blank.gif (51 bytes) Democracy
Who Cares in the
Legislature Meets?

by Bob Thomas

ere we go again—I see the Dis-Information Service Department of the University of Nevada, Reno has geared up full-swing for this legislative session. In particular, the specific piece of propaganda I’m referring to is UNR’s recent claim that a university-conducted poll shows that over half of Nevada’s citizens want annual legislative sessions.

Now what’s so phony about that? Well, the university folks have been making that claim prior to every legislative session as far back as I can remember. And that includes the 1983-’85-’87 sessions, when I was the District 37 assemblyman.

In the first place, if anybody credible conducted such a poll and it was done accurately with respect to an equal mix of income levels, with fine statistical proportion of private vs. public workers being interviewed, not asking leading questions which will produce "proper" answers, and taking into consideration that 50 percent of all people called won’t even talk to pollsters, then the results would show that the vast majority of taxpayers, as opposed to tax-takers (public employees and teachers) don’t give a hoot if the Legislature meets at all!

Now let’s examine why the University and Community College System of Nevada wants us citizens to support annual legislative sessions. It always comes down to money. How does the university-college system get its money? From the Legislature. Budgetary increases for higher salaries and whatever else cannot be had without legislative approval during a legislative session.

So it becomes obvious doesn’t it? If you were a member of the education establishment wouldn’t you rather have a crack at the Legislature every year instead of every other year? Of course you would. This gives you double the opportunity to lobby for more money.

And lobby they do. During my tenure as a legislator the university-college system had at least one full-time lobbyist, a Ph.D. who purportedly taught regular classes at UNR and was also a representative of the professor’s quasi-union, plus regular lobbying visits from assistant administrators and sometimes even the president himself. So anytime you hear claims being made by the public education establishment about what we taxpayers want, just ask yourself, "What’s in it for them?" Yup, always more money!

Now let’s take a look at the main reason why we taxpayers can’t afford annual legislative sessions. You’ve no doubt heard the term "citizen legislature?" A citizen legislature means that your elected lawmakers come from all walks of life. For example, when I was in the Assembly, we had a couple of businessmen, a taxi driver, a casino owner, a contractor, two union electricians, a union laborer steward, an optometrist, three engineers, three ranchers, a railroad conductor, a health care provider, three public employees, three educators, six lawyers, three housewives and a variety of others. Indeed, we had a citizens’ legislature, a representative cross-section of Nevada’s people. Out of 63, only six were lawyers.

Now contrast that with California which has over 80 percent lawyers in its legislature. Do you think a legislature made up by an overwhelming majority comprised of any single class of persons will be as safe for citizens as a citizen legislature? In the 1930s when I was a kid in California, we too had biennial legislative sessions just like Nevada, and a citizen legislature. And California was a helluva lot nicer place to live then than it is now!

What changed California? Annual sessions, and then continuous sessions. Shortly following the vote to annualize the legislature, the complexion changed from a citizen legislature to mostly lawyers. Why? Because plain old citizens like you and me cannot afford to take time off from making a living to serve every year. But lawyers can because law firms know that having one of their members in the legislature is a prestige factor for the firm, so they cover their guy’s full salary while he (or she) is in legislative session. Also, this establishes the lawyer-legislator to become a lucrative lobbyist for the firm at the end of his legislative career.

Fortunately, the choice will ultimately be ours because annual sessions will eventually come to a citizen vote. Just remember that at the start of the 1999 session more than 1,400 bills had already been drafted for a 120-day legislative session. Good grief! Can you imagine a double dose of this? That’s exactly what we’ll get if we approve annual sessions. And don’t let the proponents tell you that we’ll only have half as many bills with annual sessions. There’s no precedent for that claim in any other state! Lawmakers will always squeeze in as many bills as they can.

If you’re a taxpayer who works in the private sector of our economy—that is, you don’t work for government and you’re not on some kind of welfare or assistance program—then there is nothing the Legislature can do for you. The Legislature can only hurt you through higher taxes or loss of freedom. The fewer legislative sessions we have and the shorter they are the better off we are! NJ

Bob Thomas , a Carson City businessman, is a former Nevada state assemlyman. This article is reprinted from the Nevada Appeal with permission.


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