Limits on police use of force, expanded sick leave and CBD for pets among new laws kicking in

Of the hundreds of bills passed by the Legislature during the 2021 session, roughly 150 began to take effect Friday, including a law prohibiting the suspension of a driver’s license over unpaid fines or fees and policies aimed at limiting police use of force.

The new laws taking effect also include a requirement that employers allow employees to use sick leave to care for ill family members, a reduction in the penalties imposed on minors found in possession of alcohol or marijuana and an authorization for veterinarians to administer certain CBD products to animals. And starting today, purchasing a new Vegas Golden Knights license plate will cost an extra $10 (the extra proceeds go to charity).

Although the legislative session adjourned in June, not all bills approved by lawmakers kick in immediately — many approved bills do not become law for months to allow state agencies or local governments time to implement the new changes. The next major implementation date for new laws is Jan. 1, 2022, when more than 50 new laws will take effect.

Here’s a look at the new laws that are now in effect:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

SB219: Prohibits suspension of a driver’s license for unpaid fines or fees

This new law, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), removes a court’s authority to suspend a driver’s license or prohibit a defendant from applying for a driver’s license as the result of any unpaid fine, fee or restitution. 

Driver’s license suspensions have frequently been used as a tool to enforce collection of court-related debts usually related to traffic citations. However, advocates for criminal justice reform have argued that the system of suspensions disproportionately affects people who are poor and may be unable to pay off debts without the ability to drive to their jobs.

The law could lead to the reinstatement of thousands of suspended drivers’ licenses because it also applies to drivers whose licenses were suspended for court-related debt before Oct. 1.

Between July 2017 and June 2019, more than 38,000 Nevadans had their driver’s licenses suspended because of unpaid court fines and fees, and The Nevada Current reported earlier this week that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has already identified more than 33,000 licenses that could be eligible for reinstatement under the new law.

As the DMV reviews different cases, the agency will send postcards to eligible drivers, informing them that their license has been automatically reinstated. Those who receive that notice can resume legally driving if their license has not expired.

“Without the ability to legally drive, it’s impossible for many Nevadans to get to work and access basic necessities,” Leisa Moseley, Nevada state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, said in a statement. “This practice has targeted the most vulnerable among us and this new law will go a long way toward ending the criminalization of poverty.”

SB212: Limits on police use of force

This sweeping police reform bill, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), places additional limits on police use of force, use of restraint chairs and police dispersal techniques during protests.

Under the new law, police officers are required to use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives before resorting to higher levels of force to arrest a person, with police agencies required to adopt formal use of force policies.

The law also limits use of the restraint chair to no more than two hours unless authorized by a supervising officer and bans its use for a person who is pregnant. And the law puts limits on police activities during protests or demonstrations, prohibiting officers from firing nonlethal rounds “indiscriminately” into a crowd or targeting a person’s head, pelvis or other vital areas.

Last year, Las Vegas and Reno saw saw heated and at times violent protests against police brutality in the immediate aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, during which more than two dozen police were injured (including the paralyzation of officer Shay Mikalonis) while dozens more protesters were arrested or forcibly dispersed from protest areas with rubber bullets and pepper spray. One civilian, Jorge Gomez, was killed by Metro officers during the protest in what was ruled a justified use of deadly force.

“This bill perfectly hits on the places that it's necessary to have reform without imposing on the ability of an officer to utilize their good judgment and their training to effectuate their jobs adequately,” Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) said during the session. “But it allows for better community trust, better community relationships and for the progress and improvement of our law enforcement agencies moving forward.”

The law additionally prohibits an officer from using deadly force against people posing a danger to themselves, if they are not also posing an imminent threat to the officer or others.

AB158: Easing penalties for youth found with marijuana

Starting today, minors caught purchasing or in possession of alcohol or cannabis will be subject to reduced penalties, including community service instead of fines and possible jail time.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent during the session, bill sponsor Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) framed the measure as a way of being constructive with children who make mistakes, rather than strictly punitive. Proponents of the measure have also described the bill as another way to help the communities most negatively affected by the War on Drugs.

For people under the age of 21 who are found guilty of a misdemeanor for possessing, consuming or purchasing alcohol or possessing less than one ounce of cannabis, the bill gets rid of misdemeanor penalties of up to six months of jail time and up to a $1,000 fine. Instead, it calls for up to 24 hours of community service and a requirement to attend a meeting of a panel of victims injured by a person who was driving under the influence.

The bill also revises the penalties for a second violation by requiring up to 100 hours of counseling or participation in an educational program, support group or treatment program.

SB50: Limiting the use of no-knock search warrants

This law, sponsored by Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office, prohibits the issuance of no-knock warrants unless a sworn affidavit demonstrates that the underlying crime is a felony that involves a significant and imminent threat to public safety and that the warrant is necessary to prevent significant harm to the officer or another person. The sworn affidavit must also describe why there are no reasonable alternatives for carrying out the arrest other than through a no-knock warrant.

Last year, the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, during a late-night raid at her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky prompted calls from activists to put an end to no-knock warrants. No-knock warrants are typically used to capitalize on the element of surprise when officers have reasonable grounds to expect violent resistance.

During the initial hearing of the bill in February, Ford said Taylor’s death led to him bringing the bill forward.

When executing a warrant, officers typically follow the knock-and-announce rule, by which officers must first knock, identify themselves and their intent and then wait a reasonable amount of time before entry. No-knock warrants allow officers to enter without announcing their presence.

The law also requires peace officers to wear prominent insignia that make them identifiable as peace officers, as well as portable recording devices, when executing a no-knock warrant.

AB440: Citations instead of arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors

Beginning today, police officers are required to issue citations for offenses punishable as misdemeanors that are not repeat offenses, violent crimes, DUIs, violations of protective orders or stalking.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent in June, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway said he “adamantly opposed” the bill throughout the session because it strips away an officer’s discretion.

If someone peeks through the window of another person’s house without possessing a deadly weapon or camera and the homeowner calls the police, Callaway offered as an example, the officers can give the person a ticket but can’t make an arrest.

“Oftentimes those crimes elevate to break-ins and to sexual assaults and other types of crime,” Callaway said.

However, advocates for criminal justice reform have supported the bill as another step towards decriminalizing minor offenses in order to change a system that they say has excessive penalties that disproportionately affect people of color and the poor.

HEALTH CARE

SB364: Medical providers must provide emergency birth control

Starting today, emergency medical providers are required to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault if the patient requests it, including all doses of medication necessary to prevent pregnancy and any doses that must be self-administered after the patient leaves the medical center.

“By passing SB364 ... any person who finds themselves in this unenviable and horrible position of being in an emergency room, and being possibly impregnated and not wanting to be, they have the full backing of the law behind them to say, 'I'm entitled to an emergency contraceptive,’” Scheible, the bill’s sponsor, said during an April press conference in support of sexual assault survivors.

AB101: CBD for pets

This law authorizes licensed veterinarians to administer products containing CBD or hemp when treating an animal and to recommend such products to pet owners. It also prohibits the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from disciplining veterinarians who administer or use such products.

During the session, veterinarians and animal advocates supported the measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), arguing that CBD products can help animals with anxiety, pain, cancer and arthritis.

INCLUSIVITY AND EQUITY

AB88: Bans offensive, racially discriminatory imagery in Nevada schools

This new law bans offensive or racially discriminatory language and imagery, names, logos or mascots in Nevada schools and requires the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names to recommend changes to the name of any geographic feature or place that is racially discriminatory.

The legislation was introduced by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) amid calls from Native people for sports teams, businesses and schools to remove offensive names. Several Nevada entities have already responded to those requests — including UNLV, which retired its Hey Reb! Mascot, and the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, which recently rebranded as Palisades Tahoe and dropped “squaw” from its name after years of protest from the Washoe Tribe.

The bill also prohibits Nevada counties, cities and unincorporated towns from sounding sirens, bells or alarms historically used to alert people of color to leave town at a certain hour. In July, tribal leaders and the town of Minden announced an agreement to change the time of the town’s daily siren that many contend was once used as a warning for people of color to leave town by nightfall.

At a bill-signing event in June, Watts said the measure is meant to promote awareness about the injustices of the past in order to move forward. 

“That's really what Assembly Bill 88 tries to do is help educate people about some of the racially discriminatory aspects of our history, from our school mascots, to the names that we've given to places, places that were named first by Indigenous peoples, and then renamed when settlers arrived, and also addressing the issue of sundowner sirens,” he said at the time.

If local tribal leaders provide approval, Nevada schools may still use language, imagery or mascots in connection with tribes. For example, the Elko band of the Te-Moak Tribe allowed the Elko High School Indians mascot to remain the same. 

AB280: Requirements for inclusive single-stall restrooms

Starting today, this law requires that any single-stall restroom located in a public building and constructed from now on be designated as gender neutral and be as inclusive and accessible as possible.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), aims to make signage more inclusive by prohibiting the owner or operator of a place of public accommodation — which includes buildings accessible to the public, including restaurants, hotels and retail stores — from labeling a single-stall restroom with signage that indicates the restroom is for a specific gender. The legislation recommends signage of “All-Gender Bathroom” or “All-Accessible Bathroom.”

The measure additionally requires each county, city and any other governmental entity that adopts a building code to ensure that any public single-stall restrooms constructed on or after Oct. 1 are as inclusive and accessible as possible.

AB207: Expanding anti-discrimination protection laws online

This new law expands the definition of "place of public accommodation" to include the digital sphere in order to apply existing anti-discrimination laws affecting public places to e-commerce.

Specifically, the measure sponsored by Watts classifies any online business that offers goods or services to the general public in Nevada online, and is not operated from a physical establishment in the state, as a place of public accommodation.

During a hearing of the bill in May, David Brody, an attorney and head of the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, spoke about the importance of public accommodations laws in limiting racially discriminatory practices.

“Today, if a business posts a sign that says whites only, it should not matter whether it's written in ink or pixels. The discrimination is the same, the harm is the same,” Brody said. “Under Nevada law, the legal consequences should be the same.”

WORKFORCE

AB190: Workers can use sick leave to take care of ill family members

Under this new law, Nevada employers that offer sick leave to their employees must allow those employees to use a portion of their accumulated sick leave to attend to medical needs of their immediate family, whether that be for an illness, injury or doctor’s appointment. However, employers are allowed to limit the amount of sick leave a worker can use for that purpose.

The measure considers immediate family members to include a person’s child, foster child, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, stepparent and any person for whom the employee is the legal guardian.

The bill additionally includes a preamble stating that caregivers in Nevada provided 324 million hours of uncompensated care in 2013, at an estimated value of $4.27 billion.

Nevada employees working for employers with at least 50 employees are guaranteed to earn sick leave for each hour they spend on the job because of a law approved by lawmakers in 2019. Under that law, the minimum amount of leave for a person working 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year is about 40 hours of sick time.

SB293: Wage history private from employers

Starting today, this law bars employers from seeking out a job candidate’s wage or salary history, basing pay on a previous salary and retaliating against an applicant who does not provide their wage history.

The law still allows employers to ask an applicant about their salary expectation for the position for which the person is applying.

During the legislative session, bill sponsor Cannizzaro said the measure would help tackle the gender pay gap by directing employers to base pay on a worker’s experience and qualifications instead of a previous pay scale and ensuring that if a woman’s pay was lower than her male counterparts in her last job, it would not follow her to her next job and perpetuate a disparity.

LICENSE PLATES

AB123: Fee hike for Golden Knights license plates

Anyone interested in purchasing a special license plate from the DMV that shows support for the Vegas Golden Knights will have to pay an extra $10 fee for the issuance and renewals of the plate, in addition to the typical $35 issuance fee and $10 renewal fee.

The added fees will be distributed to the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation every three months to contribute to the organization’s mission of supporting the Las Vegas community and local nonprofits through partnerships, community programming and direct grants. A fiscal note from the DMV on this bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) estimates that the measure will bring in roughly $750,000 in revenue each year.

SB163: License plates for historically Black college fraternities and sororities

This new law, brought forward by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), requires the DMV to create and issue a new set of special license plates that indicate support for the Divine Nine, a group of historically Black collegiate fraternities and sororities.

Of the fees collected for these new special plates, 10 percent will go to the United Negro College Fund, which funds scholarships for Black students, and the remaining funds will be distributed equally among local chapters and organizations associated with the Divine Nine for the “promotion of community awareness and action through educational, economic and cultural service activities” in Nevada.