Petition Targeting Lawmaker-Public Employees May Vanish

By  | 

The head of a petition drive to block full-time government employees from serving as part-time Nevada legislators says he'll drop the petition if, as he expects, the state Supreme Court rules against such dual service.

"The petitions would be moot since the court would have fixed the problem," said George Harris, leader of Nevadans for Sound Government. He thinks the high court will decide that the Nevada Constitution bars both local and state government workers from serving in the Legislature.

Attorney General Brian Sandoval asked the court Friday to review his nonbinding opinion that five state employees can't be legislators. He also asked the court to determine if four local government employees can serve in the Legislature.

A week earlier, the Independent American Party of Nevada filed similar litigation.

Secretary of State Dean Heller wants the court to decide whether public employees can serve before the May 3-17 period when candidates file to run in the fall elections. He's the state's chief election officer and Sandoval represents him in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Miriam Shearing directed the Legislature on Monday to respond within 30 days to Sandoval's arguments - after the filing period opens.

Heller is concerned about letting people file for office who might be ruled ineligible to serve.

State Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes will defend legislators. She noted that Sandoval sued the entire Legislature, not just nine lawmakers who could be affected by a court order.

As a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Titus would quit her teaching job if the court decides she could not hold both positions.

"Some of us also may have individual lawyers represent ourselves, but Brenda will defend us," Titus said. "Our position is we set the rules to seat our own members (under the constitution)."

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said he may retire from his job as deputy chief of the Henderson Police Department before the 2005 Legislature if the court rules he can't hold both jobs.

Government employees could file for legislative office in May, regardless of what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, according to the speaker. They just could not serve in both positions.

"The voters in Nevada have a unique hiring and firing system," Perkins said. "I think it is best we leave this to the voters."

Harris' group has been collecting signatures on petitions to force a public vote on whether government employees can serve in the Legislature. They have until June 15 to collect the required 51,234 signatures to put the matter before voters in November's election.