Nevada High Court Asked For Legislative Service Ruling

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The Nevada Supreme Court was asked Friday to quickly resolve uncertainty over an attorney general's opinion limiting service by full-time public employees in the state's part-time Legislature.

Attorney General Brian Sandoval, on behalf of Secretary of State Dean Heller, said in his petition to the high court that his March 1 opinion limiting such service clashed with opinions from the lawmakers' legal counsel.

Sandoval also said the filing period for Nevada's 2004 candidates opens May 3, and it's critical that the candidates and voters "know with certainty that a legislator-elect will not be barred by the (Nevada) Constitution from serving."

Sandoval asked the Supreme Court to find that dual service by state employees in the Legislature is unconstitutional and to direct lawmakers to abide by the constitution. He also asked for a finding on whether local government employees can do double duty as lawmakers.

The attorney general had wanted to file a different petition that would have asked the court, on behalf of both Heller's office and the state Legislature, to clear up the confusion.

However, Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, chairman of the Legislative Commission, said the lawmakers wanted Sandoval to move ahead without them. Townsend said some legislators who could be affected by a court decision were "uncomfortable" with that strategy.

Heller said he was disappointed with the lawmakers' stance, saying it shows "a circle-the-wagons mentality, to protect themselves."

If the petition is granted, several lawmakers would have to resign from either the Legislature or their jobs in what, under Sandoval's recent legal opinion, is the executive branch of state government.

Sandoval's opinion states local government employees can serve in the Legislature but executive-branch state employees can't. Executive-branch employees include those working for the governor or other constitutional officers, various state boards or agencies and Nevada's college and university system.

Sandoval has said he's optimistic the issue will be resolved before the May 3-14 candidate filing period. That would avert the problem of the 2005 Legislature making decisions on seating its own members - including some who could be state-level public employees.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, who's also a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor affected by Sandoval's ruling, has said she won't resign and plans to contest Sandoval's opinion in court.

Another university system teacher, Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, resigned from his teaching post to avoid a legal conflict. Two Republican Assembly members and two Democratic Assembly members also are affected by the opinion.

The Democrats include Assembly members Mark Manendo and Chris Giunchigliani, both from Las Vegas and working for the state university-community college system.

The Republicans include Assemblymen Ron Knecht of Carson City and Jason Geddes of Reno. Geddes is with the university-community college system, and Knecht is employed by the state Public Utilities Commission.