Born again

Death is by no means final when it comes to bills before the Nevada Legislature

Is the future of Nevada on Assemblyman Bernie Anderson’s agenda board?

Is the future of Nevada on Assemblyman Bernie Anderson’s agenda board?

Photo By Peter Hutchinson

David Robinson would like nothing better than to thank the woman who gave birth to him 25 years ago.

Now a doctoral student in the Bay Area, David knows nothing about his birth or his mother, other than he was born in Reno in the fall of 1977 and was adopted soon after by a family from California.

He has repeatedly stumbled over bureaucratic obstructions in his quest to answer questions about the first months of his life. A few weeks ago, David’s hopes took an upward turn when he learned that a bill, SB 267, had been introduced to the Nevada Senate that would give adoptees more access to records of their birth and adoptions.

Those hopes were dashed on March 11 when SB 267 died in committee, a victim of the deadlines that have been placed at various stages of bill progress in the Nevada Legislature. Bills were required to have their first committee approval on Friday. Those that didn’t died.

The decision to let the adoption bill die was the result of opposition to certain sections in the bill, including the elimination of a state adoptions register. If amendments had been made, the bill might have succeeded; however, senators found other bills more worthy of their time.

Chairman Mark Amodei concedes that a change in Nevada law is warranted, but the Senate Judiciary Committee simply ran out of time to craft the bill into an acceptable form. Rather than make hasty changes, the committee opted to send a letter to a panel dealing with adoptive children and families, asking for new language in time for the 2005 legislative session.

Robinson is just one of many people who had hopes for new laws dashed when the bell tolled. More than a third of the 1,033 bills introduced by legislators in the first 68 days of this year’s session have died.

Joy Simmons and Gaylene Ausem have waited since Feb. 6, the first week of the session, to see AB 50 discussed in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. That bill would have allowed Nevadans who have suffered injurious breast implant surgery to sue for damages.

Simmons and Ausem sought a change in Nevada law, which would allow women who declined to accept Dow Corning’s global settlement to go to court even though the statute of limitations has passed.

Although a similar bill made it through the same committee two years ago—only to fail in the Senate—this time the bill never left the office of Bernie Anderson, the committee’s chairman.

Anderson says he and his committee didn’t want to tamper with the statute of limitations. “These statutes are in place for a very good reason—to provide stability for the insurance industry,” he says. “I don’t believe we are in a position to change them.”

Although the bill failed to make it out of committee, Simmons and Ausem are optimistic that the bill will be resurrected within another bill that didn’t die in committee.

“We are not giving up yet,” says Simmons. “We have a lot of fight left in us, and we intend to pursue this until the end of the session.”

Deadline? What deadline?

Many lobbyists know only too well that no bill is dead until after midnight on the 120th day of the session—sometimes not even then.

Stephanie Licht, a long-time lobbyist for rural Nevada businesses, says it is possible for any bill—whether it has been voted out or not even seen the light of day at committee—to resurface as an attachment to an existing bill.

Licht says some of the tax bills that died in committee last Friday will resurface.

“From now until the end of this session, there are numerous ways that seemingly dead bills can find their way back to life,” she says. “Like they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

The next 50 days is when most of the wheeling and dealing goes on between legislators and lobbyists. “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings, and that’s normally late into the evening of the 120th and final day,” Licht says.

There are already a number of bills that died last Friday slated for resurrection—if not by Easter, soon after.

Among the tax bills expected to resurface as an attachment is Sen. Joe Neal’s proposal to raise casino taxes from 6.25 to 10.25 percent. Not surprisingly, it failed to emerge from the Senate Taxation Committee, but given Neal’s attitude toward increasing casino taxes, it is far from the recycled-paper bin.

Also down, but not necessarily out, are bills to increase banking, business and gasoline taxes and a sales tax on services.

Proposals to increase liquor and cigarette taxes and SB 238—Gov. Kenny Guinn’s tax recommendations, which includes the contentious gross receipts tax proposal—are also in suspended animation.

Many observers believe that neither SB 238 nor AB 281, a slightly different version of the Senate bill, will become law before June 3, the end of the session, given the mounting opposition to the proposed gross tax levy.

Most lawmakers and lobbyists believe a special legislative session will be called within two days of the end of this session to act on the state’s budget problems and Guinn’s numerous tax proposals.

Among the plethora of bills expected to resurface are three Assembly construction-defect measures that didn’t get out of the Judiciary Committee by Friday’s deadline.

AB 373 would have placed strict time restrictions on the length of time homeowners could sue builders and contractors over defects. The bill faced opposition from attorneys who believe the time restrictions—in some cases, only a year—were too short.

AB 446 would have mandated that builders could not stipulate in sales contracts requirements for binding or nonbinding arbitration to settle defect claims, while AB 449 required that all builders disclose any previous construction defect suits against them when entering into a construction or sales agreement.

Committee chairman Anderson says each of the three bills had flaws, but there was not enough time to make changes before Friday’s deadline. He says there is widespread support for the three bills, including from within the insurance industry, but it is essential that the rights of homeowners be upheld while making sure that builders have the opportunity to repair a home before facing a lawsuit.

At least one of two racial profiling bills that died Friday is expected to return to the floor. Both bills—one from Sen. Joe Neal and the other from Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus—would have required, among other things, data collection during traffic stops and training in racial sensitivity for law enforcement officers. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the bills died in part because of the costs involved in collating the information and training the officers.