Give the Legislature more power? I say yes


Nobody knows better than I the mischief that the Gang of 63 can create in Carson City, if given half a chance. Or 120 days.

So the idea to allow lawmakers to have the latitude to call themselves back to the capital for fun, games and an occasional meaningful bill scares me as much as anyone. But it’s still the right thing to do, and I’m going to vote for Question 1 on the ballot.

Let me tell you why:

The balance of power in Nevada is out of whack. And it has been for a long time.

The governor is all alone in Carson City for 20 out of 24 months of the year, virtually unchecked by the legislative branch, which has gone fishing. And during the session, the governor alone has the ability to propose a budget, which the Gang of 63 can only react to.  (Some lawmakers want the power to be able to craft an alternative budget, which is one of those be careful what you wish for scenarios. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

I understand why governors oppose this idea. Most have little regard for the Legislature as a body, although they have regard for a handful of its members. Many who have visited this non-deliberative body naturally chafe at the idea of giving them more power over our lives. Fair enough.

But governors, like any politicians, are very jealous of their power. No elected official I have ever met would willingly cede authority to another branch of government. OK. Fine.

Governor Brian Sandoval cloaks himself in the constitutional separation of powers, saying the framers intended it that way. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it. That’s Governor Sunny's argument.

But it’s broke. And needs fixing.

And it’s not as if Question 1 offers the Gang of 63 carte blanche.

The proposition sets limits on the legislative power to call itself into session. You would need so-called extraordinary circumstances and a petition signed by two thirds of each house. Rarely can you get that many of that group to agree on ANYTHING.

Sessions would be limited to 20 days – barely long enough to run up a decent tab at Adele’s. And the Legislature would be prohibited from acting on anything outside of the original petition – although something tells me they might be able to get around that with amendments.

The most obvious reason to give lawmakers this power is if a governor is so badly misbehaving that an impeachment tribunal should be convened. That can’t happen now.

But wouldn't that be an extraordinary circumstance? It could occur, say if a chief executive wasn’t coming into the office, was gallivanting around with his alleged mistress or refusing to participate in the process. Luckily, nothing like that has happened in recent Nevada history.

It is an inescapable fact that there have been far more lawmakers over the years who should have been put in the stocks than governors. Yes, there are more of them. But there are more misbehaving ones, too.

But that should not be a disqualifying argument.

Nevada is one of only 16 states where lawmakers do not have this power to call themselves into session. There’s a reason why it exists in two thirds of the states. It’s that balance of power thing again. It has been unbalanced here for way too long.

I really don’t worry too much that lawmakers will get together to call themselves back to Carson City for frivolous reasons. Or that they will go up there for special sessions and enact unnecessary laws. They do that already.

And in the aftermath of a special session they foisted on the state, the punishment will be swift and severe at the ballot box. The punishment will fit the crime, so let’s give them the chance to show they can do what they have been known to do on occasion: Behave.