Ford joins 22 other attorneys general in urging Supreme Court to uphold eviction moratorium

With two weeks left before the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on June 30, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is fighting for the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the nationwide pause on evictions ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

On Friday, Ford joined a coalition of 23 fellow Democratic attorneys general in issuing an amicus or “friend-of-the-court” brief asking the high court to maintain the CDC’s order prohibiting evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the moratorium should remain in place because eliminating the ban would “irreparably harm the states,” Ford’s office said. The attorneys general added in the brief that with roughly half of U.S. adults still unvaccinated and children under the age of 12 still ineligible to receive the vaccine, removing the ban could cause cases to surge across the country. 

In March 2020, Congress passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included an eviction moratorium for certain rental properties. When that legislation expired in July 2020, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium order that was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020 but has been extended multiple times since then. 

Opponents of the ban, including property owners, managers and trade associations, want to resume evictions. A federal district court judge based in Washington, D.C. ruled in May in Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al. that the CDC does not have the authority to order a national eviction ban, but granted the government’s request to postpone enforcement of the court’s decision until reviewed and ruled upon by a court of appeals. 

After the appeals court denied the plaintiffs’ request to cancel the lower court’s decision, the plaintiffs brought their request to the Supreme Court. 

In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the CDC has the authority to issue the ban because it concerns the “public health” of the nation. Lifting the ban would not only harm individuals at risk of eviction, but also would put their communities at risk, they argued. In addition, the coalition said that eliminating the order would “throw state COVID-19 responses into disarray” and that COVID-19, being a nationwide pandemic, requires a national response such as the CDC’s order. 

“According to the CDC, as many as 30-40 million American renters are at risk of eviction, and at least four million are at ‘imminent risk,’” the amicus brief said.

In a July 2020 study, the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, in partnership with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP), projected that had the moratorium not been extended, every county in Nevada would have been likely to experience an increase in evictions, with Clark County projected to see 249,700 people at risk of eviction.

State lawmakers recently passed AB486, which aims to speed up the backlogged process of distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal rental assistance. Maintaining the ban on evictions would give state and local governments more time to distribute payments to their residents, the attorneys general argued in the amicus brief.

Among the groups that are most vulnerable to COVID-19, those most likely to be harmed by a decision to lift the ban include persons of color and low-income people, according to a September 2020 study conducted by the Guinn Center. Americans at risk of eviction are also disproportionately unlikely to be vaccinated, according to the amicus brief. 

Nevada had its own state-level eviction moratorium in place for much of the pandemic, but “the state moratorium will not be extended past the end of May,” Gov. Steve Sisolak has said.

In addition to the immediate impacts of extending protections for tenants for two more weeks, the decision on the ban also could affect the White House’s response to a public health crisis in the future, Lindsay Wiley, professor of law at American University and a public health law and ethics expert, told Law360

Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether potential long-term effects on the executive branch influenced his decision to join the coalition two weeks before it is set to expire.

“Americans need help, and that’s the bottom line,” said Ford in the recent statement. “While businesses are reopening, it will take time for those struggling to get back on their feet.”

Deadline Day: Banning ‘ghost guns,’ prohibiting cat declawing and bail reform all advance

At times with little debate, state lawmakers worked late into the night on Tuesday to pass more than 140 bills out of their house of origin prior to the Legislature’s second major bill passage deadline.

Lawmakers voted out measures including a tenant’s rights bill limiting application fees, a bill requiring eggs sold in Nevada be cage-free and a measure lowering penalties for youth caught possessing marijuana.

They also approved a contentious measure banning so-called “ghost guns,” after the bill was amended to remove sections giving businesses more rights to prohibit firearms on their property.

In total, lawmakers by Tuesday evening had approved 143 bills and resolutions, including 57 in the Senate and 86 in the Assembly. Legislators worked quickly — only one measure in the Assembly received any debate from lawmakers prior to a vote.

But Tuesday’s deadline is just one of many upcoming hurdles —  lawmakers will only have a few short weeks before the next major deadline to pass bills out of their second committee comes on May 14. 

However, a bill not passing by Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean it has entered the legislative graveyard — dozens of bills have been granted exemptions from legislative deadlines, either because they have a fiscal effect on the state budget or because they were granted a waiver from those deadlines from legislative leadership.

That includes major election-related bills moving Nevada to an expanded mail-voting system and a measure aimed at moving the state up the presidential primary calendar — both of which were granted exemptions from legislative deadlines and moved to a budget committee on Monday.

Legislators were also busy on Monday, approving more than 40 bills including measures aimed at improving access to birth control, sealing records of evictions that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a statewide human trafficking victim support plan and shoring up the state’s battered unemployment insurance system. 

Here’s a look at major policies that passed out of floor sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

TUESDAY

Banning ‘ghost guns’

Despite a significant amendment removing language giving casino resorts and other major businesses more legal weight to prohibit firearm possession on their property, members of the Assembly still cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s AB286.

The bill  — which had drawn strong opposition from pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association — now makes it illegal for a person to possess or sell any unfinished frame or reiever of a firearm, or any fireram not imprinted with a serial number. It’s intended to cut down on so-called “ghost guns,” which gun safety advocates say are used by criminals to obtain weapons that they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to purchase.

Those arguments didn’t fly with Assembly Republicans, including Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who said the bill didn’t have any protections for current gun kit owners and would turn them into criminals overnight.

“This bill is nothing but the camel’s nose under the tent, except this time, it's up to the neck,” he said. “This bill is another bite of the apple, and that apple is your Second Amendment rights being taken away, bite by bite.”

Jauregui said removing the portion of the bill empowering businesses to ban guns on premise was not ideal, but the bill’s focus was ghost guns and it was vital to pass the bill by deadline.

“We're still committed to working with stakeholders and my colleagues, because this discussion isn't over,” Jauregui told reporters Tuesday evening. “We have a big responsibility to the thousands and thousands of employees who work on the Strip every single day. They're entitled to a safe workplace.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, but it could coincide with recently announced plans by the Biden administration to also take action to limit the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.”

Housing protections

Along a party line vote with Republicans in opposition, the Senate passed SB254, a bill that establishes fair housing procedures and strengthens anti-discrimination laws.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), the bill would authorize the Nevada Housing Division to investigate housing discrimination and prohibit landlords from looking at arrest records of potential tenants.

The measure also prevents landlords from denying applicants because they rely on public assistance or have a disability.

“It is time that Nevada moves into the space where we actually stand behind our words of ‘second chances for citizens’ who have either served their time or who have not been further criminalized within the system and are not currently in jail,” Neal said. “Housing is a fundamental part of our lives.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said that though he appreciates the intent of the legislation, the bill’s requirement that the attorney general prosecute on behalf of individuals who experience discrimination goes too far.

“It’s just inappropriate and not the right role for the attorney general in the state of Nevada," Kieckhefer said.

Tenant protections

Senators voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for a bill that expands tenant protections, including barring landlords from taking an application fee from more than one prospective tenant at a time. SB218 is sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks).

It also limits landlords to fees allowed by statute or that are “actual and reasonable,” requires fees be disclosed on the first page of the lease agreement and may not increase fees without 45 days advance notice for rent paid monthly.

Restorative justice before expulsion

Senators voted 16-5 to approve SB354, which prohibits schools from expelling a student without first providing them with an action plan based on restorative justice. The bill defines restorative justice as “nonpunitive intervention and support” meant to improve the student’s behavior and remedy any harm they caused.

It calls for a statewide framework of restorative justice that could include training for school staff on psychology, trauma and chronic stress. The bill also requires the state to recognize in its accountability system schools that reduce their rates of suspension and expulsion.

Five Republicans opposed the bill.

Transparency on food delivery fees

Senators unanimously approved SB320, which requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

The measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), was tempered from its original version but still requires conspicuous disclosure of what portions of the price are for the food, taxes, delivery fees and the average commission charged to the restaurant.

It limits commissions to 20 percent plus a credit card processing fee during the COVID-19 state of emergency, unless the restaurant agrees to pay the delivery platform more for services such as marketing.

Bail reform

Members of the Senate voted 17-4 to approve SB369, which amends Nevada’s law on pretrial release by requiring that a court only impose bail or a condition of release if its found to be the “least restrictive means necessary” to protect the safety of the community and ensure the person appears in court. It changes previous law requiring defendants show “good cause” for pretrial release that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2019.

Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said he opposed removing the “good cause” requirement, saying that he was concerned it could lead to more criminals on the street. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said it was needed to align the state with the court’s decision and still allowed courts to impose conditions of release on someone who might prove a danger to others.

“I think that this bill strikes a balance in protecting the community and providing some additional safeguards, while at the same time recognizing the Supreme Court's decision in (the 2019) case and aligning our statutes with their constitutional findings in that case,” Cannizzaro said.

HIV laws overhaul

In a unanimous vote, members of the state Senate approved Sen. Dallas Harris’ SB275 — a comprehensive bill aimed at updating the state’s laws on human immunodeficiency virus by treating HIV in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill repeals a state law making it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease — putting it in line with how the state treats other diseases such as chlamydia and SARS.

Banning the declawing of cats

A measure generally prohibiting the declawing of cats, except for medically necessary purposes, passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), AB209 imposes civil penalties on any person who removes or disables the claws of a cat, as well as sets disciplinary actions that the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners can take against a veterinarian who conducts the procedure.

All Assembly Democrats, save Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas), voted in favor of the measure, with all Republicans. save Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama and Jim Wheeler, voting against it.

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

A measure clearing the way for collegiate athletes to profit off their image or likeness passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB254, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, would prohibit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing students from using their likeness, name or image in sponsorships or for other professional services, with certain limits on what kinds of businesses that students can contract with. It also requires the Legislative Committee of Education to conduct an interim study on the issue.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve Rochelle Nguyen’s AB296, which creates the crime of ‘doxing’ — unauthorized sharing of personal identifying information, such as an address, with the intent to cause harm or mental anguish.

The bill as amended authorizes a person to bring a civil action against a person who “doxes” them, and allows a court to issue restraining orders against a person that disseminates that personal information.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Senators voted 18-3 to pass SB203, a bill that removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved. Previously, such actions were limited by deadlines, including one provision requiring a lawsuit be initiated within 20 years of a victim turning 18. 

The bill specifies that people are liable for damages if they financially benefit from the exploitation, although a hotel or motel with more than 200 rooms is not considered to have benefited from the rental of a room used in the commission of exploitation.

The three Republicans who voted against the bill raised several concerns, including how accurately a victim would remember a very old crime and why the measure included a 200-room limit. Sponsor Marilyn Dondero Loop responded that there needed to be some sort of room limitation or there would be no bill.

Notaries charging more

AB245, a bill that would allow notaries public to charge more for document preparation services, passed in a 31-11 vote.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said the bill was backed by small businesses that wanted the opportunity to make more money. It would double or triple the fees that notaries are allowed to charge for certain services, and create civil penalties for violators — a provision Flores said was meant to curb bad actors in the industry.

The industry can be open to malfeasance in part because of notaries misrepresenting themselves as authorized to process immigration documents because of the way the term “notarios” translates in Latin American countries.

Cage-free eggs

Members of the Assembly voted 27-15 to pass AB399, which requires eggs sold within the state to be housed in cage-free living arrangements by Jan. 1, 2024.

Sponsor Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) argued during a hearing that demands for efficiency in egg production led to hens living in “pretty horrific conditions” with less square footage than a piece of letter paper. Egg industry officials who testified said consumer demand for cage-free eggs is quickly rising, and several of Nevada’s neighboring states are adopting cage-free requirements.

Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) was the lone Republican to support the measure.

Citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

Assembly members voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for AB440 — a bill that directs police to issue citations in lieu of arresting people over misdemeanors in more situations. The measure does make exceptions for when the matter is a “subsequent” offense, defined as something for which the person has been previously arrested, convicted or cited. 

Multi-parent adoption

A measure allowing multiple parents to adopt a child without removing a parent from a child’s birth certificate passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB115, sponsored by Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), would recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

Small business advocate

On a 31-11 vote, members of the Assembly advanced a bill that would create an Office of Small Business Advocacy under the purview of the state lieutenant governor.

The bill, AB184, was amended to put a 2023 expiration date on the office and prohibits the lieutenant governor from funding positions in the office from budgeted dollars from the state’s general fund.

MONDAY

Sealing eviction records during COVID

Assembly members cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve AB141, a bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would require courts to automatically seal eviction case court records for any summary eviction conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original version of the bill would have also required landlords to give certain long-term tenants additional advance notice before proceeding with a no-cause eviction, but those provisions were removed in an amendment.

Unemployment bill

Senators voted 12-9 to advance SB75, a measure that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions and assuring that layoffs during the height of the pandemic recession do not count against employers in determining their unemployment tax rate.

Republicans, who want more ambitious changes such as fast-tracking a major overhaul of computer infrastructure and the merging of the regular system with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and the self-employed, said the bill does not go far enough.

“It's the only bill that DETR brought, and yet it fails to address the bulk of the problems including the structural and technological deficits that have kept thousands of people from getting the benefits they paid for,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “I'm amazed that anyone thinks that this is enough.”

Pickard also spoke out against lawmakers’ decision to extend unemployment benefits to school support professionals who work from nine to eleven months a year. Those workers typically aren’t eligible for benefits because they have a reasonable expectation of their job returning after the summertime, although union representatives say a tough economic climate has hurt their summer job prospects.

But those workers will be eligible for unemployment this summer under emergency regulations adopted last week. Republicans say that even with federal funds footing 75 percent of the bill, it could cost districts millions of dollars.

“They were hired for nine months of work. This is a giveaway that I cannot support,” Pickard said.

Lowering barriers to contraception

Members of the Senate unanimously voted to approve SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The bill would allow women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit

Cannizzaro introduced similar legislation in 2019, but that bill never made it out of its final committee hearing. 

“Removing access barriers to birth control will lead to better health outcomes for Nevadans who need it,” Cannizzaro tweeted after the bill was voted out of the Senate. “I’m excited to move this bill on to the Assembly!”

If the bill passes, Nevada will become the 13th state to legalize pharmacist-prescribed hormonal contraceptives.

Keeping wage history private

Senators vote 17-4 to pass SB293, which prohibits an employer from seeking out a job candidate’s wage or salary history, or basing pay on a previous salary.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said the measure would help tackle the gender pay gap, ensuring that if a woman’s pay was lower than her male counterparts in her last job, it would not follow her to her next job and perpetuate a disparity.

She said the measure directs employers to base pay on a worker’s experience and qualifications instead of a previous pay scale.

Four Republican senators opposed the bill.

‘Pattern and practice’ investigations of police agencies

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB58, a bill sponsored by the attorney general’s office that authorizes the agency to conduct so-called “pattern and practice” investigations into systemic abuse or discrimination committed by law enforcement. 

During a hearing on the bill last month, Attorney General Aaron Ford said the measure was necessary because the federal U.S. Department of Justice — which was given authority to conduct such investigations in 1994 — ceased conducting them in 2017 under former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Though the policy may change, Ford said it is important for the state to have the ability to undertake similar investigations.

Jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

Members of the Assembly voted 32-10 to approve AB42, a bill seeking to implement a Nevada Supreme Court decision requiring jury trials in misdemeanor domestic violence cases that involve the defendant losing the right to have a firearm. 

The bill, which was sponsored by the City of Henderson, attempts to square a simmering implementation issue that arose for local governments after the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision requiring jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases.

Six Republican Assembly members — Annie Black, Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama, Lisa Krasner, Tom Roberts and Jill Tolles —  joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Mining oversight

Members of the Assembly voted along party lines (26-16) to approve AB148, a bill by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) that would prohibit the issuance of a mining operation or exploration permit to any person leading a company that has defaulted on obligations related to mining reclamation.

An amendment to the bill refined the definition of a “principal officer” of a company to a “person who has a controlling interest” in a mining company that has defaulted on obligations, and allows that person to receive a permit once past debts are paid. The measure, if approved, would go into effect in 2022.

Hairstyle discrimination

In a 20-1 vote, the Senate passed SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), the legislation extends statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools.

The bill arrives as part of a nationwide movement to end hair discrimination. Nevada is one of roughly thirty states considering adopting protections for hair styles, and at least 10 states, including Washington, California and Colorado, have already passed similar legislation.

“This is something that is new to some of the folks in this chamber, but very real to others who have spent years of their lives trying to make sure that their hair is appropriate, based upon what is often someone else's standards,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas).

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was the only senator to vote in opposition.

Paid leave for health reasons and getting vaccine

The Senate passed SB209 by a vote of 19-2 with Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) in opposition.

Introduced by Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), the bill would approve the use of state-mandated paid leave for any health reason, including receiving a COVID vaccine. It also requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct an interim study on the COVID public health crisis.

Kieckhefer said that though he supports paid leave for vaccines, the study did not seem necessary.

“I am … unabashedly pro vaccines,” Kieckhefer said. “However, I think the idea of charging the Legislative Committee on Health Care with the job of conducting an interim study on the state's COVID-19 response is a Herculean task that is most appropriate elsewhere.”

HOA debt collection

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to pass SB186, a bill requiring collection agencies to file a report on collections related to homeowners’ associations (HOA).

The bill also prohibits collection agencies from collecting debts from a person who owes fees to an HOA if the collection agency is connected at all to that HOA, either through sharing the same owners or affiliates.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) spoke in opposition to the bill, citing increased burdens on HOAs. 

The bill initially required collection agencies to report on the race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation of people from whom they are collecting, but was replaced with a requirement for the homeowner’s ZIP code. Still, Pickard said that the bill’s history was problematic.

“If we wish to find true equality and treatment, it must begin with race neutral goals that put all people on an even playing field,” Pickard said. “Not simply changing the parameters of the prejudice that moves one ahead at the expense of another.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) joined Democrats in support of the legislation.

Hate crimes

Members of the Senate cast a party-line vote, 12-9, to pass SB166, a bill clarifying that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

Sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), the bill specifies that characteristics include, race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. It also provides that a perpetrator may be punished with an additional penalty if he or she commits a crime based solely on the characteristic of the victim, even if the victim and perpetrator share that characteristic.

Though the measure passed along party-lines, it generated no floor remarks or debate.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Low-income people could access savings accounts and matching funds that could multiply their deposits up to five fold under SB188, a bill that senators passed unanimously which creates the “Individual Development Account Program.” People living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system are eligible.

The bill calls for the state treasurer to work with a fiduciary organization that would accept grants and donations, then use them to match funds deposited by account holders, with up to $3,000 per beneficiary per year. The state would also be required to provide financial literacy training to account holders.

“This legislation will aid systems in supporting individuals to develop pathways out of poverty,” wrote Tiffany Tyler-Garner, head of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, in a letter of support. “Additionally, it establishes statewide infrastructure for fostering financial independence.”

Ratios of students to social workers

School districts in Clark and Washoe counties would have to create plans for achieving better ratios of students to mental health professionals under SB151, which passed the Senate in an 18-3 vote. 

Each year, districts must report to the governor, lawmakers and the Nevada Board of Education their ratio of students to “specialized instructional support personnel” (such as counselors, school psychologists and social workers). The bill also requires the districts to set targets for improvement and describe strategies for recruiting and retaining those staff members.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) voted against the bill, saying that the state’s current budget proposal will reduce the amount of funding available to social workers and lead to cuts in the positions even “as their contractual obligations continue to increase.”

“Hopefully, this measure will be able to be implemented with integrity that it needs to ensure that social workers are being funded at a level that is necessary,” he said.

Statewide human trafficking plan

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB143, a bill by Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) that would require creation of a statewide coalition and plan to deliver services to victims of human trafficking.

Krasner said previously that the bill is intended to help the state qualify for federal grants that require formation of a statewide plan for human trafficking victim services. The program would be placed under the Division of Child and Family Services in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and includes a requirements that the state publish an online directory of services for victims of human trafficking.

This story was updated at 1:57 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2021 to include a quote from Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui on an amendment in the "ghost guns" bill.

Attorney general warns against scammers selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards

Attorney General Aaron Ford warned Nevadans on Monday about scammers selling fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards and said “awareness” is the first line of defense against those scams. 

People may use the fraudulent cards to misrepresent their vaccination status at work or school or may do so in order to travel or attend events.

“These deceptive cards threaten the health of our communities,” Ford said during a call with reporters and state health officials. “They delay our ability to protect from the virus, and they may violate many state laws. Providers who are lawfully authorized to administer the vaccine will give you a legitimate vaccination card on site.”

Ford said his office will prosecute people caught making and selling fake vaccination cards; however, he added that penalties would be determined on a case-by-case basis, as someone who sells one fake vaccination card would likely be treated differently from someone who makes and sells a thousand. Ford declined to comment on any ongoing cases involving scammers.

Those who purchase the cards also could face legal consequences if they are caught using the card for unlawful purposes, such as misrepresenting to an employer that they have been vaccinated.

Ford urged people to not post pictures of their vaccination cards online, as the cards contain personal identifiable information, including a person’s full name and date of birth.

“Every time I see someone post their card, I cringe because we have tried our best to let folks know that you should not post your vaccination card,” he said. Instead, maybe post a picture of a Band-Aid on your arm … We just advise folks, if you have a picture of a vaccination card up, take it down.”

On April 1, Ford, alongside 44 other attorneys general, sent a letter to the chief executives of Twitter, eBay and Shopify asking those companies to take immediate action to prevent the sale of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards on their platforms. And on Monday, Ford and 41 other attorneys general expanded those efforts by urging OfferUp to also take down ads or links that are selling cards — and to preserve information about the ads and sellers for possible investigations.

During Monday’s call, Ford asked Nevadans to report on his office’s website any encounters they have with fake vaccination cards. Nevadans can go to the state’s online appointment scheduler in order to receive a real vaccination and card.

Senate committee advances bill to create ‘988’ mental health hotline, set plan for allocating opioid settlement funds

Pills spilling from bottle

A legislative committee unanimously passed a bill that would create a state fund to house proceeds from opioid settlements, such as those against prominent pharmaceutical companies accused of helping fuel the opioid crisis.

It also would establish a behavioral health crisis hotline using a federally mandated 988 phone number, rather than a longer and harder-to-remember 10-digit number for a suicide hotline.

“This one I have a particularly high level of enthusiasm for because I think both of the components in this bill had the opportunity to really move the needle in our behavioral health,” Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) said during a hearing of the bill, SB390, on Thursday evening.

Opioid litigation funds

The bill would establish the “Nevada Fund for Healthy Communities,” which would hold the proceeds of state litigation against opioid manufacturers, distributors, sellers and marketers — including the $45 million Nevada is set to receive from the settlement of a lawsuit against consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which provided services for opioid manufacturers.

Ratti, who presented the Senate Health and Human Services Committee measure, explained that the fund would be used by the Department of Health and Human Services to remediate the negative impacts of the opioid crisis on the state.

Ratti said the bill would also work in tandem with another piece of legislation from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno). Her bill, AB374, which passed an Assembly committee this week and faces a possible vote of the full Assembly, would establish a statewide “Substance Use Response Working Group” in the attorney general’s office that would set out to prevent or reduce substance through mitigation and treatment efforts, education and examining behavioral health data.

In distributing the money from the fund, the department would solicit grant applications from local agencies and non-profit organizations and award grants based on recommendations from the working group as well as a comprehensive needs assessment first conducted by the department. Ratti provided one example of what the relationship between the state and local agencies could look like.

“If the county had the resources from their lawsuit to build a transitional housing property, because they got some one shot from these settlements, the state could put some of these dollars into Medicaid to leverage the services to be provided in that facility,” she said. “You might see the two partners collaborating in that way… collaborating together to address the impact.”

The fund could potentially hold billions of dollars in the coming years, Attorney General Aaron Ford said during the hearing presentation. Ford said that his office is pursuing opioid litigation against more than 60 defendants, including pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson, Noramco and Cephalon. He also noted that, similar to the settlement with McKinsey & Company, his office continues to pursue litigation specifically for the benefit of Nevada, rather than as a part of multi-state litigation.

“Nevada's total share would not be enough to address or remediate the harms caused by the opioid epidemic in Nevada,” Ford said. “We are one of the hardest hit states, as I've said. And so my office is continuing to monitor these discussions, but we're moving forward with our own litigation in Nevada.”

Proceeds for the fund might come over a multi-year span, though. Ford said that some litigation was delayed by the pandemic, and because of the differences in litigation being pursued against the more than 60 defendants, money won would likely come in at different times.

Ratti explained that the bill would establish a plan and help generate ideas for how to spend that money as it is received by the state. 

Behavioral health crisis hotline

The bill also would set up a hotline, referred to as 988, that is mandated by the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020.

The federal bill requires states to move from a 10-digit suicide hotline number to a three-digit number (988), and the rollout of the new behavioral health crisis number has to be complete by July of 2022.

Stephanie Woodard, the state’s senior advisor on behavioral health, said the new number would work as a transition from the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that already has call center personnel in place to a new easier-to-reach number that would improve the state’s behavioral health care system.

“The ideal crisis system would match the right intervention to the right person at the right place in the right time,” Woodard said during the hearing. “Without such services, individuals may forego the care that they need, or unnecessarily use high cost services such as emergency rooms.”

And though the 988 line builds off of the existing suicide prevention line, Ratti noted that part of the work in setting up the line will include ensuring members of the public know they can call the 988 line in the event of a behavioral health emergency, rather than calling 911 as many people are likely accustomed to.

The 988 line received significant support from the public, including the Nevada branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“A call for help shouldn't result in trauma or tragedy,” said Robin Reedy, executive director for the alliance. “Building a 988 crisis system in our state will move us closer toward a shared goal: a respectful, dignified and effective response to everyone who experienced mental health, substance use or suicidal crisis.”

The measure next faces a possible vote on the Senate floor.

Nevada secures $45 million settlement in opioid litigation, accusing consulting firm of deceptive marketing practices that led to overdose deaths

Pills spilling from bottle

Nevada will receive $45 million from the settlement of a lawsuit against consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which provided services for opioid manufacturers, Attorney General Aaron Ford announced on Monday. 

Ford in 2019 filed a 241-page complaint against nationally prominent opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and individuals, including Purdue Pharma, Walgreens, Walmart and CVS Pharmacy. At the time, Ford said the defendants “created an unprecedented public health crisis for their own profits” by duping doctors into prescribing the highly addictive drug used primarily for pain management. 

During a press conference, Ford said McKinsey & Company's role in the opioid crisis included advising manufacturers on how to maximize their profits from the medication. He said that directly affects Nevada, which he described as hard-hit by the crisis.

Nevada will receive the settlement money in two installments, with $23 million arriving in 45 days and $22 million arriving in 120 days. 

“The devastation caused by the opioid epidemic is felt by every mother and father who has lost a child,” Ford said during the press conference. “It's felt by siblings who've lost a sister or a brother… And obviously it's felt by those still suffering from an opioid addiction.” 

McKinsey & Company holds that their work in consulting opioid manufacturers was not against the law.

"McKinsey believes its past work was lawful and has denied allegations to the contrary. The settlement agreement with Nevada, like those reached in February, contains no admission of wrongdoing or liability," said a company spokesperson in a statement.

Monday’s announcement came after Ford withdrew Nevada from a multi-state lawsuit that included 55 states and territories against opioid manufacturers. The attorney general said the multi-state settlement would have yielded $7 million for Nevada, but he pursued individual litigation because he said that “Nevadans were entitled to more.” 

Three months ago, the National Drug Helpline marked Nevada on “red alert” as opioid-related deaths rose amid the pandemic. Officials reported a 50 percent increase in opioid- and fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020, which saw a greater increase in the months following the beginning of the pandemic. 

For now, the attorney general said his office will be working with the Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak to “figure out the best way to appropriate the funds." Ford said that will include using the funds to address the opioid crisis and recover the costs of pursuing the case, but didn't name specific expenditures related to that.

“This settlement comes at a time when Nevada needs an influx of funds to continue its work in this area, which is particularly important in light of the pandemic that has seen a resurgence in opioid-related deaths,” Ford said. 

Updated on 3/22/2021 at 1:48 p.m. to correct a prior statement saying there were 40 defendants listed on the attorney general's complaint, add a statement from McKinsey & Company and include information from Ford's office regarding the use of the funds from the settlement.

Updated on 3/22/2021 at 4:03 p.m. to update the headline of the article.

Behind the Bar: Frierson on his cancer diagnosis, taxing EVs, small business support office and taking a stand against AAPI discrimination

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: More details on Speaker Jason Frierson’s prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Plus, another GOP effort to tax electric vehicle charging, return of the small business advocate office, what elected officials had to say about discrimination against Asian Americans and another Carson City Restaurant Spotlight.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. This newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


For reporters, heading into the Speaker’s office means it’s time to talk about a major piece of policy, or some kind of major upcoming development to watch for in the legislative session.

Monday was different.

My colleague Michelle Rindels and I headed into the office to interview Speaker Jason Frierson on a much more personal topic: his prostate cancer diagnosis and decision to undergo a cryotherapy treatment on Wednesday.

It’s an immensely personal thing to share. I think Frierson was mildly uncomfortable, at least at the start of the interview, with talking at length about the diagnosis and his decisions as they relate to treatment.

But Frierson didn’t have to share this much information — legislators tend to not really share too much about their personal health history or ongoing issues, especially as it relates to temporary absences from the legislative chambers. 

All accounts indicate that the procedure went well, and I believe that Frierson plans to participate in (virtual) committee meetings as soon as Thursday. 

But in the days since the interview and while writing the story itself, I’ve reflected on just why Frierson decided to share his diagnosis. Obviously, there is news value and a necessity to report that one of the two most powerful Democrats in the Legislature is battling cancer, but one thing that struck me in reviewing the transcript in how much of his focus was on spreading general awareness about prostate cancer.

“I just felt compelled to make sure that if there was one person ... that will go get tested when they turn 50, or one person that will follow up after they get a ... PSA (prostate-specific antigen test) that's higher than it should be for the age, then it's well worth it,” he said during the interview. “Just one.”

It’s pretty easy to get numb to the various pronouncements and awareness days (or weeks or months) that are announced almost daily in the Legislature. There’s a lot of them, and only 120 days to recognize them all.

But an announcement like the one Frierson made cuts through that monotony of floor speeches and recognitions, and makes it real. This is a man who many who read this newsletter have met, and who is concerned about whether he’ll be around to see his kids grow up. That’s real.

If anything, this should bring a little more attention to a preventable disease that nonetheless kills nearly 300 people a year. It should also bring more attention to a bill that I, in all honesty, probably would have skimmed over before this interview happened.

It’s AB187 — a bill that “Designates the month of September of each year as ‘Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month’ in Nevada.” It’s up for a hearing on Monday, and we’ll be covering it.

— Riley Snyder


Electric vehicle tax again proposed by Senate Republican leader

Monday was not April Fool’s Day, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) told members of the Senate Growth and Infrastructure committee at the start of the week.

Yet the nominally anti-tax leader of the state Senate Republicans nonetheless is sponsoring a bill, SB191, that would levy a 10 percent surcharge (also known as a tax) on the sale of electric service to charge the battery of an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Settelmeyer hasn’t had a major change of heart on taxes (he introduced a similar bill last session), nor does he have it out for electric vehicle owners — telling committee members Monday that he’s one of the handful of lawmakers who owns an electric vehicle. He said his main concern was ensuring the solvency of the state’s Highway Fund — which is mostly funded through taxes on gasoline sales.

“We bought an EV based on the fact that it was economical,” he said. “We're able to get a used one for $8,000, and the fact of not having to contribute at all bothered me.”

The proposal attracted support from trade groups representing contractors, the petroleum industry and even the state’s Independent American Party, whose lobbyist Lynn Chapman in perhaps the understatement of the session said they “usually don't support taxes and fee increases” but thought Settelmeyer’s bill made sense.

But the legislation was opposed by a handful of clean energy groups, whose representatives said the bill would unfairly target electric vehicles and that lawmakers should take a more holistic approach to modernizing transportation infrastructure and funding.

“This bill only hurts the EV drivers who utilize public charging, which are generally those drivers who do not have access to home charging and live in multi-unit dwellings, which are usually the lower income drivers,” Plug In America lobbyist Katherine Stainken said. “And so this bill is seeking to ensure that the roads in Nevada are adequately funded by EV drivers? This bill makes no sense in accomplishing that objective.”

Settelmeyer — who at one point quipped that the DMV didn’t submit a fiscal note on the bill because they were “looking at the chances the majority party letting the minority party have a bill passed” — said he was open to amendments on the proposal, including potentially broadening the language to include other alternative fuel sources and sending a portion of the proceeds to county governments for transportation spending.

“Let's try to be far-reaching, so we don't have to come back and do this again,” he said.

— Riley Snyder


Support for small businesses is on the horizon

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, 35 percent of Nevada's small businesses have permanently closed their doors. 

Lawmakers worry that unless the state provides more support, that percentage will only continue to grow.

One solution to the problem lies in an initiative Gov. Steve Sisolak touted in his State of the State address and was introduced as AB184. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the bill would establish an office of small business advocacy with staff dedicated to helping small businesses access resources and knowledge.

"Our small businesses need us more than ever," Frierson said during a Senate Government Affairs committee hearing Monday. "With the influx of federal, state and local resources available during these tough times, I see no better time for this office to exist, to help Nevadans navigate through these difficult times and find the resources in a central location to have the greatest chance of success."

The office would operate under the lieutenant governor's purview, acting as a central hub for businesses seeking advice, navigating bureaucracy and looking for support. A similar concept was introduced in 2019 but failed to advance out of the Senate.

But the program comes with a price tag. It’s projected to cost a combined $576,000 over the next two fiscal years, and $412,000 in future budget cycles, per a fiscal note attached to the bill. The dollars would fund two positions (one director and one associate or ombudsman) and help pay for a case management system and other start-up costs.

Businesses with 100 employees or less would have access to the program, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall said. Reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that businesses employing fewer than 20 people account for 83 percent of all firms in the state.

Plans also include hiring a Spanish-speaking aide, and Marshall said that the office would seek to make sure that interpreters are available to help business owners in the language with which they are most familiar.

"One of the things you find when you're talking to small businesses is that [for] minority and women, [owning a business] is an opportunity for those demographics to move ahead economically in life," Marshall said. "It is a path, and it is a particularly American path. And so, the ability to serve diverse communities becomes very important."

— Tabitha Mueller


‘Hate has no home in Nevada’: Leaders speak out against discrimination toward Asians

State and local leaders in Nevada are turning a spotlight on discrimination against Asian Americans in the wake of a shooting at Asian-owned spas in Georgia that left eight people dead.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez, who is of Thai and Mexican descent, said on the Assembly floor on Wednesday that she was “heartbroken” by the news of the shooting that happened on Tuesday. Six Asian women were killed at three spas, and a 21-year-old white man was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the case.

“It is with a heavy heart I rise in support of my Asian brothers and sisters across the country as we continue to experience escalating rates of violence driven in part by fear-mongering and racism,” she said. “ I will continue to be a voice for all of our communities targeted by extremists, including my (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community, as long as our community continues to experience bigotry.”

Hours before the rampage, Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom requested the drafting of a resolution condemning and combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“This is a huge issue around the country,” Segerblom said at a meeting Tuesday. “Fortunately we haven't seen visible public signs of this happening in Las Vegas. But 10 percent of our population is Asian and it's important to be proactive and let them know that we stand behind them.”

During public comment, Craig Valdez, a member of the Clark County Asian American Pacific Islanders Community Commission, urged the commissioners to support the resolution as incidents of racism, discrimination, harassment and assault toward AAPI population have surged nationwide since the start of the pandemic. Asian Americans reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents between March 2020 and February 2021, according to a report released by Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday.

“Fear of the novel coronavirus, which originated in China, has increased racist and xenophobic sentiments, creating a climate that hails back to the era of yellow peril,” Valdez said. “Hate has no home here in Nevada. Our community must come together to confront this hate and vitriol and work collaboratively across the lines of difference in the pursuit of justice and liberation.” 

— Jannelle Calderon


By the Numbers: Behavioral health budget cuts

On Tuesday, members of a legislative budget subcommittee took a deep look at the state’s behavioral health budget, which suffered substantial cuts during the 2020 budget-focused special session. Here are some figures that stood out:

$38 million: The total dollar amount of budget cuts made to the state’s behavioral health budget accounts during the 2020 special session. Division administrators said most of those cuts have since been restored.

$176,000: The proposed reduction in the budget for the state’s problem gambling treatment program for each fiscal year in the two-year budget. If approved, the proposed cuts would be assessed and through the state’s Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling.

63: The number of individuals who, if the $176,000 in annual funding was restored, could receive treatment through the state’s problem gambling treatment program.

62: The current number of vacancies in the northern Nevada state behavioral health program. The governor’s proposed budget would keep 22 of those vacancies throughout the first year of the budget.

— Riley Snyder


Carson City Restaurant Spotlight

I found myself a bit torn on Tuesday evening — should I start dinner or devote my full attention to the scintillating if dense panel discussion about mining taxes unfolding live on The Indy’s YouTube account?

I chose the latter, and decided to let the nearby pupuseria La Santaneca handle the food.

If you haven’t tried pupusas, they’re a staple of El Salvador cuisine that is essentially a chunky grilled tortilla stuffed with melty cheese, meat and other tasty accompaniments. They’re the ultimate savory, not-really-spicy comfort food best served with a side of spicy tax policy debate.

I ordered an assortment of pupusas filled with cheese, chorizo, beans, jalapeno and loroco (an edible Central American flower), and they came piping hot with little baggies of marinated cabbage and a mild red salsa to heap on top. I’d recommend two to three pupusas per person, which are between $2 and $4 a pop.

Even if you don’t have the sonorous voices of Jim Wadhams and Laura Martin as your soundtrack, La Santaneca is an abundantly worthwhile choice for your next takeout dinner.

Place your order (before 8:30 p.m.) at (775) 301-6678, and pick it up at 316 East Winnie Lane.

Have a restaurant suggestion for the Spotlight? Tell me at michelle@thenvindy.com. FYI: We’re not accepting free food in order to preserve the integrity of the reviews.

— Michelle Rindels

A pair of soon-to-be-devoured pupusas from La Santaneca in Carson City on March 17, 2021. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading:

Three weeks until all adults can get the COVID vaccine, Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez and Megan Messerly report

Another calm, well-thought-out and reasonable debate about guns — this time on banning “ghost guns” and beefing up the banning of guns on private property.

An important read from Daniel Rothberg on swamp cedars, a “unique population of large juniper trees” in Eastern Nevada that’s sacred to Indigenous communities in the area. Sign up for the Indy Environment newsletter here.

If you need more Daniel in your life, or want to relive the YouTube comment flame war, check out our panel discussion on Nevada mining taxes.

AG Aaron Ford wants his office to have the same “pattern and practice” investigatory powers that the U.S. Department of Justice has (but stopped doing them in 2017). An interesting subplot in this Michelle Rindels story is the LVPPA continuing to break ranks with other law enforcement unions.

Our story on Monday’s bill introduction Deadline Day that wasn’t (my conspiracy theory is that there’s a big Bachelor fan in the legal division who didn’t want to miss the finale).

Another great installment in our Freshman Orientation series, on Assemblywoman Clara “Claire” Thomas (via Tabitha Mueller).

There have been a handful of bills introduced this session that affect public record laws. (Associated Press)

Residents of Empire and Gerlach held a screening of Nomadland, the Academy Award-nominated film that in part takes place in rural Nevada. Many locals are in the film, including the girl who asks Frances McDormand’s character early on if she’s homeless, but the nearest theater is 100 miles away in Sparks. (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Attorney Sigal Chattah spoke with the Review-Journal about her bid for attorney general. In semi-related news, Wednesday marks the one-month anniversary of her lawsuit seeking to open the state Legislature to the public, but as of Tuesday, attorneys for the Legislature haven’t actually been served with the lawsuit. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Most Nevadans who got their first COVID shot are following up to get their second COVID vaccine shot. (Nevada Current)

Not only did the Department of Corrections and Gov. Steve Sisolak not allow for compassionate release during a pandemic (5,460 inmates and staff contracted COVID, 56 died), but the office also suspended “good time” credits during the pandemic. Advocates say they’ve identified “817 people who should have received mandatory parole hearings and 71 whose sentences would have ended ‘if they would have received 60 credits they lost over the course of this year.’” (Nevada Current)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Remaining Bill Introductions Deadline: 4 (Monday, March 22, 2021)

First Committee Passage: 22 (Friday, April 9, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 74 (May 31, 2021)

Attorney general bill seeks investigations of police practices that look beyond individual ‘bad apples’

Attorney General Aaron Ford pushed back on the notion Tuesday that “a few bad apples” are responsible for incidents of excessive police force, arguing his office needs authority to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations into systemic issues at law enforcement agencies that are spoiling the proverbial apple barrel.

Ford’s bill, AB58, garnered public support from several police groups, but not the Las Vegas Police Protective Association union, at a hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The bill bars law enforcement from engaging in patterns of conduct or practices that deprive people of constitutional rights, authorizes the attorney general to investigate allegations of such patterns and calls for the office to issue a report on the findings of the investigation.

The investigations “will allow us to effectively determine whether claims of misconduct were one-off instances, isolated, by individual officers, or whether they are symptoms of larger deficiencies with an agency's customs, training and culture,” Ford said.

As opposed to investigating the circumstances of an individual shooting involving a police officer, “pattern and practice” investigations would be looking at procedures for an entire agency, and the result would not be criminal charges but civil orders to stop doing something or start doing something. It would not take from local jurisdictions the ability to investigate officers for individual violations of policy, or for a district attorney to pursue criminal charges for criminal acts, according to the attorney general’s office.

The U.S. Department of Justice has authority to do such investigations into local and state law enforcement agencies and has done 70 of them since 1994, Ford said. But the agency stopped doing them in 2017, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said they would be best handled by the states. 

While it’s possible the federal government’s practice will change under the leadership of the Biden administration and new Attorney General Merrick Garland, Ford said maintaining the authority to do pattern and practice investigations at the state level as well as the federal level would double the likelihood that a complaint would be investigated. It also would mean the investigation could be conducted by officials more familiar with the state.

Ford said about a half a dozen states have laws allowing for such investigations at the state level, and several others are pursuing such a change.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd last year at the hands of Minneapolis police, and as Black Lives Matter demonstrations took place across the county, Ford had convened a series of virtual panel discussions on criminal justice topics called “Justice and Injustice.”  He said the bill was a direct result of law enforcement personnel recommitting to building trust with the communities they serve. 

The bill concept was further refined through months of discussions, including with a “humongous” working group last week, Ford said.

While the bill originally authorized the attorney general’s office to observe any investigation into use of police force or conduct such an investigation itself, Ford said an amendment has removed those provisions and his office is not “seeking concurrent jurisdiction over certain police misconduct.”

Several law enforcement groups voiced support for the bill, including the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, the Nevada Police Union and the Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association.

“The law enforcement leaders in our association are not afraid of this kind of oversight,” said Eric Spratley, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association. “We actually welcome the extra eyes to make Nevada law enforcement agencies the best they can be.”

Christine Saunders, political director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said that chalking up excessive police force to “a few bad apples” is common after high-profile incidents.

“However, the problems often continue to happen over and over again,” she said. “Pattern and practice investigations are an important tool to address systemic racism and discrimination in law enforcement agencies.”

The bill drew concerns that the effectiveness of the policy could vary widely depending on who holds the elected attorney general post and that its confidentiality provisions are overbroad.

“There are already many statutory and common law exceptions to the Public Records Act that would allow the attorney general's office to prevent the release of a personal or other potentially harmful information,” said Richard Karpel, head of the Nevada Press Association. “With those tools already in place, it doesn't make sense to us to throw a blanket of secrecy over the entire process.”

Jessica Adair, Ford’s chief of staff, argued the bill wouldn’t change the statutory responsibilities law enforcement has to comply with public records requests. She said that some level of confidentiality is needed to avoid a chilling effect on whistleblowers and to avoid situations where accusers with an ulterior motive “weaponize” the process, but that confidentiality on investigative materials could be waived by the disclosing party or a court.

The Las Vegas Police Protective Association union opposed the bill. A representative said it was unnecessary because it could duplicate what the federal government can already do, and said there have been no instances in recent memory that would trigger such an investigation because “the departments are doing a great job.”

“It really looks like it's another political move, just to satisfy groups that believe that there's some type of misconduct, that clearly isn't there,” said union vice president Scott Nicholas.

Ford pushed back on the allegation that the bill was political. He said he tried to understand the position of the police through ride-alongs but that the experience of living as a person of color could not be replicated.

“They can't walk a second in my shoes as a Black man, and having to respond in the aftermath of George Floyd,” he said. “There's no ride along that I can offer them. What I can offer them is what we did, which is to come to the table with us to hear what we're having to say around these issues.”

Tuesday’s meeting marked the first hearing for the bill. The committee did not vote on the measure. 

Harris promotes $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in Las Vegas, meets with food workers

Vice President Kamala Harris at the Culinary Academy

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff visited Las Vegas on Monday to meet with food workers, small business owners and those helping the vaccination efforts during a tour to promote the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package President Joe Biden signed into law last week.

“What I want to do is make sure that people know what they're entitled to in the American Rescue Plan,” Harris said at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. “It's not selling … think of it more as a public education campaign. This is what's happening. This is what you're entitled to receive. And so go out there and get it.”

Harris highlighted the $1,400 direct payments, $3,000-plus child tax credits and the six-month extension of unemployment benefits that are part of the bill.

Surrounded by thousands of pounds of fresh produce being packed into boxes for Clark County families in need, she also said that Nevada has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic because of the state’s dependence on the hospitality industry. Last April, the state’s unemployment rate hit 28 percent — the highest in the nation.

Vice President Kamala Harris visits a food distribution facility at the Culinary Academy on Monday, March 15, 2021. Harris was in Las Vegas during the nationwide "Help is Here" tour. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

“I've learned, one, that people are suffering, but we knew that before, and we knew it based on the statistics. But the stories add much more color to that point,” Harris said. “Folks want to work. And for those who are in industries where they may not get rehired, what that is going to mean for them in terms of prolonged suffering.”

When asked by reporters at the event whether tax increases are being considered as the next step of the pandemic response, Harris said she doesn’t know and that she remains focused on getting the message out about the American Rescue Plan.

While at the Culinary Academy, Harris also met with Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Mark Scott, CEO of the non-profit hospitality training institute that partners with local unions. They discussed the ongoing efforts of the academy’s Community Food Assistance Program, which has provided Clark County residents with more than 12 million pounds of food since the beginning of the pandemic.

During her opening remarks there, Harris said “help is here,” echoing the same language of a new Democratic National Committee campaign that began running television advertisements in Las Vegas on Monday. It seeks to tout the success of the Democrats who passed the relief bill and slam the Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill.

Prior to her visit to the Culinary Academy, Harris spoke with nursing and medical students at a vaccination clinic at UNLV, alongside Gov. Steve Sisolak. She was then joined by Attorney General Aaron Ford at Tacotarian, a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas serving plant-based fare, where she talked about the importance of small businesses.

The second gentleman visited Three Square Food Bank on Monday afternoon where he toured the facility and talked with community members who have been affected by food insecurity. The organization is the area’s largest hunger relief organization, serving Clark, Lincoln, Esmeralda and Nye counties. 

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff talks with employees, Riley beck, left, and Caleb Cooper during a tour of Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas on Monday, March 15, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

During his visit, Emhoff stated he was there to “listen and learn” about the organization and the people in need, as it helps him understand issues and relay the information back to the administration. 

He also met Robert Thompson, deputy administrator of the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, who expressed his gratitude for the American Rescue Plan and its $12 billion for food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) intended to mitigate the nation’s extraordinarily high levels of hunger and hardship. At the height of the pandemic, one in six Nevadans was enrolled in the food stamp program. 

Emhoff listened to the stories of three community members who have experienced food insecurity and then were helped by Three Square, as well as Pastor Bobby Smith of the New Beginnings Ministries in North Las Vegas, who shared how his church has been a source of help and support for many.

“We have been overwhelmed with some of the situations. This has been one of the most depressing years of my life,” Smith said. “If it wasn't for Three Square, we wouldn't have made it.”

The church has helped feed hundreds of families. Smith said he turned his living room into a grocery store for his church members to take what they needed. 

“You’ve come to the right place to start your tour because this is ground zero for the wrecking ball of COVID, on both health and the economy,” said Brian Burton, President and CEO of Three Square. “Because it shattered us a year ago this week.”

Harris and Emhoff will also be traveling to Los Angeles on Monday, before visiting Denver on Tuesday to continue to promote the American Rescue Plan. Harris will then travel with Biden to Georgia on Friday, as her next stop on the tour.

Behind the Bar: Lawsuit to open building hits roadblock. Plus: tiny house regulations, opt-out organ donation, state ERA advances and tribal burial site changes

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: Where the lawsuit seeking to open the Legislative building to the public stands after a 9th Circuit Court dismissal. Plus, details on a bill allowing tiny house development, an icy reception for the organ donation opt-out bill, advancing a state-based Equal Rights Amendment, and changes to tribal burial site laws. Carson City Restaurant Spotlight returns.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


The legal effort to open the halls of the Legislature to the public isn’t going so well.

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by an attorney for the group of four conservative lobbyists who sued to open the building in mid-February.

The order was brief — just five lines — and echoed what defendants in the case have said all along: the appeal was inappropriate because it was focused on a non-appealable interlocutory order, which is legal jargon for the procedural order issued by the federal District Court judge in the case. 

The appeal in this case focused on Judge Miranda Du’s order setting a normal and non-emergency briefing schedule in the case — a decision made because the plaintiffs (the four lobbyists) didn’t check all of the boxes needed to qualify for an emergency briefing. 

A filing submitted by Deputy Solicitor General Craig Newby to the 9th Circuit outlines where the initial lawsuit fell short in providing information typically required for an emergency, expedited briefing. It also seeks to have Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford — named defendants in the lawsuit — dismissed from the case, because, well, the executive and legislative are separate branches of government (the response helpfully links to a Schoolhouse Rock video in a footnote).

“Unlike other cases brought by Plaintiffs’ counsel, there is no emergency directive issued by the Governor mandating that the Legislature close (or open) the Legislative Building,” Newby wrote in a separate filing submitted to the district court. “The Governor understands the risks of COVID-19 spread in our community, resulting in difficult decisions he has had to make. Here however, the difficult decisions for keeping the Legislative Building open or closed lie with the Legislature, not him.”

I’m not an attorney, but I would guess that barring some kind of Hail Mary appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case will fall back to the original District Court.

But even then, the lawsuit still has issues. 

In a filing submitted on Tuesday, Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers told the court that the plaintiffs had “ failed to serve the Legislative Defendants, or an agent designated by them to receive service of process, with the summons and complaint.”

“In the absence of such service, the Legislative Defendants have not officially become parties to this action, and this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over the Legislative Defendants for any matters, including, without limitation, the emergency motion for preliminary injunction,” Powers wrote in the motion, which asked the court to pause all briefings in light of the then-pending appeal with the 9th Circuit Court.

(It should probably be noted that the attorney for the plaintiffs, Sigal Chattah, is running for attorney general in 2022.)

If you made it through all that legalese and are still reading, 1) congratulations, 2) now you know what it’s like to live in my brain and 3) you’re probably wondering where exactly this leaves the lawsuit and potential of a judicial-ordered reopening of the legislative building.

Again, not a lawyer, but I think there’s certainly a case to be made that an expedited briefing is appropriate in this case — we’re already a third of the way into the 120-day legislative session.

But that ticking clock also works against the litigation — legislators and staff got their first COVID vaccine shot last month, and legislative leadership are still targeting mid-April for a tentative, limited reopening date. 

As that tentative date gets closer, I think it makes it less likely that a judge would feel inclined to issue an emergency injunction to open the building, especially if the limited reopening is just a few weeks away.

But I’ll continue to follow the court case regardless; if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that making predictions in this business should be left to the supremely confident or foolhardy

— Riley Snyder


More options for tiny houses in Nevada

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) is the latest supporter of a housing movement that began when Henry David Thoreau rejected society and moved into a 150-square foot cabin near Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

Though Harris has not committed to a solitary existence in a small cabin near a pond, nor the modern-day option of applying for the popular television series Tiny House Nation, she did say that allowing more tiny homes to be built in Nevada could help address the state’s housing shortage.

"This is something I personally would choose to live in and maybe build as a permanent residence because of who I am and my own personal tastes," Harris said during a Senate Government Affairs committee hearing on the bill SB150 on Monday. "What I'm looking to do here is to allow those who like to build one ... or who would like to put it in their backyard, I would like to give them the option." 

Under Harris' proposed bill, municipalities in counties with more than 800,000 people would have to create zoning laws for tiny houses no more than 400 square feet in size that would: 

  • allow homeowners to build tiny houses as an addition to a property
  • recognize tiny homes as single-family dwelling units
  • set aside space for tiny house parks similar to mobile home parks. 

Counties with 100,000 residents or less would follow through with at least one of the three options, Harris said.

The bill addresses a need for specificity around zoning for tiny houses which are often a smaller square footage than what is normally permitted for single-family residences and sets up a regulatory structure for the housing type, supporters said.

But one skeptic of the bill, Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), worried tiny homes might depreciate housing values or exacerbate zoning disparities.

"I'm not a fan of tiny houses, mainly because I don't want it to go into poor areas. And I don't want it to go into poor areas that I want redevelopment to occur and actually have sustainable homes, good homes ... the American Dream home " she said.

Harris chalked up Neal's comments to a difference in philosophies. She said the legislation would provide an alternative for people who may not be able to find or afford a larger home and a way to increase density in more established communities.

"I also see [tiny homes] as a stepping stone to larger home ownership in that American Dream sense," Harris said.

— Tabitha Mueller


Proposed opt-out organ donation system gets icy reception

Critics of a new bill that would make Nevada the first state with an opt-out organ donation system are concerned that the new method would infringe on personal liberties and might even reduce the state’s donor pool.

The bill, SB134, would adjust the current opt-in system by making Nevadans who update or apply for a new driver's license or state ID card organ donors by default. If the bill is passed, someone filling out a DMV application would have to opt out of becoming an organ donor instead of opting in.

“I'm afraid that Nevada Donor Network has a very deep concern that an opt-out system is likely to have unintended negative consequences that would actually result in decreasing the availability of organs and tissues,” said lobbyist Dan Musgrove, a representative for the non-profit organ procurement organization, during a Monday hearing of the bill.

Musgrove explained that the opt-out system could create conflict with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which sets a regulatory framework for organ donation across different states. And he said the system could pose a problem by creating a group of people who decide to not be organ donors and remove themselves from the donor pool.

The main presenter of the bill, Ashley Biehl, a 30-year-old who had a heart transplant in 2017, pointed to the thousands of Americans who die each year waiting for a transplant, as well as Nevada’s “abysmal” rate of organ donor registration, which at 41 percent sits below the national average of 49 percent.

“Senate Bill 134 seeks to help alleviate that burden and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths by making more organs eligible for donation,” Biehl said.

Those who opposed the bill during the meeting, as well as some of the lawmakers on the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee, expressed concerns that a change to the organ donation system could infringe on individual rights.

“The general consensus has been over the years that government can't make choices over our bodies, over our personal opinions. And yet, this would seem to do violence to that concept,” Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said during the hearing. 

Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) also said the change to an opt-out system could potentially confuse people. Hammond said that someone could miss the change to the system and become an organ donor, even though they do not actually want to be one.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), said during the meeting that he would continue to work with stakeholders to address concerns about the bill language.

“Certainly the intent of this bill is to make a bold statement that Nevada would be the first opt-out state in the nation,” Ohrenschall said. “There is no intent to replace anyone's conscious decision as to whether they want to participate or not.”

— Sean Golonka


Nevada Equal Rights Amendment moving on to the next round

The Nevada Equal Rights Amendment is one step closer to the 2022 ballot, after the resolution passed out of committee with a 4-1 vote on Tuesday. 

The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee passed the resolution, SJR8, that would amend the Nevada Constitution to include that rights shall not be denied or abridged “on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.” It echoes language from the federal Equal Rights Amendment, which Nevada ratified (35 years after the fact) in 2017.

Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) was the sole vote opposing the resolution. She argued that the bill is “redundant” as it lays out equality and protection to multiple groups that the federal and state constitutions already protect. She also said the resolution’s list of specific groups of citizens is “bound to miss some.” 

“I believe in the rights of all people… I embrace those voices and the narratives behind those who have said ‘enough is enough,’ they are equal and I am equal with them,” Buck said. “I just cannot in good conscience support a bill that has the potential to harm, exclude or potentially forget a subgroup of people who were left off the list.” 

This is the proposed constitutional amendment’s second round of approval after being passed during the 2019 legislative session. If approved by the full Legislature, the resolution goes to a statewide vote in 2022. 

The committee vote comes after a setback for a national movement to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution. A judge ruled last week that the effort could not advance, even though Nevada and two other states recently ratified the proposed amendment, because a 1982 deadline set by Congress has passed.

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford said he is exploring further legal options, and Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) said she would continue the fight.

“There have been a long list of people who have been fighting for this, hoping for this, and praying for this,” said Spearman, who led the charge to have Nevada ratify the national amendment. “We are the hope. We are an answered prayer. We are the continuation of their work. We will not stop until the work is finished, and it will not be finished until the Equal Rights Amendment becomes the 28th amendment in our U.S. Constitution.” 

— Jannelle Calderon


Bill amends law that protects Native American burial sites

It’s illegal in Nevada to knowingly excavate an Indian burial site, which has been the case since 2017. 

But the current law exempts entities engaged in lawful activity, such as construction, mining and ranching, from obtaining permits from the State Museum so long as the purpose of the activity is exclusive from excavating a burial site. 

Nevada lawmakers are looking to clear up any ambiguities in the law through AB103, which seeks to clarify that the activity in question can only occur on the portion of the private land that does not contain the known burial site. 

“It got interpreted that there was an exemption,” said Marla McDade Williams of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony during the bill’s presentation in the Assembly Natural Resources committee on Monday. “So this legislation in front of you simply makes that clarification to say that as long as the activity occurs only on a portion of the private land that does not contain the known site, then they don't have to get the permit.” 

Although the bill doesn’t significantly change the scope of the existing law, it brought an important conversation to the Legislature regarding the presence of Native American peoples who lived, died and were buried throughout the state before other populations settled here. 

“The core theme of AB103 is to ensure protection of our ancestors' final resting place where they were originally buried, and to ensure Nevada tribes are part of the discussions and decisions made affecting the management, treatment and disposition of Native American ancestral human remains,” said Michon Eben, manager for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony cultural resource program. 

Eben said that just as any other human remains are respected as they lay within cemeteries, so too do Native American remains throughout the state need to be respected and remain undisturbed. 

“Native American remains and sacred objects were desecrated by early pioneers and settlers, but what remains buried throughout the state is still important to contemporary Native society,” Eben said. 

While many areas are not necessarily marked as burial sites, the law holds that landowners who find remains (called “inadvertent findings”) must notify the State Historic Preservation Office, which then catalogs the findings into a database of known findings. The database is not publicly accessible. 

Eben also clarified that while the law currently protects Native American remains, it does not protect Native American cultural items or objects found across the state, adding that this is something “we’d like to change in the future.” 

— Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez


Carson City Restaurant Spotlight: Antojitos la Jefa

I thought it was a pretty good sign when the woman answering the phone to take my order at Antojitos la Jefa did so in Spanish.

And it was another good sign (although a little nerve-wracking for this half-vaccinated restaurant critic) that this cozy joint on Carson Street was positively hopping on a Friday night.

Antojitos la Jefa is one of the newest restaurants in town, replacing what used to be a sushi joint sandwiched between the FISH thrift store and O’Reilly Auto Parts. Loosely translated, the name is “Snacks from the Girl Boss.”

I ordered a gordita with asada and all the fixins and a “pambazo” al pastor — an item I’d never heard of but that entailed a guajillo sauce-treated sandwich roll filled with all the tasty pork taco fixings you’d otherwise find on a tortilla. It was all quite delicious, particularly after watching the tortillas made by hand just behind the counter.

If you miss Tacos El Gordo in Vegas, this place can fill the void in your heart. And at less than $20 out the door for two entrees plus beans, rice and a few chips, it won’t leave much of a void in your wallet.

Antojitos la Jefa is located at 1701 North Carson Street. Open until 9 p.m. Order your takeout in English or Spanish at (775) 461-0771.

Have a restaurant suggestion for the Spotlight? Tell me at michelle@thenvindy.com. FYI: We’re not accepting free food in order to preserve the integrity of the reviews.

A soon to be devoured gordita and “pambazo” al pastor from Antojitos la Jefa in Carson City on March 5, 2021. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading:

Daniel Rothberg and Joey Lovato’s must-read interview with Blockchains CEO Jeff Berns, who wants to build a 36,000-person, self-governing, blockchain-run “Innovation Zone.” (Berns: “I don’t know yet how we’re going to raise money.”)

The Guinn Center does its best Dina Titus impression and finds that Nevada is still on the bottom of the good list of states that receive the most federal grants.

Jannelle Calderon reports on the bill from Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) to ban racially discriminatory language or imagery in school “identifiers.”

A state of play on where state worker collective bargaining contracts stand.

We also report on Sen. Chris Brook’s big energy policy plans for the 2021 session; $100 million for electric vehicle charging stations, potentially moving the state to a wholesale electric market, expanding renewable energy tax credits, calling for more transmission infrastructure build-out, and prison sentences for Hummer owners after 2025 (one of those may not be true).

Unions and labor groups contributed more than $1 million to legislative candidates in the 2020 election cycle, Jacob Solis reports

A provision in the recently-passed federal defense bill could shine more light on company transparency — and possibly affect the millions of dollars in registration fees that Nevada makes on being a haven for “shell” companies. (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Another look at the opt-out organ donation bill. (Nevada Current)

A bipartisan group of 17 female lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to focus the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee to focus on “disparities among persons of color, geographic region and age.” (Nevada Current)

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the state’s judicial commission of conspiring to ruin her reputation after she criticized officials including Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. (Nevada Current)

A lawsuit over MGM Resort’s use of resort fees. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Sisolak lays down the marker and tells the AP that Nevada will be “the safest place to have a convention or to come and visit.” (Associated Press)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 1 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 4 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 81 (May 31, 2021)

Effort to add Equal Rights Amendment to U.S. Constitution after deadline shut down by federal judge

A federal judge has ruled that the states that ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in recent years were too late for the amendment to be added to the U.S. Constitution.

The ERA would have added language ensuring that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It would also grant Congress the power to enforce the amendment.

Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017, followed by Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020. The amendment needed approval of 38 of the 50 states within seven years of submission. The deadline was extended to 1982, by which time 35 states had ratified the ERA. 

In January 2020, the three states filed a lawsuit petitioning the U.S. archivist to recognize the states’ ratification of the ERA and to officially declare the ERA as the 28th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as every legal requirement was met after the three states ratified. The states’ attorneys general argue that the deadline is not binding.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the federal district court in Washington, D.C. said in his court decision that the “archivist has no duty to publish and certify the ERA,” and that the states’ ratifications “came after both the original and extended deadlines that Congress attached to the ERA.”

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford responded to the decision with a public statement expressing his disappointment with the judge’s decision and said he is exploring his legal options.

“As I’ve said time and time again, women have always been endowed with equal rights. It is past time that our country recognized that,” he said. “Unfortunately, today’s decision requires women to continue waiting. Though I’m disheartened by this decision, all women can rest assured that, regardless of this court’s decision, my fight for your equal rights does not end today, tomorrow, or any day.” 

Nevada lawmakers are currently working on adding the ERA to the state Constitution.