CARSON CITY — The 2015 Nevada Legislature convened Monday with pomp and song, a festive beginning before lawmakers buckle down to tackle the tough issues of taxes and other reforms in the months to come.
Legislators were joined by family and friends on the floors of the Senate and Assembly, a tradition for opening day ceremonies.
The Assembly was gaveled to order at 11:20 a.m., and despite rumblings of drama over election of speaker, Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, was elected by his peers without opposition.
The unanimous vote temporarily tempered a divide between Republican conservatives and moderates in the 42-member lower house that includes 17 freshman.
That divide could make it difficult for the Republican governor to get his tax agenda through the Legislature, which requires a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly for passage.
Hambrick was named speaker designate after the caucus’ first choice following the November general election stepped down because of a controversy over his columns for a Sparks newspaper that touched on issues of race and gay rights.
But Hambrick’s nomination drew vocal opposition from some conservatives, who have targeted him and others for recall because of their openness to consider the governor’s tax plan.
Hambrick’s name, however, was the only one offered for the job of speaker Monday. Nominations were then closed and Hambrick walked to the rostrum to lead the Assembly over the next 119 days.
The vote came even as Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards confirmed Saturday that Las Vegas police are investigating allegations of attempted extortion in exchange for his vote for Assembly speaker. Hambrick told reporters he has not been contacted by authorities.
Former speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, welcomed Hambrick to his leadership post.
“We’re going to have some tough discussion and that’s OK,” she said. “But let’s work on the things that we can agree to do together. Let’s move our state forward.”
Hambrick said the members of the Assembly are in the capital for one purpose: to serve the residents of Nevada. “We do not own these seats, we only occupy them,” he said. “We work for the people. Never forget that.”
Down the hall the Senate opened for business shortly after noon and hit the ground running with the introduction of hundreds of bills pre-filed before opening day.
The Senate also approved its first legislation, Senate Bill 1, appropriating $18 million to fund the 120-day session. The Assembly later quickly followed suit, and then introduced more than 100 bills of its own that were pre-filed before the session began.
Committee hearings begin Tuesday.
Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, assumed his position of majority leader in the upper chamber and will do much of the heavy lifting to try to advance Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tax and education reforms.
He asked his colleagues to “do the things we know are not easy” to help prepare Nevada for a 21st century economy.
Sandoval, re-elected to a second term in November, has proposed a $1.1 billion package of new and extended taxes to fund his education programs, a proposal that has split conservatives and moderates in the lower chamber.
The core of Sandoval’s plan would revamp the state’s business license fee structure.
Currently, all businesses, big and small, pay $200 annually. Sandoval wants to establish a graduated rate system, with 29 different categories, to bring in $430 million over the next two years.
Under his proposal, businesses would pay a minimum of $400 and as much as $2.6 million, depending on gross receipts. Sandoval’s formula would allow a maximum of up to $4 million, though no company currently reaches that threshold.
Roberson has predicted the Senate will pass a comprehensive tax package by the end of March, and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development pledged to consider any and all tax proposals.
That committee begins work Tuesday and will get an overview from legislative staff on revenue projections as well as economic development programs.