Nevada Policy argued before the state supreme court Tuesday that it’s time to end legislative dual service, a practice that dates back more than a century and violates Nevada’s separation of powers doctrine.
The hearing, held in Las Vegas, is the latest in Nevada Policy’s decade-plus effort to force lawmakers to abide by the state constitution.
Nevada’s separation of powers doctrine divides the powers of the government into three distinct categories: legislative, executive and judicial, explained attorney Colleen McCarty, representing Nevada Policy.
Furthermore, the constitution prohibits anyone charged with exercising the power of one branch of government from exercising “any functions” related to either of the other two branches.
McCarty said that the constitution affirms that anyone charged with the exercise of power in one area of government cannot do the same in either of the other two areas.
“The separation of powers doctrine is meant to serve the needs of the public, not the needs of government,” McCarty said.
There are currently 11 state lawmakers who hold dual service positions, including some with jobs at the Clark County School District, the Washoe County School District and UNLV.
Kevin Powers, general counsel for the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s legal division, represented the dual-serving lawmakers. He asserted that the separation of powers provision should only apply to high-level public officials, such as the heads of state agencies.
However, allowing legislators to serve in other government positions allows them to concentrate power more easily, McCarty said. Among other things, dual service enables them to vote on matters which directly affect them, such as pay increases and funding for their other government employer.
Thus, low-level government employees who can serve as state legislators may be incentivized to put the needs of their employing government agency ahead of the public, something former dual-serving legislator Wendell Williams openly admitted to.
The hearing took a little more than half an hour. Nevada Policy is hopeful that the Court will issue a decision later this year.