Nevada gov calls 4:30 a.m. session to finish bills

Associated Press
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Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, naps after lawmakers failed to meet their midnight deadline for the end of the 77th Legislative session in Carson City, Nev., Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Gov. Brian Sandoval called the Legislature back into a special session to address a handful of issues, which some lawmakers said they missed finishing by minutes. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers were roused into a special session before dawn Tuesday to debate five matters left unhandled during the regular session that ended hours earlier at midnight.

In a proclamation issued four hours after the session's end, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval ordered legislators to consider four bills and set a time limit for the special session from 4:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesday, though "legislative time" is a relative thing.

Lawmakers curled up in chairs and on couches to wait out the wee hours. Muffled snores wafted from the reception area of Democratic leadership offices, where three women snoozed sitting upright on a sofa while Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, sprawled out in a chair.

Legislative leaders who spent all night in the Capitol called members of their party after Sandoval signed the proclamation. By 6 a.m. life was slowly returning to the legislative halls, but legislating had not yet begun on the list of bills awaiting action.

One measure would authorize the Clark County Commission in Las Vegas to raise the sales tax rate to fund more police officers. Others involve implementing class size reduction policy, charter school accounts and economic development tax abatements.

Another measure to be resolved would provide $2 million to the state's Millennium Scholarship fund. The original bill would have given the money to the group Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach in urban and rural schools for two years, but that lacked support in the Assembly for passage.

Monday night marked a crazy finish to a regular session that will be remembered for the expulsion of a troubled lawmaker, historic votes on gay marriage, driving privileges for people living in the country illegally, gun control and tax reform.

In between there were fights and oratories over sports bets, election bets, dangerous dogs, state dogs, state cocktails, tax credits, tax abatements, local government, the federal government and raw milk.

But the last few hours were frenzied, leaving bills to die in the chaos that came to an end at midnight when a clerk in the Senate counted down the seconds to the deadline and declared time was up. The session began Feb. 4 and was limited to 120 days.

The first weeks dealt with the expulsion of Steven Brooks, who became the first legislator expelled in Nevada since statehood after a string of public incidents and arrests.

It was the first session since the Great Recession put Nevada's economy in a vise grip that testimony in money committees wasn't dominated by doom, gloom and finding more places in the budget to cut.

Nevada's mining industry, a frequent target when lawmakers go looking for money, was in the bulls-eye. Legislators gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to lift the 5 percent cap on net proceeds of minerals, a move that would allow the Legislature to adjust the tax rate. That measure will be on the 2014 ballot for voter ratification.

Mining dodged a broadside from six Senate Republicans led by Minority Leader Michael Roberson, of Henderson, who pushed a measure to double the net proceeds tax and put it on next year's ballot, too, as an alternative to a business tax alternative already headed to voters. Roberson's bill never received a hearing.

Lawmakers debated taxes but failed in the end to pass tax reform. Democrats promised a top-to-bottom review of Nevada's tax structure beginning on Day One. While the reviews took place, they were doomed from the start. After announcing early on he would extend $630 million in expiring taxes, Sandoval promised to veto other hikes. GOP lawmakers quickly lined up with him. Lacking a two-thirds majority to pass taxes or override a veto, Democrats were fouled.

The 2013 session also exhibited new twists on social issues.

A proposal to repeal Nevada's constitutional definition of marriage and legalize gay marriage spurred soul-searching debates late one night on the Senate floor.

"I'm black. I'm gay," declared Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, thrusting the North Las Vegas Democrat into the national spotlight. The Legislature approved a bill to abolish the Protection of Marriage Act ratified by voters in 2002 and declare that Nevada will recognize all marriages regardless of gender. If approved again by the 2015 Legislature, it will go to voters in 2016.

Tens of thousands of people will be able to drive on Nevada roadways under a bipartisan bill authorizing driver privilege cards for people in the country illegally. Sandoval, Nevada's first Hispanic governor, signed that measure surrounded by Democratic and Republican legislators and members of Nevada's growing Hispanic community.