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A journalist discovers a malfunction

In reading the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently, I noticed a column by Patrick Everson on the occasion of the daily time “falling back” this year.

He recalled that the Nevada Legislature in May enacted Assembly Joint Resolution 4, which asked Congress “to enact legislation allowing individual states to establish daylight saving time as the standard time in their respective states throughout the calendar year.”

Time zones came to be not, as legend has it, because of harvest times and needs, but to accommodate the railroads.

Mr. Everson, I guess, wondered what had happened between the enactment when Nevada stated its preference to Congress on May 21 and the time change on November 1. Given that Congress doesn’t do much of anything in a mere 163 days unless it has hysteria driving it, his hope for congressional action this year may have been overly optimistic. Perhaps 163 months would be more realistic, or 163 years. But he did find out something rather interesting. Apparently, Congress never got the message from Nevada.

Everson reported, “The Legislature was required to forward the resolution to Congress for its blessing…And after calls and emails to all six members of the Nevada delegation – Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, and Reps. Joe Heck, Mark Amodei, Dina Titus and Cresent Hardy – it became clear that neither they nor anyone else in their offices had seen the resolution.”

Typically, Congress calls resolutions from states by a different name than “resolutions.” They call them “memorials.” This term is used in the text of many of the resolutions “memorializing” Congress to do or not do this or that.

This is from the Congressional Research Service, which produces research for members of Congress: “A memorial is a request, usually from a state legislature, that the Congress take some action, or refrain from taking certain action. Memorials may be addressed to the House or Senate as a whole, to the Speaker or presiding officer of the Senate, or to individual Senators or Representatives. The Senate prints the full text of a memorial in its section of the Congressional Record, while the House only prints the title of a memorial.”

I once asked U.S. Rep. James Bilbray of Nevada, who served in the House in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what impact these resolutions had in Congress. He seemed to feel that there were too many resolutions aimed Congress’s way and suggested that state legislators select certain issues or topics and limit memorials to Congress to a telling few. As best I recall, he may have suggested the number four from a single legislature.

Shortly afterward I mentioned Bilbray’s suggestion to Washoe County Sen. William Raggio. He said Bilbray should not concern himself with state legislative matters, which were the business of the legislature. (Bilbray was a prominent Democrat, Raggio a prominent Republican, which may have made for a poor dialogue.)

In 2010 two political scientists published a study titled “Telegrams to Washington” in State and Local Government Review that during the 19 years from 1987 to 2006 (it’s not explained why they chose that odd period), state legislatures sent 4119 resolutions to Congress. That would be 216 resolutions a year by the fifty states, each state sending an average of slightly more than four resolutions to Congress annually. That would be pretty much in line with Bilbray’s advice.

To be sure, state legislative memorials to Congress are not necessarily held in high repute. They were once used by legislatures to “instruct” U.S. senators appointed by those same legislatures. And some famous memorials did little to advance their reputation, as when the 1957 Georgia Legislature, in seeking to preserve racial segregation, memorialized Congress “to declare that the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States were never validly adopted and that they are null and void and of no effect.” So it is possible that some state legislative resolutions to Congress are simply ignored, both at the legislative and the congressional levels, no matter how large their majorities of passage.

Still, whatever their merit, they can’t have any impact – positive or negative – unless they get where they are supposed to go, and since the Nevada legislative permanent staff closely monitors legislative news coverage, it’s almost certain that Evanson’s column has come to the attention of the staff and that procedures will change.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.


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