(Andrew Doughman/Nevada News Bureau) – Legislators would have to attend legislator school under a bill from Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.
Assembly Bill 260 would make it mandatory for all new legislators to attend classes before the official start of the legislative session.
Those who are too cool for school would suffer a truancy penalty of one day’s salary, or about $150.
Oceguera argued that the bill helps make new legislators effective and retains institutional knowledge at the Legislature. The Legislature was restrained to 120-day sessions and established 12-year term limits during the 1990s.
Oceguera said mandatory training would help legislators “hit the ground running” on day one.
Lawmakers had classes before the start of this session, when record numbers of new legislators arrived for their first day of work. The new legislators learned about budgeting, working with lobbyists and the press and how a bill becomes a law, among other things.
The speaker’s bill would require as many as 10 days of such training for all new legislators. Legislators would receive a travel and living stipend during the training, paid out of the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s budget.
Legislative leaders from the past session would draft the curriculum.
Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, attended training classes before this session and said they helped her immensely.
Many in the building have noted the “breakneck” speed with which legislators got to work early this session.
Karl Kurtz of the National Conference of State Legislatures provided background about what kind of training other states are providing.
He said 16 states do some kind of pre-session training for new members.
“New member training is the best thing that legislatures can do to try to address the problems of inexperience brought on by term limits,” Kurtz said, citing a study about term limits.
Some states bring legislators to several sessions after the November elections and before the start of the legislative session. One state, Missouri, takes legislators on an eight-day bus tour of all state institutions, Kurtz said.
“You need to view it as an investment; it’s an investment to make the session more effective and make the session more efficient,” said Tom Little of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.
Little said he has seen how helpful training sessions are when he has participated in other states’ legislative training sessions.
Former Speaker Richard Perkins also testified in support of the bill.
“In a citizens’ legislature, you have so many more demands on your time outside of this process that you pretty much have to make [training] mandatory,” he said. “In a professional Legislature, this would be your job.”
Perkins said that legislators this session have to sort through the “most complicated budget” in state history, as well as address the drawing of new political boundaries as is required every ten years.
“There aren’t many businesses that would thrust a team member into a situation as complex as this,” Perkins said.
Republicans on the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee asked for and were granted an amendment that would allow both parties to set the agenda for training.
Legislators also agreed to limit the training to no more than 10 days.
The committee unanimously voted to pass the bill out of committee, which, as new legislators now know, is the first step toward a bill becoming a law.