High Court Urged To Reject Bid For Legislative Service Ruling

By  | 

Nevada lawmakers' top attorneys asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to reject a request to resolve uncertainty over an attorney general's opinion limiting legislative service by full-time public employees.

Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes and her principal deputy, Kevin Powers, filed a brief saying the request from Secretary of State Dean Heller infringes on the lawmakers' "exclusive power" to judge qualifications of their members.

The legislative lawyers also said Heller ought to go through one of the state's lower district courts rather than the Supreme Court, with a request "directed against a legislator's public employment, not his legislative seat."

Since Nevada lacks a "resign-to-run" mandate, Erdoes and Powers also said there's no rush for a high court opinion because a determination on incompatible dual service wouldn't have to be made until after the November elections - not at the time someone files candidacy papers.

Erdoes and Powers also said Attorney General Brian Sandoval's opinion limiting legislative service by public employees isn't backed by federal judicial precedent or long-accepted historical practices.

Their legal brief was filed in response to a petition filed by Sandoval, on behalf of Heller, following his March 1 opinion.

Sandoval has requested a quick decision, noting the May 3-14 filing period for Nevada's 2004 candidates. He said 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. He also asked for a finding on whether local government employees can do double duty as lawmakers.

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.

The state and university system employees affected by Sandoval's opinion are Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor; Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, who both work for the Community College of Southern Nevada; Assemblyman Ron Knecht, R-Carson City, who works for the state Public Utilities Commission, and Assemblyman Jason Geddes, R-Reno, an employee of the University of Nevada, Reno.