Indy Briefs | The Latest News: Cortez Masto, Heller cautious after Gorsuch announcement; 42,000 ride-sharing drivers on Nevada roads

Cortez Masto, Heller cautious after Gorsuch announcement

Both of Nevada’s senators are playing it safe and not committing to a position on President Donald Trump’s newly announced pick for the Supreme Court, federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto issued cautious statements almost immediately after Trump announced Gorsuch’s nomination on Tuesday.

In a statement, Heller said he wanted to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia with a “well-qualified candidate who supports a conservative judicial philosophy.”

“I look forward to meeting with Neil Gorsuch and vetting his qualifications as we begin this important process,” he said. “It’s critical this seat is occupied by someone who can live up to the legacy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.”

Cortez Masto also did not commit to a position on Gorsuch, while saying Senate Republicans should be “ashamed” of not holding a vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s pick for the vacancy, Merrick Garland.

“Any individual who is nominated to serve on the Supreme Court will be making decisions with broad implications for our safety, our rights and our core values as Americans,” she said in a statement. I’ take my responsibility in the Senate as a check and balance on the President’s agenda very seriously, and I believe Judge Neil Gorsuch views on the issues and his full record deserves to be intensely scrutinized.”

Riley Snyder

42,000 ride-sharing drivers licensed in a year and a half

The Nevada Transportation Authority has licensed 42,000 registered drivers in the roughly year and a half that ride-sharing companies have been allowed to operate in the state, said Bruce Breslow, director of the Department of Business and Industry.

While transportation network companies (TNCs) have exploded, Breslow said the taxi industry has contracted. In 2016, the number of rides dropped by 4 million rides from an expected 27 million rides and combined taxicab revenue dropped in 2016 after TNCs entered the market in 2015.

The Taxicab Authority, by extension, has seen a 15 percent drop in revenue and plans to eliminate seven positions that are currently vacant, Breslow said. “That is generally expected when TNCs come into a state or major city,” Breslow said. “Some cities have rebounded a little bit, but it’s a market share.”

There are only 8,000 licensed taxi drivers, compared to 42,000 TNC drivers spread out across Uber, Lyft and Get me. However, Breslow noted that TNC drivers often work only part time and that the 42,000 figure accounts for individual registrations with a TNC company, meaning that drivers who work both for Uber and Lyft would be counted twice.

Though the state has taken significant strides since the last legislative session toward regulating TNCs, Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton voiced concern today about how the commercial insurance drivers carry through their TNC is verified.

“I’ve had a constituent who got burned on this,” Carlton said. “I just want to understand what the verification process is when we go forward.”

The state administrative code requires that the commercial insurance policy name the Nevada Transportation Authority as one of the insured parties. Being a named party on the policy means that the authority is directly notified by the insurance company about the policy's existence or in the event that the policy changes or lapses, Department of Business and Industry spokeswoman Teri Williams said Wednesday morning.

— Megan Messerly

Updated at 6:26 p.m. to include additional information about the commercial insurance policy.

Updated on Feb. 1 at 9:50 a.m. to include information about how the NTA is notified of changes or lapses in the commercial insurance policy.

Two former Assembly members named to Ethics Commission

Former Republican Assembly members PK O’Neill and Lynn Stewart have been named to Nevada’s Commission on Ethics.

The two former lawmakers were appointed to the board over the last several days, with terms that run into 2019. O’Neill was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday, and Stewart was appointed by the Legislative Commission last week.

O’Neill served one term in the state Assembly, representing the Carson City area, before losing in a heated primary to current Assemblyman Al Kramer. Stewart served five terms in the state Assembly, representing a Henderson-area district between 2006 and 2016 before decided to not run for re-election after the 2015 session.

The appointments mean the board is composed of four Republicans, two Democrats and one nonpartisan. One of the four seats that the state Legislature is tasked to fill is currently vacant.

Department of Corrections grapples with aging population, mental health concerns

The Nevada Department of Corrections is confronting how to meet the needs of its ever-expanding population, implement more programming to reduce recidivism and expand its mental health services.

The department’s director James Dzurenda noted that prison population levels have exceeded projections in recent years, both due to higher-than-expected admissions and fewer-than-expected releases. In the last fiscal year, the department admitted 3 percent more male and female inmates than expected and released 5 percent fewer male inmates and 6 percent fewer female inmates than expected.

With 12,000 offenders, or 88 percent of the population, slated to be released over the next 16 years, Dzurenda highlighted the importance of the department doing more to address addiction, mental health and other anger issues to reduce recidivism when those inmates are released.

“If we do a better job in corrections … when we release them we should see an impact in the communities on reducing victimization,” Dzurenda said.

The average inmate age has also increased from 25 in 2010 to 28 today, which means that not only is the population getting older but also sicker, Dzurenda said. That has put increased demands on the department to provide a number of medical services, including very costly hospice care.

The department is also currently understaffed according to an analysis by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, Dzurenda said. The department needs to add 19 more correctional officer positions to meet the minimum national staffing standard over the next two fiscal years, he said.

— Megan Messerly

Department of Public Safety struggles to retain staff as local police agencies poach officers

Nevada’s Department of Public Safety is struggling to recruit and retain all the officers it needs.

Director Jim Wright told lawmakers at a budget subcommittee meeting on Tuesday that his department currently has about 100 vacancies and is hoping to double the number of scheduled academy sessions so it can add about 100 new people to the force each year.

The department has 850 officers, including within the parole and probation division, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Capitol police force and the state fire marshal’s office. But it loses officers at a rate of about 30 percent a year.

Wright said the department struggles with retirements and with officers who leave to take roles with local police departments that have more attractive benefit packages, such as paying the full cost of a retirement plan.

He said initiatives such as “More Cops” — a move to raise the sales tax to add more than 300 police officers in the Las Vegas area — often mean more of his officers are poached by large urban police departments.

To address the concern, the Department of Public Safety wants $1.8 million in the upcoming budget cycle to add two Southern Nevada officer academies in addition to two academies in the north. Academies take 16 weeks, and many Southern Nevadans didn’t want to spend that much time training away from home in Carson City, Wright said.

More frequent academies will also mean recruits can get trained and employed more quickly, rather than having to wait and perhaps taking a job elsewhere in the meantime.

Wright said it takes a pool of about 1,000 candidates to come up with a class of 30 for the academy. He was hesitant to lower the standards to grow the pool of eligible recruits.

“I think we would be remiss in reducing the standards,” he said. “Not everyone can do this job.

— Michelle Rindels

Goldman Sachs reportedly "re-evaluating" Las Vegas stadium financing

The Oakland Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas may have hit another roadblock, with investment bank Goldman Sachs reportedly re-evaluating their commitment to help finance a $1.9 billion Las Vegas stadium after casino magnate Sheldon Adelson backed away from the venture on Monday.

The bank is “re-evaluating its relationship with the planned deal,” according to ESPN, after Adelson publicly announced that he would walk away from the stadium deal and the $650 million he pledged toward the project.

Team and state officials said last week that the investment bank was committed to financing the stadium with or without a development partner such as Adelson.

The Las Vegas Sands CEO said his withdrawal was based on conditions named in a proposed stadium draft agreement submitted by the team last week, which called for terms including $1 annual rent, control over field scheduling and exclusive naming rights for the team.

“We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement; we weren’t even aware of its existence,” Adelson said in the statement.

Adelson’s departure left a major hole in the budget for the $1.9 billion stadium. The Raiders pledged to pay $500 million, and $750 million is coming from new hotel room taxes approved in a special session of the Nevada Legislature last year.

— Riley Snyder

Nevada casino winnings up in 2016

Nevada casino winnings rose 1.3 percent in 2016 compared with the year before after they brought in $11.3 billion.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported a continuing upward trend on Tuesday. The 2015 numbers were up 1 percent over 2014 revenues.

Slot machine revenues, which account for about 64 percent of all casino winnings, were up 2.3 percent in 2016.

Game and table win grew 0.4 percent in 2016.

Still, the annual numbers haven’t returned to pre-recession highs. The average annual growth rate over the past 10 years has been -1 percent.

— Michelle Rindels

December was a down month for Nevada casinos

Revenues totaled $956 million last month, which was down 2.7 percent compared with December 2015.

Clark County winnings fell 4.3 percent, weighed down by a 1.7 percent decrease on the Las Vegas Strip. Other Southern Nevada regions saw steep decreases in winnings, including the Boulder Strip, where revenues fell 27 percent in December.

Northern Nevada had a stronger month. Winnings were up 14.2 percent in Washoe County in December.

The state collected $41 million in taxes off the December winnings, which was down 15.5 percent from a year earlier.

mrrdec16 by Jon Ralston on Scribd

— Michelle Rindels