The final version of a record seven (b) billion-dollar budget for Nevada's government operations for the next two years was introduced Sunday in the State Assembly, just ahead of the Legislature's scheduled adjournment on Monday.
The budget, which provides for no new taxes, represents the end product of lengthy hearings by Senate and Assembly money committees that started their review of Governor Jim Gibbons' spending proposal more than four months ago.
When the general fund dollars are added to federal funds and other revenue sources, the total spending for ongoing government programs hits about 18 (b) billion dollars. That overall figure is up 15 percent over the current two-year budget cycle.
Just over half of all general fund dollars are for education. Another 29-30 percent goes to human services, including Medicaid and mental health services while about 10 percent would be used for public safety, including the state's prison system.
About a third of the projected revenue that would support the spending comes from sales and use taxes, and another 28 percent comes from fees and taxes paid mainly by casinos.
Here is a list of the most recent activity from the Nevada Legislature:
- Measures dealing with cattle-rustlers and old masonry buildings have been vetoed by Governor Gibbons, bringing his total of rejected bills from the 2007 Legislature to four.
The rejected measures included one to expand the jurisdiction of justices of the peace handling cattle-rustling cases or other cases stemming from arrests by state Agriculture Department officers.
Gibbons also vetoed a bill calling for a list of any state buildings constructed of un-reinforced masonry. Local governments would have had to list such buildings whether they're public or private property.
Gibbons says such lists would require "an exhaustive review" around the state and the fiscal impact on local governments "would be detrimental and would outweigh any benefits of the bill."
- Governor Gibbons signed a compromise bill limiting the ability of government entities to hold closed meetings - a measure stemming from a closed-door Nevada Tax Commission vote on a 40 (m) million-dollar refund.
The measure was backed by the Tax Commission, the state attorney general, the Nevada Press Association and the Nevada Taxpayers Association. It was proposed as a result of the Tax Commission's 2005 closed-door vote on the big refund to Southern California Edison.
The new law 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. And the commission still must deliberate and vote in public.
Gibbons also signed AB-383, a measure that targets human traffickers by allowing state authorities to charge them with felony offenses. While some "coyotes" smuggle people into the United States to perform forced labor or become prostitutes, lawmakers were told other smugglers simply hold them captive to extort money from their families. The new bill also charges the state Tax Commission with the task of punishing businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and allows the commission to fine businesses that hire illegals.
The new law also instructs the Department of Business and Industry to provide a link to a federal program allowing employers to verify new workers' social security numbers.
- A divided Senate panel voted Saturday for a stopgap bill that will provide one (b) billion dollars for needed Nevada road projects.
The measure is seen by critics as only a partial solution to gridlock developing on the state's main highways, especially in the Las Vegas area, since the state is facing a projected five (b) billion dollar shortfall in transportation project funding.
The proposal was brokered by key lawmakers, Governor Gibbons and representatives from the gambling industry and local government, and was sent by the Taxation Committee to the full Senate for final action. Once approved there, it goes to Gibbons for his signature.
Senators Bob Coffin and Mike Schneider, both Las Vegas Democrats, opposed the bill, with Coffin urging Gibbons to change his opposition to new taxes. Coffin says truckers should pay higher diesel fuel taxes because of the impact their rigs have on highways.
- The Nevada Senate voted for a bill that will prevent sex offenders from living within one thousand feet of a school or other place where children gather.
Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus has been pushing the idea. She says that without distance limits, Nevada is becoming a haven for sexual predators.
The same bill includes a proposal by Governor Gibbons that will require out-of-state sex offenders to register with law enforcement and provide a DNA sample if they move to Nevada.
- Nevada lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that allocates nine (m) million dollars in bond revenues as a final installment on Nevada's share of a major Tahoe environmental improvement program.
A third of the money is for the first phase of what's envisioned as a 725-acre park near casinos at the California-Nevada line on Lake Tahoe's south shore.
The nine (m) million dollars is part of about 900 (m) million for the environmental improvement program, launched in 1997 by then-President Clinton. The funds have come from federal, California, Nevada, local government and private sources.
The environmental improvement effort has focused mainly on erosion control and fire prevention. Erosion is thought to be the prime culprit in Lake Tahoe's declining clarity.
- A bill setting timetables for government agencies to respond to requests for public records won approval in a key committee on Saturday and was sent to the Nevada Assembly for a final legislative test.
The measure was endorsed by the Government Affairs Committee and must now be approved by the full Assembly before it can go to Governor Gibbons for his signature. An Assembly vote is expected Sunday.
The measure was sponsored by Senator Terry Care, a lawyer and former journalist who said he was motivated by government agencies that have ignored public records requests. The Nevada Press Association also endorsed the bill.
The bill gives government agencies five days to comply with a records request. It also allows for confidential government documents to be made public by a court order if those records are more than 30 years old. Documents controlled by the state Gaming Control Board are exempted from the measure.
This weekend, Governor Gibbons also signed into law:
- AB-334, which tightens several regulations regarding charter schools to ensure they're well-run and held accountable. Bill proponents said that under previous law, state and local school boards lacked authority to question the budgets of charter schools, and that while charter schools need independence, some basic guidelines are needed. AB-334 establishes educational requirements for charter school administrators, and limits their salaries to the salary of the highest-paid administrator in the district, excluding superintendents.
- AB-463, increasing scrutiny of group homes and residential establishments and require more information from unlicensed homes.
- AB-516 and AB-517, dealing with initiative and referendum measures.
- AB-331, which mandates that water providers set rates to encourage water conservation.
- SB-321, which provides sales and fuel tax breaks for companies that make films in Nevada.
- AB-194, which requires someone under a domestic violence restraining order to surrender all firearms.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.