CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada voters will decide next month whether to give state lawmakers authority to call themselves into special session, a move backers argue would allow legislators to act quickly in times of crisis, while critics fear it could slowly morph the state's part-time citizen Legislature into a full-time governing body.
Question 1, the only statewide measure on the November ballot, would amend the Nevada Constitution to allow legislators "on extraordinary occasions" to convene a special session if a petition is signed by two-thirds of the members in both legislative houses — 14 state senators and 28 members of the Assembly.
Special sessions would be limited to 20 calendar days unless called to expel a legislator or impeach or remove the governor, other constitutional officers or a judicial officer from office. Sessions also could be extended beyond 20 days if a supermajority of two-thirds of the members in both chambers approved. Lawmakers also would be limited to considering only measures outlined in the petition used to call the special session.
In 2006, Nevada voters rejected a similar measure by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. State lawmakers in 2009 and 2011 approved a bill, AJR5, to put the issue before voters a second time this year.
Nevada is one of 16 states in which only the governor can convene a special session. Thirty-four states allow legislators to call a special session.
Former Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, who championed the effort in 2009, cited the scandal of ex-Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich as an example of why Nevada lawmakers should have the power to convene on their own.
Blagojevich was convicted on several counts including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. He is serving a 14-year prison term.
"In this state, we could not call a special session to remove our governor from office, but I have a feeling the people may have more of an appetite to pass this the next time they have a chance," Mortenson said during a 2009 committee hearing.
Other lawmakers noted the state's economy that began imploding in 2008 and the ensuing foreclosure crisis. Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, said during a hearing last year that then-Gov. Jim Gibbons should have called a special session to address the problem.
"As it was, we had to wait until we came back into regular session in 2009" to address the foreclosure crisis and state's tumbling economy, he said.
Skeptics worry the measure would give lawmakers too much power.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, wondered whether the measure "becomes an excuse to do something we do not do in regular session."
"In effect, it would substitute for the fact that we have biennial sessions and not yearly ones," he said.
He also expressed concern that it would give one political party excessive power if they held supermajorities in both chambers.
Another provision of Question 1 would adjust the time when legislative sessions must end. The constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn on the 120th day of a regular session no later than midnight Pacific Standard Time. But the Nevada Supreme Court in a 2001 ruling noted the "spring ahead, fall back" ritual of seasonal time changes. Because daylight saving time is in effect when the Legislature traditionally adjourns in early June, the actual deadline to wrap up business is 1 a.m. the next day, the court ruled.
Question 1 would designate midnight as the deadline for all regular and special session, regardless of the time of year.