With approval of consumption lounges, state ushers in next expansion of cannabis industry

After a tumultuous round of dispensary licensing in 2018 brought uncertainty and infighting to the state’s nascent cannabis industry, the Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) assumed the marijuana regulatory reins in 2020, cracking down on bad actors and providing specialized regulation that brought stability to the industry ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

From that baseline, lawmakers took a major step this session to expand and diversify the industry’s disproportionately white and male ownership and also provide tourists with a place to legally consume marijuana by creating a new license type for cannabis consumption lounges. They also approved a slew of other changes — including allowing permanent curbside pickup, revising how law enforcement determines whether someone is driving under the influence of marijuana and changing product labeling — built from lessons learned in the eight years since the state first authorized marijuana dispensaries.

“It's been a long journey from where we started, really, in the 2013 session and then launching dispensaries, so it's really nice to see how the industry has matured,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas). “The legislation that we see this session is really in recognition that we've primarily done things right and to try to take that next step.”

After the compliance board began its work governing the state’s marijuana industry in July 2020, the 2021 legislative session presented the agency with an important opportunity to hold conversations with lawmakers, said Tyler Klimas, the board’s executive director.

“We’re very pleased with how the CCB came out in this session … So much of this particular legislative session was about education for the CCB,” Klimas said. “In 2021, this was really our first chance to come back in front of the Legislature and update them on the progress of the CCB … I think the Legislature was very receptive to our message.”

The session saw a wide variety of cannabis-related legislation passed that Yeager emphasized was largely aimed at implementing best practices and making selective tweaks to existing regulations. He also noted that many of those changes came as the pandemic saw more people get comfortable with marijuana use.

“I think the stigma is definitely going to lessen. I think it did during the pandemic … I think we have a lot of new customers in the cannabis industry because of the pandemic,” Yeager said. “The more we sort of move forward as an industry, consumers will become more comfortable with it.”

Here’s a look at the bills that passed during the session related to the state’s marijuana industry and the work of the CCB, all of which have been signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak:

AB341: Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

The biggest change for the marijuana industry from the 2021 legislative session comes by way of AB341, a bill that provides for the licensing and regulation of cannabis consumption lounges by the CCB.

The measure, introduced by Yeager, has been heralded as a major step by many in and around the industry as a way to increase diversity in the state’s disproportionately white group of cannabis business owners. Throughout the session, the Las Vegas-based assemblyman also described the consumption lounges as a way for the state to solve tourists’ dilemma of having no legal place to consume cannabis.

“I see that only as a plus from the tourism aspect,” Yeager told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “But then on the local side, right, being able to bring in new players into the business, having that create jobs — that's really important coming out of the pandemic.”

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

Though a cannabis consumption lounge does already exist near Las Vegas in the form of NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, which sits on the land of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Yeager’s bill allows for the first state-licensed and regulated locations where Nevadans will be able to consume cannabis outside of their homes — and where tourists will be able to legally use marijuana products. 

Lounges will be restricted to people 21 and over, and venues will be able sell ready-to-consume or single-use products, although not in quantities that would make them de facto retail cannabis dispensaries.

Scot Rutledge, a lobbyist who serves on the advisory board of the Chamber of Cannabis, a nonprofit organization whose members include individuals and businesses within the marijuana industry, said that many members have expressed enthusiasm about the lounges.

“There’s a tremendous amount of excitement because this is the first time in Nevada we're providing for a new license type,” Rutledge said. “The intent is to allow folks who aren’t in the industry to have as much of a chance, if not more, to participate.”

The bill allows for the initial licensing of up to 20 independent consumption lounges and 20 retail consumption lounges that will be attached to existing dispensaries, with the possibility of additional independent licenses if the CCB approves more than 20 retail lounge licenses before June 30, 2022.

Those new licenses open up the possibility of expanding diversity within the ownership of the industry, which has been limited in the past. A demographic report on the state’s cannabis industry released by the CCB in February showed that marijuana business owners and board members in Nevada are disproportionately white and male, compared to the industry workforce, which is made up of a greater proportion of people of color.

The bill explicitly prioritizes expanding diversity within the industry by requiring at least 10 of the first 20 independent lounge licenses to be issued to social equity applicants.

“Those 10 licenses are reserved for social equity applicants, and if there aren't any, they stay there until there is. They don't get redistributed among other people,” Yeager said. “We're purposely holding some back, which I'm hoping is going to help us achieve the purpose.”

However, the definition of a social equity applicant is left up to the discretion of the CCB. Klimas said that definition will be established with the help of an equity, inclusion and diversity subcommittee formed under the Cannabis Advisory Commission.

“We'll need to define what a social equity applicant is. That's really the start of it,” Klimas said. “What does it mean to be an individual that has been harmed by the War on Drugs and how can we help get those individuals into this industry.”

The measure also allows the CCB to give more financial leeway to social equity applicants. An application for a retail consumption lounge costs $100,000, but an application for an independent consumption lounge costs $10,000, and the license issuance and renewal fees are each $10,000 for both types of lounges. But the bill also allows the board to reduce all fees by up to 75 percent for a social equity applicant.

Outside of social equity, the bill leaves much of the regulatory work to the board, with the ability for local governments to provide additional regulations through ordinances.

“We just didn't believe that 120 days was really enough time to sort of figure out some of the details around how these venues might be operated or all of the things that need to be considered in licensing those businesses,” Rutledge said. “So I think we did it the right way by deferring a lot of those decisions to the CCB.”

Klimas said that prior to the licensing of lounges, the board will spend the next several months developing the regulations for the new cannabis establishments, through workshops, board meetings and advisory commission meetings.

The 2018 licensing round, conducted by the Department of Taxation, was marred by accusations that state officials played favorites and unevenly distributed key information about application scoring.

“Given some of the past licensing processes, this process is going to be about openness and transparency and thoroughness to ensure everybody's on the same page and the board is very public in how we're going to do things,” Klimas said.

Even though the CCB will complete most of the regulatory work, Rutledge emphasized that there is a certain framework he and other cannabis advocates hope to establish for the lounges. One aspect of that came from law enforcement, which did not want to see marijuana and alcohol sold in the same place. Another is focused on ensuring that businesses have more freedom in operating their lounges, because the bring-your-own-marijuana model has been ineffective for such businesses outside of Nevada.

“We also understood that what they had done in Denver originally … that didn't allow these lounges to sell cannabis — it was a bring your own cannabis model — and those did not work very well, either.” Rutledge said. “The idea of having just a place where patrons who purchase cannabis of your dispensary could walk in and consume and leave with really no entertainment or food or beverage. That wasn't what we wanted to get to.”

Layke Martin, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said both the retail and independent lounges could foster new ideas within the industry.

“I think there's a lot of opportunity for creativity and entrepreneurship,” Martin said. “I think a lot of these can become a destination, in and of themselves. And so it could be a video game thing where you can also consume cannabis. Or it could be like a tasting room situation where you can also consume cannabis, and you have the opportunity to get educated and try new products, kind of like a tasting room in a winery.”

Martin also noted that several existing dispensaries, including Planet 13 and The Apothecary Shoppe, have been planning for the possibility of lounges since the idea was brought forward and then axed during previous legislative sessions. She said that “some already have the space ready to go.”

Dispensary with casinos in background
Planet 13 Cannabis Dispensary located near the Las Vegas Strip is seen Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

While Klimas said that it likely won’t be until the beginning of next year or even mid-2022 when the new licenses “come on board,” Yeager sees the lounges as a way to help boost the return of the state’s economy.

“I can tell you without a doubt that Vegas is back in a really big way, and I think the addition of consumption lounges is only going to add to that,” Yeager said. “I actually think it's going to put Las Vegas on the map, to the extent that it isn't already, to be the cannabis destination, especially if we're able to open up some really interesting, innovative concepts.”

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill 29-12 and 17-3, respectively, with the Senate passing the bill on the last day of the session, as Sens. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) and Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) were the only members of their party to oppose the measure.

Customers gather inside NuWu Cannabis Marketplace at 1235 Paiute Circle on Thursday, March 14, 2019. The dispensary is owned by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

AB149: Increasing transparency of cannabis testing

This bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), requires the board to develop, implement and maintain an online database where the public can find information about cannabis products tested by laboratories in the state.

The CCB still needs to receive approval from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in order to fund the database, which is projected to cost nearly $250,000 over the next two years, but Klimas expressed enthusiasm about offering the feature to consumers.

“It's just another level of transparency that we can bring out. I would do it tomorrow if I had the capacity to do it,” he said. “This data should be available for everybody to use. Right now, you can go to a dispensary, and if you purchase a product, you can ask for the certificate of analysis. So you can see that kind of information, [but] some people don't know they can ask for it.”

Some of the state’s independent labs have in the past voiced concerns about transparency. In 2019, an association of four marijuana testing labs rebuked certain unidentified labs over allegations that the labs were inflating THC content readings and giving fewer samples a failing grade in an attempt to attract more business.

The measure builds off of existing law that requires the CCB to establish standards for independent cannabis testing labs, which test cannabis and cannabis products for a variety of factors, including for microbial substances (bacteria, molds, and yeasts), potency of the product (cannabinoid and terpenoid profiling), heavy metals and pesticides.

The information available online will be based off of the seed-to-sale tracking that the board uses to track cannabis products as they are grown and sold throughout the state, and the database also will be required to contain the final results of all testing performed on cannabis products by an independent lab.

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill with no opposition. Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) did not vote on the measure because his wife, Riana Durrett, is a member of the CCB.

A cannabis bud in a gloved hand
Priscilla Vilchis, CEO of Premium Produce, inspects a cannabis bud at her grow facility in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

SB168: Curbside pickup for cannabis products

Sponsored by Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), this bill authorizes and allows dispensaries to offer curbside pickup in accordance with regulations adopted by the CCB. The measure legalizes a practice first allowed last year when the state was still in a coronavirus-related stay-at-home order.

Some of the present-day features of curbside pickup include designated parking spaces for pickup, security cameras with a direct line of sight to those spaces and a prohibition on people less than 21 years of age being in the vehicle. 

Proponents of the measure have touted the service as beneficial to businesses and a way for customers to more conveniently obtain their products.

“Customers really liked it, actually,” Martin said. “If you go through reviews of dispensaries, you'll often see curbside pickup positively viewed as a feature.”

The measure additionally allows local governments to adopt ordinances regulating curbside pickup beyond the rules adopted by the board.

The bill was approved in a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and a 19-1 vote in the Senate, and the governor signed the measure on May 27.

Parking space marked for Thrive Dispensary
A parking space outside the future Thrive dispensary in Reno on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by David Calvert.

SB122: Extra health and safety training for cannabis employees

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), requires employees of cannabis establishments, including cultivation and production facilities and dispensaries, to complete a health and safety course developed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within one year of being hired.

Employers are required to cover the cost of the training and are required to fire an employee who has not completed the training within one year. Employees hired before July 1, 2021 are required to complete the OHSA training program by July 1, 2022, and certain employees not involved in the day-to-day operations of an establishment, as well as communications and legal employees, are excluded from the requirement.

The required training includes a 30-hour course for supervisory employees and a 10-hour course for other employees, which must be conducted by an authorized outreach trainer and may be online or in person.

Though there are other training requirements already in place for employees of cannabis businesses, Martin emphasized the importance of such training.

“It's a highly regulated industry. Safety and security [are] paramount,” she said.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Assembly and 14-7 in the Senate, with some Republican lawmakers voting against the measure. During a committee vote on the bill in March, a few Republican senators expressed concerns that the bill would be onerous and unnecessary for retail employees in the industry.

Criminal justice changes

AB400: Marijuana DUIs

This Yeager-sponsored measure, which went into effect on July 1, removes specific “per se” limits for cannabis metabolites that if found in a person’s blood would trigger a DUI — except for in cases where the DUI is punishable as a felony, including those that caused someone’s death or substantial bodily harm. Cannabis metabolites are the substances that form when THC is broken down in the body.

Under this law, drivers generally will be considered to be under the influence of marijuana if the substance has impaired their ability to safely operate their vehicle, instead of having impairment determined by a test for a specific amount of marijuana in their blood or urine.

“There's no scientific basis toward ‘per se’ limits,” Rutledge said. “That's problematic for anyone who consumes cannabis, certainly. It's especially cruel to patients who theoretically consume larger amounts of THC than the average recreational consumer and may not actually be under the influence while operating a vehicle.”

Yeager explained that the science has shown for years that the “per se” limits are not an accurate reflection of impairment because cannabis is metabolized differently in different people’s bodies.

“I was up at the session in 2013 and 2015 as a lobbyist,” he said. “And I remember talking back then to folks in the Legislature about the DUI laws because cannabis is this weird ... space because it's federally illegal but legal in the state. And our state laws around DUI really contemplate its federal illegality, and we're almost zero tolerance.”

Yeager said that it took a long time for other people to get comfortable with the idea behind the bill and realize that impairment for cannabis cannot be treated the same as alcohol, which ultimately led to his measure passing during the 2021 session.

The bill was passed along party lines in the Assembly with Republicans opposed and passed out of the Senate on a 15-6 vote, with some Republican senators opposed.

AB158: Lessening penalties for minors possessing marijuana

This bill from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) significantly lightens penalties for minors who purchase or possess alcohol or cannabis, including prohibiting jail time and fees for first and second offenses.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Monroe-Moreno framed the measure as a way of being constructive with children who make mistakes, rather than strictly punitive. Proponents of the measure have described the bill as another way to help the communities most negatively affected by the War on Drugs.

For people under the age of 21 who are found guilty of a misdemeanor for possessing, consuming or purchasing alcohol or possessing less than one ounce of cannabis, the bill replaces misdemeanor penalties of up to six months jail time and up to a $1,000 fine with penalties of up to 24 hours of community service and a requirement to attend a meeting of a panel of victims injured by a person who was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

The bill also revises the penalties for a second violation to require up to 100 hours of counseling or participation in an educational program, support group or treatment program.

The measure was approved unanimously in the Assembly and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on May 28.

AB326: Cracking down on the illicit market

Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), who previously worked for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, this bill aims to curb the state’s illegal cannabis market by authorizing a district or city attorney to bring a civil action — with a penalty of up to $50,000 — against any person who engages in a cannabis business activity, including cultivating and selling cannabis, without a license. Someone who commits such a violation could still be subject to a criminal prosecution.

The bill also seeks to bring more transparency to existing businesses, while restricting illegal marijuana delivery services, by requiring all advertising for a cannabis establishment to contain the establishment’s name and license number.

“It's really intended to keep the black market, the illicit market, from operating within the shadow of the legal market,” Martin said.

The bill received no opposition in votes in the Assembly and Senate, with Ohrenschall recusing himself from the vote when it passed out of the Senate on May 21.

Regulatory changes

SB168: Granting the CCB regulatory power over packaging and labeling

In addition to making curbside pickup a permanent feature for cannabis businesses, this measure authorizes the board to adopt regulations for the packaging and labeling of cannabis and cannabis products.

“We have really extensive packaging and labeling regulations on the books right now,” Klimas said. “What this bill allows and recognizes is that this is an ever-evolving industry, so let's make sure the board has the power to … host workshops and get stakeholder feedback both from the public and the industry. And if we need to make changes on packaging and labeling, then we can do that and we don't have to wait every two years.”

Klimas added that the board will regularly host workshops focused on labeling and packaging, so that the agency can “constantly stay ahead” on regulations.

The bill was approved in a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and a 19-1 vote in the Senate.

A customer and retailer exchanging money at a cannabis retailer
A medical marijuana patient, right, pays for cannabis at Reef Dispensaries at 3400 Western Ave. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

SB49: Changes to CCB disciplinary hearings

This bill, brought forward on behalf of the CCB, makes a number of changes to disciplinary hearings conducted by the board — including authorizing the CCB to employ support staff for conducting such hearings, authorizing the chair of the board to grant extensions to the 45-day requirement within which hearings must be held and removing an authorization for the board to take the testimony of a witness by deposition because of the intensive time and resources typically required for depositions.

The measure also removes a barrier for minor stakeholders in cannabis businesses, allowing the board to adopt policies for waiving the registration requirements for people who have an ownership interest of less than 5 percent in the establishment. That provision is meant to lighten the burden for publicly traded companies.

David Staley, an audit investigator for the board, said during a February hearing for the bill that the background check and registration requirements can be restrictive for publicly traded companies with thousands of shareholders that have shares traded on a daily basis.

Under this bill, the labeling of cannabis products offered for sale is required to include the words “THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS CANNABIS,” rather than “THIS IS A MEDICAL CANNABIS PRODUCT” or “THIS IS A CANNABIS PRODUCT.”

No lawmakers voted against this bill; the measure passed 41-0 and 20-0 in the Assembly and Senate, respectively.

SB278: Clarifies the cannabis wholesale tax

Sponsored by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), this bill clarifies the definition of “wholesale sale” for the purpose of the marijuana excise tax.

“It just clarifies [that] facilities that are owned by the same individuals can move product back and forth if one facility is more capable of performing a function than the other one,” Klimas said. “That just clarifies … when that is actually taxed.”

The bill passed through both chambers with no opposition and was approved by the governor on June 3.

SB404: Authorizes regulations for cannabis weighing and measuring equipment

Brought forward on behalf of the Governor’s Office of Finance, this bill authorizes the State Sealer of Consumer Equitability to adopt regulations for cannabis weighing and measuring equipment. The bill is meant to update existing law, which did not previously include references to cannabis-specific equipment.

The measure passed 20-0 out of the Senate, while members of the Assembly voted to pass the bill 33-8, with some Republican lawmakers opposed.

Cannabis on display at Reef Dispensaries, 3400 Western Ave., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Other bills

AB101: Authorizes veterinarians to administer CBD products to animals

This measure, sponsored by Yeager, 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.

As Yeager notes, this bill — nicknamed the “pot for pets” bill — does not actually deal with marijuana, as do several other measures he sponsored. Cannabis contains more THC and less CBD, while hemp products (authorized for use by this bill), contain more CBD and less THC. The two compounds are both found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

“It was surprisingly easy to get through, this time,” Yeager said of the measure, which has been considered but rejected in past legislative sessions. “And maybe that's just the comfort level that we have, Nevadans have, not just with the cannabis industry but certainly with CBD. I think a lot of people have experience with CBD at this point.”

The bill was approved 40-0 in the Assembly and 20-0 in the Senate, before being signed into law by the governor on May 28.

SB58: Investigations into cannabis offenses

Brought forward on behalf of the Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety, this measure is aimed at improving coordination between state agencies during cannabis-related investigations by requiring the division to provide investigative services to help carry out criminal investigations relating to cannabis when requested by the CCB, Department of Taxation or Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

This legislation passed with no opposition in the Assembly or Senate.

Failed licensing efforts

While lawmakers authorized the licensure of 40-plus new cannabis establishments through consumption lounges, discussions of adding other new license types stalled during the session.

SB235: Dual licensing

This measure, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), would have allowed the CCB to issue cannabis establishment licenses in excess of the caps set by the state when the licensing of adult-use cannabis dispensaries began. The new licensing procedure, intended to prioritize social equity applicants and increase the number of new licenses, would be determined by a study conducted by the board every two years.

However, the bill was met with significant backlash, even sparking internal conflict within the Nevada Dispensary Association that resulted in some members leaving the group. Some smaller operators within the association favored an amendment that sought to give those who lost out during a 2018 round of licensing a chance to receive a license.

The amendment, which would have established a path for adding a significant number of new licenses for those who lost out in 2018, reignited arguments from a yearslong legal battle over the previous licensing round and disputes about whether the market can support a large number of new marijuana stores.

As of June, there were 85 active dispensaries licensed by the CCB, with the possibility for roughly 40 more dispensaries approved during the 2018 licensing process. Unlike other business types, the number of retail cannabis stores in the state is strictly capped. 

Nevada law allows counties to have a certain number of dispensary licenses based on population, with current numbers allowing for up to 80 licenses in Clark County, 20 licenses in Washoe County, four licenses in Carson City and Lyon County, and two licenses in all other counties. However, local regulations can further restrict the number of licenses allowed in a county.

Though Yeager never heard the measure in the committee he chaired, he said there was a lot of controversy surrounding the idea. 

“The industry itself was so conflicted on that concept, and it just kind of blew up,” he said.

The legislation never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Medical marijuana and retail customers stand in line to check out at The+Source dispensary in Henderson on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

AB322: Licensing cannabis events

Sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), this bill aimed to establish a form of “micro-licensing” by allowing the CCB to issue a new license type for cannabis events where products could be sold and consumed. Events could be similar to food festivals, for example, where different vendors sell marijuana products at the event and attendees are able to consume the products at the event.

With a financial impact estimated to be in the millions by the CCB, the measure never received a hearing in the Assembly’s money committee but was touted as a positive next step by proponents of other cannabis legislation.

“I think it's a good concept,” Yeager said. “I think we were just very wary of doing too much at one time, given how long it's taken us to get cannabis lounges up … Probably, [the] next step is cannabis events and licensing of larger events because the truth is people are consuming those events anyway. We know that, so we probably should regulate it in some fashion.”

Even though the CCB will only have two new types of licenses to work on over the next two years with the addition of retail and independent consumption lounges, Klimas said the board is still thinking about future rounds of licensing.

“Obviously lounges will be a licensing round, but when we're talking about the traditional establishments, like cultivation, production and retail, we're going to open up those licensing rounds at some point,” Klimas said. “But we want to make sure that those decisions on how many to award, how many to open up are driven by data.”

Though an effort to establish a cannabis market study failed with SB235, Klimas said that the board is still planning to perform a comprehensive study of the industry, likely conducted by a third party that Klimas hopes will provide an unbiased look at the market.

“We want to know what is the health of the market in the state of Nevada, what's our supply, what's our demand, what are our needs,” Klimas said. “That's going to be something exciting over the next year or two to get those results and see where this industry needs to continue to mature towards and how the CCB is going to facilitate that. That'll likely end up and result in new legislation that we’ll bring forth in the 2023 legislative session.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Sisolak signs more than 70 bills, including sealing eviction records during COVID, Patient Protection Commission reorganization and curbside cannabis pickup

Measures sealing eviction records during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorizing curbside cannabis pickups and reorganizing the Patient Protection Commission have all been signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Sisolak’s office announced late Thursday that the governor had signed a total of 70 bills in a press release, bringing the governor’s total of signed bills from the 2021 session up to 107 as of Friday. 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 law to automatically take effect.

Here’s a look at some of the bills signed by Sisolak on Thursday:

AB141: Sealing COVID-19 eviction records

Sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), the measure requires courts to automatically seal records for people evicted during the pandemic. Originally, the bill also proposed requiring landlords to give certain long-term tenants two or three months of advance notice before “no cause” eviction -- those stemming not from a breach of contract but for any reason the landlord wanted. But that provision was removed.

As amended, the bill passed on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly and a 12-8 vote in the Senate.

AB348: Patient Protection Commission reorganization

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), the bill provides for a reorganization of the Patient Protection Commission, changing it from a primarily industry-focused body to one centered around patient advocates and those who work in the nonprofit health care space. It also requires that the commission adopt bylaws to govern its operation.

The measure additionally designates the Patient Protection Commission as the state agency responsible for administering and coordinating the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs, which is aimed at reducing per-capita spending on health care and analyzing and addressing the underlying drivers of growth in the cost of health care.

The bill passed on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly and a party-line 12-9 vote in the Senate.

SB168: Curbside cannabis pickup

Sponsored by Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), this bill authorizes and allows recreational marijuana dispensaries to engage in curbside pickup — in effect legalizing a practice first allowed last year when the state was still in a coronavirus-related stay-at-home order.

The measure authorizes the state Cannabis Compliance Board to adopt regulations related to curbside regulation, while allowing local governments to adopt ordinances beyond whatever rules are adopted by the compliance board. It also modifies several existing portions of law related to the packaging and labeling of marijuana products.

SB168 passed on a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and on a 19-1 vote in the Senate.

AB187: Designates the month of September as “Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month” in Nevada. 

This bill, which requires the governor to issue a proclamation every September encouraging the observance of Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month, was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson — who earlier this session underwent treatment for prostate cancer.

The bill passed unanimously out of both the Senate and Assembly.

AB59: Raising smoking age to 21

Sponsored on behalf of the attorney general’s office, AB59 raises the legal age to purchase cigarettes or other tobacco products to 21 years of age, up from the past minimum of 18 years of age. It aligns the state with federal law — former President Donald Trump signed a law in December 2019 raising the minimum age on tobacco sales up to 21 years of age.

The bill passed on a 34-8 in the Assembly and 14-7 in the Senate.

AB109: Charter school teacher licensure

This measure requires that at least 80 percent of teachers working at a charter school hold a license or endorsement to teach in Nevada, including 100 percent of teachers providing instruction in a “core academic subject, English as a second language or special education.” Non-licensed instructors have to meet certain requirements, but instructors without a license are allowed to continue teaching until July 1, 2026 before they have to obtain a teaching license.

The bill passed on a 31-9 vote in the Assembly and a 12-8 vote in the Senate.

AB111: Expanding diversity of Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission

Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the measure increases the membership of the Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission from 9 to 11 members and requires the Majority Leader of the Senate and Speaker of the Assembly to each appoint one member who is not a peace officer and has demonstrated expertise in: implicit and explicit bias, cultural competency, mental health as it relates to policing  or working with vulnerable populations. The bill also requires the governor and Assembly and Senate leaders to consider racial, gender and ethnic diversity when making appointments.

The bill passed on a 42-0 vote in the Assembly and a 12-8 vote in the Senate.

AB123: Golden Knights license plate fees

The measure imposes an additional $10 fee on Vegas Golden Knights special license plates and $10 for renewal for deposit with the treasurer for credit to the General Fund. The bill also requires the Treasurer to distribute additional fees from the Vegas Golden Knights license plates to the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation on a quarterly basis.

The bill passed on a 30-12 vote in the Assembly, and a unanimous vote in the Senate.

AB336: Annual behavioral health care assessment for law enforcement officers

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, requires the Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission to adopt regulations establishing standards for an annual behavioral wellness visit designed to preserve the emotional and mental health of law enforcement officers. The visit would also assess conditions that may affect performance of duties.

The bill passed on a 33-9 vote in the Assembly and a 17-4 vote in the Senate.

AB409: Addressing implicit bias in law enforcement recruitment

The measure requires the Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission to adopt regulations addressing bias in the recruitment and selection of law enforcement officers. Under the bill, the commission would have to include evaluations to identify implicit bias on the part of an officer on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual identity or gender identity or expression.

The bill passed the Assembly on a 36-6 vote and the Senate on a 17-4 vote.

AB378: Federal and state land management

A measure aimed at reversing many of the public land policies and laws of the state hostile to federal control of public lands, AB378 repeals and changes many provisions in state law originally sponsored by supporters of the ‘Sagebrush Rebellion,” the movement in the 70s seeking more local control of federal public lands.

The bill passed on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly and on a narrow 11-10 vote in the Senate, with Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) joining Republicans in opposition.

AB435: Expands tax exemptions to trade shows/meetings

Under current law, every business entity in the state whose gross revenue during a fiscal year exceeds $4 million pays an annual Commerce Tax. But, there are exemptions for businesses that take part in an exhibition held in the state for conducting business and are not required to obtain a state business license for the exhibition because the exhibition facilitator pays the licensing on behalf of that business.

The bill expands the exemptions from the Commerce Tax to apply to anyone who takes part in an exhibition, trade show, industry or corporate meeting held in the state, regardless of whether the person is required to obtain a state business license. It also clarifies that an organizer, manager or sponsor of such an event or an exhibitor may claim the exemption.

The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 41-1 vote and the Senate on a 20-1 vote.

SB46: Protecting personal information

The bill, sponsored by the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, allows employees of the attorney general to request that personal information be kept in a confidential manner. For example, under the legislation employees can request the DMV to display an alternate address on his or her identification card.

SB46 passed unanimously out of the Senate and then on a 33-8 vote out of the Assembly.

SB114: CBD and hemp-infused foods

Sponsored by Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka), SB114 generally authorizes certain food establishments to sell hemp or CBD-infused food products. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly and on a 20-1 vote in the Senate.

SB379: Health care provider database

The bill, sponsored on behalf of the interim Legislative Committee on Health Care, requires the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to create and maintain a database of demographic and practice information on health-care providers and make the data available to professional licensing boards upon request. It also requires the state health agency to establish a Health Care Workforce Working Group to analyze information in the database and study ways to attract healthcare providers to the state. 

SB379 passed on a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and on a 20-1 vote in the Senate.

Corrected on Friday, May 28, 2021, at 3:40 p.m. to reflect that AB348 reorganizes the Patient Protection Commission but does not establish an all payer claims database.

Lawmakers and advocates seek to keep youth offenders from adult criminal system through juvenile justice reforms

A wide variety of state and federal laws and policies treat minors differently from adults.

People must be 21 to buy alcohol. The youngest someone can be to enlist in the military is 17. In Nevada, a person must be 16 to apply for a full driver’s license. 

The differences have been perpetuated by case law, as well. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for minors, and in Graham v. Florida (2010), the court held that life-without-parole for non-homicide crimes is an unconstitutional punishment for minors.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), a juvenile public defender in Clark County, notes that scientific evidence about child brain development substantiates these differences in treatment.

“I think there's more realization now that children aren't able to make decisions the way adults do,” Ohrenschall said. “And trying to hold children accountable to the same standards we hold adults is not fair.”

Lawmakers this session are seeking to further separate the juvenile justice system from the adult criminal justice system at nearly every level, with legislation aimed at reducing referrals into the system, promoting rehabilitation programs and housing young offenders separately.

“I think the big effort on our part was to try to either keep kids from getting in the system if we can,” Ohrenschall said. “And if they are in the system, to try to see if there can be programs that can keep them closer to home, closer to their community.”

The efforts of Ohrenschall, who chaired the Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice during the interim, and others have made the 2021 legislative session a particularly active one for the subject. More juvenile justice bills were introduced this year than in each of the 2019 and 2017 sessions.

Though the 2017 session featured sweeping legislation such as a bill that established the Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission and another that enacted the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights, Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, said juvenile justice issues are often overlooked — adult criminal justice bills on the death penalty and police reform have been at the forefront of the Legislature this session.

“The issue of juvenile justice really gets pushed down in the broader conversation … amongst the very controversial adult criminal justice reform topics,” Welborn said.

Many of this year’s juvenile-focused bills have received broad support. Bills aimed at easing penalties for youth cannabis or alcohol possession, expanding record sealing for youth offenders and creating a new Miranda warning for minors all passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

“I think that a lot of my colleagues are concerned about the school to prison pipeline,” Ohrenschall said. “They want to try to see reform and see as much done as possible that can divert children from getting caught up in the system.”

Below is a roundup of the ongoing efforts to reform the juvenile justice system this session.

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

Reducing points of contact and racial disparities

Nevada’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission — a body of 20-plus juvenile justice experts and stakeholders — has found that “African American youth are overrepresented at almost every contact point” in the juvenile justice system.

The commission’s racial and ethnic disparities report for the 2020 federal fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2020, found that while less than 15 percent of the state’s youth population was African American that year, the group made up more than 32 percent of the youth arrests. As the commission and the Division of Child and Family Services actively engage in efforts to reduce those disparities, lawmakers have introduced multiple bills aimed at helping children of color.

AB158, a bill from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), would significantly lighten penalties for minors who purchase or possess alcohol or cannabis, including prohibiting jail time and fees for first and second offenses.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Monroe-Moreno said she brought the bill forward on behalf of A’Esha Goins, an advocate in the cannabis industry and the mother of a young Black man, who “had seen how other young kids of color have been charged with possession of marijuana and or alcohol.”

Monroe-Moreno discussed the importance of being constructive with children who make mistakes, rather than strictly punitive, and recalled her own experiences growing up.

“In our household growing up, you got three chances,” she said. “If you were stupid enough to do something that third time, then you really got in trouble, but the first time was my mom explaining why this behavior was wrong.”

Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 during the fifth day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

For people under the age of 21 found guilty of a misdemeanor for possessing, consuming or purchasing alcohol or possessing less than one ounce of cannabis, the bill would replace misdemeanor penalties of up to six months jail time and up to a $1,000 fine with penalties of up to 24 hours of community service and a requirement to attend a meeting of a panel of victims injured by a person who was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

The bill would also revise the penalties for a second violation to require up to 100 hours of counseling or participation in an educational program, support group or treatment program.

The measure is intended to reduce the number of minors who enter into the state’s criminal justice system.

In 2019, more than 8,000 youth were arrested in Nevada, with possession of marijuana being the second most common charge. In 2020, the number of youth arrests declined by more than 2,000, and possession, sale, or use of an illegal drug dropped to the fourth most common charge.

“I do think this bill will help a lot of kids not get caught up in the system,” Ohrenschall said during the hearing. “And possibly just get the guidance they need without having to either be in court or in a detention facility.”

AB158 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 20 and awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

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In the oversight commission’s racial disparities report, the group highlighted specific types of race-focused training for officers and dispatchers as a way to reduce disparities at the front end of the justice system. Though the report found that “police officers statewide generally receive training in racial profiling and implicit bias,” a bill this session is aimed at expanding that training.

SB108, created by the Nevada Youth Legislature, a program that allows a group of high school students to present one bill to the Legislature each session, would require all employees who interact with children in the juvenile justice system in the state to complete implicit bias and cultural competency training once every two years.

“It is urgent more so now than ever to address the inequality faced by minority youth within the Nevada juvenile justice system,” youth legislator Julianna Melendez said during an April 23 hearing. “I personally have friends who have been targeted by school police and treated differently compared to our white counterparts, specifically because of the color of their skin.”

Another youth legislator, Melekte Hailemeskel, shared how her worldview changed following the death of Trayvon Martin.

“From that day on, I began to see the world for what it truly was. My heart filled with fear every time my father stepped outside the house. I transitioned to fearing the police rather than feeling protected by them,” Hailemeskel said. “This bill gives the youth the opportunity to live life without fear of being victimized by implicit bias.”

The original version of the bill from the Youth Legislature would have mandated the training for all people employed in the criminal justice system; however, the amended version applies only to those employed in the juvenile justice system, such as juvenile public defenders, youth parole officers and school police officers.

The training would include explanations of the negative effects of implicit bias and the importance of understanding implicit bias, as well as cultural competency information focused on sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity and religion.

Kathryn Roose, a deputy administrator at the Division of Child and Family Services, said that the bill is aligned with the division’s goal of addressing racial disparities and noted that the agency would already have a process in place for implementing the required training.

SB108 STATUS: The bill passed 20-1 out of the Senate in mid-April and faces a possible vote in the Assembly.

New Miranda warning for minors

As other ongoing juvenile justice efforts attempt to limit entries into the system, Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill that he hopes will help youth offenders better understand their rights when they are facing arrest.

AB132 would establish a plain-language Miranda warning system for minors. In the expanded list of disclosures, a police officer would have to say the following to a minor, before starting an interrogation:

  • You have the right to remain silent, which means you do not have to say anything to me unless you want to. It is your choice.
  • If you choose to talk to me, whatever you tell me I can tell a judge in court.
  • You have the right to have your parent with you while you talk to me.
  • You have the right to have a lawyer with you while you talk to me. If your family cannot pay for a lawyer, you will get a free lawyer. That lawyer is your lawyer and can help you if you decide that you want to talk to me.
  • These are your rights. Do you understand what I have told you?
  • Do you want to talk to me?
A Clark County School District Police officer monitors Western High School students after class on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The original Miranda warning was established through the U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona (1966). The case held that police cannot question defendants in custody until they are made aware of their rights. Once those rights have been explained, defendants can voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waive their rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement.

During a hearing of the bill in early May, Flores said the bill came from the idea that children typically do not knowingly and intelligently waive their rights because they do not have a full understanding of what rights they are entitled to.

Flores explained that he tested the new warning language used in the bill by giving it to teachers at Manuel J. Cortez Elementary School and the K-12 school, West Preparatory Academy, both located in Las Vegas, and having those teachers read both the current and proposed language to children.  

“This language that is in Assembly Bill 132 seemed to really go further into the understanding and comprehension of a child,” Flores said during the hearing.

Flores also said that the case law established by Miranda v. Arizona only set the bare minimum and that the state can go beyond that minimum by creating a new set of warnings that is easier for children to understand.

John Piro, a public defender in Clark County, explained that many police officers carry cards that have the Miranda warning language on them, so officers would not need to memorize all of the revised wording.

Piro also said that even if officers are unsure whether the person being taken into custody is an adult or minor, they could recite the new Miranda warning for minors because the revised language fulfills the legal requirements for all people.

AB132 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 19 and awaits a possible vote on the Senate floor.

Limiting direct file

Juvenile justice advocates have long sought to keep youth offenders within the juvenile system and out of the adult criminal justice system — for certain crimes, a prosecutor may override the jurisdiction of a juvenile court by filing charges against a minor in an adult criminal court in a process known as “direct file.”

AB230, sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), would prohibit the mandatory direct file process for children — aged 16 and up at the time of the offense —  who were charged with sexual assault involving violence or an offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm.

During a hearing of the bill in April, Miller called the measure “another big step forward in giving some of our most troubled youth a chance to live a productive life.”

The bill would still permit jurisdiction of the adult court for cases that do not involve “delinquent” acts, such as murder or attempted murder (if the offender was at least 16 years old), some felonies and any offense committed after the person had been convicted of a previous criminal offense.

Miller said that direct file laws were originally created as a response to narratives about heightened youth crime in the 1990s, and he called on other lawmakers to “right the wrongs” created by those laws.

“Much of this legislation stemmed from the devastating narrative that a monstrous wave of mythical creatures known as ‘super predators’ — impulsive, remorseless, elementary school youngsters who packed guns instead of lunches would take over,” he said at a March hearing. “Today, we all know that narrative wasn't true. And it led to more problems than it could have ever solved.”

Kelly Jones, a public defender in Clark County, said that youth sent to adult facilities are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and to commit suicide and have higher rates of recidivism.

Jagada Chambers, a rights restoration coordinator with a civic engagement advocacy group called Silver State Voices, also pointed out the disparate impact of direct file. Chambers said that of the 219 youths directly filed to the adult system in Clark County since 2013, roughly 200 were children of color.

However, the bill still faces an uphill battle because of its associated costs. A fiscal note from the Department of Health and Human Services states that more resources would be needed to house the increased number of minors that would no longer go to the Department of Corrections. The corrections department estimates the bill would save the agency close to $300,000 over the upcoming biennium.

The estimated cost to Clark County, the only county in the state to have direct files recorded in the past five years, though, would be more than $6.5 million over the next two years — that cost would come from a combination of increased staffing, mental health resources, food and nursing.

The bill also would require the Legislature’s interim juvenile justice committee to conduct a study on the need for and cost of housing young offenders awaiting certification for criminal proceedings as an adult. Miller said the study is necessary because the infrastructure and resources necessary to completely eliminate direct files are not currently available in the state.

AB230 STATUS: Though the measure is exempt from legislative deadlines because of its fiscal impact, the bill has not been discussed since its April 21 hearing. There has been broad support for the measure, however, as 30 lawmakers have signed onto the bill as primary sponsors or co-sponsors.

Jurisdiction over juvenile cases

A bill introduced on behalf of the Nevada Supreme Court, SB7, would also contribute to transferring greater jurisdiction to the state’s juvenile courts.

The bill would ensure that a juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction in cases in which it is alleged that a minor who is the adverse party to an order for protection has violated a condition of the order. A protective order is typically issued to protect a certain person or entity from harassment, abuse or sexual assault.

The juvenile court would only maintain jurisdiction for violations that involve delinquent acts, meaning some acts, such as murder, would not fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

During the initial hearing of the bill in early February, John McCormick, an administrator for the state’s Supreme Court, said the legislation is meant to establish statutory clarity where none exists and create a uniform system for jurisdiction across the state.

SB7 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate in mid-April and next awaits a vote on the Assembly floor.

Juvenile Court Hearing Master Soonhee "Sunny" Bailey on the bench during autism specialty court on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Changes to juvenile housing

Youth offenders certified as adults are housed by the Department of Corrections at Lovelock Correctional Center, a policy that has long been a concern for youth justice advocates, such as Welborn.

“My very first day with the ACLU of Nevada, the first call that I took was a call with a national organization to talk about the boys who are housed in Lovelock and the conditions that they're living in, the inhumane conditions that they're living in, how inappropriate those conditions are for youth,” Welborn said.

Two different Department of Justice investigations announced this year have highlighted issues with the state’s methods of housing youth offenders. One investigation is examining whether staff at two state correctional facilities — Summit View Youth Center and Nevada Youth Training Center — use pepper spray in a manner that violates youth’s rights under the Constitution. The other investigation is examining whether the state unnecessarily institutionalized children with behavioral health conditions in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As youth advocates and lawmakers seek to improve housing conditions for youth offenders, several bills introduced on behalf of the juvenile justice committee this session would make significant changes to housing policies.

One bill, SB365, would require the state to develop a pilot program for housing youth offenders convicted as adults in a child and family services division facility, rather than in an adult correctional facility. 

Welborn said that legislation and other bills that address youth housing are important because of the differences between minors and adults and the time it takes for the youth brain to fully mature.

“Most of these young people will be released at some point in time,” she said. “So ensuring that they have the adequate therapeutic services, educational opportunities, exercise, etc. for their full healthy development, in order to ensure that they will be successful when they leave. And that has to be the right types of interventions and treatment that is age appropriate.”

In past years, there have been roughly 20 youth offenders, at any given time, held at the Lovelock Correctional Center because they were certified as adults in the criminal justice system. The pilot program would move eight of those offenders to the Summit View Youth Center, operated by the child and family services division.

The division estimates the financial impact of the pilot program to be more than $2.3 million over the 2021-23 biennium, with costs based on the projected need to add more beds and staff.

SB365 STATUS: With the costs attached to the bill, the measure next faces a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee; however, no action has been taken since the bill  was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 8. There are no future hearings scheduled for the legislation.

Two other bills would work collectively with SB365 to address housing for youthful offenders.

SB357, a bill from the juvenile justice committee, would require the Department of Corrections to track expenses related to housing youth offenders, meaning the department would need to report all costs associated with the minors living at Lovelock Correctional Center.

SB356, another bill from the interim committee, would require the oversight commission to study the feasibility of housing youthful offenders, who are between 18 and 24 years old and who will be released from prison before reaching 25 years of age, separately from offenders who will continue to be incarcerated past age 24.

“It's also tough to go from taking a kid from the juvenile system and then shocking them into this very hardened adult system, when there's really something in between that works better for those young offenders,” Welborn said. “So that's why all of these bills are a part of a lot larger, broader conversation.”

SB357 STATUS: The bill passed 20-0 out of the Senate on April 13 and faces a potential vote on the Assembly floor.

SB356 STATUS: Though the bill is exempt from legislative deadlines because of its small financial impact, the measure has not been picked up by the Senate Finance Committee since being passed by the Judiciary committee on April 8.

Treating youth found incompetent

One bill from the juvenile justice committee, SB366, would address housing for a narrow portion of youth offenders: those ruled incompetent.

Roose, from the child and family services division, explained that the state does not have in place a facility to help restore children to competency. In a note attached to the bill, Ross Armstrong, administrator of the division, wrote that the agency “does not have the qualified staffing to serve the population with developmental disabilities” — children ruled incompetent typically suffer from an untreated mental illness or developmental disability.

“This is a really complex bill on a complex service and system that would need to be developed in collaboration with sister agencies,” Roose said. “It's just a system that doesn't really exist in Nevada. But, again, we have the opportunity to study and maybe build a solution.”

The actual impact of the bill remains unclear because of differences between the latest version of the bill and comments from the division. However, in line with Roose’s comments, a fiscal note from the division indicates the bill would fund a study to determine the resources needed for rehabilitating incompetent youth offenders.

SB366 STATUS: Though a fiscal exemption has kept the bill alive, the measure has not been acted on since passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early April.

Diverting more youth

One other bill from the juvenile justice committee in line with the efforts to improve housing, SB385, is meant to keep more youth offenders out of the deep end of the juvenile justice system and out of state-controlled correctional facilities.

Though the measure does not seek to directly divert more youth offenders away from state facilities, it would require that the division conduct a study during the interim on which activities and programs help reduce the number of minors committed to state facilities.

“The spirit of this bill is to take savings in our DCFS facility budget, through savings that we achieve through reducing the number of youth coming to us,” Roose said. “And take those funds and divert them to the counties to build up their service array, with the theory being that the more resources that the counties have to provide the services to youth that they need, the less likely they will ever come into a DCFS facility.”

SB385 STATUS: The bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on May 12 and next awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Sealing records

As lawmakers continue to address the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a bill from Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) would help some juvenile offenders avoid the repercussions of having a criminal record when they become an adult.

The bill, AB251, would establish provisions for a juvenile’s record to be automatically sealed at age 18 and allow those who are 18 or older to petition the court for the expungement or destruction of their juvenile record for any infraction, arrest or crime that was committed as a child that was equal to a misdemeanor or less.

“Young offenders may face serious consequences and obstacles as a result of their juvenile record,” Krasner said during a hearing of the bill on May 10. “A juvenile adjudication can prevent a young person from receiving financial aid for higher education, admissions to colleges, getting a job, joining the military or being admitted into certain licensed professions.”

Krasner called the measure a chance to provide young people with “a fresh start and a second chance,” pointing out that minors are unable to make logical, informed decisions in stressful situations because their brains are not yet fully developed.

AB251 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 20 and awaits a vote in the Senate.

Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner holds a press conference on a human trafficking bill on March 2, 2021 at the Legislature in Carson City. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

Structural changes within the juvenile justice system

Though much of the juvenile justice legislation this session focuses on youth offenders themselves, lawmakers also have introduced a few bills that affect the greater justice system and the operations of the child and family services division.

AB448, a bill from the Governor’s Finance Office, would designate criminal investigators employed by the division as category II peace officers. Those investigators were not previously categorized as peace officers in statute. Other officers designated under category II include other criminal investigators, youth parole officers and school police officers.

AB448 STATUS: The measure is exempt from legislative deadlines; however, it has not yet received a formal hearing in any Assembly committee.

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Another pair of bills would affect workers within the juvenile justice system. SB21, a bill introduced on behalf of the division, would create a uniform process for background checks for employee hiring across different juvenile agencies and facilities in the state. The other bill, SB317, introduced by Ohrenschall, would allow juvenile justice employees to receive back pay for unpaid leave administered during an investigation, if the employee is found not guilty or has their charges dismissed.

SB21 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate on April 20 and next faces a potential vote on the Assembly floor.

SB317 STATUS: After passing out of the Senate on 12-9 vote in mid-April, the bill awaits a vote in the full Assembly.

***

SB132, sponsored by Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), would appropriate $10 million from the General Fund to the Eighth Judicial District in Clark County for support services, including educational support services at The Harbor, a juvenile justice assessment center.

SB132 STATUS: The bill is exempt from legislative deadlines but has not yet received a hearing.

Future justice efforts

Four years ago, lawmakers passed AB472, which established the Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission (JJOC). This session, lawmakers are considering a bill that would, as Roose described the measure, “put a spotlight on the great work of the JJOC.”

SB398 would require the commission to submit a report to the Legislature with an update on the progress of its 5-year strategic plan. The report would include recommendations for any legislation related to both the plan and disparities in the juvenile justice system, such as racial disparities.

SB398 STATUS: The bill passed out of the Senate on a 20-0 vote in mid-April and next faces a possible vote in the Assembly.

While SB398 is meant to bring forward more legislation aimed at improving the juvenile justice system, another bill discussed this session could hamper reform efforts, according to Welborn.

AB443, an Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee bill, would overhaul the structure of interim legislative committees. The bill would, in part, eliminate the interim juvenile justice committee and instead establish a joint interim judiciary committee.

Welborn expressed concern that the initial version of the bill could draw attention away from the work being done to help young people. However, an amended version of the measure would require the interim judiciary committee to allocate five bill draft requests specifically for juvenile justice issues. 

“I fear that we lose that momentum, if we abolish that interim committee, or at minimum, don’t establish … some sort of subcommittee to handle juvenile justice issues,” she said. “If we don't, then they're not going to get the attention they need.”

AB443 STATUS: The measure is exempt from legislative deadlines and was last passed out of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on May 13.

As Welborn, among other advocates, fights to garner greater attention for youth justice issues, she noted that reform can take lots of time and work, and she recalls a quote from Ohrenschall, another youth advocate.

“We come to the Legislature wanting revolution, but what we get is evolution,” she said.

Lawmakers finalize budgets, but expect restoring many of their cuts

After months of review, legislative money committees closed their final budgets on Friday with many of the austerity measures in the governor’s budget, but are teeing up for a more pleasant round of add-backs to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars from revenue streams expected to over-perform earlier projections.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said the outcome of a Saturday budget hearing would depend on what numbers staff arrive at after adding up all the actions taken by the Legislature. But even as lawmakers have voted to approve painful cuts, they have hinted that they’re putting sticky notes on certain accounts with the intention of filling them back up. 

“It's a moving target, until the very end,” Brooks said. “But to the extent there's money available, we're going to try to add it back to everything that's been cut.”

He said K-12 education — specifically boosting a base per-pupil figure “as high as we possibly can” — is a priority. That number will be a key starting point as the state moves to a new “Pupil-Centered Funding Plan,” and future adjustments and weights will be calculated as multipliers of that figure.

Earlier in the week, lawmakers swept funding from a long list of targeted, “categorical” accounts into a larger pot of funding to be redistributed through the new funding. But some of those underlying accounts, such as one supporting class size reduction, were cut by tens of millions of dollars before being swept, and lawmakers and advocates gave dire warnings about the consequences of letting that decision stand.

“The proposed $156 million cut the class size reduction over the next biennium would mean a loss of about 1,000 teachers across the state, meaning even more students packed into Nevada classrooms,” said Chris Daly of the Nevada State Education Association teacher’s union. “This is not acceptable.”

Lawmakers already voted this week to undo one of the most loathed cuts during the pandemic — cuts in reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers — but budget committees made less-dramatic moves in recent days to shore up the budget in accordance with constitutional deadlines. Below are some highlights from budget closings on Thursday and Friday.

Medicaid and health care

Full budget committees on Friday approved moving forward with recommendations made earlier this week to roll back Medicaid rate decreases approved by lawmakers during a budget-slashing 2020 special session and a host of other add-backs to state health care spending.

Committee members approved recommendations of rolling back a 6 percent Medicaid rate decrease approved last year, as well as to finally enact a 2.5 percent increase in the acute care hospital rate starting in July. The move restores about $300 million in Medicaid funding, including about $110 million from state dollars.

Lawmakers also approved several other adjustments to the Medicaid budget, including significant caseload adjustments estimated to cost the state roughly $320 million in general fund dollars. The governor’s recommended budget had counted on a caseload of about 770,000 in each year of the biennium, now expected to be about 830,000 in fiscal year 2022 and 820,000 in fiscal year 2023.

Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-Las Vegas), who chaired a budget subcommittee, said Friday that her first few meetings “weren’t cheerful,” but that the state’s recent upward revision in projected tax revenue gave lawmakers the flexibility to reverse many of the proposed cuts.

“We're leaving knowing that we've made some changes now with this budget if we close it as it is, knowing we're making a direct positive impact on so many lives,” she said.

Assembly Ways and Means committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said Friday was “one of the good days in the Legislature at this moment in time,” saying that restoring the cuts helped lawmakers avoid tough decisions about which budgets and services to cut.

“The conversations on that were just heart wrenching,” she said. “We're getting back to square one, we still need to build a couple more rungs to the ladder to get out of the hole. We're not out of the hole yet, but at least we're getting close, especially to these vulnerable populations.” 

Corrections

Prison populations have fallen well below projected levels during the pandemic, so lawmakers approved funding for a reduced number of inmates. In the fiscal year that begins in July, lawmakers now expect there will be an average of 11,043 inmates in the system based on projections released in March; that’s about 1,300 people lower than an October 2020 projection of 12,345 inmates.

Another significant change in the last few months has been a delay in an effort to reclassify the  Ely State Prison as a medium security facility, down from its current status as a maximum security facility. The rural prison has long had troubles with staffing, and the status adjustment was aimed at reducing the number of correctional officers needed to supervise the inmates.

The Governor’s Finance Office says it is requesting the Nevada Department of Corrections to conduct an internal study and gather evidence that reclassifying Ely State Prison — and also raising the classification of medium-security High Desert State Prison — is appropriate for the 2023-2025 biennium.

Aging and disability

Lawmakers opted to restore some of the Aging and Disability Services cuts that would hit some of the most vulnerable Nevadans.

The governor’s budget had recommended cutting the rate paid to providers of early intervention services — which are targeted toward young children with disabilities — from $565 to $500 per month. The reduction would have saved $2.9 million over the biennium.

The full committees opted not to approve the recommendation, keeping the rate at $565 per month.

“I think we all share the same discomfort of the long-term impacts of not being able to intervene early that we know increase over time … and also the impact that has on need for state services down the road,” said Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno).

They also opted to reject proposed cuts of six adult rights specialist positions from the long-term care ombudsman program, which was aimed at saving $1.1 million over the biennium. Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) noted that residents of nursing homes were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the staff of the ombudsman’s office were the eyes and ears on the ground about conditions in long-term care facilities.

“It's not quality assurance, it's not licensing, it's very different,” Ratti said. “It's a place where families can go to share their concerns, and I just have significant concerns about not having that resource in place as we are navigating the rest of this pandemic.”

State parks

Lawmakers approved a fee increase for state parks passes to shift costs from the general fund to visitors, saving the state $2 million over the biennium.

Instead of $75, the cost for a day-use annual pass would be $100. There would also be a new $5 out-of-state fee.

Those changes were already imposed effective in April through temporary regulations, with a process set to begin in May to make the regulations permanent by November.

Parks officials do not anticipate that the changes will deter tourists. They said that camping increased 41.2 percent and boating increased by 10.4 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, and noted that other neighboring states charge out-of-state fees.

Budget differences

Lawmakers on budget committees also used Friday’s meeting to hash out budget closing differences — situations that occur when the Assembly and Senate differ on budget-related decisions.

This session, lawmakers only faced two relatively minor closing issues — one related to a travel and meeting budget for the Commission on School Funding, and one related to funding for the Knowledge account — the grant program for higher education facilities aimed at spurring the commercialization of research.

There were no knock-down, drag-out fights over either of the two items — lawmakers opted to go with the Assembly recommendation on the Commission on School Funding budget (dollars for two-day meetings every other month, as opposed to every month) and the Senate recommendation for the Knowledge Account — full funding of $5 million over the two years of the budget cycle.

Budget committee chairs and legislative leaders said they were generally pleased that despite the often intense budget review process, both houses made it to this point with only a handful of differences.

“We've had hundreds of budget accounts, countless hours of meetings, and between both houses, and all these members, and two different political parties, and it boils down to these two very simple closing differences,” Brooks said. “This is to me just an indication of how much we have in common, as opposed to what we differ on.”

Deadline Day: Lawmakers advance dozens of bills as death penalty repeal, tenant protection measures fail

Despite the high-profile spiking of an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, Nevada lawmakers rushed to process more than a hundred proposals ahead of another major legislative deadline.

Friday at midnight marks the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass out of their second committee, typically a major legislative culling with less than two weeks left before lawmakers must adjourn the state’s 120-day session.

As of Friday, lawmakers had passed more than 90 bills out of committee with several committees running into the evening hours. High-profile measures making the cut on Friday included bills expanding anti-discrimination housing protections, limiting police use of force and banning use of police ticket quotas.

But one of the biggest casualties of deadline day was already known by Thursday, when Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democratic leaders announced that an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, AB395, had “no path forward” this legislative session. The bill had previously been approved by the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, but faltered in the Senate amid hesitation from Democratic lawmakers and Sisolak to fully repeal capital punishment.

The demise of the bill — which one public defender described as a “gut punch” and ACLU representatives described as “an embarrassment” — eclipsed much of the attention for the day, with supporters calling in to unrelated hearings to relay deep disillusionment with Democratic leaders who failed to advance it. Progressives also lamented the bill’s failure on social media and said that aside from AB116, a bill that could decriminalize traffic tickets and is in limbo in a money committee, no other legislation considered this session comes close to fulfilling hopes of expansive criminal justice reform.

Outside of that high-profile bill failure, lawmakers nonetheless moved to pass out dozens of noteworthy bills ahead of Friday’s deadline, including measures banning decorative turf, limiting no-knock police warrants, allowing curbside pickup of cannabis products and implementing rate caps on calls to inmates.

But the relentless ticking of the clock continues. The next major legislative deadline, for bills to pass out of their second house of origin, is set for May 21 — just a week away.

Here’s a look at which higher-profile bills passed and failed as of Friday’s deadline.

FRIDAY

Cat declawing ban dies

A bill that would have banned the declawing of cats will not survive past the deadline, according to Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

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

“I think there were just a lot of different moving parts and we couldn't really come into agreement,” Doñate said. “There were other bills that we had to prioritize like the water bill, the mining bill.”

He said some lawmakers were hesitant because relatively few other states have enacted such a law. There were also unanswered questions about how the bill’s provisions interacted with other parts of statute — specifically, whether veterinarians who declaw a cat would be prosecuted for animal cruelty.

“Hopefully we get the chance to bring it back next session, now that we know where it stands,” he said.

Bill banning police tickets quotas 

Nevada is one step closer to joining the handful of states that ban police tickets and arrest quotas, even though law enforcement agencies have previously said they do not have such quotas. 

The Senate Committee on Government Affairs passed out AB186, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), which prohibits police agencies in the state from ordering, mandating, or requiring officers to “issue a certain number of traffic citations or make a certain number of arrests over any period.”

An amendment to the bill was made to remove a provision which would have also prohibited agencies from considering the number of citations issued, arrests made or amount of fines assessed from citations by any individual police officer during a performance review, a concern that was brought up during a previous hearing of the bill

“The bigger concern I had is when we eliminate it from even being considered, you hear that enforcement does use things like this to determine whether or not they have a rogue copy on hand,” Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said prior to voting against the bill.

But Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) assured the committee that if the agency already does not use quotas then the bill “wouldn't matter” because they are applying what the bill sets in statute and the amendment addresses the concern of using the number of citations and arrests during performance reviews. 

Reducing barriers to contraception 

Members of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor passed out SB190 on Friday, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The bill would allow women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit.

An amendment on the bill would require the State Board of Health to create a protocol for dispensing contraceptives that would include providing patients with a risk assessment questionnaire to patients who request contraception.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

“I still have some concerns about especially minor children getting birth control dispensed without seeing a doctor,” Dickman said. “So I'm going to be no right now, I might change on the floor.”

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

HOA debt collection reform

SB186, a homeowner’s association (HOA) reform bill, passed out of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas), would prohibit a collection agency from collecting a debt from a person who owes fees to an apartment manager, homeowner’s association, or tow car operator, under certain circumstances. It also requires a collection agency to file an annual report with information about debt collected for an HOA during the previous year.

Amendments on the bill prohibit an HOA that uses the foreclosure process from selling a foreclosed home to any person involved or connected to the foreclosure process, requires an HOA to send its notices and communications via e-mail as well as physical mail and mandates that each HOA in a common-interest community with more than 150 units establish a website or electronic portal that members may access.

Republican Assembly members Heidi Kasama and Jill Dickman were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

Regulations on food delivery platforms

Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee also passed out AB320, a measure sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would establish regulations for the relationships between restaurants and delivery platforms. 

Under the bill, food delivery platforms would need to be transparent about all fees attached to an order, including a disclosure of the commission charged to the restaurant — expressed as a percentage of the food purchase price.

Regulations specify that a food delivery service platform provider would need to enter into a written agreement with a food establishment before facilitating an online order and that an establishment may submit a written request to be removed from a platform. Any providers in violation of the bill would be subject to a daily $500 penalty.

An amendment attached to the bill would:

  • Lower the limit on the maximum fee that could be charged by a food delivery serve platform provider from 20 percent to 15 percent during a state of emergency declared by a county
  • Provide that the limitation on the maximum fee that may be charged is effective only in a county in which a declaration of emergency is in effect
  • Stipulate that the bill does not preempt any local ordinance that places limits on the maximum fee that may be charged, as long as that ordinance was in effect before April 30, 2021

Tiger King bill

SB344, a bill that bans people and organizations from possessing, breeding, importing or selling dangerous wild animals except for those who fall in a certain category, including veterinarians, certain accredited zoos and certain resort hotels, passed unanimously out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Friday.

The measure, nicknamed the “Tiger King bill” after the Netflix series about tiger collector Joe Exotic, grandfathers in people who already own the animals. People could keep any exotic pets they had as of July 1, 2021. 

A committee amendment passed along with the bill clarifies that employees with a special license and training are allowed to have direct contact with dangerous wild animals. The amendment also provides that people who receive disciplinary action relating to their wild animal license may still be exempt from the prohibitions of the bill, if they resolve the issue before July 1.

Tiny house bill survives deadline

Members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee voted Friday evening to keep alive a bill by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) authorizing and requiring large counties and cities regulate and zone areas for tiny houses.

The bill, which passed out with some Republican opposition, set requirements for cities and counties to develop zoning laws for tiny houses no more than 400 square feet in size, with options including building tiny houses as an addition to a property, as designated single-family dwellings or in a space similar to a mobile home park.

The measure was passed out of committee with a conceptual amendment offered by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) that would require counties take environmental impacts into account when zoning for tiny houses.

Temporary suspension of pupil growth requirement

AB57, a bill pausing certain requirements for teacher and administrator evaluations, passed out of the Senate Committee on Education with some Republican opposition.

As amended, the bill suspends requirements that pupil growth account for 15 percent of the evaluation of a teacher or administrator for the 2021-2022 school year and holds teachers harmless who did not meet their student learning goals from 2020-2021.

Changes to teacher-student ratios

Members of the Senate Committee on Education also passed AB266, a bill prohibiting administrations from being included in teacher to student ratio calculations and requiring that school districts determine the number of vacancies needed to reach state board recommended ratios.

The measure also requires that anyone evaluating a teacher responsible for a class that exceeds ratio recommendations to award the teacher additional weight on criteria within the state’s performance evaluation system. But an amendment attached to the bill would apply that weight only if a teacher was past the probation period and rated as effective or better and prohibit the additional weight from raising the score above the maximum possible score.

Wide-ranging housing protections

A bill aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination housing protections for formerly incarcerated individuals passed out of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on a party-line vote, with all Republicans in opposition.

SB254, which also passed out of the Senate on party lines with Democrats in support, prohibits, with some exceptions, a landlord looking to rent or lease a dwelling from:

  • Inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history, conviction record or arrest record
  • Refusing to rent or negotiate a rental or lease agreement based on an applicant’s criminal background
  • Publishing or releasing any notice that indicates a preference based on an applicant’s criminal history
  • Evicting a tenant based on an arrest record or criminal history.

Exclusions within the bill allow landlords to still conduct a background check to determine whether an applicant has committed arson, a sex crime or a violent felony — and subsequently refuse to rent to someone based on those criminal convictions.

The bill previously stipulated that a landlord could not reject an application because the prospective tenant receives housing assistance funds, but lawmakers on Friday approved removing those protections through a conceptual amendment.

Still, Republicans opposing the bill cited fears that it would infringe on landlord’s property rights.

"There are cases where we should protect people's right to housing. But these people made a choice to break the law," Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) said during the committee’s hearing on the bill. "And I believe that we don't have a place to tell a private property owner who they can and can't rent to, whether we have done that historically or we haven't."

Open-meeting laws exemption

Members of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs approved moving forward with a bill allowing elected officials to meet behind closed doors when discussing certain projects with environmental effects.

SB77, proposed on behalf of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands, would exempt certain pre-decisional meetings and records involving environmental issues from the state’s Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act. The bill passed out of committee with all Republicans in opposition.

Supporters say that the bill is needed to comply with both federal and state laws, but open government advocates have argued that the measure would limit transparency in a process that has real-world consequences — whether mines are approved or power lines are erected. 

Per a verbal conceptual amendment added by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill would specify that a pre-decisional meeting should not have any other additional agenda items.

Hate crime definitions

The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed SB166 on Friday, 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.

The bill specifies that such characteristics include race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and provides that a perpetrator may be punished with an additional penalty if the person commits a crime based solely on the characteristic of the victim.

An amendment from public defenders in Washoe County and Clark County was added to the bill to clarify that the actual or perceived characteristic of the victim must be the primary cause of the crime. Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), the chair of the committee, also noted that the language in the amendment would be cleaned up by legal counsel before the measure reaches the Assembly floor.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB203 with an amendment from the bill’s sponsor Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) and the Nevada Justice Association. The bill allows a victim of sexual abuse, exploitation or pornography involving minors to commence a civil action to recover damages at any time after the violation occurred.

The amended version of the bill maintains the existing 20-year statute of limitations to commence an action after a victim reaches 18 years of age, though a previous version of the bill completely removed the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved.

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

Limits on police use of force

A sweeping police reform bill, SB212, putting additional limits on police use of force, use of restraint chairs and police dispersal techniques during protests passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday, largely along party lines with Republicans in opposition.

The bill would require police officers to use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives before resorting to higher levels of force to arrest an individual and require police agencies to adopt use of force policies.

The bill limits use of the restraint chair to no more than two hours unless authorized by a supervising officer and would ban its use for a person who is pregnant.

The measure also aims to put limits on police activities during protests or demonstrations, prohibiting officers from firing nonlethal rounds “indiscriminately” into a crowd or targeting a person’s head, pelvis or other vital areas.

A wide-ranging amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), was also passed with the bill. The amendment prohibits an officer from using deadly force against people posing a danger to themselves, if they are not also posing an imminent threat to the officer or others.

The amendment additionally provides that if there is an immediate threat of harm or death at a protest or demonstration, then officers are not required to give an order to disperse.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Assembly members in the Health and Human Services Committee passed SB188, which could grant some low-income Nevadans the opportunity to create a savings account and receive matching funds from a bank of up to five times the amount of their deposits.

The bill creates the “Individual Development Account Program,” if sufficient funds are obtained, and would allow people living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system, to be eligible to set up an account.

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

An amendment passed with the bill would allow a relative or fictive kin of a minor placed in his or her care by an agency which provides child welfare services to set up a savings account for the child, that could be accessed when the minor reaches 18 years of age.

THURSDAY & WEDNESDAY

Tenants rights bill

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) has acknowledged that her tenants’ rights bill SB218 is dead. Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, told the Nevada Current that she would not give the bill a hearing by the deadline.

The bill would have enshrined a grace period of at least three days before a landlord could assess late fees for rent, required landlords to return a security deposit within 28 days rather than 30, specified that a landlord could only charge an application fee to one prospective tenant at a time and clarified that landlords cannot dock a person’s security deposit for normal wear and tear.

During a short interview with The Nevada Independent on Friday, Jauregui said that the bill did not receive a hearing because there was not enough time to work with all stakeholders.

“There was a ton of opposition and I obviously didn’t have time to work through it,” Jauregui said. “Sometimes these discussions are lengthy and they involve a ton of stakeholders, and we have to make sure that we’re giving everyone the opportunity to weigh in on them.

The bill had drawn significant opposition from real estate agents who, along with developers and PACs funded by real estate companies and other development industries, contributed more than $1.3 million to lawmaker campaigns — the most money any single industry donated to state legislators.

“We are losing, I think, the biggest tenant’s rights bill of the session thus far,” Bailey Bortolin of the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers said during a forum hosted by Battle Born Progress.

Bortolin said she was told there was too much opposition to the bill, but added that “I don't think it would have been worthwhile to pursue a bill that didn't have any opposition.”

Ratti said in a brief interview on Thursday that she couldn’t speak to why the bill was set aside, but “I think it's good policy and I stand by the bill.”

Ratti added that the most important thing in the works this session is yet-to-be-introduced legislation that would provide a “glide path” that averts a wave of evictions once moratoriums lift this summer. 

Bortolin said she does expect another tenant rights bill — AB141 from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) — will come up for a committee vote on Friday and clear the deadline. That bill automatically seals the records of people who were subject to a summary eviction during the pandemic.

It will not cover tenants whose landlords sought other routes to evict them during the pandemic, such as for a lease violation, but would cover people who were unaware of how to defend themselves during the moratoriums and were subject to a rapid summary eviction, Bortolin said.

Banning decorative grass

An estimated 12 billion gallons of Colorado River water could be saved each year under AB356, which passed unanimously on Thursday out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, pushed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), aims to phase out decorative grass in non-residential developments in Southern Nevada over the next five years.

An amendment attached to the bill clarifies that the waters in the Colorado River distributed by the SNWA or its member agencies may not be used to irrigate grass on any property that is not zoned exclusively for single family residences. The amendment also expands membership of a grass removal advisory committee from seven to nine members, adding a second Homeowner’s Association representative and a golf course representative.

“This is an opportunity for the Nevada Legislature to take action on one of the largest and boldest water conservation initiatives, ever," Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said when he presented the bill to the committee on Monday. “It is one that our community in Southern Nevada is going to depend on in order to sustain itself moving forward."

Pot for pets

Veterinarians could soon be allowed to prescribe hemp or CBD products to an animal under a measure passed by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

Sponsored by Assembly Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 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.

Supporters of the bill say that it could help veterinarians treat conditions such as anxiety, pain, cancer and arthritis and 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.

Incentives for affordable housing developments

Members of the Assembly Committee on Revenue on Thursday unanimously approved a measure designed to support Nevada’s affordable housing market.

SB284, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), would remove an expiration date on the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program — established during the 2019 session as a pilot program allocating $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing development annually over a period of four years.

The program was one of the state’s most high-profile efforts to address the affordable housing crisis in 2019, but the pandemic slowed down its rollout, and Ratti said eliminating expiration dates on the program would give it more time to grow.

Multi-parent adoption

Democrat Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen’s AB115 — allowing multiple parents to adopt a child — passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

The bill authorizes a court to determine that more than two people may have a parent relationship with a child. It would also recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

Cathy Sakimura, deputy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the bill is vital for children's well-being and would ensure diverse and multi-parent families are "protected and given the same dignity and respect as other families."

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he opposed the bill because of an amendment specifying that each prospective parent may petition the court for the adoption of a child as an individual petitioner.

“The inclusion of language and the amendment of a joint petitioner without creating a mechanism whereby joint petition is authorized, I think, is going to be particularly problematic for the courts,” he said.

Giving teeth to a DMV pilot program 

A measure making changes to a DMV pilot program gathering data on annual vehicle miles traveled passed out of an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Thursday with four Republicans in opposition.

The bill, SB371, removes recreational vehicles from the list of vehicles for which odometer readings must be submitted to the DMV, prohibits the DMV from disclosing information provided under the pilot program to an insurer and authorizes the DMV to fine participants for not reporting miles traveled. It previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

In response to objections from Republican committee members, supporters said that the fines would be the lightest way to ensure that the program generates a robust data set that offers insight into driving patterns in the state.

“As long as people follow the rules, they don't have to pay the fine,” Assemblywoman and Committee Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) said.

Rate caps for inmates

Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee members also passed SB387, a bill that would require the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to regulate and set rate caps on businesses that provide calling services for inmates.

The bill, which passed unanimously out of committee, would authorize the PUC to establish rate caps and charge limits on inmate calling services — requiring any competitive supplier of inmate calling services to file their rates with the commission, and publish their rates, terms and conditions on their website.

Tribal government representation

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections committee also voted out AB95 on Thursday, granting approval to the bill that would add a tribal government representative to the  Legislative Committee on Public Lands.

Proposed constitutional changes advance

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee advanced two proposed amendments aimed at cleaning up outdated language in the state Constitution.

Committee members unanimously advanced AJR1, a proposal from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) that would modernize language currently referring to institutions for the “Insane, Blind and Deaf and Dumb” with “persons with significant mental illness, persons who are blind or visually impaired, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and persons with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities.”

The committee also approved AJR10, a proposed change by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) removing language allowing slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.

If approved by the full Senate, both resolutions would advance to the 2023 legislative session. If lawmakers two years from now approve the resolutions again, they will head to the 2024 ballot.

Limiting no-knock warrants

Following calls across the country spurred by the death of Breonna Taylor to ban no-knock warrants, lawmakers are continuing to push forward a bill to restrict that practice in Nevada.

The latest push came Wednesday as members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance 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. The bill previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

Though progressive advocacy groups have pushed for a complete ban of no-knock warrants, it has attracted support from police groups after amendments were added to the bill.

Curbside pickup for marijuana

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB168 on Wednesday, with no votes from the four Republican legislators on the committee.

The bill authorizes dispensaries to engage in curbside pickup under regulations from the state Cannabis Compliance Board, such as setting designated parking spots for pickup. Curbside pickup for marijuana sales had previously been authorized by Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2020 as an emergency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also makes some changes to the packaging of cannabis products, including a requirement to label all products with the phrase “keep out of reach of children” and a provision giving the compliance board the authority to regulate the packaging and labeling of products.

Tobacco and vapor products

Members of the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee approved AB360 on Thursday. It would require any seller of tobacco or vapor products “utilize age-verification technology at the point of sale” to ensure that any buyers who appear under the age of 40 are at least 18 years old. Violators of that procedure would be liable for a $100 civil penalty for each offense.

Another tobacco-related bill, AB59, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It would ensure state compliance with a federal law that raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 in December 2019. The state has three years from the passage of that legislation to conform its minimum age law, before facing possible financial penalties.

Updated at 3:23 p.m. on Friday, May 14 to include details of bills that passed out of committee on Friday. Updated again at 8:43 p.m. to add additional details of bills that passed out of committee.

Major rollback of bill curbing police collaboration with immigration officials; other bills die at deadline

A bill that initially proposed barring much of the collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement has survived a deadline but in a heavily watered down form, illustrating how politically dicey the issue has been even for Democratic lawmakers in session after session.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), was rid of language that draws a bright line between immigration enforcement and local police in the name of rebuilding trust between police and immigrant communities. What remains is a proposed Keep Nevada Working Task Force charged with finding ways to strengthen the immigrant workforce, a call for the attorney general to develop model policies on immigration issues and half a million dollars to support deportation defense through UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

“I think that we've got some really good work out of the amendments that we made on the legislation,” Torres said in a brief interview on Tuesday. Asked if she was disappointed about losing other provisions, she added “I think we're in a good spot.” 

Erika Castro, organizing director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the provisions that have been watered down are the ones she and other immigrant advocates were excited about, adding that their priority now is to maintain what’s left of the bill in the Senate.

“And that Governor Sisolak actually signs it into law,” she added. 

The bill’s transformation was one of the more dramatic ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for bills to pass out of their first house. Four bills died, and more than a dozen  — including AB376 — were re-referred to money committees, where it’s possible a lack of money to implement them could seal their fate.

Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), who is listed as the sponsor of the primary amendment excising the bill’s most controversial provisions, said the proposal to send half a million dollars to the UNLV Immigration Clinic was aimed to “help our helpers who are out there in the trenches.” She said the clinic reported being unable to meet the demand for pro bono legal services for unaccompanied children and others facing deportation.

“If they feel like they're being detained illegally, they feel like they're being harassed, they have a place to go and get help,” she said. “And so ultimately, this was our solution about how we make the system more fair, more just for them.”

As in Washington D.C., where Congress has repeatedly failed to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform and where the issue is sometimes described as a “third rail” too controversial to meaningfully address, immigration policy has been an albatross in at least the last three Democrat-controlled sessions in Carson City.

The decades-long lack of reform, despite which political party is in power, continues to erode trust and hope among immigrants, said Castro. Some Nevada immigrants expressed a sense of optimism when President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, but skepticism remains. 

“We've been waiting for a form of relief at a federal lever level for over 30 years now,” said Castro, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “We really need our elected officials to keep their promises that they made on the campaign trail, now that they're actually in office and have the power to be able to do something.”

In 2017, a bill to bar cooperation between law enforcement and local police died without a hearing after quickly being branded a “sanctuary bill” by Republican leaders. In 2019, lawmakers gutted a bill from Torres calling for reports about how serious the underlying crimes were for people who were arrested and ended up in deportation proceedings; the bill ultimately enacted a provision requiring jail staff to tell inmates why they are asking questions about immigration status.

Castro noted the repeated attempts to address collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the state level and said that although the most recent effort through AB376 has been watered down, it’s significant progress from previous years. 

“This is the furthest that we've gotten with a piece of legislation like this,” she said. “And we're gonna continue to come back until it actually becomes a law, because I think at the end of the day, deportations are not stopping whether we have a Democratic president. So we're going to continue to bring these policies forward because our communities deserve and they need that relief.”

This session, Torres’ bill faced opposition from law enforcement and critics who again argued it would make Nevada a “sanctuary state” and repel tourists.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the committee from which Torres’ bill passed in its original form a few weeks ago before being amended, acknowledged that changes to programs such as 287(g) agreements between local and federal law enforcement are difficult to explain and people are “afraid of that conversation.” In recent years, Republicans such as 2018 gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt have rallied around the criticism that Democrats are trying to implement sanctuary policies, and some Democrats have shied away from responding to those statements.

“I think immigration is such an intimidating topic for anybody. Doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on,” Flores said in an interview. “And it's a very heavy lift. Because politically, it's so easy for it to be turned into something it’s not.”

For now, Castro and other immigrant advocates and organizations are focused on helping raise support to shepherd the bill all the way to Sisolak’s desk and working with state leaders to ensure that a potential fourth attempt to pass legislation such as AB376 doesn’t get stuck in the process. “Our communities have waited enough, especially with the pandemic, knowing that they were left out of any financial resources, any support,” Castro said. “Being in a state where we have the largest population of immigrants per capita, I think that puts us in a place where we really need to be intentional about how we're including and supporting our undocumented communities.”

Bills sent to budget committees

Budget committees in the Assembly and Senate typically serve two roles — reviewing every part of the state’s executive budget, while also holding jurisdiction over any bill that includes direct spending or a potential fiscal impact to the state.

But on deadline days, those committees serve another role — lifeboats for contentious or complex bills that would otherwise sink by deadline day. That said, referrals to budget committees don’t guarantee anything, and can often be the final stop for bills with large fiscal impacts or that draw too much opposition during the session. 

Here’s a look at some of the major bills that were referred to budget committees on Tuesday:

Cannabis

SB235 proposes a single, streamlined dispensary license in place of the current system, in which most dispensaries have both a medical and a recreational license. But a compromise from the bill’s earlier version raised further questions about whether consolidating licenses would reduce revenue. 

Another bill, AB322, allows for permitting events where cannabis can be sold or consumed but could require more staff resources to process additional licenses. Another, AB341, authorizes cannabis consumption lounges, but regulators anticipate it would also require the Cannabis Compliance Board to staff up to meet the higher regulatory and enforcement workload. 

Health care

SB201, sponsored by an interim committee studying prescription drug prices, would require the licensure and regulation of any pharmaceutical sales representatives. An amendment to the bill adopted Tuesday requires that any licensure funds (between $500 and $800 per year) only account for the costs of licensing and regulating the profession, or improving transparency on the price of prescription drugs, and wouldn’t revert to the state’s main budget account.

A fiscal note on the bill submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Public and Behavioral Health Division estimated that it would cost the state around $250,000 every year to implement the bill and regulate the estimated 3,800 pharmaceutical sales representatives active in the state.

Another pharmaceutical drug-related measure expanding the state’s existing drug price reporting database, SB380, was similarly amended and referred to a budget committee on Tuesday. While no dollar amount was listed on a fiscal note attached to the bill by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency wrote that the state’s current drug pricing transparency database “will not meet the requirements” of the bill.

And the bill by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno creating a statewide occupational licensing board for professional midwives (AB387) was similarly yanked to a budget committee after being amended on Tuesday.

The state Department of Public and Behavioral Health estimated that the agency would need around $450,000 every two-year budget cycle to hire staff to implement provisions of the original bill.

Decriminalizing traffic tickets

A bill by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) aimed at decriminalizing traffic tickets — the fifth time in five sessions lawmakers have brought the concept forward — was referred to the Assembly budget committee on Tuesday, after legislators adopted a lengthy amendment.  

Local governments have long argued against the bill, saying that fees and fines from traffic tickets make up a substantial portion of their annual budgets. Clark County, for example, estimated that the measure would lead to a $12.75 million annual reduction in revenue.

Election bills

Though it technically happened late Monday, lawmakers agreed to send two major election-related bills sponsored by Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) to the Assembly budget committee.

AB321, which would make Nevada’s expanded mail voting system in place for the 2020 election a permanent feature, carries a somewhat hefty price tag — the secretary of state’s office estimated that the measure would cost up to $17.3 million to set up for the 2022 election cycle, and $7.7 million in future election cycles.

AB126, which aims to move Nevada up the presidential preference primary calendar, was also tagged with a $5.2 million price tag from the secretary of state’s office.

Bills that actually died:

By the end of the evening, only four bills actually died by Tuesday’s deadline for first house passage, withering on the proverbial vine that is the Secretary’s Desk. Three of the four failed measures (excluding SB314) would have required a two-thirds vote as they increased taxes. They included:

  • SB314, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal that aimed to place more regulations and customer protections around high-volume marketplace sellers — defined as any person who makes or enters into 200 or more transactions through an online marketplace such as Etsy or Amazon.
  • SB170, a bill sponsored by the Legislative Committee on Public Lands that looked to change the registration process for off-highway vehicles. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB405, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have removed caps on funding that the state’s Public Utilities Commission and Office of Consumer Advocate receive from regulated providers of electric and natural gas service (such as NV Energy and Southwest Gas). It instead would have authorized both agencies to set funding levels (calculated in mills based on operating revenue) based on what was needed to fund agency operations. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.
  • SB407, a bill from the Governor’s Office of Finance that would have required professional apiaries (beekeepers) pay an annual registration fee and register with the state — while exempting hobbyist beekeepers. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Updated on 4/21/2021 at 5:55 p.m. to add statements from Erika Castro.

Follow the Money: Energy industry donors contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers ahead of 2021 session

Amid continuing attempts by a Democratic-led Legislature to grapple with the effects of the energy industry on the climate, a handful of Nevada’s largest energy companies shelled out more than $401,000 to legislative campaigns through the 2020 cycle. 

That total was down roughly 19 percent compared to spending in the 2018 cycle, when the industry cumulatively spent almost $500,000. The drop was largely driven by a decrease in spending from statewide utility and energy giant NV Energy, which spent about 22 percent less this cycle compared to last, a difference of more than $47,500. 

This spending came as Democrats continued to hold on to control of both chambers of the Legislature, even as they lost a handful of seats across the board. Republicans gained one seat in the 21-person Senate and another three in the 42-seat Assembly, leaving the Democratic advantage at 12-9 and 26-16, respectively. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 348 individual contributions from 15 donors fell under the umbrella of energy corporations, individuals or related PACs. 

However, two legislators are not included in this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed to legislative vacancies in February, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

These numbers also do not include candidates who lost their race for the Legislature, and may not represent the total spent by a given donor in the last election, but rather the amount they spent on winning candidates only. 

Though the money contributed by the energy industry was largely evenly distributed across almost every single sitting legislator (only one, Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), did not report receiving energy-related contributions), legislative leaders continued to be among the biggest recipients of industry contributions. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) once again led the way with $28,500, followed closely by her Assembly counterpart, Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), who received $27,250. 

Three other lawmakers received sums in excess of $15,000, including Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $19,300; Sen. Chris Brooks with $19,000 and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), also with $19,000. 

Other reported totals were generally small. Six lawmakers reported between $11,250 and $10,400 in energy contributions, while the remaining 49 reported $9,750 or less. 

NV Energy, despite the spending decrease this cycle, was still by-far the largest single energy donor with more than $167,000 spread across the campaign of nearly every lawmaker elected last year. 

That money comes from an industry dominated like few others by just a handful of corporate or PAC-related interests. 

Alone, NV Energy’s sum amounts to almost 42 percent of all industry money contributed through the 2020 cycle. But combined with the next four closest donors — Southwest Gas ($124,000), Ormat Nevada ($37,500), Valley Electric Association ($28,500) and the Nevadans for Reliable, Renewable and Affordable Energy PAC ($16,000) — the share of the total contributed by the top donors alone rises to more than 93 percent of all industry contributions. 

This is explained in part because there were few energy-related donors — just 15 in total. Among them, the lowest 10 combined for less than 7 percent of overall spending, contributing a combined $27,700. 

Spread across 56 legislators, the utility’s $167,500 in spending widely favored Democrats both in the aggregate and on average. Overall, NV Energy gave a cumulative $126,000 to legislative Democrats, compared to just $41,500 for Republicans. Averaged to account for the Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Legislature, the utility still spent about 70 percent more on Democrats than Republicans, $3,500 to $2,075. 

At the top of the list of NV Energy’s contributions are Frierson and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), a longtime renewable energy advocate who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, each of whom received the $10,000 maximum.

Two other Democrats, Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), followed with $7,500 each, and the remaining 52 legislators received just $5,500 or less. 

Second only to NV Energy, Las Vegas-based utility Southwest Gas was among a handful of donors to increase its contributions in 2020 en route to spending $124,000 on 54 legislators — a jump of about 23 percent compared to 2018. 

Much of that spending went to Democrats in the aggregate, who as a group received $74,250 to the Republicans’ $49,750. However, the average Republican received slightly more than Democratic counterparts, $2,487 to $2,184. 

Much of that average difference stemmed from a $10,000 contribution to Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), the only lawmaker to see the maximum allowed amount from Southwest Gas. 

Other major recipients include Cannizzaro with $7,000, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert with $6,000 and Monroe-Moreno with $5,000. The remaining 50 lawmakers saw $4,500 or less. 

The largest of the “small” energy donors last cycle, Ormat Nevada — the Nevada subsidiary of renewables company Ormat Technologies — spent $37,500 across 45 legislators, a sharp 25 percent dip from the $50,500 it spent in 2018.

Like the rest of the industry, Ormat’s donations — though generally small — still favored Democrats in the aggregate. Democrats combined to receive $26,000 to the Republicans’ $11,500, or a difference on average of $897 for Democrats and $719 for Republicans. 

Unlike the major utilities, Ormat did not spend any large amounts on any single candidate, instead spreading its money in comparatively small amounts over several dozen lawmakers. 

Still, Cannizzaro and Frierson led the pack with $2,500 a piece. Four others received $1,500 — Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), Gansert and Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) — while the remaining 39 received just $1,000 or less. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: