Why did Nevada lawmakers delete a committee video?
Check the Legislature’s YouTube page, and you’ll find a cornucopia of live streamed videos showing the hundreds of committee meetings and floor sessions that occur everyday during the session’s 120 days.
All except one.
The Assembly Judiciary committee meeting from March 7 is no longer available on the Legislature’s YouTube page, nor on Legislature’s internal video hosting service.
So why the deletion?
During the meeting, Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Las Vegas) requested that a lobbyist testifying on AB170 identify specific police officers for the record. That lobbyist, Erica Roth with the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office, subsequently named four police officers involved with felony drug charges related to marijuana possession in Washoe County. The public identification of the officers led to the removal of the recording because of concerns about their safety, sources told The Indy so the names could be scrubbed.
Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes said the Legislature is not required to post videos of their meetings, but does so because it believes those video recordings are a valuable service.
Erdoes said it may take until the end of the week to get the video back up on YouTube and the Legislature’s website. The Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus did not respond to a request for comment about the incident.
The situation is a reminder that unlike nearly every other board or government body in the state, the Legislature is not subject to the state’s open meeting laws that apply to other governmental agencies.
Nevada law establishes that all meetings of public bodies must be open and public, and all people must be given a chance to attend either in person or remotely. The law is meant to guarantee all Nevadans a chance to weigh in on, or at least witness, decisions made by their government.
The state’s Open Meeting Law was enacted in 1960 and requires proper notice of the meeting posted at least 3 working days ahead of time, a publicly available agenda listing all topics or actions that might be included in the meeting, as well as written minutes or recordings to be publicly available after the meeting. It also prohibits private, unobserved meetings and conversations about policies that those boards might be considering if a quorum is present, even by phone or email.
But committee meetings and floor sessions happening during Nevada’s 120-day legislative session are not subject to those requirements. This means when lawmakers are setting policies for the state, there’s no requirement that their communications are public. Bills can be deliberated in private, and discussions and votes can take place during or immediately after “behind the bar” meetings held on the floor, which the cameras aren’t required to capture.
However, the state Constitution mandates that the “doors of each House shall be kept open during its session,” and all legislative committees must be open to the public outside “meetings of all legislative committees must be open to the public, except meetings held to consider the character, alleged misconduct, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person.”
Additionally, committee agendas can change at the last minute and don’t have to include every policy or action that may be considered.
Part of the reason these exemptions are justified is the need for expediency during a session that lasts only 120 days and is designed to determine the laws for the course of the next two years. The standing rules of the Senate and Assembly both require that all meetings be open to the public, and for “adequate” notice to be given “by posting information relative to the bills, topics and public hearings which are to come before committees.”
This story was updated on Thursday, March 16 at 1:23 p.m. to clarify information about the state Constitution mandating doors be open during the session among other details.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.