with there being too few days on the legislative calendar for lawmakers to adequately address all of the state’s concerns. However, the real problem goes far deeper than mere legislative schedules. At its core, there’s simply too great an incentive for lawmakers to postpone key legislative priorities until the rules guaranteeing legislative transparency can be waived. 

It's a method of procrastination and obfuscation that is not exclusive to our part-time politicians in Carson City. On the federal level, for example, our full-time electeds engage in identical behavior — the completely predictable panic over the debt ceiling being just one recent example. Both parties have, historically, been more than happy to play political chicken as a way to squeeze out concessions from their political opponents — despite ample time to address federal spending long before the debt ceiling becomes an urgent fiscal crisis.

Such political procrastination occurs by design in our state capital for much the same reason. 

After all, the A’s have been in closed-doors negotiations for months; Sony has been working on its deal with lawmakers for years; lawmakers and NV Energy couldn’t possibly have been blindsided by the current energy landscape; and we’ve known since Election Day that Democratic budgets would have to earn the signature of a Republican governor. 

None of these last-minute priorities and conflicts are the result of too little advance notice or unforeseen developments. The fact that such discussions are just now, in the final days of the session, being given urgency and priority represents a conscious and deliberate choice by lobbyists, lawmakers and political activists to take advantage of the encroaching June 5 legislative deadline as a way to get what they want included in last-minute deals.  

Certainly, many Nevadans would consider such a process to be a fundamentally broken way to run a state. For those political interests that benefit from the lawless panic in the session’s waning days, however, it’s quite clearly broken by design. 

Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political humorist, and most recently as the director of communications for a public policy think tank. Follow him at or on Twitter at @schausmichael.


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