Meeting and record closures disputed

The Legislative Commission is being criticized for avoiding public deliberations.

The Commission is one of two panels that conduct legislative business when the full legislature is out of session.

During an Aug. 24 Las Vegas meeting of the Commission, Republicans hassled over which of their senators will serve on a committee to select a new chief for the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), staff arm of the Legislature. Barbara Cegavske of Clark County and Ben Kieckhefer of Washoe County were the two contenders. Commission chair Steven Horsford, the Democratic floor leader of the Senate, called a recess, apparently to accommodate the Republicans in getting their signals straight.

The Republicans then met in a closed caucus, and when they came out, they were singing in unison behind compromise candidate Mike McGinness of Churchill County, who got the position.

The state open meeting law exempts the Legislature from its provisions, but since that exemption was enacted, voters amended the Nevada Constitution to read, “The meetings of all legislative committees must be open to the public, except meetings held to consider the character, alleged misconduct, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person.” But the constitution does not cover political party caucuses, and a considerable amount of legislative business is done in those caucuses.

On another front, legislative lawyer Brenda Erdoes submitted to the Legislative Commission a guideline on public records. It reads:

“The Legislative Commission recognizes the Nevada Supreme Court decision Donrey of Nevada v. Bradshaw … (1990), has recognized a common law limitation of the provisions of the Nevada Public Records Act. This common law limitation requires an agency to balance the public interest in disclosure against the public interest served by nondisclosure to determine whether information is a confidential record. The Legislative Counsel Bureau shall deny any request for information if, on balance, the public interest in nondisclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure. The request for the release of public information shall state the reason for the request so the legislative Counsel Bureau can weigh the public interest in disclosure.”

Nevada Press Association director Barry Smith pointed out that Bradshaw does not require any balancing test. The language of the third line of the rule is not neutral—it seems to anticipate refusals in most cases. Under the statutes, Nevadans are not required to state a reason for requesting a public record, but they would have to do so if the proposed balancing test were imposed.