Indy Gaming: Arizona sports betting fuels the age-old question: ‘Will Las Vegas be hurt?’

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A few hours before Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin defense of their Super Bowl title on Sept. 9 in the traditional Thursday night start of the National Football League season, Arizona gaming authorities will flip the switch on the state’s legal sports betting apparatus.

More than a dozen operators are expected to go live – primarily through mobile platforms – as Arizona becomes the 23rd state to legalize sports betting. 

The gaming industry has been awaiting an Arizona launch since the end of January, when legislation was introduced following an agreement between the governor, tribal casinos and the state’s professional sports teams and franchises.

Arizona has attracted the industry’s largest players, including DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook, BetMGM, Penn National/Barstool Sports, WynnBet and BallyBet. All are expected to launch mobile sports betting next week or during the NFL season.

Analysts believe Arizona could produce numbers similar to Colorado, where sports betting went live in May 2020 and quickly emerged as one of the top 10 state markets. Through May, Colorado sportsbooks took in nearly $2 billion in total wagers, rivaling Indiana and Michigan for the fifth and sixth spots in the overall ranking.

“Colorado and Indiana are two states where the density and variety of sports betting brands and distribution channels feel similar to Arizona,” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Grove.

Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann said Arizona’s “strong centric fan base” provides some similarities to Colorado.

“With mobile, it will offer sports bettors a wide range of options as well as some synergies with Nevada operators that have developed partnerships with tribes and teams,” Bussmann said.

But could the neighboring state ultimately slice into Nevada’s sports betting market?

Currently, Nevada is the second largest state in sports wagers and revenues behind only New Jersey. Nevada’s sportsbooks are also on track toward smashing records set in 2019 —  $329.1 million in revenues and $5.319 billion in wagers.

There are some mitigating factors for Arizona, which is home to Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest populous city and home of professional sports franchises in all four major leagues.

Drawing in DraftKings, FanDuel and Barstool gives Arizona sports gamblers options currently not found in Nevada.

Grove suggested that even if Arizona cuts into some of Nevada’s sports betting business, the loss will be offset by new gaming consumers drawn not only to sports betting, but other forms of gaming.

“That's a group that now has a new reason to visit Vegas and a new type of gambling to try when they do visit,” Grove said. “We continue to believe that sports betting will behave much like poker in that a rising tide will lift all boards, including Vegas. The one caveat is that Vegas must continue to develop experiences that you can only have in Vegas to avoid losing demand to regional operators.”

Bussmann suggested some sports gamblers in Arizona border communities would stay home with betting options in place. But the Las Vegas experience, he said, is unmatched.

“People have predicted the fall of Las Vegas since the inception of Atlantic City,” Bussmann said. “Sports betting will remain strong in Nevada, but it does need to modernize with the times to allow mobile registration like you will have in Arizona.”

Maryland-based sports betting consultant Sara Slane, who advised some of the businesses soon to operate in Arizona, agreed that Nevada sports betting is hurt by lack of remote registration for customers — meaning gamblers need to go to sportsbooks in person to register, as opposed to signing up online. She also expects operators to have healthy marketing budgets to attract customers.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg told the investment community in early August the company will spend $1 billion or more over the next two-and-half-years to build out its customer base for the newly launched Caesars Sportsbook, the casino operator’s expanding sports betting operation.

Top of the list for Ceasars? Arizona.

In addition to a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to build a sportsbook at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, the company struck a multi-year partnership with organizers of the Fiesta Bowl, one of college football’s premier bowl games, to become a primary sponsor and create a fan experience at the New Year’s Day game. 

A spokesman said Caesars is still looking at bringing a retail sportsbook to the Harrah’s Ak-Chin resort in south Phoenix, a casino that the company has operated for the Ak-Chin Indian Community for more than 25 years.

Barstool Sports, a digital media platform that serves as the sports betting extension for regional casino operator Penn National Gaming, was named title sponsor and broadcast partner in July for the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, which will be renamed the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Terms of the multi-year deal were not announced.

Barstool is also developing a retail sportsbook at the Phoenix Speedway.

But the Arizona process hasn’t been without a few stumbles.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe near Prescott sued the state, claiming the sports betting law was unconstitutional. Turf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix also sued, saying it was cut out of the licensing process. Hearings on both lawsuits are scheduled for Friday.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Gaming authorized and then rescinded a license to a partnership between PointsBet and Yavapai Apache Nation.

“Despite its fumbles to the starting line, Arizona can and should be a good sports betting market,” Bussmann said.

The future site of Stations Casinos resort beside Durango Road south of I-215. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Culinary questions need for ‘can’t miss’ Durango Station project

Red Rock Resorts recently peeled back the curtain on a hotel and casino development in fast-growing southwest Las Vegas. But the project has drawn opposition from the company’s longstanding adversary – Culinary Workers Local 226.

In plans submitted to the Clark County Department of Comprehensive Planning, Red Rock – through its Station Casinos operating subsidiary – said it wants to build a 452-room hotel-casino with nearly 95,000 square feet of gaming space and multiple non-gaming amenities, including restaurants and a movie theater. The company said it would develop the 71-acre site at Durango Drive and the 215 Beltway in two phases.

On its past two quarterly earnings conference calls, Red Rock discussed “Durango Station” as a project that would cater to an area of the Las Vegas Valley that lacks casino-style gaming and has steadily grown in population since the company first acquired the land in the early 2000s.

The site is nearly 11 miles from the South Point on south Las Vegas Boulevard and roughly nine miles from Red Rock Resort in Summerlin. Residential development, including the Rhodes Ranch community, surrounds the site.

Gaming analysts believe Durango Station is a “can’t miss” opportunity since it is the only non-restricted gaming location within that area of southwest Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas locals gaming market continues to exceed pre-pandemic gaming revenue totals for the areas outside the Strip and downtown, with figures up 16.1 percent for the first seven months of 2021 compared to 2019. July alone was a nearly 13.5 percent increase. 

“Our primary focus right now has really been on Durango, which we think is a great development opportunity in the most underserved part of the Las Vegas Valley,” Red Rock Resorts CEO Frank Fertitta III said on the company’s quarterly conference call in July.

Station Casinos was scheduled to present its plans to the Spring Valley Town Advisory Board on Tuesday and the Clark County Commission on Sept. 22.

But the Culinary Union, which has attempted to organize the Red Rock’s non-gaming employees for nearly two decades, is questioning the need for the property at the location.

In addition to the residential growth, developers broke ground in February on UnCommons, a $400 million mixed-use development with office space, retail, a movie theater and apartments on 40 acres directly across from the proposed Durango Station site.

“The project has the potential to generate even more traffic on top of what is already anticipated,” the union said in a statement.

Plans for Durango Station were originally filed with Clark County in 2008, but Station Casinos halted the project because of the recession and its corporate bankruptcy reorganization that was settled in 2011. The union noted the current plans for the site are smaller than the original project and use just 50 acres of the property.

The Culinary recently sent mailers into the neighborhoods surrounding the site that question the proximity of an entrance to the planned development off Maule Street that is less than a half-mile from Wayne Tanaka Elementary School.

Also, the union questioned why Red Rock has not reopened the Fiesta properties in Henderson and North Las Vegas and Texas Station in North Las Vegas that have been closed for nearly 18 months.

Fertitta told analysts in July the company “continues to evaluate” the closed locations and will only reopen the properties “when we think they can add to the absolute profitability of the company going forward.”

A fourth property, the off-Strip Palms, was sold to Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe for $650 million and won’t reopen until after the sale is approved by Nevada gaming regulators.

In July, a federal judge ordered Station Casinos to negotiate a contract with the Culinary for more than 1,350 non-gaming employees at the Red Rock Resort, despite workers voting down the representation nearly 18 months ago.

Two Sundays ago, more than 100 employees of Red Rock’s Palace Station and Boulder Station casinos protested in front of the union’s offices, demanding the Culinary drop its NLRB challenge to reverse a union representation vote at the two properties in which employees rejected representation.

Add Durango Station to the latest chapter in the Station Casinos-Culinary feud.

A marquee at Caesars Palace on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Shuffle up and get a COVID-19 jab: World Series of Poker requires player vaccinations

The World Series of Poker, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, announced last week all participants in the upcoming tournament in Las Vegas are required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to registration.

The 52nd tournament runs Sept. 30 through Nov. 23 at the Rio Hotel Casino and will have 88 events, culminating with the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship.

Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, but a smaller tournament was held online.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” said tournament Executive Director Ty Stewart. “It is made with no agenda beyond protecting player eligibility and the operations of a unique televised gaming event. The nature of poker is to be in close proximity with your opponents for extended periods of time, and a seat at the World Series of Poker is a commitment for both our company and the participants.”

But the vaccine mandate doesn’t cover Caesars employees. Company spokeswoman Kate Whiteley said both Caesars Entertainment and World Series of Poker employees “are strongly encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Caesars is committed to making vaccination easy and accessible for all team members. Additionally, the company is providing significant incentives for team members who choose to be vaccinated.”

The tournament’s announcement drew support from many of the top names in poker.

“You have the freedom to play the WSOP if you abide by the rules. Wear a shirt. Wear shoes. Get vaccinated. It is your choice to do any of those three things. If you do, you get to play!” six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu wrote on Twitter.

Other items of interest:

A Las Vegas conference organized by a group closely linked to the far-right conspiracy-driven QAnon movement was canceled. It was unclear who pulled the plug on the “For God & Country Patriot Double Down” that was planned for late October at the Caesars Forum Conference Center behind the Linq on the Strip. “We can confirm that the Patriot Double Down will no longer be held at Caesars Entertainment properties,” company spokeswoman Kate Whiteley said Tuesday in an emailed statement. Previously, Caesars said the conference attendees would have to comply with all state and local COVID-19 protocols, including a mask mandate. QAnon has been recognized by the FBI as a potential domestic terror threat. The event’s hosting organization has been linked to the group. Confirmed speakers include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was granted a presidential pardon after twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

The Global Gaming Expo announced Tuesday it will require all attendees to the tradeshow and conference in Las Vegas to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. The event, Oct. 4-7 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, is produced by the American Gaming Association and RX. “We know how important vaccines are to continuing gaming’s strong recovery,” AGA Vice President of Global Events Meredith Pallante said in a statement. “Vaccinations are also one more tool to help us safely welcome the industry back to Las Vegas for another fantastic show.” The vaccine mandate was supported by the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers. “We are continuously following government and public health guidance and having data-driven conversations with health and safety experts to guide our decision making,” said G2E Event Coordinator Korbi Carrison. G2E will still require masks to be worn by all attendees.

Three sports betting ballot initiatives could land in front of California voters next year. A measure backed by seven sports betting operators – all of which have ties to Nevada – announced the California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act – which would use revenues from legal and regulated sports gambling – retail and mobile – to fund social programs in the state. In a statement, the group said the campaign already has $100 million in the bank to fund the effort, which needs to be approved by California’s attorney general and collect nearly 1 million signatures to be listed on the November 2022 ballot. One referendum backed by California’s tribal casino community has already qualified for the ballot. A second initiative backed by several cities and counties with cardroom casinos has submitted paperwork to the attorney general. Backers of the third question said Tuesday the initiative was “complimentary” to the tribal referendum, which only allows for in-person sports betting. The measure states that any online sports betting operator seeking to participate in the California marketplace must do so by partnering with a tribe. “California, which represents the world’s fifth-largest economy, is an extraordinary opportunity to expand on the success of online sports betting experienced now by nearly two dozen states,” backers of the initiative said in a joint statement.

ESPN believes licensing its brand to a participant in the competitive legal sports betting industry could be worth $3 billion through a multi-year deal. The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that ESPN, which is owned by the Disney Corp., already held preliminary discussions with Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings and expects to talk with other sports betting operators. ESPN already has marketing partnerships with both companies. In Las Vegas, ESPN built a studio at Caesars’ Linq development overlooking the Strip and Caesars Palace. The studio serves as the base for the network’s Daily Wager show, which is dedicated to sports betting. According to the Wall Street Journal, the ultimate ESPN partner would be able to use ESPN's name for branding and potentially renaming its sportsbook operations after the network.

Ben Affleck’s gambling excursions to Las Vegas have long been documented, including his ban from the former Hard Rock Las Vegas for counting cards at blackjack. But he’s been welcomed with open arms at Wynn Las Vegas. The two-time Academy Award winner directs and stars in an advertising campaign for WynnBet, the company’s sports betting arm that is currently in six states. Affleck, who won an Oscar in 1998 for co-writing Good Will Hunting and another in 2013 for producing Argo, appears in the spot with former NBA standout Shaquille O’Neal and actor Melvin Gregg as they chat with fans and friends around the Wynn Las Vegas casino floor and sportsbook. They discuss wagers made on the WynnBet mobile app. “Every detail of this shoot was carefully considered, and Ben did a great job hand-picking the cast and crew as well as developing the characters to capture the fun involved with winning together,” said Wynn Interactive CEO Craig Billings. Also appearing in the video as a slot machine player is Guadalupe Rodríguez, the mother of actress-singer and current Affleck partner Jennifer Lopez.

Federal judge orders Station Casinos to negotiate a Culinary Union contract covering Red Rock Resort

Joe Biden

A federal judge in Las Vegas has ordered Station Casinos to negotiate a contract with the Culinary Union that covers more than 1,350 non-gaming employees at the company’s Red Rock Resort, despite workers voting down the representation nearly 18 months ago.

In a 34-page ruling dated Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro agreed with arguments by the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office that the casino operator’s announcement of a new incentives and benefits package for employees was timed to interfere with the union election at the company’s flagship property in Summerlin.

In her ruling, Navarro suggested the NLRB’s regional director would likely prevail in a trial in front of the national board. She issued a 10(j) bargaining order, mandating the company recognize the Culinary and its affiliated Bartenders Union as official bargaining representatives.

In a statement, the Culinary Union said the labor group had never been granted such an order in its 86 years.

In her ruling, Navarro cited evidence that Station Casinos’ then-newly hired human resources vice president Phil Fortino launched the health and welfare and benefits program just ahead of a December 2019 union representation election that the Culinary lost in a 627 to 534 vote.

Station Casinos is the operating subsidiary of Red Rock Resorts.

In a statement provided by a spokesman, the company said it was still reviewing the court’s decision.

“We firmly and respectfully disagree with the result, which overturns the clear vote of the Red Rock team members in their rejection of the Culinary Union,” according to the statement. “The decision punishes Red Rock team members and the Red Rock property because Station Casinos treated its team members too well.”

In her ruling, Navarro said the court “does not doubt that Station Casinos had competitive incentives to offer the new benefits at its properties, including Red Rock, but the evidence indicates that the benefits’ quality and rollout was intended to deter Red Rock employees’ exercise of their collective bargaining rights.” 

She added that “direct evidence shows that Red Rock intended to counter the union’s allure when putting together the benefits.”

The company, in its statement, said it “does not believe it is correct or consistent with the purpose and stated mission of the National Labor Relations Act to punish Station Casinos and its team members for providing best-in-class benefits to team members based on a dubious theory that doing so 'undermines' the union.”

The judge said the timing of the announcement was done to “successfully blunt the draw of unionization.” She added that evidence showed Fortino sent the chief operating officer of Station Casinos a text message “indicating that they needed to announce the benefits as soon as possible because of the Union’s petition for election.”

Navarro also ordered the gaming company to “cease and desist” from 15 different actions, including “interrogating employees about their union support and activities, and the sympathies of other employees.”

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline called the federal court’s ruling “extraordinary and vindicating.” She said the labor organization looks forward to “negotiating and winning a union contract to protect workers.”

The Culinary began a public campaign in 2010 to organize the Station Casinos properties, which are primarily located in areas outside the Las Vegas Strip and cater to largely local customers. Station Casinos has long fought the organizing effort, which has included court battles over allegations the company had engaged in unfair labor practices. 

The Indy Explains: Nevada’s new short-term rental law and what it means for companies such as Airbnb

Frustration over an ineffective ban on short-term rental properties in unincorporated Clark County and a patchwork of rules across municipalities prompted state lawmakers this spring to pass a bill aimed at standardizing rules and holding hosting platforms such as Airbnb or Vrbo liable for noncompliance with local regulations.

The measure, AB363, has faced criticism both for going too far and not going far enough — the bill drew opposition during the legislative session from short-term rental owners, neighborhood associations, rental platform companies and others who warned that it would kneecap the industry. The bill also attracted a broad swath of influential supporters, including the Nevada Resort Association and Culinary Union, and passed through both the Senate and Assembly with a two-thirds majority.

Bill sponsor Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent that despite some confusion over the bill’s provisions, the measure is the first step to addressing a lack of uniform short-term rental regulations, which has been blamed for uncontrollable party houses and a dearth of affordable housing.

“Anyone can go on Airbnb’s platform or Vrbo’s platform or HomeAway’s platform, and they can pull up literally thousands of illegal listings,” Nguyen said. “We need to make sure that other parts of our state [without regulations] are protected from this proliferation of unregulated short-term rentals.”

Much of the confusion stems from substantial changes made between the initial version of the bill and the final version approved by legislators. Despite early discussions centered on creating a statewide policy, the bill as passed applies only to counties with a population greater than 700,000 (Clark County) and to cities within that county that have a population greater than 25,000 (Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas). 

During the bill’s presentation and in discussions surrounding the measure, Airbnb and other opponents warned that night minimums and distance requirements restricting short-term rentals near gaming properties could hinder Nevada’s post-pandemic recovery.

In a statement to The Nevada Independent, Airbnb’s Public Policy Manager Adam Thongsavat wrote that Airbnb generally supports efforts to legalize short-term rentals, but still saw the bill as overly restrictive.

“We echo Hosts who were disheartened to see punitive, anti-competitive amendments included that made this bill a gift for resorts at the expense of regular Nevadans who share their homes,” Thongsavat said. “Short-term rentals have been a lifeline for residents who rely on the income to make ends meet — now is the time to work together to bolster Nevada’s economy and hospitality industry, not make it harder for travelers to visit the state.”  

Supporters hold that the measure could lead to substantial tax benefits — Airbnb alone estimated that it would have collected and remitted up to $14.5 million in hotel room taxes on behalf of Nevada-based hosts had the law been in effect in 2019. Nguyen estimated that untaxed short-term rentals represent a loss of about $45 million in room tax revenue annually. 

But the measure does more than just require the adoption of new regulations and strengthen enforcement mechanisms — it also limits the number of short-term rental permits individuals can hold and establishes licensing requirements while allowing existing city policies surrounding short-term rentals to be grandfathered in.

Here’s an in-depth look at the measure, where it applies and some of the decision-making behind it:

A vacation rental at Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What the new law does

The bill requires Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County to include short-term residential spaces in their legal definitions of “transient lodging” — meaning they are subject to the same taxes that hotels charge guests. 

The current Clark County hotel tax rate ranges from 12.5 to 13.38 percent along the resort corridor, and for other lodging facilities ranges 10.5 to 13.38 percent. In Southern Nevada, Clark County collects room taxes in the unincorporated county (which includes the Strip) and the municipalities collect within their jurisdictions. The tax revenue is then distributed to various entities including the Convention and Visitors Authority, state education fund, school districts and transportation district.

Under the new law, local governments will have to create a process requiring anyone renting out a room or space to submit an application for a short-term rental permit, pay an annual fee set by the municipality to maintain that permit, designate a local representative for the rental and maintain liability coverage for the unit. All transactions and permits will go through local jurisdictions as opposed to a state agency.

Other changes the bill makes:

  • Sets a minimum stay of two nights for short-term rentals, excluding owner-occupied properties that can be rented for as little as one night
  • Limits maximum occupancy for short-term rentals to 16 people
  • Establishes a minimum distance of 660 feet between any two short-term rentals, except for units within a multi-family dwelling
  • Requires a separation of 2,500 feet between the property line of a resort hotel and a short-term rental that is a single-family residence
  • Caps the percentage of allowed short-term rentals in a multi-family dwelling at 10 percent of units within the dwelling (such as condominium units, townhouses and duplexes)
  • Prohibits apartments or rooms in apartment buildings from being used as short-term rentals
  • Requires short-term rental owners to have a designated local representative who is responsible for the rental and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to any issues
  • Prohibits short-term rental owners from holding more than five short-term rental permits (one permit per property).

The law goes into effect on July 1 and stipulates that local authorities have the ability to suspend a permit or impose fines or penalties if a short-term rental owner or manager violates the ordinance. Fines for a single violation against an individual renting out a property must not be less than $1,000 or more than $10,000. 

The law also specifies that local governments cannot enact an outright ban on short-term residential rentals.

To encourage unlawful short-term rental operators to apply for permits, the law protects them from being penalized during the application process. After local jurisdictions adopt a new short-term rental ordinance and give at least 30 days notice of the application period, unlawful actors have up to six months to apply for a permit. Though the law does not require payment of back taxes, county commissions can charge a “reasonable fee” for any such application and the law does not automatically require them to grant permits to unlawful operators.

Nguyen said the measure marks the first time a state has enacted a policy stipulating that local jurisdictions can penalize short-term rental platforms that do not comply with local ordinances. The law does not specify what the actual penalties must be, leaving the decision up to local jurisdictions.

"I do want to make sure that these local jurisdictions are able to hold these platforms accountable when appropriate,” she said, adding that she hoped the law will encourage rental platforms to address problems from bad actor property owners and managers.

When jurisdictions establish their ordinances in line with the new law, they can be stricter than the provisions outlined in the bill, Nguyen said. By setting floors and ceilings on regulations such as fines and distance requirements, she said state lawmakers were trying to ensure that local governments had enough autonomy to make necessary adjustments, while also protecting long-term residents.

“Local jurisdictions can be more restrictive, but they can't just bury their head in the sand and say ‘Hey, we banned them’ and not do anything about them,” Nguyen said. 

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Patchwork network of short-term rental regulations

Prior to the legislative session, three counties (Clark, Washoe and Douglas) and a handful of cities had adopted formal policies on short-term rentals. The policies ranged from total bans (unincorporated Clark County), no regulations (Washoe County), to allowing rentals only in owner-occupied homes (City of Las Vegas) to requiring each unit to have a landline telephone (City of Mesquite).

Under the law, existing short-term rental properties are grandfathered in, but Nguyen said that the bill gives the larger cities within Clark County more enforcement mechanisms and a greater ability to regulate the market. 

The grandfather clause only applies to existing, lawful properties. For example, if a current short-term rental is within 2,500 feet of a resort, it may remain. A short-term rental application submitted after the law goes into effect on July 1 will not be approved if it lies within 2,500 feet of a resort.

Southern Nevada municipalities each had adopted separate policies on short-term rentals prior to passage of AB363, though many of the provisions appear similar to those in the new law because Nguyen based the bill’s regulations off of these existing policies.

Henderson currently requires short-term rental managers to pay an annual $820 registration fee, and applicants must submit a noise management plan as part of their registration. No more than 25 percent of all units in a multifamily complex may be registered as short-term rentals, and planned communities have the authority to ban them outright. 

Henderson property owners or site managers are also required to complete a certification program and offer guests a copy of the city’s Good Neighbor pamphlet containing information about quiet hours, trash regulations and contact information for police and the city’s short-term vacation rental complaint hotline.

Within the City of Las Vegas, short-term rentals are only allowed in owner-occupied homes that have three or fewer bedrooms and are at least 660 feet away from another short-term rental. Rentals must comply with licensing, noise and parking requirements. 

Applicants for short-term rental licenses from the city must have the proposed short-term rental inspected by a code enforcement officer and pay a non-refundable application fee of $50 and an annual permit fee of $500. Licensees are also required to provide proof of liability insurance with a $500,000 coverage minimum.

North Las Vegas allows short-term rentals as long as a property owner applies for (and receives) a conditional use permit. After property owners receive such a permit, they must apply for a business license. To receive a license, an owner must send a copy of the city’s Good Neighbor brochure to all property owners within 200 feet of the short-term rental. The conditional use permit has a one-time fee of $100, and the business license fee is $900, paid annually.

North Las Vegas also requires a 660-foot separation requirement from other short-term rentals, and property owners must install noise monitoring equipment outside. Short-term rentals can only exist within multi-family zoning where the units are individually owned and can make up no more than 50 percent of the units or a maximum of eight units (whichever is less within a duplex, condominium or townhouse). Individual room rentals are only permitted if the residential unit is owner-occupied.

All three municipalities stipulate that short-term rentals are only to be used as overnight accommodations and may not be used for weddings, special or sales events, bachelor or bachelorette parties or other similar events.

Nguyen said that Boulder City asked not be included because city officials felt they did not have the resources to put together an ordinance and wanted to maintain its ban on short-term rentals.

“I personally think it was short-sighted. You’ve got to come up with really easy regulations and then you will also benefit from the protections that we also included in the bill … but that is up to them,” Nguyen said. “There were some substantial benefits. I know that's why Clark County was so involved in some of the added provisions for enforcement because they knew that it was coming, and they wanted to make sure that they had some of that extra teeth to go after some of the platforms.”

A vacation rental sign featuring a notice for accommodations at Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Washoe County

Unlike Clark County, Washoe County never adopted a ban on short-term rentals. The county collected taxes on short-term rentals, but previously had no restrictions or regulations in place, leading to complaints about party houses and lack of cleanliness from guests. 

The county includes not only the city of Reno but also the Incline Village and Lake Tahoe communities, which feature a thriving short-term rental market and tension between long-term residents and tourists.

Earlier this year, the county finished putting together an ordinance that will require a permitting process and various regulations around safety, occupancy limits, noise levels and trash pickup among other requirements. The ordinance is set to go into effect on Aug. 1.

Because the ordinance was adopted while the bill was being debated in the Legislature, the county requested to be left out of the provisions of the new law but has plans to continue working with Nguyen in the interim on potentially adopting a statewide short-term rental policy.

“These regulations are going to come up again and it's a real concern … Sometimes you're on the county level and you're all by yourself doing this, and the fact that the state is looking at these things too with you as a partner and … finding something that works for all of us, I think that's what we're trying to do,” Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill said in an interview. 

Between March 2016 and February 2021, Airbnb’s tax collection agreement with Washoe County generated around $7.6 million in revenue for local jurisdictions. Hill said that the county is monitoring the implementation of the new ordinance and seeing how it affects the local short-term rental market and economy. She added that the ordinance is not set in stone and the county will make adjustments as needed.

“We're all very open to seeing how we can make things better,” Hill said.

Lake Tahoe on Monday, June 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Platform liability and housing market protection

Giving local governments the ability to enforce and enact rules and ordinances that penalize platforms that do not comply with the regulations — establishing platform liability — is one of the hallmarks of the new law.

Platforms will be required to list a host’s short-term rental permit number, so when a consumer is using their site, they will know whether a property is licensed. And if a host repeatedly fails to comply with ordinances, local authorities will have the ability to hold the platform accountable. The bill leaves the method of accountability up to the county, but Nguyen said that it could be in the form of a fine or another enforcement mechanism.

The limit on the number of permits is also designed to prevent larger companies or organizations from purchasing multiple properties and using them as short-term rentals, thereby protecting the region’s housing stock and alleviating the housing shortage.

The law’s requirement for hosting platforms to verify the registration status of third-party short-term rental listings — opening up such platforms to penalties for host noncompliance — may be subject to legal challenge.

In 2016, Airbnb sued the city of San Francisco, arguing that an ordinance requiring hosts to register with the city violates an online home-sharing company’s free speech rights. A year later, Airbnb settled with the city, creating a registration system for Airbnbs within San Francisco and agreeing to deactivate listings if there is an invalid registration.

Vivek Sah, director of the Lied Center for Real Estate at UNLV, said that short-term rentals can disrupt communities and may over time reduce home equity. Regulating short-term rentals helps mitigate these issues, he said, adding the caveat that he is unsure how the new law could affect the affordable housing market because there is not much research or empirical evidence surrounding affordable housing and short-term rentals. 

“We don't have enough data, because this is something very, very new, to see for sure what kind of implications it may have,” Sah said. “We're not getting rid of them. We’re just regulating them.”

Nguyen said that discussions around short-term rentals are far from over, and said she expects to make adjustments to the law in the future and work with other local governments. 

“I think when you take on a topic that is this big and that is this scale … there'll be things that need to be revised. We will see what is working and what is not working,” Nguyen said.

From health care transparency to a public option, lawmakers largely drilled into non-pandemic health care issues in 2021 session

When lawmakers kicked off their 120-day legislative session in February, the state was still recovering from a brutal winter surge of COVID-19, which saw a thousand new cases of the virus reported across the state each day.

Lawmakers early in the session came forward with some modest proposals to address the pandemic — including a bill to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated — but it was unclear at that point what COVID-19’s trajectory in the Silver State would be. With an influx of federal financial support boosting the state’s pandemic response, it wasn’t always easy to tell where lawmakers could be of most help. With sessions slated for only 120 days every other year, it also wasn’t clear they could craft policy responsive enough to the ever-changing needs created by the pandemic.

Instead, lawmakers generally focused on a host of other important, but perhaps less high-profile, health care proposals, from legislation to support the provision of telehealth services in the state, which became all the more popular during the pandemic, to a bill that would provide for Medicaid coverage of community health workers. They also honed in on data transparency, hearing bills that would make changes to the state’s drug pricing transparency program and establish an all-payer claims database in an effort to better understand the health care landscape in the state.

Lawmakers also took up a last-minute bill to establish a state-managed public health insurance option in Nevada, the second-ever to be approved in the nation. Despite reservations from Republican lawmakers — and even from some Democrats — the Legislature introduced and approved the bill in just a little more than a month with some strong-arming by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who spearheaded the legislation. 

Behind the scenes, there were frustrations, though, among health care lobbyists. Industry lobbyists, for instance, were caught off guard that Cannizzaro hadn’t involved them in the process of developing the public option bill and dropped the proposal on them in the final weeks of the session.

“I can tell you that when there are very challenging things that occur within health care, when you lock us all in a room, we tend to find solutions,” Tom Clark, lobbyist for the Nevada Association of Health Plans, said during the bill’s first hearing.

Bobbette Bond, policy director for the Culinary Health Fund, also said it was difficult to craft good policy in a legislative environment so heavily shaped by the pandemic. For much of the session, the legislative building was closed to the public and committee meetings were only able to be attended virtually.

“It was hard to get revisions made. It was hard to have good conversations about what could be done. It was hard to build stakeholders,” Bond said. “It was hard to communicate, and I think the policy suffered for that.”

Bond also expressed dismay in the two-thirds requirement for passing tax increases, on the grounds that it has prevented lawmakers from tackling more ambitious health care legislation. Because there isn’t more funding to go around, including to support health care, she said lawmakers have turned to putting mandates on industry.

“The mandates … end up substituting for actual public health policy,” Bond said.

The Culinary Health Fund, which is the health insurance arm of the politically powerful and Democratic-aligned Culinary Union, did, however, continue to play a significant role in shaping health care policy this session with Democrats remaining in control of both chambers of the Legislature. Other industry representatives, who often work collaboratively with Democratic lawmakers but more often align with Republicans on business priorities, had less of an upper hand.

Mike Hillerby, a longtime lobbyist on health care issues in the state, said Nevada loses “a lot of subtlety in the public policy debate” when the discussion is “driven by the relationship between a couple of unions and a couple of hospital chains.”

“That drives so much of what we do, and it's so contentious. Look at balance billing from 2019. Look at some of the stuff this time, and everything's driven by that. That's not indicative of the market and the rest of Nevada. That's not indicative of what's happening with providers and patients and payers in rural Nevada, in the Reno area, and yet so much of it is driven by that and that financial reality, that bargaining relationship, those contractual relationships,” Hillerby said. “We just lose a lot of the subtlety and the ability to make better decisions.”

Here’s a look at some of the health policies that passed this session and others that didn’t.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed several pieces of public health-related legislation into law in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Public option

The highest-profile piece of health care legislation to pass this year, SB420 — Nevada’s public option bill — was introduced with just a little more than a month left in the legislative session by Cannizzaro, the Senate majority leader. Proponents were quiet about the legislation for the first couple of months of the session until Cannizzaro was asked by a reporter in mid-April about the proposal and health care lobbyists started receiving briefings from consultants on the concept.

The bill, which builds upon previous public option proposals introduced in Nevada in 2017 and 2019, aims to leverage the state’s purchasing power with Medicaid managed care organizations — private insurance companies that contract with the state to provide coverage to the state’s low-income population — to get insurers to also offer public option plans. The plans will resemble existing qualified health plans on the state’s health insurance exchange, though they will be required to be offered at a 5 percent markdown with the goal of reducing the plans’ premium costs by 15 percent over four years. The plans won’t be offered for sale on the exchange until 2026.

The proposal cleared both the Senate and Assembly on party line votes and was signed into law in early June by Gov. Steve Sisolak, making Nevada the second state in the nation after Washington to enact a state-based public health insurance option into law. Colorado became the third state to establish such a policy in mid-June.

Though the legislation was heavily opposed by the health insurance industry — with some groups running ads and sending mailers opposing the proposal — Cannizzaro muscled the bill through the Legislature as the clock counted down to the end of the 120-day session. The bill easily cleared the Senate — where Cannizzaro, as majority leader, controls which bills come to the floor — and Democratic leaders in the Assembly threw their support behind the bill shortly thereafter, setting aside concerns about whether the bill can accomplish its goals of improving health care access and affordability.

“It's not a secret I have been skeptical of this bill from the very beginning, but I've seen the amendments, and I have talked to a number of the different proponents of the bill and opponents of the bill on it,” Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said in late May, shortly before allowing the bill to be voted out of her committee. “I feel much more comfortable knowing that, in the future, the people that are in this building now that do come back are well aware of what's going on, and I trust them to make the best decisions they can to protect the constituents of this state.”

In her remarks, Carlton was referring to the long runway the bill establishes before the public option actually goes into effect, leaving time for the state to conduct an actuarial study to figure out whether the bill actually accomplishes the goals it sets out to and two legislative session in 2023 and 2025 for lawmakers to make any tweaks to the policy as necessary.

Heather Korbulic, who as head of the state’s health insurance exchange will have a key role in shaping the policy’s implementation, has said she plans to bring stakeholders together to “outline the actuarial study and conduct a meaningful analysis of the public option as it relates to every aspect of health care throughout the state.” 

Richard Whitley, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview earlier this month that the public option isn’t “a single solution” but “does definitely enhance the opportunity for individuals to gain access to health care.”

“I think of this as an option for coverage,” Whitley said. “It definitely enhances that overall framework of health care coverage.”

Nuclear medicine technologist Vanessa Martinez, views scans at Lou Ruvo Center of Brain Health, on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Transparency and data efforts

For the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have focused on prescription drug cost transparency, passing a first-in-the-nation diabetes drug transparency law in 2017 and expanding that law to include asthma drugs in 2019. This year, lawmakers built upon those transparency efforts by passing legislation requiring transparency from more portions of the health care industry.

This year, lawmakers approved a bill, SB40, to establish what’s known as an all-payer claims database — a state database of claims of medical, dental and pharmacy services provided in the state. The law requires all public and private insurers regulated under state law to submit their claims to the database and authorizes insurers governed by federal law — such as the Culinary Health Fund — to submit their claims to the database. A similar bill proposed during the 2019 legislative session failed to move forward in the final minutes of that session, though the concept was revived by the Patient Protection Commission, which brought SB40 forward this session.

The bill, however, required extensive work when it got to the Legislature, with state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) taking the bill under her wing as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and working with industry advocates — including the Nevada Association of Health Plans, the Nevada State Medical Association and the Nevada Hospital Association — to finalize the legislation.

“We knew the bill was going to pass, at some level ... so we wanted to make sure that the information that was going to be collected was accurate, was consistent with what was required in other states that had all-payer claims databases and also to learn from what those other states had done so we wouldn’t make the same mistakes,” Clark, the Nevada Association of Health Plans lobbyist, said. “Fortunately, Senator Ratti and others were good to work with and we’re comfortable with the way the bill passed.”

The legislation additionally makes data contained in the all-payer claims database confidential, meaning that it is not a public record or subject to subpoena, and specifies how the information contained in it can be disclosed. It can be shared in de-aggregated form to state or federal government entities, including the Nevada System of Higher Education, and any entity that submits data to the database. Anyone else looking to obtain the data can only receive it in aggregated form by submitting a request to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawmakers also built upon the diabetes and asthma drug transparency bills passed in 2017 and 2019, respectively, by expanding the universe of drugs the state imposes transparency requirements on. SB380, which was proposed by an interim committee created during the 2019 session to study prescription drug costs, requires the state to compile a list of prescription drugs with a list price that is more than $40 for a course of therapy that has undergone a 10 percent price increase in the preceding year or a 20 percent increase in the two prior years.

The legislation requires drug manufacturers to submit a report to the state explaining the reason for the price increase and explaining the factors that contributed to the price increase. Meanwhile, pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the middlemen in the drug pricing process, are required to submit their own reports with certain data about the drugs, including rebates negotiated with manufacturers and the amount of the rebates retained by the PBM.

The state’s drug transparency program will also, for the first time, have funding behind it, utilizing dollars that have been collected in the form of fines paid by companies for not complying with the state’s drug transparency law. The Department of Health and Human Services put a $780,000 fiscal note on the bill to allow state health officials to transfer the existing drug transparency database to the state’s Enterprise Information Technology Services Division and hire a pharmacist and management analyst to manage the drug transparency program.

SB380 was, however, only one of two bills put forward by the interim prescription drug committee to pass this session. The other was SB396, which allows the state to establish intra- and interstate drug purchasing coalitions with private entities. 

The three bills that did not pass were:

  • SB201, which would have licensed pharmaceutical sales representatives
  • SB378, which would have required at least half of the health plans offered in the state by private insurers to provide prescription drug coverage with no deductible and a fixed copayment and limit the total amount of copayments insured individuals are required to pay in a year 
  • SB392, which would have licensed PBMs and created additional rules for how PBMs can operate.

Nick McGee, senior director of public affairs for PhRMA, the drug industry advocacy organization, in an email expressed disappointment that lawmakers pursued SB380 this session while not advancing the other proposals out of the interim committee. PhRMA did, however, in the end testify in neutral on SB380.

“We are disappointed that the legislature overlooked this opportunity to address patients’ concerns related to their ability to afford and access the medicines they need,” McGee said. “Instead, lawmakers pursued onerous reporting and unnecessary registration requirements that won’t do anything to help patients afford their medicines and fail to provide transparency into why insurers are shifting more and more costs on to patients.”

Bond, the policy director for the Culinary Health Fund, which played a key role in bringing the 2017 bill to fruition, described SB380 as a “step forward,” though she said the bill didn’t end up “as strong as we would have liked.”

“It’s incremental, and it’s progress,” she said.

Lawmakers did not advance SB171, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), which would have barred most insurance companies from implementing copayment accumulator programs for any drug for which there is not a less expensive alternative or generic drug. Such programs prevent drug manufacturer coupons from applying toward patients’ deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs.

The Legislature additionally made a budgetary change to boost transparency, approving a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to centralize its data analysis efforts within the office of Data Analytics within the Director’s Office, while the Patient Protection Commission, which is focusing on health care spending and costs, was transferred from the governor’s office to Director’s Office as well.

Whitley, the department’s director, framed the reshuffling as an effort to bring together disparate health data collection and analysis efforts, adding that the pandemic showed the kind of real-time data the department could provide, as in the case of its COVID-19 dashboard, among other dashboards it now maintains.

“Usually people go, ‘We need more money.” Well, in government sometimes what you need is organizational structure,” Whitley said. “Putting data analytics all in one unit in my office … was really because of seeing all of the benefits that were coming out of monitoring the pandemic. That really served to inform what we could be doing.”

The Legislature also made a significant change to the Patient Protection Commission this session, transforming it from a largely industry-focused body to one instead made up largely of non-profit health industry representatives and patient advocates. AB348, sponsored by Carlton, requires the commission be made up of:

  • two patient advocates
  • one for-profit health care provider
  • one registered nurse who practices as a nonprofit hospital
  • one physician or registered nurse who practices at a federally qualified health center 
  • one pharmacist not affiliated with any retail chain pharmacy, or a patient advocate
  • one public nonprofit hospital representative
  • one private nonprofit health insurer representative
  • one member with expertise advocating for the uninsured
  • one member with expertise advocating for people with special health care needs
  • one member who has expertise in health information technology and works with the Department of Health and Human Services
  • one representative of the general public.

The bill also makes the Patient Protection Commission the sole state agency responsible for administering and coordinating the state’s involvement in the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs, a program that provides technical assistance to states developing targets for statewide health care spending trends. 

Health care industry representatives have, however, chafed at the reduction — or in the case of the drug industry, removal — of their representation on the commission. McGee, from PhRMA, said the change “[undermines] the ability of the commission to provide a comprehensive perspective.”

But Bond, a commission member whose ability to serve will be unaffected by the policy shift, said the change would give patients and consumers more of a voice.

“I understand the concerns about losing representation from the industry, but I also believe that industry has other places where they get represented,” Bond said. “They have the Nevada Hospital Association, the pharmaceutical industry has PhRMA. They get well represented in their core arena. Patients really don't have a core arena they can go to.”

The Patient Protection Commission’s other bill this session, SB5, also was approved by lawmakers, making a number of changes to telehealth in the state. That bill also contains a data transparency component, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services, to the extent money is available, to establish a data dashboard allowing for the analysis of data relating to telehealth access.

Another big bill that tried to tackle health care costs this session, AB347, sponsored by Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas), died without receiving a vote. The ambitious bill, among other provisions, proposed establishing a rate-setting commission “to cover reasonable costs of providing health care services” while ensuring providers “earn a fair and reasonable profit.” The bill also would have raised Medicaid payments to Medicare levels via a provider tax.

Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital staff gather in the emergency room area in Elko
Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital staff gather in the emergency room area in Elko on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Antitrust in health care

Lawmakers approved two antitrust in health care bills this session. The first one, AB47, requires parties to certain reportable health care or health carrier transactions to submit a notification to the attorney general with information about the transaction at least 30 days before it is finalized. Reportable transactions include material changes to the business or corporate structure of a group practice or health carrier that results in a group practice or health carrier providing 50 percent or more of services within a geographic market.

The bill, which was presented by the attorney general’s office, also prohibits employers from bringing court actions to restrict former employees from providing services to former customers or clients under certain circumstances and bars noncompete agreements from applying to employees that are paid on an hourly wage basis.

The bill attracted opposition from the Nevada Hospital Association and the Nevada State Medical Association. During a May hearing on the bill, Jesse Wadhams, a hospital association lobbyist, thanked the attorney general’s office for working with them on the bill but said the association still could not support the legislation.

“We believe the policy itself comes from a faulty premise,” Wadhams said. “We believe policies should promote more physicians, more access to care and more investment in the health care community.”

Another bill, SB329, requires hospitals to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of any merger, acquisition or similar transaction. It also requires physician group practices to report similar transactions if the practice represents at least 20 percent of the physicians in that specialty in a service area and if the practice represents the largest number of physicians of any practice in the transaction. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) and pushed for by the Culinary Health Fund, requires the department to publish that information online and write an annual report on that information.

Another section of the bill allows the attorney general or other individuals to bring a civil action against a health care provider that “willfully” enters into or solicits a contract that bars insurance companies from steering insured individuals to certain health care providers, putting health care providers in tiers or otherwise restricting insurers. It also makes such an action, known as “anti-tiering” or “anti-steering,” a misdemeanor. (A final amendment to the bill reduced the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor.)

“I think this is one of the early steps in what will probably be a national trend,” Bond, of the Culinary Health Fund, said in an interview. “I think contract provisions are going to become more and more antitrust looking.”

The bill was opposed by the Nevada Hospital Association and individual Nevada hospital systems and hospitals.

“The technical elements of this and eliminating antitrust provisions by themselves are not the problem we have with this bill — it is making sure that it doesn’t impede the open contracting that occurs otherwise in this highly competitive environment,” Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist for the hospital association, said during a May hearing on the bill.

Tristian McArthur cares for an infant inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Medicaid

In perhaps the most substantial victory for health care providers this session, lawmakers rolled back a 6 percent Medicaid rate decrease approved by the Legislature during a budget-slashing special session last summer.

Legislative fiscal analysts projected the move would restore about $300 million in Medicaid funding both in the current fiscal year and in the upcoming biennium, including about $110 million in general fund spending.

“Nevada faced an unprecedented state budget crisis,” Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, and Jaron Hildebrand, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, wrote in a letter to the governor in May. “The work you did alongside the Nevada Legislature to restore funding to hospitals and providers will be instrumental in safeguarding the health care available to many Nevadans.”

Lawmakers made a number of other changes to Medicaid services as well, providing for coverage of doula services in AB256 and community health workers in AB191. The public option bill, SB420, also contained several Medicaid provisions, including one section providing that pregnant women are considered presumptively eligible for Medicaid without submitting an application for enrollment and another prohibiting pregnant women who are otherwise eligible for Medicaid to be barred from coverage for not having resided in the United States long enough to qualify.

On the mental health front, SB154 requires the state to apply for a waiver to receive federal funding to cover substance use disorder and mental health treatment inside what are known as institutions of mental disease — or psychiatric hospitals or residential treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. Medicaid has long been barred from paying for care in such facilities, but states were recently given the ability to apply to the federal government to cover these services through Medicaid via a federal waiver.

Lawmakers also approved AB358, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), which will allow for a more seamless transition of incarcerated people to Medicaid upon release from prison. The bill requires a person’s Medicaid eligibility to only be suspended, rather than terminated, when they are incarcerated and specifies that individuals who were not previously on Medicaid should be allowed to apply for enrollment in the program up to six months before their scheduled release date. The bill also requires eligibility for and coverage under Medicaid to be reinstated as soon as possible upon an individual’s release.

In a major victory for families of children with autism, lawmakers passed SB96, which boosts reimbursement rates for autism services.

A member of the Nevada National Guard places a swab in a container after performing a COVID-19 test at the Orleans on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Public health

Lawmakers, by and large, did not spend much time tackling the COVID-19 pandemic head on during their legislative session, likely a byproduct of how rapidly the situation has evolved over the last six months.

Legislators did, however, approve SB209, sponsored by state Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), which requires employers to provide paid leave to employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct a study during the 2021-2022 interim about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations to the governor and lawmakers for the next legislative session in 2023.

They also passed SB318, also sponsored by Doñate, requiring public health information provided by the state and local health districts to “take reasonable measures” to ensure that people with limited English proficiency have “meaningful and timely access to services to restrain the spread of COVID-19.” 

Beyond COVID, the Legislature passed a number of other public-health related measures this session, including, notably, establishing a public health resource office within the governor’s office through SB424, with the goal of taking a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to public health in the state. 

Lawmakers also approved SB461, which requires the state to disburse $20.9 million of American Rescue Plan dollars to specifically to address needs spotlighted by the public health emergency including “mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment and other  behavioral health services, construction costs and other capital improvements in public facilities to meet COVID-19-related operational needs and expenses relating to establishing and enhancing public health data systems.”

The Legislature additionally passed a few tobacco-related pieces of legislation including AB59, sponsored by the attorney general’s office, officially raising the tobacco purchase age in the state to 21 — the federal Tobacco 21 law went into effect in December 2019 — and AB360, sponsored by Assemblyman Greg Hafen (R-Pahrump), which prohibits people from selling, distributing or offering to sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to a person under 40 without first conducting age verification. Additionally, SB460, the budget appropriations bill, allocates $5 million for vaping prevention activities.

Lawmakers also approved SB233, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), which appropriates $500,000 to the Nevada Health Services Corps, a state loan repayment program for physicians and other health practitioners aimed at encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas of the state. The Legislature also approved SB379, a health workforce data collection bill that proponents say is critical for the state’s health professional shortage area designation. 

“It’s kind of nerdy, wonky data stuff, but those designations are really critical for Nevada, for loan repayment, for health service corps, for [federally qualified health center] and community health center designation and reimbursement and all sorts of stuff,” said John Packham, co-director of the Nevada Health Workforce Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. “We just need better data, period, on the workforce.”

Vitality Unlimited provides substance abuse treatment in Elko
Vitality Unlimited provides substance abuse treatment in Elko. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Mental health

While mental health advocates have become accustomed to making slim gains each legislative session, Robin Reedy, executive director of NAMI Nevada, believes 2021 was a good session for mental health.

“For once, it’s a long list. It’s just so amazing,” Reedy said of the mental health bills that passed this session. “Everything has just been an uphill climb constantly … but this year, oh my God.”

In addition to SB154, mentioned above, key mental health bills passed this session hone in on mental health parity (AB181), implement the 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Hotline (SB390), bolster crisis stabilization services in the state (SB156) and remove stigmatizing language from state law referring to people with mental illness (AB421).

Lawmakers also approved bills put forward by the regional behavioral health policy boards established during the 2017 legislative session, including SB44, which aims to smooth the licensure process to boost the number of behavioral health providers in the state, and SB70, which makes changes to the state’s mental health crisis hold procedures.

Reedy attributed the increased focus on mental health this session to a “perfect storm of things coming together.”

“I think it's incredibly sad that it took a pandemic for people to actually look more at mental health — when everyone was going through some form of anxiety or depression from being isolated, from not knowing what the future held, from it being just really untenable, and everyone has different levels of acceptance of those things, and living through those things, different levels of resilience,” Reedy said. “Suddenly it's like, ‘Mental health.’ We've been working on this forever. Finally.”

But Reedy said there’s still a long way to go. For instance, she wishes that SB390, which authorizes the state to impose a surcharge on certain mobile communication services, IP-enabled voice services and landline telephone services to fund the 9-8-8 line, would have capped that charge at 50 cents instead of 35 cents. She believes had the session been a regular session and had mental health advocates been able to pack the committee room with patients, they would have been able to get that fee cap increased.

“I just don't think 35 cents is going to be enough … We’re 51st in the nation [for mental health],” Reedy said. “I know telecommunications does not want to pay to fill the hole, but that means crisis lines are going to be busy.”

A medical staff member prepares a COVID -19 vaccine during the Amazon employees Covid-19 vaccination event at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in North Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Other health care bills

In addition to reigning in drug pricing costs, lawmakers passed several bills making changes to how Nevadans can access certain kinds of prescription drugs. SB190, sponsored by Cannizzaro, will allow pharmacists to dispense certain kinds of hormonal birth control directly to patients. SB325, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), similarly allowed pharmacists to dispense preventative HIV medication, including PrEP.

Other prescription-drug focused bills passed this session include AB178, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) requiring insurers to waive restrictions on the time period in which a prescription can be refilled during a state of emergency or disaster declaration, and AB177, a bill from Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) aiming to expand access to prescription drugs in people’s preferred language.

Lawmakers also passed a number of other health care related bills including:

  • SB275, sponsored by state Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), modernizes state laws on HIV by treating the virus the same way as other communicable diseases
  • SB342, sponsored by the Senate Education Committee, puts the legislative stamp of approval on a major partnership between the UNR School of Medicine and Renown Health
  • SB290, sponsored by state Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), makes it easier for certain stage 3 and 4 cancer patients to receive prescription drug treatment by allowing them to apply for an exemption from step therapy, which requires patients to approve that certain drugs are ineffective before insurance will cover a higher-cost drug 
  • SB340, sponsored by state Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), provides for the establishment of a home care employment standards board
  • SB251, sponsored by state Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), requires primary care providers to conduct or refer patients for screening, genetic counseling and genetic testing in accordance with federal recommendations around BRCA genes, which influence someone’s chance of developing breast cancer

Several health care bills also died with the end of the legislative session, including AB351, which would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication, and AB387, a midwife licensure bill.

Lombardo bucks GOP line on guns, supports universal background checks but pushes back on recent gun control bills

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo eschewed traditional GOP orthodoxy on firearm issues by voicing support for universal background checks on firearms sales, but also promising to repeal or restrict other gun control measures approved in past years by Democrats in the Legislature if elected.

Lombardo, who plans to kick off his campaign on Monday in Las Vegas, struck a more moderate tone than some Republican candidates on firearms issues in an hour-long Zoom question-and-answer session with members of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association. Moderator Randi Thompson, the group’s lobbyist, noted that police tend to be more hesitant to encourage gun ownership “because they're dealing with it every day.”

“It's tough to be an officer and be pro gun,” she said. “But I know that you're there, protecting the people and you want to keep the honest people honest, and you want to put the bad guys behind bars and that's really all we can ask you to do at the end of the day.”

During the panel, the sheriff of the state’s largest county reiterated his support of universal background checks (while criticizing the state’s 2016 ballot background check ballot initiative as poorly written) as well as limits on certain high-capacity magazines. But Lombardo said that if elected governor, he would be willing to revisit and potentially repeal several gun control measures passed in recent legislative sessions, including the state’s so-called ‘Red Flag’ law and a measure banning so-called “ghost guns,” which are homemade firearms without serial numbers.

The deep dive into firearm policy issues and Lombardo’s more moderate stances — which included opposition to “constitutional carry” and tepid support for limits on high capacity ammunition magazines — is likely to strike a stark dividing line between the sheriff and other Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. 

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a recent convert to the Republican Party who has adopted some of former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who argues that Trump actually won the last election, have already announced bids to challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2022. Rep. Mark Amodei and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller are also weighing bids for the office.

Lombardo also previewed parts of his upcoming campaign message, saying the job of law enforcement has become “extremely challenging” because of calls to defund the police, adding that officers don’t want to give the same effort to their jobs if they feel they are not supported by the people they serve. He also took a jab at Sisolak’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the progressive policies discussed in the Legislature. 

“Bail reform, sentencing reform, handcuffing of police, all that matters. And that's indicative of the crime rates that are occurring across the United States right now,” he said. “The crooks are getting more rights than the victims.”

Below are other highlights from the forum.

Ghost guns

Lombardo fielded several questions on AB286, a bill banning so-called ‘ghost guns,’ that recently passed the Legislature on party lines with all Republicans opposed. The measure generally prohibits an individual from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any unfinished frame or receiver of a firearm, or assembling any firearm not imprinted with a serial number. 

Lombardo said that Las Vegas police have only tracked six instances of homemade, non-serialized firearms over the past 12 months. He said none of the firearms were used in a crime, and most were found in the Las Vegas Strip corridor.

The sheriff — who is named in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law — said his department was neutral on the bill because “we enforce the laws, we don’t make them in the law enforcement community” but that he would “absolutely deny” the bill as governor.

Lombardo added that Las Vegas police wouldn’t be zealous in enforcement of the new law.

“We are not proactive as a police department, nor would I give direction with the police department, to be proactive in that space,” he said.

Red flag orders

Lombardo said he would be open to repealing the state’s so-called “Red Flag” or extreme risk protection order law, which gives family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a judge for a court order that allows for the seizure and suspension of firearm possession rights for up to a year, even if the person has not been arrested or convicted of a crime.

The sheriff said that law enforcement found the law to be “frustrating,” saying that the process only involved the court system and the state’s firearm sales background check system but not patrol officers, who “have no idea whether you're a prohibited person when we encounter you.”

Lombardo said that Metro has seen only two applications for the extended protection orders since the law was passed in 2019, and both of them were never processed by the state. He said that patrol officers typically don’t have a lot of knowledge about a person’s mental state to make that kind of evaluation.

“I think that law has gotten too convoluted. It's amiss in its original intent, and it's not benefiting either side of the house,” he said. “So to answer your question, yes, I would consider repealing it.”

Background checks

Lombardo said he supports universal background checks.

“People that shouldn't have guns shouldn't have the ability to get guns,” he said. “There's always that mantra that folks are going to get them, no matter what; the universal background check isn't going to fix it. That doesn't mean you don't create a system that could prevent bad guys from getting guns.”

But he said he was neutral on a 2016 state ballot question on the matter because it was “poorly written.”

The ballot initiative, Question 1, passed by less than one percentage point after being opposed by all 16 other county sheriffs and most Republican officials in the state. It called for private party transfers of guns to go through licensed dealers for a background check, but there were questions about whether it could be enforced because it called for the FBI to do the checks and the FBI declined.

Lombardo said that he’s been carrying a gun for 34 years during his military service and police career, but that there should be requirements to ensure responsible and safe gun ownership.

“It’s a very huge responsibility to own a firearm. No matter how some people see it, in my opinion, it’s a huge responsibility,” he said.

Concealed carry backlog

Lombardo gave a detailed response to why applicants for concealed carry permits are experiencing significant delays in booking an appointment and having applications processed.

In Clark County, there has been a sharp increase in applications for concealed carry permits. Lombardo said that from 2017 to 2019, the county was averaging about 16,000 such applications a year, but received 37,000 in 2020, and is keeping up a similar pace in 2021.

He said he transferred four employees and a supervisor to the unit to address the application backlog, and then a few weeks ago, added another six people to the task. He said he is also increasing the number of appointments available.

But he said multiple required steps involving data transfers to the state, as well as limitations in technology — including the high costs of machines that can take fingerprints — slow the process.

“I guarantee you your viewers are going to be frustrated and they're going to be, ‘what are you talking about? It's 2021. Technology is here and it should be a lot easier to do,’” he said. “But the government is quite often years and light years behind.”

Constitutional carry

Lombardo said he opposes making Nevada a “constitutional carry” state, in which residents need not obtain a concealed weapons permit to have a gun on their person.

That’s because he supports the training requirements involved in obtaining a permit, which entail completion of an eight-hour CCW safety course and registration with the local law enforcement. Officials screen out prohibited people, including individuals who have felony convictions, are subject to restraining orders or have any of a host of other disqualifying factors.

Lombardo said the requirements are not overly onerous, and thinks mandating training as a prerequisite for a permit ensures that people actually get training.

“If we don’t require it, people won’t do it. more often than not,” he said.

High capacity magazine bans

Asked about his 2016 comments to the Las Vegas Sun in support of limits on high-capacity magazine sales, Lombardo said he never specified a number of rounds and that about 30 bullets per magazine, or the manufacturer's intended specifications, were “probably about right.” 

He said his comments at the time were more focused on a law enforcement perspective, noting that the October 1 mass shooter had thousands of rounds of ammunition available in his hotel room, and that the breaks required to reload a gun gives law enforcement a window of opportunity to stop a shooter.

“When we encounter a critical incident or mass shooting, the only time we've ever had the upper hand in that, besides an overwhelming force …is if it was an individual officer when an assailant or suspect had to change the magazine, we have one or two seconds to intervene, hopefully stop the threat,” he said. “That was the context of that question.”

If elected governor, Lombardo said the issue of banning high-capacity magazines was a “non-starter” and “not even a discussion for me to have.”

Nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have implemented bans on large capacity magazines.

Why he’s running

Lombardo said the state has not put enough emphasis on Pre-K education — something that he says could “change our ranking from 50 to 25 overnight.” And he said the state is not putting enough emphasis on training people for “blue collar” trades, particularly in high school and at the community college level. 

Lombardo called for reinstating accountability measures, such as the mandate that students learn to read by grade three. Previously, Nevada law called for children to be retained if they could not read at grade level by third grade, but the mandate was eliminated in 2019.

Lombardo also said that the current arrangement in which Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and hold the governor’s post is a “failed system” that goes against the values of push and pull between two parties.

He also asserted that the politically powerful Culinary Union and the teacher’s union are running the state government rather than the governor and the Legislature.

He specifically faulted Sisolak’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying decisions about capacity limits in businesses were not grounded in science. The subjective nature of the restrictions made it hard for the people who have to enforce those rules, according to the sheriff.

“It was too willy nilly. He was moving the goalposts on a continual basis,” Lombardo said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisolak signs much-debated ‘Right to Return’ legislation into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation on Tuesday that guarantees the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

Sisolak’s signature on SB386, referred to as the “Right to Return” bill, came without any fanfare and was announced alongside a host of other bills that earned the governor’s written seal of approval on Tuesday. Sisolak held signing ceremonies for 10 bills, many of which were related to women’s health and criminal or social justice reform. He also signed 28 other bills, including SB386, into law on Tuesday.

Gaming representatives and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile worker rights legislation with less than a week left in the 120-day legislative session, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers.

Every vote on SB386 was on a straight party line with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

Even the addition of an amendment that exempted small businesses attached to casino resorts from complying with the legislation did not attract Republican votes. The change excused small restaurants and vendors that had 30 or fewer employees prior to the pandemic.

As part of the deal, revisions were made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that included government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The changes relaxed requirements on cleaning, such as wiping down minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changed directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for daily cleaning.

Critics of the legislation raised concerns that the bill in its original form would have made it too easy for former employees to sue. The new law offers recourse through the Labor Commissioner or through the courts, but only after an employee notifies an employer of any alleged violation and waits at least 15 days for resolution of the issue.

The Nevada Resort Association took a neutral position in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators were on board. Some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, backed the changes. Opposition arose from Las Vegas locals casino companies.

The Resort Association declined to comment on the bill signing.

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said passage of the legislation would “protect over 350,000 hospitality workers” in Clark County and Washoe County. 

“At the height of the pandemic 98 percent of Culinary Union members were laid off and currently only 50 percent are back to work,” Argüello-Kline said. “While a majority of unionized hospitality workers already have extended recall protections in their contracts, most hospitality workers protected by the new SB386 Right to Return law are not unionized.”

South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said of the final deal that was struck that many of the changes were still “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, said several amendments were “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements,” and forced employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.” He suggested the changes infringed on an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Among the bills that received a signing ceremony on Tuesday were SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, which will allow women to obtain birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit; AB116, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, which decriminalizes minor traffic violations; and AB404, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, which shields applicants for domestic violence-related temporary or extended protection orders from having to disclose their addresses or contact information in certain circumstances. 

The Tuesday events were the latest in a string of bill-signing ceremonies. On Monday morning, Sisolak visited a North Las Vegas elementary school to sign education-related legislation, including the mining tax bill, AB495, and in the afternoon, he held a separate signing ceremony for two bills (SB222 and SB318) that promote diverse communities.

Lawmakers begin wrapping up 2021 session; ‘Right to Return’ passes, Death with Dignity fails

The Nevada Legislature building as seen in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017.

Crunch time has finally arrived for the Legislature, with lawmakers planning to work steadily through Sunday to work out compromises and pass scores of bills with less than a day and a half left in the 120-day session.

Much attention has been paid to negotiations over the long anticipated AB495 — the measure implementing a new excise tax on mining and various other education and health care changes, up for its first hearing on Sunday evening. But many other high-profile measures are finally approaching the finish line — including final votes on “Right to Return” legislation, as well as last-minute appropriations and amendments.

Here’s a look at some of the latest developments in Carson City on the penultimate day of session. 

Physician aid in dying legislation will not advance

A deeply divisive bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication is not moving forward.

Bill sponsor Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent on Sunday that there was no consensus on AB351 and the bill would not receive any further hearings or a floor vote. 

“I've lost all hope,” Flores said. “The position of the leadership is just, we don’t think the votes are there.”

Similar legislation divided Republicans and Democrats in 2017, when it passed 11-10 in the Senate. Democrats largely supported the measure, but the bill never made it to a final vote after it died in an Assembly committee. A 2019 measure sponsored by then Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas) also never received a floor vote after passing through its first committee.

Flores chalked the death of the bill up to ethical dilemmas and hesitancy to pass such a contentious piece of legislation. But he hopes to continue the dialogue in future sessions.

“It's funny how … there's very contested bills and then one session it just comes in and it goes right through,” Flores said. “And I think it's a lot of just that education component, and then kind of holding out, just being consistent.”

In early April, New Mexico became the latest state to provide a legal pathway for physician aid-in-dying, Flores said, noting that opinions are shifting.

“There's an obvious trend where states are recognizing that there's folk who need it, and should have a right to request it if they want it,” Flores said. “So I think we'll come back in two years and do this whole thing again.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Assembly approves ‘Right to Return’ legislation, bill heads back to the Senate for final vote

The Assembly gave quick party-line approval to legislation that would guarantee the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

The 26 Democratic Assembly members outvoted 16 Republicans to send SB386 back to the Senate for final concurrence on an amendment. The Senate voted along party lines last Wednesday to approve the legislation.

Lawmakers on Friday evening adopted an amendment that exempts small businesses — ones that prior to the pandemic employed 30 or fewer workers — from being affected by the so-called “Right to Return” legislation. The amendment likely exempts small restaurants and vendors operating in casinos from having to comply with the hiring requirements in the bill.

Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) urged lawmakers to vote against the legislation, saying its passage would hurt small businesses and 30 “seemed like an arbitrary number.”

However, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) called SB386 a bill that “protects the people that built this state. They are the economic engine of Las Vegas.”

Carlton said the 78-day shutdown of the gaming industry in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic a year ago March, “was done for the right reasons. This is also the right thing to do. This protects everyone.”

Gaming interests and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile legislation earlier last week, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers. The Nevada Resort Association agreed to take a neutral position on the bill in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators are on board with the proposed legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors the right to return to their jobs, covering those workers laid off after March 12, 2020, and who were employed for at least six months in the year before the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

— Howard Stutz

Amendments to a bill pushing citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

A bill directing law enforcement to issue citations in lieu of arresting people for misdemeanor crimes, AB440, passed out of a conference committee Sunday morning with two amendments, one proposed by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and the other from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas).

Settelmeyer’s amendment establishes requirements for candidates running for county sheriff in rural Nevada counties. Specifically, the amendment lowers the population threshold for required qualifications from 100,000 to 30,000 and stipulates that a candidate running for county sheriff must have accumulated at least five years of service as a law enforcement officer and have been certified by the state or a federal law enforcement training program.

The other amendment gives law enforcement officials time to implement the measure, specifying that provisions within the act do not apply until the Division of Parole and Probation has sufficient resources to carry out the measure.

The bill passed out of the Assembly and Senate on party-line votes with Republicans in opposition.

— Tabitha Mueller

Gender-neutral bathrooms bill gets messy

A discussion over a bill requiring that single-stall bathrooms be designated as gender neutral going forward turned into a discussion about whether more urine ends up on the floor in men’s rooms.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he would oppose the bill — AB280 from Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) — because he doesn’t think there should be mandates on businesses to make their restrooms unisex. He also argued that “women have more sensitive sensibilities as a whole.”

“By doing this, we're going to be making all the restrooms men's rooms, and that will create problems for a good number of women in society,” Pickard said.

Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), a doctor, also offered an anatomical explanation for why the floor of men’s rooms might be dirtier.

“So, it sounds to me like men are the problem, and they could work on that, but in the meantime, I think the bill is fine,” concluded Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas). 

The committee ended up passing the bill — which “grandparents” in existing restrooms but governs future builds — with Republicans opposed.

— Michelle Rindels

$1 million to Immunize Nevada in AB355

AB355, a bill that already includes a variety of allocations for nonprofits, has a new proposed addition — $1 million for the statewide nonprofit Immunize Nevada.

Sen. Julia Ratti said the organization has seen a deluge of support for the COVID-19 vaccination effort, but much of that is strictly limited to the pandemic. Ratti said she doesn’t want the group to be shortchanged in its normal work.

“This gives them the flexibility to make sure that we're not disrupting the regular programming that they do for flu, back to school,” she said.

So far, the bill includes: $750,000 for the “Expanding the Leaderverse” initiative at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, $350,000 for the “We the People” civics program in schools, more than $3 million for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, $1 million for the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation and $2 million for the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas to develop an ethnobotanical garden for teaching indigenous farming techniques.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) has said that nonprofits often approach the Legislature seeking allocations that they can leverage into further donations, and AB355 is a vehicle for such allocations.

— Michelle Rindels

Sisolak-backed amendment to ‘Right to Return’ bill would exempt small employers

Gov. Steve Sisolak is inserting himself into the politically perilous fight over legislation that would guarantee the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs, putting forth an amendment that would generally exempt any business with fewer than 30 employees.

The proposed amendment to SB386, adopted by lawmakers Friday evening ahead of an expected floor vote in the Assembly, intends to exempt small businesses that pre-pandemic employed 30 or fewer workers from being affected by the so-called “Right to Return” legislation. 

The amendment targets any business entity that directly or indirectly exerted control over the “wages, hours, or working conditions” of 30 or more employees — meaning it will likely exempt small restaurants and vendors operating in casinos from having to comply with the hiring requirements in the bill.

Republican members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, during a hearing Thursday, worried that small businesses were being treated the same as large gaming operations. The bill was passed out of committee on a party-line vote.

Gaming interests and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile legislation earlier this week, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers. The Nevada Resort Association agreed to take a neutral position on the bill in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators are on board with the proposed legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors the right to return to their jobs, covering those workers laid off after March 12, 2020, and who were employed for at least six months in the year before the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization’s parent union, UNITE HERE, in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month requiring hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid-off workers. 

Lawmakers in the Senate voted along party lines, 12-9, early Wednesday evening to approve the “Right to Return” bill.

Not all Nevada casino operators are on board with changes to ‘Right to Return’ legislation

A division has emerged among Nevada Resort Association members over revisions to legislation that would allow laid-off gaming and tourism workers to return to their jobs. One company vows to oppose the modified bill and even seek a veto from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to the casino industry trade groups representatives, South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said many of the changes in SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – were “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and a close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, voiced concern over several sections of the revised legislation that was passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday evening in a split vote. A deal on the bill was reportedly reached between gaming industry representatives and negotiators for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session.

“We voted to oppose SB386 and seek a veto of the bill by the Governor if the bill passed the Senate and the Assembly,” Lieberman wrote.

Lawmakers voted along party lines, 12-9, in the Senate early Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after the measure passed out of committee. The changes in the bill are apparently backed by some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Bob Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Tuesday that the association “officially on a majority position is neutral, and we will not support the bill and we will not work against the bill as an association, we are neutral.”

In an interview, Lieberman said the legislation treats “non-union resorts in the same manner” as properties with collective bargaining agreements. Representatives from other casino companies declined comment.

Lieberman termed several amendments to SB368 as “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements.” He said the changes force employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.”

He suggested the changes to the bill “impairs” an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Lieberman said the Nevada legislation’s passage will actually “discourage employers from hiring new employees.” Under the legislation, properties cannot hire a new employee for a position until all the provisions for full-time and part time employees “have been satisfied.”

Four sections in the legislation fail “to draw any distinctions between on-call, part time or full-time employees,” the attorney wrote in analyzing the 20-page document. The new language, Lieberman said, is “ambiguous” in describing the timelines for laid off workers and could be viewed as more favorable to part time employees as opposed to full-time employees.

The section requiring businesses to notify laid-off workers of layoffs “makes no sense.”

In the email, Lieberman said a decision was made by a majority of members of the Resort Association’s executive committee to remain neutral “in exchange for negotiating out of SB386 some of the more onerous provisions.” He said the decision was opposed by South Point.

The Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 non-gaming workers in Nevada’s hotel-casino industry, has said just 50 percent of the workforce has been hired back since gaming reopened following a 78-day shutdown last year. Labor organization officials said SB386 is needed to ensure its members are able to return to their previous jobs.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister, in a statement, called the legislation a “common-sense measure that is urgently needed to create stability in Nevada’s workforce.”

As part of the agreement between the casinos and the union, revisions will be made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that includes government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The amendment relaxes requirements on cleaning, such as cleaning minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changes directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for cleaning daily.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) credited the Culinary Union, Nevada Resort Association and the governor’s office for working together to arrive at a consensus on the high-profile legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors a right to return to their jobs. The bill covers those workers laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month that requires hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

This story was updated on May 26 at 8:18 p.m. to reflect that the bill passed out of the Senate.