CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada Assembly could make history this week as a special committee considers whether an embattled colleague who's been arrested twice, hospitalized for a mental evaluation and banished from the legislative building is fit to serve in the Legislature. The saga of Steven Brooks is one of several weighty topics lawmakers will confront when the eighth week of the legislative session begins Monday.
Here are five highlights of the upcoming legislative agenda:
FIT TO SERVE
A new chapter in Nevada history could be written this week when a Select Committee convenes to hear evidence and recommend whether one of their own is fit to serve in the Legislature. The seven-member bipartisan panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday night at the Carson City Courthouse to consider the political fate of Assemblyman Steven Brooks. Brooks' public troubles began Jan 19 when he was arrested, but not yet charged, for allegedly voicing threats against Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. Days later he was hospitalized for a mental evaluation when police responded to a domestic call at his grandmother's home. The North Las Vegas Democrat who was elected to a second term in November was seated with his colleagues when the Legislature convened Feb. 4, though he was always accompanied by a police escort. A week later he was arrested again when he allegedly grabbed for an officer's gun during an incident at his estranged wife's home. The Assembly banished him from the building, put him on leave and appointed the special committee to look into his erratic behavior and recommend what action, if any, should be taken against Brooks. The state Constitution gives the Senate and Assembly sole authority to judge the qualifications of its own members, and no member has ever been expelled — something that takes a two-thirds majority or 28 votes in the 42-member Assembly.
Mining is a frequent target when lawmakers look for new revenue sources, and this session is no different. But the intensity of the mining tax debate ramped up when some Senate Republicans, hoping to defeat a business margins tax on the 2014 ballot, said they'd instead propose an alternative ballot measure to raise mining taxes. But before they can do that, lawmakers — and voters — have to repeal taxing limits the Nevada Constitution has afforded the industry since statehood. In 2011, SJR15 passed 13-8 in the Senate and 27-15 in the Assembly. It must be approved by lawmakers again this year and by voters in 2014 to change the constitution. The Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development hold a hearing on the measure Tuesday.
Oh, how times change. In 2000 and 2002, Nevada voters overwhelming approved the Protection of Marriage Act, a constitutional amendment proclaiming that "only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state." In 2009, Nevada lawmakers overrode a governor's veto and enacted domestic partnerships, extending rights similar to those held by married couples — including community property and the right to seek financial support after a breakup — to cohabitating couples, whether gay or straight. Now, legislators are poised to debate the first step toward repealing the constitutional marriage definition, a step toward possible sanctioning of same sex marriage. SJR13 will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections. If approved this year and by the 2015 Legislature, it would be put to voters in 2016 for ratification.
Don't feed the animals. That's one of three wild animal-related bills to be considered Thursday by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. SB371, sponsored by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, would make it illegal to intentionally feed wild animals — except the feathered kind. It also imposes escalating fines for violations. SB213 would set new restrictions on the trapping of fur-bearing animals. And SB234, sponsored by Republican Sen. Michael Roberson of Henderson and others, would ban keeping dangerous animals as pets. That bill is a response to last summer's rampage by two chimpanzees outside Las Vegas that left residents terrorized, one animal dead and another with a one-way ticket to an out-of-state sanctuary.
Two members of Nevada's congressional delegation travel to Carson City this week to speak to a joint session of the Legislature. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei will speak 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Assembly chamber. Amodei won a special election in September 2011 to represent Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, a heavily Republican area covering most of rural northern Nevada. He replaced Dean Heller who was appointed to the U.S. Senate earlier that year by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Speaking of Heller, he'll be in Nevada's capital city this week too, and will address the Legislature at 5 p.m. Thursday. Heller retained his Senate seat in November after a bitter, grueling campaign against former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas. Heller won by only about 12,000 votes in an election where more than 45,000 ballots were cast for "none of the above."
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