Indy Q&A: Speaker Jason Frierson on the new mining tax, death penalty repeal and school funding

With the dust of the 2021 legislative session finally settled, few individuals played more of a prominent role in the outcomes of the session than Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas).

Frierson, who underwent treatment for prostate cancer in March, played a crucial role in negotiating the final mining tax package that won support from a broad swath of interest groups — not only the mining industry, but also progressive groups, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), broader businesses interests and enough Republicans to clear the required two-thirds constitutional hurdle for a new tax increase.

The final negotiated package ensured that proposed mining tax constitutional changes and a pair of CCEA-backed tax initiatives will be withdrawn from the 2022 ballot — a win for both a mining industry that feared a large tax increase and Democratic lawmakers who were hesitant to appear on a potentially unfriendly midterm ballot with multiple tax increases.

In the middle of all of it was Frierson, who sponsored the mining tax bill. He gave more details on how the final “deal” came together in an interview with The Nevada Independent on Monday.

The Assembly leader also gave a rundown of enhanced K-12 education funding and what lawmakers want the Commission on School Funding to do in the interim, and all but declared another sales tax hike to help fund education off the table.

Frierson also gave more details on the demise of efforts to repeal the death penalty this session and why the Assembly advanced the measure. He also discussed when and if a special session on federal COVID relief funding may be called, and what his future in public office may hold — including potentially the position of Clark County district attorney.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

How did “the deal” come together, from your perspective?

The mining deal reflected a tremendous amount of collaboration ... I think it was great that the industry came forward and represented being a willing payer, and a participant and wanting to do their fair share. And, of course, when the economy turned down and the value of gold went up, we recognized that we needed to take further steps to diversify our economy. 

I think that COVID certainly helped develop momentum to one resolution to invest in public education. There was obviously, out of our control, CCEA’s effort with a couple of ballot initiatives that I think brought more folks to the table. And then of course, last special session, both the Senate and Assembly resolutions that proposed to approach generating greater revenue from mining also provided motivation for folks to come to the table.

Those resolutions were designed to … put a measure before the people, because I think our legislative institution was tired of not making progress in that regard. And so it was up to them to come together and offer something that was an alternative. And they did just that.

How did you guys get to a place where even folks on the left were OK with this?

I met with progressives weekly, all session, but also met with the business community all session, I met with labor all session, I met with various stakeholder groups all session to hear from them. 

And I think across the board, while everyone had what they thought would be an ideal amount or a minimum, everyone also agreed that we needed to have meaningful movement towards increased revenue from mining for education. 

While we would have liked 200, 250 million, maybe even 300 million, these are all projections that aren't certain anyway. At the end of the day, when I'm at the door with voters, and I'm talking about having meaningful increases in contributions for public education, they're not going to split hairs over whether it's 170 million or 175 million. They wanted to see a meaningful contribution, and I think what we were able to accomplish did just that. 

It seems the structure was set, and then came negotiations about what concessions would be made. Can you tell us how that developed?

The first step was, what will it take to get the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate across that finish line? If we don't have them, then it would be a lost cause. 

And then after that, we can start to talk about how we could get two or three Republicans across the finish line to support the cause and what it would take to get them there. 

Why did it happen so late?

I certainly would have preferred that it happened sooner. But again, legislation is the art of compromise. And so I don't know that we had Republican colleagues ready to give up a two-thirds vote. 

The Commission on School Funding calls for researching new revenue ideas. They came out with a report in April pointing to sales and property tax. What more do you want them to do?

What I don't think that they had the benefit of is knowledge that we were going to make a record investment in public education, that we were going to fast forward what was, by some studies, projecting periodic increases over a 10-year period. We made a record investment right off the bat, and I think that changed a lot of the approaches that were laid out. 

So we would like for them to continue to look at not only how much money we need, but other sources and other ways to get to that point. 

You have been public against raising the sales tax because of its regressive nature, but the other recommendation was the property tax. Are you calling on people to be studying that over this interim?

I'm calling on [the commission] to look at all options, and look at all options that do it not on the back of hardworking families.

Last interim was a difficult interim with COVID and our inability to meet in person, folks concerned about getting ill. We look forward to this upcoming interim; I think there's going to be a much more productive and traditional interim session where we can have those conversations, bounce ideas off of each other.

Is it safe to say that as long as your leader I mean, the sales tax is off the table?

I believe that increasing a sales tax in a state that already has a high sales tax is a regressive approach, and does the opposite of what we're talking about doing. 

I think that we're going to consider all options that make sense, so long as it doesn't do it on the backs of the folks that can sustain it the least.

You just finished this exercise of pulling all stakeholders together to get more education money, but the commission is calling for about $200 million more every year beyond where we're at. Is that daunting to you?

Well, first, I think that the $200 million per cycle mark was, again, before we made the unexpected $500 million investment in education, plus provide not only $170 million in new revenue, but $140 million of existing revenue dedicated expressly for education.

I think that we need to continue to work towards making increases in our support for public education. I think that it pays dividends in our workforce, and in the quality of our education. I think that increases the chances of more industries coming to Nevada when we improve investments in our public education system.

You put in a bill draft request before the session for a constitutional amendment that would have gotten rid of the two-thirds requirement if a tax went directly to K-12 education. Why did that concept not advance?

I think that legislation is the art of compromise. That was a reflection of the frustration that I've seen over the past decade or more of an unwillingness by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to increase funding for public education. 

But we provided an alternative ... and I have never lost hope in finding bipartisan solutions. I have said, since I became Speaker, that I will always extend an olive branch across the aisle to try to get us where we need to go. And we were able to do that without putting another measure on the ballot.

Some of the groups that are very closely watching the funding formula are looking at how the base per pupil funding compares to what it was in legislatively approved 2019 levels. Do you feel confident that it's higher or lower than what it was in 2019? And how relevant do you think that question even is?

I think it's relevant. And I think whether or not the numbers, historically, that have reflected Nevada's investment in per pupil spending have been accurate, we have money outside of the base that was not taken into account. And so I believe that what we have right now is a more efficient and effective way of providing per pupil spending than the way that we've done it. 

So we've gotten rid of our old funding formula, we have changed our formula so that the money follows the student, and I believe we've done it in a way that makes it more challenging and more difficult to supplant versus supplement education funding. So I believe it is a smarter way to fund public education moving forward. 

We’re not done, this is just the beginning. For folks that think that we moved backwards, I just disagree. I think we moved forward in the structure of how we fund education, and provided alternatives that allow us to put additional dollars on top of that base funding.

What protections are there against the supplanting of the net proceeds of minerals tax, now that it is earmarked for education?

I think that the protections are a simpler and more transparent, straightforward way of funding public education, and a will of an electorate to do that. We have come together, and I think we recognize now that we cannot move backwards.

I think ... that's going to be the expectation of legislators moving forward is that we continue to make progress and that we don't move backwards. So it's accountability and transparency. But I think that we have collectively the will, in a bipartisan way, to continue to value public education.

Sitting here with the benefit of hindsight, is there is there anything that you would have done differently in terms of the death penalty repeal bill?

At the end of the day, my caucus believed that it was a priority. And as you saw, my entire caucus supported the cause. This isn't new, we've been talking about this for some time. And it's not because of the nature of our day jobs. I've been a public defender, I have been a deputy district attorney, and efforts previously have failed, regardless of which side of that issue in my day job we're on. 

But moving forward, we thought this year, with the COVID economic downturn and the challenges with our budget, that this was an appropriate time to reconsider whether or not that's a wise use of our public dollars. 

I think that what it showed is that we're not monolithic, we all have different concerns. And I think on that particular issue, there was a desire to have a much more thorough, broad conversation in a regular interim, where we didn't have limitations that we have this last interim, and I respect that outcome. 

But my job as leader of my caucus is to empower the members of my own team. And in this case, we felt like it was the right time and the right opportunity to have that conversation. But ultimately, it didn't result in a bill on the governor's desk. 

And so I'm confident we'll continue to work together this upcoming interim ... to talk about whether or not there are other compromises or alternatives that we were not able to talk about this session. 

Did you know that the governor would have the position that he did — that he would oppose the full repeal of the death penalty — before the death penalty repeal bill came up for a full vote in the Assembly?

I didn't. And I think that we had not decided whether or not it was going to be a full repeal, or a scale back on the circumstances under which somebody could seek the death penalty. I think it was an adjusting matter that we had discussions about and tested with our colleagues both internally within the Assembly, as well as conversations with the Senate. 

So we didn't know for sure, but we weren't sure what version would ultimately be moved. And I don't think that we foreclosed the ability to have conversations about different versions up until the last day of session. But again, it wasn't able to get across the finish line. That's the process, we dust off, and we get back to work.

Even the governor said the issue for him is that he hadn't had enough conversations about it. Do you think that's going to resolve the concerns?

I don't think it's a simple issue at all. I think that there are victims, groups that have strong feelings about it … there are families that have been impacted in the criminal justice system. I think that there are advocates on both sides of the issue. It’s a complicated and emotional issue, and I think it's worth having extensive conversations about.

The Assembly believed that we had considered it and we had considered it in the past and not moved forward. And I think if there's an interest in having greater conversation about it. It is not a simple issue by any means. 

Do you know of any specific conversations that are planned, or people reaching out trying to set things up at this point?

I don’t. We're less than a month out of session. 

We have lots to be proud of that we're focusing on. We'll again test our messaging and talk to our constituents after the session to find out what they're interested in continuing to consider as a policy matter moving forward.

Do you share the opinion of some criminal justice advocates that district attorney offices are overzealous in pursuing the death penalty?

We have not carried out the death penalty in some time. I know that there's litigation going on right now, I won't comment on that. But I think that we have to culturally, as a state, look at our criminal justice system, and the best way to use our public dollars in a way that advocates for criminal justice that protects victims, that protects the community, but it's also responding to a desire to be more responsible with our public dollars. 

Look, I've been in the DA’s office, I've been in the public defender's office, I think that there are valid concerns across the board. And that's what this conversation is about. It's about balance and having collective discussions about it. 

Do you have an interest in eventually running for Clark County District Attorney or another position outside of the Legislature?

My job's not done here. I'm proud of the work that we've done, and I'm looking forward to the impact that's going to have on Nevadans. I'm proud that we've done it in a bipartisan way. 

So I haven't made a decision about what's next for me, that's a conversation that  when we all recover, and figure out what the path forward looks like, we'll have a conversation with our families about what's next for us.

Do you have any interest at all in the Clark County DA's office?

There are a lot of different ways that I feel like I could contribute and help the community. I think that's certainly a possibility. That's something I have considered and discussed with close friends and colleagues. 

But I've also been able to do tremendous things in the Legislature. I have an obligation to continue to do that, to continue to bring up new leaders and train them and get ready. I’ll have to decide what the best way moving forward is to serve the community, and when myself and my family have figured that out, we'll take that next step.

Do you have any more clarity now that we're two weeks out for the session on whether the distribution of federal COVID aid needs to be addressed in a special session?

Well, we advanced legislation that prioritized where we want to spend those dollars. We worked with both the Senate and the governor to set a framework of how we want to spend those dollars. 

But the guidelines were lengthy, and so we're going to have to continue to look at and analyze those guidelines and figure out whether or not the framework that we've provided thus far is enough. I do believe that the guidelines call for public input, so to the extent that we can have that type of dynamic, without having a special session, it would be great. I'm not entirely sure we'll be able to do that. 

So you haven't asked the governor or expressed that we're going to need a session this summer?

No, we've talked about it since the guidelines came out, we've talked about how we'd like to see those dollars used and, and what the process would look like. 

To the extent that we're able to distribute federal dollars with the structure that we already put forth, we’ll do so. To the extent that we ultimately decide there are other things that we need... that we were unable to include in the structure, in that 120 days, we'll have a conversation with the governor and with the Senate about the best way to be able to do that.

Do you have a sense of when this special session to do the redistricting process is going to happen?

I don’t. I think that the census data finalization is what we need. It was originally September, I believe it's gotten moved up slightly to possibly in August, and then we'll have to work within that structure to have public input and do the normal things that we do every 10 years to get public participation in order to be responsible with drawing maps. But we're not there yet.

Is there any desire to potentially merge those two into one special session to both deal with ARP money and redistricting?

No … we haven't had that conversation. But I think redistricting is a huge undertaking that deserves a separate conversation without unduly politicizing it.

We don't even know we'll have to have a special session for the purposes of redistributing federal dollars. 

What are the next steps for you and for Democrats in the state to try to end up to be the first state in the presidential nominating process?

We'll continue to work with the DNC and the RNC to make sure that we're complying with the rules. Again, we can only meet for 120 days every other (year). But this was never for Nevada. This was because we believe Nevada is a more accurate reflection of where the country is going, and we believe that Nevada is a more fertile ground for candidates to make their case.

And so they can continue to go to states that don't reflect the direction the country's going in, or they can come to a state of manageable size that allows them to test their messages.

Now the state GOP has moved in a different direction, but this was certainly a bipartisan led conversation prior to session starting. So we're going to continue to advocate for and work with both the DNC and RNC. And we will land where we land.

If the RNC and if the state party aren't on board with moving Nevada off the calendar, does that kneecap this whole effort?

I'm confident Nevada is the best state for serving candidates and testing messages. So we're not going to violate our DNC rules. We're not going to put our Republican colleagues in a position of violating RNC rules.

We believe we have a strong case to make. And if the DNC and the RNC agree with us, then Nevada will be first. And if they don't, we will have to live with the confines of our statute, and our statute is currently consistent with our guidelines for the DNC and RNC. 

What can you say about why a ‘Death with Dignity’ bill allowing for physician aid-in-dying didn't move forward? 

At the end of the day, I don't believe that it had the support to move forward. As we do every session, [we] started to pivot our focus on the things that we knew have at least a chance of moving forward, and I think that's reflected in the demise of that bill and many other bills.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment, and the biggest disappointment of the 2021 session for you?

I'll say the biggest accomplishment for me, despite having challenges with COVID and access to the building, was advancing record increases in support for public education. I think that that is by far the best thing that we could do, the thing is going to have the longest impact in our state for our families. So I'm most proud of that. 

We don't advance bills without the intention of trying to get some progress on those policies. And so all of those are a disappointment. But focusing on the positive, I'm proud of what we were able to actually accomplish. And for everything else, as we do every session, we dust off, to get back to work, and find out what we can advance and what common ground we can find moving forward. 

Indy DC Download: Congress approves Juneteenth federal holiday as House repeals 2002 Iraq war authorization

Congress voted to create a new national holiday to celebrate Juneteenth as the House voted to repeal the 2002 authorization that allowed President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Those votes came as the Senate confirmed six of President Joe Biden's nominees, including Tommy Beaudreau, now the number-two official at the Department of Interior. Beaudreau's nomination, approved on an 88 to 9 vote, was a compromise after a reversed course on Biden’s initial choice for the position.

Original nominee Elizabeth Klein, who helped challenge President Donald Trump’s energy policies as deputy director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law, was viewed as a threat by senators from fossil-fuel states, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen supported Beaudreau’s nomination. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees public lands around the nation, controls about 67 percent of Nevada for various activities, including grazing, recreation, mining, wild horses and conservation.

Members of the congressional delegation also participated in a series of hearings, including one led by Cortez Masto’s public lands subcommittee. The panel took a look at several pieces of legislation, including her Clark County Lands bill and Ruby Mountains Protection Act.   

Juneteenth

The House on Thursday approved a bill, 415 to 14, that established a new federal holiday to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the effective end of slavery in the U.S. The African-American community had celebrated the holiday going back to its origin, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally told that they had been freed on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The new holiday’s name combines June with the last few letters of nineteenth. 

All members of the delegation supported the legislation. The Senate approved the measure Tuesday by unanimous consent.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who serves as first vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, attended the bill's signing ceremony Thursday at the White House. 

Horsford said he hopes the momentum can carry over to passing an expansion of voting rights, a broad infrastructure package and other pieces of the Democrats’ agenda he argues will help African Americans and others.  

“I call on my fellow members of Congress to join me and take the next step—making real change for Black Americans,” Horsford said. “With renewed energy from today’s victory, we must redouble our efforts to improve police accountability, protect voting rights, and pass a jobs bill that allows every family to thrive.”

The holiday this year falls on a Saturday, so federal workers got Friday off in observance. But Gov. Steve Sisolak said he did not have authority, without action by the Legislature, to require the Friday observance in the state. The legislature wrapped up its session in May. However, Sisolak did sign a proclamation naming June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Nevada. 

On Saturday, he’ll join the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum in Las Vegas for a flag-raising ceremony and poetry reading by Clark County Poet Laureate Vogue Robinson in honor of Juneteenth. 

“I encourage all Nevadans to join me in observing Juneteenth this Saturday to commemorate the day when the message was delivered to the last American slaves that they were now free," Sisolak said in a release. 

AUMF

The House voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has been used to continue military operations in the Middle East on a 269 to 161 vote, with 49 Republicans voting with Democrats. 

All Nevada’s House Democrats supported the repeal. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) did not. 

Many Republicans opposed the repeal. Led by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), they argued that, without replacing the AUMF, the repeal would hinder the president's ability to protect the nation from terrorist threats.

The 2002 AUMF gave President George W. Bush the OK to fight the Iraq war. But it has since been used to justify other military activity, including the assassination of an Iranian general in 2020. 

McCaul cited the assassination as evidence that the AUMF is needed to counter threats posed by Iran proxy-fighters in Iraq unless replaced with something more targeted.

“The Biggest threat in Iraq is not Saddam Hussein,” McCaul said. “It is the Iran-sponsored terrorist groups attacking our diplomats, our soldiers, our embassy and our citizens.” 

“They cannot be targeted using the 2001 AUMF because they are not associated with the forces of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or ISIS,” McCaul continued. “But they can be targeted using the 2002 AUMF.”

Supporters of the repeal, such as Rep. Dina Titus, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it would allow Congress to have a more significant role in deciding issues of war and peace. Presidents since Bush have increasingly relied on the AUMFs to expand executive powers on using force.

“It’s long since time,” Titus said of repealing the AUMF. “If you want to have authorization to do something, it should be timely and specific.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate would consider the repeal later this year. 

Clark County lands

Cortez Masto held her first hearing as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee. At the hearing, 14 bills, including the Clark County Lands Bill and the Ruby Mountains Protection Act, were discussed.

Nada Culver, BLM deputy director of policy and programs, said the Biden administration “supports the goals of the [Clark Lands Bill], as they align with administration priorities.”

In written testimony, Culver said that the agency had a few issues with the bill, though, including providing adequate time to do land surveys and other technical clarifications. 

Both BLM and Cortez Masto said they plan to iron those out.

“BLM’s testimony demonstrated that they support the [Clark lands] bill, and that they understand the needs of our local municipalities,” Cortez Masto’s office said. “The Senator looks forward to working with the BLM and relevant stakeholders to work out these technical issues.”

Cortez Masto hopes to get the bills through the committee in the “coming months.” 

BLM also said it supports the goal of the Ruby Mountains Protection Act, which would prohibit further oil and gas leasing.

Marci Henson, the director of the Clark County Department of Environment and Sustainability, also testified. She said that the Clark lands bill would allow the county to plan for the 820,000 new residents expected by 2060.

The county consists of 5.2 million acres, but 89 percent is administered by a federal land management agency or the Department of Defense. The majority of land, more than 2.6 million acres, is administered by BLM.

“Due to this federal land ownership in Southern Nevada, our options for planning and development are very constrained and require significant coordination with federal land management agencies,” Henson said.

The bill, as introduced, would open up a large stretch of federal public land running south along the I-15 corridor toward Jean and the California border, for potential commercial and residential development. It also would open up public land near Indian Springs, Laughlin and the Moapa Valley.

The legislation also proposes conserving about 2 million acres of public land. 

The bill would establish 337,406 million acres of wilderness in the county, and protect about 1.3 million acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. 

The refuge is the largest in the contiguous U.S. and has faced recent threats with the Air Force looking to expand a training range. The bill also would set aside about 350,000 acres of land for wildlife habitat.

The Sierra Club's Toiyabe chapter and the Greater Basin Water Network issued releases during the hearing arguing that the planned development would put more pressure on dwindling water resources and exacerbate extreme heat with more paved surfaces. 

But Cortez Masto's office said that the bill is designed to ensure the growth is sustainable and takes these concerns into account.

"Without a collaborative, locally-focused approach, Clark County's growth would be dangerously unregulated, and uncoordinated," her office said. "Environmentally sensitive land could be sold to developers seeking quick profits who are willing to ignore conservation rules or are outside the County's sustainable growth and climate mitigation plans." 

Cortez Masto’s office also pointed to the endorsement of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), which serves the Las Vegas metro area. “The Southern Nevada Water Authority strongly endorses this important bill because it helps secure the water resources and facilities that SNWA needs to provide reliable and safe water to our customers for decades to come,” said SNWA General Manager John Entsminger. 

Infrastructure

Congress is waiting on Biden for a decision on a path forward on infrastructure.

A bipartisan group of senators are working on a deal that would provide about $1.2 trillion funding with roughly $600 billion in new spending, and the remaining coming from previously approved spending. But Biden rejected some of the offsets proposed, including indexing the gas tax to inflation, which he said would violate his pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year.

Senate Democrats, according to Politico, are also talking about a package — priced at $6 billion — that they could pursue should bipartisan talks break down. 

Democrats would use the reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to approve tax and spending legislation on a simple majority, to pass the mega-spending package. But it's a tricky calculation because, with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, all Democrats would need to support it, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who both have said they want a bipartisan deal on infrastructure.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she too wants a bipartisan deal, though she wouldn’t rule out supporting a Democrat-only drafted package. 

“The devil is in the details,” she said of anything she’ll have to vote on.

“I’m looking for a two-step solution,” Lee, a member of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, continued. 

Such a path would include a bipartisan deal on traditional infrastructure and a Democratic reconciliation package that would include extending the child tax credit, funds for child care and other “care economy” programs that the GOP is unlikely to support.

Horsford said he would also prefer a bipartisan deal, but noted a single large package would ensure those "care economy" priorities don't get left behind.

He argued that using reconciliation does not preclude Republicans from supporting the bill, though they would have little political incentive to do so.

But with bipartisan talks underway, Horsford, a member of the Problem Solvers, said he remains hopeful that the "care economy" provisions can be included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being negotiated. 

“I am not convinced that we can't get it in the first package,” Horsford said. 

“I meet with Republicans all the time and they recognize that we can’t only do the component around ‘hard infrastructure.’

“I really want to talk about who this impacts, because it's women and people of color that were the hardest hit during this pandemic, and if we don't have policies that Susie Lee and I are pushing, then we're going to leave a whole segment of our population behind and we can’t do that.”

Miscellany

Lee also voted against the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Disclosure Simplification Act, which was passed by the House 215 to 214. She was one of four Democrats to oppose the bill. 

The measure would require public companies to disclose certain environmental, social, and governance matters in annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lee said that the bill would add more bureaucratic requirements for businesses just as they are trying to overcome economic headwinds created by the pandemic.

"As Nevada businesses are working to recover from this pandemic and get our economy back on track, this bill adds more unnecessary red tape that would be especially burdensome for smaller companies that don’t have armies of compliance experts and lawyers,” Lee said in a statement from her office. “I remain committed to supporting legislation that more directly strengthens protections for workers, fights climate change, reforms our campaign finance system to make it more transparent, and closes tax loopholes that are often abused by some of the largest corporations."

Also, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a transportation bill Wednesday that included a provision from Rosen designed to improve the travel and tourism industry. The measure included Rosen’s Travel Optimization by Updating and Revitalizing Infrastructure Act, which would update the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan with both immediate-term and long-term strategies. Those strategies would guide the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies on infrastructure investments to revive the travel and tourism industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also included three amendments offered by Rosen, including a requirement that the DOT conduct a study on travel and tourism to evaluate the agency’s ability to consider criteria in weighing applicants for its grant programs.

The measure approved by the committee, the Surface Transportation Investment Act, would provide $78 billion over five years for rail infrastructure, freight transportation, safety initiatives and transportation-related research and development programs.

“This new funding will help to significantly increase ease of access to transportation in communities in Nevada and across the United States,” Rosen said. 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2128 – A bill to ensure the humane treatment of pregnant women by reinstating the presumption of release and prohibiting shackling, restraining, and other inhumane treatment of pregnant detainees, and for other purposes.

S.2118 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for increased investment in clean energy, and for other purposes.

S.2115 – A bill to amend title 28, United States Code, to prohibit the exclusion of individuals from service on a Federal jury on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.

S.2094 – A bill to provide for a new building period with respect to the cap on full-time equivalent residents for purposes of payment for graduate medical education costs under the Medicare program for certain hospitals that have established a shortage specialty program.

S.2087 – A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the membership of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, intersex, or queer.

S.2069 – A bill to expand the Medicaid certified community behavioral health clinic demonstration program and to authorize funding for additional grants to certified community behavioral health clinics.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2120 – A bill to establish the United States-Israel Artificial Intelligence Center to improve artificial intelligence research and development cooperation.

S.2090 – A bill to prevent a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime, or received an enhanced sentence for a misdemeanor because of hate or bias in its commission, from obtaining a firearm.

S.2082 – A bill to mitigate drug shortages and provide incentives for maintaining, expanding, and relocating the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipients, medical diagnostic devices, pharmaceuticals, and personal protective equipment in the United States, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3988 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes

H.R. 3938 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3930 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the membership of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, intersex, or queer.

H.R. 3929 – Disarm Hate Act

H.R. 3896 – To amend the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018 to authorize support in high-income economy countries for projects involving development or processing of covered critical materials if such support furthers the national security interests of the United States.

H.R. 3884 – To suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3974 – To extend the trade adjustment assistance program, and for other purposes.

Flashback: The History of Gaming Part 2; and the teen behind a ‘period poverty’ bill

This week on IndyMatters, Reporter Howard Stutz and Host Joey Lovato are back with the second installment of our three-part series “Flashback,” which explores the history of the gaming industry in Nevada. Then, Joey and Reporter Tabitha Mueller interview Samantha Glover, a 16-year-old from Reno who helped write and pass a bill that would provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms in Nevada for students who struggle to afford them. At the end of the show, Reporter Humberto Sanchez discusses efforts in Congress to pass an infrastructure bill and more in the D.C. Debrief.

0:00 - Intro

0:50 - Flashback Part 2

14:00 - Period Poverty

23:30 - D.C. Debrief

31:30 - Outro/Credits

From the classroom to the Legislature, Reno teenager champions solutions to ‘period poverty’

When Samantha Glover's high school English teacher assigned her an argumentative essay on any subject of her choice, the 16-year-old never imagined the classwork would inspire her to launch a nonprofit or become the driving force behind a bill requiring Nevada’s public schools to carry menstrual products in restrooms.

But as the energetic and outgoing teenager from Davidson Academy in Reno researched potential topic areas for the paper, she stumbled across the concept of period poverty — the inability to access menstrual products, menstrual education or facilities to change or clean up during menstruation. 

As she learned that food stamps do not cover menstrual products and roughly one in four teenagers have missed class because of a lack of access to menstrual products, Glover became aware of “period poverty’s” debilitating effects on low-income communities in the state and around the world.

"I was so shocked, because as someone who didn't have to worry about where my next tampon was coming from, it never occurred to me that other people were struggling to attend school or go about their daily life because they can't afford menstrual products," Glover said in an interview with the IndyMatters podcast.

Glover also noticed period poverty in schools and the way that menstruation can cause panic. Though some schools may offer menstrual products in bathrooms, dispensers may be broken or require quarters that students lack. Someone in need could always ask a friend, but that is a gamble. School nurses may have supplies, but that requires requesting permission to go to the nurse’s office and explaining the need to leave class. Students may face the dilemma of stuffing their underwear with toilet paper or paper towels to soak up blood or just missing school altogether to avoid embarrassment. 

Seeing few programs addressing period poverty, Glover decided to tackle the problem in 2020 by co-founding Red Equity, a Colorado and Nevada-based nonprofit focused on decreasing the stigma around period poverty and promoting menstrual equity. Glover and others regularly distribute menstrual products to low-income and homeless communities through the organization and bring attention to a hidden topic in the community.

Nevada has taken some steps to address menstrual equity, including passage of a 2018 ballot question removing the so-called “pink tax” from sale of tampons and other menstruation hygiene products in the state. 

Still, Glover said more protections were needed and began to call lobbyists to see what steps she could take to help pass legislation guaranteeing students access to menstrual products — a move that at least six other states have taken in recent years. She drafted a mock-up bill based on similar legislation that passed in Virginia.

Her efforts led to email chains, phone calls and eventually an introduction to Assemblywoman Bea Duran (D-Las Vegas), who agreed to champion the concept in the form of AB224, which passed unanimously out of both the Senate and Assembly during the 2021 session. 

The measure requires all public middle schools, junior high schools and high schools to offer free menstrual products in bathrooms. But because many school districts may not be able to implement the program all at once, districts will follow a phased-in implementation plan. The phased-in approach stipulates that districts must implement the bill in at least 25 percent of schools within the district, prioritizing lower-income schools and eventually expanding the program to all schools.

Washoe County estimated that the bill would cost the district around $20,000 a year, and Clark County placed the program's cost at about $132,000 each year. The costs would cover pads, tampons and the installation of dispensers and supplies, with the first year of the program expected to be slightly higher because of start-up expenses. During testimony on the bill, however, officials noted that the predicted costs were likely overestimates.

Samantha Glover, cofounder and executive director of Red Equity, inside the Legislature on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Despite the unanimous passage, Glover said she still experienced questions about her qualifications to push the bill.

"People were like, 'oh, are you sure you've thought this through or know how to implement this,'" Glover said. "I don't have the legislative experience, but I have the experience of being a young person around those who've experienced period poverty and a passion for this issue.”

Glover also attributed the bill's success to individuals’ ability to express public comment via Zoom and the telephone. Glover, who does not yet have a driver’s license, said that without virtual access, it would have been challenging to make it to Carson City and advocate for the bill. She added that many of the other young people she was working with and who called in support of the legislation would also have been unable to share their voices.

The bill passing signifies the difference young people can make in state law, Glover said, noting that watching lawmakers support a piece of legislation that she and other young people advocated for felt "monumental."

"Legislators listen," she said. "That's what I found out. They do work for us. At the end of the day, we are their constituents regardless of age."

Looking forward, Glover is not resting on her laurels. She said her future plans could include encouraging college campuses to provide menstrual products and ensuring that incarcerated individuals have access to those products as well.

"I am still continuously working on Red Equity. We are still distributing products, hosting donation drives for menstrual products across the nation," Glover said. "In terms of other things [I'm planning on doing] maybe get my driver's license, but in advocacy, I think it's coming back to the next legislative session in a few years prepared to advocate for more menstrual equity policy."

Indy Explains: What happens now that traffic tickets are decriminalized?

Trooper Brian Eby traffic stop

After years of trying, Nevada lawmakers finally took the step of decriminalizing traffic tickets this session, turning arrestable misdemeanors into civil infractions that don’t lead to jail time. 

But what does the new law, which passed with near-unanimous support as AB116 and was signed into law on June 8, mean for motorists and those who have unresolved traffic tickets or bench warrants now?

Drivers should be aware that the key provisions of the bill do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2023, although some jurisdictions might opt to implement it earlier or prosecutors may decide to treat certain violations as mere civil citations. Although there is a provision in the bill to cancel all bench warrants for minor traffic infractions in 2023, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), said that people with unpaid traffic tickets should still seek to pay and clear them or risk arrest.

“You still need to take care of it,” said Nguyen, who is a criminal defense attorney. “Change happens slowly.”

The measure does not eliminate the possibility of jail time for all traffic issues. Certain more serious offenses — such as driving under the influence or driving well over the speed limit — can lead to an arrest on the spot or can escalate to a warrant that would make a person liable for an arrest in the future.

Overall, however, Nevada lawmakers made a significant change with the bill that many local jurisdictions will be adjusting to over the next year and a half. It also could have major implications for thousands of Nevadans who could still be arrested at any time because they can’t afford to pay or forgot to deal with a traffic matter.

“I wish I could share with you names, and the numbers of texts and calls and emails that I get from people on a weekly basis, who say ... ‘I'm afraid to go outside, I'm afraid to drive. I'm afraid to go anywhere with my kids, because I'm afraid I might get pulled over and taken to jail, and my kids are in the car,” said Leisa Moseley, who advocated for the bill as state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Finally, there is going to be some relief for all of these people.”

Read on for more questions and answers about the change.

Q: Can the police still stop me?

A: Yes. The bill explicitly authorizes police officers who believe someone committed a traffic violation to stop and detain the person in order to investigate the alleged violation, search the person or vehicle, ask to see proof of insurance and issue a citation.

Q: What crimes remain criminal (i.e., a misdemeanor or more serious and subject to jail time) under the new law?

A: The law maintains a more severe penalty structure for many violations, including driving under the influence or having an open container of alcohol in a car. 

Also in the more serious category: 

  • driving more than 30 mph above the speed limit 
  • aggressive driving
  • driving on a sidewalk
  • failing to yield for an emergency vehicle
  • injuring a road construction worker
  • unsafe passing and following too closely 
  • failing to obey the police 
  • failing to stop and render aid after an accident 
  • falsifying documents (such as a driver’s license application), or
  • violating a court order to use an ignition interlock device that prevents driving under the influence.

It is still a misdemeanor to drive with an invalid or fraudulent license, including cases in which a license has been suspended or revoked. It is also still a misdemeanor for people to drive if they have epilepsy and have been informed by a doctor that their condition severely impairs their ability to drive safely.

Q: What crimes have been downgraded to a civil infraction?

A: Matters that are now a civil infraction include: 

  • carrying people in the bed of a truck 
  • driving in a carpool lane with too few passengers 
  • driving slowly and then failing to allow other cars to pass 
  • talking on a cellphone while driving 
  • lower-level speeding 
  • bicycling in a prohibited area 
  • not signaling when turning a bike or not having proper lights and reflectors on a bike
  • tampering with a required pollution control device
  • violating rules about vehicle length and width, and
  • failing to have insurance for an off-highway vehicle.

Q: Am I still required to pay my fine?

A: Yes. The bill requires a person to respond to a civil infraction citation within 90 calendar days after it is issued, either by paying the fine assessed in the citation or by requesting a hearing to contest the citation. The justice or municipal court that has jurisdiction is required to send the person a reminder at least 30 days before the deadline; that reminder can be through a text message if the person who received the citation opted in that communication method.

A person who does not respond within 90 days is considered guilty of the traffic offense, and would be liable to pay the fine and any administrative assessments.

Q: How much can I be fined?

A: The bill sets a maximum penalty of $500 for a traffic-related civil infraction, unless a specific statute calls for a higher fine. 

The bill does authorize a court to waive or reduce fines, though, if the court determines the person is unable to pay, or the court can create a payment plan for a person if the court finds the person doesn’t have the ability to pay at the moment. Courts can also reduce a moving violation to a nonmoving violation, or order a person to attend traffic school or perform community service in lieu of payment.

Q: How do I respond when issued a violation?

A: The bill allows motorists to communicate through electronic means about whether they want to contest a fine or are accepting responsibility to pay it, and also authorizes payments to be made through electronic means, in addition to in person or by mail. 

A reminder that payment is due can also be sent through mail or electronic means such as email.

Q: What happens if I don’t pay my fine?

A: The matter can be sent to a collections agency, and a collections fee can be assessed. For delinquent amounts less than $2,000, the collection fee is capped at $100.

A court also has the authority to garnish a person’s wages or put a lien on property for delinquent fines. The measure also specifies that a court can order the suspension of the person’s driver’s license over non-payment.

Nguyen said it’s not clear exactly how AB116 will work in harmony with another bill the Legislature passed — SB219, from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, which prohibits courts from suspending a driver’s license for nonpayment of fees.

Q: Who gets the money from the fine?

A:  A fine is paid to the treasurer of the city where the violation occurred, or the county, if the infraction did not take place in an incorporated city.

Q: What other consequences are there for bad driving?

A: The bill still maintains a “point system” that gives demerits for bad driving. The bill directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend a person’s driver’s license for one year if they log a sixth civil infraction or traffic offense within five years, as long as all of the offenses are valued at four points or more.

Violations worth four points include running a stop sign, texting while driving and driving between 31 and 40 mph over the speed limit. 

Q: When does the bill become effective?

A: The bill specifies that prosecutors can choose to treat certain offenses that are currently treated as misdemeanors as civil infractions at any time, although DUIs must be treated as the more serious misdemeanor. But generally, the bill’s provisions take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Q: What if I have an existing bench warrant for unpaid traffic tickets?

A: The bill requires that effective Jan. 1, 2023, every court in the state must cancel outstanding bench warrants issued to people for failing to appear in court to respond to traffic citations that are decriminalized in the bill. It also calls on the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History to remove from its database the records of bench warrants issued for such matters.

Sisolak announces COVID-19 vaccine incentive program with $1 million grand prize

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced on Thursday a new state-run incentive program that will award some $5 million in prizes —  including a $1 million grand prize — to Nevada residents who get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The announcement of the program, called “Vax Nevada Days,” comes as the state lags behind President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 — as of June 16, the state has at least partially vaccinated 59.4 percent of the adult population, a mark that ranks 33rd among the 50 states. 

“We want to avoid ever going through what we went through COVID last year,” Sisolak said. “That's why today I want to provide Nevadans with an exciting update on one more way we're planning to encourage all Nevadans to get their vaccine, in addition to thanking those who've already gotten their shots.”

Sisolak unveiled the program at a kickoff press conference at Allegiant Stadium, where a vaccine clinic and stadium tours were simultaneously being held. Though winners will be announced each Thursday from July 8-Aug. 26, those who have already been vaccinated will be automatically entered in the drawings once their vaccinator has submitted that information to the state. 

Governor Steve Sisolak speaks during a press conference inside Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Every Nevadan who is at least 12 years old and receives at least a first dose will be automatically entered to win one of nearly 2,000 prizes.

Other incentives up for grabs for people 18 and older include 149 cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $250,000 each. Specifically, 100 people will win $1,000 each, 32 will win $25,000, 11 will win $50,000, two will win $100,000, three will win $250,000 and one person will win the $1 million grand prize. Teens between the ages of 12 and 17 are eligible for 135 different college savings plan awards valued from $5,000 to $50,000.

People of all ages are eligible to win one of 500 Nevada state park annual passes or one of 1,250 state fishing licenses.

All $5 million worth of prizes will come from federal COVID-19 relief funds, and they will be distributed through Immunize Nevada. Sisolak said he expects winners to first be called as prizes are drawn, though the administration of the program will be fully carried out by Immunize Nevada.

Sisolak was also joined at the event by Scott Gunn, a senior vice president at the gaming company IGT Global Solutions Corporation. Gunn explained that other states are able to administer COVID-19 incentives through their state lotteries. Because Nevada does not have a state lottery, IGT will be helping pick winners through a certified random number generator, which is the process used by lotteries in other states. Gunn also noted that IGT will not have access to anyone’s personally identifiable information throughout the process.

Sisolak explained that the drawings are legal in the state because Nevadans are being entered into a raffle system rather than a lottery that someone would have to pay to enter.

“We got an opinion from my counsel, from the attorney general’s counsel, from the Gaming Control Board's counsel that this is something that we're allowed to do,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, a variety of other states have announced incentives meant to boost vaccination rates, after the number of doses being administered daily across the country significantly declined in late April and May. Some states have announced cash prizes, such as Ohio, which started the “Vax-a-Million” campaign to boost vaccination numbers by giving out five $1 million prizes to vaccinated adults. 

Governor Steve Sisolak answers questions during a press conference inside Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Other states have offered different, non-cash prizes, such as free tickets to a Six Flags theme park, which Illinois offered to some of its vaccinated residents.

Update: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. on June 17, 2021 to include more information about the incentive program.

Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

Outdoor recreation chief: Industry needs boost for BLM, Forest Service budgets and aid for rural communities

Colin Robertson, head of the state’s Division of Outdoor Recreation, called for more federal funding for land management along with investment in rural communities to help better manage resources stressed by the pandemic, which drove more campers to remote areas even as jobs decreased in outdoor recreation.

Robertson said he believes boosting annual appropriations for the Department of Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, which control more than 80 percent of land in Nevada, would position the industry for a comeback and needed growth. 

“One of the biggest impacts my role and my office of outdoor recreation in Nevada can have is to advocate for increased resourcing for those federal land management agencies who are responsible for so much public land in the state,” Robertson said on Tuesday.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) visits with Outdoor Recreation Administrator Colin Robertson after a hearing, June 15, 2021. (Photo by Humberto Sanchez)

He spoke after testifying before a Senate tourism and hospitality panel chaired by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on the state of the U.S. outdoor recreation industry. Nevada lost about 6 percent of the jobs in its outdoor recreation economy during the pandemic, according to a study commissioned by Get Outdoors Nevada and the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition and cited by Rosen.

Rosen agreed that more funding is needed to help recreation services rebound. 

“Our nation’s outdoor economy is still hurting and Congress, we have a role to play in helping rebuild it,” Rosen said at the hearing. “We must provide better funding for land management agencies and local communities so that they can better protect and maintain public lands and serve visitors to them. Without adequate staffing and resources, we won’t be able to continue enjoying the outdoors or have a healthy outdoor tourism future.”

Funds would help an industry that took it on the chin last year. Travel and tourism visitor volume and spending in Nevada both dropped by more than 50 percent in 2020, and employment in the sector fell by more than 24 percent, according to Robertson. He said the pandemic negatively affected guides and outfitters, campground and marina owners, outdoor recreation concessions and non-profit education organizations, among others. 

Outdoor tourism is a significant part of Nevada’s economy. In 2019, before the pandemic, it accounted for 60,000 jobs and 3.1 percent of the state's gross domestic product (GDP). That is a full percentage point more than the 2.1 percent national average, Robertson said.

The Silver State has a variety of major outdoor recreation destinations, including two national monuments, Gold Butte and Basin and Range. 

While there were losses in some areas, the pandemic did drive increases in other areas of the industry, spurred by people looking for relatively safer activities that did not have the risk of contagion carried by indoor activities.

According to Robertson, there was a 40 percent increase in 2020 in dispersed camping on general forest lands and a more than 70 percent increase in visits to wilderness areas. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in a national forest outside of a designated campground.

But those increases put pressures on outdoor resources and highlighted the need for increased land management funds, Robertson said. 

“What it does is create resource impacts that are unfunded, basically,” Robertson said. “Those resources need to be managed to be maintained well in order to not be deteriorating.”

That dynamic at Lake Tahoe was also highlighted during the hearing. The alpine lake area typically gets three times more visitors than neighboring Yosemite National Park, despite being only a third of the size of Yosemite. 

“It was magnified,” Robertson said of the pandemic boost in visitation to Tahoe, adding that there were “detrimental effects on the environmental quality of lake clarity.” 

“There's a lot of positive associated with that growth, but there are some negative impacts as well, one of which is that the federal land management agencies for example, don't have enough funding to deal with that increased visitation,” Robertson continued. 

Robertson also said that federal investment and economic development in rural communities is another key factor in bringing back the outdoor recreation industry. 

One example he gave was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recreation Economy for Rural Communities. The program, launched in 2019, provides economic development funding to help rural communities revitalize their economies through outdoor recreation.

Robertson hopes that the program gets expanded and augmented with other similar programs at the Department of Agriculture.

During the hearing, Robertson and other industry experts also made a case for more affordable housing and better broadband connectivity for those who work at the national parks and live in surrounding communities.

“It's becoming an intractable problem because, especially for state and federal land management agency staff, they're being priced out of the housing that's available near the work, right?” Robertson said. “That's a significant problem from a recruitment and retention standpoint.”

Rosen also asked whether a lack of daycare options, in addition to affordable housing, was a problem for attracting workers. Joe Henry, the executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism in Minnesota, said the two topics are among the biggest issues when it comes to finding workers. 

“If you have kids, it eliminates so many workers,” Henry said. “They go hand in hand, and they're both very big issues across our entire state.”

All of the panel’s witnesses also agreed that getting better broadband connectivity in rural areas, a top issue for Rosen, would benefit the outdoor tourism industry. 

“Those very rural places are oftentimes the gateways to the most beloved outdoor recreation destinations in the state,” Robertson said. “But in order for them to take advantage of the recreation and economic development opportunities, we really need to increase their connectivity.”

Last week, Rosen signed onto a letter with 19 other Senate Democrats calling on the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to share data with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to improve broadband connectivity.

“Millions of households remain unconnected either because broadband infrastructure has not been built to their homes or the price of broadband services is out of reach for them,” the letter said. “We need a collaborative, cross-government approach to address this gap.” 

Culinary Union workers celebrate the passage of ‘Right to Return’ bill with Sisolak

Gov. Steve Sisolak joined members of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas on Tuesday to celebrate the passage of the much-debated SB386 – referred to as the “Right to Return” bill – that guarantees the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their previous jobs. 

Sisolak was met with applause and cheers after he was introduced by D. Taylor, president of the labor organization’s parent union, UNITE HERE. The event came after Sisolak signed the bill last week with little fanfare. 

“The day I decided that we had to close down the Strip … I said ‘I’m going to put a lot of people out of work.’ That was hard. That was really hard. 98 percent of the Culinary members were unemployed after we did that. We only brought back 50 percent of them thus far,” Sisolak told the workers who grew quiet in the crowded union hall near downtown. 

Sisolak credited the bill’s passage to the union members who relentlessly lobbied legislators in Carson City and fought to get the measure passed in May. However, he said there was still work to be done as long as there was a single worker there who did not yet have a job back. 

Mario Sandoval, 56, is a Las Vegas resident and member of the Culinary Union who was a food server at Binion’s steakhouse for 36 years before he was laid off in March 2020. He is planning to retire in seven years and said he wants to do so with “dignity.” 

For 13 months, Sandoval was unemployed. He spoke to lawmakers on the congressional Ways and Means Committee, at the Legislature and even to Vice President Kamala Harris when she came to visit Las Vegas in March. 

“Anybody that would give me an ear, I would chew it off,” Sandoval joked. 

Sandoval said he feels great that the bill passed, but that he is still not back to work because his company told him that they have until July 1, when the law goes into effect, to rehire him.

Norma Flores worked as a server at the Fiesta Henderson Hotel and Casino for 20 years before it was shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Like Sandoval, she knocked on doors and lobbied Nevada legislators to support SB386.

She described the financial and mental toll the pandemic took on her and other workers.

“We feel like we don’t have anything,” she said. ”We lost everything with the pandemic, and we know we have to [go] back to work, but we don’t know when. We go to sleep and we don’t know if … we’ll have [a] check for unemployment [tomorrow]. We don’t want to depend [on] that check. We want to work.”

Luceanne Taufa worked as a cashier at Fiesta Henderson for 17 years before she was laid off in March. After having multiple family members pass away and seeing others lose their livelihoods during the pandemic, she said she felt as if her heart was broken. 

Both Flores and Taufa said the passage of the Right to Return bill was a major victory for workers. Taufa described herself as being “in heaven” after she had learned that the measure passed. She said that though she only has a few years of work left, she also fought to give other people hope for the future. 

The measure was subject to lengthy negotiations before the union and other major players in the casino industry arrived at a compromise.

“This wasn’t about an argument about a bill … This was about people. This was about people that worked for a living – hard-working people that have built this city. They fueled this tourism economy. Without you, nobody’s coming to Las Vegas,” Sisolak told the workers. “I am committed to doing everything within my power to make sure we get every person back to work because that’s what it’s about.”

Analysis: Which lawmakers were least likely to toe the party line?

From permanent expanded mail voting to the state public health option, the 2021 legislative session saw no shortage of headline-grabbing partisan disagreements — but a look at actual vote totals reveals that the vast majority of bills were passed with at least some bipartisan buy-in.

Out of nearly 1,200 votes on bills and resolutions during the 120-day session, 625 (53 percent) were passed with no lawmakers in opposition, and a small minority of 52 votes (4 percent) included just one “nay” vote. Meanwhile, roughly 100 votes (8 percent) happened strictly along party lines. 

But there was a fourth, significant group of votes: on more than 150 votes, a minority of Republican lawmakers broke with their caucus and voted with Democrats, helping to pass bills ranging from marijuana DUI reform to expanded environmental protections.

So which Republicans were the most likely to side with Democrats?

The Nevada Independent analyzed and tallied every bill that received a recorded vote in at least one house where less than half of Republican caucus members supported the measure — a tally that includes 49 votes in the Senate and 104 in the Assembly. The analysis included any bill that received four or fewer votes from the nine-member Senate Republican Caucus and any bill that received seven or fewer votes from the 16-member Assembly Republican Caucus.

Instead of looking more broadly at all votes taken during the legislative session, focusing the analysis on the roughly 150 votes where less than half of Republican caucus members voted in favor of a particular bill offers a better view of which individual Republican lawmakers were most likely to cross party lines. 

Because Democrats control both the Assembly and state Senate, no Republican-sponsored bills with even a whiff of partisanship made it to a full floor vote, though a handful of Democratic lawmakers proved willing to buck their party on a smaller number of votes.

The analysis reveals that Sens. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) were the most likely to break with their caucus and vote with Democrats in the state Senate. On the Assembly side, Jill Tolles (R-Reno), Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) and Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) most often broke with the rest of their caucus and sided with Democrats.

The guide below aims to take a look at what kinds of issues were at play when Republicans chose to break with the majority of their caucus on a particular issue — including high-profile votes on a new mining tax and a Democrat-backed effort to change Nevada to a presidential primary state.

We’ve double-checked our work to make sure we’ve counted every vote, but if you spot something off or think a vote wasn’t counted, feel free to email sgolonka@thenvindy.com.

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert voted with Democrats and against the majority of the Republican caucus 30 times, including eight times as the only two Republicans joining Democrats in support of a measure. Kieckhefer is termed out after the 2021 session and cannot run for re-election, and Seevers Gansert will not face voters until 2024 after winning her re-election race last year.

Both lawmakers broke party lines to join all Democrats in favor of AB115, allowing multiple parents to adopt a child, and AB181, a bill aimed at improving mental health parity and reporting on cases of attempted suicide.

Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert were also among four Republican senators who voted with Democrats in favor of AB495, a bill that creates a new excise tax on the gross revenues of gold and silver companies, estimated to bring in an extra $150 million to $170 million a biennium for education. As the measure passed in the waning days of the session, Kieckhefer said the benefits of the bill outweighed the drawbacks, and Seevers Gansert pointed to the enhanced education funding as reason for voting in favor. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, as it created a new tax.

Seevers Gansert and Kieckhefer rarely broke from each other when crossing party lines to vote with Democrats. In one instance, Seevers Gansert was the lone Republican who sided with Democrats on SB237, a bill aimed at giving more support to LGBTQ-owned businesses, while no other Republicans did so. Kieckhefer had no such votes.

State Senators Ben Kieckhefer and Heidi Seevers Gansert during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Pete Goicoechea: 20

Goicoechea joined Democrats as the lone Republican in support of AB148, which revises the application requirements for obtaining a permit to engage in an exploration project or mining operation.

He joined Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert as the only members of their caucus to vote in support of AB126, which eliminates Nevada’s presidential caucus and replaces it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Goicoechea also broke from the majority of the Republican caucus to vote with Democrats in support of a few environment-related measures, including AB146, which expands efforts to mitigate water pollution, and AB71, which makes rare plant and animal locations confidential. The Eureka Republican is in his final term of office after winning re-election in 2020, and cannot run again in 2024.

Joe Hardy: 17

Hardy, who is termed out after this session, voted as the lone Republican in support of bills in the Senate more often than any other member of his caucus.

The Boulder City-based lawmaker joined Democrats as the only Republican in favor of SB61, which creates the Nevada Committee of Vendors Who Are Blind, as well as three other Democrat-sponsored bills — including a measure backed by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), AB308, which requires a three-day grace period before landlords can charge late fees for overdue rent.

Hardy was one of three Republicans in the Senate who voted in favor of AB400, which removes “per se” limits on the amount of marijuana metabolite that can be in a person’s blood to trigger a DUI, though the limits remain when someone is facing a felony charge. He was also one of two Republicans in the caucus to back another marijuana-related bill, SB122, which requires occupational training for employees of cannabis establishments.

State Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Scott Hammond: 14

The northwest Las Vegas Valley lawmaker was one of four Republican senators who voted in support of a new tax on the mining industry. Hammond previously said he would vote in support of the bill, AB495, “for all of our state’s students.”

Hammond also joined Democrats in voting in favor of AB296, which allows victims of ‘doxing’ to bring a civil action to recover damages, and SB450, which allows school districts to use excess revenue from existing tax rates to fund “pay as you go” capital improvement projects, such as remodels and needed facility upgrades.

Keith Pickard: 6

Along with Kieckhefer, Seevers Gansert and Hammond, Pickard voted in favor of the new excise tax on the mining industry through AB495, also citing increased education funding as reason for his support.

Pickard was also one of three Republican senators who voted in favor of removing “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana (AB400), and the Henderson-based legislator joined Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert in voting in favor of raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, in line with federal law (AB59).

Ira Hansen: 5

Hansen was one of two Republican senators (along with Hardy) to record votes as the sole GOP member siding with Democrats on multiple votes.

Hansen was the only Republican who voted in favor of protecting the Spring Valley population of Rocky Mountain junipers, known as “swamp cedars” (AB171). Prior to the vote, Hansen had angered some Native advocates when he rebutted the historical accuracy of testimony shared by tribal leaders and elders.

He also was also the only member of his caucus to support SB349, which would have allowed unpackaged produce to be sold in farmers markets, but the legislation failed to advance in the Assembly.

Carrie Buck: 3

The freshman legislator rarely broke from the majority of the Republican caucus, only doing so to support an extension on school use of excess revenue for facility upgrades (SB450), cage-free eggs (AB399) and a clarification on registration requirements for lobbyists (AB110).

James Settelmeyer: 2

The Senate minority leader broke from the majority of his party less than any other Republican senator, only joining Democrats in support of two measures.

Settelmeyer joined Hardy and Pickard in support of removing “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana (AB400) and voted with Kieckhefer, Pickard and Seevers Gansert in support of a measure revising the issuance of orders for protection against high-risk behavior (SB6).

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

Among Assembly Republicans, Tolles and Roberts were the most likely to cross party lines and vote contrary to the majority of their caucus.

Out of the 104 votes in which a minority of the 16 Republican Assembly members joined Democrats in support, Tolles and Roberts voted together with Democrats 85 times, though only six of those votes featured no other Republicans in support.

Tolles and Roberts were the only two Republicans in the Assembly to vote in favor of the new mining tax (AB495) — giving the bill enough Republican votes to overcome the required two-thirds majority needed for a tax increase. Prior to the vote, both lawmakers spoke with The Nevada Independent about their rationale for the votes, stressing that they had gained concessions in exchange for their support and had an opportunity to improve education funding.

They were additionally the only members of their party to support other education-related measures, including an expansion of the core subjects contained within social studies in K-12 education (AB19) and a Democrat-sponsored bill to create the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct at Institutions of Higher Education (SB347).

Tolles and Roberts supported a wide range of Democrat-backed legislation, including measures focused on the economy, state government and criminal justice. The duo voted in support of a ban on race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327), a Frierson-backed effort to establish the Office of Small Business Advocacy (AB184) and a measure that doubles the fee on marriage licenses from $25 to $50 to better support sexual violence and domestic violence victim services in all counties (SB177).

Tolles has a history of voting more moderately than others in the Assembly Republican Caucus, and she was the only caucus member to join Democrats in support of legislation on multiple occasions. She was the only Assembly Republican to vote in favor of AB47, which gives the attorney general greater powers over mergers within the health care industry, and for AB382, an effort to license student loan servicers (that failed to receive a two-thirds majority). 

Though he was not joined by Tolles, Roberts (who has said he plans to run for Clark County sheriff in 2022) voted with several other Republicans in favor of bills authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341) and a resolution to remove the Board of Regents’ constitutional protection (SJR7).

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Melissa Hardy: 82

The Henderson-based assemblywoman was the lone member of the Republican caucus who voted in favor of AB85, which authorizes the State Quarantine Officer to declare any weed to be noxious by regulation.

Hardy also backed a wide range of Democrat-backed efforts, including a variety of bills sponsored by Frierson including a bill that eliminates Nevada’s presidential caucus and replaces it with a primary election (AB126).

In dissenting from the majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus, Hardy voted the same as both Tolles and Roberts 46 times, including when all three — along with Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) — joined Democrats in support of AB486, which is meant to ensure more tenants are connected with rental assistance as eviction protections expire.

Glen Leavitt: 55

Though Leavitt sided with Democrats more frequently than most other Assembly Republicans, he rarely did so without support from several other caucus members. There was only one instance in which Leavitt joined Democrats without at least three other Republicans in support of the measure.

In that case, just two other Republicans joined Leavitt and Assembly Democrats in favor of a bill allowing the State Board of Cosmetology to license a new group of people designated as “advanced estheticians” (SB291).

Additionally, Leavitt was among a minority group of seven Republicans who supported a pair of education measures from Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), including SB173, also referred to as the “Back on Track Act,” which calls on districts to create learning loss prevention plans and set up summer school programs, and SB151, which is aimed at improving teacher-to-student ratios.

Heidi Kasama: 52

The freshman assemblywoman from Las Vegas was the only Republican in either house who voted in support of a Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation-backed measure, SB75, that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions. Other Republicans voiced concerns that the bill did not go far enough in addressing issues with the system. 

Along with Hardy, Leavitt and Tolles, Kasama also voted with Democrats to pass AB356, which prohibits water-intensive decorative turf within medians, along roads and in business parks in Clark County.

Kasama and Hardy were also the only Republicans who voted in favor of banning the declawing of cats, though the measure, AB209, failed to advance through the Senate.

From left, Assemblywomen Cecelia González, Heidi Kasama and Melissa Hardy on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Lisa Krasner: 36

Krasner voted with a minority of her Republican colleagues on mostly Democrat-supported measures on three dozen occasions, including joining Tolles and Roberts in support of measures protecting swamp cedars in Spring Valley, AB171 and AJR4.

The Reno-based lawmaker also joined Tolles, Roberts, Hardy, Leavitt and Kasama in supporting SB448, an omnibus energy bill expanding the state’s transmission infrastructure that was passed out of the Assembly on the final day of the session.

Gregory Hafen: 30

The second-term legislator representing portions of Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties was one of only three Assembly Republicans who voted in favor of massively increasing fines for violating certain regulations from the Public Utilities Commission (SB18).

Hafen was also part of a limited group of Republicans who supported a change to the Live Entertainment Tax to exclude events held on behalf of a governmental entity (SB367) and a ban on race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327).

Alexis Hansen: 18

When Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen broke from her party majority and sided with Democrats, the Sparks-based lawmaker supported a wide range of measures, covering topics from health care to criminal justice to state government. Although she rarely joined fewer than four other party members in her dissent from the caucus, she was one of only two Republicans in the Assembly who voted to pass SB77, which exempts certain environmental impact reviews and discussions from the state’s open meeting law.

Robin Titus: 5

The minority floor leader rarely voted against the majority of her caucus, but Titus did join Democrats and several of her Republican colleagues in support of five bills, including a bill requiring state Medicaid plan coverage for doula services (AB256) and an appropriation of $5.4 million for upgrades to the Gaming Control Board’s IT systems (SB413).

Assembly members Robin Titus, Danielle Monroe Moreno and Steve Yeager return to the Assembly chamber after letting the Senate know they have adjourned sine die on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Annie Black: 3

Though she was absent or not voting for more than 100 votes after being censured by other members of the Assembly for violating COVID-19 protocols, Black was one of the least likely to side with Democrats on a bill. She was, however, one of four Republicans in the Assembly who voted in favor of authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341).

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

At the beginning of the session, six Republican Assembly members announced the formation of the Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus, a coalition of state legislators dedicated to the values of constitutional conservatism. Those six lawmakers — Jill Dickman, John Ellison, Andy Matthews, Richard McArthur, P.K. O’Neill and Jim Wheeler — rarely sided with Democrats.

P.K. O’Neill: 19

One member of the Freedom Caucus sided with Democrats significantly more often than any other, as O’Neill was one of just four Assembly Republicans who supported a measure requiring employers to allow people to use sick leave to care for ill family members (AB190).

The Carson City-based assemblyman also backed several Democrat-sponsored bills, including SB166, which clarifies that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime, and SB177, which doubles the fee on marriage licenses from $25 to $50 to better support sexual violence and domestic violence victim services in all the counties.

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

Almost every member of the Freedom Caucus was among the list of Republicans least likely to side with Democrats, though some threw support behind a few high-profile measures.

Dickman and Matthews were among four Assembly Republicans who voted in favor of authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341). McArthur supported a bill aimed at increasing the availability of peer support counseling for emergency response employees (AB96). Wheeler voted to pass a measure that increases fees on special Vegas Golden Knights license plates to help give more funds to charities (AB123).

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

While votes throughout the legislative session were dominated by unanimous vote counts and instances of mixed support and opposition from Republicans, nearly 5 percent of all votes included just one lawmaker in opposition.

In the Senate, Hansen stood above the pack, providing the only “nay” vote 15 times out of 26 such votes in that chamber. Hansen was the lone opponent in the Senate against measures authorizing curbside pickup at dispensaries (SB168), banning race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327), decriminalizing traffic tickets (AB116) and requiring employees within the juvenile justice system to complete implicit bias training (SB108).

State Senator Ira Hansen inside the Legislature on Friday, May 14, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The other Senate Republicans who provided the only vote against a bill were Buck, who did so six times, Pickard, who did so twice, and Kieckhefer, who did so once. Buck was the only member of the caucus to not support a bill authorizing the sealing of someone’s criminal record after an unconditional pardon (AB219), and Pickard was the only Senate Republican to vote against an appropriation of $25 million for the UNLV Medical School (SB434). 

In the Assembly, there were 26 votes that included a single “nay” vote. Ellison led the Republican caucus with 10, including votes against bills requiring the Board of Regents to waive tuition and fees for Native students attending Nevada public colleges and universities (AB262), prohibiting law enforcement agencies from having arrest or ticket quotas (AB186) and expanding the continuing education courses that law enforcement officers are required to take to include crisis intervention (AB304).

Other Assembly Republicans who stood alone in their opposition included Black, who provided the only “nay” vote on a bill five times, and McArthur, who did so twice. Hafen and Kasama were each the lone Assembly opponent to a bill once.

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

While disagreement among Republicans was far more common in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, a few Democrats in both houses were more likely to depart from the caucus consensus than their colleagues from the same party.

Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) was more likely to vote differently from the rest of the Senate Democrats than any other member of her party. Neal was the lone opposition vote to AB435, which expands a Commerce Tax exemption to include trade shows, and SB150, which requires local governments to authorize tiny houses in certain zoning districts. She previously expressed concerns that tiny homes might depreciate housing values or exacerbate zoning disparities.

Neal also dissented from the Senate Democratic Caucus to vote with her Republican colleagues at least three times, including voting against a bill that would have granted casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises (SB452).

Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) speaks with Assembly members Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and Rochelle Nguyen on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sens. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) and Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) each disagreed with their fellow caucus members at least once. Spearman was the only Democrat who voted against a bill raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 (AB59), and Denis was the lone member of his party to not support an effort to license midwives (AB387). With Denis voting no, the bill fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

In the Assembly, Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) was among the Democrats most likely to dissent from the majority position of the caucus. Miller was the lone opponent to a bill during two votes, including voting against SB172, which requires school districts and charter schools to develop programs for dual credits. Miller also joined a majority of Assembly Republicans in opposing a bill that prohibits homeowner associations from circumventing local ordinances when determining when construction can start in residential areas (AB249).

Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) was the only Assembly member to oppose AB258, which clarifies existing law by requiring the trustees of the Clark County Library District to appoint an executive director, and AB477, which abolishes the DMV’s Revolving Account for the Assistance of the Department. She also joined the majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus in voting against SB190, which allows women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit.

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) additionally dissented from her caucus on more than one occasion, as she provided the lone “nay” vote to AB435, which expands a Commerce Tax exemption to include trade shows. She was also joined by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) in voting with a majority of Assembly Republicans against SB287, which formally recognizes UNLV and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) as land-grant institutions alongside UNR.

Nevada Indian Country celebrates wins at the Legislature, including greater access to higher education for students

Tribal leaders and advocates are eyeing their communities’ futures with more hope after priority bills for Native leaders made it across the legislative finish line last week. 

“I say unequivocally there’s never been a better time to be Indigenous and live in the state of Nevada,” said Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, during an event last week at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, where Gov. Steve Sisolak signed three bills affecting Nevada tribes  — AB262, AB88 and AB270 — into law. 

Stacey Montooth, Executive Director of the State of Nevada Indian Commission speaks during a bill signing ceremony with the Governor at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The legislation prioritized by Native leaders that cleared the lawmaking session include measures that waive fees at Nevada colleges and universities for Native students; prohibit racially discriminatory language or imagery in schools; and provide environmental protection for sacred sites, among others. 

Marla McDade Williams, an enrolled member of the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone and lobbyist for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said legislation crafted with input from Native community members has been steadily increasing over the last few years in the Legislature, a trend that continued this spring.

“As long as people just continue to keep issues at the forefront, there's always going to be a legislator who is willing to bring those issues forward and see how we can craft a solution that is beneficial for the Native American community and tribes,” she said. 

Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said the inclusive legislation fosters unity amid an era of reckoning with historical injustices. 

“This is, I think, a groundbreaking legislative session for advancing the rights and issues of Indigenous people and fostering inclusion among all of us, because while we come from many different communities, we're also all one community and all Nevadans,” he said during the bill-signing event. 

Governor Steve Sisolak during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City after signing bills AB88, 262 and 270 on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Here’s a look at the bills that passed during the session, all of which have also been signed into law by Sisolak, that affect Nevada tribes:

AB262: Fee waiver for Native students 

One of the top priorities this session for Native leaders and advocates, AB262 waives registration, laboratory and other mandatory fees at Nevada System of Higher Education institutions for Native people who are members of federally recognized tribes in Nevada or descendants of enrolled tribal members. With in-state tuition, waiving fees at universities and colleges significantly reduces the financial burden to attend school for students.

The law goes into effect on July 1. 

At the signing event, Montooth said the measure “exponentially broadens” the futures of 70,000 Native Americans in the state. 

“I use that large number, not to scare NSHE (Nevada System of Higher Education), but because in Indian Country, when one of us earns a degree, our entire family earns a degree,” she said. 

Tribal leaders, such as Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlan Melendez, who advocated for the bill during the session said the increased access to education will help lift tribes and their community members out of disproportionate poverty rates. 

Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Reno), who sponsored the bill, told The Nevada Independent that her hope is that it will ultimately benefit those who live on tribal lands. 

“The goal is really for students to be able to attend school and then come back hopefully to the community so that way we can get Native American doctors on the Native lands, we can get an attorney on Native American land — those things make a difference,” she said. 

Assemblywoman Natha Anderson attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Cheryl Simmons, an enrolled member of the Washoe Tribe, said she’s excited for the measure to be implemented in time for her classes to start in the fall. As a single mother of two children who is also helping raise her grandchild, she said the fees pose a barrier to people such as herself who want to work toward an associates or bachelor’s degree. 

“I’d like to see that change in our school system because it’s penalizing [students] to learn more,” she said, adding that she’s working toward her fifth associates degree in criminal justice at Western Nevada College. She has other degrees in general studies, art and business management. 

Besides being an enrolled Nevada tribal member or descendant of one, students also must be eligible for enrollment in a university or college, be a Nevada resident for a year or more, maintain a 2.0 grade point average and fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to be eligible for the fee waiver. 

The bill also requires the Board of Regents to submit a report to the Legislative Counsel Bureau regarding the number of students eligible and the total funding available for the waived fees by Sept. 1, 2022, in order to provide accurate data for future legislative bodies.

The original version of the bill included providing in-state tuition at colleges and universities for members of tribes outside of Nevada, which was amended out of the final version. 

In a fiscal note, the Nevada System of Higher Education stated it could not determine the financial impact of the bill as it depends on how many students will take the opportunity to use it. 

The Assembly approved the bill nearly unanimously, with Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko) as the lone lawmaker who voted against it, and the Senate unanimously approved it on the final day of the session. 

AB88: Bans offensive, racially discriminatory imagery in Nevada schools 

Sponsored by Watts, the measure bans offensive or racially discriminatory language and imagery, names, logos or mascots in Nevada schools. 

The legislation came about during a time of reckoning across the country, with Native people calling for sports teams, businesses and schools to remove offensive names. Earlier this year, UNLV retired its Hey Reb! mascot after taking its statue down last June in response to a history tied to confederate symbolism and, last year, the Squaw Valley Ski Resort announced it would drop “squaw” from its name after years of protest from the Washoe Tribe. On the national stage, the Washington professional football team announced a name change in January, dropping the “Redskins” title after 90 years. 

Assemblyman Howard Watts attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Watts said the goal of the measure is to continue promoting 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 during the bill-signing event. “I believe that by confronting these issues, and working together to address them, we can all move forward together and have a brighter future for the state.”

Nevada schools may still use language, imagery or mascots in connection with tribes as long as they have consent from local tribal leaders to do so. For example, the Elko band of the Te-Moak Tribe allowed the Elko High School Indians mascot to remain the same. 

Signs and flags of the Elko Indians at the Elko High School in Elko, Nevada. (Famartin / Creative Commons)

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, known as a “sundown ordinance.” The bill specifically applies to Minden in Douglas County, which repealed the sundown ordinance in 1974 but continues to sound the siren at 6 p.m. each day. Tribal leaders have asked for years that the siren be removed, or at least changed to a different hour of the day.

Serrell Smokey, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, said the measure gives the tribe a better “foothold” in its fight against the siren, which is triggering for some tribal elders who lived through the era of sundown ordinances. 

“We’ve seen this even in some elders nowadays, if you ask them about the siren, they'll say, ‘Don't mess with that, don't talk about it,’” Smokey said. “That's historical trauma. They're still scared about it and they don't want to address it. Us younger generations have more fight in us and we know we need to capitalize on taking action with social injustices that have been going on throughout the world.” 

The bill also asks that the State Board on Geographic Names recommend name changes for geographic features of places in the state that have racially discriminatory language or imagery. The board includes two Native representatives. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill 36-6 and 12-8, respectively, with some Republican lawmakers voting against it. Sisolak signed the bill into law during the event on June 4. 

AB270: Stewart Indian School preservation

Sponsored by Assemblyman Philip O’Neill (R-Carson City), the measure allows the museum director of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum designate certain buildings and grounds of the former boarding school for Native children for special events and authorizes the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages at such events. 

The Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The bill also earmarks any funds made through the special events to be paid into the State Treasury for credit to the Nevada Indian Commission Gift Fund. Those funds must be used by the commission to maintain and preserve operations and cultural integrity of the Stewart Indian School. 

During the bill-signing event in Carson City, O’Neill said the measure will help ensure the museum can continue to educate the public on the harsh history of the boarding school. The measure also includes preservation efforts for the State Prison. 

“[The Stewart Indian School and the State Prison] are long standing in our Nevada history, both good and bad. And we need to teach that, have that available, so our future generations do not repeat. And that's the strongest part of all of our bills today is that we prepare our future generations to be better than we are,” he said. 

Assemblyman P.K. O'Neill attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The Stewart Indian School was one of hundreds of federal boarding schools in the United States that housed Native children, often kidnapped from their families and forced to attend, in order to assimilate them into white culture. Their traditional long hair was cut short and their languages and spiritual practices were forbidden. It reopened last year, after receiving funding from the state, as a museum to share the story of what happened there, as told by school alumni, some of whom are still living in the state. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously, and Sisolak signed it into law during the event on June 4. 

AB261: Expand historical contributions of diverse groups in education 

Sponsored by Anderson, the measure requires that education curriculum used throughout the state promote greater inclusion and accurately reflect societal contributions made by various demographic groups.  

The bill requires the board of trustees of each school district and the governing body of charter schools ensure educational material includes contributions to science, arts and the humanities made by Native Americans and tribes, people of marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity, people with disabilities, people from African American, Basque, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds and more. 

The bill addresses frustrations expressed by Native leaders and educators that education generally focuses on Native people as historical figures and fails to acknowledge the historical contributions and modern day presence of Native people and tribes in Nevada. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill in 26-16 and 12-9 votes, respectively, with Republican lawmakers voting against it, and Sisolak signed the bill into law in May. 

AB321: Expanded voting measure becomes law 

Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the bill sets in stone the expanded voting measures implemented last year in response to the pandemic. Native leaders and advocates have widely supported the measure as it includes extended deadlines for tribes to request polling locations and so-called “ballot harvesting,” which allows people to submit ballots for non-family members.

McDade Williams, Te-Moak tribe member and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony lobbyist, said the law improves access to voting for tribes. 

“Being able to recognize that tribal communities are isolated and figuring out ways to help them participate in the state selection process — these are all good things for tribes,” she said. 

A Native voter wears a "voting is sacred" T-shirt at a polling location for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Native Vote Project.

The next step: Educating Native voters about how to access the ballot in time for the midterm election season next year, she said. 

“Hopefully those initiatives can really bear some fruit over the next 12 months, getting some resources at the tribal level to start training voters on how to access the process and how to understand candidates and what to look for in candidates,” McDade Williams said. 

The bill passed along party lines in the Assembly and Senate, and Sisolak signed it into law on June 2. 

AB103: Protecting Indian burial sites in Nevada 

A follow-up to legislation approved in 2017, the bill clears up ambiguities in the law regarding excavation of Indian burial sites across Nevada. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), the measure clarifies that entities engaged in lawful activity, such as construction, mining and ranching, are exempt from obtaining permits from the State Museum so long as the activity will not affect a known burial site. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law following the end of the session in May. 

During a hearing for the bill in March, Michon Eben, manager for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony cultural resource program, said the current law does not protect Native items or objects found across Nevada and is something Native people would like to change in the future. 

AB171: State protection for “swamp cedars” 

The measure sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee grants state protection to Rocky Mountain juniper trees, known as “swamp cedars,” outside of Ely in Spring Valley. Native elders and tribal leaders widely supported the measure because the site where the swamp cedars are found, known as Bahsahwahbee in Shoshone, is sacred to Indigenous people. 

The Assembly approved the bill 29-13. It later passed the Senate in a 13-8 vote, with Republicans voting against it, except for Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), who crossed the aisle to approve the measure despite raising concerns about historical inaccuracies regarding massacres of Indigenous peoples cited in the bill. Sisolak signed the bill before the session ended in late May. 

AJR4: Federal protection for “swamp cedars”  

Further expanding on AB171, the resolution, also sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, urges Congress and the Biden administration grant protections to  swamp cedars and designate the area as a national historic monument or expand the Great Basin National Park to include Spring Valley.

The Assembly approved the bill 29-13, with Republican lawmakers voting against it, and was later unanimously approved by the Senate. 

AJR3: Naming Avi Kwa Ame a national monument 

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas), the resolution heads to Congress to establish Spirit Mountain, known as Avi Kwa Ame in the native Mojave language, as a national monument. Avi Kwa Ame is a spiritual center for several tribes spanning across Nevada, California and Arizona, including the Fort Mojave Tribe. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill largely along party lines, with Republican lawmakers voting against it. 

Adding Native representatives to state groups: 

AB72: State Board on Geographic Names 

The measure adds another spot for a Native representative from the Nevada Indian Commission on the State Board on Geographic Names. The board already included a spot for a member from the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and includes representatives from the state Bureau of Mines and Geology, UNR, UNLV, the U.S. Forest Service and more. 

The Assembly and Senate unanimously approved the bill and Sisolak signed it into law on May 21. 

AB52: Land Use Planning Advisory Council 

Sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources committee, the bill adds a voting member appointed by the Nevada Indian Commission to the Land Use Planning Advisory Council. The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law last week.

AB54: Advisory Traffic Safety Committee 

Sponsored by the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee, the bill creates the Advisory Traffic Safety Committee, which will be tasked with reviewing, studying and making recommendations regarding best practices for reducing traffic deaths and injuries. As part of the committee, the bill adds a member representing Nevada tribal governments recommended by the Inter-Tribal Council. 

The Assembly approved the bill 36-4 and the Senate 12-9, with Republican lawmakers voting against it. Sisolak signed the bill into law on May 21. 

AB95: Legislative Public Lands Committee 

Sponsored by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections committee, the bill adds a member representing Nevada tribal governments recommended by the Inter-Tribal Council and appointed by the Legislature to the Legislative Public Lands Committee. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law on May 27.