Another legislative session is in the books, and Nevada taxpayers are safe again for another 20 months. Well, maybe. I hope lawmakers won’t take too much time off, because if they want to have a more effective, professional, and productive session in 2021, they need to start planning now. Here are a few reflections from this session – may they be lessons for next time.
This year should be forever remembered as the Procrastination Session, with dozens of major bills being heavily amended or introduced in the last few weeks. If anyone out there thinks this is a good way to handle the people’s business, or that this session was the model of how to pass good laws, let’s just agree right now to have three-week sessions.
Does anyone really think that every legislator read and understood every – or even most – of the bills they voted on in the last week? Who needs to read the bills they’re voting on anyway? If I were more cynical, I might think the purveyors of 11th hour legislation didn’t want their handiwork being read too closely.
The big excitement at the end of the session is that Senate Republicans all held together, and refused to be blackmailed into voting for an unnecessary tax increase. It only passed when Democrats “amended” their bill to declare that they didn’t need a 2/3rds vote to increase revenue from what was previously authorized.
If the Republicans are in the minority next session, they should try the same trick. Amend their bills so that they contain a provision that they only need 1/3 support to pass. And that they don’t need to be signed by the governor in order to take effect.
On top of it, the Democratic amendment to AB551 also took funding away from poor kids who otherwise would have had a chance to go to a different school that met their needs better than their assigned school. It’s sad that partisan spite is more important than actually improving education for indigent individuals who are poorly served by traditional public schools.
I’m proud of the Republicans for standing firm, but now they need to follow through with the promised lawsuit to invalidate the tax hike. If they don’t, the 2/3rds rule will be a dead letter, and the GOP will have even more of a credibility problem with both their base and independent voters.
The importance of the 2/3 rule for raising taxes is often misunderstood. It’s not just about protecting Republicans who lose too many races (although there is that). It’s about building a broad consensus among not just a lot of people, but a lot of different types of people. Urban liberal Democrats, no matter how many there are in raw numbers, should not feel comfortable taking money or local power away from a diverse group of other people in the state, unless they get buy-in from a significant chunk of those other folks.
I would be far more comfortable with any policy that is supported by 55 percent of a group consisting of many different types of stakeholders, than 75 percent support that comes solely from a single political faction. The former is built on mutual understanding and compromise, while the latter is almost always just a naked power play. This philosophy is why our (small “R”) republican institutions such as the electoral college and the prioritization of individual liberties even over someone’s idea of the “common good” are so important to good government.
This is also a good reminder of why decentralizing power is so critically important. If, for example, urban liberals want to raise their own taxes in their own municipalities, and their fellow citizens are on board, good on them, and thanks for not dragging us down with you. To that end, I think Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s bill to authorize municipal governments to raise taxes is a good thing. By the same token, getting away from a huge, monopolistic school districts and giving parents more choice from a variety of public school options would lead to better education for everyone. It’s a shame politicians are so predictably hypocritical when it comes to centralized government control over everyday life decisions.
It’s awfully frustrating to hear education advocates pouting about this legislative session because they didn’t get even more funding than the significant increases Democrats bent the state constitution around to get for them. We hear this after every major tax increase geared toward schools, including the massive 2015 changes pushed through by Republicans.
Any government service, no matter how important, must be provided with limited resources because taxpayers have a limit. Also, there are many problems (like poor leadership) which money doesn’t solve – but constantly complaining about needing more cash is easier than proper budgeting or confronting poor management over wasteful practices. People who don’t demonstrate an understanding of these plain truths should be ignored the next time they come around shaking their collection plates.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler was pushed out of his leadership position for being a poor communicator with the public and (in part because of this) because he was an ineffective leader both before and during the session.
Who could have seen that coming?
Kudos to Republicans, though, for being smart enough to make some changes in communication strategy and leadership now, when that sort of thing can make a difference, instead of waiting until October of 2020. The GOP has a lot of fodder after this session to make the case for new leadership – but they can’t be afraid to make that case.
Having the first woman-majority Legislature in the country was a cool milestone. Even cooler is that nobody seemed to care or even notice all that much once things got underway. True equality is apparent when people are more interested in your policy success or failures than in your demographic trivia.
The major criminal justice reform bill, AB236, underwent one last major overhaul in the final days of the session. What emerged isn’t perfect, but is, I think, an overall good policy change which actually tries to balance public safety along with the need to continue finding ways to reduce recidivism and address the underlying causes of criminal behavior.
That’s what happens when you introduce a bill early, involve ALL the stakeholders in a very public way, listen to smart columnists and adjust your proposed language accordingly. My one complaint is that the bill is so huge and multi-faceted that it’s difficult to suss out everything that it’s going to do, especially as some parts of the bill interact with other parts fifty pages away in less than obvious ways. Certain reforms (especially having to do with specialty courts) would have been better had they been proposed in smaller bills dealing with single subjects.
Still, how much better would everything have been at the end of the session if all of the major policy bills had been worked through in this way – the way it’s supposed to be done? I fear we will suffer from the unintended consequences of slapped-together-at-the-last-minute laws and budget line items before the next session begins. There is certainly no shortage of new red tape for businesses large and small to fight through.
The silver lining of this cloud is that the Legislature will meet again soon enough, with new opportunities to correct mistakes, build on successes and undo the failed experiments. The time to start planning for that is now.
Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.