To the victors go the spoils
They’re getting things done, all right.
In just three weeks, Republicans in the Legislature have already made a substantial dent in their pent-up agenda, cloaking their anti-worker, anti-homeowner and anti-union views in the mantle of “reforms” that Democrats have stymied for years.
One of the pre-session agreements was the idea of allowing school districts to “roll over” their construction bonds without going back to the voters for permission. Republicans, Democrats and the governor all agreed that Clark County needs to build new schools and Washoe County needs to repair its crumbling infrastructure. Voters in Clark County have resisted new school bonds since 2008 and there’s nothing to suggest Washoe County voters are any more inclined.
The plan was to pass the legislation by March 1 so construction could begin immediately and legislators could then bask in the glow of bipartisanship reminiscent of the Tesla mega-giveaway. The bill would buy school officials 10 years before they had to convince voters to extend the construction bonds again, an eternity in Nevada politics.
Warning signs emerged in January when newly minted Senate Republican leader Michael Roberson declared the popular bill would be carried by freshman Sen. Becky Harris, awarding her a ready-made victory. The move was anything but bipartisan since it was a Democratic senator, Debbie Smith of Sparks, who first championed the concept as a cornerstone of her effort to provide jobs and improve schools.
Things only got worse when the bill, Senate Bill 119, was presented. It now included a poison pill for Democrats, an exemption from the long-standing prevailing wage condition in public construction projects, ensuring good wages for middle class construction workers. Unions and their allies joined Democratic legislators in passionate speeches about workers who need to support their families and guarantee high-quality construction. Republicans countered with the argument that paying lower wages would stretch the money further.
In a classic case of stating exactly the opposite of your true intentions, Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, laughably insisted Republicans weren’t “trying to gut the entire prevailing wage scheme.” He accused the Democrats of turning “every policy difference we may have this session into an accusation of partisanship.”
Another bill Republicans have been itching to pass for years also won approval as an Assembly “emergency measure.” Assembly Bill 125, the construction “reform” bill, supposedly reins in the trial lawyers who represent homeowners with shoddy new houses. With little public input, it was fast-tracked to a partisan Senate vote. Better hope your new home doesn’t have any problems since few attorneys will now be willing to take your case.
Another area ripe for meddling by Republicans is the well-managed Public Employee Retirement System for Nevada’s public workers. A.B. 3, sponsored by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, mandates that three of the nine PERS board members be political appointees by the governor.
Despite testimony from retirees, union representatives and PERS staff that the well-functioning board doesn’t need any changes, Kirner insisted his bill would “add objectivity.” Inconveniently, opponents of his plan pointed out that private sector members of the board were eliminated back in 1987 after they recommended bad investments.
In the grand tradition of wasting time on boutique bills with minuscule value, last week produced a hearing on SB 105, Republican Sen. James Settlemeyer’s wish to allow dogs in bars. Health department officials quickly derailed the bill by pointing out the public health hazards of such a law.
However, Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus’s bill to make square dancing the official state dance got a better reception after she brought in some square dancers to demonstrate their skill.
Maybe some of her colleagues will learn how to do-si-do. That should provide much needed comic relief.