(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – For the past nearly two decades, the Nevada Legislature’s Senate Judiciary Committee has been run by a lawmaker who was also an attorney in private life.
The committee, which hears a variety of bills dealing with civil and criminal law, is seen by many as one of the more important legislative panels and one where some legal expertise is considered to have value.
But the two most recent chairmen of the committee, former Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, both attorneys, were term limited out of the Senate for the 2011 session.
The job now goes to Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who is not an attorney but who has served on the Judiciary Committee since 1997. The only attorney on the seven-member committee for this session is freshman Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.
Wiener said her long service on the committee, her three years at law school and the legal knowledge she picked up from her father, an attorney for 55 years in Las Vegas, makes her ready for the challenge in her last term in the Legislature. Wiener will leave after the 2011 session due to term limits.
“This is my eighth session on this committee,” she said. “I love these issues. I’m passionate about equity and people’s rights.”
Wiener said the panel also has Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, as a long-time member, and two others who served on the Assembly Judiciary Committee before being elected to the Senate last year.
“So we have a lot of history here together,” she said. “There’s not an issue, we predict, that we haven’t had before that we’re not well prepared to handle,” Wiener said.
There is precedent for non-attorneys to chair the Legislature’s judiciary committees, but the last non-attorney to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee was then-state Sen. Dina Titus in 1991.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee was for years run by Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, another term-limited lawmaker who served as a school teacher in his other life. It is being chaired this session by William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who is an attorney.
The Senate Judiciary Committee got down to work Tuesday at 8 a.m., hearing several bills and getting an overview of the activities of the courts from Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Douglas.
Ben Graham, a long-time lobbyist at the Legislature who in past sessions represented the Clark County District Attorney’s office, said he has no doubts about Wiener’s ability to run the committee.
“Sen. Wiener has been on the committee for a number of years and has participated in the legal community, and I feel very comfortable with her experience and background and her willingness to research to handle the job,” he said.
Graham, who is now representing the Administrative Office of the Courts, said: “Sen. Wiener has always taken a real interest, and I know, as you can even tell form the questions today, on fairly simple bills, she’s done her research.”