The 2001 legislative session will long be remembered for the chaos surrounding its final days and hours. Even those who have spent lengthy careers in and around the Legislature say they have never seen anything quite like it. The inability to reach an agreement on reapportionment resulted in the first special session in more than a decade, and the dispute over bills passed during an extra hour on the last night led to a legal challenge. Many people, with great respect for our elected representatives and the legislative process, including myself, were deeply disappointed over the circus-like atmosphere in Carson City as the session limped to a close. However, the session was not all chaos, confusion and comedy. There were many things accomplished that will significantly improve the lives of thousands of Nevadans — measures that went largely unreported due to everything else that was occurring at the time. I think it’s important to tell you about some of them.
No single issue is as important to Nevada’s senior citizen population as the high cost of prescription medicine. In 1999, Nevada became the first state in the nation to implement a real, working, insurance-based program to provide relief for seniors, some of whom have been forced to choose between groceries and life-saving prescription drugs. I’m very proud to have introduced Senior Rx, and of the fact that Nevada did not wait for Congress to create a program and instead moved forward, with unanimous support from the Legislature, to create a prescription drug assistance program. Session ’01 provided the opportunity to build upon that success, to make much-needed improvements in Senior Rx. The program is now more efficient, less expensive and much easier to enroll in. There is no longer an application fee or a $100 deductible, and the application process has been streamlined and simplified. For just a $10 co-pay on generic drugs, a person 62 years or older, making $21,500 or less in annual income, can now receive up to $5,000 in benefits per year. Senior Rx is relieving an enormous financial burden for our seniors and creating peace of mind in the process.
We were also able to make great improvements to our healthcare system in Nevada despite an extraordinarily tight budget. We expanded Medicaid coverage to include women needing treatment for breast or cervical cancer. We greatly increased funding for the state’s mental health services, to increase and improve the treatment of people with mental retardation and other mental health conditions. We increased by 47 percent the payment to Nevada’s foster parents, who provide such an essential service by opening their homes and their hearts to children who might otherwise never have a home. The Medicaid caseload growth is fully funded, as is the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program. In addition, almost $2 million has been allocated to develop and implement a long-range strategic plan to meet Nevada’s healthcare needs now and into the future. Children, seniors, and those suffering with AIDS, cancer, or mental health deficiencies are all better served because of what we were able to do during Session ’01.
Much of the discussion dominating our most recent legislative session dealt with taxes and leadership. Through cost-cutting, prioritizing, reallocating and improved efficiency in all state agencies we were able to improve our healthcare and education systems, provide salary increases for our state and university employees and teachers, as well as public school support staff, and balance the budget — all without a tax increase. However, it’s my belief that within eight years our state budget could face a $1 billion shortfall and the prospect of being forced to cut some vital services. In my mind, leadership does not mean identifying a problem and then immediately calling for more money in the form of taxes. Leadership is taking a good, hard look at how well you’re spending the people’s money and making the sometimes-difficult adjustments necessary to achieve the level of efficiency expected by those footing the bill. And when your revenue stream no longer matches what’s needed to provide the services the people demand, you must reach out. You must reach out to the business community, the gaming and mining industries, taxpayer advocates, the PTA, teachers, representatives of local governments and public employees. Together we will search for a solution to that looming $1 billion shortfall, and it is my hope that we will find a solution based on consensus and built on fairness. That, in my mind, is leadership.