Democrats need outside lawyer in tax fight, judge rules
Las Vegas Review-Journal
November 20, 2019
CARSON CITY — Elected state Democrats can’t be represented by the Legislature’s own lawyers in a lawsuit Republican senators filed to challenge the legality of two tax bills passed last session, a state judge has ruled.
The ruling means state Democrats named as defendants, including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro; Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, as Senate president; and Gov. Steve Sisolak will need to be represented by outside counsel in the case, though fees will be paid by the state. The judge set April 1 for a hearing.
The dispute involves the Legislature’s votes last session to kill a scheduled decrease in the state’s modified business tax and keep a $1 technology fee on DMV transactions. Under a voter referendum approved in the mid-1990s, any bill that raises revenue from taxes in Nevada requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature to pass.
The two bills in question met that threshold for passage in the Assembly but were one vote short of it in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 13-8 advantage. The bills passed the Senate by that margin and on party lines.
The business tax was scheduled to decrease with the start of the current fiscal year in July. Keeping it directs approximately $100 million in revenue to pay for education-related initiatives that were Democratic legislative priorities for the session.
Over Republican objections, Democrats pushed the bills through on the basis of a legal opinion from the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau. The bureau’s lawyers wrote that the two-thirds majority requirement did not apply when a tax is being extended at its existing rate. The eight Republican senators filed a lawsuit in July.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell sided with a GOP motion in the case to have the Counsel Bureau’s lawyers barred from representing the Democrats in the partisan dispute.