Lawmakers approve $700 million in federal aid for schools, unemployment; special session may be needed

Lawmakers began appropriating the state’s share of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) general aid on Wednesday, approving disbursements totaling more than $600 million to pay back unemployment loans, bolster K-12 education funding and upgrade the state’s unemployment system.

They also learned that an additional $1.1 billion of unallocated ARP funds will need to be appropriated by the Legislature in the regular legislative session in 2023 or a special session.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Interim Finance Committee, representatives of the Governor’s Office of Finance told legislators that the state transferred more than $1 billion in ARP funds — roughly 16 percent of the ARP dollars received by Nevada — to the state general fund last week to backfill revenue lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prompted by a question from Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno), budget analyst Tiffany Greenameyer confirmed that any allocations of those funds will have to be approved by the full Legislature and cannot be approved by the interim committee alone, because the money is unappropriated within the state’s general fund.

That means any spending of those $1.1 billion in general fund dollars will need to happen through a special session or in the next regular legislative session in 2023. In June, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent he was “not entirely sure” lawmakers would be able to spend the federal relief dollars without a special session. Lawmakers already expect a special session this fall to complete the redistricting process ahead of the 2022 elections. 

The money from the ARP transfer to the general fund is less restricted than the roughly $900 million to $1 billion remaining in the coffers of the governor’s office. However, the money has restrictions that other general fund dollars do not, including that it cannot be placed into the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund, according to guidance from the U.S. Treasury.

The news came as members of the committee approved the first major spending of the state’s $2.7 billion in ARP general aid, including allocating $66.3 million for job restorations, more than $300 million to repay federal loans tapped to sustain unemployment benefits, $200 million to address learning loss in K-12 schools and $54 million to modernize the state unemployment system. Most of those spending decisions were approved by legislators at the end of the 120-day legislative session, which adjourned in June.

Initial spending of the federal dollars comes after the group accepted the state’s full $2.7 billion share of ARP funds at its last meeting in June. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March actually allocated $6.7 billion to Nevada, but set aside some of those dollars for the state and large municipalities for broader use. 

Other dollars coming to the state have more restrictive purposes, such as a $164,000 allocation for paratransit, which is a public transit service for people who have disabilities, and those dollars are granted to specific agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services.

State leaders, including Treasurer Zach Conine and Gov. Steve Sisolak, are embarking on a listening tour over the next two months to gather input on spending the state’s share of funding. Lawmakers nonetheless allocated roughly a quarter of that money at Wednesday’s meeting.

Members of the committee also approved a nearly $800,000 contract with Las Vegas-based public relations firm Purdue Marion, which is helping gather information and assist with community engagement on the state’s listening tour.

As the state continues to receive ideas for spending federal relief dollars, Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the interim committee, said lawmakers will be closely following the conversations that happen on the tour.

“This committee is going to be very, very interested in keeping an eye on and understanding and participating in that process as we move forward,” Brooks said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, lawmakers also moved to fulfill several spending requirements established by bills passed during the 2021 legislative session.

The committee approved $373 million in spending to address the priorities listed in SB461, including:

  • $335 million to repay loans borrowed from the federal government to sustain the state’s unemployment fund
  • $15.8 million to address the COVID-19 public health emergency, including bolstering mental health and substance abuse treatment services
  • $7.6 million to combat food insecurity
  • $6 million to augment health care services
  • $5 million for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program
  • $4 million for a statewide expansion of the Dean’s Future Scholars Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The bill listed backfilling lost revenue as the first priority for spending general aid dollars from the ARP, a condition that was addressed through last week’s transfer.

The committee also allocated funds to fulfill the provisions of AB495, which called for $200 million in ARP funds for the Department of Education to address learning loss in K-12 schools and $15 million to support charter schools, and AB484, which authorizes the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to use $54 million in federal ARP funds to modernize the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system.

The group of lawmakers also approved a series of other allocations and federal grant applications that total roughly $350 million in ARP funds, including $222 million in ARP Child Care Stabilization grant funds to support families and child care providers and more than $17 million in block grant funds to address the effects of the pandemic on mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Funding for education

Members of the committee approved several allocations of ARP funds for K-12 education totaling nearly $300 million, including $200 million in state general aid dollars for the Department of Education to address learning loss experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in accordance with AB495.

Other approved allocations provide the department with ARP funds directly from the federal government, including $18.6 million to support the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

“These funds are intended to support early intervention and special education services for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families,” Nevada Superintendent Jhone Ebert told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The committee also held extended discussions on an allocation of $8 million in ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to support teacher projects submitted through the DonorsChoose website. DonorsChoose is a nonprofit that allows people to donate directly to classroom projects that are requested by public school teachers.

After multiple members of the committee asked questions about how the department will ensure teachers are aware of the program, Ebert noted some of the ongoing discussions around the program and said that nine Nevada school districts already have staff that support DonorsChoose by helping teachers create their project requests.

“All of [the] 17 superintendents, as well as the State Public Charter School Authority, are well aware of this program,” Ebert said. “We were talking about this project and … getting these funds directly to classroom teachers who have endured so much with this shift. And they know what their students need. They're the ones that are closest to our students.”

The state charter school authority also received a significant boost from Wednesday’s meeting. As part of AB495, the agency was allocated $15 million to address learning loss from the pandemic, a provision that was requested by Republican lawmakers, and the agency will receive an additional $53.5 million to address pandemic-related learning disruptions, through a transfer of ARP funds from the Department of Education.

Funding for child care

As Nevada child care providers deal with staffing shortages and a lack of child care options remains a barrier to economic recovery, lawmakers approved an allocation of $222.4 million in ARP Child Care Stabilization grant funds to provide help to families and care providers in Nevada, by expanding the state’s child care capacity and supporting the industry’s workforce.

“One of the biggest roadblocks to recovery and expansion of our economy is child care,” Brooks said. “I do not see how we make a recovery, unless we really look at child care, and what that does to Nevada working families.”

The majority of the funds (roughly $201 million) will be administered through grants directly given to care providers, such as The Children’s Cabinet, a nonprofit based in Northern Nevada that provides free services to children and youth. Solicitation of applications for those grants will begin within the next couple of months.

“We're utilizing our child care resource and referral partners, The Children's Cabinet and the Urban League, to disseminate the funds directly to eligible child care providers,” Social Services Chief Christell Askew told lawmakers. “As we continue to develop our capacity building projects, our plan is to target underserved populations and childcare deserts.”

The grant funds also include nearly $13 million for workforce recruitment and retention and more than $4 million for family support resources. During the meeting, Brooks noted that the recruitment and retention strategies will involve direct payments to registered child care staff as an incentive for their work.

With the program set to send hundreds of millions out the door to aid the state’s child care providers, Brooks raised questions about ensuring there is accountability and transparency with the program’s spending.

And though discussions about transparency were limited, the funding allocation was passed with a requirement for the welfare division to provide quarterly status reports to the committee on the expenditures of the grant funds.

Analysis: Which legislators had the most (and fewest) bills passed in the 2021 session?

Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature during the 2021 session, and hundreds of high-profile Democratic measures sailed through the Assembly and Senate while a vast majority of Republican-backed measures failed to make much headway in the legislative process.

Out of 605 bills introduced and sponsored by a lawmaker this session, Democratic legislators had 63 percent of their bills and resolutions pass out of the Legislature, compared to just 18 percent for Republicans. Those in the majority party were able to pass priority measures, including bills establishing the “Right to Return,” a public health insurance option and permanent expanded mail voting, while many priorities for Republicans, such as a voter ID law, were killed without so much as a hearing.

Which lawmakers had the most success passing their bills? Which lawmakers were least successful? How did Assembly members fare compared to senators?

The Nevada Independent analyzed all bills and resolutions that were both introduced and primarily sponsored by a lawmaker and examined which of those bills passed out of the Legislature and which ones died. Of those 605 bills, 267 (44 percent) were approved by members of the Assembly and Senate, while the remaining 338 (56 percent) were left in the graveyard of the legislative session.

Those 605 measures make up only a portion of the 1,035 bills and resolutions introduced during the session — others were sponsored by committees, constitutional officers such as the secretary of state or governor, or helped implement the state budget. The 2021 session also saw fewer measures introduced than previous sessions, as the 2019 and 2017 sessions each saw closer to 1,200 bills and resolutions introduced.

State law limits the number of bills that can be introduced by any individual lawmaker — incumbent senators and Assembly members can request 20 and 10 bill draft requests, respectively, while newly-elected legislators are limited to six bills in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate. Legislative leadership for both the majority and minority parties are also allowed to introduce additional bills beyond the normal limits.

The analysis revealed that Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) led their caucuses with the highest rate of bill passage, while Assembly members Jill Tolles (R-Reno) and P.K. O'Neill (R-Carson City) were the only Republicans who had more than half of their bills passed out of the Legislature. Eight Republican legislators ended the session with zero bills passed.

A previous analysis of votes during the 2021 session revealed that most bills passed with bipartisan support, as more than half of all votes included no opposition. But that trend was largely driven by Democrats in the majority passing their priorities while not advancing nearly as many Republican bills, with 175 more Democrat-backed measures passing out of the Legislature than measures introduced by Republicans.

The guide below explores the results of our analysis, examining the successes and failures of both parties and of individual lawmakers this session.

We’ve double-checked our work to make sure we’ve counted every vote and hearing, but if you spot something off or think a bill was missed or improperly noted, feel free to email sgolonka@thenvindy.com.

How did Democrat-sponsored legislation fare? Did any Republican lawmakers find success?

Though hundreds of the more than 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced during the session were sponsored by Democrat-controlled committees, there were only 350 measures specifically sponsored and introduced by a lawmaker from the majority party.

Many were headline-grabbing progressive bills that drew staunch Republican opposition, including expanding permanent mail-in voting (AB321) and setting up Nevada to become one of the first states to have a public health insurance option starting in 2026 (SB420).

Of the 350 bills from Democratic lawmakers, 221 (63.1 percent) passed out of both houses. However, Assembly Democrats fared slightly better than their Senate counterparts, with 65 percent of their bills passing compared with 60 percent for those in the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The success rate of bills introduced by Republican lawmakers was dismal in comparison.

Members of the Assembly Republican caucus had 27 of their 126 introduced measures (21 percent) pass out of both houses, while Senate Republicans had 19 of their 129 (15 percent) pass out of the Legislature. The majority of Republican-backed measures were not even given a chance by the majority party, as 56 percent of 255 bills and resolutions introduced by Republican legislators never received an initial committee hearing.

Failed Republican-backed bills included an effort to create a bipartisan redistricting commission (SB462), a measure requiring voters to provide proof of identity (SB225) and a bill that aimed to limit the number of legislative actions allowed per session (AB98).

Among the 46 Republican-sponsored measures that passed out of the Legislature were a variety of health care-related bills, including legislation from Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) that appropriated state funds to the Nevada Health Service Corps for encouraging certain medical and dental practitioners to practice in underserved areas (SB233). Lawmakers also approved a measure from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) authorizing the Board of Regents to waive fees for family members of National Guard members who reenlist (AB156).

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

While Republicans fared far worse, Democratic lawmakers still had more than a third of their bills fall victim to the legislative process.

Some bills were overwhelmed by backlash, such as SB452, a bill that aimed to grant casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises but was opposed by a broad coalition of Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform organizations and failed to advance out of the Assembly. 

Other bills were watered down or axed after lawmakers deemed there was not enough time to consider the effects of a measure. Such was the case for AB161, a bill that started as a ban on the state’s “summary eviction” process, then was amended into a legislative study on the process but still never received a floor vote. Some measures fell just shy of the support they needed, including AB387, an attempt to license midwives that fell one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the Senate on the final day of the session.

Which lawmakers were most prolific? Which lawmakers introduced the fewest bills?

Although Democratic lawmakers significantly outpaced Republican lawmakers in getting their bills passed out of both houses of the Legislature, the number of bills introduced by each legislator remained similar between the two parties.

On average, lawmakers from the majority party introduced 9.2 measures during the 2021 session, compared to 10.2 for lawmakers in the minority party. 

Those who led their parties in introductions were typically house leaders or more experienced lawmakers.

In the Assembly, Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) topped the rest of his party with 18 bills introduced and sponsored, while Minority Floor Leader Titus had the most bills introduced and sponsored of anyone in the Assembly Republican caucus with 14.

Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus speaks to Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) introduced and sponsored 25 bills, which was the most of any legislator during the session.

Four other Senators also stood above the pack: Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) led Democrats with 23 introductions, while Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) and two Republican senators, Hardy and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), rounded out the top with 20 bills each.

Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed by the Clark County Commission on Feb. 2, 2021 to fill the seat of Democratic former Assemblyman Alex Assefa, who resigned amid an investigation into whether he met residency requirements, was the only lawmaker who did not introduce a single piece of legislation this session.

The others at the bottom of the list — Assembly members Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson), Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) and Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas), and Sens. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) and Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) — introduced three bills each. Doñate was appointed to fill the seat of former Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas), and introduced three of her bill draft requests submitted prior to the start of the session.

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) had more success getting her bills passed than any Nevada lawmaker during the 2021 session, as all eight bills that she introduced and sponsored passed out of both houses of the Legislature.

Jauregui had one bill that was passed only with the support of her own party members in both houses. AB286, which bans so-called “ghost guns” and other firearm assembly kits that don’t come equipped with serial numbers, passed through the Assembly and Senate along party lines. 

Other bills Jauregui introduced included measures focused on the environment and residential properties, as well as AB123, which increases fees on special Vegas Golden Knights license plates to help give more funds to charities.

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui arrives on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Five other Assembly Democrats, all based out of Southern Nevada, had at least 80 percent of their measures pass out of both houses, including Assembly Speaker Frierson. Frierson, who saw 15 of his 18 sponsored measures pass, introduced several high-profile Democratic measures, including a pair of big election bills: AB126, which moves the state to a presidential primary system instead of a caucus-based system, and AB321, which permanently expands mail-in voting. 

Other bills introduced by the Assembly leader that passed out of the Legislature included a measure requiring a three-day grace period before landlords can charge late fees for overdue rent (AB308) and a bill allowing college athletes to profit off of their name and likeness (AB254). Frierson was also the primary sponsor of AB484, which authorizes the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to use $54 million in federal funds to modernize the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system.

Frierson had only three bills that did not pass out of the Legislature, including a controversial measure that would have allowed for the Washoe and Clark County school boards to be partially appointed (AB255).

Other lawmakers to have at least 80 percent of their measures pass out of both houses were Assembly members Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas), Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) and Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas).

Considine had five of her six introduced measures pass both houses with significant bipartisan support, including a measure that replaces the gendered language for crimes of sexual assault with gender-neutral language (AB214). 

Yeager saw eight of ten introduced bills pass, including AB341, which authorizes the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges, though he also presented several other, sometimes controversial, measures as chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. He presented AB400, a bill that removes “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana and that passed along party lines out of the Assembly. And he presented AB395, the death penalty bill that was scrapped by Democratic lawmakers in the Senate.

Though Monroe-Moreno had four of her five introduced bills pass out of both houses, including a measure that reduces the criminal penalties for minors found in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana (AB158), she was also the sponsor of one of the few measures to fail to advance out of the Legislature because it failed to achieve a needed two-thirds majority. Her bill AB387, which would have established a midwifery licensure board, fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Watts, a second-term assemblyman, sparked a variety of partisan disagreements throughout the session, as six of his ten introduced bills passed out of the Assembly with zero Republican support (Watts had eight bills pass out of both chambers). Those measures ranged broadly from a pair of environment-focused measures to a bill that bans offensive or racially discriminatory language and imagery, names, logos or mascots in Nevada schools (AB88).

In the Senate, only three legislators had more than two-thirds of their introduced measures pass out of both houses: Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) and Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas).

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

Brooks was the most successful of the bunch, getting five of his six introduced bills passed, including SB448, an omnibus energy bill expanding the state’s transmission infrastructure that was passed out of the Assembly on the final day of the session. With a larger number of introductions (13), Lange had twice as many bills passed as Brooks (10), covering a wide range of topics from health care to employment to a bill permanently authorizing curbside pickup at dispensaries (SB168).

The majority leader also succeeded in passing a higher percentage of her bills than most of her Senate colleagues, as 12 different Cannizzaro-sponsored bills made their way to the governor’s office. Those measures were met with varying degrees of bipartisan support, as a bill requiring data brokers to allow consumers to make requests to not sell their information passed with no opposition (SB260), while a bill barring the suspension of driver’s licenses for the nonpayment of fees received mixed support from Republicans in both chambers (SB219). Another bill, SB420, which enacts a state-managed public health insurance option, passed along party lines in both the Senate and Assembly.

A few Assembly Republicans stood above the pack, as Assembly members Jill Tolles (R-Reno), P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) and Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) were the only members of their party to have at least half of their bills pass out of both houses.

Tolles, who was more likely to side with Democrats on close votes during the session than any other Republican lawmaker, found the most success of the group, as four of the six bills she introduced and sponsored were sent to the governor. Those bills that passed were met with broad bipartisan support, such as AB374 — that measure, which establishes a statewide working group in the attorney general’s office aimed at preventing and reducing substance use, passed unanimously out of both houses. The third-term legislator did introduce some bills that were killed by Democrats, such as AB248, which sought to allow "partisan observers" to watch over elections at polling places.

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

Four of O’Neill’s seven bills were sent to the governor. One allows the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum to designate certain buildings and grounds of the former boarding school for Native children for special events and authorizes the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages at such events (AB270). O’Neill was the only Republican present at a bill signing event for Native-focused legislation, after many of those bills passed with bipartisan support.

Half of Krasner and Roberts’ bills passed out of the Legislature, with each lawmaker introducing and sponsoring eight measures during the session.   

Nearly all four of Krasner’s bills that made it out of both chambers attracted unanimous votes, including AB143, which creates a statewide human trafficking task force and a plan for resources and services delivered to victims. Another well-received bill, AB251, seals juvenile criminal records automatically at age 18 and allows offenders to petition the court for the expungement or destruction of their juvenile records for misdemeanors. Both AB143 and AB251 have been signed by the governor.

Roberts, who was among the Republicans most likely to cross party lines and vote contrary to the majority of his caucus, had several bills sent to the governor with strong bipartisan support, including AB319, which establishes a pilot program for high school students to take dual credit courses at the College of Southern Nevada. Another of his four successful bills was AB326, which is aimed at curbing the illicit cannabis market.

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) had one bill sent to the governor and two bills killed without a hearing, giving him a higher percentage of bills passed (33 percent) than any other member of his caucus. Hansen’s one successful measure, SB112, aligns Nevada law with federal law regarding the administration of certain products for livestock. One of Hansen’s failed bills included an attempt to prohibit police officers from using surveillance devices without a warrant, unless there were pressing circumstances that presented danger to someone’s safety (SB213).

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) was the second most successful member of his caucus in terms of getting bills passed, as three of the 14 measures (21 percent) he introduced passed out of both houses, including a measure establishing an esports advisory committee within the Gaming Control Board (SB165). But many of the measures introduced by Kieckhefer still failed, including a resolution to create an independent redistricting commission to conduct the reapportionment of districts (SJR9).

Only three other members of the Senate Republican caucus, including Minority Leader Settelmeyer, Hardy and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka), had at least 20 percent of their introduced measures pass fully out of the Legislature.

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

Despite Democrats controlling both legislative chambers, a handful of Democratic lawmakers still had less than half of their sponsored measures sent off to the governor’s office.

In the Assembly, five members of the Democratic caucus failed to have 50 percent of their bills advance out of both houses, including Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas), who rounded out the bottom of the list as just one of her eight introduced bills passing out of the Legislature. Though that one successful bill — AB189, which establishes presumptive eligibility for pregnant women for Medicaid — garnered bipartisan support, many of Gorelow’s introduced measures failed to even receive an initial committee vote. Those failed bills included multiple more health care-focused measures, including an effort to require certain health plans to cover fertility preservation services (AB274).

The others in the caucus to have more than half of their bills fail were Assembly members Bea Duran (D-Las Vegas), David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas), Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Cecelia Gonzalez (D-Las Vegas), who each had between 33 and 43 percent of their bills passed.

Duran found mixed success with her bills, getting three of her seven introduced measures passed, including a bill that requires all public middle schools, junior high schools and high schools to offer free menstrual products in bathrooms (AB224), but seeing four others fail, including one requiring public schools implement a survey about sexual misconduct (AB353).

One of Orentlicher’s five bills was among a small group that failed to advance at a mid-May deadline for second committee passage. The measure, AB243, would have required courts to consider whether a defendant is younger than 21 when deciding a sentence and failed to clear the deadline after previously passing out of the Assembly along party lines. Orentlicher introduced five bills, but only two passed out of both chambers.

While Flores introduced several measures that received broad unanimous support throughout the session, such as a measure that established a new, simpler Miranda warning for children (AB132), he also proposed several controversial measures that failed to advance out of the Assembly. One of those bills, AB351, would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication, and another, AB131, would have required all uniformed police officers to wear body cameras when interacting with the public. Only four of Flores’s ten introduced bills passed out of both legislative chambers.

Assemblymen Edgar Flores, center, and Glen Leavitt, left, speak inside the Legislature on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Gonzalez, a freshman, had four of her six introduced bills die at different times over the course of the session. Two of her bills died without ever being heard. Another bill she introduced (AB151) was never voted on by the Assembly because a Cannizzaro-sponsored bill took almost the same approach in barring the suspension of driver’s licenses for the nonpayment of fees. 

Gonzalez even had one piece of legislation, AB201, fail in its second house. That bill, which would have required more tracking and reporting on use of criminal informants, failed to advance out of a Senate committee after passing out of the Assembly along party lines.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) was the only member of his caucus to have more than half of his bills fail. Though seven of his sponsored measures passed out of the Legislature, eleven other bills and resolutions from Ohrenschall failed to advance. Those bills often focused on the criminal justice system, including a measure that aimed to eliminate the death penalty for people who are convicted of first degree murder (SB228), though some stretched beyond that scope, such as an attempt to make Nevada the first state with an opt-out organ donation system (SB134) that failed to be voted out of committee.

Across the Senate and Assembly, eight Republican lawmakers had zero bills pass out of the Legislature. Those eight were Assembly members Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), Annie Black (R-Mesquite), Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas), Jill Dickman (R-Sparks), Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas) and Sens. Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and Pickard.

All eight of those Republicans were also among the least likely in their party to break from the majority of their caucus and vote with Democrats on legislation.

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

Those eight legislators introduced 70 measures combined, of which 58 died without ever receiving a committee hearing. Pickard was particularly unsuccessful, as he introduced 20 bills, and only one received a committee hearing before failing to advance past the first committee passage deadline in early April. The Henderson-based senator was previously derided by Democratic lawmakers, after backing out of a deal with Senate Democrats centered on a mining tax during one of the 2020 special sessions.

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

Throughout the session, lawmakers often waited until the latest possible days to complete the work needed for certain legislative deadlines.

In the week leading up to the first major deadline — bills and resolutions without an exemption were required to have passed out of their first committee by April 9 — lawmakers voted 336 bills out of committee. In the roughly nine weeks prior to that, only 236 bills were passed out of their first committee.

The other deadlines of the legislative session followed a similar pattern.

In the week leading up to and the week including the first house passage deadline (April 20), 340 bills received a vote in their first house, while just 71 bills were voted out of their first house in the 10 previous weeks.

The busiest week of the session was the week ending May 21, which included the second house passage deadline (May 20). During that week, 337 bills and resolutions were voted out of their second house, while a couple hundred more measures were acted on in some other way, including committee hearings, committee votes and first house votes.

The final shortened weekend of the session, stretching from May 29 through May 31, was also chock-full of legislative action, as lawmakers passed more than 150 bills out of their second house during those three final days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Bar: How the mining tax compromise deal came to be

Since The Nevada Independent sprung into existence in 2017, we’ve covered three legislative sessions and fights over major tax policies pushed to the very end of the 120 days.

In 2017, a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana was defeated after negotiations broke down over a bill funding Education Savings Accounts, but was eventually resurrected in a compromise that saw another “school choice” program funded in exchange for votes from Republicans.

In 2019, Democrats pushed through a bill making permanent an expiring state payroll tax rate, relying in part on a legal opinion that the maneuver did not require a two-thirds majority vote (a move eventually struck down by the state Supreme Court.)

Even in the 2020 special session, a bill reducing mining tax deductions died, then appeared to gain a crucial Republican vote, then died again within 48 hours.

But even with diminished Democratic majorities, the mining tax bill of the 2021 session (AB495) appeared to glide to passage — introduced on Saturday eveningheard Sunday, and then passed out both legislative chambers on Monday with the needed two-thirds majority, even getting four of nine Republican senators in favor.

But the quick passage and (relatively brief) floor speeches are only the tip of the iceberg and don’t explain why a tax deal in 2021 worked out when many of the same players and issues were involved in past sessions. 

The final deal was sealed up in a Sunday morning meeting in the state Capitol — all four legislative leaders, budget committee chairs and top Republicans on those committees (Sen. Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles) met with Gov. Steve Sisolak and his staff, agreeing to the rough contours of the “deal” to pass the mining tax with enough Republican votes in tow. Negotiations on both the structure of the mining tax itself and the concessions made to Republicans were handled by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the face of the deal in public and the prime legislative negotiator of the deal in private.

The deal wasn’t fully baked — negotiations and last minute requests continued until the final hours of session, including a hold up on voting out the capital improvements budget bill until the final 15 minutes of the session, just to ensure that all parts of the bargain were fulfilled.

Participants involved say that a tax compromise worked in 2021 (as opposed to all the previous examples) both because of political pressure — potential tax initiatives on sales and gaming revenue from the Clark County Education Association, as well as three legislatively driven mining tax question. All three of those could have not only major political ramifications, but serious ramifications for industry — many feared a mining tax, which would likely gin up rural turnout and hurt Democrats statewide, would still likely pass given how close a similar 2014 initiative came to passing.

But beyond the ballot questions, personalities and quirks of term limits also played a role. Three of the six Republican votes for the deal are either termed out, or planning to run for a nonpartisan race. 

The deal: Several portions of the “deal” closing the session and getting votes for the mining tax bill were readily apparent as of sine die.

Lawmakers moved to strip the straight-ticket voting language from Sen. Roberta Lange’s SB292, and other Republican asks were included right in the text of AB495. These include:

  • $15 million in federal COVID relief funds to help with learning loss at charter schools.
  • $4.745 million in tax credits in the coming fiscal year for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides private school tuition grants to eligible low-income children. The bill also loosens the rules and allows new students to apply for the program.
  • $600,000 per year to the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant Program, restoring funding to levels approved in the last biennium.
  • Authorizing Medicaid reimbursement for personal care services, legislation long sought by Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Gardnerville).

Other sweeteners were added in a last-minute amendment to SB461, the “waterfall” funding bill directing allocations of the state’s expected $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars. The $15 million in appropriations include:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation to augment services and programs assisting people with disabilities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas), a yes vote on the mining tax bill, is an advisory board member at the foundation. 
  • $5 million to the Nevada ABLE Savings Program to be distributed as grants to persons with disabilities affected negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • $4 million to UNR to establish a statewide “Dean’s Future Scholars Program” aimed at assisting prospective first-generation college students in the sixth grade or higher. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) previously worked as an executive at UNR, and sponsored a bill this session (SB118) establishing a similar statewide program for first-generation college students.

Obviously, Republicans asked for more during the negotiations, but any concessions had to be weighed against whether their inclusion would peel off any votes from progressive Democrats and satisfy the Clark County Education Association (see the last-minute inclusion of a study on school board makeup and potentially appointing trustees). 

One of the bigger sticking points was a permanent funding source for Opportunity Scholarships. One of the biggest concerns is that families receiving the scholarships will run into the same issue in the 2023 legislative session and again have to advocate for funding amid strong pushback from public education advocates.

A Republican governor in 2023 would likely push for expansion of the program, but Sisolak was cagey when asked during a post-session press conference on Tuesday about whether he would include funding for the program in his recommended budget for the next biennium.

“This was an agreement that was made. I'm going to follow through with my side of the agreement, all the terms that were made,” he said.

Republicans also pushed for further election changes (removal of ballot collection or “ballot harvesting” from the expanded mail voting bill), and a partisan balance on an interim redistricting commission — both rejected by Democratic leaders. 

Other requests, less partisan and more focused on education, were easier to swallow, including money so charter schools were held harmless against financial losses in the switch to a new funding formula (SB463) and inclusion of the $15 million in federal dollars for learning loss programs at charter schools. Other Republican requests were deemed noncontroversial — including measures related to prescription HIV treatment drugs and enrolling recently released inmates in Medicaid (a Settelmeyer bill on both those topics failed to make it out of the Assembly, but the concepts were passed out in other legislation).

The politics: The six Republicans who voted for the mining tax deal had different rationales for voting for the compromise.

Kieckhefer is termed out after this session, and Hammond is termed out after the 2023 session. Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) is planning to run for Clark County sheriff in 2022, a nonpartisan race.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who in a floor speech complained about special interests pushing the decision, all but committed in an April interview with the Associated Press that he would support a mining tax proposal if it came up in the session. The Henderson Republican said he was undecided on his vote walking into the floor session.

Tolles and Gansert — who represent Northern Nevada — have both staked out reputations as more moderate and willing to discuss enhanced education funding in the right circumstances.

In interviews with The Nevada Independent, Tolles and Roberts both said that having the mining industry in support of the measure was a necessary factor, as well as having the money specifically earmarked for education.  

“I'm not going to be in politics forever, but I'm always going to be a human being and a wife and a mom and a professional and a member of my community,” Tolles said. “And so every decision that I have to make can't be about whatever is going to happen in the future, it has to be about whether or not I feel good about what's right in front of me and how I feel about it when I'm looking back at my life.”

Updated at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, 2021 to include more details about the end of session negotiations.

Gun free zones in casinos, increasing justice court fees and licensing midwives among many casualties of legislative session

Lawmakers ended the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday night passing dozens of high-profile measures but many others, including an effort to license midwives and a bill allowing casinos to prohibit firearms, failed to advance.

Out of roughly 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced during the 120-day legislative session, more than 400 measures failed to pass through the Senate and Assembly and make it to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk. Many bills were left for dead at deadlines for committee or house passage, but some — including an effort to increase justice court filing fees — were in limbo until minutes before the clock struck midnight on Monday.

Other major bills that failed to advance included a measure aimed at transitioning Nevada residents away from natural gas use, several affordable housing bills and a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that died at the end of the session:

SB452: Prohibiting guns on casino properties

In the waning weeks of the session, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) revived discarded portions of the session’s other major gun bill in the form of MGM Resorts-backed AB452, which aimed to grant casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises.

When Cannizzaro presented the bill, which would have required non-restricted gaming license holders (defined as more than 15 slot machines on property) to opt in to the provisions and would have prohibited individuals from bringing firearms onto casino property with certain exemptions, she described the measure as a way for lawmakers to further protect workers on the Las Vegas Strip.

Supporters said that the bill would largely mirror prohibitions on firearm possession at schools and libraries, but opponents — a broad coalition of Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform organizations — argued it would create uncertainty for gun owners and have a disparate racial impact.

The measure narrowly passed through the Senate in a 11-10 vote on Wednesday, but failed to receive a vote in the Assembly before sine die. During the joint committee hearing on the bill, many Assembly Democrats questioned its merits and expressed concerns about how the measure would affect minority communities.

“We are going to have situations where Black folks and brown folks are going to be the ones who are going to be not asked to leave, but who are going to be the ones that the police are called on,” said Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) during the hearing.

AB387: Midwifery licensure board 

Nevada is the only state in the west that does not license midwives, but a proposed Board of Licensed Certified Professional Midwives nearly became a reality this session after falling just one vote short of a needed two-thirds majority late Monday evening.

During the last day of the legislative session, the Senate voted 13-8 on Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno’s AB387, with Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) joining most Democrat senators in support. Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) joined the Republican senators against the measure, ensuring the bill fell short of the needed two-thirds majority (because the bill required fees for licensure). 

The Assembly had previously passed the bill and its amendments with a 28-14 vote on May 28.  

The board would have been responsible for establishing an optional licensure process for practicing midwives and also would have set training and education requirements. 

An emotional hearing in the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor took place in April, in which several mothers shared their experiences with midwives and desire to have birth freedom while also having certain regulations and protections in place for all parties. 

Opposition to the measure was just as passionate, with opponents arguing that the board would overly restrict birthing options and punish midwives who may not want to be licensed or who have learned through apprenticeships rather than in a formal environment. 

SB437: Increased fees for justice court actions

An effort to double administrative fees for actions within the state’s justice courts fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass on the last day of the session.

SB437, which would have increased the fee from $1 to $2 on the commencement of any action in a justice court for which a fee is required, in order to help fund the work of the state demographer within the Department of Taxation, passed through the Senate in mid-May on a 14-7 vote, but only after Sens. Kieckhefer and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) switched from nay to yea votes.

Members of the Assembly then voted 26-16 along party lines on the measure, falling two votes short of the 28 votes needed to pass with a two-thirds majority. Republicans opposed to the bill, which was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, expressed confusion and concerns that it would tax the wrong people by imposing funds on litigants within the justice courts to fund the state demographer within the executive branch.

AB161: Study on summary evictions

A severely watered-down measure that would have created a legislative committee to study the state’s “summary eviction” process during the interim was left dead at the end of the session after failing to receive a vote in the Assembly.

The initial version of AB161, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would have completely banned the “summary eviction” process, which involves possession of a rental unit and requires a tenant to either pay rent, vacate the property or respond to a notice through the courts within seven days. But the language in the bill was replaced with a study after lawmakers expressed concerns that there was not enough time to consider the consequences of upending the existing system in the midst of the eviction moratorium and amid staunch opposition from real estate groups.

The amended version of the bill, which received support from a slew of progressive groups, was passed out of its first committee in early April but never saw further action from lawmakers.

SB187: Limits on solitary confinement 

Sen. Pat Spearman’s (D-North Las Vegas) bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in Nevada prisons to 30 days never made it to an initial floor vote. 

SB187 also would have required regulations to limit solitary confinement to use only as a last resort. It also called for frequent mental health evaluations and giving inmates at least two hours of out-of-cell time daily, visitation and phone access.  

The Department of Corrections submitted a fiscal note stating that the measure would cost the department more than $40 million dollars for the biennium in order to modify policy at its seven major institutions and provide additional mental health support. 

“Even if they are guilty, they are still human beings, and we should treat them as such,” Spearman said of inmates during the bill’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12. “If rehabilitation is the goal, then solitary confinement impinges upon that goal.” 

SB139: Prohibiting insurance companies from denying treatment for gender dysphoria

A bill that would have prohibited insurers from denying treatment for gender dysphoria – the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between sex assigned at birth and gender identity – did not survive after passing out of the first committee. 

Sen. Melanie Scheible’s (D-Las Vegas) SB139 aimed to require insurance companies, including Medicaid, to cover medically necessary treatment and surgeries for transgender Nevadans. 

The bill was meant to address instances of insurance companies denying coverage for treatment such as hormone replacement therapy and surgeries, despite existing laws and policies prohibiting the denial, exclusion or limitation of medically necessary health care services based on gender identity or expression. 

Advocates said that access to treatment should be considered medically necessary because without it, the mental health of people who have gender dysphoria suffers greatly. 

“When insurers fail to cover medically necessary care, people suffer anxiety, depression, social ostracism, and a higher risk of suicide,” transgender rights advocate Brooke Maylath said during the bill’s only hearing on March 12. “SB139 is designed to send a clear message to the greater healthcare community – discrimination is not acceptable in Nevada."

Although it received a deadline waiver, the measure did not advance after being referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on April 16. The state Public Employees' Benefits Program (PEBP) had submitted a fiscal note for $1 million for the biennium to extend the coverage for treatments. 

SB235: Additional marijuana licenses for unsuccessful applicants

A bill that became a lightning rod for marijuana industry criticism over a proposed amendment aimed at spurring the creation of scores of new dispensaries failed to make it to the legislative finish line.

The measure from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), SB235, and a proposed amendment would have offered an alternative path to licensure for marijuana dispensary applicants who were unsuccessful in a 2018 licensing round. In that round, 61 dispensary licenses were issued to just 17 companies even though 127 potential businesses applied.

Those who lost out on the coveted permits pursued a massive lawsuit that ended with a judge saying there were flaws in the state’s process, but that the law did not permit her to order additional licenses as relief. An amendment to Harris’ bill that would have given unsuccessful candidates a path forward was forcefully criticized by the Nevada Dispensary Association, a statewide dispensary trade association whose representatives argued that it would threaten the strength and integrity of the industry.

Opponents also argued that the market could not support a large number of new stores without hurting existing ones; supporters countered with a competing analysis positing that the state could absorb nearly 1,300 new dispensaries.

The Cannabis Compliance Board submitted a fiscal note on the bill saying it would gain at least $610,000 over the biennium as a result of the increase in license renewal fees, and that it would cost an estimated $150,000 to complete a market study to determine demand for the issuance of additional cannabis licenses. 

The bill passed out of a Senate committee, was referred to the Senate Finance committee on April 20, and saw no further action before the end of session.

AB382: Regulating student loan servicers

A sweeping piece of student loan legislation that would have established new regulations on loan servicers in Nevada and would have granted more rights to borrowers was left for dead just a few days before the end of the session after falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

The bill was primarily aimed at enacting broad consumer protections through a borrowers’ bill of rights, as well as the licensing and regulation of servicers by the state’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions. 

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) joined all Democratic Assembly members in voting in favor of the measure; however, some Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the licensing fees that servicers would be required to pay. Student loan servicers Sallie Mae and Discover also opposed the bill, arguing that it could lead to greater costs for borrowers.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said he adopted an amendment before putting the bill up for a vote that was aimed at addressing the concerns brought up by opponents.

“But some of the student lender interests decided to dig in on it. And unfortunately, again, all members of the minority caucus decided to side with them except for Assemblywoman Tolles,” Watts said, “in my opinion, picking those interests over borrowers that are in our state.”

SB462: Republican-backed effort to change redistricting commission

With the state set to handle the redistricting process in a likely special session sometime later this year, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) introduced an emergency measure, SB462, just two days before the end of the session that would have given Democrats and Republicans equal power in creating a redistricting commission.

That bill received zero action in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Instead, members of both the Senate and Assembly adopted SCR13, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), creating an interim reapportionment and redistricting committee composed of four Democrats and two Republicans.

Increasing awareness of mental health services

As the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in heightened mental health issues across the country, lawmakers in Nevada took steps to increase access to behavioral health care, typically through federal relief funds — but a pair of bills aimed at increasing awareness of mental health support services failed to advance out of the Legislature before the end of the session.

AB167, sponsored by Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City), would have required K-12 schools and colleges to put information relating to mental health resources on student ID cards, including the phone number and text messaging option for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. After passing out of the Assembly on a 41-1 vote in late April, the bill did not receive a committee vote in the Senate.

AB315, which passed out of the Assembly unanimously a few days before the end of the session, would have required law enforcement agencies and fire departments to provide officers and firefighters with information about mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment, and provide two hours of mental health counseling within three months of retirement. The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), passed out of a Senate committee on Sunday, but failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor during the final day of the session.

Legislature live blog: Lawmakers pass bills expanding mail voting, authorizing cannabis lounges, short-term rental taxes

The clock struck midnight, and Nevada lawmakers finally adjourned the 2021 Legislature after a frantic final few hours that saw the passage of major election, budget, tax and other big-ticket bills.

By the end of Monday evening, lawmakers had advanced bills decriminalizing traffic tickets, moving the state to a presidential primary, authorizing cannabis consumption lounges and permanently expanding mail voting. Legislators also approved a major transmission and clean energy bill, approved a new tax structure for short-term rentals and set spending priorities for the state’s coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds.

The final hours of the Legislature traditionally see a host of last-minute amendments, compromises and changes to legislation — something already readily apparent on Monday, with lawmakers authorizing nearly $8 million in funding to pay back DMV fees recently declared unconstitutional, and an amendment keeping special tax districts in play for Clark County but without the ability to use them for a potential major league baseball stadium.

The Nevada Independent is covering all the final moves, votes and maneuvers of the 2021 Legislature. Here’s a look at some of the major votes and last-minute developments on the final day of session:

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

One last-minute addition was $15 million in earmarks for federal COVID-19 relief money. An amendment added to SB461 in the Assembly includes:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation for services for people with disabilities. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) had proposed a bill to support the foundation, but it never got a hearing.
  • $5 million to the state treasurer’s office for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program. The program provides seed money in tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities; a bill passed this session to enable the program but did not fund it.
  • $4 million for a statewide program modeled after UNR’s Dean’s Future Scholars Program, which provides mentoring, tutoring and other support for prospective first-generation college students. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) had a bill that supported first-generation students, but it died. She crossed over and supported a mining tax along with Democrats before the amendment was revealed.

— Michelle Rindels

Requiring public buildings/accommodations to have inclusive single-stall restrooms 

On a 15-6 vote, members of the Senate voted to approve Assemblywoman Sarah Peters’s AB280 — a bill requiring any single-stall restroom in the state to be designated as gender neutral.

The bill, which wouldn’t affect existing bathrooms but would govern future construction, was amended before passage to more narrowly define the types of bathrooms affected by the bill, and removed language allowing for civil litigation if people felt they were denied access to or punished for using a single-stall restroom.

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

An effort to close the ‘classic car’ loophole by limiting the types of older vehicles exempted from smog checks has passed out of the Senate on a party-line 12-9 vote.

The bill, AB349, is sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and seeks to fix a loophole created by a 2011 law that redefined a “classic car” to include any vehicle over a certain age that drove less than 5,000 miles. It resulted in a sharp increase in the number of classic cars registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

Nevada will move to permanently expand mail voting and send all active registered voters a mail ballot starting in the 2022 election, after members of the state Senate voted along party-lines to approve AB321 on Sunday evening.

The bill will make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters will be allowed to opt out and vote in person if they choose. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, the legislation has been embraced by Democrats as a way to enshire expanded voter access to elections, but pilloried by Republicans as not having enough safeguards to prevent fraud while making what they say are unnecessary changes to the state election structure.

Though amendments to the bill still need to be agreed to by the Assembly, passage of the bill will largely cement the pandemic-induced temporary election changes used in the 2020 election as a permanent fixture of elections moving forward.

The bill does modify aspects of the rules in place for the 2020 election, including shortening the deadlines for fixing issues with signatures on mail ballots and for when a mail ballot can be counted after Election Day from seven to six days.

It also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures. 

Prior to the vote in the Senate, however, lawmakers adopted an amendment explicitly authorizing the withdrawal of initiative petitions 90 days prior to an election. That law change is intended to address a lack of clarity in existing law about when a ballot initiative can be withdrawn and is intended to give the Clark County Education Association a chance to pull back two initiatives raising the sales and gaming taxes.

Another amendment, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer, sought to require statewide elected offices including the attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller to follow the same fundraising blackout rules that members of the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor are required to follow during legislative sessions. But the amendment failed on a 10-11 vote, with all Democrats save Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) voting against the measure.

The bill appropriates about $12.1 million to the secretary of state’s office over the budget cycle to help with costs of the legislation.

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

Senators voted 17-3, with one abstention, to authorize cannabis consumption lounges where people can legally consume marijuana after a similar effort failed in the last session.

AB341, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), aims to resolve the conundrum that recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, but consumers are technically not allowed to partake of it anywhere outside of a private residence. It also has been framed as a way to diversify the ownership of Nevada’s relatively homogenous cannabis industry by offering certain incentives to applicants who were adversely affected by the War on Drugs.

Before passing the measure, senators added an amendment that allows local governments to establish rules for the businesses that are stricter than the statewide regulations.

Republican Sen. Ira Hansen and two Democrats — Sen. Dina Neal and Sen. Fabian Donate — voted against the measure. Donate said that while he supports the concept, he had public health-related concerns including about how employees would be protected from secondhand smoke.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) abstained because his wife is a member of the Cannabis Compliance Board.

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

Senators voted 15-6 for a bill from Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that subjects short-term rentals such as Airbnb to the taxes that hotels face and other regulations.

Opponents of AB363 were all Republicans, including Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who said that while he wants to combat the nuisance of illicit “party houses,” he thinks land use planning “is fundamentally a local issue.”

“I certainly understand the impetus to do this,” Pickard said. “The reason, however, that I can't go far enough to support this bill is because I believe that it's an intrusion into the proper operation of local government.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) has pointed to taxation of vacation rentals as a route for bringing more revenue to schools.

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

An amendment added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) during an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting Monday evening proved that nothing is truly dead until the clock strikes midnight on sine die.

The amendment, attached to SB347, revives AB213, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) that died before it received a vote on the Assembly floor because of a concern over a 5 percent allocation from a grant program for creating an alternative to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Flores told The Nevada Independent during a short interview that the proposed amendment removed the 5 percent allocation, stipulating instead that an alternative to the FAFSA program could be established as money is available.

"I'm excited that we at least have accomplished the step of getting it to the floor," Flores said. "The bill is sending a very clear message that regardless of status, so long as you graduate you're going to get in-state tuition."

The amendment would remove de facto citizenship requirements for higher education scholarship programs and secure access to in-state tuition for any graduate of a Nevada high school.

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

  • Removing the requirement to complete the FAFSA, which requires a Social Security number, in order to receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant (a state-support financial aid program for low-income students attending community or state colleges within the Nevada System of Higher Education)
  • Guaranteeing that any graduate from a high school in the state can receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant or a Nevada Promise Scholarship (a scholarship for Nevada high school graduates attending community college)
  • Eliminating a rule that the Board of Regents must distribute scholarships first to students who complete the FAFSA
  • Prohibiting a prepaid tuition program or college savings program from excluding a person or his or her family from participating in the program based solely on immigration status.

Access is at the heart of the amendment, Flores said, adding that the measure will lower barriers to higher education and address fears brought about by the college application process and having to share information regarding immigration status.

“An undocumented student has these added layers to be able to pay for college that ... a lot of other students don't have to go through,” Flores said. “So that it's often a deterrent for a lot of very highly talented,qualified students.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

A bill that will allocate half a million to the UNLV Immigration Clinic’s work defending people against deportation got a party-line vote in the Senate, with Republicans opposed.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would create a “Keeping Nevada Working Task Force” to support immigrant entrepreneurship as well as making the appropriation.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said he opposed a provision that requires the attorney general to develop model policies that seek to limit the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Agencies must report back whether they adopt the policies.

“The standards that are to be developed by the attorney general and then imposed upon ... all other areas of the state, I think, are inappropriate,” he said.

The bill was significantly watered down from its original form, which directly called for limiting collaboration between police and federal immigration enforcement officials.

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

State lawmakers advanced the Legislature’s marquee clean energy bill, SB448, on a 32-10 vote on Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), will clear the way for completion of a major intrastate transmission line sought by NV Energy as part of the utility company’s planned $2 billion transmission infrastructure upgrade project. It will also require the utility to invest $100 million in electric vehicle charging stations, and makes a host of other energy policy changes aimed at boosting carbon reduction efforts in the state.

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

Members of the Senate passed out an energy efficiency measure, AB383, on a party-line vote on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), sets minimum energy efficiency levels for certain residential and commercial appliances and products, ranging from water coolers and air purifiers, to commercial fryers and ovens.

During a bill hearing in April, Watts said that less energy expended would result in less pollution and that using more efficient appliances and devices could also mean lower utility bills. The standards set in the bill would not apply to appliances sold after the bills goes into effect until July 2023, giving manufacturers time to adjust to the new regulations.

Previously, the bill passed out of the Assembly on a 26-13 party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

Members of the Senate voted 18-3 to approve a bill from Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) overhauling the interim structure of the Legislature to match the committee structure used during 120-day sessions.

Rather than the current slew of more than a dozen interim committees, AB448 would repeal and replace almost all of them with interim joint standing committees, a change aimed at increasing continuity and policy expertise between legislative sessions.

Not all of the old interim committees are going away — the bill was amended on Friday, shortly before passing out of the Assembly, to revive an existing Legislative Committee on Public Lands to now serve under a joint interim subcommittee on natural resources.

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

After four failed attempts in prior sessions, AB116, a bill decriminalizing traffic tickets, cleared the Legislature with a 20-1 vote in the Senate. 

The bill would make traffic violations civil infractions and not punishable by jail time. It adjusts current practice where, if unpaid, minor traffic offenses become warrants that can lead to arrests and are punishable by up to six months in jail. 

Although Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he is in support of the policy behind the bill, he was the only senator to vote against the measure for certain concerns regarding rural counties’ ability to implement it. 

“This is the fifth session that I can think of where we've attempted to do this, so it's definitely a step in the right direction,” Hansen said. “But we need to keep in mind there's some very small counties with very limited budgets and for them to be able to implement this is going to be very, very difficult.”

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

The Senate voted 15-6 to pass AB126, which would end Nevada’s presidential caucus and replace it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who voted against the measure, had introduced a similar bill, SB130, this session to convert Nevada from caucus to primary but it died in April. During the Senate vote on Monday, Pickard said that as he was preparing his bill, constituents said that they would not be happy with moving the primary to the beginning of the year as campaigning efforts during December holidays may be “intrusive.”

“I was told pretty consistently by my constituents that they did not like the idea of moving the primary up to the beginning of the year because it meant that we'd be campaigning, we'd be knocking on their doors and we'd be disturbing them during the holidays,” he said. 

Six of the nine Republican senators voted against the bill, which had previously received a 30-11 vote in the Assembly.

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

With time up in the session, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Monday advanced SB461, a so-called “waterfall” bill that sets priorities for spending billions in American Rescue Plan funds. 

Many of those goals — which include backfilling the general fund to compensate for revenue loss and shoring up health care and education — were laid out months ago in a framework document released by the governor and legislative leadership.

“It's day 120, those dollars are not here, but we still know that we have priorities in the state that we want to make sure that can be addressed and that the legislature doesn't slow the process down,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “We don't necessarily need to come back and come together for a day or two to do, that there is a process by which we can set this up to set our priorities to allow these dollars to hit the ground running as soon as they're here.”

Carlton’s comments suggest at least some of the work of distributing the federal dollars will take place through work programs that come through the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, as opposed to a special session.

“It doesn't mean we have to do it that way. Nothing stops us from coming in and doing a special session,” she said in a subsequent interview. “But ... getting 63 of us together and queuing up this building is not a small feat ... so this is just a way to make sure that those issues are dealt with.”

In the meantime, the bill allocates $335 million of the state’s $2.7 billion allocation through the American Rescue Plan to the unemployment trust fund. That was depleted after the pandemic-related shutdowns pushed Nevada’s unemployment rate to around 30 percent.

The amount will bring the trust fund essentially to the point where it is not taking out a loan, fiscal analysts said. Following the Great Recession, employers had to pay higher tax rates for years to pay back a debt to the federal government; the allotment will ensure tax rates won’t be going up for debt service.

“This will be one of the small things that we can do to not have that one more thing added on to that bill, as everyone is trying to climb out of the pandemic and get back to square one in the future,” Carlton said. “This will be one way to lessen those impacts of the pandemic on everyone who pays into this month.”

The Treasury allows states to use American Rescue Plan money to pay back their unemployment trust funds back to pre-pandemic levels, but Nevada’s trust fund was nearly $2 billion before the pandemic — meaning the state could potentially use nearly all of its federal allocation for that purpose.

But, Carlton said, “this is a balancing act and there was a lot of harm done across the state and all different sectors and we're trying to make an impact on all of the different sectors.”

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

A feisty debate about how to repay $1-per-transaction DMV technology fees that were found to be enacted unconstitutionally has finally been resolved in the form of an amendment to another bill.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee over the weekend sparred over whether allocating $7.8 million to pay back $5 million in fees to Nevada motorists needed to be done immediately or could wait until something more cost-efficient could be worked out. Lawmakers are seeking to refund the money after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an extension of the fee in 2019 needed to be passed on a two-thirds majority (it was one vote shy of that threshold).

They opted to add an amendment with the allocation to SB457, a bill that otherwise allows more of the state Highway Fund to be used for administrative costs and has now passed both houses.

“Last night, with time constraints and with the people digging their heels in on stuff it was like, ‘we can't wait, we have to pay for this,’” Carlton said. “This is not a political discussion. You can't make hay out of this anymore. We just need to move on and get our jobs done.”

— Michelle Rindels

Clark County gets STAR bonds exemption; A’s stadium talks nearly derail

An effort to finally phase out oft-criticized special tax districts that use a portion of sales tax for bond repayments received a last minute amendment sought by Southern Nevada governments — though lawmakers took steps to ensure that they can’t be used for a potential major league baseball stadium.

AB368, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), would require the Department of Taxation to report information on existing Tourism Improvement Districts — geographical areas where a public-private partnership is created using a portion of sales tax dollars to help finance construction and bond payments.

Those agreements, financed through Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue (STAR) bonds, were used in the mid-2000s to help finance construction of several Northern Nevada developments including Cabela's and Outlets at Legends — agreements later criticized, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, for not building in enough accountability measures into the projects.

Benitez-Thompson — who said her mother was laid off by the City of Reno after the municipality was forced to use general fund dollars to make bond payments on a STAR bonds project — submitted a conceptual amendment to the bill phasing out all language for STAR Bond tax financing, in effect sunsetting the program.

But that raised concerns from representatives of Southern Nevada local governments, who on Monday morning held an unusual back-and-forth with the six members of the conference committee on a request to exempt Clark County from the bill. Conference committees are appointed when the Assembly and Senate disagree over an amendment, but often are also used to push last-minute changes to legislation on the final day of the session.

Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of Southern Nevada governments, said there was interest in allowing STAR Bonds and tourism improvement districts as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for developers — including potentially the Oakland A’s, who have publicly floated moving the professional baseball team to Las Vegas.

But the idea of using STAR Bonds for a stadium rankled lawmakers on the conference committee.

“I’ve been very clear on how these things need to be done … if we’re going to do Huntridge (Theater), small nonprofit, things along that line, I think that’s where these funds really could possibly work,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said. “But if we’re talking about a stadium and trying to pay for that, I have a lot of concerns about moving forward at that level.”

After a small amount of debate, the conference committee (with the implicit blessing of Southern Nevada lobbyists) agreed to move forward on the bill with an amendment only allowing STAR Bonds to be extended in Clark County, and striking existing language that allows the bond proceeds to help pay for a professional sports stadium.

— Riley Snyder

Lawmakers advance mining tax deal; Republicans who voted in favor explain why

State lawmakers voted Monday to advance a major mining tax package that will allocate a combined $500 million to public education through new and extended mining taxes and federal COVID relief dollars — pushing the compromise package through the legislative process quickly on the final day of session.

The Assembly vote on AB495 was 28-14, with all Assembly Democrats and two Assembly Republicans — Jill Tolles and Tom Roberts — in support. In the Senate, four Republicans — Ben Kieckhefer, Heidi Seevers Gansert, Scott Hammond and Keith Pickard — joined Democrats to pass the bill in a 16-5 vote, sending the bill to Gov. Steve Sisolak for approval.

The bill, introduced late Saturday and heard for the first time on Sunday, involved a complicated trade of bills — including commitments to kill certain bills and pass others — and some challenges reining in the multiplying requests of lawmakers being courted for votes. An amendment to Democrat-sponsored SB292 that eliminates provisions allowing for straight-ticket voting was one of the Republican-favored elements of the deal.

The bill, which creates a new excise tax on annual gold and silver mine gross revenue above $20 million, is expected to eventually direct up to $500 million to education — including $200 million in federal COVID relief dollars and the rest through new and redirected taxes on the mining industry. It also restores funding to Opportunity Scholarships, a private school scholarship program supported by private donations made in exchange for tax credits.

An amendment adopted shortly before the floor vote in the Assembly allocated an additional $15 million in federal funding for learning loss at charter schools; charters were previously set to be excluded from the pot of money. Groups such as the Nevada State Education Association teacher’s union have opposed more allocations for charter schools, which they say are exempted from too many accountability rules.

But Republicans have advocated for those schools, including in a bill, SB463, that will apply $3.8 million to hold a dozen charter schools harmless from funding drops they otherwise would have experienced in the transition to a new funding formula. Tolles also said some charters experienced similar closures of in-person learning during the pandemic.

“There was significant learning loss. They could utilize that help as well,” she said in an interview.

Passage of the bill out of both chambers was lauded by Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray, who said in a statement that the legislation “encapsulates what is possible when we stop worrying about north or south, urban or rural, teacher or miner, and remember our commonalities.” The Clark County Education Association — a key booster —  tweeted that a “bipartisan relationship made this possible.”

And in a joint statement with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, Sisolak called the legislation “one of the most significant steps our State could take on our road to recovery.”

“Today's historic vote was only made possible thanks to the partnership of education leaders, business and industry, a bipartisan group of legislators, stakeholders and community members,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Our comeback will be strengthened by the continued collaboration and efforts of all Nevadans committed to working together for our families and a brighter future.”

Assembly vote

Prior to the vote, Tolles and Roberts spoke with The Nevada Independent about their rationale for the votes, stressing that they had not only gained concessions in exchange for their pledge to support the tax, but also had an opportunity to improve education funding without overly burdening one single industry.

“For the mining industry, the caveat was everybody that is impacted agrees to it. There are no loss of jobs, there's … no loss of revenue to counties. And so the industry says we want this, that's a condition for us,” Roberts said.

The Nevada Mining Association on Sunday night made it clear in a tweet that they were in support of the bill, and association President Tyre Gray sat at the presenter’s table with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson during the hearing for the bill. 

Through the session, both lawmakers have struck a more moderate tone than others in the Assembly Republican caucus. Roberts, a former assistant sheriff with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, is planning to leave legislative service and run for Clark County sheriff in 2022.

For her part, Tolles said her entire rationale for getting involved in politics was to advocate for education — saying the combination of industry buy-in for the bill and the fact that proceeds would go to education checked all of her boxes.

“I'm not going to be in politics forever, but I'm always going to be a human being and a wife and a mom and a professional and a member of my community,” she said. “And so every decision that I have to make can't be about whatever is going to happen in the future, it has to be about whether or not I feel good about what's right in front of me and how I feel about it when I'm looking back at my life.”

Both lawmakers said that bill language adding back funding authorization to the Opportunity Scholarship program — a tax credit program offering private school tuition grants for low-income families — was a key element of negotiations, and said future discussions on the scholarship program have been promised.

Tolles wanted the scholarship program, which now counts only a little more than 1,000 enrollees and is at less than half its original size, not to be so restrictive and to ensure continuity of funding through budget cycles, so that parents with children enrolled in the program have more certainty year-over-year rather than having to face fears every two years about being dropped from the program.

“The way that the system, as I understand it works right now, is that every two years, it's a fight just to maintain,” she said. “And so that's very traumatic for those kids, and those families, to feel like it's essentially their version of an eviction moratorium like every two years.”

The bill does not guarantee that the scholarship lasts beyond the coming biennium, but does lift provisions from 2019 that did not allow new students to enroll.

Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) said in a speech on the Assembly floor that his Republican colleagues’ decision to support a tax hike “in exchange for concessions so modest as to be insulting is simply astonishing to me.” 

“Spending more money without enacting any structural reforms or accountability measures has never solved our educational problems,” he said.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said when evaluating good tax policy, one question she asks is “are the people who are going to be taxed understanding of that tax, and ... do they share those principles enough that they come in support?”

“We have that in Assembly Bill 495,” she said. “In this building, it is a rare thing to get consensus. It is even more rare when we get it around policies such as this. This is long overdue.”

Senate

Four Senate Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill on Sunday evening, easily clearing the required two-thirds majority just a few hours after the Assembly passed the bill.

Kieckhefer, who is termed out of office after this session, said in a floor speech that the bill represented the “art of legislating in a single bill,” representing a compromise of things he strongly supported and strongly opposed. 

“While there are plenty of reasons that I could point to to vote against this bill, I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks,” he said. “And when you get to this place, I think it's important to try to find a way to say yes to help people, and that's what this bill does.”

Seevers Gansert also pointed to the enhanced education funding in the bill, touching not only public education but also charter schools and Opportunity Scholarships, as the reason for her support. Pickard said he was troubled by “special interests” using the initiative petition process to “put pressure on us,” but said he would support the bill because of the additional funding for education.

Hammond said the process of getting to the vote “was a rocky one,” but said he ignored pressure from “outside interest groups and disaffected third parties” and voted to advance the policy because he agreed with the merits of the bill.

“While I don't expect the ... naysayers who don't even bother to read the legislation to keep their opinions to themselves, I will be voting yes, for all of our state’s students,” Hammond said. “I urge my colleagues to join me, because even if it's only one student, it’ll change their life without ever even knowing it and that's worth it.”

But five Republican senators voted against the bill, with several raising concerns with the rushed process that brought the legislation forward. Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) said he had wanted to see a credit offsetting any increased collection of the existing net proceeds tax on minerals against the new excise tax, and said it was “unfair to ask any one industry to come to the plate.”

“Education needs to be borne by all of us, not one single industry,” he said. “I think they were forced to be here, and forced to support this bill.”

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) also raised similar concerns about the industry-specific tax, saying that the state’s gaming industry had long skated by without paying its fair share to education, saying it would “allow the very people that have not paid enough consistently to get away with it once again.”

“(For) all but a handful of us in this room, the people that are going to pay this tax, they are not our constituents. They are mine. It's very easy to tax people that actually are not even in your district.”

Reporter Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report. Updated at 4:34 p.m. on 5/31/21 to add comments from floor speeches. Updated again at 7:30 p.m. to include details from the Senate vote.

Lawmakers introduce last-minute budget maneuvers for more financial flexibility as session draws to a close

Despite the sound and fury that accompany the end of every legislative session, lawmakers only have one actual constitutional requirement to fulfill before the end of the 120 days of session — pass a balanced state budget.

Closing a roughly $9 billion budget is rarely an easy task, and 2021 has brought a host of new challenges — better-than-expected tax revenue forecasts, a coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars and a major state Supreme Court ruling on extended payroll tax and DMV fees blowing a roughly $200 million hole in the budget. 

During the final week of the legislative session, budget committees have introduced several bills aimed at providing more financial flexibility for legislative priorities — measures sometimes derided as budget “gimmicks” aimed at freeing up tens of millions of dollars to help balance the budget. These include measures extending a $1-per-DMV-transaction technology fee until 2026 after a previous iteration was ruled unconstitutional, and suspending a required money transfer to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Here’s a closer look at the last-minute budget moves being considered by lawmakers:

DMV fee extension, Highway Fund extension

Members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday discussed AB488, which extends the $1 DMV technology fee through June 2026 and retroactively permitting the fee from the end of June 2020 onward.

The previous extension in 2019 was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court because it increased collection of public revenue but did not pass out of each house of the Legislature with a two-thirds majority. It fell one vote short of that threshold in the Senate back in 2019.

Following that ruling, the DMV now lacks a dedicated revenue source to fund IT upgrades meant to shift more transactions online and make DMV interactions easier for the public. The state also has to refund the technology fees assessed during the time that the fee was unconstitutionally extended. During the Tuesday hearing, legislative staff said the state owes approximately $5.5 million in refunds.

Through AB488, lawmakers are seeking to (with a two-thirds majority in each house) reinstate that funding source for the IT upgrades and eliminate the need to refund the millions of $1 fee charges to motorists. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the money committee, noted that processing and disbursing the refunds could be more expensive than the refunds themselves.

“It's a $5 million refund, and it's going to cost us $8 million to give it back. And that impacts other services in the state,” she said. “I believe it is our responsibility to weigh those as we move forward and make the best decision that we need to make for the people of the state.”

Carlton also said that the refunds could be especially costly if the department were to use a back-credit process programmed through its own systems, following a suggestion from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno).

“The programming involved, in the investigations that we have done, could cost even more than the actual refund itself,” Carlton said. “You're basically putting the refund on steroids by trying to do all the programming … so don't ever go down the programming road with DMV because it is a very long, twisty, dark, scary road.”

However, the measure faces steep opposition from some Senate Republicans, who filed the lawsuit against the original extension of the fee.

In an atypical move, Sens. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) both testified against the bill during the contentious Tuesday hearing.

“Judgment has been entered by the District Court in favor of the plaintiffs in the two-thirds case and, in particular, the judgment in favor of the taxpayers and the fee payers,” Settelmeyer said. “I don't want to belabor this point. I'm tired of litigation. People deserve their money back.”

At roughly the same time on Tuesday, members of the Senate Finance Committee discussed and unanimously passed SB457, a measure that allows the DMV to use a greater percentage of highway funds to replace the DMV’s current technology and bring the majority of DMV services online over the course of the next four years.

The bill would increase the percentage of highway funds the DMV could use for administrative costs from 22 to 27 percent, and though the bill originally would have applied to the 2020-2026 fiscal years, a conceptual amendment made it so the bill only applies to fiscal years 2022-2026.

“During the pandemic, it became clear to us that [bringing DMV services online] needed to be our number one goal, as was the same with many businesses and state agencies,” said Julie Butler, the Director of Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. “This bill is needed to continue our progress on this critical project for the department and for the state of Nevada.”

But, when DMV representatives said they did not expect to go above the 22 percent threshold for fiscal year 2020-2021, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) noted that the retroactive provision seemed unnecessary.

“I would understand the need to increase it to 27 percent in the upcoming biennium, but for our current biennium. If we weren't going across over 22 percent the retroactive piece seems unnecessary,” Kieckhefer said.

Rainy Day Fund transfer suspension 

Members of the Assembly Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday also discussed AB487, which suspends an automatic transfer of 1 percent of the state’s projected revenue to the Rainy Day Fund for each of the next two fiscal years.

The suspension is intended to give lawmakers more financial flexibility ahead of the finalization of the state’s budget as the state awaits federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

“We know there are dollars coming,” said Carlton. “But we also know that we have to fund the government by May 31, so we can't pretend that money is going to be there. We have to actually use real money that is available right now.” 

According to projections from the Economic Forum in May, the amount of money that would no longer be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund if the bill is passed is $43.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $46.4 million in the following year, meaning lawmakers could have approximately $90 million in additional funds to spend before the session ends.

Lawmakers will be unable to backfill the fund with federal dollars, though. Spending guidance from the U.S. Treasury released earlier this month indicates that states will not be allowed to deposit American Rescue Plan funds into their reserve accounts.

Shortly after the hearing, the bill was voted out of the committee on Tuesday and awaits a vote on the Assembly floor.

Reporter Riley Snyder contributed to this report.

Public health insurance option bill clears the Senate on party-line vote, heads to the Assembly

A cat scan machine

A bill to establish a state-managed public health insurance option cleared its first major legislative hurdle on Monday, passing the Senate on a party-line vote.

Though the bill, SB420, has attracted significant attention from high-profile national groups, including progressive health care organizations backing it and big health care industry names opposing it, there was little pomp and circumstance around the Senate’s vote. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), who works in public health, briefly spoke in favor of the legislation, with no Republicans speaking in opposition — a rarity for a high-profile bill that splits on party lines.

“In the state of Nevada we have a persistently higher uninsured rate … of 11 percent that remains unchanged despite being one of the states that did opt into expanded Medicaid coverage and that has actually implemented provisions of the [Affordable Care Act] through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. While we’ve seen great progress in that regard, there’s still a large chunk of Nevadans who remain uninsured and who are unable to afford insurance,” Cannizzaro said, presenting the bill on the Senate floor “The public option is a way in which for us to … have individuals get more affordable options to get coverage for their health insurance.”

Before voting against the bill in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month, state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) voiced concerns about the disruptive effect the legislation might have on the state’s health insurance market and said the state should be using the tools at its disposal to get Nevadans who are already eligible for either Medicaid or subsidies on the state’s health insurance exchange — which together represent more than half of the state’s uninsured population — signed up for coverage.

“I still believe that we have incredible tools at our disposal to try to tackle the uninsured population in Nevada through continued outreach through Medicaid, as well as the eligible but unenrolled population through the exchange,” Kieckhefer said. “Without really understanding how we're going to capture some of the other populations of uninsured, I can't support it this time based on the disruption that I think it will have on the insurance market.”

Under the proposal, insurers that bid to provide Medicaid coverage would also be required to bid to offer a public option plan, with the state ultimately responsible for selecting how many plans it approves. The public option plans would resemble existing qualified health plans on the state’s health insurance exchange, though they would be required to be offered at a 5 percent markdown, with the goal of reducing the plans’ average premium costs by 15 percent over four years. The first year the public option plans would be offered is 2026.

Supporters of the bill, including Battle Born Progress, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the Culinary Union and Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, argue that the legislation will boost health care affordability and accessibility. Opponents, including the Nevada Hospital Association, the Nevada State Medical Association and several chambers of commerce across the state, argue that it would do just the opposite.

Nationally, the Center for Health and Democracy, the Committee to Protect Health Care and United States of Care are backing the legislation. It is being opposed by Nevada’s Health Care Future, a project of the national organization Partnership for America’s Health Care Future Action, which is a partnership of some of the health care industry’s heaviest hitters including the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

One health insurance reform expert at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University not involved with the legislation told The Nevada Independent the reality probably lies somewhere in between. A recent amendment to the bill makes more explicit that the state will be required to conduct an actuarial study before moving forward with implementing the public option — a study that will likely provide more concrete answers as to how the proposal will affect the overall health care landscape in Nevada and whether it really will reduce premiums and boost accessibility.

A secondary portion of the legislation proposes expanding some Medicaid services in the state, including increasing eligibility up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level for coverage for pregnant women, adding coverage for doulas and community health workers and requiring payment parity between advanced nurse practitioners and physicians. A recent amendment to the bill, however, makes those coverage expansions optional in an effort to reduce the bill’s fiscal impact. 

As a result, Medicaid is likely only to implement the doula and community health worker provisions in the bill, resulting in a net savings to the state. Instead of costing the state $23.9 million in general funds in the upcoming biennium and $39.8 million in the following two-year period, the Medicaid portion of the bill will actually save the state $384,000 in the upcoming biennium and $533,000 in the next one, according to projections shared before a Senate Finance Committee vote on the bill on Friday.

There is, however, still a fiscal cost associated with the public option portion of the bill. An amendment to the bill adopted by the Senate on Monday provides funding to cover those costs in the upcoming biennium, sending $1.6 million to a new Public Option Trust Fund to cover preparations over the next two years. It also allocates nearly $168,000 to the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services to cover expenses related to the Medicaid portion of the bill.

Because the legislation provides a more than four year runway before the public option would actually be offered to Nevadans, many of the costs associated with the legislation would likely hit in the 2023-2025 biennium and beyond — not the upcoming biennium that lawmakers are currently budgeting for. Medicaid estimates it will need $2.4 million in the 2023-2025 biennium to implement the public option portion of the bill, while the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange anticipates it will need nearly $8.8 million in the next two biennia to implement the legislation.

The bill will now head to the Assembly for consideration.

Amended bill would give Esports oversight powers to Gaming Control Board

A legislative effort to create an independent regulatory body for the state’s Esports industry, which involves different competitions using video games, has been amended to instead give regulatory authority to the Gaming Control Board if the bill is passed.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) introduced an amendment to his bill, SB165, during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that would create an Esports Technical Advisory Committee with members appointed by the board. The previous version of the bill would have created an independent Esports commission with oversight powers within the Department of Business and Industry.

During the initial hearing of the bill in March, Kieckhefer said that the intent of the bill was not to tread on the authority of the board and that the bill does not address gambling as it relates to Esports. Despite the change to the structure of the committee, the group is still meant to be composed of industry professionals and would help regulate Esports in Nevada.

Kieckhefer also discussed the industry’s large viewership and financial potential as reasons for needing a committee to foster Esports growth in Nevada. A presentation submitted along with the bill shows some Esports events in the past few years that have had more viewers than championship games in professional baseball and basketball.

“Esports is very simply the fastest growing entertainment sector in sports,” he said. “Our state as a whole, but particularly Las Vegas as a global destination, should be a partner with the Esports industry in bringing events and businesses to our state.”

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a video game trade association, opposed the initial version of the bill, but moved into the neutral position after the latest amendment.

“ESA appreciates the chance to … explore revisions to the bill that would help advance the sponsor’s goal to promote the growth of the Esports industry in the state of Nevada,” Alisa Nave-Worth, a representative of the association, said during the hearing. “We believe that the revised version of the bill is better suited towards advancing that important goal.”

The amendment also removed a project cost from the Department of Business and Industry for implementing the bill, and Kieckhefer noted that the Gaming Control Board would be able to absorb any costs of establishing the new Esports committee.

The bill was passed by the Senate on Wednesday and awaits a hearing in an Assembly committee.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.