Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks to reporters following the Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Harry Reid called on Nevada lawmakers to tighten the state's renewable energy standards in a wide-ranging speech Wednesday that also called on them to repeal term limits, reject voter identification requirements and embrace same-day voter registration.
The Democratic Senate majority leader said Nevada is beginning to ease out of economic doldrums suffered in the Great Recession - record unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures.
"Although Nevada's economy is not back to full strength, progress has been made over the last two years," Reid said in a speech to a joint session of the Legislature.
"Now, as we emerge from those difficult times, it is crucial that we renew our investments in the future - in education, public safety and clean energy," Reid said. "These investments will help us prosper in the short term, and protect us against another downturn in the long term. Such investments are easy to postpone when times are hard."
Investing in schools, Reid said, is key to America's competitiveness.
"Nevada can no longer afford to put off investments in our children," he said. "If we ever hope to compete with students from Tucson or Burbank, never mind students from Tokyo or Berlin, we must adequately fund education today."
He said an emphasis should be placed on teaching math and science, and he praised Nevada's Desert Research Institute for a program that offers free professional development and training for teachers.
Reid also took on the state's utility giant, NV Energy Inc., and said lawmakers should strengthen the state's renewable energy portfolio standards and close loopholes that he says have allowed the company to evade the spirit of the law designed to spur investment in green energy.
He cited Nevada's wind, solar and geothermal energy sources and credited the renewable industry as being a "bright spot during dark economic times, helping our state attract new businesses and create thousands of jobs that can never be outsourced."
Reid credited a state law, known as the energy portfolio standard, for spurring green energy development by requiring that a minimum percentage of electricity come from renewable sources.
But Reid said "loopholes" in the law need to be closed.
"In fact, those loopholes are so large Nevada's major utility could meet the standard without building a single megawatt of new renewable energy for the rest of the decade," he said, adding that "closing these loopholes will strengthen the law and send a powerful signal that Nevada remains committed to kicking our dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels."
In calling for the end of term limits, Reid hailed former state Sen. Randolph Townsend, a Reno Republican who helped author the renewable energy portfolio standards in 1997.
"Sen. Townsend would no doubt be still serving in the Legislature and continuing to advocate for renewable energy if not for the wrong-headed and counterproductive term limit law," Reid said.
Reid, who won re-election to a fifth term in 2010, praised Nevada's record voter turnout in 2012 but said more than 600,000 Nevadans are eligible to vote but not registered. He said Nevada should pass legislation allowing same-day voter registration.
He also took aim at voter identification proposals pending in the Legislature. "This proposal is a solution looking for a problem," Reid said. "Any change to our state's voting process should be enacted to encourage voter turnout, not discourage Nevadans from taking part in democracy."
Reid's speech was not all criticism. He praised Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for implementing the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and agreeing to expand Medicaid eligibility.
He also urged cooperation in southern Nevada to construct a multi-use sports arena in Las Vegas. "A new arena could be the next frontier for this pioneer town," he said. "But to make a top-notch stadium a reality, it will take top-notch cooperation between Clark County stakeholders."
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