Notes on a Legislature -- Week 10
This is the way Billpocalypse ends, not with late-night committees furiously passing bills but with Southern Nevada lawmakers booking early flights to go home. Facing the first major deadline of the session, a midnight death knell to any bills still in committee, the Legislative Building itself was dead by mid-afternoon as many legislators and lobbyists had completed their business, passing some measures and killing many others. The efficiency was impressive, the drama almost nonexistent.
“I believe everyone has left the building,” Senate Government Affairs Chairman David Parks said, wryly, right before he adjourned at 2:45 PM.
So much smoother than when the Republicans ran the place in 2015, eh, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson? Indeed, the Democratic leaders carefully and methodically waived, exempted and massaged the bills they had on their lists, creating a pathway to the endgame six weeks hence that is at last becoming clearer.
A few nefarious doings were about. I can still see the broad smile on a veteran lobbyist’s face Thursday telling me how much fun it was to kill bills -- such as the gutting of a payday loan reform measure. (Was this in the Blueprint...?)
As the bills rolled out of committee -- or didn't -- I could see the contours of the endgame coming together, with two kinds of measures allowed to live: The ones that need work but that Gov. Brian Sandoval might sign -- such as a PhRMA transparency bill -- and the ones that Democrats believe they have a duty to pass even if the governor will veto them -- such as collective bargaining for state employees (somewhere up there legendary GOP lawmaker Bill Raggio is cringing).
Some thoughts for the week:
----The endgame package: Talking to folks in the building who know, and looking at the bills that survived, it appears the endgame package may well include some combination of: The Medicaid/mental health funding shift, the pot tax, the minimum wage increase (!), criminal justice reform and a few items to be named later. It’s always about the budget, which is where those first two measures come in. Democrats keep telling me that despite his adverse signaling, Gov. Brian Sandoval may well sign a minimum wage bill. And criminal justice reform, a huge priority for Democratic leaders Jason Frierson and Aaron Ford, is something the former federal judge and ex-attorney general is interested in. Enough to sign a restoration of felons’ rights bill? Maybe. Do you still hear the Roberson screaming, governor? (Said in best Hannibal Lecter voice...) But what of ESAs and the PhRMA bill? Won’t they be there? Glad you asked.
----The ESA conundrum: There are two distinct schools of thought about how Sandoval really feels about ESAs. The first, which I find unlikely but not impossible, is that he cares less than we might think. That is, Education Savings Accounts may not be part of the final budget package because the Democrats, many of whom are unalterably opposed, will not pass them no matter what they look like. The second, which makes more intuitive sense, is that some kind of mean-tested ESA program will be approved, one with a sliding scale of grants to those from rich (zero) to poor (a lot). I am actually convinced this is more of a “bubble” issue than a real issue, but I still think Sandoval wants school choice in statute, no matter what it looks like, as part of his legacy.
----The PhRMA vs. the World bill: SB 265, which has catalyzed the only real interesting political battle of Session ‘17, would figure to be part of the endgame battle. But I am not so sure. This will be something to watch -- check out my column Sunday for more details. But how in the world does the governor veto a measure supported by his friends in gaming, plus unions and insurance companies, and opposed only by out-of-state pharmaceutical behemoths? I don’t see it. The question, though, is what does it look like by the time it is sent to his desk? And can the Democrats get it there before it gets caught up, or trampled, in the Rush to Close?
----The SOS conversion therapy: My favorite thing this week, though, was what Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske achieved. She managed to get amended into a bill the long-overdue reforms to mandate candidates report cash-on-hand in their campaign accounts (yes, this didn’t exist before) and they have to itemize credit card bills on reports (again, amazing this is not in law, right?). Why do I love this? Because Cegavske, as a lawmaker, used to deride such campaign finance reforms, saying no constituent ever asked about the issue and only the media care. Now we know the truth, Madame Secretary: You care. Kudos.