Nevada Newsmakers

News - May 18, 2021 - by Ray Hagar

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Citing a Democratic bias, Republican state Sen. Heidi Gansert called for the staff of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, considered non-partisan, to be split along party lines.

"At some point of time, we need to divide the staff and have a Republican and Democrat staff, at least from a legal standpoint," she said this week during a taping of Nevada Newsmakers.

Gansert, from Reno, said the LCB's Democratic leanings were apparent in the recent legal fight -- won by Republicans at the Supreme Court -- which ruled bills pushed through the 2019 Legislature by a Democratic majority were unconstitutional because they failed to pass with the required two-thirds majority.

"That was difficult because the staff at the Legislature is supposed to be non-partisan and it just didn't feel that way," Gansert told host Sam Shad. "It felt partisan and we needed to challenge the bill that was passed."

Both the District Court and Supreme Court deemed the LCB ruling to be incorrect. And the subsequent legal fight forced state Senate Republicans to scramble to fight the ruling on their own, Gansert said.

"It was also frustrating because the LCB defended the Democrats' position, which ended up being wrong, right?" she said. "So we've got the Supreme Court that finds it wrong and then the Republicans, to fight it, had to actually raise money to do that."

When asked if she would want to question LCB staffers' political leanings, Gansert said that was not her point.

"The answer is not just questioning staff but (making sure) you get equal representation, that you don't have one party having to raise money to fight something that they think is unconstitutional.

"And again, I think the story would be different if it wasn't found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," Gansert said. "But it was and we had to raise money because the LCB was only representing one party in the lawsuit."

The Supreme Court ruling is considered a major victory for Republicans, upholding the Gibbons Tax Restraint Initiative of 1996.

That constitutional amendment stipulates that any tax increase must be approved by super-majorities in both houses of the Legislature. In 2019, Democrats held an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and getting two-thirds approval was not an issue.

In the state Senate, however, Democrats were one vote away from a super majority. They argued, and LCB agreed, that the two-thirds requirement was not necessary because one issue was simply repealing a scheduled reduction in fees and for that, the two-thirds majority was unnecessary.

In an unprecedented decision in 2003, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the two-thirds threshold was not necessary to raise taxes to fund education. But the Legislature still got a two-thirds majority in both houses anyway, before voting to raise taxes to fend off expected legal challenges. However, some Supreme Court justices felt the wrath of voters in the 2004 election.

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said earlier this month on Nevada Newsmakers that the state would have to return more than $100 million to the taxpayers because of the court's decision.

Settelmeyer said it would not hurt the state's education system as Democrats fear because of the lofty projections for tax revenue in the near future by the state's Economic Forum.

"It doesn't really create a hole," Settelmeyer said. "It just shows that they stole money from people when they didn't have the authority to do so

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