LAS VEGAS — A high-stakes amendment intended to keep Nevada in the controversial bi-state Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) was proposed today by Gov. Brian Sandoval, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and State Sen. James Settelmeyer.

All three, during the 2011 Nevada Legislature, had supported Senate Bill 271, the bill to take Nevada out of the TRPA Compact unless California agreed to change the terms governing the agency’s control over Lake Tahoe planning.

Sen. Settelmeyer was a primary author of the legislation, and Speaker Kirkpatrick had — notwithstanding criticism from “green” groups — supported it. Gov. Sandoval, once the bill had been approved by both legislative chambers, had signed it.

The measure introduced today would repeal two of the strongest changes in state law that SB 271 had effected, but keep two others — to which California, at least nominally, has agreed.

But according to the draft amendment, the repeal of those provisions — Nevada’s demand for a change in the TRPA voting structure, and the state’s proclaimed date of departure from TRPA — would be contingent on California’s legislature, by Jan. 1 of next year, enacting legislation that meets SB 271’s other conditions, namely:

1) Amending the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact to allow consideration of economic conditions and economic effects in TRPA’s Tahoe-basin planning;

2) Agreeing to “cooperate with the State of Nevada in seeking to have those changes to the Compact approved by Congress”; 

3) Amending the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact to require TRPA “to take certain actions in accordance with the Compact and the regional plan,” and to place the burden of proof upon a party challenging the regional plan;

4) Officially declaring support for full implementation of the regional plan update adopted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in December of 2012.

“If the State of California does not enact the described legislation on or before January 1, 2014,” says the amendment, “the provisions of this bill would expire by limitation.”

Two high Sandoval administration officials — Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff and Sandoval Chief of Staff Gerald Gardner — this morning walked members of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee through the proposed amendment.

Their appearance followed the joint announcement yesterday by California Gov. Jerry Brown and Sandoval of the two-state compromise agreement.

That announcement Tuesday “was really recognition of the framework agreement that the governors and the [two states’] legislative leaders have hammered out,” Todd Ferrara, deputy secretary for external affairs at the California Natural Resources Agency, told Nevada Journal.

California’s legislative counsel office, he said, is currently drafting that state’s counterpart bill language.

Because Ferrara’s agency oversees the state’s natural resources policy work, involving him in the Lake Tahoe issues reflected in SB 271, Nevada Journal asked him how real the “burden of proof” issue actually is.

“Is it not the case that all plaintiffs in Lake Tahoe litigation — as in litigation elsewhere — already start off with the burden of proof on them?” he was asked.

“Sure,” said Ferrara. “I’ve hear similar statements from others. But I think it’s one that Nevada’s legislature felt strongly about, and it was a condition that California agreed to.”

Nevada’s Drozdoff, asked a similar question, agreed that the original burden-of-proof language in SB 271 tended to support the thesis “that there’s already a pretty healthy burden that the plaintiffs bear.”

Moreover, he said, “when we looked at what was in 271, we came to the conclusion that just maintaining that language wouldn’t necessarily help a whole lot.”

For one thing, that language “largely focused on the regional plan, and really what we were trying to get at … is creating, if you would, a bit of an additional burden in favor of” projects that big majorities on the TRPA board think would be good for the Lake Tahoe basin.

“What I said in my testimony” this morning, said Drozdoff, “is that we’ve had projects and regional plans that have been voted up by very healthy majorities [on the TRPA board], but they’re still being litigated.”

The administration, he said, is clear that “we live in a litigious society,” and that won’t change.

“But what we are trying to do is create a little bit of an extra burden,” he continued, “and by doing it [in this agreement] what we hope to do is not only create that, but do it in such a way it will become effective by the end of this year.

“And since it would go into the compact, it would be federal law. And if both states put this in, that will be something that the federal courts will at least have to look at it.”

Steven Miller is the managing editor of Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more in-depth reporting, visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.