Nevada's elections chief urged Attorney General Brian Sandoval on Thursday to move quickly to get a court ruling resolving uncertainty over Sandoval's legal opinion limiting service by full-time public employees in the state's part-time Legislature.
Secretary of State Dean Heller said in a letter to Sandoval, who issued the opinion on March 1, that he'd like to see a petition asking the state Supreme Court to determine which lawmakers are improperly serving in dual positions.
Sandoval replied that he'd "move forward expeditiously," adding, "We are alert to approaching election deadlines and the fundamental necessity of separation of powers in government. A filing with the Supreme Court is imminent."
In his opinion, Sandoval said 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, along with those in various state agencies, board or commissions.
Heller said there are several lawmakers who also have state or local government jobs and based on Sandoval's opinion "it appears that many or all of these members may be violating the separation of powers doctrine contained in the Nevada Constitution."
Heller said Sandoval, as the secretary of state's legal counsel, could ask the state Supreme Court for a writ to compel the Legislature to unseat any member who is in violation of the constitution.
The secretary of state added it's "imperative that the state of the law be clarified prior to May 3, 2004, when candidate filing begins for the 2004 election."
Sandoval had said earlier that he'd prefer to go directly to the state Supreme Court for a court opinion that would have the force of law - which his opinion lacks. But he added he has to ensure the justices would view the case as ripe for a ruling, and might have to start first in a lower district court.
The attorney general also has said he's optimistic that 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 plans to contest Sandoval's opinion in court.
Another university system teacher, Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, has said he's resigning 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.