(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – The Nevada Legislature’s representatives at the state Homeland Security Commission meetings have been no shows this year, and the lack of participation is being cited as a concern by members of the panel, including Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The commission met Wednesday and Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the Nevada Broadcasters Association and a member of the commission, said the failure of legislative leaders to either attend or send alternates to the meeting is a concern.
His concern was echoed by Sandoval, who is now serving as the chairman of the commission.
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, is listed as a nonvoting member of the panel but he did not attend the meeting.
Fisher said the Senate majority leadership has not yet selected a representative to serve on the commission.
Nevada state law says the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker are to appoint one non-voting member each.
Sandoval appoints the 14 voting members of the commission.
The previous representative from the Senate was former Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, who attended many of the commission meetings during his tenure.
According to minutes of the commission meetings and workshops, Oceguera attended one of 14 meetings since Jan. 2009, in June of 2009. No member of the Senate has attended a meeting this year.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, could not be reached for comment.
In response to the concerns, Oceguera said that as a non-voting member, his presence is not required at every meeting of the commission.
“That being said, I am in constant contact with members of the committee and I’m fully briefed on the committee’s important work,” he said. “Further, as an assistant fire chief, my job entails dealing with homeland security issues on a daily basis.”
Oceguera said that with his time in the Legislature coming to an end, he is in the process of appointing a new Assembly representative to the commission.
Fisher said that if legislative leaders cannot attend, then maybe they could designate alternates to represent the Legislature at the meetings.
Fisher said the failure of lawmakers to attend the meetings has been raised as a concern at previous meetings as well.
“I think it is a concern because look at the meeting today,” he said. “There is so much that has been covered.”
Earlier in the meeting on a separate agenda item, Fisher said a majority of the Legislature does not know what the Nevada Homeland Security Commission does. The comment came during a discussion about the need to get increased federal funding for Nevada’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Fisher said the commission will approach the Legislature in 2013 on various issues, and having members who attend the meetings and who are up to speed on those issues would be beneficial.
Sandoval agreed that legislative participation is important.
If legislative leaders cannot attend, possibly they could designate alternates, he said.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Sandoval said.
In an interview today, Fisher put the blame for the failure to educate the Legislature on the activities of the commission on the panel itself, not lawmakers.
“I think over the years we’ve done a very, very poor job, or we haven’t done a good enough job, in helping to educate the public, let alone the legislators, on: This is the Homeland Security Commission, this is what we do, this is what we’re trying to achieve, this is what we’re working (on) to make all of Nevada safer,” he said.
This is why it is important to have legislators attend the meetings, Fisher said.
The effort to get changes to state law on behalf of the commission in the 2011 session was a challenge, but it was the fault of the commission, not the Legislature, he said.
“It is a failure of the commission to communicate adequately,” Fisher said.
This will likely change with Sandoval deciding to serve personally as chairman of the commission, he said.
“Having Gov. Sandoval as the chairman of the Homeland Security Commission is the best thing to happen to homeland security in the state of Nevada,” Fisher said.
Past governors have designated others to serve on the panel on their behalf.
The meeting was the last for the panel before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Kevin Favreau, special agent in charge, FBI Las Vegas, and a non-voting member of the panel, said that as the somber anniversary approaches, the commission has over the years created a system to keep Nevada safe.
He acknowledged the country is going into a period of heightened concern with the approach of the anniversary, but gave an optimistic assessment of Nevada’s readiness.
“Our director and others in our national security structure are very concerned about it because of the tape that was taken from when Osama bin Laden was killed, as it being a significant date, and also because of the potential for copycats or lone offenders, as we heard from Mr. Fisher; Mumbai-style attacks,” he said.
“But should anything happen, I’m confident that Metro and others in the northern part of the state are very ready to be able to respond, and of course we hope that doesn’t happen,” Favreau said. “But from a preventative aspect this commission has helped this state to be as ready as we can be to try to prevent it.”