A Nevada Senate panel was presented Wednesday with a compromise bill that limits the ability of government entities to hold closed meetings - a measure that's a response to a closed-door Tax Commission vote on a $40 million refund.
Senate Government Affairs members were told the amended version
of AB433 is now backed by the Tax Commission, the state attorney
general, the Nevada Press Association and the Nevada Taxpayers
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the measure
"provides for much greater openness" than the existing law that
figured in the Tax Commission's 2005 closed-door vote on the big
refund to Southern California Edison.
Buckley said AB433 now states that a Tax Commission hearing can
be closed for review of proprietary or confidential information but
"can't be closed just because someone wants it closed." Under current law, such a request is all that's needed to close a hearing.
Buckley also said that if a meeting is closed, the commission must still deliberate and vote in public. She said the process is similar to the one that has been used for years by the state's casino regulators.
The result of the compromise is a measure that will "ensure people have trust in the decisions of our regulatory bodies," Buckley said.
Attorney Thomas "Spike" Wilson, who has served as private counsel for the Tax Commission in the dispute over its closed meeting, termed the compromise "a good step forward" that is supported by commissioners.
"It does solve a problem," added Barry Smith, head of the Nevada Press Association.
The Tax Commission had contended previously that limiting public
disclosure prevents release of confidential information that could
give a business competitor an unfair advantage.
Carson City District Judge Mike Griffin in October tossed out a state attorney general's lawsuit that contended Nevada's open-meeting law didn't permit completely closing proceedings such as the one to decide the utility's tax refund. The Supreme Court is now considering the state's appeal.
Senate Government Affairs Chairman Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas,
said he was glad to see "a meeting of the minds" that resulted in "a nice balance."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)