Lawmakers posed for photo after photo while their children and grandchildren pranced around the Nevada legislative building in frilly dresses on Monday, a lighthearted opening day to what promises to be a contentious 120-day session.
First-day festivities included a pair of musicians singing a folksy rendition of “Home Means Nevada,” legislators taking the oath of office and Assembly members unanimously electing Las Vegas Republican John Hambrick as Assembly Speaker, the highest-ranking position in the lower house.
“We have a tough job ahead of us,” Hambrick told lawmakers flanked by their family members in the crowded Assembly chambers in Carson City. “There’s a lot of hard work, long hours ahead.”
Hambrick’s election signaled the end of a bitter power struggle among Republicans that’s been simmering since the party took control of both houses of the Legislature after the November elections.
Hambrick was informally named to the top post after Sparks Assemblyman Ira Hansen was forced to relinquish the position amid outcry over his newspaper columns.
But Hambrick has been targeted by conservative activists upset that he and other Assembly members aren’t taking as staunch a position against taxes, and it was unclear until Monday’s ceremony whether he would formally be chosen as speaker.
Republican leadership was also thrown into flux after news of Assemblywoman Michele Fiore’s issues with the Internal Revenue Service. She was stripped of her high-ranking majority leader position in December and also removed as head of the taxation committee.
Nevertheless, Hansen said the Republican caucus would be more united moving into the session now that the question of leadership has been settled.
“When push comes to shove, I’m sure we’ll make the right decisions,” he said.
The Senate and Assembly also finished preliminary business Monday, such as introducing bills that were drafted and filed before the session began and directing them to the appropriate committee.
But the weightier work begins Tuesday, when committees hold their first meetings and begin debating ambitious budget and tax increase proposals set forth by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval during his January State of the State address.
The governor proposed adding $1.1 billion in new and extended taxes over the next two years and applying most of the money to K-12 education.
He wants to increase spending for pre-kindergarten through high school by $782 million over two years. The money would expand full-day kindergarten to schools statewide and fund programs for gifted and talented students, children in poverty and students learning English.
The plan, which calls for significant changes to the state’s business licensing fee, was greeted with uncertainty from the business community and harsh criticism from some legislative Republicans who say it would raise taxes against the will of voters.
A group of conservative Assembly Republicans led by Fiore say they have nearly enough votes to block Sandoval’s budget, which needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
With Republicans in control of the Assembly, Senate and all constitutional offices for the first time since 1929, lawmakers are expected to tackle a number of hot-button issues, such as collective bargaining reform and voter identification, that Democrats generally oppose.
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