By Sandra Chereb
U.S. Rep. Joe Heck said Nevada's congressional delegation is working to help the state's core industries recover from the recession and to position Nevada as a leader in emerging high-tech and renewable energy fields.
In a speech Wednesday to a joint session of the Legislature, the two-term Republican said Nevada's publicly held lands offer some of the best development opportunities for renewable energy.
The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, Heck said, would speed up access to public lands and provide local governments revenue by establishing a royalty system from energy production. Heck is a co-sponsor of the measure.
Heck also touted efforts to expedite the issuance of travel visas for foreign visitors to come to the United States to help Nevada's core tourism and gambling industries.
"Tourism and gaming will always be key to our economy and we need to continually look for ways to strengthen this sector," he said.
"Nevada has so much to offer tourists and business travelers," he said, but an "outdated, bureaucratic visa process system is actually preventing us from realizing our full potential."
Heck said the global long-haul travel market grew by 40 percent in the last decade, but the U.S. share fell to 12 percent from 17 percent because of the long wait for visas.
He said the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, or JOLT, "would allow us to recapture the market share we lost and allow us to grow." Faster, streamlined visa procedures would attract as many as 98 million more U.S. visitors, create 1 million jobs and generate $859 billion in revenue by 2020, he said.
"Many of those visitors would come to destinations like Las Vegas and Reno," Heck said.
Heck, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Gaming Caucus, said while Congress last year failed to pass an Internet poker bill, efforts to forge legislation are continuing.
"With more and more states moving ahead with regulations of their own on Internet poker and sports gambling, we need a federal law to make sure Nevada maintains its place as a national leader in both live and Internet gaming," he said.
Heck also said that as Nevada's population ages, health care and medical services will become a greater part of the overall economy.
He said he wants to update federal funding for graduate medical education programs that help train doctors, and stabilize reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
"If we allow the next generation of Medicare doctors to leave traditional medical practice, who is going to care for the baby boomer generation as they become eligible for Medicare?" he said.