NTLA bill draft review committee

On the Playground of Carson City with the Gang of 63

In the 2005 session of the Nevada Legislature, there were 1459 Bill Draft Requests which resulted in 560 Assembly Bills and 511 Senate Bills. This is an average of 17 bills per legislator. This does not include concurrent resolutions, joint resolutions, joint bills or initiatives.

Of these 1071 bills, the general Legislative Lobbying Team reviewed about 193 bills or 18%. This does not include the bills reviewed by other specialty teams. There are several lobbying teams to cover different areas of specialization. One team covers construction defect issues; one team covers worker’s compensation issues; and the third covers anything else that might be relevant to the citizens of Nevada or the members of NTLA1. This means that the third team reviews tort issues, commercial issues, domestic legislation, limitations on practices and even automobile leasing. There is also a medical malpractice subgroup of the general team who works on medical malpractice bills.

Since the session was shortened to 120 days, the general team meets twice each week. The purpose of the meeting depends on the phase of the session. In the first few weeks when bills are being introduced, the teams meet to review the legislation as it is  introduced. The teams meet by conference call. Bills are reviewed to determine what position NTLA will take on the bill. Does the bill have an effect on a right of an Nevadan to access the court system? Does the bill immunize a group or agency from liability? Does the bill allow a governmental body to operate in the dark? Does the bill protect the citizens of Nevada from dangerous products? Does the bill clarify a parent’s custodial rights? There are a myriad number of issues that arise to determine whether a bill should make its way onto the list of bills that NTLA (through its lobbyists, staff and committee members) will work.

After determining whether the bill is “our issue”, and note, there may be a historical component to whether a bill is “our issue”2, a determination is made about what to do with it. Should it be monitored for changes? Should it be supported? Should it be opposed? The decision is a complex one based on what committee the bill originates in, who signed onto the bill as a sponsor or cosponsor, who requested the bill, who is anticipated to support or oppose the bill and, fundamentally, do we have the resources to support or oppose the bill. Some bills are merely monitored because they contain the potential for mischief. At the same time, laws have been passed which are adverse to our citizens because there is no one available to testify or to prepare amendments. Committee members have practices to attend to and cannot always be available. Additional members are welcome.

Once a decision is made about a bill, there will be hearings about the bill before its committee of origin. Members of the committee as well as other NTLA Board members, former members, friends and clients will testify before the committee of origin. The protocol dance of testimony is more complex than a minuet. Testimony is formal. Responses to questions are addressed to the chair of the committee or to the appropriate legislator “by and through” the committee chair. Sarcasm is never appropriate. Brevity is appreciated.

If there is testimony on a bill, it can then continue on as written or be amended to take the comments into account. The chair of the committee can take the bill into work session to revise it, entertain a vote on it as written, entertain amendments and a vote or stash the bill away to suit a particular agenda. Some bills are stashed away never to be seen again.

Once the bill leaves its committee of origin, it is sent to the floor of that house for voting. At all times during the testimony, the work sessions and floor votes, NTLA’s lobbyists are monitoring the bill and working with the legislators and other lobbyists to further the committee’s decision about the bill. At the request of the chair of the legislative committee, NTLA committee members occasionally will work directly with the Legislative Counsel Bureau to revise language in a bill. This is both an honor and a frightening experience. The words placed in the bill and the decisions made about that language can have a farreaching and long-lasting impact on the practice of law in Nevada.

Just before the deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin, NTLA’s committee meetings can be lengthy and heated. However, no position is taken without a consensus. After the bills pass out of the house of origin, the meetings are shorter. There is more emphasis on the progress of the bill and the schedule for hearings for the next few days. The list of bills that are on the watch list is defined and shrinking. Bills that pass through both houses and onto the Governor do not need further monitoring. Bills that do not pass out of the house of origin are presumed dead. However, they sometimes can be revived like zombies. That is where the vigilance and experience of the NTLA staff comes in to watch for the bills that rise from the dead. The NTLA team watches all bills for amendments that would be limit access to the courts or immunize a special group. In those situations, the committee and lobbyists resume activity on the bill. No bill is truly dead until the Governor signs it. Lately, there is the risk of special session. Luckily, there is no voodoo within a special session to revive a dead bill unless that issue is part of the Governor’s “Call Letter”. A “Call Letter” is issued by the Governor to proclaim a special session which specifies dates and issues for the special session.

As the session nears the end, the committee continues to testify and to contact legislators about bills. Work does not end until the session ends. And then there is the party. After the session, NTLA hosts two galas-one in the north and one in the south-to not only honor distinguished trial lawyers and consumer advocates, but also to honor the legislators who have worked diligently during the session. The galas are truly star studded events in the legal and political arenas.

The people who work on legislation throughout the session do not stop just because the session is over. The political process continues on between sessions. While Carson City may not be a maelstrom of activity, there are still chores to do which include getting to know the legislators, working to elect legislators who do not buy into the tort reform rhetoric and crafting legislation for introduction in the next session of the legislature. Legislators still have committee meetings and hearings to monitor and gather data. There are always opportunities to enhance the quality of life of the citizens of Nevada through legislation. The doors are open to all through participation in these NTLA committees and through the electoral process. The preservation of the civil jury system is a party-neutral goal which can be achieved by participation in the process. Come play with us in 2007.

1 There is a consensus among the committee that the committee is like Mickey from the old Life cereal commercials: “Give it to them, they’ll handle it.”
2 A bill that has not been passed into law in a prior session may reappear and NTLA had previously taken a position on it. In some instances, the committee has narrowed its scope and the bill is no longer within our scope, but we handle it anyway.