Lawmakers pass a new body of law, but it has no spirit

If you find the word “corporeal” in a new law, I would suggest:

1. Someone has been using a Thesaurus.

2. Someone has been taking part in seances.

3. Someone is desperate to justify a new law’s raison d’etre.

That was my initial reaction when I saw the word meaning one’s actual body (as opposed to the spirit) in a new, probably unnecessary bill that is a response to a political situation and not really a substantive one. Yes, that never happens in Carson City.

Assembly Bill 407, sponsored by the two leaders of the Assembly, is supposedly a bipartisan solution to the Andrew Martin situation. But is a solution in search of a problem, and it is really designed to fix a law that does not need fixing – and may have made it worse.

“The residence of a person with reference to eligibility to office is [the person’s actual residence] that place where the person has been actually, physically and corporeally within the State or county or district, as the case may be, during all the period for which residence is claimed by the person,” the bill begins. Really?

Does redundancy make the law stronger? The putative “fix” also would have prevented Kelly Hurst’s lawsuit against Martin, which resulted in that election eve ruling that said the then-candidate was ineligible to run – a a decision by Judge Rob Bare that came after Martin, thanks to early voting, essentially already had won the election.

The measure would force someone to sue in the spring, not waiting until the eleventh hour. Really?

So if someone such as Hurst finds out late in the game – or at least believes he has discovered – that his opponent does not live in the district, he can’t sue and is at the mercy of the self-interested legislative leadership? Really?

So Democratic leaders didn’t want to follow how  Bare applied the current law to one of their own, so they decided to pass a new law, with the complicity of GOP leaders, to take the judicial branch out of the equation? So the solutiuon here is to make the situation more political by allowing lawmakers to do what they did this session – ignore what a court says because they know best?

And they usually do, right? (See Brooks, Steven.)

I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience here, feeling something less than corporeal.

Now I do like the part of the law that says a lawmaker commits “malfeasance” by not residing in his or her district – who wouldn’t agree with that? Of course, if this were applied retroactively, I think many sessions of the Legislature would have to be do-overs because of nullified votes.

There are some legal issues here that the bill may have tried to clear up but probably does not.

First, the issue of a legal domicile is pretty well settled. Despite all the sexy stuff about where Martin plugged in his electric car, you could argue he lived in the district. Indeed, his attorney did. A judge disagreed. So be it.

Second, some (myself included) thought perhaps the right thing to do would be for lawmakers to invoke Article 4, Section 6 of the state Constitution and not seat Martin after the judge’s ruling. Here’s what it says:

Power of houses to judge qualifications, elections and returns of members; selection of officers; rules of proceedings; punishment of members.Each House shall judge of the qualifications, elections and returns of its own members, choose its own officers (except the President of the Senate), determine the rules of its proceedings and may punish its members for disorderly conduct, and with the concurrence of two thirds of all the members elected, expel a member.

But could the Gang of 42 really choose not to seat a member – and by law they become assemblymen immediately after the election – who had the most votes? That might be actionable.

But why couldn’t they have expelled him? They could have.

I’ll tell you why they didn’t: Because Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick didn’t want to deal with that kind of proceeding (Brooks was enough) and Minority Leader Pat Hickey was only too happy to allow someone with a cloud over his head to serve, presumably to be knocked off in 2014.

So the bill was a political reaction – “We’ll FIX this in a bipartisan way” – to a debatable legal ruling on a law that isn’t as bad as it sounds. And I see no reason to believe that this will clear up anything, nor will it stop lawmakers from having more than one residence.

But I do long for the day when, during a court proceeding over residency, an aggrieved legislator, his or her voice cracking, laments, “I was there in spirit, your honor, even if I was not there corporeally.”