2020 election fraud conspiracy theories remain central to many Republican campaigns

Among the Republicans running for office in 2022, a new orthodoxy has not only emerged but become entrenched: The 2020 election was rife with fraud favoring the Democrat, President Joe Biden.

The mechanics and specifics of these largely debunked claims have varied from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

Some have criticized law and policy — for instance, Republican objections to processes such as ballot collection, sometimes called “ballot harvesting” — while others fall more squarely into the realm of conspiracy. For instance, one conspiracy theory claims machines produced by the election technology company Dominion switched votes because of imagined links to anti-fascists and the government of Venezuela.

In Nevada, where prominent ex-elected officials such as one-time Attorney General Adam Laxalt have led the high-profile crusade against the legitimacy of the 2020 election, fraud claims centered largely on the mechanisms of the voting and counting processes. 

One of the most popular allegations is a claim that signature verification machines were unable to accurately confirm the authenticity of signed mail ballots in Clark County, the state's most populous county and the center of election fraud conspiracies. Another claims thousands of Nevadans received mail ballots for deceased family members or loved ones who had moved out of state, and that those mailings culminated in a substantial number of illegally cast ballots. 

Those theories prompted  the Nevada Republican Party to send a tranche of nearly 123,000 ballots to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican and the state’s executive officer in charge of running elections. The party alleged, among other things, that the ballots were mailed from commercial addresses, cast in another state or cast more than once.

Such claims have been debunked at multiple levels. In April, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the lone Republican in statewide office in Nevada, released a report reviewing those ballots that found no “evidentiary support for the contention that the 2020 general election was plagued by widespread voter fraud.”

“Our investigation revealed that these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained,” the report said

Independent experts — including data analyst Rex Briggs, who was asked by Trump supporters to investigate fraud in the data — came to a similar conclusion. In a written report published by The Nevada Independent, Briggs found “nothing in the data that shows the election was rigged.” 

And in the courts, Nevada judges have dismissed multiple lawsuits, including an attempt by Republican electors to contest the result of the 2020 presidential election outright and name Donald Trump the winner instead. 

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the conservative media apparatus and Republican elected officials casting doubt on the election results have succeeded in doing what former President Donald Trump started: They have convinced an increasingly large portion of the Republican electorate that the election was stolen.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll in August found that two-thirds of Republicans nationwide thought the election was “rigged and stolen from Trump,” a number that makes up 29 percent of the poll’s total respondents. In Nevada, that figure was even higher: A poll conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent found that 74 percent of Republicans believe Biden only won the election because of fraud, or roughly 35 percent of the poll’s respondents. 

The disparity between the majority of voters, who have rejected such fraud claims, and the majority of Republicans, who have embraced them, may shape some contours of electoral politics in the 2022 midterms. Speaking with The Nevada Independent at an event last month, pollster Mark Mellman said the disconnect between those who believe what he called the “big lie” and the majority who don’t “will make it problematic” for Republicans looking to run and win in Nevada. 

“If you're a candidate who comes, supporting the ‘big lie,’ saying that the election was all fraud, it immediately turns off a large number of people,” Mellman said. “I'm not saying that people are gonna walk in the voting booth saying, ‘I'm going to vote for the person who's against the ‘big lie,’ but it creates an image of somebody who's out of touch with reality in fundamental ways.”

In the realm of politics and policy, the “big lie” has continued to generate revisionist calls to relitigate the 2020 results through wide-reaching ballot audits. The most high-profile of these audits — a private review of some Arizona ballots conducted by a firm linked to the #StoptheSteal movement — ended in a report that found Biden’s margin of victory even larger than the one reported on election night. 

And though independent experts have panned the audit, with recent concerns emerging that it may have undercounted the total number of ballots, proponents have seized on the Arizona results in a wider push to conduct audits of all 50 states. 

Still, such audits are rare and, in Nevada, require specific circumstances. As a result, while a four-county audit of Texas results began last month, attempted Nevada audits — such as one in Lander County — have stalled.

Heading into the 2022 election, The Nevada Independent has compiled positions taken by state and federal Republican candidates on the election results, election integrity or the 2020 election, ranging from support of the “big lie” to more general calls for “election integrity” as a campaign issue. 

This story will be updated as more candidates join key races and as more public statements on the issue become available. 

SENATE

Adam Laxalt

At the presumptive top of the ticket is 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, one of the loudest — and earliest — voices seeking to discredit the 2020 election results. 

Laxalt emerged as a leader protesting the legitimacy of Nevada’s presidential election shortly after Election Day, joining fellow Trump surrogates Richard Grennell, a former acting U.S. intelligence head, and Matt Schlapp, a conservative lobbyist, activist and former Trump advisor, in holding a press conference alleging out-of-state voters and a raft of problems with signature verification allowed individuals to vote twice, both by mail and in person.

Such claims were boosted at the time by Trump, who tagged Laxalt and Schlapp in a Nov. 9 tweet claiming Nevada was a “cesspool of Fake Votes.”

Those claims culminated in a lawsuit that alleged state officials had been unable to keep non-citizens off voter rolls. The state later filed a motion to dismiss in February, and the suit was dropped by March. 

Since then, Laxalt has continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of future elections, telling conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root in August that lawsuits challenging the 2020 result “just came too late,” and that he would seek to file any challenges to 2022 earlier. 

Sam Brown

Laxalt’s most prominent primary opponent, veteran Sam Brown, has largely steered clear of mentioning election issues in campaign messaging.

Instead, Brown — a retired Army captain who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan and who has campaigned, in part, on his military record — has focused most of his messaging on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, frequently criticizing the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer. 

In more than 200 tweets sent out from his campaign Twitter account — including dozens with over a thousand likes — Brown has used the word “election” just twice. The first was a reference to winning the race next year, and the second was a tweet about the “character” of elected leaders. 

Also running: Republicans Sharelle Mendenhall and William Hockstedler

GOVERNOR

Dean Heller

In the race for governor, former Sen. Dean Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that he “still know[s] who the president is” — while declining to name Joe Biden as the president. 

Heller, who served as Nevada’s secretary of state in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has also frequently criticized the electoral process and a host of electoral changes made by Democratic state lawmakers in 2020 and 2021, including the permanent expansion of mail-in ballots

Last year, during a call with reporters, he criticized what he framed as a lack of action from Cegavske on “the worst election laws in the country.”

“We have a secretary of state that is not making noise on this,” Heller said at the time.

And while launching his gubernatorial campaign earlier this month, Heller said Nevada “made it easier to cheat in future elections,” and that he would have sought to fire Clark County’s top election official last year. 

He later touted his own record, telling the Review-Journal that the last “safe, secure” election in Nevada was during his tenure as secretary of state more than 14 years ago. 

Heller has also promised to seek to enact voter ID requirements through executive order.

Joe Lombardo

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, for months the most prominent Republican running for governor before Heller’s entrance in the race, has announced that, among other things, he would seek to create an “Election Integrity Commission” if elected to the state’s top office.

When asked about those “integrity” measures, Lombardo told The Nevada Independent there was a “perception” of fraud in the 2020 election.

“And if there's a perception, there's maybe some truth to it, or there may be some evidence,” Lombardo said. “Why not fix it going forward? Why not remove the rumors and the perception and even the ability to commit fraud into the future, if you have the ability to do that?”

Still, the sheriff sidestepped a question from the Independent earlier this month about whether he would support an Arizona-style audit of Nevada’s 2020 election results. Lombardo said he “can’t opine on that because I’m not aware of that.”

Joey Gilbert

Some of the most vocal calls of fraud have come from gubernatorial candidate and Reno-area lawyer Joey Gilbert, who buoyed his profile in 2020 as an ardent critic of state and local COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Most recently, Gilbert has supported calls for an Arizona-style “full forensic audit” of the 2020 results. In a post announcing that stance on Facebook, Gilbert alleged falsely that six states “shut down counting without explanation” on election night, an apparent reference to the days or weeks-long process of counting mail ballots that has, in his words, “never before happened in our history.” 

“President Donald Trump was leading by a lot, but somehow, when the dust settled a week later, we are told that [he] lost?” Gilbert wrote. “The whole thing flies in the face of common sense.”

The claim that states stopped counting votes on election night is largely false. A Reuters fact check found that, among contested states, only North Carolina stopped its count on election night, and only because there were “no more votes to count that night.”

In Nevada, the secretary of state’s office released a statement on Nov. 4 that the counting had not stopped and would not stop until all ballots were counted. 

John Lee

Centering his campaign on the “socialism” he sees as inherent to the current Democratic Party, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee — a longtime Democrat who switched parties before entering the governor’s race earlier this year — has said little about the 2020 election, either in campaign videos or official campaign announcements. 

He has mentioned the issue occasionally, most recently “commending” the Arizona audit in a tweet. That tweet stopped short of calling for an audit in Nevada, however, instead saying “let’s learn from past elections and ensure no foul-play going forward.”

Guy Nohra

A venture capitalist financing his own bid for governor, Guy Nohra explicitly called out election fraud — though he did not specifically reference 2020 — in his campaign’s announcement video. Nohra said it was “time to expose the election fraud we all know is there,” with the words “restore election integrity” superimposed in the background of the video.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 3

April Becker

In the highly competitive District 3, the money race has so far been topped by a handful of candidates making “election integrity” a key part of their campaigns. April Becker has led that race — at least in terms of fundraising — for months, raking in roughly twice as many contributions as her nearest rivals. 

Becker, who ran for state Senate in 2020, charged in a lawsuit that her own election loss last year was tainted by, among other things, issues with signature verification machines used by Clark County election officials. 

Claiming fraud and “irregularities” — largely through repeating allegations made by Republicans about the “flooding” of ballots sent to inactive voters, or ballots cast by ineligible voters — that lawsuit ultimately sought to invalidate both Becker’s state Senate election and the election in the 4th Congressional District and call for new elections. 

The suit was dismissed roughly three weeks later.

Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson, a veteran and early entrant into the race, has said the 2020 election raised “legitimate concerns.” 

On his campaign website, he calls for a congressional review of the election process with the “goal of guaranteeing as much as possible that the vote of each eligible, legal voter is easily cast and accurately counted,” with the word “legal” emphasized in bold.

Robertson later told the Las Vegas Review-Journal there was “likely some fraud” in 2020, but he did not see sufficient evidence to change the result. 

Noah Malgeri

Lawyer and veteran Noah Malgeri has also challenged the legitimacy of the 2020 election by way of fraud. In a video launching his campaign, Malgeri promised — among criticisms of critical race theory and support for completing Trump’s border wall — that he would “fight against the rampant election fraud we saw in the last election.”    

John Kovacs

Construction company owner John Kovacs mentions “election integrity” on his campaign website, including calls for new voter ID laws and increased election transparency, but he has stopped short of claiming a stolen election.

In a July interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Kovacs acknowledged, specifically, that Biden had beaten Trump in the 2020 election. 

Also running: Clark Bossert

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4

Sam Peters

In neighboring District 4 — a geographically massive area encompassing parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and the state’s central rural counties — Republicans have largely coalesced around election denialism, or the idea that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election.

Peters, a veteran and insurance agent who lost a primary race for District 4 in 2020, tweets with the hashtag “#StopTheSteal” and has praised lawsuits filed by former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. Those suits were later dismissed by courts in multiple states.

Peters has otherwise continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the election, telling the New York Times in June that he was not sure Biden had legitimately won Nevada and he would not have voted to certify the election results on Jan. 6 “without more questions.”

Carolina Serrano

Former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano — a candidate who has received campaign contributions from several major names in the gaming industry, including Steve Wynn and Alex Meruelo — has also called for an election audit across all states. 

Writing for former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s website, War Room, Serrano repeated claims made during the post-election challenges, including alleged votes from non-citizens and duplicate votes. 

SECRETARY OF STATE

Jim Marchant

Jim Marchant, a former Assemblyman and congressional candidate now running for secretary of state, joined Becker in challenging the results of his loss to incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District last year. That suit was dismissed.

On the subject of elections, which are overseen by the secretary of state, Marchant has leaned hard into the issue of “election integrity.” Marchant is among a handful of Nevada politicians who have called for an Arizona-style audit of 2020 results, both in Nevada and elsewhere, and as recently as Oct. 12, accused Democrats of creating a “cheating advantage” through vote-by-mail legislation.

Marchant also told Reuters last month he would seek to end early voting, a process written into Nevada law, and ban the use of voting machines temporarily in order to inspect them for vote-rigging. He also separately attended an election fraud symposium held by MyPillow CEO and prominent election denier Mike Lindell.

Gerard Ramalho

In a video announcing his candidacy last month, longtime television news anchor-turned secretary of state hopeful Gerard Ramalho accused Democratic lawmakers of using the pandemic to “manipulate our laws” such that election policy “benefitted one party over the other.” 

Kristopher Dahir
A sparks city councilman and Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Kristopher Dahir, defended the embattled Cegavske earlier this year, telling the Review-Journal in April that she "follows what the legislators have put in place," and that "it would be the same for me."

When asked Sunday by The Independent, Dahir said in an email that, while he does believe "some people cheat," he does not believe there was widespread fraud in 2020 and that "we have not found any proof that will hold up in court" that Joe Biden is not the duly elected president.

"The worst part of the situation is that the American people walked away with confusion and doubt," he said.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Sigal Chattah

In an interview with KLAS 8 News Now in Las Vegas, attorney general hopeful Sigal Chattah said that while she believes there was “evidence of voter fraud,” she does not believe there is conclusive evidence the election was stolen from Trump, saying in part that “unless I see concrete proof there was a steal, I don’t believe it.” 

Updated, 10/17/21 at 1:45 p.m. — This story was updated to include an additional Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Kristopher Dahir.

Cortez Masto raises $3.15 million in third quarter as Senate race ramps up

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) raised more than $3.15 million during the third quarter this year, boosting her campaign war chest to roughly $8.3 million, her campaign announced Wednesday.

The senator’s quarterly spending was not immediately available, however, ahead of the full release of quarterly campaign finance reports on Friday. 

Those totals far exceed the fundraising announced by Cortez Masto’s two Republican challengers, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and veteran Sam Brown, who raised approximately $2.4 million combined. 

The quarterly sum also represents a record amount of off-year fundraising for the senator, beating the $2.8 million she raised in the second quarter. It also exceeds all but two quarterly hauls brought in by her or Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) during the last two Senate elections. The larger fundraising totals occurred in the third quarter of 2016, when Cortez Masto raised $5.2 million, and in the third quarter of 2018, when Rosen raised $7 million.

Still, it lags behind high-profile reelection bids in Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly raised $8 million last quarter, and in Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock raised $7 million in the second quarter. 

Cortez Masto will defend her seat for the first time in 2022, a year in which Democrats and Republicans nationwide will seek to take control of a Senate currently split down the middle. 

The first Latina elected to the body, Cortez Masto is also among four incumbent Democrats looking to defend “lean democratic” seats, according to ratings from the Cook Political Report. 

Polls conducted so far show a slim lead for Cortez Masto in what is expected to be a competitive election. Polled in a hypothetical head-to-head against Laxalt in a survey conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, Cortez Masto led 45.5 percent to 41.2 percent. 

In Republican Senate primary, Laxalt leads Brown with more than $1.4 million in third quarter fundraising

In the marquee race to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) next year, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt took an early lead in the money battle, raising more than $1.4 million during the first six weeks of his campaign.

He was followed relatively closely by veteran Sam Brown, whose campaign last week reported more than $1 million in quarterly fundraising. 

Laxalt announced his long-expected candidacy in mid-August, and his fundraising haul since then has left his campaign with roughly $1.2 million in cash on hand, according to numbers provided by Laxalt’s campaign to Fox News Tuesday. Brown did not announce his cash on hand figure ahead of the Friday federal filing deadline for quarterly campaign finance reports. 

Fundraising numbers for Brown were also first reported last week by Fox News. 

Early fundraising totals come as Democrats and Republicans nationwide look to wrest control of a Senate currently split 50-50. Nevada, which is among four states rated as “lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, will likely be among just nine battlegrounds that decide control of the Senate next year. 

In her first bid for reelection, Cortez Masto has so far trailed fellow incumbent Democrats in competitive elections, raising $2.8 million through the second quarter of this year. She has not released third quarter fundraising totals yet.

Still, Cortez Masto will likely continue to hold a cash on hand advantage over her Republican challengers through the third quarter, largely because of an existing $6.6 million in her campaign warchest as of July. 

Candidate fundraising numbers also will likely be overshadowed by massive outside spending by PACs and dark money groups in the coming months. During Cortez Masto’s 2016 bid, for instance, numbers compiled by the website Open Secrets show nearly $92 million in outside spending in Nevada alone. 

Before entering this year’s Senate race, Laxalt spent four years as the state’s attorney general following a narrow win in the Republican wave of 2014. He later ran and lost a bid for governor in 2018, before reemerging as a key booster of President Donald Trump and, eventually, one of a handful of surrogates spearheading the Trump campaign’s efforts to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election in Nevada

Despite those claims having been rebutted both by the courts and by state election officials, Laxalt has continued to suggest that he may pre-emptively sue over election results in 2022. 

Though it remains unclear how the Republican primary will play out, early polling shows a competitive contest between Cortez Masto and Laxalt. In a poll conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent last month, Cortez Masto led Laxalt among likely voters by a 4.3 point margin, 45.5 percent to 41.2 percent. 

Four other candidates, including Republicans Sharelle Mendenhall and William Eric Hockstedler, and non-affiliated candidates Gretchen Rae Low and Joseph Destin, have also filed bids for Senate with the Federal Election Commission. 

Nevada’s rising murder rate spawns political attacks, despite broad declines in crime

Last year, the United States recorded the largest single-year increase in the murder rate since national record-keeping began more than 60 years ago. In Nevada, the murder rate rose 27 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Ahead of the 2022 elections, some candidates have used the climbing number of murders as political ammunition. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dean Heller has pointed blame at Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak for the escalating violence, while Nevada Democratic Victory (the Washoe County branch of the state party) has attacked Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo for soaring homicide rates in the Las Vegas Valley. Outside groups supporting Lombardo are running major television advertisement campaigns touting the safety of Las Vegas last year compared to other major cities.

But those narrow and at times conflicting assertions do not capture the complexity of changes in crime. 

Though Las Vegas, like many other major cities, saw murders and assaults rise last year amid protests that were at times violent and restrictions on public activity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada continues to see its lowest levels of crime in decades. 

But the broad declines in crime over the past few years have been inconsistent. Urban areas of the state largely saw the number of aggravated assaults rise last year and fall this year, and police departments in Southern Nevada are still facing a protracted wave of homicides. Meanwhile, violent and property crime rates are continuing their downward trends.

Major Nevada police departments reported those changes in crime for 2020 and the majority of 2021 through broad data on violent crime (a category composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) and property crime (composed of four offenses: burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and arson).

Ernesto Lopez — a research specialist with the Council on Criminal Justice, a group of criminologists and policy and law enforcement experts focused on solutions for the criminal justice system — told The Nevada Independent that there were limited opportunities for criminal activity last year because of lockdowns and restrictions on public activity put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He theorized that those limited opportunities would likely have led to a decrease in all crime.

But some categories of crime have defied that explanation, as assaults climbed and the significant increases in murders in major U.S. cities last year has continued into 2021.

Researchers have explored the wide range of reasons that explain the increase, from the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the ensuing protests to the stressors of the pandemic to a proliferation of guns. But Lopez noted that those reasons are difficult to separate, comparing it to trying to pick out a specific ingredient in a soup.

“Seasonings, flavors, they all make the final product, and each contributes their own amounts to the flavor,” he said. “And that's kind of what it is when it comes to a lot of crime, even violent crime. There are all these different things, especially during this period, that are co-occurring. And it makes it really difficult to separate those effects.”

Efforts to understand all of the reasons for the increase in murders will take time, as city-level police departments often see a lag in reporting data, and research does not happen in a flash. But broad data on criminal offenses in Nevada is available for past years dating back to 2014 and for the majority of 2021.

The Nevada Independent aggregated and analyzed data from Nevada Crime Online — a site managed by the Department of Public Safety where crime data is continuously collected from all law enforcement agencies in the state, validated and then made available for reporting — to explore changes in crime rates in the past five years and during the pandemic, in particular. Some police departments, such as Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Metro), also publish crime data through annual reports. But the data in those reports can be limited by the static nature of their presentation, while Nevada Crime Online offers greater uniformity in reporting across jurisdictions.

Our analysis found that murders rose significantly across the state last year and have continued to increase in Southern Nevada throughout 2021. The state also saw aggravated assaults rise last year, driven by increases in the state’s three most populous cities, but assaults and overall violent crime rates are down once again this year, resuming a yearslong downswing in violence. Meanwhile, property crime rates dropped significantly last year in Clark County but increased in Reno. And in rural parts of the state, crime rates have fluctuated unevenly over the past few years partly because of the low frequency of crime in those areas.

Crime in 2020

In 2020, statewide violent crime and property crime rates dropped to their lowest levels in decades, with recorded instances of burglary, larceny and robbery each significantly declining. But murders and aggravated assaults rose, driven by increases in Clark County and Washoe County.

Lombardo, in a letter included in Metro’s 2020 annual report, noted the difficulties his agency faced in stopping growing violent crime trends last year.

“Many jurisdictions across the country saw significant surges in violent crime as 2020 progressed,” he wrote. “Locally, we were able to curtail most violence while experiencing small upticks in assaults and homicides.”

The small upticks Lombardo referred to were an increase in reported murders from 85 to 100 and an increase in aggravated assaults from roughly 5,200 to more than 6,200 — the highest total reported since 2016. The number of assaults reported last year remains low compared to the past 15 years, however, as data reported to the FBI shows the department saw at least 6,500 aggravated assaults each year from 2006 to 2016.

Still, the rising levels of violence drew the ire of locals in Southern Nevada last October, amid a streak of aggravated assaults on the Las Vegas Strip.

Despite the increases in violence, an advertisement paid for by Better Nevada PAC that launched last month seeks to highlight the safety of Las Vegas under Lombardo’s leadership as sheriff, juxtaposed with footage of “radical, anti-police riots” in other cities during protests against police brutality last year.

Though the ad states that “businesses were not destroyed,” more than 24 businesses in downtown Las Vegas were damaged by vandalism after protests in May 2020, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Lombardo has laid blame for issues with public safety at the feet of Sisolak and lawmakers in Carson City, who have passed bills in recent sessions decriminalizing minor traffic offenses, expediting pretrial release hearings and aiming to reduce the prison population.

“Bail reform, sentencing reform, handcuffing of police, all that matters. And that's indicative of the crime rates that are occurring across the United States right now,” Lombardo said during a Zoom question-and-answer session with members of the Nevada Firearms Coalition in June. “The crooks are getting more rights than the victims.”

During a speech announcing his candidacy for governor, Heller similarly attacked Sisolak. He claimed that in Sisolak’s one term in office, Nevadans were more likely to become a victim of violent crime. Across the state, the rates of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault were lower in 2020 than in 2018 — the year before Sisolak took office.

Heller also erroneously said that since 2018, “violent crime and murders in Clark County have gone up.” In 2018, there were nearly 14,000 violent crimes and 168 murders reported in Clark County, and last year, the county saw less than 12,000 violent crimes and 131 murders. This year, the county is on track to see another decline in violent crimes.

Though Metro reported more violent crime offenses in 2020 than in 2019, the department still saw lower levels of violence last year than in the several years preceding 2019. That difference may have been caused, in part, by the significant reduction in Las Vegas tourism last year. Generally, experts say that Nevada’s crime numbers likely trend higher because of the state’s heavy reliance on the tourism industry bringing large numbers of people. Last year, the city drew roughly 19 million visitors, compared to more than 40 million in each of the six previous years.

Police departments in Reno and Henderson, meanwhile, reported higher counts of murders and aggravated assaults in 2020 than in the prior year, and North Las Vegas reported a significant decline in aggravated assaults that helped offset the rise in assaults reported in other populous areas of the state.

Crime rates across Nevada also remain significantly lower than in the 1990s.

William Sousa, a criminologist and director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy at UNLV, said that many police departments have gotten better at proactive policing in that time.

“Police have become much better at identifying the problem and understanding the problem and addressing the problem rather than just reacting to incident after incident after incident,” he said.

In the past few years, violent and property crime rates have continued to decline significantly in Clark County. But across the state, year-to-year changes in crime have been more erratic, and 2020 presented a host of new challenges.

(Editor's note: Continue reading after the graphs.)

Crime in 2021

Through the first eight months of 2021, violent crime rates have continued their yearslong downturn stretching back to 2015 — largely reversing upticks reported in select jurisdictions last year — but Southern Nevada continues to face a prolonged murder spike.

From January through July of this year, Metro reported 76 murders, compared to 49 during the same period last year. Through August, the Henderson Police Department reported as many murders as it did through the entirety of 2020. And through July, the North Las Vegas Police Department reported three more murders than in the same timeframe last year.

The escalating murder rate has brought with it a slew of child and adolescent victims in Southern Nevada.

Through Sept. 17, Metro reported in its weekly “murder stat sheet” that the department has seen 14 murder victims under the age of 20 this year, compared to eight during the same time frame last year. The rising number of youth homicides comes amid a surge in child and teenage gunshot victims across the U.S. over the past 18 months.

The rise in murders has also spawned political attacks on Lombardo. 

Last month, Nevada Democratic Victory spokesperson Mallory Payne accused Lombardo of neglecting his duties as sheriff — saying in a statement that residents of Las Vegas were seeing climbing homicide rates and “paying the price,” while Lombardo focuses on his gubernatorial campaign.

Though he did not directly attack Lombardo, Heller has also been critical of law enforcement policies in Las Vegas. In October 2019, Metro suspended a partnership it had with federal immigration enforcement officials following a court decision and questions about whether the collaboration leads to unconstitutional, warrantless arrests.

“This is what happens when Las Vegas becomes a sanctuary city. This is what happens when you kick ICE out of Metro down in Las Vegas. This is what happens when you do catch and release. Violent crime escalates, and it is through the roof right now,” Heller said during a radio interview in September.

In a statement released in October 2019 after Metro’s partnership with immigration enforcement officials was suspended, the agency indicated it would “continue to work with ICE at the Clark County Detention Center in removing persons without legal status who have committed violent crimes.”

Despite increasing murder rates, other violent crimes are declining across the state this year.

Through July, aggravated assaults in Metro’s jurisdiction are on par with lower numbers reported in 2017 and 2019, compared to recent highs in 2018 and 2020. And the department is on track to see significantly less violent crime overall than in any of the previous seven years — historical data on Nevada Crime Online begins with the year 2014.

The Reno Police Department has similarly reported declines in aggravated assaults and violent crimes, and the North Las Vegas Police Department is on track to see a decline in violent crime offenses for the fourth straight year.

However, Lombardo has said that overall crime is rising in the Las Vegas Valley because of an increase in property crimes.

“So what is driving those numbers … is the property crimes, and it's opening up the community, it's a comparison to last year when basically we were shut down as a society,” he said at a Hispanics in Politics event in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Though Southern Nevada has seen more property crimes through the first eight months of 2021 than during the same time last year, Metro is on track to see significantly fewer property crimes this year than in the years preceding 2020.

While some of the challenges police departments and citizens faced in 2020 have lessened — including restrictions on public activity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and mass protests against police violence — other factors affecting crime rates and behaviors have also changed in 2021. Tourists have returned en masse, the state still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and people are facing the long-term physical and mental health effects of the pandemic.

Understanding crime statistics

At its core, crime is a complex action — there are myriad factors that affect and differentiate each offense. As Lopez noted, those factors are difficult to separate. Because of that, claims that blame a single policy or an individual politician for changes in crime are typically incomplete and misplaced.

Population density and urbanization can affect crime rates — Clark County is home to nearly 73 percent of the state’s population, but in 2020, roughly 77 percent of violent crimes and property crimes in Nevada occurred in the county.

Policing is also an important factor. And amid the recent spike in homicides, some researchers have pointed to changes in policing as one possible cause for the increase.

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

At the same time, police departments across the country faced changes to their operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic and dealt with calls from progressive Democrats to reduce police budgets and roll back “tough on crime” policies that have disproportionately harmed the poor and people of color. Some candidates have openly opposed those calls, though. In a video announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate, Republican former Attorney General Adam Laxalt speaks over footage of violent protests from last summer and says that the “radical left” and other groups are taking over the country.

Lopez noted the impact that the turmoil seen in the past 18 months can have on officers.

“When we think of policing, we should also think of police officers who are employees … If employees [are] told that you are bad at your job, you are the cause of social problems, that you go around killing people for no reason, that makes you not want to do your job,” Lopez said. “So that has negative impacts when it comes to more proactive policing.”

This guide may also be limited in parts by the availability of data. For example, Nevada Crime Online does not have data on violent crime in Henderson Police Department’s jurisdiction for February 2017, and statistics may change as police departments report data from earlier years.

Over the next year, candidates will likely continue to boil complex crime statistics down to simplified political attacks that may place blame on a single person or policy. But as Sousa notes, the context of the past year and a half and how crime rates change moving forward are especially important to keep in mind and understand when discussing crime during the pandemic.

“I think that what we may find is that a lot of the data that occurred over the last year … we have to look at that in context of what's going on, you know, around the country and around the world,” Sousa said. “Now, whether in the next two or three years, the numbers return to where they were prior, that remains to be seen. But I think it also depends a little bit on how criminal justice agencies react to the numbers that are happening.”

Independent Poll: Non-major party voters place Sisolak behind Lombardo, neck-and-neck with Heller

As the number of people registered with non-major parties outpaces those registering as either a Democrat or Republican, a new poll released Sunday by The Nevada Independent indicates the leanings of independent voters who will play a major role in determining the outcomes of tight gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

Non-major party voters who were polled leaned slightly more Republican than Democrat, with 41.5 percent indicating they would be more likely to vote GOP in the November 2022 election compared with 38.1 percent more likely to vote for a Democrat.

In match-ups between Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the two GOP gubernatorial frontrunners —  former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo — non-major party voters placed the governor even with Heller (42.3 percent to 42.1 percent) and about 5 points behind Lombardo (39.6 percent to 44.7 percent). 

Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto held less than a 3-point lead among non-major party voters over former attorney general and likely GOP candidate Adam Laxalt (41.7 percent to 39.2 percent), a result that fell within the poll’s margin of error.

Many non-major party registrants are actually closet partisans, pollster Mark Mellman said Sunday during a panel discussion at IndyFest, The Nevada Independent’s annual conference covering policy and politics. 

“There's a small number who really are on both sides — swing voters who could really go either way,” Mellman said. “There's some number of people who are really just ill-informed, disengaged, disenchanted, don't like either party … but the overwhelming majority of these nonpartisan registrants are actually just partisans who don't want to take a party label.”

The poll, one of three conducted by The Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, sampled 400 likely voters not registered with a major party — 77 percent were registered as nonpartisan and 23 percent were registered with a non-major political party — and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Polling took place between Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 over landline or cellphone calls and text messages. 

Despite a slight preference for Republican candidates, 60 percent of non-major party voters surveyed indicated that they supported keeping the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade in place and preserving the right to an abortion, compared with 25 percent who said they supported overturning it. The split aligns with the results of the statewide poll, in which 60.4 percent of respondents said they supported the ruling and 25.7 percent wanted to overturn it.

Abortion issues are likely to be a central issue in 2022 races, amid a push from GOP-led states to impose increasingly strict limitations on abortions. Heller promised to “get the most conservative abortion laws that we can have in this state” during his campaign announcement.

And although Republican candidates have made questioning the validity of the 2020 election a main talking point — despite the secretary of state office’s determination that there was no evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in Nevada’s 2020 election — only 31 percent of the non-major party survey respondents indicated that they believe Biden won through fraud, compared with 69 percent who believe Biden won Nevada fairly. The results of the statewide poll found similar results, as 35 percent of likely voters said they believe Biden won because of fraud.

In line with the results of the statewide poll, 63.9 percent of non-major party respondents viewed the governor’s handling of the pandemic as negative, compared with 31.5 percent who said it was positive.

Though Republican candidates have pushed against mask and vaccine mandates, more than half of respondents indicated that they favored indoor masking (58.8 percent) compared with a little more than a third (38.3 percent) who said they opposed it. When it came to the question of vaccine mandates, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they supported the policy, compared with 44.1 percent opposed. 

The statewide poll results indicated similar trends: 60.1 percent of statewide respondents supported indoor masking, whereas 36.1 percent opposed it. As for workplace vaccination requirements, 49.6 percent of statewide respondents said they were in favor, but 44.5 percent were against them. 

Mellman warned that Republicans face a strategic calamity when navigating the primary and then the election.

“It's hard to win a primary without being the Trump candidate. It's hard to win a general election while being the Trump candidate,” Mellman said. “We're seeing that play out in the Virginia governor's race right now. We'll see it play out I think in Nevada as well.”

Sisolak leads governor’s race among female, Hispanic and young voters

Pitted head-to-head against Heller and Lombardo, Sisolak held strong advantages among female, Hispanic and young non-major party voters — groups that tend to lean Democratic.

Among women, Sisolak carried an 18-point lead over Heller (49.9 percent to 31.9 percent), but that lead narrowed to less than 8 points against Lombardo (44.8 percent to 37.3 percent). Heller and Lombardo both led Sisolak by about 17 points among male non-major party voters.

Of those surveyed who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent, Sisolak led Heller and Lombardo by more than 30 points each. And within the group of non-major party likely voters aged 18 to 39, Sisolak led each of his potential opponents by roughly 17 points. Those differences mirror the results of the statewide poll that saw Sisolak leading his potential opponents by similar margins among likely voters in those three demographic groups.

Sisolak holds advantage in Clark County

Compared to Heller, Lombardo performed significantly better against Sisolak among non-major party respondents in Clark County (Lombardo won two elections for the nonpartisan position of sheriff in 2014 and 2018). Among respondents in that group, Lombardo trailed Sisolak by 2 points (41 percent to 43.5 percent), whereas Heller fell nearly 9 points behind Sisolak (37.9 percent to 46.6 percent).

Outside of Clark County, Heller and Lombardo carried strong leads with non-major party voters over Sisolak. Among respondents living in the rest of the state, Heller led Sisolak by 22 points (53.2 percent to 30.9 percent) and Lombardo led Sisolak by 25 points (54.5 percent to 29.2 percent).

But respondents outside of Southern Nevada gave Heller significantly higher favorability ratings than Lombardo. Among non-major party votes outside of Clark County, 38.6 percent rated Heller favorably, compared with 25.8 percent who rated him unfavorably. Roughly 22 percent of those surveyed in that group rated Lombardo favorably, and the same number of people rated him unfavorably. In comparison to Heller, more than twice as many respondents outside of Clark County had never heard of Lombardo.

Unlike the statewide poll, results of the non-major party voters poll did not distinguish between Washoe County respondents and respondents living in the other 15 mostly rural counties.

Against Sisolak, Lombardo also fared significantly better than Heller with non-major party respondents who self-identified as moderates. Among respondents in that group, Sisolak led Heller by nearly 8 points (43.4 percent to 35.5 percent) but was nearly even with Lombardo (37.6 percent to 37.2 percent).

Though a separate poll of statewide voters of all party registrations was more favorable to the Democratic candidates, Mellman said the negative perception of Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm matchups reflects the slight Republican leaning of non-major party voters in Nevada and the pandemic’s negative effects on the economy.

“When people are not pleased with the way things are going, they tend to take it out on the party in power, the incumbents and the incumbent party in the White House,” Mellman said. “And that’s why this environment is difficult for Democrats.”

Cortez Masto’s slim lead over Laxalt reinforced by support from moderates

Cortez Masto’s almost 3-point lead among non-major party voters was buoyed primarily by those who identified as moderate, as she led Laxalt by nearly 15 points among voters in that group (42.5 percent to 27.9 percent). However, more than 24 percent of people in that group were undecided. 

The statewide polling of likely voters saw Cortez Masto hold a slightly larger, approximately 4-point lead over Laxalt (45.5 percent to 41.2 percent).

Similar to Sisolak, Cortez Masto carried advantages with non-major party demographic groups that tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Among women, she led Laxalt by more than 17 points (49.2 percent to 31.8 percent). Among Hispanic respondents, she led Laxalt by 32 points (58.6 percent to 26.2 percent), and among respondents aged 18 to 39, she led Laxalt by nearly 16 points (48.7 percent to 33.1 percent) — a trend that held true in the statewide polling. 

Cortez Masto also led Laxalt among Clark County respondents (45 percent to 35.2 percent), but Laxalt held a 17-point advantage over Cortez Masto among respondents living in the rest of the state (50 percent to 33.1 percent).

But Laxalt polled significantly better among white men in both the statewide and non-major party polls, carrying a 24-point lead over Cortez Masto in the statewide results (56.2 percent to 32 percent) and about an 11-point lead among male non-major party voters (46.3 percent to 34.6 percent). 

Laxalt also carried an advantage over Cortez Masto among non-major party voters aged 60 and older, as 47.3 percent of respondents in that group expressed support for Laxalt, compared with 39.4 percent for Cortez Masto. However, the results of the statewide poll found likely voters aged 60 and older were split evenly in their support of the two candidates (46.3 percent for Cortez Masto to 46 percent for Laxalt).

Both candidates were rated more favorably than unfavorably by respondents — 37.7 percent rated Cortez Masto favorably, compared with 34.5 percent who had an unfavorable impression of her. Impressions of Laxalt were slightly closer (27.5 percent favorable to 25.3 percent unfavorable). But Cortez Masto may have benefited from name recognition. Less than 6 percent of respondents said they had never heard of her, compared with nearly 17 percent who said they had never heard of Laxalt, the former state attorney general.

In the statewide poll, 42 percent of likely voters had a favorable opinion of Cortez Masto, compared with 37 percent who expressed an unfavorable view. Only 28 percent of statewide respondents expressed a favorable opinion of Laxalt, whereas 31 percent held an unfavorable view of the former attorney general.

On racism, policing, economic equality and immigration

Leading Republican candidates, including Lombardo and Heller, have centered their campaigns around providing support for law enforcement and portrayed themselves as defenses against progressive calls to “defund the police” and divert more funding from law enforcement to other causes, such as social services, education and mental health providers.

The poll found that a majority of respondents (62.9 percent) still favor ensuring that “police have the tools and support they need to deter crime and catch criminals.” Only 32.2 percent of respondents said they favored fundamental reforms of policing and the criminal justice system — splits that align with the results of the statewide poll.

As for immigration, 40.2 percent of non-major party respondents said that they believe newcomers to the country threaten American traditions compared with 45.6 percent who said they believe that newcomers strengthen American society. Those percentages differ slightly from the results of the statewide poll that saw 37.2 percent of likely voters statewide say they believe newcomers to the country threaten American traditions.

Lombardo has positioned himself as having a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigration, while Heller has historically had a more fluid position on immigration.

As some GOP-led states have pushed to ban teachings of “critical race theory” — an exploration of how racism is embedded in law and how social institutions in the U.S. perpetuate policies that harm people of color — Lombardo and Heller have both taken stances opposing the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

A majority of non-major party respondents (54.7 percent) agreed with the statement that the country is not systemically racist and that “people of color in America may experience racism as a result of the views of some individuals.” Conversely, 43.4 percent of respondents expressed the belief that people of color in America do experience systemic racism that is built into the country’s society and policies. Those splits are roughly the same as the results from the statewide poll.

“Democrats [are] very different from both independents and Republicans on this,” Mellman said about the question. ”Independents very much in the middle, but those independents [are] evenly divided by the slight tilt toward saying there is systemic racism. It's the Republicans who are overwhelmingly saying there's no such thing.”

Though the view that American society is not systemically racist was most commonly shared by white non-major party respondents, especially white men and those older than 50, about 44 percent of those surveyed who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent agreed with that view. A majority of women (52 percent) and non-major party voters aged 18 to 39 (50.4 percent) said they believe people of color experience systemic racism.

NON-MAJOR PARTY POLL RESULTS

NON-MAJOR PARTY POLL CROSSTABS

MELLMAN GROUP FINDINGS

Independent Poll: Sisolak, Cortez Masto hold slim leads over likely GOP opponents

With just over a year to go before the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats at the top of the ticket hold narrow leads over their likely GOP opponents, according to a new poll released Sunday by The Nevada Independent.

Gov. Steve Sisolak holds leads well within the margin of error over the two likely GOP frontrunners — leading former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller by 2 points (45.8 percent to 43.3 percent) and in an effective tie with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (44.9 percent to 44.4 percent). A majority of poll respondents rated Sisolak’s overall job performance and response to the COVID-19 pandemic negatively or as “only fair.” 

Despite maintaining a more favorable rating compared to Sisolak, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto only carries a 4 point lead (45.5 percent to 41.2 percent) over her likely Republican opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, among likely voters polled.

The results are a worrisome sign for Nevada Democrats — who have won the vast majority of top-line races in the state since the 2016 election cycle — while also reinforcing Nevada’s status as a true swing state.

During a discussion on the poll held Sunday, pollster Mark Mellman described the effects of COVID-19 as contributing to a hostile election environment for incumbents. But he said that could change depending on what direction COVID and the economy take in the coming year and what policies are passed in the nation’s capital.

“Each race has its own individual dynamics, individual candidates, individual faux paus people make,” Mellman said. “But what we see so far, as we said at the outset, are a set of what are likely to be very close, very competitive, very tough races.”

The poll, conducted by The Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, sampled 600 likely Nevada voters between Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 over landline, cellphone and text — with 30 percent of respondents registered as Republican, 35 percent registered as Democrat and 35 percent registered as nonpartisan or with another party, percentages closely mirroring the state’s party voter registration. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.

Along with the statewide likely voters poll, The Mellman Group also conducted two additional polls with one focused on likely Republican voters and the other on non-major party voters. For the first time in state history, non-major party voters make up a plurality of registered voters, creating a new political landscape ahead of the 2022 election. 

The non-major party poll had a sample size of 400 likely voters within the same timeframe and using the same methodology. Results from that poll have non-major party voters placing Sisolak even with Heller (42.3 percent to 42.1 percent) but 5 points behind Lombardo (39.6 percent to 44.7 percent). Among non-major party voters, Cortez Masto held a 3.5 percentage point lead over Laxalt (41.7 percent to 39.2 percent), with 14.1 percent of non-major party voters still undecided. That poll had a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Polling of 400 likely voters registered as Republicans saw Heller leading the race for the GOP nomination for governor, as more than 31 percent of respondents expressed support for the former senator. Lombardo followed Heller with 23.2 percent, but a larger group of respondents (27.2 percent) indicated they were still undecided about who they would be voting for in the June 2022 primary.

The statewide poll of all likely voters also found that 60.4 percent of respondents support keeping abortions legal and a similar percentage (60.1 percent) support mask guidance given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — two issues Republican candidates are pushing against.

Cortez Masto leads Senate race, margin still narrow

With the 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate and Republicans expecting to see electoral gains during President Joe Biden’s first midterm election, national Republicans are looking to Cortez Masto’s seat (won narrowly over former Republican Rep. Joe Heck in the 2016 election) as a promising pickup opportunity.

But Laxalt starts the race behind by a slim, but not overwhelming margin — 45.5 percent of those surveyed said they would support Cortez Masto, while another 41.2 percent expressed support for Laxalt.

Both candidates saw about 28 percent of respondents express “strong” support for either candidate, and more than 10 percent of likely voters polled said they were undecided between the two candidates.

Cortez Masto, who is the only Latina to serve in the Senate, received significantly more support from women and Hispanic likely voters polled. Roughly half of all women surveyed expressed support for Cortez Masto, compared with 36 percent for Laxalt, and 61 percent of likely voters who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent expressed support for Cortez Masto, compared with 27 percent for Laxalt.

But Laxalt polled significantly better among white men, holding a roughly 24 point lead over Cortez Masto among those likely voters (56.2 percent to 32 percent). However, Cortez Masto carried a slight advantage with likely voters who identified as white and received a four-year college degree or higher (45.3 percent to 44 percent).

The results of the poll also saw likely voters in rural parts of Nevada swing heavily towards Laxalt (61 percent to 30 percent). In Washoe County, the results were split evenly, with each candidate receiving support from 45 percent of respondents, and in Clark County, Cortez Masto led Laxalt by more than 11 points (48.2 percent to 36.7 percent).

Support for Laxalt was also significantly higher among respondents who believe the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent. Laxalt — who chaired former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada and promoted unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the state’s election integrity — won support from 85 percent of respondents who indicated they believed President Joe Biden won the 2020 election in Nevada because of fraud.

Cortez Masto also starts the race with higher favorability ratings compared with Laxalt.

Only 28 percent of respondents expressed a favorable view of Laxalt, compared with 31 percent who expressed an unfavorable view. More than a quarter of those surveyed said they did not know enough about the former Republican state attorney general to have an impression.

Conversely, the poll found 42 percent of likely voters had a favorable opinion of Cortez Masto, while 37 percent carried an unfavorable impression of the senator — one of only three candidates polled with a positive favorability rating. More than 17 percent of respondents said they did not know enough about her to provide an impression, and 4 percent of those surveyed said they had never heard of her.

But support for Cortez Masto lessened when it came to her job performance — 34 percent of respondents rated her performance as excellent or good, and 32 percent said she was doing a poor job. Among those who rated her performance as poor, 85 percent said they vote for Republican candidates for public office “often” or “almost always.”

There’s an advantage to being a legislator over being a member of the executive branch as a governor or president, Mellman said, noting that Cortez Masto’s position leads to more room for expression of opinions which can appeal better to voters than a policy put in place by a government official such as Sisolak or Biden.

Other Senate candidates who have declared for the election — including Democratic-Socialist Allen Rheinhart, Republican military veteran Sam Brown and Republican pageant winner and business owner Sharelle Mendenhall — were not included in the polling because Laxalt is an overwhelming favorite in the primary at this point.

Poll shows Sisolak even with Lombardo, slightly ahead of Heller

Pitted head-to-head against the Republican gubernatorial candidates leading the GOP pack, Sisolak’s lead was slim to nonexistent among likely voters polled.

Less than three percentage points separated Sisolak and Heller (45.8 percent to 43.3 percent), the former U.S. senator and secretary of state who announced his gubernatorial bid last month. Seven percent of respondents were undecided.

The difference shrank to half a point between Sisolak and Lombardo — the Clark County sheriff first elected in 2014 who announced his gubernatorial run this summer — with 44.9 percent of those polled supporting Sisolak to 44.4 percent supporting Lombardo, bringing the two candidates neck-and-neck.

Regardless of opponent, Sisolak received support from a majority of respondents (63 percent) who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent — slightly less than the support he received from those voters according to an exit poll from the 2018 election. Sisolak also polled better among women, receiving support from more than half of female respondents in each head-to-head question. 

Sisolak also drew more support from younger voters and Clark County residents — demographic groups that tend to vote more Democratic. Among likely voters aged 18 to 39, Sisolak led both Republican candidates by nearly 15 points. Among likely voters living in Clark County, Sisolak led Heller by 10 points (49.5 percent to 39.5 percent) and Lombardo by nearly 7 points (48 percent to 41.3 percent). 

In Washoe County — long considered the state’s bellwether county — Heller and Lombardo each saw sizable leads over Sisolak, who won the county over Laxalt in 2018. Heller led Sisolak by roughly 8 points (49.1 percent to 40.7 percent) and Lombardo led Sisolak by 6 points (48.6 percent to 42.3 percent) among Washoe County respondents. The two Republican candidates also carried significant leads in reliably Republican rural Nevada, as respondents in the rest of the state favored Heller and Lombardo over Sisolak by roughly 16 points each.

Though many Republican gubernatorial candidates are centering their campaign message around Sisolak’s handling of the pandemic and have been critical of masks and vaccine requirements, the poll found that 60.1 percent of respondents support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guidance, compared with 36.1 percent who say they oppose it. The margins were much closer surrounding workplace vaccination requirements: 49.6 percent of respondents said they favor vaccination requirements for work compared with 44.5 percent opposed — a 5.1 point difference.

Despite the support for those policies, roughly 59 percent of respondents said they thought Sisolak has done a “poor” job or an “only fair” job at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 38 percent of respondents who rated Sisolak’s pandemic response as “good” or “excellent.” Those percentages were roughly the same when likely voters were asked for their opinions on Sisolak’s overall job performance as a public official.

Mellman linked the disconnect between support of mask-wearing and vaccine mandates and Sisolak’s negative ratings for job performance to the continuing nature of the pandemic.

“People like the governor's policies, they like the president's policies in dealing with this pandemic,” Mellman said. “They don't like the outcome that we're seeing. They don't like the fact that they still have to wear masks. They don't like the fact that we're still having huge numbers of cases and significant numbers of deaths.”

Abortion, Trump, Biden and policing

Polling on political and social issues underscores Nevada’s position as a swing state.

Amid a push from GOP-led states to impose increasingly strict limitations on abortions, the poll found a solid majority of Nevada respondents (60.4 percent) still favor the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal in the U.S., compared with 25.7 percent of respondents who believe the ruling should be overturned.

In 1990, more than 60 percent of Nevada voters supported a ballot measure codifying the Roe v. Wade decision into state law. During a question and answer period with reporters following his campaign announcement, Heller said, “I like what Texas did,” referring to a recently implemented law in Texas that prohibits abortion after six weeks of gestation. But Nevada’s law could only be changed through another statewide vote. 

The poll also found that a majority of respondents (60.3 percent) still favor making sure “police have the tools and support they need to deter crime and catch criminals.” Conversely, 35 percent of respondents favored fundamental reforms of policing and the criminal justice system.

Top Republican candidates including Lombardo and Heller have stood in opposition to calls to defund police departments — primarily voiced by progressive Democrats — as central tenets of their campaigns.

Neither of the 2020 presidential candidates saw high favorability ratings in the poll. Biden received near-even results (48.1 percent favorable to 48.9 percent unfavorable), while Trump received a higher percentage of unfavorable reviews (52.3 percent unfavorable to 43.9 percent favorable) than any other individual polled.

A majority of respondents also expressed displeasure with how the country has changed in the past 70 years — nearly 52 percent of those surveyed said the American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s, and more than 61 percent of respondents said things in the country are generally moving in the wrong direction. That view was most commonly expressed by men aged 40 to 59 and respondents living outside of Clark County and Washoe County.

Though not on the ballot until 2024, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen was one of few elected or political leaders surveyed who was rated more favorably (33.5 percent) than unfavorably (30.9 percent). But impressions of Rosen soured when it came to her performance as a senator — roughly 43 percent of respondents said she was doing a “poor” or “only fair” job as a public official, and only 28 percent rated her performance as “good” or “excellent.”

STATEWIDE POLL RESULTS

STATEWIDE POLL CROSSTABS

MELLMAN GROUP POLL FINDINGS

Nevada to pursue separate opioid litigation against major drug companies; new statewide distribution plan adopted

Nevada will not sign on to a proposed $26 billion multistate settlement with the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson — businesses accused of fueling the nation's opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of Nevadans — in hopes of getting a better deal.

Attorney General Aaron Ford told The Nevada Independent on Monday that the state would have received roughly $240 million from the settlements — an amount he called “woefully insufficient” — and that the state will instead pursue separate negotiations with the companies “to ensure that the people in this state are adequately recompensed for the damages that opioids have caused in our communities.”

Ford would not identify how much the state is seeking through those separate negotiations but took issue with the allocation model used in the settlements.

“It's something that we believe we have to stand firm on because those who’ve been involved in the opioid scenario here have done damage in our state, and we think they need to pay,” Ford said.

As litigation continues, the opioid epidemic continues to affect communities across Nevada. During a 24-hour period on Aug. 12, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reported five suspected fentanyl-related overdose deaths had occurred in Clark County. And the Southern Nevada Health District reported that from January to May, there were 92 fentanyl-related overdose deaths among Clark County residents, a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2020.

The state previously secured a higher share of funds through individual litigation in a lawsuit against consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which provided services for opioid manufacturers. In March, the state agreed to a $45 million settlement agreement with the company, after Ford said that a multistate settlement would have yielded $7 million for Nevada.

Pursuing separate litigation does not guarantee Nevada more money. Rather, the state’s decision to not sign the settlement agreement gives Nevada the chance to litigate for a larger share of funds. The decision also means a potential payday could be months or years away, while other states could receive funds through the proposed settlements more quickly.

“We're willing to go fight for Nevadans, if that means going all the way to trial and not attempting any settlement at all, and that is something that I think all defendants in our litigation know,” Ford said.

On Monday, Reuters reported that five other states have decided they will not join the settlements, while another (New Hampshire) decided it would not join the settlement with Johnson & Johnson but would join the settlement with the three drug distributors (McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen). 

The decision comes alongside news that 29 local governments across Nevada have signed an agreement with the state that will determine how opioid litigation proceeds will be distributed in the coming years. The agreement is effective on Aug. 9.

Mark Krueger, chief deputy attorney general for the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, told The Nevada Independent on Monday that the agreement helps unify communities across the state.

“Every single county and every single litigating city in this state, who has active litigation against any opioids defendant, has gotten together through this agreement to say, ‘we know how we're going to allocate the money fairly and equitably in the entire state among ourselves,’” Krueger said.

Past litigation strategies by the state and local governments were more disjointed — in 2017, then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt said an effort by Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve to involve the city in a separate lawsuit targeting opioid manufacturers could unintentionally undermine a separate multistate investigation and lawsuit.

Speaking to the benefits of the agreement, Krueger also pointed to the structure of the proposed settlements with Johnson & Johnson and the three drug distributors. The dollar amounts from any settlements can be maximized within states by having a large number of cities and counties signed on, he said.

Under the agreement — which was first announced as a proposal by the attorney general’s office in early July — any funds won through litigation against the 61 opioid manufacturers and distributors listed as defendants, including Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, will first be used to pay certain litigation costs. A 22.5 percent fee for the federal share of Medicaid claims payments will then be deducted from the remaining amount.

In 2019, the state agreed to a contract with Ford’s former law firm, Eglet Prince (now Eglet Adams), that could yield the firm up to $350 million, if the state recovers damages of more than $1.5 billion through its opioid litigation.

Of the remaining funds, 44 percent will be allocated to the state, 39 percent will be distributed among local governments involved in the litigation and the remaining 17 percent will be distributed across all counties for Nevada Medicaid Match — the state’s share of Medicaid claims payments.

Krueger said that the allocations for Nevada Medicaid Match are another way for funds to be “fairly and equitably apportioned” to the counties.

During an April hearing of SB390, which created a state fund to house opioid settlement funds, Ford said he expected the opioid litigation to bring billions of dollars to the state in the coming years. The most populous parties involved in the litigation — the state, Clark County, Washoe County and large cities in Southern Nevada — could receive tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars to help abate the opioid epidemic, while the smallest entities — including the city of Ely and North Lyon Fire Protection District — could receive tens of thousands of dollars.

The agreement requires any spending to adhere to the requirements of SB390, which allows for funds to be spent on a wide set of opioid remediation strategies and public health programs. Those projects vary significantly from expanding access to proven prevention services that are meant to stop adolescent drug use to housing people in recovery to preventing adverse childhood experiences. 

Pursuant to that bill, the state also is seeking members for an advisory committee that will help develop a statewide plan for allocating settlement funds.

“There’s different needs in different areas of the state. Rural needs are different than urban needs. Urban needs in the north might be different than urban needs in the south, it just depends,” Krueger said. “So those programs that are going to come out of the recommendations by SB390 are going to work together with the state and the counties.”

Krueger explained that the agreement also helps smaller local governments because it applies to the ongoing Purdue Pharma bankruptcy. The bankruptcy, which is in the midst of a federal trial in New York, was set up to allocate funds only to the state and its largest local governments, Krueger said. But the agreement can help smaller governments, such as the city of Ely, receive funds from the company’s bankruptcy plan.

The agreement also includes a reporting requirement that is meant to ensure funds won through litigation are spent with accountability. Prior to July 1 of each year, local entities involved in the agreement must provide information to the state “about how they intend to expend, and how they did expend, their allocated shares” of any opioid recoveries.

Nevada is not the only state to finalize an agreement for sharing opioid recoveries among local governments. On Monday, Arizona’s attorney general announced that all of the state’s 15 counties and 90 of its cities and towns have signed an agreement that will send 56 percent of settlement funds to local governments and 44 percent of settlement funds to the state.

Ford said on Monday that he hopes to bring in as much money as possible through the opioid litigation to help as many people as possible.

“The point is we want it to go as far as possible, as long as possible, to help as many people as possible because we've been one of the worst-hit states for opioids,” he said. “And we're going to see the ramifications of the opioid epidemic here for years to come.”

Read the full agreement here:

One Nevada Agreement on All... by Sean Golonka

Cortez Masto banks $2.8 million in second quarter fundraising as 2022 money race ramps up

Ahead of her first bid for re-election in a cycle that could once again determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised nearly $2.8 million in the second quarter, lifting her cash on hand to nearly $6.6 million, according to her campaign. 

This quarter’s fundraising numbers come as national Democrats seek to shore up their campaign bank accounts across more than a half-dozen states, including Nevada, that could tip the razor-thin majority in the Senate back toward Republicans. 

Cortez Masto’s total numbers fall short of the massive sums raked in by the party’s top fundraisers this quarter, including Arizona incumbent Mark Kelly, who raised almost $6 million, and Florida challenger Val Demings, who raised more than $4.6 million. 

But her quarterly fundraising exceeds that of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman ($2.5 million) and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan ($2.28 million) — both mounting bids for open Senate seats — and her cash on hand figures nearly equal those of Kelly (who announced more than $7 million cash on hand last week). 

“Our campaign is making sure she has the resources she needs to be re-elected,” Tyler Langdon, Cortez Masto’s finance director, said in a statement. “With a massive cash on hand advantage over any potential opponent, Senator Cortez Masto will be able to reach all Nevadans, win in 2022, and continue her work on behalf of communities in every corner of the Silver State."

Cortez Masto won her Senate seat in 2016, besting then-Congressman Joe Heck in a contest for an open seat created by Sen. Harry Reid’s retirement. 

The campaign to keep that seat is expected to be competitive, especially as national Republicans seek to target swing-state Democrats in a chaotic midterm environment. Cortez Masto won her 2016 race by just 2.4 percentage points, and President Joe Biden — the last Democrat to win a statewide contest in Nevada — also won the state in 2020 by only 2.4 points. 

Nevada Democrats hold an edge in voter registration statistics — 35.3 percent to the Republicans’ 30.8 percent — and that edge could grow as the voter rolls swell because of the state’s relatively new motor-voter law

It is the 33.9 percent of active Nevada voters not registered with either major party, though, including more than 472,000 registered non-partisans, who may determine a victor come November of next year. 

There is as-yet no declared Republican challenger to Cortez Masto, despite signals from former Attorney General and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt that he may enter the race. 

A mainstay in state-level Republican electoral politics from 2014 to 2018, Laxalt was among a handful of Trump operatives and supporters claiming — without evidence — that voter fraud had cast doubt on 2020 election results in Clark County. 

Neither Laxalt nor his former campaign manager and consultant, Robert Uithoven, responded to a request for comment on a possible run. 

One other Republican, Sharelle Mendenhall, is expected to launch a bid later this week. 

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham looking to attend Laxalt Basque Fry as former AG eyes Senate race

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Wednesday he hopes to attend former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s Basque Fry in August as Senate Republicans hope to win back the majority in the midterm elections by focusing on conservative issues that they argue resonate with Latinos in Nevada and other swing states.

“I’m looking at that,” Graham said. “I don’t know if I can make it. Adam’s a good guy and would be a good candidate for us out there.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, would not rule out attending.

So far, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is the only confirmed Republican senator set to attend. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he was invited but can’t make it due to his schedule. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he has no plans to attend. Both have attended in the past. 

Laxalt, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, is considering running against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), who is seeking re-election after her first term in office. 

Scott confirmed that he had spoken with Laxalt, former Sen. Dean Heller and other potential candidates that he would not name. Heller now appears to be laying the groundwork to run for governor.  

“I've talked to quite a few people in Nevada,” Scott said. “Ultimately, it's a personal decision whether people want to run or not.”

President Joe Biden won Nevada by just two percentage points and the NRSC is eyeing Cortez Masto’s seat as it looks to pick up the one seat Republicans need to break the Senate’s 50-50 party split. For the moment, Democrats control the chamber through Vice President Kamala Harris, who can break tie votes. 

On Thursday, the NRSC released a poll conducted in Spanish of 1,200 Latino voters in eight swing states, including Nevada, that it believes shows that Latinos are allied with the GOP on issues such as immigration and capitalism. 

While the poll only included 300 Latinos from Nevada, Scott argued that the survey shows that the GOP can connect with Latinos and win them over. That's something Scott prides himself in doing after winning a close Senate race in 2018. Scott beat his Democratic opponent by 10,033 votes.

“If you look at this poll, they're like a typical Republican,” Scott said Wednesday. “They're aspirational. They have a faith in God. They care about freedom. They care about opportunity. They're not into big government. They want the rule of law, and they want good schools. That's a Republican.”

Jazmin Vargas, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said that the poll didn’t reflect the unpopularity of Republicans’ policies with Latinos. She cited Republican opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which was enacted in March and provided $4 billion for Nevada and direct payments of $1,400 for most individuals. 

“A fake poll from the NRSC won’t change Senate Republicans’ record of attacking Latinos’ access to affordable care, their refusal to support DREAMers, and their unanimous vote against a coronavirus relief package that has provided direct economic relief to millions of Latino families and small businesses,” Vargas said, adding that a poll in April showed that 76 percent of Latinos approve of the law.

“Latinos will hold every Senate Republican accountable for their toxic agenda in November next year,” Vargas continued.

Conducted by OnMessage Inc., a Virginia-based Republican political polling and consulting firm, the NRSC poll also had respondents from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The survey found that 63 percent of those polled agreed that “capitalism is the best form of government because it gives people the freedom to work and achieve their potential.”

The question reflects Republicans’ strategy to paint Democrats as too liberal. It also comes after the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party was taken over by a slate of Democratic Socialist candidates in March.

On immigration, 72 percent agreed that the government “should do what is necessary to control our southern border and stop the surge of illegal immigration happening right now.” 

Another 69 percent opposed “allowing illegal immigrants to receive the same welfare and unemployment benefits as citizens.” 

Fifty-eight percent also said they agreed that too many people were living off of government assistance.

Scott, who also served as Florida governor, said he planned to use the poll to show his fellow Republicans what is possible when it comes to talking to Latino voters.

“I did it in my races, so there's no reason we can't do it across the country,” Scott said.

Scott said he did not know if there would be a contentious primary for the GOP nomination in Nevada, but he said that tough primaries can help fortify a candidate for the general election. 

Asked whether he believes former President Donald Trump would play a role, Scott said he hopes he does, adding that Trump remains popular with GOP voters.

“If you look around the country, his agenda is very popular,” Scott said. “So I think he can be helpful.”

Trump’s endorsement could give any contender an edge in the primary, and Laxalt, who won Trump’s backing for his 2018 gubernatorial bid, helped lead an effort in Nevada to spread false claims that improprieties in the state's election led to Trump’s defeat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also eyed Laxalt for the Senate race. 

But with a recent rise in nonpartisan voter registration, a candidate that embraces the idea that the election was stolen could run the risk of turning off independent voters in a general election.

Graham said that Trump and other Republican candidates would be wise to move on from the 2020 election.

“I think there comes a point where you need to pivot forward,” Graham said. “Generally speaking, 2022 is about ‘what are you going to do for me and my family.’”

Graham said Trump is not the first politician to have a hard time letting go of a campaign. 

“He's got some legitimate concerns, but he will be well-served, I think, by looking forward,” Graham said. “Time will tell.”

Major rollback of bill curbing police collaboration with immigration officials; other bills die at deadline

A bill that initially proposed barring much of the collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement has survived a deadline but in a heavily watered down form, illustrating how politically dicey the issue has been even for Democratic lawmakers in session after session.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), was rid of language that draws a bright line between immigration enforcement and local police in the name of rebuilding trust between police and immigrant communities. What remains is a proposed Keep Nevada Working Task Force charged with finding ways to strengthen the immigrant workforce, a call for the attorney general to develop model policies on immigration issues and half a million dollars to support deportation defense through UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

“I think that we've got some really good work out of the amendments that we made on the legislation,” Torres said in a brief interview on Tuesday. Asked if she was disappointed about losing other provisions, she added “I think we're in a good spot.” 

Erika Castro, organizing director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the provisions that have been watered down are the ones she and other immigrant advocates were excited about, adding that their priority now is to maintain what’s left of the bill in the Senate.

“And that Governor Sisolak actually signs it into law,” she added. 

The bill’s transformation was one of the more dramatic ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for bills to pass out of their first house. Four bills died, and more than a dozen  — including AB376 — were re-referred to money committees, where it’s possible a lack of money to implement them could seal their fate.

Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), who is listed as the sponsor of the primary amendment excising the bill’s most controversial provisions, said the proposal to send half a million dollars to the UNLV Immigration Clinic was aimed to “help our helpers who are out there in the trenches.” She said the clinic reported being unable to meet the demand for pro bono legal services for unaccompanied children and others facing deportation.

“If they feel like they're being detained illegally, they feel like they're being harassed, they have a place to go and get help,” she said. “And so ultimately, this was our solution about how we make the system more fair, more just for them.”

As in Washington D.C., where Congress has repeatedly failed to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform and where the issue is sometimes described as a “third rail” too controversial to meaningfully address, immigration policy has been an albatross in at least the last three Democrat-controlled sessions in Carson City.

The decades-long lack of reform, despite which political party is in power, continues to erode trust and hope among immigrants, said Castro. Some Nevada immigrants expressed a sense of optimism when President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, but skepticism remains. 

“We've been waiting for a form of relief at a federal lever level for over 30 years now,” said Castro, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “We really need our elected officials to keep their promises that they made on the campaign trail, now that they're actually in office and have the power to be able to do something.”

In 2017, a bill to bar cooperation between law enforcement and local police died without a hearing after quickly being branded a “sanctuary bill” by Republican leaders. In 2019, lawmakers gutted a bill from Torres calling for reports about how serious the underlying crimes were for people who were arrested and ended up in deportation proceedings; the bill ultimately enacted a provision requiring jail staff to tell inmates why they are asking questions about immigration status.

Castro noted the repeated attempts to address collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the state level and said that although the most recent effort through AB376 has been watered down, it’s significant progress from previous years. 

“This is the furthest that we've gotten with a piece of legislation like this,” she said. “And we're gonna continue to come back until it actually becomes a law, because I think at the end of the day, deportations are not stopping whether we have a Democratic president. So we're going to continue to bring these policies forward because our communities deserve and they need that relief.”

This session, Torres’ bill faced opposition from law enforcement and critics who again argued it would make Nevada a “sanctuary state” and repel tourists.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the committee from which Torres’ bill passed in its original form a few weeks ago before being amended, acknowledged that changes to programs such as 287(g) agreements between local and federal law enforcement are difficult to explain and people are “afraid of that conversation.” In recent years, Republicans such as 2018 gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt have rallied around the criticism that Democrats are trying to implement sanctuary policies, and some Democrats have shied away from responding to those statements.

“I think immigration is such an intimidating topic for anybody. Doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on,” Flores said in an interview. “And it's a very heavy lift. Because politically, it's so easy for it to be turned into something it’s not.”

For now, Castro and other immigrant advocates and organizations are focused on helping raise support to shepherd the bill all the way to Sisolak’s desk and working with state leaders to ensure that a potential fourth attempt to pass legislation such as AB376 doesn’t get stuck in the process. “Our communities have waited enough, especially with the pandemic, knowing that they were left out of any financial resources, any support,” Castro said. “Being in a state where we have the largest population of immigrants per capita, I think that puts us in a place where we really need to be intentional about how we're including and supporting our undocumented communities.”

Bills sent to budget committees

Budget committees in the Assembly and Senate typically serve two roles — reviewing every part of the state’s executive budget, while also holding jurisdiction over any bill that includes direct spending or a potential fiscal impact to the state.

But on deadline days, those committees serve another role — lifeboats for contentious or complex bills that would otherwise sink by deadline day. That said, referrals to budget committees don’t guarantee anything, and can often be the final stop for bills with large fiscal impacts or that draw too much opposition during the session. 

Here’s a look at some of the major bills that were referred to budget committees on Tuesday:

Cannabis

SB235 proposes a single, streamlined dispensary license in place of the current system, in which most dispensaries have both a medical and a recreational license. But a compromise from the bill’s earlier version raised further questions about whether consolidating licenses would reduce revenue. 

Another bill, AB322, allows for permitting events where cannabis can be sold or consumed but could require more staff resources to process additional licenses. Another, AB341, authorizes cannabis consumption lounges, but regulators anticipate it would also require the Cannabis Compliance Board to staff up to meet the higher regulatory and enforcement workload. 

Health care

SB201, sponsored by an interim committee studying prescription drug prices, would require the licensure and regulation of any pharmaceutical sales representatives. An amendment to the bill adopted Tuesday requires that any licensure funds (between $500 and $800 per year) only account for the costs of licensing and regulating the profession, or improving transparency on the price of prescription drugs, and wouldn’t revert to the state’s main budget account.

A fiscal note on the bill submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Public and Behavioral Health Division estimated that it would cost the state around $250,000 every year to implement the bill and regulate the estimated 3,800 pharmaceutical sales representatives active in the state.

Another pharmaceutical drug-related measure expanding the state’s existing drug price reporting database, SB380, was similarly amended and referred to a budget committee on Tuesday. While no dollar amount was listed on a fiscal note attached to the bill by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency wrote that the state’s current drug pricing transparency database “will not meet the requirements” of the bill.

And the bill by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno creating a statewide occupational licensing board for professional midwives (AB387) was similarly yanked to a budget committee after being amended on Tuesday.

The state Department of Public and Behavioral Health estimated that the agency would need around $450,000 every two-year budget cycle to hire staff to implement provisions of the original bill.

Decriminalizing traffic tickets

A bill by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) aimed at decriminalizing traffic tickets — the fifth time in five sessions lawmakers have brought the concept forward — was referred to the Assembly budget committee on Tuesday, after legislators adopted a lengthy amendment.  

Local governments have long argued against the bill, saying that fees and fines from traffic tickets make up a substantial portion of their annual budgets. Clark County, for example, estimated that the measure would lead to a $12.75 million annual reduction in revenue.

Election bills

Though it technically happened late Monday, lawmakers agreed to send two major election-related bills sponsored by Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) to the Assembly budget committee.

AB321, which would make Nevada’s expanded mail voting system in place for the 2020 election a permanent feature, carries a somewhat hefty price tag — the secretary of state’s office estimated that the measure would cost up to $17.3 million to set up for the 2022 election cycle, and $7.7 million in future election cycles.

AB126, which aims to move Nevada up the presidential preference primary calendar, was also tagged with a $5.2 million price tag from the secretary of state’s office.

Bills that actually died:

By the end of the evening, only four bills actually died by Tuesday’s deadline for first house passage, withering on the proverbial vine that is the Secretary’s Desk. Three of the four failed measures (excluding SB314) would have required a two-thirds vote as they increased taxes. They included:

  • SB314, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal that aimed to place more regulations and customer protections around high-volume marketplace sellers — defined as any person who makes or enters into 200 or more transactions through an online marketplace such as Etsy or Amazon.
  • SB170, a bill sponsored by the Legislative Committee on Public Lands that looked to change the registration process for off-highway vehicles. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB405, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have removed caps on funding that the state’s Public Utilities Commission and Office of Consumer Advocate receive from regulated providers of electric and natural gas service (such as NV Energy and Southwest Gas). It instead would have authorized both agencies to set funding levels (calculated in mills based on operating revenue) based on what was needed to fund agency operations. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB407, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have required professional apiaries (beekeepers) pay an annual registration fee and register with the state — while exempting hobbyist beekeepers. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Updated on 4/21/2021 at 5:55 p.m. to add statements from Erika Castro.