Nevada Court Hears Election Term Limit Challenges

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - The Nevada Supreme Court acknowledged Tuesday that it was racing against time as justices heard arguments about whether term limits prevent some longtime state and local lawmakers from seeking re-election.

"We understand our ultimate decision on this matter will have a tremendous impact on Nevada's election landscape, no matter which
way we rule," Chief Justice Mark Gibbons said at the start of more
than 90 minutes of hearings Webcast from Carson City.

The court made no immediate decision, but Gibbons said the seven justices were focusing their work almost exclusively on election cases. He said they intend to reach decisions as soon as possible after July 14 hearings on a separate question of the constitutionality of state term limits.

"We intend to resolve this in this election cycle," he said.

The outcome will determine whether state Assembly Democratic Speaker Barbara Buckley, Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury
and several state university regents and school board members currently on the ballot can serve if they win election.

C. Wayne Howle, Nevada solicitor general, said at least 21 candidates for offices in nine counties face the same question. Howle represented the state of Nevada, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

He maintained that term limits went into effect Nov. 27, 1996, the date a postelection canvas was complete and the vote on the term limit measure was declared valid. Voters approved the constitutional amendment in elections in 1994 and 1996.

"We would submit that all the folks who've served so well for 12 years certainly deserve our thanks and commendation," Howle told the court. "But 12 years is the limit."

Lawyers for the candidates have pointed to an opinion by then-Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa that the limits wouldn't begin to apply to legislators until elections in 1998.

On Tuesday, attorney Bradley Schrager, representing Woodbury, state university regent Thalia Dondero and Clark County School Board members Ruth Johnson and Mary Beth Scow, told the court that lawmakers elected in November 1996 and sworn in the following
January shouldn't face the 12-year limit.

"The offices to which the candidates were elected on that day were not term-limited," Schrager said.

Justice Nancy Saitta did not attend the hearing, but Gibbons said she watched the Webcast and intended to take part in deliberations and rulings.

Saitta was involved in an automobile accident on her way to the Nevada State Bar Association annual meeting June 18-21 in Santa
Barbara, Calif., he said. She's recuperating in Las Vegas but was unable to travel to Carson City.

Saitta, 57, issued a short statement through a court spokesman confirming she was involved in a crash, but was "recovering nicely
and maintaining her work schedule."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)