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.

Gaming and labor leaders reach a compromise on ‘Right to Return’ legislation

Gaming and Culinary Union negotiators have tentatively agreed to revisions in legislation that would guarantee the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

A deal on SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – was reached with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session. Lawmakers wasted little time processing the bill — several hours after the initial publication of this story on Tuesday afternoon, members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee moved quickly to pass the amended bill out of committee on a split vote.

In an interview prior to the committee vote, 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.

“I think you're really seeing what is a recognition of the greater good and how do we get started to work together to get everything back to where we need it to be,” she said.

As part of the agreement, 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.

Critics of the legislation had raised concerns that the bill in its original form would make it too easy for former employees to sue. The bill now offers recourse through the Labor Commissioner or through the courts, but only after the employee notifies their employer of the alleged violation and gives them at least 15 days to fix the issue.

“I think we've heard a lot of those concerns. We've tried to make sure that the bill still allows for enforcement while not opening up the doors of litigation,” Cannizzaro said.

In its original form, the bill required employers who declined to call back a former employee because that former worker lacked qualifications — and instead hired someone else for the job — to provide the person they passed over with a written notice and reasoning for the decision within 30 days of making it. The amendment limits the callback requirement, covering employees only if they accept or decline the job offer within 24 hours (revised down from 10 days in the initial bill) and are available within five days of receiving an offer.

Employers are also cleared of their obligations to re-hire someone if their job offers are turned down three times over a period of at least six weeks, or if mail or email is returned as undeliverable or a phone line is out of service.

The amendment specifies that managers and stage performers are also excluded from the provisions, and its provisions would not supersede or preempt any collective bargaining agreement already in place.

The amendment also covers areas of a resort casino that are leased to another operator, such as retail shops, restaurants, bars, and parking facilities.

Also, the amendment exempted restricted gaming operators which have 15 or fewer slot machines, such as bars, taverns, convenience stores, and grocery chains.

Bob Ostrovsky, a lobbyist representing the Nevada Resort Association, said the amended version of the bill would leave the association as officially “neutral” — promising not to support or oppose the bill as an association.  

He estimated that the industry was currently down about 66,000 casino resort employees from its pre-pandemic high, but estimated that only about 70 percent of the casino’s pre-pandemic workforce would end up returning to their previous positions, based on turnover history.

“We certainly have to think in terms of the masses of employees and the masses of paperwork that are required here, but I got to tell you, our members care,” he said. “Experienced and dedicated employees are what make these operations work. It's one thing to build a billion-dollar building. To operate it, you really need a well-honed team.”

Cannizzaro added in an interview prior to the committee vote that she hopes the bill will get bipartisan support because it “has a lot of buy-in,” although it does not need a two-thirds majority to move forward. 

Still, several Republican senators on the committee questioned portions of the bill. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) asked why the measure did not have a small business exemption, and Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he was concerned about the proposed remedies for civil action.

“I think in many respects, this is better than some of the [collective bargaining agreements] I’ve reviewed in the past, and this is applying to nonunion shops that don’t ordinarily have to deal with these,” Pickard said. “I think it’s going to be a significant burden.”

Union leader softens testimony

Union and gaming negotiators had spent months trying to hammer out a compromise on SB386. The bill has a waiver that exempts it from legislative deadlines. Gaming sources have said there are stark disagreements between union and business interests over the bill’s language.

Earlier Tuesday, UNITE HERE President D. Taylor was prepared to tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the labor group’s support for SB386, but he departed from his prepared remarks that were posted to the subcommittee’s website that accused certain employers – including the Nevada casino resort industry – of using the pandemic to “reduce” jobs and leaving workers out of an economic comeback.

In April, Taylor testified in the only public hearing for SB386. The Culinary Union has hosted rallies and engaged in door hanging campaigns aimed at pressuring lawmakers to pass the legislation. 

Taylor, who spent 26 years in leadership for Culinary Workers Local 226 before being appointed UNITE HERE president in 2012, told the panel that is chaired by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) that the state’s hospitality workers play a frontline role in providing resort industry guests a safe and secure environment.

“The idea is not to view workers as a cost item but viewed as a service product that brings back (consumer) loyalty,” Taylor told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion in response to a question from Rosen.

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. 

Taylor, in testifying Tuesday, softened his message in some areas, but stuck to the script in others.

He said employment is “lagging” in destination markets, such as Las Vegas, where 50 percent of union members in gaming have returned to work. In New Orleans, just 32 percent of the labor organization’s membership is back on the job.

Regional gaming markets, Taylor said, have had better success at bringing back employees, including Atlantic City, Ohio, Detroit and Mississippi. Those communities have returned 65 percent to 75 percent of UNITE HERE workers to their jobs.

In the prepared remarks, Taylor said opposition to SB368 by Station Casinos, the operating subsidiary of Red Rock Resorts, denies casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related workers in Nevada their recall rights.

“In most cases, unless you have a union contract, there’s nothing that requires your employer to bring you back when the business returns,” Taylor wrote. “Workers who are terminated and replaced rather than 'recalled' make on average 11.8 percent less in wages when they get a new job,” Taylor said. “Of older workers who are laid off involuntarily, only one in 10 will ever earn as much again.”

At the outset of the pandemic, Station Casinos was one of just three casino operators, along with Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, that committed to pay employees through shutdown.  

During his appearance, Taylor named Wynn Resorts, along with Disney in Florida, as companies that have stepped up to support their workforces.

In an interview following Taylor’s testimony, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said SB386 is needed to ensure the labor organization’s members are able to return to their previous jobs.

Las Vegas casino operators have held nearly a dozen different job fairs in efforts to restaff hotel-casinos that were closed for 78 days a year ago and were hampered throughout the year by capacity restrictions and other COVID-19 operating procedures. Most casinos in Nevada are expected to return to 100 percent occupancy levels on June 1.

The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is facing challenges filling out its planned 5,000-person workforce.

Scott Sibella, president of the 3,506-room Strip property that opens June 24, told the Nevada Gaming Commission last week some 120,000 potential workers applied for jobs during the pandemic.

"We feel comfortable and made offers, but we're concerned about people changing their minds," Sibella said. He added that Resorts World has contingency plans in place for bringing on workers.

Sibella, a former president of MGM Grand Las Vegas, told the commissioners the resort is competing with other Las Vegas resorts in filling jobs.

"The Venetian is holding a job fair. They haven't done a job fair in 20 years,” Sibella said.

Updated at 8:44 p.m. to add additional details on the amendment and reflect that the committee passed the bill.

Lawmakers review price tags of expanded mail voting, earlier presidential primary bills

With less than a week left in the session, lawmakers are finally moving to process three major election-related bills aimed at moving Nevada up the presidential primary calendar, permanently expanding mail voting and upgrading the state’s voter registration database.

The three bills were heard Tuesday morning during a meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, with Democratic lawmakers and progressive groups heralding the measures as ways that the state can make it easier to vote, but with Republicans questioning the proposed costs and benefits of several of the bills.

The trio of measures, all of which were presented by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), all had hearings earlier in the session, but the hearings on Tuesday were meant to go over the potential budgetary effects They also signal that legislators are preparing to queue up the measures for floor votes and rapid processing through the final days of the session. After the initial morning hearings, members of the committee voted out all three of the bills late into the night on Tuesday.

Most of the opposition was focused on AB321, a bill seeking to permanently expand mail voting in the state and set in stone the temporary changes adopted ahead of the 2020 election. The bill would make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters would be allowed to opt out of the system and vote in person if they choose.

Much of the hearing focused on disagreements over how much the bill would cost. Democratic lawmakers questioned a fiscal note submitted by the secretary of state’s office estimating implementation costs would run north of $5.2 million — Frierson said that price tag “simply doesn't necessarily reflect the reality” of election costs, as the 2020 election (a presidential election) only cost $3.9 million.

“I think there's a tendency for folks to look for the ideal, and say ‘well, since we're opening up anyway, let's find an ideal way to do all of this,’ which is not always necessary or practical,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin said that changes in election turnout between presidential election years and midterms wouldn’t have a significant impact on the cost of largely mail elections, as all 1.8 million registered voters in the state would be mailed a ballot unless they opted out. 

He said the office also planned to increase the number of ballot drop boxes from about 120 to around 220 (at a cost of $1,500 each), and said the agency did not fully reimburse counties for election costs in 2020 because they had access to federal CARES Act dollars and other funding sources.

Though Wlaschin said the bill could lead to potential cost savings as a larger percentage of the electorate casts votes by mail (lowering the number of in-person polling places needed), he said that would likely not happen over the current biennium and that the secretary of state’s office opposed the bill because of the “negative fiscal impact it would have on the state.”

Wlaschin said the office also believed that it would need around $660,000 to help with a marketing and education campaign on the proposed changes, but Frierson said the agency’s concerns over cost did not take into account potential cost savings from the bill and that other options existed for voter education.

“While we on a couple of occasions have talked about voter education, that clearly was not an issue for the secretary of state before now,” Frierson said. “And there are organizations in the community that do this for free, who would be more than willing to partner with the secretary of state at a significant decrease if not zero cost to do voter education in the community.”

Support and opposition on AB321 fell largely along expected lines — organizations including the Culinary Union, ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, AARP Nevada and Silver State Voices testified in support, while the Nevada Republican Party (which has run ads opposing the legislation), the Independent American Party and Nevada Right to Life opposed the measure.

The committee heard another potentially significant change to state election procedures in the form of AB126, which proposes that the state leapfrog New Hampshire and Iowa to move to first place in the presidential primary calendar. Frierson, the bill’s sponsor, also presented a conceptual amendment that removes language related to a change in candidate filing deadlines, but otherwise keeps the provisions of the bill in place.

“In conversations both with our local elected officials and with the courts … it would create problems outside of our state budget that outweighed the benefits, as we originally contemplated,” he said.

Wlaschin said the secretary of state’s office estimated that implementing a presidential primary election (as opposed to a party-managed caucus) would cost about $5.2 million per cycle. That fiscal note irked Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), because the next presidential election in 2024 falls outside the current budget cycle.

“The question is, why would you submit a fiscal note on something that will not impact us in this biennium?” she said. “This Legislature, this committee, deals with the budget for this biennium only.”

Wlaschin said the bill would not have an effect on the current budget, “but there will be something later on down the line.”

The bill attracted support from progressive and Democrat-aligned groups, but drew opposition from the state Republican Party. Republican National Committee member Jim DeGraffenreid said the bill would be a waste of resources as states such as New Hampshire were fully prepared to move around their primary dates to keep their plum spot on the nominating calendar.

“New Hampshire has a state law that says they must hold the first primary in the nation, and they will hold their primary as early as necessary to remain first,” he said. “We have no ability to change the laws of the state of New Hampshire, and so this is a waste of our five and a half million dollars to chase that impossible goal.”

Still, Democrats said they were eager to advance the bill if only to get away from the presidential caucus system — Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said she wasn’t “offended” by the fiscal note and that it was time to “evolve” past the caucus process.

“If we make the process easier to engage in, people will engage,” she said. “We have an electorate that cares, we have an electorate that wants to show up, and all we have to do is remove barriers, and they will engage in a way that our founders absolutely dreamed of.”

Members of the committee also reviewed AB422, a bill that would gradually shift Nevada from a county-led, bottom-up voter registration system to a state-led, top-down system. Frierson said that such a system would make the state’s voter registration system much more efficient and called the bill a “step in the right direction to streamline our state government.”

“Everyone who has been involved with elections has indicated an interest in moving us to a top-down system,” he said. The secretary of state’s office originally submitted a $9.2 million fiscal note on the bill, but Wlaschin said the office intended to use $4.8 million from Nevada’s share of grant funds from the Help America Vote Act and said the measure would not have a financial impact on the state for the upcoming budget cycle.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. to update that all three bills passed out of committee on Tuesday evening.

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

A cat scan machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill will now head to the Assembly for consideration.

Despite opposition, lawmakers revive and advance MGM-backed bill banning guns in casinos

A revived, last-minute bill aimed at giving casino resorts a greater ability to ban firearms on their premises supported by MGM Resorts drew staunch opposition from an unusual group of opponents — Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform groups.

During a joint meeting of Assembly and Senate judiciary committees on Saturday, lawmakers spent a rainy Carson City morning digging into the details of SB452 — an emergency bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and introduced last week that revives jettisoned portions of the other major gun bill of the session. Senators opted to vote the bill out of committee after the hearing on a 4-3, party-line vote.

Cannizzaro, who presented the bill alongside Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and MGM Resorts representative Ayesha Molino, characterized the bill as another step that lawmakers could take to protect workers on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We are again looking to adapt our state's legal tools to better protect our hospitality workers and our visitors and guests that traveled to Las Vegas from around the world, this time by ensuring that we can appropriately prevent instances where physical violence may otherwise be a factor,” Cannizzaro said.

Nevada Speaker of the Senate Nicole Cannizzaro presents SB 452 during a joint meeting of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Judiciary inside the Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have heard details on the concept of expanding “gun-free zones” — similar language was initially included in Jauregui’s AB286, legislation that also bans firearm assembly kits without serial numbers and so-called “ghost guns.” The concept is strongly supported by MGM Resorts, which helped present both the Assembly and Senate bills and has sought enhanced limits on firearms since the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that took place on the company’s properties.

That bill saw amendments narrowing and finally eliminating the language on limiting firearm possession on private property — in part over concerns from progressive lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates that the provisions would lead to more harassment and targeting of minority communities.

Despite another amendment presented Saturday, the bill drew many of the same complaints and concerns from not just gun rights advocates, but police unions, trial attorneys, progressive groups, public defenders and even several Democratic lawmakers, who said they feared the bill would lead to targeting of minority communities.

“We are going to have situations where Black folks and brown folks are going to be the ones who are going to be not asked to leave, but who are going to be the ones that the police are called on,” said Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas). “I'm very concerned about that, because I have a commitment to my community that I do everything that I can to try and keep them safe. We know that every single time there is an interaction with police for Black and brown people, the opportunity for it to go sideways is great.”

Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong during a joint meeting of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Judiciary inside the Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

SB452 (plus an amendment) allows for non-restricted gaming license holders (defined as more than 15 slot machines on property) to opt in to the provisions of the bill, which generally prohibits individuals from bringing firearms onto casino property with certain exemptions. Businesses would be required to post signage at every public entrance and give law enforcement a seven-day notice before opting in to the bill’s provisions.

A person who is carrying a concealed firearm would have to be given a verbal warning prior to any involvement by law enforcement, with no verbal warning given to someone openly carrying a firearm, before the person with a gun is opened up to criminal liability or a police response. If a person refuses to leave the premises or surrender the firearm, the bill would set an initial misdemeanor penalty.

Exemptions in the bill would cover security guards or police while on duty, owners of residential units within the casino property, guests who purchase a firearm at a trade show, or anyone who obtains the written consent of the property to bring a firearm there. The amendment to the bill would require any casino property that opts in to the bill to adopt policies and procedures that include training for security guards on de-escalation techniques, cultural diversity competency and implicit bias.

After the hearing, the bill was processed with another amendment that sought to address concerns raised by opponents, including:

  • Requiring an establishment’s firearm policies be provided on their website, and for all signs to cite the controlling portion of state law
  • Require police that arrive in response to a call from the establishment to identify themselves and provide the person an opportunity to comply with the policy
  • Narrow the definition of “premises” to exclude any adjacent properties owned by the licensee
  • Revise the law enforcement exemption to mirror language in existing law on a similar exemption in the state prohibition on firearms on school campuses

Supporters stressed that private businesses already have the right to prohibit firearms on their premises, but that the bill would give them an ability to better enforce their property rights — Cannizzaro said it’s “something that they may already do, and we are trying to make sure that that is something that they can properly enforce.”

“This language simply enhances the business community's toolkit to notify patrons of this prohibition and to call upon law enforcement to assist and address situations before they escalate and become dangerous,” she said.

The bill attracted support from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Culinary union — lobbyist Jim Sullivan cited the 2017 mass shooting and said thousands of union members “saw firsthand the effects of gun violence” and wanted to ensure that “no hospitality worker ever has to experience that trauma again.”

But much of the testimony on the bill was in opposition — ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah noted that the legislation drew opponents from across the ideological spectrum and called the bill “half-baked at best.”

“This simply isn't a bad bill that has good intentions, this is a deadly bill, with good intentions,” he said. “No amendment to this bill, no matter how well intended, can fix its potential outcomes. This bill is inherently unredeemable, and is a pretense for dangerous and racist stop-and-frisk policies that have plagued our country and our state.”

National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid said the bill would create “a lot of uncertainty” for gun owners, saying the exemption for residential unit owners in casino resorts may not cover family members or guests.

“We think this bill is wholly unnecessary, and it really could implicate a lot of good people,” he said.

Though Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates vigorously opposed the bill, the measure could run into difficulty in the Assembly, where many Democratic lawmakers expressed hesitancy and skepticism over the bill. Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas) questioned whether the implicit bias training requirements in the legislation would be the same across the board at different properties, and said the circumstances described by proponents in which the bill would apply appeared uncommon at best.

“Just to be clear, we are seeking to address an issue that may or may not happen,” she said. “We don’t know.”

Still, supporters stressed that the bill would largely mirror prohibitions on firearm possession at schools and libraries, and said that lawmakers should take similar steps to ensure the safety of the state’s main economic driver — the Las Vegas Strip.

“As we've all noticed, the tourism economy is the lifeblood of our Nevada economy and so we should be paying special attention to the resorts and the casinos and the hotels, and all of the places that people come from all over the world to ensure that they can be safe while they are there,” Senate Judiciary Chair Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) said shortly before the committee vote. “And we should be able to allow those facilities to have this increased and improved amount of safety on their properties.”

Sources: Lombardo set to announce for governor

Undaunted by newly minted Republican Mayor John Lee’s announcement, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has made the decision to run for governor, sources confirmed Thursday.

Lombardo will formally announce next month and has hired a trio of high-profile GOP operatives, including a former political director for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee.

The campaign team will be led by Ryan Erwin, a well-respected consultant who oversaw Cresent Hardy’s shocking upset of Rep. Steven Horsford in 2014 and helped Joe Heck win a seat in Congress (and almost secure a U.S. Senate seat). Erwin was involved in efforts to pass Marsy’s Law here and elsewhere and recently was retained by Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign to oust California Gov. Gavin Newsom. I don’t know of a more even-keeled, thoughtful and straight-shooting consultant who has been involved in Nevada politics.

Erwin will be joined by his former partner, Mike Slanker, who has been a consultant to the likes of Brian Sandoval and Dean Heller and is a media expert whose ads have been known to cut (and cut deeply), and Chris Carr, an ex-Trump and RNC operative who will oversee the grassroots/ground game and is as well-regarded as anyone I know across partisan and geographic lines.

It’s a formidable team enhanced by ex-Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who was interested in running for governor but has agreed to chair Lombardo’s campaign. Hutchison is a formidable fundraiser; his PAC helped the GOP pick up legislative seats last year.

I am reliably told that some gaming companies have informed Lombardo they will give him substantial support, although some will have to play both sides because Gov. Steve Sisolak has such power over their enterprises. It will be interesting to see, especially after a legislative session controlled by Democrats and one that has intermittently infuriated the Strip, whether any companies give only to Lombardo. (This would surprise me.)

The industry’s campaign contributions could well hinge on how the session ends and the resolution of a so-called right to return bill that is the Culinary union’s main objective and has caused a serious rift with and within the industry. 

Lombardo would have to be seen as a favorite in the primary with this kind of firepower and Lee's recent entry into the Republican party. The North Las Vegas mayor also has baggage, including a raft of votes as a Democratic legislator. But Lombardo’s two terms as sheriff notwithstanding, the sheriff’s ability to perform statewide and handle non-law enforcement issues remain uncertain. And he will have to deal with his own record as sheriff, too.

Filing does not open until next March, and I am still not persuaded that candidates who announce this early will actually file. And I am not convinced that Lee, who has floated more trial balloons than anyone in Nevada history before they lost ballast, will sign on the dotted line next year. At least, that is, for governor.

Sisolak is seen as vulnerable by the GOP here and nationally because of criticism he absorbed during the pandemic for health care protocols that were deleterious for the economy. But Democrats are banking on a rebounding economy to put some wind at Sisolak’s back, and a potential GOP primary is not optimal for Republicans. And who knows whether a Trumpian contender (who has not recently switched parties) might get in, making it even more interesting.

Lombardo’s decision, though, ensures this is going to be a very interesting year in Nevada politics, which, as one who has followed it for three and a half decades, almost goes without saying.