Nevada lawmakers pass bill to audit public system’s finances

Dive Brief:

  • Nevada’s legislature approved a bill late last month that would initiate an audit of part of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s finances.

  • The state would examine, dating back to 2018-19, reserve accounts, private donations made to the system and its institutions, as well as capital projects at two universities. 

  • The measure comes as Nevada lawmakers have sought to be more involved in the system’s operations.

Dive Insight:

The draft legislation to kick off the audit, which would be due to the state by early February 2023, sailed through the legislature, receiving unanimous approval in both chambers.

The final bill was significantly scaled back from its original iteration, which called for a broader review and would have had the state examine factors including employee compensation dating back to 2014-15 and funding sources for capital projects stretching back to 1999-2000. 

That version of the bill was scrapped because of its high cost — around $700,000 — and because it required too much manpower, according to The Nevada Independent.

Still, the ease with which the newest bill passed the legislature signals lawmakers’ strong desire to intervene in the system’s workings. One Democrat said during budget hearings this legislative session that the system’s budget was “behind a curtain,” the Independent reported.

Notably, too, last year legislators attempted to give themselves control over the system’s governing body. A ballot measure, which narrowly failed to pass in November, would have removed the system’s regent board from the state’s constitution, giving lawmakers the ability to rework its governing structure. 

The legislature is restarting the process to put a similar ballot question before voters. The previous measure had bipartisan support, with proponents arguing that the system wasn’t subject to enough oversight

Lawmakers in other states have recently tried stepping into public colleges’ operations in various ways. Several legislatures have moved forward bills to ban teaching certain topics on race and diversity. And Florida’s governor proposed stricter new reporting requirements for colleges’ foreign gifts and contracts.

Public institutions can be influenced indirectly, too. The search for a new chancellor at the University System of Georgia has been weighed down by politics, as observers argue Republican state leaders have too strong a hand in its workings.

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