As Nevada prepares for the 2003 Legislature, this month’s magazine features a “Legislative Outlook” outlining some of the major issues that will be discussed this session. It should come as no surprise that our cover story focuses chiefly on taxation, because solving the state’s budget shortfall is vitally important to us all. However, lawmakers will also have to decide how to keep doctors in Nevada (if possible) by taking another look at the medical malpractice insurance crisis. Builders will be looking for relief from their own insurance woes by trying to amend the state’s construction defect legislation. And every session sees its share of proposals aiming to improve our public education system.
You think your job is hard? The decisions you make each day may affect your company, its employees and its customers. If it’s a public company, there may be repercussions for shareholders. But the 63 legislators we are sending to Carson City have the future of our entire state in their hands.
Whose voices will they be hearing on a daily basis in Carson City as they attempt to make these decisions? Will they be hearing from their constituents on these issues or will they be getting most of their information from paid lobbyists? Don’t get me wrong – lobbyists have an important part to play in lawmaking. In fact, they provide valuable information legislators need, but I want to make sure we citizens are heard as well.
During the last legislative session, over 700 people registered as lobbyists, representing special interests from nonprofit groups to powerful companies, and from industry associations to school districts and labor unions. A quick review of the list (located at leg.state.nv.us/lobbyistdb/index.cfm) reveals some interesting data. For example, other states probably have groups like the Nevada Woolgrowers Association or the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, but I’d have to bet no other state has a Brothel Owners Association.
The sheer number of lobbyists and of groups doesn’t concern me too much – there are only a few really powerful lobbyists, and most of the smaller organizations that hire a lobbyist will only speak up when their own narrow interests are threatened. However, some heavyweight contenders are waiting in the wings for the opening bell, and I think they bear watching. The Nevada Trial Lawyers Association had 16 registered lobbyists last session, and may have more this time as attorneys gear up for challenges from both the homebuilders and the doctors, who claim their insurance problems have been at least partially caused by predatory lawsuits. The Nevada Resort Association will be looking for any signs that legislators – who have increasingly indicated their dissatisfaction with the proposed gross receipts tax on businesses – are thinking about increasing gaming taxes. Cities, counties, school districts and other government groups will all be trying to hold on to their piece of the pie by fighting to keep their share of state funds.
And then there’s the 800-pound gorilla among the lobbying groups, the Nevada State Education Association (a.k.a. the Teachers Union), which last time led all other organizations with a whopping 23 registered lobbyists. Look for them to try to fight off any measure that would tie accountability to school funding. They have been lobbying hard for more money, and not just to keep up with growth, but also to institute new programs.
Where does this leave Nevada’s average citizens, and how can we make sure our voices are heard in Carson City? Remember, it’s our money legislators will be spending. No matter what decisions are made on taxation, we’re the ones who will eventually have to reach into our pockets to pay for the programs approved by the 2003 Legislature.
You’ve read it in this column before, but it bears repeating. It’s your money – you have a right to decide how much of it will be spent and where it goes, so it pays to keep track of the bills being discussed in the Legislature. Call, write or e-mail your representatives and let them know what you think. If a proposal will harm your industry or your company, tell them about it. Paid lobbyists with some other agenda will certainly be telling them their side of the story.
For a list of legislators and their contact information, visit the Nevada Legislature’s Web site, leg.state.nv.us. Once the session starts, you can also view bill requests there. According to state law, the session can only last for 120 days. By June third, it will be over and we will all have to live with the results until the next session in 2005. So, until June third, let’s keep our eyes and ears open, and open our mouths as necessary to let our voices be heard.