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Nevada lawmakers shake up budget process
by Sandra Chereb - Associated Press
Apr 11, 2011 | 1185 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Legislative leaders Monday announced they will take the most contentious budgets to the Senate and Assembly floors in a decision they say will move the process from behind closed doors into the public arena.

Lawmakers not on the Assembly Ways and Means or Senate Finance committees will also receive full reports on smaller budgets that will still be approved at the committee or subcommittee level.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the change is to "allow for open and frank dialogue" about the consequences of the budget decisions that need to be made.

The budget process, he said, is "not going to be incumbent upon a group of legislators making these decisions alone in a vacuum," he said.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed a $5.8 billion, two-year spending plan and has pledged to veto any bill that includes a tax or fee increase. Democrats concede that while deep cuts are necessary, they take exception to big cuts to education and social service programs.

Republicans in the Legislature have so far stood firmly behind Sandoval. While Democrats hold slim margins in the both the Assembly and Senate, they lack the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass tax increases or override a veto from the governor.

Typically, the money committees come to an agreement on all the budgets, which are then drafted into a final budget bill presented at the end of the session.

Legislative leaders said the new process will require the Senate and Assembly to meet early in the morning or at night after regular committee meetings have ended. Each body will convene as a Committee of the Whole so members can ask questions. They will then vote — putting each legislator's position on the record.

Budgets for K-12 and the higher education system, mental health and juvenile justice programs will be discussed by the full bodies on the floor.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said even small budgets closed by committees will be reported on the floor so members who don't follow the money bills will have an understanding of what's at stake and the public will know Republicans and Democrats alike are committed to reducing government spending.

"The cuts are very sizeable," she said. "These are really life changing decisions we will be making."

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, minority floor leader, said the GOP Assembly caucus is "looking forward to being engaged."

He said the change will slow proceedings down at first but should speed up the process it the long run.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, echoed Goicoechea's sentiments, and said he's asked that members be provided materials 24 hours in advance.

The Republican caucus, McGinness said, "fully understands the reality facing the state."

The 120-day legislative session ends June 6.
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