By SAM METZ AP/Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the Nevada Legislature have changed the nature of lobbying and raised new questions about how to regulate it.
Public access to the legislative building has been restricted since lawmakers reconvened Feb. 1, leaving the normally bustling corridors empty aside from staff and reporters. But that hasn’t stopped advocates from pursuing their usual work, lobbying for and against the hundreds of bills that have already been introduced.
Unlike other states, Nevada’s Lobbying Disclosure and Regulation Act only requires lobbyists register if they lobby in-person. Registered lobbyists are required to submit monthly financial disclosures detailing their activities. With the building closed, no lobbyists have registered since lawmakers reconvened three weeks ago.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Assemblywoman Brittney Miller introduced a bill this week that would require lobbyists register whether they advocate on behalf of their clients in-person or remotely.
“In this virtual world where that’s not — at least for the time being — part of the operation of the Legislature, for the sake of transparency, we still need to have lobbying activities being reported to the public,” Frierson said in a Tuesday committee hearing.
Many lobbyists say they support the bill. But Melissa Clement of Nevada Right to Life said requiring lobbyists pay the $300 registration fee to advocate on behalf of their clients remotely didn’t address the crux of the problem — that the Legislature needs to open to the public. She said the nature of lobbying included forging personal connections with lawmakers through face-to-face interactions.
“I’m just a disembodied voice that you can easily ignore,” she told lawmakers in a committee hearing held on Zoom. “It’s a little more difficult for you to ignore when I ride up in an elevator with you.”
Clements, along with three other lobbyists for conservative groups and causes, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday claiming the closure of the legislative building violates their First Amendment right to petition government.
In the lawsuit, they say the closure of the building reduces lobbyists to “lay advocates” whose main role is testifying remotely in committee hearings. They ask the court to “immediately allow plaintiffs access to the State Capital to engage in lobbying activities.”
The Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections is scheduled to revisit the discussion of lobbyist registration requirements on Tuesday.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.