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Strategy to avoid Gibbons vetoes on tap if needed

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

CARSON CITY–Because of the tense relationship between the Legislature and Gov. Jim Gibbons over how to find $900 million to balance the state budget, strategies on how to ensure bills are not vetoed after lawmakers adjourn the special session are ready if needed.

If the Legislature adjourns the special session and Gibbons vetoes one or more bills, the measures could not be considered for an override by lawmakers until the 2011 regular session. A two-thirds vote in both houses is required to override a veto.

Gibbons has already announced his intentions to veto the Race to the Top measure giving Nevada the ability to compete for up to $175 million in federal funds to improve student achievement. The measure, Senate Bill 2, contains language Gibbons opposes.

Gibbons has also said he will veto bills that do not meet his standards for new fees the Legislature may impose to balance the budget. Gibbons has said he will veto such measures unless they meet with the approval of those who must pay the new revenues.

Lawmakers are looking at increased gaming fees, among other proposals.

Gibbons vetoed a record number of bills in the 2009 session. Many were overridden by the Legislature but others were sustained.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said all potential contingencies have been explored to ensure some key piece of legislation needed to balance the budget does not end up vetoed, leaving a hole in the spending plan that Gibbons might then deal with on his own after lawmakers have left town.

“We’re not going to adjourn,” Horsford said with a laugh when asked. “We’ve discussed all of our options. We’re here to get the job done, and we have thought through what all of the potential problems may be.”

Rather than adjourn the session “sine die” and allow the potential veto scenario to arise, Horsford said the Senate, in agreement with the Assembly, can adjourn for a set number of days and then return to the capital to override any vetoed bills if need be.

Gibbons has five days to veto a bill, not counting the day the bill was transmitted to his office, and not counting Sundays. So if the Legislature finishes its special session on Sunday, Gibbons would have until Friday to veto a measure.

Horsford said the Legislature continues to try to work with Gibbons to avoid such a scenario.

“We’re always working towards that goal; whether he sees the value in working with us is another story,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he is not aware of any such strategy discussions.

“I’m more concerned about doing what we need to do than political strategy,” he said.

“The governor has as much stake as the Legislature in dealing with this shortfall,” Raggio said. “I wouldn’t think anybody would want to put obstacles to meet the constitutional requirement to balancing a budget.”

Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said the Legislature has used such an adjournment process before. In the 21st special session, when the impeachment of the late Controller Kathy Augustine was under way, the session began in November. The Legislature then adjourned until December to give Augustine a chance to prepare a defense to the charges.

Malkiewich, who is an attorney, said he also disagrees with the position of Gibbons that the governor has the authority to set a time to end a special session. That authority rests with the Legislature, he said.

Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said the governor “knows” he has the right to set an ending time for the session, and he has directed lawmakers to finish by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. Any bills that are passed after that time would not even be considered valid bills, he said.

There is an existing attorney general opinion supporting his position, Burns said.

Rather than worry about end strategies, the Legislature should just move quickly to balance the budget and address the pressing issues, he said.

“Every day they meet is another laid off state worker,” Burns said.

The session is costing $50,000 a day.

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