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Nevada Legislature convenes with historic installation of Frierson as speaker

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Nevada Legislature (6P) 02062017

In a building where history lines the walls with pictures dating back to statehood, never before has this happened.

"I declare Assemblyman Jason Frierson the Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly," said one of Frierson's fellow lawmakers, capping a nomination process that was already a foregone conclusion.

Frierson had just been named to lead the Chamber, the first African-American in Nevada history.

"It's humbling. It's a bit overwhelming emotionally," he told me Monday morning in his office at the Legislative Building.

Frierson's moment of history came on an opening day that is traditionally reserved for lawmakers' family and friends. Both chambers - the Assembly and the Senate - are stuffed with relatives and children. Little ones, whose feet can't reach the floor, rock back and forth in their mother or father's big leather chair, which will be occupied for the next four months during days of debate.

Democrats recaptured control of both chambers in November, a rare blue bright spot in an Election Night that saw Republicans sweep and America elect Donald Trump.

Not Nevada, which for the first time now has African-Americans leading both chambers.

"There are a lot of folks who fought for us to even be able to vote, let alone stand in positions where we are able to lead our respective chambers," said state Senator Aaron Ford, D-Clark County, the senate majority leader.

Even on this first day of harmony, the broad outlines of disagreement surfaced.

In the senate, Ford called for raising the minimum wage.

And he took a shot at his republican predecessor, calling some of the republican legislation of 2015 "Extreme and unnecessary."

"I've never seen a majority leader give a caustic political speech on day one," said State Senator Michael Roberson, R-Clark County. Thanks to the Democratic sweep in November, is now the Senate's Minority Leader. "He wanted to make a political statement. He made his statement. They're words. We'll see about action this session," Roberson said.

"Well, I find it a little ironic that the most divisive figure over the last few sessions wants to lecture me what's appropriate on the floor," Ford retorted, adding, "We have a mandate. In a nation where everything went red, we went blue."

RELATED LINK | Nevada Legislature convenes Monday as state enjoys economic recovery

The next four months will be framed by the governor's proposed $8.1B budget.

The new speaker promises an open mind.

"I think in policy it is rarely a good idea to just draw an absolute line in the sand," Frierson tells me, adding that he has a good relationship with both the Governor and Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Clark County.

2017 could not be more different from 2015, when Republican infighting led to drama over their choice for Speaker. Two years later, applause, not drama, greeted the opening day.

"It's not near as exciting," Anderson told me, grinning slightly.

The session promises a fight over the Governor's proposal to fund his Education Savings Accounts, which give parents money to send their children to private schools.

Democrats promise a fight. Republicans, meanwhile, say a proposal to tweak property tax caps to get local government more money is a non-starter.

In the meantime, 119 days left to argue. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn in June.




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