Abiding by the law would improve Nevada's lawmaking
by Dan Steninger
pon completion of the 1997 session of the Ne-
vada Legislature, Ias I'm sure we all did
took a little time to review the legislative summaries that have been running in newspapers just about every day for the past six months.
The purpose of the review was to answer the question: "Was it worth it?" Were there any laws passed or repealed that will improve the lives of the citizens at large? Assuming that just about everyone could point their fingers at some law they felt worthwhile, did those laws require six months and $15.5 millionnot to mention all the millions of dollars spent to improve the legislative offices?
Or, as the drafters of the Nevada Constitution spelled out in language clear to all but taxpayer-funded lawyers, such as the attorney general,and the legislators themselves, could all the valuable lawmaking have been knocked out in 60 days?
From the constitution: "The members of the legislature shall receive for their services, a compensation to be fixed by law and paid out of the public treasury, for not to exceed 60 days during any regular session."
By our count, legislators were in session, and drawing pay, for 169 days. And no, it isn't really relevant whether a "salary" is called "per diem" compensation from day 61 through day 169. It's still 109 days of lawmaking more than allowed under the constitution.
The citizens of the state of Nevada would be better off if that constitutional provision, and a few others, were respected by the people who have solemnly sworn to "protect and defend the constitution and government ... of the state of Nevada against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign " and to "bear true faith, and allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding ... so help me God."
With a respect for that constitutional provision, would there have been time for debate on whether boxers who fail to perform up to standards set by the Nevada Athletic Commission should have their winnings confiscated? No. Would the people suffer as a result? No. Boxers who sat in their corner and whined instead of attempting to put an opponent out of commission would not draw the kind of interest required to fight in Las Vegas. Boxers who took bites out of their opponents heads would be dealt with in a similar fashion: The free market would decide their fate.
If lawmakers were to dutifully complete their work in 60 days, would there have been time left over for the passage of a bill that begins: "The legislature reaffirms its intent that public education in the State of Nevada is essentially a matter for local control by local school districts" and then proceeds, for 22 pages, to usurp local control by setting state policy on education? No. Would they have followed up with other bills that have Carson City officials deciding how many kids can sit in a classroom, how many computers will be in that classroom and how much the classroom teachers will be paid? No.
And what would happen if legislators didn't have the time to decide such educational matters? They'd have to be taken up by local school boards and we'd have more local control of education, the purported purpose of the bill we mentioned above. Just another example of a failure on the part of legislators to bear true faith and allegiance and loyalty.
Were legislators to abide by the 60-day limit, they'd have less time to lose their bearings. While respecting the constitutional limit on the length of legislative sessions would help most legislators, other legislators are going in the wrong direction from Martin Luther King Day on. Those would be the legislators elected from the ranks of various bureaucratic empires. No time limit would prevent these folks from doing their best to expand the government at the expense of the citizenry.
But, here again, the solution lies in the Nevada Constitutionthe one drafted and ratified by the state's founders, not the one "interpreted" by the same crack staff of trough-feeding attorneys who came up with the infamous "A year is not necessarily 365 days long" opinion as a present to Governor Miller, as he prepared to run for his third term.
The constitution is quite clear on this subject: "Article III, Sec. 1. The powers of the government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departmentsthe legislative, the executive, and the judicial; and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions appertaining to either of the others."
To put a contemporary flavor to those words, Bill Raggio can't run for the Nevada Supreme Court without giving up his Senate seat; Miriam Shearing can't moonlight as the governor's legal advisor; and Jan Evans is constitutionally barred from serving in the legislature. The result of our state officials' contempt for these two restrictions was the 1997 legislative session. u
Dan Steninger is Editorial Page Editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.