2011 Legislature: Tough decisions begin for lawmakers

More with a sense of dread than anticipation, the 2011 Legislature finally opens for business Monday.

To maintain current service levels, salaries and programs, the state would need $3 billion more than the $5.34 billion the Economic Forum has projected in general fund revenue for the coming two years.

Democratic lawmakers have already served notice they can't support some of the Gibbons-like cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. But Sandoval is adamant that he will veto anything lawmakers send him that looks like a tax increase.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, only needs two Republican votes to pass a tax measure or override a veto. But, with a minimal 11-10 majority, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, may have a rough time drumming up the three Republicans he would need to raise taxes.

In addition to legislative Democrats, local government officials have some strong objections to the proposed budget, which

balances with the help of millions of dollars from local governments and Nevada school districts.

Caught in the middle in many cases are those who will lose services if the proposed cuts are made - children, seniors, the disabled and the mentally ill.

If the state's budget woes aren't bad enough, lawmakers are also saddled with redistricting after the 2010 Census count. The good news is Nevada now has four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bad news for the rest of the state: Nearly 72 percent of its population is in Clark County. A key issue for lawmakers will be whether to expand the size of the Legislature from the current 21 senators and 42 assembly members. Rural representatives fear if that isn't done, they will end up with just one senator and two assembly members to represent 14 of Nevada's 17 counties.

The final factor at play in what is already a very tough and potentially contentious session is the record number of new faces in the two houses. With term limits kicking in, there are 19 assembly members and three senators who weren't there in 2009 - although two of them, Assemblyman Pat Hickey and Sen. Greg Brower, served in previous sessions.

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said thbecause of the size of the freshman class, leadership responded by ordering much more extensive pre-session training for the new members to get them ready.

The session will start with the traditional pomp and ceremony as the two houses organize themselves for business and report to each other as well as the governor that they are ready to go. The process begins at 11 a.m.

After that, the first order of business will be to introduce and pass Senate Bill 1, which provides $15 million to pay for operation of the 76th regular session.

With the rules changed to allow pre-filing of proposed legislation, the session will start with a bang. There are 128 pre-filed Assembly bills in the hopper and 125 Senate bills, all of which will be introduced in the first day or two so that the Senate and Assembly committees can get to work immediately.

They'll have to do just that since the 120-day session is controlled by a series of tough deadlines, the first of which is just a week after the opening bell: the Feb. 14 deadline for individual legislators to request legislation.

The big deadlines, however, come later. March 21 is the last day lawmakers can introduce legislation and March 28 is the deadline for committees to introduce bills.

Probably the biggest deadline mid-session comes April 15 when all legislation must clear the house where it originated unless it has an exemption approved by leadership. Typically, that kills well over 100 bills.

Measures that are automatically exempt from the list of deadlines are those that make up the budget. Budget bills and other measures leadership agrees should be exempt have until as late as June 1 to be introduced - less than a week before adjournment June 6.

Under Nevada's Constitution, no legislation can become law if it doesn't pass by the end of the 120th calendar day of the session.


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