By Mark Waite
CARSON CITY — The first day of the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature convened Monday, with freshman District 36 Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump, taking his seat for the first time. State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, started his first day in the Senate after leaving the assembly.
The Legislature begins a 120-day session in which 900 bill drafts have already been requested. Issues will likely range from prevailing wages to education to water and more.
Oscarson said he was pleased as a freshman legislator to be appointed to the health and human services committee, the legislative operations and elections committee and government affairs committee.
“I feel good about this session. Not only did caucus leader Pat Hickey R-Reno have great things to say but Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick D-North Las Vegas wants to make sure we work together, things happen. We want to be known as the legislative session that puts away all other things and makes sure we do what’s good for the state of Nevada,” Oscarson said.
Those other things mean partisan bickering, something he thinks leadership in both parties wants to do away with.
Goicoechea, a veteran with eight years in the assembly, was less optimistic.
“Everybody is talking about holding hands and singing cumbaya,” Goicoechea said. “That’s to be expected in the first few hours.”
“Everybody thinks we’re going to get along. I give it about 48 hours and we’ll start seeing some sparks,” he said.
While opening day is filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance — taking the oath and photos of legislators with their families — Goicoechea said the Senate already referred 88 bills to committees the first day. The Assembly referred 82 bills.
Nye County commissioners voted to introduce a bill requesting a greater share of oil field royalties. Goicoechea will carry a bill for Nye County requesting the transfer of the Belmont courthouse from the Nevada Division of State Parks to the county.
But Goicoechea said being a legislator isn’t just about introducing bills.
“As a rural legislator in a session like this, clearly playing good defense is going to be as critical as anything. We have to watch and make sure some bills don’t come out that really hurt the rural counties,” he said.
On the positive side, there’s an attempt to build up the airport trust fund, Goicoechea said. But he said there are water bills that run the gamut.
In the Senate, incoming Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, gave a speech on opening day of the session as did Senate Minority leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.
Goicoechea started work on the Senate Finance Committee at 8 a.m. yesterday. He also sits on the Natural Resources Committee, which will position him well for discussions on controversial public lands issues like the sage grouse. He said the state Senate is quieter and slower than the pace in the Assembly, where there’s twice as many members.
“It’s a little anticlimactic to me, having been the minority leader and real busy last session and just coming back as a member; I’ve got a lot more time on my hands,” Goicoechea said.
Oscarson said he’s traveled to Carson City already a handful of times trying to learn the ropes.
“There’s just been a lot of things we have to learn and get up to speed with, there’s a lot of freshman legislators, we’re all learning together and working together,” Oscarson said. “To me it was a process that’s fascinating, the ceremonial kinds of things. I felt like people were speaking from their experience as previous legislators and speaking truly of what they wanted to have happen in this session.”
The governor set some lofty goals for education, there also will be discussions on whether the state has the money to do what is required on health care, Oscarson said. He said the upcoming session will also deal with construction defect legislation and prevailing wages paid on public works projects.
It will be the first legislative session in which Nye County doesn’t have a paid lobbyist. Previously, Patti Chipman owner of the firm Nevada Elect, represented the county at the Legislature from 2004 until the end of 2011 for $3,500 per month. Commissioners decided to save money last May and opted not to hire the Kaempfer, Crowell law firm as lobbyists for $5,000 per month while the Legislature is in session.
Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, who is vice-chairman of the Nevada Association of Counties, said the creation of a NACO emeritus board of former county commissioners from throughout Nevada, many of whom were term limited, will help counties work through the legislative process. Former County Commissioner Joni Eastley is up for appointment to that board.
Wichman said County Manager Pam Webster will testify on certain bills. Eastley, who said she is already watching 58 bills in the Legislature, will testify and Wichman said she herself will testify.
NACO has a bill again this session to grant home rule to counties, Wichman said. But Nevada Department of Transportation wants a bill transferring maintenance of more roads to the counties, she said.
Another bill Wichman is watching would prohibit counties from enacting ordinances restricting activities on federal land.