Sisolak signs permanent expansion of mail-in voting, mining tax compromise, dozens of other bills

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed dozens of bills on Wednesday, including one making widespread distribution of mail-in ballots permanent for elections and another imposing a new tax on the mining industry as part of a bipartisan compromise to raise revenue for schools and prevent more drastic tax proposals from heading to the 2022 ballot.

“At a time when State legislatures across the country are attempting to roll back access to the polls, I am so proud that Nevada continues to push forward with proven strategies that make voting more accessible and secure,” Sisolak said in a statement about the elections bill. “Nevada has always been widely recognized as a leader in election administration and with this legislation, we will continue to build on that legacy.”

The bill signings come two days after the Legislature adjourned on Monday at midnight, sending hundreds of bills to Sisolak’s desk for a signature. The governor has ten days (excluding Sundays) after the Legislature adjourns to either sign bills, issue a veto or allow it to become law without a signature.

Here’s a look at some of the 58 bills the Democratic governor signed on Wednesday.

AB495: Mining tax compromise

Six Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in the waning hours of the session to support AB495, a bill that creates a new excise tax on the gross revenues of gold and silver companies. The new tax is estimated to bring in an extra $150 million to $170 million a biennium, and the bill as a whole will earmark more than $500 million over the biennium to education.

“This investment will benefit every student, educator and family in Nevada and I am so proud of the collaborative effort undertaken by stakeholders to bring this legislation over the finish line,” Sisolak said in a statement. “With this legislation, we are well on our way toward creating a better Nevada for our educators, students and families.”

The mining tax came in the face of pressure from three proposed constitutional amendments unveiled last summer. If lawmakers had advanced those, they would have headed to a statewide vote in 2022 and could have had a more dramatic impact on the mining industry, which has long been a target of progressive advocates who say it is not paying its fair share of taxes.

Instead, lawmakers let the three measures die. Two other proposed ballot initiatives — a sales tax hike and a gaming tax hike supported by the Clark County Education Association — are also supposed to be withdrawn by the union as part of the agreement.

The bill also includes a host of other elements of the deal. It designates existing mining tax revenues to education instead of having them flow to the general fund, and it sets aside $215 million of the state’s allotment of American Rescue Plan funds to support traditional and charter schools in their efforts to help children rebound from learning losses brought on by the pandemic.

It also gives a boost to Opportunity Scholarships, a tax credit-funded program that helps low-income children attend private schools but otherwise was on track to be phased out, opens the door for more funds for Medicaid personal care services, calls for a study on alternatives to the current model of elected school board trustees, and tasks the Commission on School Funding with exploring other routes for raising revenue for schools.

AB321: Permanent expanded mail voting

Nevada is now the sixth state to adopt largely all-mail voting systems after Sisolak signed Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s AB321, permanently codifying pandemic-related election changes adopted for the 2020 election season. The legislation was staunchly opposed by Republicans; the bill passed on party lines out of both the Assembly and Senate.

“I’m proud of the work we did to expand access to the ballot box for all eligible Nevadans. As John Lewis said, voting is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy,” Frierson said in a statement.

The bill requires all county and city clerks to send every active registered voter a mail ballot before a primary or general election. Inactive voters, who are legally registered to vote but don’t have a current address on file with election officials, will not be sent a mail ballot. The bill will allow voters to opt out of being mailed a ballot by providing written notice to their local or county election clerk, and the measure maintains certain minimum requirements for in-person polling places. 

The legislation does change some of the deadlines that were in place for the 2020 election — shortening from seven to four days the timeframe after an election when mail ballots postmarked by Election Day can be accepted. There is a reduction of seven to six days in time for voters to fix issues on their mail ballot (a process called “signature cure”). 

It also shortens the time for election officials to finish counting mail ballots after Election Day from nine days to seven days. It also requires the secretary of state’s office to enter into an agreement with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics to cross check the list of registered voters in the state with a list of deceased individuals.

The bill also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures — including daily audits on any electronic checking of signatures.

A last-minute amendment added to the bill will allow the sponsors of initiative petitions to withdraw qualified petitions up to 90 days before an election — a change intended to give legal authority for the Clark County Education Association to withdraw initiatives aimed at raising sales and gaming taxes. Union leaders have said they’ll pull back the proposed ballot questions after lawmakers approved the mining tax compromise bill, AB495.

The bill appropriates about $12.2 million over the two-year budget cycle to the secretary of state’s office for the costs of ballot stock, postage and postcard notifications.

AB400: Marijuana DUIs

This bill removes “per se” limits on the amount of marijuana metabolite that can be in someone’s blood to trigger a DUI. While the limits are removed for situations that would constitute a misdemeanor, they remain when a person is facing a felony charge.

Supporters of the bill say the per se limits are an inaccurate way to detect impairment because of how marijuana works through the body differently than alcohol. 

The measure passed the Assembly 26-16, with all Republicans opposed, but 16-5 in the Senate after it was watered down from its original version.

SB320: Transparency on food delivery fees

Passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly, this measure requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

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

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

SB166: Hate crimes

This measure clarifies that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

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

The measure passed out of the Senate on a party-line vote with Republicans in opposition, and then out of the Assembly in a 33-8 vote.

SB327: Hairstyle discrimination

Nevada joined at least 10 other states, including Washington, California and Colorado, with the passage and signing of SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

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

The bill passed out of the Senate in a 20-1 vote, with the only opposition vote from Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks). In the Assembly, Republicans Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), Lisa Krasner (R-Reno), P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) and Jill Tolles (R-Reno), joined Democrats in support of the legislation, leading to a 33-8 vote.

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

AB195: English Language Learner bill of rights

This measure establishes an English Language Learner (ELL) bill of rights which includes the right to a free and public education (regardless of and without disclosing immigration status), the right to have an interpreter for significant interactions with school districts and information about the student’s progress in the appropriate language. 

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), said during one of the bill’s hearings that the legislation will help families be aware of their rights and more easily receive aid. 

The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote and then unanimously out of the Senate.

SB344: Tiger King bill

This so-called “Tiger King” bill, nicknamed for the Netflix series on a wild animal collector, prevents people who own a wild animal from allowing it to come into contact with the general public, including through allowing people to take a photo while holding the wild animal.

After passing through the Senate in a 12-9 vote along party lines, the measure was significantly watered down from its original version, which banned the owning, breeding, importing and selling of dangerous wild animals. Members of the Assembly voted 35-6 to pass the bill.

SB203: Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

This measure, sponsored by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), allows a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation, who was a minor at the time of the offense, to commence a civil action to recover damages at any time after the violation occurred. The bill does maintain, though, that any action must commence within 20 years after the victim turns 18 years old.

Entities are also liable for damages if they financially benefit from the exploitation, although a hotel or motel with more than 175 rooms is not considered to have benefited from the rental of a room used in the commission of exploitation.

The bill passed 18-3 in the Senate and 32-9 in the Assembly. All those opposed were Republicans.

June 2, 2021 Bill Signings by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Our roads were built for cars, but a new law could start to make them safer for cyclists

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

The 81st Legislative session came to a close Monday night (updates later on in the newsletter). But first: A special shoutout to my colleagues Michelle Rindels, Riley Snyder and Tabitha Mueller who led our legislative coverage with major help from our interns Jannelle Calderón and Sean Golonka. I was in awe of the excellent work they did covering this unusual (half-virtual) but consequential session that ended with a (surprising or maybe not) mining tax. 

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


Throughout the last year, as COVID-19 restrictions limited transportation and exercise options,  more and more people turned to bikes. At this point, the trend has been well-documented in reports of bicycle shortages and in data released by exercise apps that track user fitness.

The trend is welcome news for cycling advocates and transportation planners who have long pushed to make neighborhoods more conducive for getting around using multiple modes of transportation. But it also underscored the need to make roads safer for all who rely on them.

The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety reported 10 cyclist fatalities and 83 pedestrian fatalities in 2020, with the large majority of them occurring in Clark County. That marked an increase from 2019, when there were seven cyclist fatalities and 70 pedestrian fatalities, according to the office.

Last year, on U.S. Highway 95 outside Las Vegas, a box truck killed five cyclists riding with a safety vehicle. It was a tragic incident, and the news rippled across the community — in Las Vegas and elsewhere. As John Glionna wrote in The New York Times this year, it galvanized activists to push for policies aimed at better protecting cyclists and pedestrians on the road. 

The Legislature meets for 120 days every other year. There are systemic issues that lawmakers must grapple with. The budget. Tax policy. Funding for education and health care. All of those things often grab the big headlines, for good reason. But lawmakers in Carson City also pass a flurry of subject-specific bills, often small tweaks that can make a hugely meaningful difference.

SB285 is one of those bills. The legislation, awaiting Gov. Steve Sisolak’s signature, aims to address bicycle and pedestrian safety by making a number of small (but significant) changes to statute. It’s not a panacea, but activists see it as a step in the right direction.

“The goal is to be as inclusive as possible,” said Senator Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor. “The road has to be shared by multiple modes of transportation, and we want to make sure everybody has the ability to get around the way that they so choose.”

Notably, the bill addresses an underlying issue: Driver’s ed. The fact is many people don’t know the rules of the roads for cyclists and pedestrians. SB285 requires driver’s education courses to incorporate rules for other types of transportation, including electric bikes and electric scooters. 

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, who worked on the bill, said Tuesday that “education is the most important piece of making sure that our cyclists and pedestrians are safe.” 

But education is only one element of the bill. The legislation also aims to address driving rules and infrastructure. Following what other states have done, the legislation allows drivers to pass bikes in a no-passing zone, if it is safe to do so. The legislation also spells out when it’s not safe for bikers to ride on the rightmost part of the lane — and can accordingly use the full lane.

Clark County, Jones noted, adopted a similar ordinance around managing traffic a few months ago. But, Jones said, “it’s an important step forward to have some baseline across the state.”

Finally, the legislation looks at how transportation is planned and constructed. It adds language around the implementation of “complete streets” programs, which aim to operate roads for all users and incorporate different types of transportation. SB285 states that projects undertaken through such programs must, when possible, “integrate bicycle lands and bicycle routes, facilities and signs into all plans, designs, construction and maintenance of roads.” In addition, the legislation requires designs to consider people of “all ages and abilities.”

“We understand that more people of more varied ages and abilities will start — or continue — to walk and bike when safer streets are provided through programs like complete streets,” Anne Macquarie, representing the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, wrote in written testimony last month.

Several other pieces of legislation passed during the session could also make streets safer and more accommodating for different types of transportation. AB54, approved by Sisolak, would create an Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety within the Department of Transportation. AB343 would require large counties (Clark and Washoe) to submit plans to conduct “walking audits” of urban areas with an eye toward public health. And AB362 would allow Clark County’s regional transportation commission to provide microtransit as part of its slate of transportation options. 

Legislative reporter Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


WATER AND LAND

Lake Mead’s changing shores: Arizona Republic reporter Ian James wrote an excellent piece about the on-the-ground impacts of water-level declines. “At the bustling marinas in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the shifting shorelines require costly and elaborate work: pulling the marinas out with cables and winches, extending power lines and fuel lines, using divers to unhook giant concrete anchors and dispatching barges to lower new anchors into the water.” 

  • An inside look at the Hoover Dam holding back less and less water (Arizona Republic)
  • “Climate science indicates that there will likely be less water in the Colorado River than many had hoped. This is inconvenient for 21st-century decision-makers, and overcoming their resistance may be the hardest challenge of all.” In a new editorial, John Fleck, the director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, and Brad Udall, a climate researcher at Colorado State University, stress the need to allow science to guide Colorado River planning and incorporate “worst-case” climate scenarios.
  • Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger testifies on the “real and urgent” drought conditions facing the Colorado River. (Nevada Current)

Picking a new Southern California water chief: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California considered former water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy to lead the agency. Los Angeles Times reporter Sammy Roth has more on the contested vote and what it means. 

Legislation to require wildlife plans with development: The Legislature passed AB211, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), aimed at protecting wildlife. The bill requires developers to submit plans about how they intend to offset new development on species habitat. Brian Bahouth, with the Sierra Nevada Ally, has more on the legislation. 

Douglas County commissioners declare drought conditions, via Carson Now.

  • PBS Newshour’s William Brangham and Courtney Norris on the western drought. From the report: “2021 is shaping up to potentially be the driest of all of the drought years in the last century, and definitely one of the driest of the last millennium.”

“We’ve recovered mastodons:” Capital Public Radio’s Rich Ibarra writes about the discovery of an exhaustive fossil deposit. It’s located in California at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.


MINING AND ENERGY

A mining tax compromise: In the final days of the legislative session, a deal emerged on a mining tax that avoided advancing one of three proposed constitutional amendments, which would have gone before voters. My colleagues Riley Snyder and Michelle Rindels reported on the deal, how it advanced and why several Republicans came to vote for the new mining tax. We’ll have more reporting on the tax, what it means and who it affects in the coming weeks.

Energy policy advances out of the Legislature: A major bill SB448, focused on transmission and electric vehicle infrastructure, passed and is on Sisolak’s desk. Riley Snyder wrote more about the bill, and we’ll have a follow-up coming out on that soon. On Monday, the Senate also approved AB383, which sought to address energy efficiency standards in appliances.

Groups file injunction to stop lithium mine: Conservation groups want a federal court judge to issue an injunction that would prevent any construction of the Thacker Pass mine after they said negotiations with land managers and a company fell apart. (Great Basin Resource Watch)

CLIMATE CHANGE

How auto dealers are viewing the state’s efforts to increase emission standards, via the Nevada Current’s Jeniffer Solis. The state held a session on its clean car initiative last week. 

The Truckee Meadows Community College was featured in an Inside Higher Ed piece a few weeks ago looking at how campuses are preparing for the effects of climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

SB452: Prohibiting guns on casino properties

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

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

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

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

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

AB387: Midwifery licensure board 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB437: Increased fees for justice court actions

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

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

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

AB161: Study on summary evictions

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

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

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

SB187: Limits on solitary confinement 

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

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

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

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

SB139: Prohibiting insurance companies from denying treatment for gender dysphoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB235: Additional marijuana licenses for unsuccessful applicants

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB382: Regulating student loan servicers

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

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

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

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

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

SB462: Republican-backed effort to change redistricting commission

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

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

Increasing awareness of mental health services

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

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

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

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

College athlete compensation, cannabis investigations and ‘pot for pets’ among latest bills signed by Sisolak

As Nevada lawmakers work through the final weekend before the adjournment of the 120-day legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak has also been busy fulfilling his end of the process — signing more than 40 bills into law on Friday and Saturday.

Some of the higher-profile measures signed by Sisolak over the past two days include bills aimed at allowing collegiate athletes to receive compensation, lowering the penalties for minors caught in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana, requiring teaching about minorities and historically underrepresented groups and raising the legal and age prerequisites for a person to become state attorney general.

Sisolak had signed 174 bills into law as of Saturday evening. Once bills are approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the governor’s office, the state’s chief executive has five days during sessions and 10 days after they adjourn to either sign the bill, veto the measure or allow the clock to expire, which causes a bill to automatically become law.

Here’s a look at some of the major bills signed by Sisolak on Friday and Saturday. For a full list of bills signed by the governor this session, click here.

AB101: ‘Pot for pets’

Sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 authorizes licensed veterinarians to administer products containing CBD or hemp in the treatment of an animal and to recommend use of such products to pet owners. It also prohibits the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from taking disciplinary action against veterinarians who administer or use such products.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly. 

AB158: Lowering penalties for minors caught buying alcohol or marijuana

This measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) generally lowers the criminal penalties for minors found in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana. 

Specifically, the bill prohibits imprisonment or a fine and instead requires any such person under the age of 21 found in possession of the prohibited substances to perform up to 24 hours of community service, attend a panel of victims of persons killed or injured by intoxicated drivers or undergo an evaluation to see if they have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.

The bill also requires the automatic sealing of criminal records related to underage possession once a juvenile successfully completes the terms and conditions set by a court.

It passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly.

AB177: Prescription drug instructions in non-English languages

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), requires most pharmacies in the state to provide specific instructions on the use of a prescription drug in a language other than English, if requested by the recipient. It exempts pharmacies from civil liability if they contract with a third party translation service and injury cannot be linked to the “negligence, recklessness or deliberate misconduct of the pharmacy or employee.”

The measure passed out on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, but passed the Senate unanimously after an amendment was added granting civil immunity to pharmacies.

AB200: Regulations for veterinary telemedicine

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas), the measure establishes regulations for veterinary telemedicine, allowing licensed veterinarians to practice telemedicine only after an in-person examination of an animal. Under the bill, veterinarians would not have to examine every member of a herd to consult remotely, and a doctor with access to medical records could also consult via remote communication.

The measure passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote and then unanimously out of the Senate.

AB254: College athletes can profit off likeness

This bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) would prohibit colleges or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing student athletes from being compensated for use of their name, image or likeness. It’s intended to align with planned moves by the NCAA to allow for student-athlete compensation.

The bill also requires that the Legislative Committee on Education conduct an interim study concerning the issue.

It passed on a 34-8 vote in the Assembly and on a unanimous vote in the Senate.

AB261: Teaching about history of underrepresented groups 

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks), requires Nevada students to learn about the history and cultural contributions of minorities and historically underrepresented and discriminated against groups, including Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community and African Americans. It would also require that textbooks and instructional materials accurately portray the history and contributions of marginalized groups.

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

SB58: Cannabis investigations

This bill expands the duties of the Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety to include assisting in investigations related to cannabis that the Department of Taxation or the Cannabis Compliance Board might be undertaking, if those agencies request the help. 

The bill passed unanimously in both houses.

SB66: Connecting kids to computers

This bill expands the work of the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, calling on the agency to develop a statewide system to determine the extent to which students have access to the internet and computers in their homes. It also tasks the office with helping connect students to that technology. 

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 35-4 vote in the Assembly, with some Republicans opposed.

AB227: Cracking down on independent contracting in construction

This bill bars contractors from hiring people who don’t have a contractor’s license and are not their direct employees to do work for a contractor that requires a contractor’s license. Backed by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), the bill is one strategy to tackle the issue of employee misclassification but was opposed by all Republicans.

The bill passed on party-line votes in both houses.

AB190: Sick leave used to care for family

This bill requires that employers who offer sick leave to their workers also let those employees use that accrued time to attend to medical needs of their immediate family, whether that be for an illness, injury or doctor’s appointment. It allows employers, however, to limit the amount of sick leave a worker can use for that purpose.

The bill, sponsored by the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, includes a preamble stating that caregivers in Nevada provided 324 million hours of uncompensated care in 2013, at an estimated value of $4.27 billion.

The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 30-12 vote in the Assembly; all who voted against it are Republicans.

AB236: Raising requirements to be attorney general

This bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), raises the prerequisites for serving as attorney general. It requires the person in that role to be at least 30 years old — up from the current minimum age of 25 — and have lived in Nevada for at least three years, up from two.

The person must also be a member in good standing of the Nevada Bar.

Frierson said that the duties of the office have become increasingly complex over the years, and Nevada’s minimum qualifications have not kept up with the prerequisites common in other states. Opponents said other constitutional offices, such as governor or treasurer, only require the person to be 25 and have no other professional prerequisites.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) also said it gives way too much latitude to the state bar and limits the choices of Nevada voters.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Assembly and 12-8 in the Senate. All those who voted against it were Republicans.

SB362: Operating a ‘microtransit’ system

The bill authorizes the Regional Transportation Commission in Clark County to offer microtransit services, or transportation by a multi-passenger vehicle that carries fewer passengers than vehicles used on regular routes and is dispatched through a digital application service.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate and on a 36-5 vote in the Assembly.

SB363: Reporting requirements for charter schools

This measure requires charter schools that contract with education management companies to submit a report to the sponsor of the charter school, detailing the amount paid to those companies in the current and preceding fiscal years. Charter schools will also have to submit the same report to the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau in even-numbered years.

The bill passed on a 19-2 vote in the Senate and a 35-6 vote in the Assembly.

AB181 - Mental health parity, attempted suicide report

This bill requires health care providers to report cases or suspected cases of attempted suicide to the state, with that information reported annually to the Patient Protection Commission. It also calls for an evaluation by the state Insurance Commissioner on whether insurers are adhering to a federal law requiring mental health parity — not limiting mental health benefits more than physical health benefits.

The measure passed 26-16 in the Assembly and 14-6 in the Senate. Those opposed were Republicans.

This story was updated on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 12:53 p.m. to reflect that Assemblywoman Natha Anderson was the primary sponsor of AB261.

Deadline Day: Lawmakers approve ghost gun ban, medical debt protection and cage-free egg bills

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

Nevada lawmakers are moving to vote out dozens of bills including measures banning ghost guns, changing criminal justice procedures including bail and affecting education, cannabis and health care heading into one of the final major bill passage deadlines of the session.

Friday marks the deadline for bills to pass out of their second house, one of the biggest milestones before the Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn no later than midnight on May 31. Ahead of the scheduled floor sessions, legislators teed up votes on nearly 170 measures that either need to pass by midnight or end up in the legislative graveyard.

Lawmakers haven’t saved everything for the last day — members of the Assembly and Senate have met late into the night throughout the week to finish processing a number of big-ticket bills: decriminalizing traffic tickets, sealing the records of evictions that happened during the pandemic, banning police ticket or arrest quotas and extending rollovers for school construction bond construction.

Friday isn’t the final stop on the legislative rollercoaster — lawmakers will spend the next 10 days zipping up final budget details, hashing out differences on amended bills and dealing with a rush of last-minute major policy items introduced in the waning days of the session, from the state public health insurance option to limiting firearm possession on casino property.

Here’s a look at some of the major bills that have passed so far this week. The Nevada Independent will update this story as additional bills are passed on Friday.

Medical debt collection

Collection agencies would be barred from certain aggressive practices and have to give more warning to people before they start collecting on medical debt under SB248, a bill backed by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) that passed the Assembly in a 28-13 vote. 

The bill requires collection agencies to notify a debtor by certified mail about the amount of debt, as well as when, why and where it was incurred, at least 60 days before the agency begins collection activities. The debtor can make payments during the notification period and it will not be reported to any credit reporting agency.

It also caps the fees collection agencies can charge to 5 percent of the base medical debt. Legal aid providers who presented the bill said they have seen instances where such fees were more than 100 percent.

The measure also bars collection agencies from taking “confession of judgment,” a practice that involves debtors signing away some of their rights and allows the collection agency to take steps such as garnishing the debtor’s wages.

Proponents argued that with about one in five Nevadans in collections for medical debt, and potentially more exposed to such situations if they lost insurance coverage during the pandemic, the protections could prevent many Nevadans from going into bankruptcy.

Marijuana DUI

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to approve AB400, a bill that aims to update Nevada law to remove “per se” limits that specify how much marijuana metabolite in the blood would trigger a DUI. Proponents say the limits are an inaccurate indicator of impairment, because they can still be detected in the body long after a high wears off because of how marijuana is processed by the body differently than alcohol.

An amendment, however, has restored the per se limits in cases where someone is accused of a DUI causing death or substantial bodily harm. Supporters of the bill in its original form say the amendment keeps an unscientific measurement in the statute.

Removal of non-functional turf

Senators voted unanimously for AB356, a bill that would set in motion a plan to remove non-functional turf within the jurisdiction of the Southern Nevada Water Authority before the year 2027. Grass at single-family residences would be exempt.

The bill also requires the Legislative Committee on Public Lands to conduct a study on water conservation.

Cage-free eggs

Senators voted 16-5 in favor of AB399, a bill that prevents the sale of eggs in Nevada starting in 2024 if the hens aren’t in a cage-free housing system or are in such a system but without sufficient space to move around. Farms with fewer than 3,000 egg-laying hens are exempted from the requirement.

Members of the egg industry had lined up in support of the bill, saying cage-free eggs are the wave of the future and such a law would ensure uniformity in requirements across the region. Opponents, including Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he worried that the requirement would raise the price of eggs and harm low-income families.

Hairstyle protections

Under SB327, passed out of the Assembly on a 33-8 vote, hairstyles associated with particular races would be protected against discrimination.

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

The bill arrives as part of a nationwide movement to end hair discrimination. If passed, Nevada would join at least 10 other states that have passed similar legislation, including Washington, California and Colorado.

Paid-leave for health purposes

Members of the Assembly voted 30-11 to pass a measure that would require employers to provide paid leave for an employee receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

The bill, SB209, would also allow an employee to use paid leave for any health reason, including for treating an illness and caregiving. Under the bill, the Legislative Committee on Health Care would also conduct a study during the 2021-2022 interim assessing the state’s response to the pandemic and making recommendations for legislation addressing future public health crises.

Tiger King bill

Members of the Assembly voted 35-6 for a so-called “Tiger King” bill nicknamed for the Netflix series on a wild animal collector. In its original form, the bill, SB344, prohibited owning and breeding wild animals, but it was significantly watered down.

Now, the bill prevents people who own a wild animal from allowing it to come into contact with the general public, including through allowing people to take a photo while holding the wild animal. 

Banning ‘ghost guns’

A contentious measure banning so-called “ghost guns” and other firearm assembly kits that don’t come equipped with serial numbers passed the Senate on a party-line vote.

The bill, AB286, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), and would prohibit a person from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any unfinished frame or receiver of a firearm, or assembling any firearm not imprinted with a serial number. An earlier version of the bill would have also prohibited individuals from carrying firearms on to casino property, but those provisions were removed and later resurfaced in SB452 — an emergency bill from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro up for a hearing on Saturday.

Republicans opposed the bill — Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said that law enforcement in Nevada believed few if any crimes were committed with ghost guns in the state.

“The idea that serial numbers somehow help reduce crime just doesn’t add up,” he said.

Those arguments failed to sway Democratic lawmakers.

“I think we have all as a society agreed that no one should be able to own a gun without a background check, and this bill brings us closer to that ideal,” Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) said. “End of statement.”

Lowering barriers to birth control

In a 28-13 vote, members of the Assembly passed out SB190, a bill allowing women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit. Assemblywomen Jill Tolles (R-Reno) and Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) joined Democrats in support of the measure which supporters said will lower barriers to obtaining birth control.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to pass AB296, which allows victims of ‘doxing’ to bring a civil action to recover damages. ‘Doxing’ involves the unauthorized sharing of personal identifying information, such as an address, with the intent to cause harm or mental anguish.

The bill exempts the dissemination of certain information from liability for ‘doxing,’ including the reporting of conduct reasonably believed to be unlawful, information that depicts an elected officer acting in an official capacity, information gathered under the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and assembly and good faith communications meant to further the right to petition or right to free speech in connection with public concern.

Several Republican lawmakers raised concerns that the bill contained exemptions for elected officials acting in an official capacity, or law enforcement “acting under the color of law.” 

Hate crime changes

Members of the Assembly voted 33-8 to pass SB166, a bill clarifying that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime, with qualifying characteristics including race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The amended version of the bill passed out of the Assembly additionally requires a prosecuting attorney to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator would not have committed the crime if not for the existence of such a characteristic.

The measure also expands the list of hate crimes for which a victim may bring forward a civil action to recover damages to include making threats or conveying false information concerning lethal weapons or acts of terrorism and threatening violence or death to a student or school employee.

Back on Track Act 

Assembly members passed SB173, dubbed the “Back on Track Act,” in a 33-8 vote. The bill calls on districts to create learning loss prevention plans and set up summer school programs, then authorizes them to request federal aid to fund the initiatives.

The bill allows schools to have the option for students to attend summer school in-person or virtually. The program aims to help students who may have fallen behind in school subjects or are credit deficient and those with disabilities or who are English learners.

Although the “Back on Track Act” goes into effect when approved, it is set to expire on Jan. 1, 2022. 

HOA debt collection

The Assembly voted 28-13 to pass SB186, a measure that would require collection agencies to file a report on collections related to homeowner’s associations (HOA). 

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

The measure stipulates that if an HOA uses the foreclosure process, the home could not be sold to a person or entity involved in the process. It would also require an HOA to send its notices and communications by mail and email and that each HOA in a common-interest community with 150 or more units would need to establish an electronic portal that members could access.

Marriage license fees to help domestic violence victims

In a 32-9 vote, the Assembly passed SB177, which would double a fee on marriage licenses from $25 to $50 to better support sexual violence and domestic violence victim services in all the counties. 

The fees are expected to increase program funding from $2.5 million to $5 million annually. The bill states that 75 percent of the funding would go toward domestic violence victim services and 25 percent would go to sexual violence services. 

Land and water conservation

The Senate voted to pass AJR3, which would establish an effort to protect 30 percent of the nation’s lands and bodies of water by 2030. The vote was 12-9, along party lines.

The resolution points out that the state has lost more than 9 million acres of wildlife habitat in the  last two decades as a result of wildfires and only a small percentage of the land is currently protected. 

The conservation of land and water in the state may be accomplished through a combination of  federal and state actions, including designating or establishing wilderness areas, national parks and state parks. The resolution includes the designation of Spirit Mountain, known as Avi Kwa Ame, in Southern Nevada as a national monument, and permanent protection for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge from military expansion.

Previously, AJR3 passed the Assembly with a 26-16 vote, also along party lines. 

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

College athletes in Nevada may soon be able to profit off of their name, image or likeness, after members of the Senate unanimously passed AB254 on Friday.

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

Criminal justice changes

In an almost unanimous 38-1 vote, members of the Assembly passed out AB116 on Thursday, a bill that would decriminalize traffic tickets in Nevada (Assemblyman Greg Hafen (R-Pahrump) voted no). This is the fifth session in a row that Nevada lawmakers have considered the action, which proponents say would move the state away from the vestiges of a Victorian-era debtor’s prison but that local governments continue to oppose because of how it might affect their budgets. 

In a 40-0 vote on Thursday, members of the Assembly also passed out SB50, a bill introduced on behalf of the attorney general that would prohibit the issuance of no-knock warrants unless a sworn affidavit demonstrates that the underlying crime is a felony that could pose a significant and imminent threat to public safety or the warrant is necessary to prevent significant harm to the officer or another person.

Members of the Senate voted out several criminal justice reform measures late Thursday, including:

  • AB42, which implements a state Supreme Court order establishing a statutory right to a jury trial for a person charged with misdemeanor domestic violence that would lead to the accused losing firearm ownership rights.
  • AB104, which clarifies some of the existing procedures for awarding payments to the wrongfully convicted and expands the services a wrongfully convicted person may be compensated for, including housing assistance and financial literacy programs.
  • AB158, which significantly lightens penalties for minors who purchase or possess alcohol or cannabis, including prohibiting jail time and fees for first and second offenses.
  • AB186, which prohibits law enforcement agencies from requiring police officers to issue a certain number of traffic citations or make a certain number of arrests over a given period.
  • AB236, which raises the minimum age for candidates for state attorney general from 25 to 30 years of age, and requires the person to be a licensed attorney in good standing with the state Bar.

K-12 Education

Though much of the Legislature’s focus ahead of Friday’s deadline remains on passing bills out of their second house, members of the Senate also passed SB450, which allows school districts to use excess revenues from existing tax rates to fund Pay As You Go capital improvement projects, such as remodels and needed facility upgrades.

The measure passed on a 16-4 vote, with a few Republican senators upset with a lack of time to consider the measure, after the bill was introduced in the Legislature earlier in the week. Supporters have said the bill will not affect existing debt payments or reserve funds.

On Thursday, members of the Senate passed a variety of different K-12 focused Assembly bills, including:

  • AB109, which would require 80 percent of teachers at each charter school in the state to be licensed, including all teachers who teach a core academic subject.
  • AB195, which establishes an English language learner Bill of Rights that includes the right to a free and public education (regardless of and without disclosing immigration status) and the rights for a parent or guardian of an English learner to have an interpreter for significant interactions with school districts and to receive information about the student’s progress in the appropriate language.
  • AB235, which requires school districts to provide more help to students for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Higher education changes

Following the narrow failure of Question 1 in November, members of the Assembly on Tuesday voted 30-11 to pass SJR7, which attempts to take the same action as the failed ballot question by removing the Board of Regents from the state Constitution. Four Republicans, including a sponsor of the resolution, Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), joined all Democratic Assembly members in support, after the measure previously passed out of the Senate on a 20-0 vote. 

Proponents of the resolution have said that part of the reason Question 1 failed was because the language used was too complicated for voters to understand, and those supporters have also argued that removing the regents’ constitutional protection would create greater accountability. Opponents of the change, including members of the Board of Regents, have argued that the measure would do little to address higher education policy issues.

The resolution would need to be passed by the 2023 Legislature before going back to voters on the 2024 ballot.

Beyond deadline day, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday signed a measure that would formally authorize the Board of Regents to “enter into an agreement to affiliate with a publicly or privately owned medical facility.” SB342 will in practice serve as a legislative seal of approval for regents as they seek to approve a major partnership between the UNR School of Medicine and Reno-based health care provider Renown Health. 

The affiliation agreement, which has been in various stages of drafting and negotiations since September of last year, will broadly integrate “medical education, clinical research and clinical practice activities between UNR Med and Renown,” according to a copy of the agreement shared with regents in April. 

Though the legislative blessing has been secured, the deal must still pass through the Board of Regents before final approval. Even so, the measure has found unanimous support from legislators, the governor, regents and higher education officials, and its approval sometime this summer appears all but assured. 

Economy & Business 

Members of the Senate voted along party-lines on Thursday to approve AB207, a bill by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would expand existing anti-discrimination laws affecting places of public accommodation to e-commerce.

Senators also voted 16-4 to approve AB184, a bill that temporarily creates an Office of Small Business Advocacy in the office of the lieutenant governor. Sisolak called for creation of the office in his 2021 State of the State address.

Banning racist school logos or mascots

Members of the Senate voted along party lines to pass AB88, a bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would require the board of trustees of each school district to ban offensive or racially discriminatory language or imagery in school names, logos or mascots.

The bill allows schools to adopt names, mascots or logos related to tribes as long as the tribe consents.

The measure would additionally ban counties and other local governments from using any alarms or sirens that were previously sounded on specific days or times to require people of a particular race, ethnicity, ancestry, national  origin or color to leave the area by a certain time. A siren of that kind is still used in Minden.

Pot for pets

In a 20-0 vote on Thursday, members of the Senate passed AB101 a bill that would give veterinarians the ability to administer hemp or CBD products containing no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC to an animal, or recommend those products to a pet owner.

Veterinarians and animal advocates have supported the measure, arguing that those products can help animals with anxiety, pain, cancer and arthritis and that the bill would stop the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from disciplining licensed veterinarians or facilities solely for administration or recommendation of a hemp or CBD product.

Record sealing for pandemic summary evictions

In a party-line 12-8 vote, Senate members approved AB141, a measure that would require courts to automatically seal eviction case court records for any summary eviction conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A previous version of the bill would have required landlords to give some long-term tenants additional advance notice before filing a no-cause eviction.

Reporter Jacob Solis contributed to this report.

Despite changes, Las Vegas police argue traffic stop data collection bill would cost millions

A group of recently graduated police officer sits on stage.

A bill 18 years in the making would require state law enforcement agencies to collect and analyze traffic stop data, but Las Vegas police say the measure would cost them millions of dollars. 

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday heard Sen. Dallas Harris’ (D-Las Vegas) bill SB236, which would also establish an early warning system for finding police officers who display “bias indicators,” a concept that first came up during the 2003 legislative session.  

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) at first indicated that the bill would cost the agency an estimated $22.6 million for the biennium to implement, but Harris said the agency informally, through emails, had submitted an updated fiscal note that would bring down that amount to about $7 million after the bill was amended to only include traffic stops, not all kinds of stops. All other police agencies that had submitted fiscal notes on the bill withdrew them after the amendment was adopted.

Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist with LVMPD, said that the agency supports the policy behind the bill and that it understands the importance of gathering data. LVMPD’s fiscal note only shows the cost of officers potentially working overtime as a result of filling out the required forms to input the data after traffic stops. Callaway said the agency expects the data input to average 15 minutes per stop which would result in 314,695 work hours per year.

LVMPD is not suggesting hiring new officers to make up the difference in time or coverage. Callaway said that LVMPD’s chief financial officer estimated that if the bill was passed, the agency would need to hire 43 officers at a cost of $5 million to maintain current staffing ratios.

“Everything that an officer is doing, we have a limited time during the day, and our main focus is handling calls for service, reducing crime, when people call the police they expect an officer to respond in a timely manner,” he said. “And if an officer is taken an extra 15 minutes on a car stop to fill out a data card...that makes our response time longer, and decreases an officer's ability to engage in other proactive activity.”

But Harris said she does not believe the amount of time it would take the officer to fill out the data would affect the job and the time to do other tasks or respond to calls of service. 

“It could be a minute where they were in rest, waiting to catch someone, that is that additional minute that they're taking. It's not necessarily going to have to take away from them doing something else,” she said. 

Harris also said she has gone “through pains” to work with the Department of Public Safety, which oversees agencies such as the Nevada Highway Patrol, to ensure the traffic stop data collection system could be at the state level so each police jurisdiction would not have to create its own system and the data could be centralized.

The committee did not vote on the measure during the meeting.

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

Bills promoting worksharing, college sexual misconduct study and unsupervised play fail at deadline

Although the demise of a bill to abolish the death penalty attracted widespread attention, another 18 bills met their fate in the Legislature at a Friday deadline for second committee passage.

Those included criminal justice reform measures that would have barred police from using deadly force if a subject appeared only to be a harm to themselves, a bill that would have created a treatment program option for people charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and another that would have promoted race-blind charging among prosecutors.

Other ideas — such as a bill relaxing rules around children playing without parent supervision, and one creating a “worksharing” program as an alternative to layoffs — also hit a wall after  passing in their house of origin.

The next major legislative deadline comes Friday, when most bills not exempted from legislative rules have to pass out of their second chamber.

Below is a rundown of the bills that failed to move forward.

AB17: Sponsored by the state’s Division of Parole and Probation, this bill would have eliminated the distinction between an honorable and dishonorable discharge from parole or probation. It passed out of the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, and was heard in the Senate Judiciary committee on April 27, but never came up for a vote before the deadline. It was opposed by the state district attorneys association.

AB129: This campaign finance transparency measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), would have required political action committees in the state to report their cash on hand totals when filing contribution and expenditure reports, similar to the requirement for political candidates. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly, but never received a hearing in the Senate.

AB160: Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), this bill would have required courts to allow credit for time served in confinement prior to a criminal conviction. The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 33-9 vote, but never received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee prior to the deadline.

AB180: A bill aimed at expanding supplemental policies attached to Medicare for people with disabilities failed to advance past the deadline after never receiving a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee. The measure was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote.

AB201: Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez (D-Las Vegas) that aimed to require more tracking and reporting on use of criminal informants failed to advance out of committee by deadline. The bill, which was approved on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, was heard in the Senate on May 13 and was scheduled for a committee vote on Friday, but was pulled and never voted on.

AB209: Cats may have nine lives, but this bill from Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas) banning the practice of declawing a cat only had one life, which was snuffed out Friday without ever receiving a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It previously passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14.

AB243: A bill that would have required courts to consider whether a defendant is younger than 21 when deciding a sentence failed to clear the deadline. The bill, whose primary sponsor was Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas) would also authorize prosecutors to establish a system of race-blind charging when considering criminal charges or allegations of criminal delinquency against a child. The bill passed on party lines in the Assembly, with all Republicans opposed.

AB268: The Senate failed to advance a measure that would have required law enforcement agencies to post their use of force policies on their websites. It also would have prohibited police from using deadly force against a person solely based on the premise that the person is a danger to themselves, and if a reasonable peace officer would not consider that the person poses an imminent threat of death or serious harm to the officer or another person. The bill, whose lead sponsor was Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno), also had Democratic co-sponsors and passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB313: This bill would have adjusted the law for removing people from the executive board of a homeowners association, including allowing people voting by secret ballot to do so electronically. It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed in a 40-2 vote, with two Democrats against.

AB339: A bill allowing justice courts to create treatment programs for people convicted of misdemeanor battery that constitutes domestic violence did not survive a deadline. The measure would also have required a court to seal the record of a defendant who successfully completes the program, if it is at least seven years after the charge is conditionally dismissed. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), passed the Assembly with just one lawmaker opposed. 

AB367: Nevada students will not see requirements for “disciplinary skills” in their American government instruction after this bill died. The measure sought to cultivate skills that help students discern the reliability of any given source, and was supported by the Clark County Education Association, which said it would help students tell the difference between information and misinformation. The bill passed with just two Democrats in the Assembly opposed.

AB384: This bill would have authorized a survey on sexual misconduct for students in the Nevada System of Higher Education and would have shaped a process for responding to reports of misconduct. It also would have required an annual report from the system on certain information about sexual misconduct. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB395: This bill would have abolished the death penalty. Although it passed out of the Assembly on a party-line vote with Republicans opposed, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the day before the deadline that the bill had no path forward in the Senate. 

SB90: Members of the Assembly did not vote on this bill, which would have used different language to describe investigations of health care providers that turn out to be unsubstantiated. Rather than calling the regulatory probe an “investigation,” it would refer to it as a “review and evaluation” for purposes of employment, professional licensure or liability insurance. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), passed unanimously in the Senate.

SB123: This bill would have relaxed the requirements for joining the Silver Haired Legislative Forum, which acts on issues of importance to seniors. It would have allowed people to be appointed to the forum as long as they had lived in Nevada for six months — down from five years — and would have reduced the residency requirement in the appointee’s senatorial district from three years to 30 days. 

SB143: This so-called “Let Grow” bill with bipartisan sponsorship failed to clear Friday’s deadline. It would have spelled out that people aren’t abusing or neglecting a child just because they allow a child to do independent activities. It also explicitly stated that minorities and children living in poverty are disproportionately subject to intervention about their child-rearing practices and deserve equality under the law. Co-sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate.

SB218: Landlords would be required to disclose extra fees on the front page of a lease agreement, would not be allowed to assess late fees until three days after rent is due and would only be able to charge one prospective tenant at a time a fee for a rental application. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) passed the Senate on a 12-9 vote, with all Republicans opposed.

SB308: Assembly members did not vote on this bill, which would have required the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to create a worksharing program through which employers could opt to reduce the hours of a group of employees instead of laying them off, and DETR would provide partial unemployment benefits to those workers. The measure, backed by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), passed the Senate in a 13-8 vote, with most Republicans opposed.

SB381: This bill, which aimed to modify and expand definitions in law around “service contracts” — defined as contracts where a provider agrees to repair, replace or perform maintenance on goods over a certain period of time — failed to advance out of the Assembly after passing unanimously in the Senate.

Massive clean energy bill expanding transmission, electric car charging stations gets first hearing; resorts opposed

Heralded as a transformative step to move Nevada toward greatly reduced carbon emissions through massive expansions in transmission and electric vehicle infrastructure, state lawmakers heard the first details of the legislative session’s biggest energy policy bill with just two weeks to go before the end of session.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), SB448 would expand the state’s transmission infrastructure in line with NV Energy’s multibillion-dollar Greenlink Nevada initiative, along with requiring a $100 million investment in electric vehicle charging stations, expanding rooftop solar to multi-tenant and commercial buildings and proposing a host of other measures aimed at lowering carbon emissions and building up renewable energy infrastructure.

During the bill’s first multi-hour hearing on Monday in the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee, lawmakers and clean energy advocates were not shy about pouring praise on the legislation — ranging from NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon saying the bill “positions Nevada as energy leader in the western United States for decades to come” to Governor’s Office of Economic Development Director Michael Brown saying “448 will be one of those bill numbers that lives beyond legislative sessions.”

Support was not unanimous — several progressive and environmental groups warned that a large infrastructure project could harm fragile ecosystems, and the politically powerful Nevada Resort Association (which represents many casino resorts that have left regular utility service but remain as transmission-only customers) testified in opposition, wanting the state’s Public Utilities Commission to have more authority over the transmission build-out.

Brooks, who sponsored legislation raising the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2019 and 2017, said those bills and past efforts were helpful first steps but that this legislation represented an attempt to “take a more holistic approach at carbon reduction planning for the electricity sector.”

“Imagine a world where in Nevada, we are making most of our own electricity with renewable resources, we're putting them in our vehicles, and we're driving our vehicles,” he said. “That closes the loop and keeps billions of dollars in our economy, and also makes it far more affordable for the individual who's driving the electric vehicle.”

SB448 has two main prongs — transmission and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The transmission portions would help finish NV Energy’s proposed “Greenlink” transmission plan, which received initial, partial approval from the state Public Utilities Commission in March. The project would build two major transmission lines aimed at forming a “transmission triangle,” expanding and linking the current 235-mile, 500 megawatt “One Nevada Transmission Line” that links Northern and Southern Nevada. 

Brooks said expanded transmission capacity would not only build up grid resiliency beyond the current One Nevada line — pointing at the 2021 Texas electricity crisis as a warning — but would also allow Nevada to more cheaply import renewable energy produced in other states and help diversify the current fuel mix.

“If we just connect the dots with a few transmission lines, we could realize that economic opportunity of being the hub of the western grid, and we could realize the benefits that come with all of that energy that we can export and all that energy that we move through our state,” Brooks said. “The benefits are billions of dollars of economic activity in our state and billions of dollars of private investment in our state and renewable energy projects.”

The other major portion of the bill would require NV Energy to propose and submit a $100 million spending plan for electric vehicle charging station infrastructure over the next two years, with a strong focus on historically underserved areas, outdoor recreation, transit agencies and fleet upgrades for state, local and federal governments.

Much of the three-hour hearing focused on the transmission aspects — a wide variety of groups testified in support including IBEW; businesses including Google, Ikea, Patagonia and Uber; Battle Born Progress and clean energy development groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Nevada Conservation League and others.

Brown, who heads the state’s economic development arm, said corporations in and considering moving to Nevada were increasingly focused on renewable energy and meeting environmental goals, giving the state a potential leg up on business development if it further committed to renewable resources.

“For the first time, we sat with a manufacturer from the Midwest a few weeks ago, and they looked at us and the first question they had for us is they wanted to talk about renewable energy,” he said. “They wanted to know how we were producing it, how it was transmitted, what the prices were. That's a game changer. We've not had that before.”

Cannon, who helped present the bill, said completion of the Greenlink project would help create a “path forward for us to economically achieve the state's net zero carbon goals,” while opening up new areas for solar and renewable energy development currently cut off from transmission lines.

“We can produce energy in a lot of places in Nevada, but that doesn't do us any good if we can't get that energy from where it's produced to where it needs to be utilized,” Cannon said. “Transmission becomes the backbone that is necessary to fully utilize that energy.”

But that proposed infrastructure expansion attracted opposition from spokesmen for environmental groups including Basin and Range Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity who said they had strong concerns that the legislation allowed NV Energy to rush forward without enough time for environmental review or potential impacts.

“Instead of instructing state agencies to complete a clear-eyed, comprehensive review of where renewable energy might be appropriate in this state, SB448 would throw open the doors to our most wild and pristine landscapes and rely on the tender mercies of the market and fossil fuel companies like NV Energy to decide the fate of Nevada’s wildlands,” Center for Biological Diversity State Director Patrick Donnelly said.

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), a former administrative attorney at the PUC, asked what would happen if the promised economic benefits don’t materialize — and how much risk was being shouldered by ratepayers.

Cannon responded that the Greenlink plan was “not a risk-free proposition,” but said the utility was prepared to move forward with the $2.5 billion infrastructure project immediately, noting that customers would not have to start paying for the project for several years and that any proposal by the utility would go through a contested hearing process before the PUC and ultimately have to be approved by the commission.

“There is no guarantee in this legislation that we will recover the dollars of this investment,” he said. “There's not. We have to proceed reasonably, and then we'll trust in the process on the back end that we have the opportunity to recover our investment and earn a reasonable return. It's kind of the regulatory compact that exists between the utility as a private entity and the state.”

But the proposed process in the bill attracted opposition from the Nevada Resort Association —  lobbyist Laura Granier said the group was in “technical opposition” because of the complexity of a bill introduced with only two weeks left in the legislative session. She said the association had proposed “clarifying changes” to the bill that would not affect the timeline but would ensure that the PUC “retains authority and regulatory discretion to protect customers from increased rates and making projects more expensive than they need to be.”

“The Commission needs the tools to keep an eye on that,” she said. “We're not saying that they shouldn't earn their return on investment, they should, but through the (Integrated Resource Planning) process they do get to recover costs.”

Both Brooks and Cannon said the bill would not have a sizable impact on utility customers — Brooks pointed to a slide showing the adoption of renewable energy increasing while average electric prices in the state had gone down. Cannon added that opening up transmission markets would help the state access lower-cost power from other areas, and that ratepayers wouldn’t see the cost of the expanded infrastructure until five or six years down the road.

NV Energy, in a filing submitted to the PUC as part of the initial Greenlink filing last month, estimated that customers in nearly all rate classes would see higher base power prices to help pay off the expansion of power lines. Cannon and others said in a previous forum on the bill that those estimates do not include potential benefits from increased transmission access.

Beyond transmission and electric vehicle charging, the bill also creates a Regional Transmission Coordination Task Force, a group of public and private industry officials tasked with helping the governor and Legislature determine the steps needed to join a western states regional transmission organization — an entity that coordinates, controls and monitors a multi-state electric grid. The legislation requires Nevada to join a regional transmission organization (RTO) by 2030, with options for the PUC to delay or waive the requirement.

The bill would also double an energy efficiency initiative for low-income customers from five to 10 percent of the utility’s overall energy efficiency plan, expand a state Renewable Energy Tax Abatement program to cover energy storage projects, reopen a discounted energy rate program that expired at the end of 2017 and require NV Energy to begin including a low carbon dioxide emission reduction plan in its triennial integrated resource plan.

Lawmakers push to fund statewide sexual violence support services through marriage license fee increase

State Senator Julia Ratti speaks with Secretary of the Senate Claire Clift

In 1981, lawmakers passed a bill earmarking five dollars from every state marriage license to benefit domestic violence programs. Forty years later, that surcharge has gradually increased to $25, but advocates and lawmakers say the surcharge still falls woefully short of meeting funding needs for those programs.  

Though existing marriage license fees support domestic violence services throughout the state, there is no statewide funding source for sexual violence services. Only the Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas receives a 15 percent carve-out from marriage license fees for sexual assault services.

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) is looking to change that paradigm with SB177, which would expand use of the existing marriage license fee to also cover sexual violence services in all counties in Nevada, and better support for existing domestic violence support centers by doubling the surcharge from $25 to $50. Under the proposed legislation — which is expected to increase program funding from $2.5 million to $5 million — 75 percent of the total collected fee would go toward domestic violence services and 25 percent to sexual violence services.

"We have waiting lists and unmet need," Ratti said during a hearing on the bill in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday. "[This bill is] not doubling the (overall) marriage license fee, because these services only get a portion of the marriage license fee, but it is doubling the portion that goes to domestic violence and sexual violence."

Sexual and domestic violence services are crisis intervention-based programs that typically provide 24-hour crisis line services, counseling, support groups and referrals. The major difference between the two programs is that domestic violence services are focused on violence perpetrated by an intimate partner and usually offer shelter and financial support for people leaving a partner, whereas sexual violence services usually focus on an assault or instances of violence. Advocates say that there is often overlap between the two programs.

The last time the surcharge increased was in 2009, Ratti added, noting that the state can make up for 11 years of lost purchasing power by doubling the surcharge. The total cost of a marriage license in Nevada ranges from $60 to $80 depending on the county: Clark County-issued licenses cost $77, Washoe County charges $60, and Lyon County charges $80.

The bill, which requires a two-thirds vote, passed out of the Senate on a 16-5 vote earlier this month. Several Republicans opposed the measure over concerns that increasing the cost of a marriage license would dissuade people from getting married.

"[It's] completely inappropriate to put the cost of this effort squarely on the back of the marriage industry," Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said, noting that he would want to fund sexual and domestic violence through the state's budget, not a fee increase.

But support centers do not have the luxury to wait for lawmakers to find alternative funding sources, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) said.

"The choice before us is to increase this funding, or not … whatever the justification, may be," Harris said. "Is there some reason that the women of Nevada, who need help today, need to wait?"

During the Thursday bill hearing, Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) praised the measure, noting that the average cost of a wedding in the United States runs upward of $33,900, including the ring. 

"We spend so much money on a wedding with fancy dinners and open bars and a beautiful cake and a band and on and on and on and a dress and a ring," Krasner said. "And we can't increase the fee for victims of sexual assault in 16 of our counties? It's really shocking to me."

Ratti said the bill will have a tremendous effect for sexual violence and domestic violence service providers throughout the state.

"In 40 years, we haven't figured out a better way to do this. And people have tried," Ratti said. "So I strongly believe that the best path forward is to use the mechanism that is already in law, and make sure that it is enough of a resource to get the job done."

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