Ceremony, songs mark Nevada Legislature opening day; vote settles Assembly leadership struggle

Lawmakers were all smiles Monday when the Nevada Legislature convened its 120-day session despite a leadership struggle that has simmered since the November elections.

Republican John Hambrick was unanimously elected Assembly Speaker, which is the highest position in the lower house.

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In December, Sparks Assemblyman Ira Hansen was forced to relinquish the Speaker-designate position following outcry over his controversial past newspaper columns. Previously, Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore had been stripped of her majority leader position in December amid issues with the Internal Revenue Service.

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.

Hambrick took to his position somewhat jovially, joking with fellow lawmakers amid hundreds of family members, lobbyists and citizens after being elected Speaker. The Las Vegas Republican thanked lawmakers for appointing him and warned legislators that many difficult hours lay ahead.

Lawmakers can now 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.

But 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.