Nevada Legislature: Lawmakers split on funding new execution chamber in Ely

The legislative subcommittee processing the capital improvement projects budget on Monday split over whether to build a new execution chamber at Ely State Prison.

The old chamber is located in the now-closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said to his knowledge there is no one on death row scheduled for execution in the coming two years so that budget of $858,539 can be taken and used elsewhere this session.

“If we had to, however, we could use the facility here in Carson City,” he told the joint Assembly Ways and Means/Senate Finance panel.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, urged approval of funding to build the new death chamber at the Ely State Prison.

“I couldn’t disagree more,” he told Kirner.

He pointed out that the existing chamber, Nevada’s historic gas chamber, isn’t even Americans With Disabilities Act compliant for witnesses.

As for the argument that, in these tight budget times, the state doesn’t have the money, he said: “We could say where’s the money for every other item on here (the Capital Improvement Plan budget) and we don’t have the money until we approve a tax package.”

Roberson and Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, voted for the project with Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, against, approving it on the Senate side.

But four members of the Assembly out of seven opposed building the new death chamber.

Nevada has only carried out the death penalty 12 times since 1977. There are about 80 inmates on death row, but the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.

Subcommittee Chairman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said that disagreement will have to be resolved Wednesday when the full committees meet to iron out the CIP budget.

The subcommittee also voted to reject the governor’s plan to let UNLV manage construction of the new Hotel College.

The panel unanimously approved the $49 million hotel college academic building but decided the Public Works Board should manage construction instead of UNLV.

University officials argued they have extensive experience in large construction projects and would be able to more efficiently and quickly do the job.

But several members of the subcommittee argued it would be a dangerous precedent to allow an agency rather than public works to manage a construction project that includes significant state funding.

The Hotel College building is planned to be paid half by the state and half by donated and other funds raised by UNLV. The university has already generated more than $14 million of its share.

“We would be setting a significant precedent by allowing UNLV to manage the project and personally, I’m not ready to go down that road,” Hickey said.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson, D-Reno, said she agreed it was a significant precedent she was uncomfortable with.

After a short break, it became apparent a majority of members were uncomfortable with that idea.

“At this point, until I have a better understanding of this, I am concerned about setting a precedent,” said Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas.

He emphasized that he doesn’t doubt that UNLV has the experience to manage a large construction project, but he was worried about opening the door to numerous other agencies seeking permission to handle their own projects.

That decision also freed up $253,752 that would have been appropriated to UNLV to handle the management of the Hotel College project.

Finally, the subcommittee voted to eliminate the $1 million in state funding for the statewide energy efficiency program. That not only frees up the $1 million in state funds but $20.77 million in capacity for General Obligation Bonds.

Kieckhefer said that would allow staff and Public Works Manager Gus Nuñez to return to the full committee session on Wednesday with recommendations on spending that money for such things as critical maintenance projects that aren’t currently funded.

Altogether, the proposed CIP budget includes just over $110 million in state funds, $5.16 million in highway funds and $120.5 million in other funding for a total of $236 million during the 2016-17 biennium.


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