State police union wins salary bump through collective bargaining arbitration, litigation possible

Trooper Hannah DeGoey traffic stop

Hundreds of Nevada Highway Patrolmen and other state police officers could be in line for a pay raise after their union received a favorable ruling from an arbitrator charged with hashing out issues between the employee union and state government, though questions remain as to when and whether the state can actually pay for raises outside of the normal 120-day legislative session.

The arbitrator’s decision, approved on Monday, requires the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the state to include a requested two percent raise, annual bonuses for longevity and pay incentives for officers with associate or bachelor’s degrees. 

Beyond the pay issue, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the state, quashing requests by the union to limit review of body camera footage by supervisors over public records law concerns. Both sides agreed to seniority provisions requested by the union before the arbitration process began.

It’s the latest development in the novel and at-times contentious state employee bargaining process — the Nevada Police Union, which represents the 735 highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, university police, public safety workers and other state-employed police included in the Category I Peace Officers category, is the only one of four recognized state employee unions that was unable to reach terms with the state before the legislative session wrapped up in June. State employees were granted collective bargaining rights in 2019, with the first agreements taking effect for the current two-year budget cycle.

Though state officials hinted Tuesday that they plan to appeal at least part of the decision related to compensation, leadership of the Nevada Police Union — which has sought pay raises and other benefits as ways to stem continually high turnover —  still declared victory.

“After months of dealing with State representatives pushing an anti-union and anti-police stance during negotiations, we are finally nearing a contract thanks to the arbitrator’s landmark decision,” union president Matthew Kaplan said in an emailed statement. “It has been a difficult road because some of the State’s representatives neither acted in the spirit of collective bargaining nor understood the needs of law enforcement, but we never gave up and won for the brave women and men of state police that risk their lives everyday to keep our communities safe.”

The arbitrator’s decision isn’t the final step. Once amended, a final contract covering the next two fiscal years has to be ratified by union membership, and then approved by the state Board of Examiners (composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state). Any negotiations with a fiscal cost — such as a salary increase — are then supposed to be sent to the Legislature for final approval and inclusion in the bill implementing pay for state workers. 

A spokeswoman with the state Department of Administration said Tuesday that the office does not believe that the Interim Finance Committee (the body of legislators that approves state spending decisions while the Legislature is out of session) can approve appropriations to pay for the 2 percent raise, given that the Legislature did not explicitly authorize the IFC to make such appropriations.

Litigation over compensation may be in the works; the department spokeswoman said that the state is “indeed evaluating its appeal options on compensation to seek clarity on the legal issues that we believe precluded us from sticking to the 3% (Cost of living adjustment) we offered NPU in May, which they declined, and the session-driven deadlines came and went without agreement.”

“Unfortunately, NPU is likely to view an appeal by the state on compensation as a desire by the state to keep fighting,” Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstien said in an email. “It’s not about fighting. It’s about encountering the pressure points in the new law as we implement it in the real world, and going through the process of getting legal clarity on those issues.”

The process leading to arbitration was rarely smooth.

Union and state officials began meeting in November 2020 and continued meeting through February 2021, ultimately reaching an impasse over three issues — compensation, body cam review policies and seniority preferences. According to a filing made by the state last month, negotiators on both sides engaged in six additional mediation sessions between March and May, but no deal was struck before heading to arbitration.

In a “last best and final offer” filed by the state ahead of arbitration, attorneys wrote that negotiating sessions with the union “proved difficult,” and that many of their requests — such as limiting the right of supervisors to review body camera footage — would create an “absurd (and unlawful)” process where supervisors had less of a right to view body camera footage than the general public.

That filing prompted threats of a state bar complaint from the Nevada Police Union, which said the state presented “dishonest” information based on initial proposed concessions as opposed to more recently negotiated figures and language. The state filed a corrected “Notice of Errata” soon after.

During arbitration proceedings, attorneys for the union officials filed a statement from former state Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas), the sponsor of the 2019 legislation allowing state employees to collectively bargain. Parks claimed that the measure was not intended to make the end of the 120-day legislative session as the hard deadline for negotiations — a point that attorneys for the union demonstrated that “the State representatives are either intentionally acting in bad faith or strategically trying to coerce the Union into yet another last-minute deal.”

That 2019 legislation categorized 11 different groups of state employees, classified by employment type, as employee groups that could opt to select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salaries and other benefits. But the law also allows the governor to have an effective veto on wages or other monetary compensation regardless of any approved collective bargaining agreement.

In order to be recognized as a bargaining unit and kick-start the collective bargaining process, a potential union has to show that it represents at least 50 percent of employees in any given occupational group before it files for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

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

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

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

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

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

Physician aid in dying legislation will not advance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Howard Stutz

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Gender-neutral bathrooms bill gets messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

$1 million to Immunize Nevada in AB355

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Out of the shadows: LGBTQ lawmakers reflect on past struggles, future goals

State Senator David Parks, left, greets, Assemblyman Howard Watts II

In late March, Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) stood up in the Assembly chambers to make history — coming out as openly pansexual, one of just three such state legislators in the country.

“Being celebrated for my queerness is weird,” she wrote on Twitter after the floor session. “Being bisexual and pansexual comes with so much guilt and questioning. Am I queer enough? Am I gay enough? What if I end up heteronormative, am I straight? Y'all, we are all enough and worth celebrating!”

But Nevada, as with many other states, has a long history of not celebrating but persecuting individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Almost 160 years ago, state lawmakers enacted anti-sodomy laws that were used to terrify, blackmail and persecute members of the LGBTQ community ⁠— laws that weren’t repealed until 1993. 

And 18 years ago, Nevada voters overwhelmingly adopted a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that wasn’t fully overturned until a 2014 court decision.

But the path toward full recognition and equality for LGBTQ populations hasn’t always moved in one consistent direction. Six years before voters approved the same-sex marriage ban, the first openly gay member of the Legislature — David Parks — was elected, kicking off a two-decade legislative career that contributed to the state being named one of the best for LGBTQ rights by the time he left office in 2019

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

Peters’ ability to share her sexual orientation on the floor of the Legislature without immediate political or social repercussions is not an overnight shift, but rather a product of decades of advocacy and legislation, LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers say.

Figures such as Parks, former Sen. Lori Lipman Brown, an ally who helped overturn Nevada’s anti-sodomy laws, and Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas), the first openly lesbian woman to serve in legislative office, are among those who pushed for equal treatment under the law regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Parks, an introvert by nature, never expected to run for office, but after much “arm-twisting” from members of the state party and after he considered the difference he could make as a legislator, he tossed his hat into the ring in 1996 to run for Assembly.

As an active member of groups addressing HIV/AIDS issues, Parks knew that hiding his sexuality on the campaign trail was not an option.

“There was no way that I could deny that I was gay,” he said. “I don't know if it's the fact that being gay, that I’ve used my life experiences in a way that I'm able to connect with voters from a wide variety of backgrounds, but I seemed to have had a really good connection in that respect.”

State Senator David Parks
State Senator David Parks on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Throughout his campaigns, Parks described facing vitriolic, anti-homophobic sentiment from opponents, but he was able to maintain his seat and pass landmark legislation — often signed by Republican governors — that provided funding for HIV and AIDS programs, banned gay conversion therapy programs, established trans-inclusive health benefits, addressed “gay panic” defenses and implemented anti-bullying laws.

“I went through some pretty hard knocks,” Parks said. “[A USA Today headline] said ‘Nevada Ranks the Best State in America for LGBTQ People.’ And that's, I think, a major accomplishment that 25 years ago, I would not have thought that.”

Parks termed out of office after the 2019 session, but his legacy is still felt in the Legislature. Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) said he not only blazed trails for the LGBTQ community, but also brought forward legislation that benefited everyone.

“Growing up, I used to think, if I'm ever going to run, I probably need to move to San Francisco in the most liberal district,” Harris said. “I've got tattoos on my arms and just thought, it's probably not going to happen anywhere else.”

Harris said she did not think it was possible for her to run for public office until she was first appointed in 2018.

While she was in high school, Harris remembers pulling “protect marriage” signs advocating for banning gay marriage in the state Constitution from yards. Nearly two decades later, she watched voters undo the ban from her seat in the Nevada Senate — an office she ran for with a picture of her and her wife and their child on a campaign mailer. 

Nevada State Senators Dallas Harris and Mo Denis on the fourth day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Saturday, July 11, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Spearman vividly remembers the inception of the federal policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which condemned discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community but also prohibited military service members from being openly queer. 

An Army veteran, Spearman said that discussions around repealing the policy ultimately led her to come out to her community and the church where she was serving as pastor.

“It angered me when I heard some politicians in Washington saying, ‘we don't want them in the military because it would destroy morale and the good order,’” Spearman said. “We've been there. We're in graveyards. We're in Arlington National Cemetery.”

Seven members of her congregation left, Spearman said, but she did not want to hide who she was.

“I'm always conscious of the fact that I am intersectional. I'm Black, I'm a woman and I'm a same gender-loving woman,” Spearman said. “I have to look at it through all of those lenses because that's who I am ... and if you have a problem with it, then one of us probably needs to leave and I'm taking a seat right here.”

State Senator Pat Spearman on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Watching Spearman run for office made running as an out bisexual woman much easier, said Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas). She wondered aloud in an interview with The Nevada Independent about past lawmakers and historical figures who had to mask their identity.

“I look back at all the pictures on the walls of all of the former legislators ... and I don't think we'll ever know how many gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, nonbinary, asexual, otherwise, not cis-gender heterosexual legislators there have been in Nevada,” Scheible said. 

Others, including Harris, said that having that representation matters and helps young people to grow into adulthood without having to hide their sexual orientation.

“If there is one kid who was like, ‘Oh, that person's like me. I could do that’ and it inspires them to be their best selves, if that happens, then I have done more than enough,” Harris said. “There is serious power in being here, in walking the halls, in speaking up, and that's just as important, if not more than, the small pieces of the Legislature.”

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

When Parks was first elected to office, he estimated that there were roughly 50 openly gay individuals serving in public office across the nation, most of them located in coastal areas and major metropolitan cities. Now there are five openly LGBTQ lawmakers serving in the Legislature and 979 openly LGBTQ elected officials in the U.S. which account for 0.19 percent of all elected officials. A little more than 28,000 LGBTQ people would need to be elected to achieve equitable representation in the U.S.

And LGBTQ lawmakers past and present say there’s still a lot of work to be done.

For Scheible, having an openly transgender legislator would indicate increased social progress. Harris said she would like to see more non-LGBTQ members of the Legislature pass LGBTQ-focused laws.

“I think we're all better off when we have everyone thinking about everybody,” Harris said.

Though Scheible, Harris and Spearman are driving much of the legislation surrounding the LGBTQ community, the lawmakers said their focus extends beyond that community.

As a bisexual, white woman, Scheible can mask her identity and does not have to be vocal about LGBTQ or other issues, Spearman said. However, Spearman said Scheible’s outspokenness and willingness to raise awareness is what all lawmakers should strive for, regardless of background.

“It's important for other people, who have access to privilege that I will never have, to understand what courage looks like,” Spearman said.

State Senators Dallas Harris, right, and Melanie Scheible arrive at the Legislature on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.
State Senators Dallas Harris, right, and Melanie Scheible arrive at the Legislature on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Below is an overview of bills introduced this session with implications for Nevada’s LGBTQ community.

Equal Rights Amendment set for the ballot box

Nevada voters will have a chance to codify the Equal Rights Amendment in the state Constitution on the 2022 ballot, after lawmakers approved SJR8 this session. The measure would formally guarantee equal rights, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin, and copies language from the still-unapproved federal Equal Rights Amendment.

Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans supporting the amendment hailed it as a landmark change that would codify protections for all Nevadans.

"Despite passing laws that have incrementally eroded pieces of inequality, barriers still exist, laid bare for the world to see in the midst of a global pandemic," Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said.

Republican Sens. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) voted against the proposed constitutional amendment, which was approved on an 18-3 vote in the Senate. 

Hansen said that he voted no out of fear that the law would remove protections given to minorities, and the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the bill would allow biological males to compete in women’s sports.

"I don't want to see this body give up the rights for all of my female children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, or any other women in the state of Nevada," Hansen said.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) voted in favor of the bill.

"I do understand the concerns of my constituents, that the language will be misinterpreted and misused to promote changes in social order that is incompatible with their personal beliefs," Pickard said. "But while I may share those concerns, I still believe that we should be supporting equality under the law."

Adoption bill passed by committee would allow multiple parents to adopt a child

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) introduced AB115, which would allow multiple parents to adopt a child without removing another parent from the birth certificate. 

The bill would recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

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."

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill on March 12. The bill awaits a vote in the Assembly.

From left, Nevada State Senators, Dallas Harris, Melanie Scheible and Yvanna Cancela arrive at the Legislature on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Addressing HIV stigma

To destigmatize human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a bill sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) would update Nevada law to treat the virus in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill, SB275, would repeal a Nevada statute that makes it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct intended or likely to transmit the disease. 

Repealing that statute would mean a person who has contracted HIV and engaged in such behavior would instead receive a warning for a first offense. For a second offense, the individual would be guilty of a misdemeanor — a punishment in line with the treatment of other communicable diseases, such as chlamydia and SARS.

"The priority for me is equality," Harris said during a hearing on the bill. "The goal is to remove the statutory stigma that was intentionally placed into our laws all the way across the country that's done nothing but harm to those who have contracted HIV."

Other changes within the bill would remove discriminatory language.

"These laws were written back in the '80s and '90s," said André Wade, chair of the state's Advisory Task Force on HIV Exposure Modernization. "Whenever there's a specific call out of HIV, instead of including it as a communicable disease … then that, in and of itself, is stigmatizing."

The bill was heard on April 1, and as of Friday had not been scheduled for a committee vote.

Gender-neutral language

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas), AB214 would replace language related to sexual assault crimes with gender-neutral language. The bill would remove references to “he or she” and “himself or herself,” replacing those pronouns with “the person’s,” “the child,” and “the perpetrator.”

The bill was heard on March 12, and passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 24.

Study on services for veterans

AB172, introduced by Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas), would require the Nevada Veterans Services Commission to conduct a study on the effectiveness of its services for LGBTQ people, women or people of color. 

The study would analyze services provided to veterans and military members, and spouses and dependents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, persons of color and women.

The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing, but was given a notice of exemption from legislative deadlines in early March. State lawmakers usually limit the number of interim studies, and wait until the end of the session to approve which studies will go forward.

State Senators Marcia Washington, left, and Pat Spearman
State Senators Marcia Washington, left, and Pat Spearman on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Strengthening protections against discrimination and harassment 

SB51, which comes on behalf of the state's human resources department, would require the state to ensure that its employees do not engage in sex or gender-based harassment. The bill was heard on March 11 but hasn’t yet been voted out of committee.

The bill prohibits state employees from engaging in such behavior against anyone in the workplace, including a job applicant. It also creates the Sex-or Gender-Based Harassment and Discrimination Investigation Unit within the division and requires an investigator to prepare a written report of findings.

The state is already practicing a majority of SB51's proposals, but passing the bill would protect and solidify the investigation unit's role, said Peter Long, an administrator for the Division of Human Resource Management. 

In a similar vein, SB109, sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas), aims to protect LGBTQ individuals by ensuring that their personal information related to sexual orientation or gender identity remains confidential. Proponents say the bill would help address the many disparities LGBTQ persons already experience in health and welfare, including high rates of poverty, suicide, homelessness and violence.

Under the bill, which was heard on March 26 and is scheduled for a committee vote on Monday, individuals would not have to provide a government agency with any information about sexual orientation or gender identity or be denied services or assistance from a governmental agency for failure to provide that information.

Jury duty

A bill on the table would seek to codify a defendant's right to be judged by a jury of peers.

The bill, SB223, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), would stipulate that the opportunity for jury service cannot be denied or limited based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age or physical disability of a person.

"These protections are not a new idea," Harris said during the bill's presentation on March 23. "They just need to be codified to be preserved."

Language in the bill would not affect the process of creating a jury by dismissing people. Instead, it would ensure that the attorneys on the case are not removing people from the already-selected jury based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical disability, race or religion, Harris said.

"Such discriminatory treatment undermines the justice system and could hurt crime victims by preventing a fair trial by jury of their peers as well," Harris said.

Harris added that although the Supreme Court has ruled that excluding a juror based on race or gender is unconstitutional, neither the Supreme Court nor federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination in jury service based on other characteristics, such as sexual orientation.

Nevada State Senator Melanie Scheible on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Transgender protections

SB258, sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), would require the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) to adopt new standards for transgender and non-binary inmates, including adding cultural competency training for correctional staff. The bill was heard on March 29, and was voted out of committee on April 1.

Under the bill, the director of prisons would have to adopt regulations outlining standards in each institution and facility of the department for the supervision, custody, care, security, housing and medical and mental health treatment of transgender, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary and intersex inmates.

Standards would also include the use of respectful language and currently accepted terminology that accounts for and protects the rights of those inmates.

Debora Striplin, coordinator of the Prison Rape Elimination Act at NDOC, said during a hearing that there are about 50 inmates who have self-identified as transgender. 

Some committee members worried that broad standards surrounding the fluidity of gender could lead to inmates lying about their gender identity.

"My concern is that we're just perpetuating the same problem if we don't give them clear guidance ... What standards are we going to make the NDOC follow if it's not biological science?" said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson).

Another bill introduced by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, AB280, would require all single-occupancy public restrooms to be gender-neutral. Transgender rights activists praised the bill as a necessary step to make people who are nonbinary or transgender feel safer.

Bill would prohibit insurers from denying treatment for gender dysphoria

Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) presented a bill on March 12 that would require insurance companies, including Medicaid, to provide for the treatment of gender dysphoria.

Scheible said SB139 would ensure “trans people are treated equitably and with dignity” and address instances of insurance companies denying medically necessary surgeries. 

“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 presentation. “SB139 is designed to send a clear message to the greater healthcare community – discrimination is not acceptable in Nevada.” 

Those seeking gender reassignment surgery already require separate letters from a psychiatrist or psychologist and a medical doctor. The letters have to attest that the patient has performed certain levels of therapy and medical interventions before qualifying for the surgery.

In 2015, the Nevada Division of Insurance issued bulletin 15-002 prohibiting the denial, exclusion or limitation of medically necessary health care services based on gender identity or expression. For example, a plan covering a medically essential mastectomy for a cisgender woman must also cover a medically necessary mastectomy for a transgender man. 

“Despite these laws and policies, transgender persons still experienced denials of coverage,” Maylath said. “Those denials are most heavily felt amongst our Back and brown sisters and brothers. These exceptional marginalizations cause multiple barriers to health and opportunity.”

Treatment, including hormone replacement therapy and surgeries, is considered medically necessary because, without them, the mental health of people who have gender dysphoria would suffer.

“The policy is fairly rigorous to ensure that an individual has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria disorder and has sought several levels of treatment prior to having the surgery paid for and authorized by Medicaid,” said DuAne Young, deputy administrator for the Division of Healthcare Financing and Policy.

The bill was amended and passed out of committee on April 2.

Senator David Parks on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 during the sixth day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Giving LGBTQ owned businesses additional support

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill that would broaden the definition of the term “disadvantaged business” in existing law to include Nevada's LGBTQ community, allowing those businesses access the same type of assistance and loan programs afforded to other minority-owned businesses. 

The bill, SB237, was heard on March 23 and would apply to businesses owned by an individual who identifies as LGBTQ or have at least 51 percent of its ownership held by one or more individuals who identify as LGBTQ. 

“As we work through Nevada's economic recovery, we're going to need to make sure that all of Nevada's small businesses have the resources they need,” Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine said during the hearing. “By elevating the voices of our LGBTQ business community, we can work collaboratively to create a state that is more inclusive and prosperous for all Nevadans.” 

Committee members raised the question of whether business owners would require "proof" they are part of the LGBTQ community and worried about potential fraud. 

Tim Haughinberry, president of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Nevada, said the law already requires businesses to be certified to participate in the assistance and loan programs. 

“I hear this question a lot, and the truth is, no one is out there masquerading as a disadvantaged person in order to gain some perceived advantage,” Harris said. “This is actually not an issue in practice and generally these types of arguments are only used to suggest that LGBTQ businesses, or even LGBTQ persons, don't need any additional protections.” 

Democratic senator seeks overhaul of HIV laws she says will help remove stigma

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill that would modernize the state’s laws on human immunodeficiency virus by treating HIV in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill aims to reverse practices established decades ago during the height of the AIDS epidemic — when little was known about HIV and AIDS — that have disproportionately affected already marginalized groups, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people.

“The priority for me is equality,” Harris said. “The goal is to remove the statutory stigma that was intentionally placed into our laws all the way across the country that's done nothing but harm to those who have contracted HIV.”

The bill, SB275, would repeal a Nevada statute that makes it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease. Repealing that statute would mean a person who has contracted HIV and who engaged in such behavior would instead be given a warning as their first offense and, after a second offense, would be guilty of a misdemeanor — a punishment that is in line with the treatment of other communicable diseases, such as chlamydia and SARS.

“These laws were written back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said André Wade, chair of the state’s Advisory Task Force on HIV Exposure Modernization. “Whenever there’s a specific call out of HIV, instead of including it as a communicable disease … then that, in and of itself, is stigmatizing.”

Wade, who also serves as the state director for Silver State Equality, an LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, explained that modernizing the laws is important because HIV is treated as though it is different and worse than other communicable diseases, even though it is not.

In 2019, the state’s HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program found that 11,769 Nevadans were living with HIV, with 27.6 percent of that group identified as Black, even though Black Nevadans comprise just 10.3 percent of the state’s population.

Laws criminalizing HIV arose at a time when little was known about the virus and treatment of the disease. However, as medicine has advanced, prevention medications have been created that eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. And public health experts have also learned that the virus does not spread through saliva, tears or sweat, or by hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets or sharing dishes.

Samuel Garrett-Pate, communications director for Silver State Equality, said that outdated HIV laws have actually made it more difficult to contain the spread of the virus because of the stigma associated with the laws.

“We recognize that not only have these laws not worked to protect people from the transmission of HIV,” Garrett-Pate said. “They've actually been counterproductive … They actually discourage testing. They discourage people from learning their status. They discourage people from disclosing their status.”

Harris said she wants to encourage more testing, and an important step in doing that is removing discriminatory language in the law. Her HIV modernization bill includes provisions to update the language around HIV and other communicable diseases and to ensure that people living with HIV are referred to more respectfully in state laws.

Harris also noted the importance of ensuring equality for all through the bill, including for sex workers and inmates. The bill would repeal a Nevada statute that allows for the segregation of inmates who have tested positive for HIV — which would codify into law a directive from a February settlement between the Department of Justice and the Nevada Department of Corrections that banned the segregation practice.

The bill is also aimed at addressing the spread of communicable diseases as a public health matter, rather than through criminalization.

Existing law allows health authorities to take certain action to investigate and control the spread of communicable disease, including ordering a person to be examined for the presence of a disease and ordering the isolation, quarantine or treatment of a person.

The bill would require any such order to include the reasons why the ordered actions are necessary to prevent, suppress or control the communicable disease.

The initiatives come largely from the work of Silver State Equality and the HIV task force.

The task force — established in the 2019 session through SB284, a bill that was sponsored by now termed-out Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas) — was created to address stigma surrounding HIV and to update HIV laws in Nevada based on how the public health understanding of the virus has advanced over previous decades.

Since its commencement, the task force has worked to create a report ahead of the current session that includes many of the recommendations realized in Harris’s bill. And with a provision in the bill that would re-establish the task force for the 2021-22 legislative interim, the task force could continue its work on understanding how Nevada’s HIV laws affect those who have contracted the virus.

Wade and Harris both acknowledged that there is more work to be done beyond what made it into the bill, but Wade said he thinks that the bill does most of what he and the task force sought to accomplish. 

Harris said she has another bill, SB211, that would require primary care providers to offer STD and HIV testing to anyone aged 15 and older and that would work in tandem with SB275.

“Testing, testing, testing, right. If we learned anything from coronavirus, it's, ‘go get tested,’” Harris said. “So that's another piece. I'm hoping that's going to work together with this modernization bill to break down some of those barriers.”

The HIV modernization bill is scheduled for its first hearing during a meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. Harris said she expects a positive response.

“I expect it to be well received,” Harris said. “The task force has done a lot of the groundwork on this… This is a result of months and months and multiple meetings with law enforcement, with [district attorney] aides, with communities of those who are living with HIV… with our health departments, with all of the stakeholders at the table.”

Freshman Orientation: Senator Roberta Lange

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring all the new lawmakers in the state. This is the sixth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

SENATOR ROBERTA LANGE

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds Democratic Sen. David Parks
  • Represents District 7, which includes parts of Las Vegas southeast of the Strip and north of Henderson 
  • District 7 leans heavily Democratic (43.5 percent Democratic, 23.8 percent Republican and 25.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Lange defeated two other candidates — former Assembly members Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — in the 2020 Democratic primary with 38.2 percent of the vote.
  • She did not face an opponent in the 2020 general election
  • She will sit on the Education, Legislative Operations and Elections, and Commerce and Labor committees

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Born in California and raised in Whitefish, Montana, Lange attended and obtained her undergraduate degree from a private Christian college in Southern California on a basketball scholarship (the school is now The Master’s University, but was previously named Los Angeles Baptist College).

After graduating, she moved to Washington state and took a job as a public school teacher. She met her husband, Ken, at a teacher’s conference, and moved to Las Vegas in 1995. She has four adult children.

CAREER

Lange is a retired public school teacher, but is best known for her past involvement with Democratic Party campaign and issues, including serving as chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party from 2011 to 2017.

PROFILE

For a brief period of time in 2016, Roberta Lange was in the center of the national political universe.

The simmering conflict between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary erupted during a raucous Nevada state party convention, filled with accusations of rule-bending and cheating over the awarding of Nevada’s delegates to choose the next Democratic nominee for president.

In the center of the firestorm was Lange — the state party chairwoman, and soon the object of scorn and even death threats from Sanders supporters around the country.

Five years later, Lange said the attacks and attention from her role in the convention have largely evaporated. In talking with Democratic primary voters while running her office, she said she spoke with several Sanders supporters who were at the convention, but was able to have calmer, productive conversations about what had happened.

“People had deep convictions for what they believed in, whether it was Medicare for All, or a progressive agenda, and they want to make sure that that was a part of the overall package moving forward, and that Bernie Sanders was the best messenger for them in that situation,” she said. “I think they still have those convictions. I have my convictions, but now I think we can talk about it.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she said the entirety of the experience re-committed her to involvement in political life.

“After I was able to step away and heal myself, my voice inside of me... said, you still have that conviction, and you can't let it go, you still have to fight for what you believe in,” she said. “And I think it never went away. And it's stronger than ever. And so I think things happen in our lives for a reason, and if we can take those things and grow from it, then we are better in the end.”

Lange’s interest in political issues didn’t begin at an early age — her family largely avoided bringing up the topic, and a similar dynamic awaited her at college. But after moving to Washington to take a teaching job, she joined her teacher’s union and a “whole new world opened up to me.”

She served two terms as president of the Washington State Education Association, spent time as the union’s chief negotiator and lobbied the state legislature on education issues. A memento from that time followed her to Carson City — a framed photo of her (then a teachers’ union lobbyist) sitting at a Washington state senator’s desk, whom she had visited to lobby.

“I remember asking him if I could please sit at his desk,” she said. “And so I'm going to take that picture to Carson City, because I think that's when I first thought that maybe I would like to be in elected office someday. And sometimes those things have a life of their own.”

Lange moved to Nevada in 1995 after meeting her husband at a national teachers convention, taking a job at Durango High School. But her involvement in the political sphere continued apace — taking a position as a deputy campaign manager in U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s 1998 re-election campaign. Additional political stints included work for a congressional candidate (Tom Gallagher), Dina Titus’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and state director for former presidential candidate Bill Richardson in 2008.

She then transitioned to party politics, chairing the Clark County Democratic Party for three years and eventually taking over as chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party in 2011 — a role she held for three two-year terms (she also mounted an unsuccessful bid for Democratic National Committee secretary in 2017).

Despite two decades in either behind-the-scenes or party organization roles, Lange said she always had an interest eventually running for office — finally taking the plunge after longtime Democratic Sen. David Parks termed out of office after the 2019 session. She said it was “hard to run against people that are your friends” — Lange narrowly defeated two former Assembly Democrats in the primary — but that she knew it was her time to run for office.

“I felt like I had gathered all my tools,” she said. “And all the years that I had been in political work, that I would be ready to run whenever the opportunity presented itself. And so, this time was the time.”

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

ON THE ISSUES

Ending the caucus and other election issues

While saying that she wants Nevada to remain early or even first on the presidential nominating calendar, Lange said she would support moving Nevada from a caucus to primary election state.

It’s a move being worked on by Nevada Democrats statewide — part of the jostle between the early states on the primary election calendar — and is likely to come up in the Legislature, with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson proposing a bill that would enable the state to transition away from a caucus to a primary election.

Lange said she liked that the caucus process required presidential candidates to campaign in the community, and hoped that a similar dynamic would continue to exist even if Nevada switched its election process for presidential preference contests.

“Whether we're a caucus state or a primary state, I want the same kinds of things to happen with the candidates, because I think we reflect the fabric of the nation,” she said.

Lange also said she was working on a bill draft that she described as “revisions” to current laws governing political parties, based on her experience as head of the state Democratic Party. She declined to give explicit details as the proposal is still in the works, but said it would include reducing the size of political party conventions and also getting rid of precinct chairs. 

Taxes

Lange declined to stake a position on any of the pending tax issues facing the Legislature, including proposals by the Clark County Education Association to hike the sales and gaming tax rates, measures passed during the 2020 special sessions changing the constitutional limits on mining taxes and any effort to change the property tax formula.

Lange said that she thought teachers should be paid more, but was cautious about pushing for any tax increases given that the state’s economy was still in a recovery phase.

“I'm not a person that thinks we should be governed by petitions,” she said. “I was an educator, where I lobbied and always asked for more money, and more money, and more money to raise salaries, and we never got it. I understand the frustration, and I want to help find a solution. It's just really hard at this time when everybody's getting cuts to talk about how we give more.”

Other legislative proposals

Lange’s list of bill draft request topics cover a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Updating planned unit development laws for counties or cities to streamline the process for businesses to make “minor changes” without going through the normal zoning or code process
  • Education changes, including allowing for college credits if high school students get certain seals on their diplomas, and a civics program that includes community service projects and recognizing “schools of distinction” in civics education
  • A measure related to energy storage
  • Health care changes, including allowing cancer patients to access drugs typically reserved for more serious cancer cases earlier in their treatment, and a measure related to female privacy and medical examinations

Election Preview: State Senate races will determine Democrats’ chances at reaching a super-majority

All it takes is one.

After the 2018 election, Democrats controlled 13 of 21 seats in the state Senate — enough for a clear majority, but one short of a supermajority that could give the party the power to raise taxes and take other major procedural action without a Republican in support. The arrangement was brought into laser-sharp focus through Democrats’ multiple failed attempts to raise mining taxes during the summer special session because they failed to notch a Republican vote.

Now, with less than a month before Election Day, state Senate Democrats are aiming to flip two Republican-held districts while defending two suburban Las Vegas districts they won narrowly in the 2016 election.

It’s unlikely Republicans will gain a majority in the Senate without a major wave that gives them victory over essentially all seats in play and a fifth seat that’s considered generally out of reach. Democrats enjoy a 13-8 advantage in the Senate, and Republicans are aiming to both pick up seats and defend potentially vulnerable districts to ensure that Democrats don’t obtain a supermajority.

As members of the 21-seat state Senate serve four-year terms, only 11 districts are up for re-election in 2020 — and only four are considered to be up for grabs, given relative closeness in voter registration totals. 

Democrats are playing defense in two suburban Las Vegas Senate districts, with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro running against Republican attorney April Becker in District 6, and political newcomer Kristee Watson attempting to keep control of Senate District 5 in a race against Republican charter school leader Carrie Buck (Democratic former Sen. Joyce Woodhouse is termed out of office).

On the flip side, Republicans are fending off challenges to well-funded incumbents Heidi Gansert in Reno (running against Wendy Jauregui-Jackins) and Scott Hammond (running against Liz Becker) in northwest Las Vegas.

Other Senate candidates are facing a much easier walk to re-election — incumbent Democrats Chris Brooks and Pat Spearman didn’t attract a single challenger, while incumbent Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea and Democratic candidate Dina Neal are both running in districts with overwhelmingly favorable voter registration advantages. Former Democratic state party head Roberta Lange overcame robust challenges from sitting lawmakers in the primary election for termed-out Sen. David Parks’ seat, but she does not have a general election opponent.

Some Republican consultants have identified Senate District 11 — where appointed Sen. Dallas Harris is running for the first time against Republican Joshua Dowden — as a potential pickup opportunity in a wave election. However, registered Democrats currently outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly 18-percentage-point margin in the district, making it unlikely that control of the district will flip.

But Republican candidates are for the most part entering the final period before the election with a cash advantage. All four Republicans in swing districts — Gansert, Hammond, Becker and Buck — outraised their opponents over the most recent fundraising quarter, which ran from July to the end of September.

“We've really been focused not only on protecting our incumbents, Sen. Gansert and Sen. Hammond, but really making sure that Carrie Buck and April Becker had a strong team behind them and the resources that needed to compete knowing how close these races have been historically,” said Greg Bailor, director of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The most recent numbers also mean that, save for Cannizzaro, Republicans have cumulatively outraised Democratic candidates since the start of 2019 in three of the four competitive districts. They’re also receiving a boost from several outside groups, including a PAC created by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association that’s raised half a million dollars, and former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison-led PAC (Stronger Nevada PAC) that has raised more than $1.8 million this year and placed substantial television and digital ads attacking Democratic candidates.

But fundraising totals and voter registration data are just some of the factors that determine electoral success, not infallible predictors.

Nevada State Senate Democrats Executive Director Cheryl Bruce said early returns from the first week of mail voting had been a positive indicator, but that candidates and the party would continue pushing hard through the state’s early vote period and Election Day. 

“In races like these that we're playing in, it is always going to be tight, it's always going to be close,” she said. “And so we cannot take anything for granted, and we're not going to. We have reasons to be optimistic, but we're not going to let our foot off the gas.”

While some campaigns got a slower start to door-knocking and canvassing because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruce said that the party recently started using a “hybrid” canvassing system, where volunteers who are comfortable drop campaign literature at doors or have conversations with voters at a six-foot, socially distanced space.

And while the presidential race has sucked up much of the political oxygen, the lack of a statewide race on the ballot (such as governor or U.S. Senate) means that legislative candidates in two races — Cannizzaro and Becker, and Gansert and Jauregui-Jackins — have purchased television advertisements.

No legislative candidates bought television ad time in 2018, and only one — former Sen. Joyce Woodhouse — did so in 2016. Though there are some drawbacks — television ads can’t be geolocated to an individual district and thus likely reach a large number of voters who can’t vote for the candidate — Bruce said that the lack of other major races or a big-money ballot question gave candidates “a little bit more of an opening, both in terms of maximizing our dollars and also cutting through some noise on TV.”

Republicans hope to pin their opponents to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, whose approval ratings have dropped by double digits as economic troubles have carried on, unemployment remains sky high and critics have scrutinized his response to the pandemic. If they block Democrats from holding a two-thirds majority, Republicans can continue to be a relevant part of the policy conversation.

“We're also 200 days plus now into the COVID shutdown and the economic shutdown and seeing the governor continue to struggle to communicate,” Bailor said. “If there is a path to get the Senate back in Republican control, that puts at least a check back on the system of state government. And that is an opportunity to maybe have a more bipartisan conversation when we go to Carson City in 2021.”

Bruce said that even with the governor’s lower approval ratings, Democratic candidates were not shying away from Sisolak’s support or endorsement. She said if anything, voters were more apt to make decisions on down-ballot races based on their reaction to President Trump.

“People are really responding well to the steps and the actions that he's taken to help us weather the storm of the pandemic, both economically and health and safety-wise,” she said. “There is definitely a very strong sense of anger towards the Trump administration right now, and really DC politics in general, that I think is going to probably play a factor in these races.”

As for Republicans? 

“Nobody's shying away from the party ticket,” Bailor said. “But with our messaging, we're not talking about national issues. We're talking about local issues at the state level.” 

Below, The Nevada Independent explores those four Senate races this year. Click here to read more about the Assembly races and check out our election page for more information overall on the 2020 election.

Senate District 5 

Republican former charter school principal Carrie Buck is trying for the third time to win a seat in the swingy Henderson-area district held by termed-out Democrat Joyce Woodhouse. Buck lost to Woodhouse by less than one percentage point in 2016 and proffered herself as a potential replacement in an unsuccessful attempt to recall Woodhouse in 2017.

Currently the head of Pinecrest Foundation, which supports the now eight-school Pinecrest Academy charter school network, Buck raised $211,066 in the latest quarter and spent $60,562, leaving her with $246,023 heading into the final month of her campaign. Her fundraising eclipses that of Democrat Kristee Watson, who reported raising $115,055 and spending $161,266, leaving her with $123,686 to spend in the home stretch.

Buck said her priority bills would require students to read at grade level by fifth grade, and she wants to develop the workforce by identifying available jobs and working backwards to what can prepare middle and high schoolers for those openings. 

Watson is the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada. She ran for an Assembly seat in 2018, but lost to Republican Melissa Hardy by about nine percentage points.

Libertarian and retired electrical engineer Tim Hagan is also competing in the race and reported $6,000 in contributions last quarter, all from an in-kind donation for video production. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Democrats hold a roughly 6 percent voter registration advantage in the district over Republicans as of the most recent registration data available, with 37.7 percent registered as Democrats, 31.8 percent registered Republicans and 24 percent nonpartisan. Senate District 5 includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. 

At the same time in 2016, Democrats represented about 38.9 percent of registered voters compared to roughly 34 percent of Republicans, or about a 5 point difference in voter registration advantage (with about 20.1 percent of voters registered as nonpartisan). 

Senate District 6 - Cannizzaro/Becker

Prosecutor and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro is in a fierce contest to keep her swingy Summerlin-area seat this cycle. She faces Republican real estate attorney April Becker in a race that is a referendum on one of the most powerful decision makers in the Legislature and therefore the direction of the body as a whole, including bills passed on narrow margins and late-night hearings on major policy.

“There's plenty to campaign on right now, just over the behavior of the Senate majority, the politics that were played,” Bailor said. “It's unnecessary, especially when we are dealing with such a large economic burden and such a health care crisis.”

Cannizzaro raised $193,131 in the latest quarter and spent $302,972, with a massive war chest of $581,936 cash on hand heading into the final month of the campaign. Becker topped her fundraising haul in the latest quarter, bringing in $248,668, but spent $217,527 and has less cash on hand — $181,011 — heading into the last month of the campaign.

Cannizzaro’s television campaign focuses largely on health care — touting votes for protecting people with pre-existing conditions and ending surprise hospital billing — while accusing Becker of being supported by politicians who support repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Bruce said that Cannizzaro’s campaign was focused largely on the twin points of health care and education, while also addressing the state’s pandemic response and recovery. She said many of the complaints about the rushed legislative process during the special sessions came from lobbyists or other legislative watchers and not from normal citizens.

“It's kind of a disconnect between what the general lobby corp and Carson City insiders would say, versus what every day voter and citizen in Nevada would say about that,” she said.

A centerpiece of Becker’s campaign has been riding around her district in a bright blue ice cream truck meeting voters. Her ads accuse Cannizzaro of voting to raise her own pay (through support of annual legislative sessions) and promises that she’ll donate her legislative salary to teachers.

Becker also criticized moves to scale back Opportunity Scholarships, which give businesses tax credits for donations to scholarships that families can use to attend private schools, and argues that “we need to stiffen penalties on dangerous felons.”

Democrats hold about an 8 point voter registration advantage in this district over Republicans, with the most recent data showing the district’s more than 84,000 voters to have 39.7 percent registered Democrats, 31.8 percent registered Republicans, and 22.4 percent registered nonpartisan.

That’s a slightly smaller percentage advantage than the 8.5 percent registration advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2016, which saw registration made up of 40.9 percent registered Democrats, 32.4 percent registered Republicans and 19.2 percent registered non-partisan. 

In 2016, Cannizzaro narrowly defeated former Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman by slightly more than 1,000 votes out of more than 56,000 cast.

Democrats upped their total registered voter advantage by about 2,000 over the four-year period (4,691 advantage in 2016 and 6,684 in 2020), though the total number of registered voters in the district also jumped by more than 14,000 over the same four-year period.

Senate District 15 

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert is seeking re-election to her Reno-area district. She raised $201,665 in the last quarter and spent $191,223, leaving her with $282,068 on the eve of the election.

Gansert is the executive director of external relations at the University of Nevada, Reno, and served as chief of staff to former Gov. Brian Sandoval. 

“She grew up in that community, she's served multiple sessions in assembly, and now the Senate,” Bailor said. “People know Heidi. And that's also something that's gonna help — she's (part of the) fabric of that community.”

Bruce said there was a “big difference” in the dynamics of Gansert’s 2020 race after two terms in the Legislature,  as opposed to her initial 2016 state Senate bid, where she defeated attorney Devon Reese by an 11-point margin.

“She can't necessarily paint herself as this moderate this time when she has a voting record to answer for,” she said.

Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui. Jauregui-Jackins reported raising more than $126,000 over the last three months, spending just under $100,000 and keeping roughly $133,000 in cash on hand. 

Similar to Cannizzaro, Jauregui-Jackins’s television ad focuses largely on health care issues and claims Gansert took campaign dollars from drug and insurance companies and voted against a resolution urging Congress to not repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Gansert has responded directly to that ad, releasing a response touting her votes for drug transparency legislation, birth control access legislation and a vote in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

One possible sign of concern for Gansert comes in voter registration trends; Democrats now enjoy a narrow 841-person voter registration lead over Republicans in the district, a flip from the same point in 2016 when Republicans held a 1,641-person advantage in registered voters.

Senate District 18 

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond is seeking to maintain a seat he’s held since 2012 representing a Republican-leaning, northwestern portion of Las Vegas. He raised $131,762 and spent $65,050 last quarter, holding $90,095 heading into the final leg of the race.

A former teacher who now works as Director of Community Outreach for the Nevada Contractors Association, Hammond’s campaign has involved convening weekly telephone town halls on topics relating to the pandemic.

He will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November. She is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority who lists environmental issues and gun violence prevention among her top campaign priorities.  

Becker’s funding falls far short of Hammond’s, though — she raised $24,161, or less than a fifth of what Hammond did in the most recent quarter.

Becker spent $16,493 and had $41,650 cash on hand with a month left to go in the race.

Democrats account for 33.7 percent of active registered voters in the district, while Republicans have 37.5 percent.

The Indy Explains: Question 3, changing Nevada’s pardons and sentence commutations process

Guards walk inside High Desert State Prison as seen on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019.

Formal name: State Board of Pardons Commissioners Amendment

Type of measure: Legislative resolution to amend the Nevada Constitution

Summary of what it does: Since Nevada’s Constitution was adopted in 1864, the document has granted the governor, attorney general and members of the state Supreme Court the power to “remit fines and forfeitures,” “commute punishments” and “grant pardons, after convictions.”

This pardon power has limitations; it requires the governor to be on the prevailing side and limits any sentence commutation for the death penalty or life imprisonment. It also can’t grant pardons in cases of treason or impeachment.

Unlike the president’s pardon power, a pardon in Nevada does not seal criminal records or effectively erase a past criminal conviction. Instead, it “removes all disabilities resulting from conviction thereof.” As the state Board of Pardon Commissioners says on its website: “A pardon forgives but does not forget.”

Once inmates are released from incarceration, Nevada law (as of 2019) restores to them the right to vote, but certain other civil rights such as gun ownership or ability to serve on a jury cannot be restored unless they are granted a pardon.

In practice, this power is executed by the State Board of Pardon Commissioners, which is cited and has some of its other practices and functions outlined in state law, including a requirement to meet at least twice a year. 

If approved by voters, Question 3 would make several constitutional changes affecting the Board of Pardon Commissioners.

In addition to actually naming the board in the Constitution, the amendment would require the board to meet quarterly, and allow any member of the board to bring items forward for consideration (as opposed to just the governor). It also removes the requirement that the governor be part of the majority for any decision made by the board, removing that effective veto power.

Pardons board secretary Denise Davis told lawmakers in 2019 that the board averages between 10 to 15 applications pardon applications per year and another four to five requests from current inmates for sentence commutations.

Pardon applications can either come from a form on the pardons website, or be submitted to the board by one of the nine members. Pardon applications don’t just automatically go to the board; the Division of Parole and Probation conducts an investigation into the individual and produces a packet of information for board members to consider. 

Investigations take about a month each, but pardons officials told lawmakers in 2019 that the number of pardon requests has increased significantly in recent years, with a backlog at the time of about 200 pending applications. Davis told lawmakers that the process of an application being submitted and an investigation being completed can take up to two years.

What have other states done?: According to the Restoration of Rights Project, which tracks state policies on pardons, Nevada is one of four states (along with Florida, Minnesota, and Nebraska) that has a “shared power” pardon administration board with the governor serving on the board itself. 

Minnesota and Florida both require the governor to be part of the majority decision to grant a pardon, while Nebraska only requires a simple majority vote with or without the governor’s approval.

Six states have an independent pardons board, with another 22 — including Nevada — operating under a shared power system, where the governor and some kind of state board or agency work together to make decisions about pardons. Another 29 states have permissive consultation systems, where governors can grant pardons with or without consulting with a separate pardons board.

The Restoration of Rights Project considers Nevada to be in a group of 17 states with frequent and regular use of pardon powers, meaning they both have an established pardons process and a significant number of applications for a pardon are granted.

Arguments for passing Question 3: Backers of the ballot question (in a digest submitted to the secretary of state’s office) say that the changes in Question 3 will allow the Board of Pardons Commissioners to process its work “in a more timely and efficient manner.”

Backers say that in six of the last ten years, the pardons board has only met once during the calendar year, creating a backlog of applications for pardons and sentence commutations. Requiring the board to meet quarterly would allow for a more timely processing of those applications.

Removing the power of the governor to veto applications would also make the board more democratic and allow pardons to be granted based on the “collective wisdom” of the board, as opposed to just relying on the whims of the governor.

“The measure gives the ability for the Board members to schedule a case they feel has merit,” state Sen. James Ohrenschall said during a hearing on the measure last year. “If members know the governor believes the case does not have merit, the case rarely gets scheduled because it seems pointless.”

Arguments against passing Question 3: Opponents say (in a digest submitted to the secretary of state’s office) that requiring the board to meet quarterly may be inefficient, as it may have to meet even if there is a lack of qualified applicants.

They also say that as the chief executive of the state, the governor should be afforded the right to block decisions by the pardons board to grant clemency. They also say allowing other members of the board to propose matters “diminishes the Governor’s constitutional power and ability to act in the best interest of justice and fairness.”

“I am wondering why we would remove the veto power when he has the veto power to stop any one of our bills going through from the Legislative Branch, the second highest elected body,” Assemblyman Jim Wheeler said during a hearing on the bill in 2017. “Why would we take that power away from him?”

How Question 3 qualified for the ballot: What eventually became Question 3 on the 2020 ballot started out in the 2017 Legislature, where a quartet of Democratic lawmakers (David Parks, Tick Segerblom, Mark Manendo and James Ohrenshall) introduced the proposed constitutional change as Senate Joint Resolution 1.

As originally drafted, the measure would have replaced the Board of Pardons with a separate Clemency Board, with members appointed by the governor and other elected officials while fulfilling the same role of reviewing applications and granting pardons. A similar measure was introduced in the 2009 Legislature, but died after not coming back up for a vote in the 2011 Legislature.

But SJR1 was later amended to the current version, which keeps the current pardons board structure in place with several changes; bill sponsor Sen. David Parks said that was the wish of the seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court.

The resolution ultimately passed unanimously out of the Senate and on a 33-8 vote in the Assembly in 2017. It was approved again in the 2019 Legislature, passing unanimously in the Senate and on a 37-2 vote in the Assembly.

Primary funders: No political action committees or groups supporting or opposing this ballot measure have been formed.

Financial impact: A Legislative Counsel Bureau fiscal analysis of the ballot question found that adoption would likely cost the state possibly up to a quarter million dollars a year, because of more meetings and additional staff needed to process an expanded workload.

The ballot question’s requirement that the Board of Pardon Commissioners meet quarterly will likely increase the base cost of holding meetings, as the board previously only met once or twice a year. Fiscal analysts said the average cost to hold a meeting, based on historical expenses, is around $4,250.

The state’s Division of Parole and Probation, which provides staff support to the board, also indicated to fiscal analysts that the expected increased workload — both through the additional meetings and allowing any member of the board to bring matters for consideration — would require an additional two staff members to handle caseload (at a cost of $175,000 per fiscal year) and an administrative position, costing $65,000 per fiscal year.

Status: If approved by a majority of voters, the language in Question 3 will become part of Nevada’s Constitution on Nov. 24.

The Indy Explains: Question 2, removing same-sex marriage ban from Nevada’s constitution

Formal name: Marriage Regardless of Gender Amendment

Type of measure: Legislative resolution to amend the Nevada Constitution

Summary of what it does: If approved, this ballot question would overturn an (unenforced and deemed unconstitutional) section of the Nevada Constitution holding that “only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.”

It would replace that language with a provision that the state and all political subdivisions shall recognize marriage and issue marriage licenses regardless of gender. Religious organizations and members of clergy would be granted the right to refuse to participate in such marriage ceremonies without creating any right of claim against the organization or member of the clergy.

Nevada voters initially approved the ban on same-sex marriage through a voter-driven initiative petition; it passed in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles. Voters in the 2002 election supported the measure on a 67 to 33 percent split.

In 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court struck down Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban, saying it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That decision effectively enjoined the marriage ban in the state Constitution, allowing county clerks in October 2014 to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Nationally, all state-based same-sex marriage bans were overturned in 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. That decision, authored by former Justice Anthony Kennedy, overruled same-sex marriage bans in 30 states and found that the right to marry (regardless of gender) is protected under the Constitution’s due process clause.

Nevada lawmakers in 2017 approved AB229, which updated state law to recognize and authorize the issuing of marriage licenses regardless of gender. 

Passing Question 2 in 2020 would not change any marriage practices in Nevada, but would remove the unenforceable and struck-down language regarding marriage from the state’s Constitution.

What have other states done? Of the 30 states that had passed or implemented a same-sex marriage ban prior to the high court’s Obergefell decision, Nevada is the first to bring forth a ballot question reversing its previously enacted same-sex marriage ban.

Arguments for passing Question 2: Supporters of the ballot question (in a digest published by the secretary of state’s office) say approval would take “discriminatory language” out of Nevada’s constitution and ensure “marriage equality for all Nevadans.”

They also say the religious exemption preserves the “constitutional right to religious freedom,” and won’t force individual clergy to perform a marriage. They further argue that domestic partnerships, which were previously allowed under Nevada law, are not equal either legally or for tax purposes to a marriage. 

Arguments against passing Question 2: Opponents (in a digest published by the secretary of state’s office) say the measure is unnecessary and that domestic partnerships are “a viable option for same-sex couples in Nevada.”

They also state that same-sex marriage “raises serious questions” about the right to religious freedom in Nevada, and that voters are being asked two decades later to approve a change on an issue that voters already decided twice at the ballot box.

How Question 2 qualified for the ballot: This question comes to voters after being approved during the last two sessions of the Legislature.

The initial version of the constitutional amendment (AJR2) was introduced in the 2017 Legislature and sponsored by former Assemblyman Nelson Araujo and state Sen. David Parks. It passed on a party-line 27-14 vote in the Assembly, but on a 19-2 vote in the state Senate after it was amended to include language on religious exemption. 

AJR2 returned to the 2019 Legislature, where it passed on a 37-2 vote in the Assembly and on a 19-2 vote in the Senate, sending the proposed constitutional change to the 2020 ballot.

Primary funders: No political action committees supporting or opposing the ballot question have been formed. 

A coalition of progress groups, including the ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, Human Rights Campaign, Make the Road Nevada, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Planned Parenthood Advocates and Silver State Equality formed a “Yes on Question 2” coalition in early September.

Financial impact: There is no anticipated financial impact expected if Question 2 passes, given that same-sex marriage is already recognized in Nevada.

Status: If approved by a majority of voters, the language in Question 2 will become part of Nevada’s Constitution on Nov. 24, 2020.

Legislative candidates raised $1.8 million over last three months, campaign finance reports show

The Nevada Legislature Building

It’s been more than a month since races were called in Nevada’s June primary election, but campaign finance reports showing who helped legislative candidates win their contests have only just been published.

Under a state law approved in 2019 and taking effect this election cycle, local and state candidates for elected office are required to file reports detailing their contributions and political spending every three months, similar to requirements for federal candidates. 

But unlike federal candidates, who are required to disclose their donors and political spending ahead of primary and general elections, no such requirement was made in Nevada law for statewide or legislative candidates — leaving voters and the public in the dark on the last two months of fundraising before the state’s primary election.

Reports were required to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, July 15, and cover the period between April 1 and June 30.

In total, legislative candidates reported raising more than $1.8 million and spending $1.9 million during that three-month reporting period. Candidates ended the period with a combined $4.7 million in the bank, led by Democratic legislative leaders Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro ($692,000) and Speaker Jason Frierson ($442,900).

Although only one incumbent legislative candidate lost re-election in the primary (Republican Chris Edwards), the fundraising reports shine a light into the breadth and scope of political fundraising that occurred ahead of some of the state’s most hard-fought primary contents.

Campaign finance reports also provide an inside look into what races each political party thinks will be the most competitive come November, as well as a sense of how much influence certain groups, businesses or other politically powerful interests may have come the 2021 legislative session.

Democrats currently control 29 of 42 seats in the Assembly and 13 of 21 seats in the Senate. A seat flipped in the Senate would give the party a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses.

Fundraising totals reported on Wednesday are significant for another reason: it marks the last time for several weeks that lawmakers will be able to fundraise because of blackout rules around the ongoing special legislative session. State law prohibits any legislator from collecting campaign contributions during a special session and for at least 15 days afterwards — meaning many incumbents in tough races will be at a temporary disadvantage while their opponents can continue fundraising.

Here’s a look at how the fundraising battle played out in some of the state's top legislative primaries, and the state of play in competitive districts a few months before the November general election.

COMPETITIVE PRIMARIES

Senate District 7 

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange claimed a narrow victory of 132 votes over Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel and, with no general election opponents, will take the seat, which covers parts of eastern Las Vegas and Henderson.

Lange, who was endorsed by the Nevada State Democratic Caucus, trailed far behind Spiegel in spending and fundraising in the first quarter but dominated in both areas in the second quarter, spending $136,000 and raising $66,000, $5,000 of which came from an in-kind donation of a poll from Nevada State Democrats. 

Her long list of donors included several Democratic senators, including $5,000 each from Cannizzaro's campaign and PACs connected to Mo Denis, Yvanna Cancela and Joyce Woodhouse. Other top donors included $5,000 from the Nevada Hispanic Leadership Fund and $5,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, a PAC formed to combat the influence of big business and the insurance industry in politics.

The majority of her spending went to advertising. She also spent more than $18,000 on polling and gave $2,500 to Cannizzaro's campaign.

Lange ended the second quarter with just $2,600 in cash on hand, more than $139,000 less than Spiegel's war chest, and will join the Legislature in 2021. 

Assembly District 2

In a Republican primary saturated with candidates, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama emerged victorious, with 47.9 percent of the vote. To represent the Southern Nevada district, Kasama will go toe-to-toe with Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor.

During the three-month fundraising period in the second quarter, Kasama reported raising $16,385 and spending about $57,000 on expenses related to advertising, consultants and other costs. She ended the second quarter with about $63,600 in cash-on-hand, largely supported by $56,000 she gave her campaign in the first quarter.

Kasama’s top contributions included $3,000 from Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt’s campaign fund, $2,500 from Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’s campaign, $1,000 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts’ campaign and $1,000 from the Business Leaders for Ethical Government PAC, which also contributed to Sen. Julia Ratti in 2018.

Kunnel’s contribution totals for the second quarter are much lower than the donations Kasama received. During the three-month donation period, Kunnel received $5,518 in contributions, $2,000 of which are demarcated as in-kind donations. She also received a $900 donation from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign fund.

The 2 percentage point Republican voter registration advantage in the district indicates Kasama could have the advantage.

Assembly District 4

Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk ran unopposed in the primary and is set to face former GOP Assemblyman Richard McArthur in the northwest Las Vegas Valley Assembly district’s general election. 

Munk, who eked out a narrow victory against McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast, reported raising $18,154 during the second quarter, with about $280 in in-kind donations. 

Her largest contribution was $3,000 from the Citizens for Justice PAC (trial lawyers). She reported spending about $2,800 on mostly advertising and some office expenses, ending the second quarter with more than $87,000 cash on hand.

Fundraising for McArthur lagged behind Munk for the first two quarters. McArthur reported $700 in contributions during the second quarter, spending roughly $12,500 on expenses related to advertising and ending the second quarter with about $15,500 cash on hand.

McArthur defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, in the primary by securing 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9. That comes in spite of Gibson outspending him by more than $43,000 in the first quarter and almost $83,000 in the second quarter.

McArthur served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, including two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by less than 1 percentage point, the race between Munk and McArthur could be close.

Assembly District 19

Republican Chris Edwards was the only lawmaker to lose in a primary election this cycle, after being outraised in the most recent fundraising quarter by opponent and Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black.

Black, who easily defeated Edwards in the primary election with 61 percent of the vote, reported raising more than $67,700 during the three-month fundraising period, including $9,000 in personal loans, $5,000 in in-kind contributions from a graphics company and nearly $6,000 in contributions under $100. She reported spending roughly $30,700, including repayment of loans, and ended the period with about $27,900 in cash on hand.

Her top donors included several family members, the holding company of Planet 13 marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, the Nevada REALTORS PAC and a PAC run by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, a former legislative colleague of Edwards who once famously told him to “sit your ass down” on the Assembly floor.

Edwards reported raising $17,800, including sizable sums from Assembly Republicans Robin Titus, Al Kramer, Glen Leavitt and a PAC affiliated with Tom Roberts. He reported spending just over $28,300 and ended the period with $7,100 in cash on hand.

As no Democrats or other candidates filed to run in the race, Black will automatically be elected to the Legislature at the general election.

TOP 2020 GENERAL ELECTION RACES

Assembly District 29

Democratic incumbent Lesley Cohen will face Steven DeLisle, a dentist with several offices in Southern Nevada, in November. Cohen represented the Henderson Assembly district, a swing district, from 2012 to 2014 and lost her re-election bid to Stephen Silberkraus before reclaiming the seat in 2016.

Cohen leads DeLisle in fundraising and cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. Her $17,500 raised was boosted with a $5,000 contribution from Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton's campaign and donations from unions, including $1,500 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and several PACS connected to firefighters in Nevada.

After spending $1,900 mostly on office expenses, she ended the period with more than $83,000 in available cash.

DeLisle, who took 63 percent of the vote in his Republican primary, raised $11,300 this period. His biggest donor was the conservative Keystone Corporation PAC with a $5,000 donation. He also received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and $500 from Republican Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, who represents part of Washoe County and several rural counties. 

DeLisle spent nearly $18,000 more than Cohen in the second quarter on a mix of advertising, consultants and office expenses. He has nearly $55,000 in available cash.

Assembly District 37

In one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle, the Democratic incumbent Shea Backus is squaring off against Republican challenger Andy Matthews, former president of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. 

Backus won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018, and Matthews beat out the three other Republicans in the primary election by carrying 49 percent of the vote.

During the second quarter, Matthews reported raising $39,182. His largest donations came in three $5,000 contributions — one from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ campaign, another from William Brady, owner of hospitality industry supplier Brady Industries, and the third from Keystone Corporation, a PAC supporting Nevada conservatives. 

Matthews spent more than $113,000 on expenses related to travel, advertising, consultants and office supplies, ending the second quarter with a cash-on-hand balance of $40,457. 

Though Matthews’ spending far outstripped that of any other candidate in the district, Backus has a higher cash-on-hand fund of $136,421 heading into the general election. During the second quarter she reported receiving $28,496 in contributions with top donations amounting to $8,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, $2,500 from Southwest Gas and another $2,500 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, a union of heavy equipment operators.

Backus’ expenses for the second quarter amounted to $4,600, which went toward advertising and office expenses.

Senate District 5

There are three candidates on the ballot for the general election in Senate District 5, which includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. The district is currently represented by Democrat Joyce Woodhouse, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Democratic candidate Kristee Watson led contributions in the district this period, reporting donations of $53,303, while Republican Carrie Buck reported $34,202 and Libertarian Tim Hagan reported none. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Watson, the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada, saw major contributions from the Women’s Empowerment PAC, AFSCME, the Nevada Service Employees Union and Citizens for Justice. She also received $2,500 from the Committee to Elect Sen. Dallas Harris. 

Watson reported only $740 in spending and a cash on hand balance of just over $169,000. Buck has a lower reported cash on hand balance at $95,519, and the Republican candidate has been spending far more, reporting $12,386 during the same period, with nearly $12,000 of that going towards consulting.

Buck received a $10,000 contribution from the Keystone Corporation in April and $5,000 from the campaign of Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer. She has also received large donations from the PAC Nevadans for Integrity in Politics and Associated General Contractors.

Hagan has reported $0 in spending and $0 cash on hand.

Senate District 6

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro narrowly won her first bid for office in 2016, and appears headed to another close contest against Republican attorney April Becker in one of the most important legislative races on the ballot.

Cannizzaro raised more dollars during the fundraising period than any other candidate — $114,000 — and ended June with more than $692,000 in cash on hand, with reported spending less than $8,800.

Her top donors included 13 entities giving $5,000, including many labor groups; AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Nevada Service Employees Union, and firefighter unions in North Las Vegas and Henderson. She also received $5,000 contributions from the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Eglet Adams law firm, the leadership PAC of Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Majority 2020 PAC (which is run by Cannizzaro).

Her largest reported spending was a $5,000 contribution to Democratic state Senate candidate Roberta Lange.

On the Republican side, Becker reported raising nearly $51,700 and spending close to $58,000 during the reporting period, ending with nearly $150,000 in the bank. 

Her top contributions including $10,000 from the conservative Keystone Corporation, and $5,000 each from Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’s campaign and a construction company owned by former casino executive William Richardson. 

Senate District 15

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert emerged as one of the top fundraisers of the cycle, reporting nearly $79,000 in contributions and sitting on the biggest pile of campaign cash of any legislative Republican ($271,000) in her first re-election bid for this Reno-area district. 

Her top donors included $10,000 each from the company operating the Stratosphere and a PAC operated by former Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison, as well as $5,000 from Reno Assemblywoman Jill Tolles and $2,500 from her own PAC (NV First).

She reported spending just over $74,000 during the fundraising period, which primarily went to consultant and advertising expenses.

But Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who both easily beat back a primary challenge in June and reported raising more than $72,000 (including $13,000 in in-kind contributions) during the fundraising cycle.

Her biggest donors included $10,000 from the federal Teamsters PAC, $5,000 each from AFSCME and labor-backed Nevada Republic Alliance, as well as donations from other Democratic elected officials and affiliated PACs; Joyce Woodhouse, Marilyn Dondero-Loop, Dallas Harris, Yvanna Cancela, Melanie Schieble, Attorney General Aaron Ford and even U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s federal leadership PAC.

Jauregui-Jackins reported only $4,500 in spending and has $117,500 in cash on hand.

Senate District 18

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November in an effort to maintain his Senate District 18 seat. Hammond has held the seat, which represents the northwestern portion of Las Vegas, since 2012. 

Hammond has reported contributions of $25,000 in the second period of 2020 including $5,000 from the Keystone Corporation, and $2,000 each from District 22 Assemblyman Keith Pickard, the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Enterprise Holdings Inc PAC and Cox Communications. Hammond has reported $69,394 in spending, mostly on consulting and special event costs. He has a reported cash on hand of $23,383.

Becker, who dominated the Democratic primary with 88 percent of the vote, is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority. Becker has reported raising $23,501 during the three-month period including $5,000 from AFSCME, who also endorsed the candidate in her primary. 

Becker reported spending far lower than her opponent at $1,918.13 in the same period, with the majority going towards office expenses. While her contributions for the period were lower, Becker’s reported total cash on hand is higher than her opponents at $30,268.14.

What to watch in Nevada’s 2020 primary election

The first results from Nevada’s unique, mostly mail primary election will finally be released on Tuesday after more than a month of voting, but calling some of the state’s top races could take up to 10 days. 

A substantial number of high-profile races will eventually be decided out of Tuesday’s election, including Republican challengers to Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, both who represent swing districts and have attracted a broad field of GOP candidates.

But congressional races aside, several major legislative races will be decided in the primary election, and two state Supreme Court seats could also be decided if candidates achieve more than 50 percent of the vote. Other major races include contests for seats on the Clark County Commission and a hotly contested Reno City Council race.

Polls will close at 7 p.m. on Election Night, with counties expected to turn in their initial vote totals to the state by about 8:30 p.m.

As of Monday, more than 343,000 people had cast a ballot for the primary election, or about 18.7 percent of all registered voters. The vast majority of ballots have been cast by mail (339,853), while around 2,971 people have cast a ballot through in-person early voting.

The change in process is likely to help contribute to a higher turnout than most primary elections. The 2018 primary election saw about 22.9 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, for a total turnout of 329,863. 

But the switch to a primarily mail-only election has a drawback: potential delays in determining the winners of close election contests. Ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by election officials within seven days will be counted, and county election officials have 10 days to certify the results of an election and declare a winner.

Below, check out The Nevada Independent’s preview of the major races up on Election Night. Editors Jon Ralston and Elizabeth Thompson will host a live election show beginning at 7:30 p.m., which can be viewed here.

The Washoe County Registrar of Voters on June 8, 2020. Photo by David Calvert.

NEVADA SUPREME COURT: Two seats are on the ballot: Chief Justice Kristina Pickering is defending her seat amid challenges from lawyers Esther Rodriguez and Thomas Christensen. And in the open seat held by Mark Gibbons, Judge Douglas Herndon faces off against lawyers Erv Nelson and Ozzie Fumo, the latter of whom is a sitting Assembly member.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 2: Several Democrats including Clint Koble, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018, are vying for the nomination and chance to face off with Republican Rep. Mark Amodei. The district is safely Republican, meaning even the winner of the Democratic primary enters a long-shot general election contest. Read our preview here.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 3: A feisty Republican primary is playing out in this swingy Southern Nevada district held by Democratic Rep. Susie Lee. The GOP field includes former wrestler Dan Rodimer, former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and pro-Trump actress Mindy Robinson. Read our preview here.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4: A parade of Republicans is vying to face off with Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in a district that includes North Las Vegas and rural, central Nevada. GOP contenders include businesswoman Lisa Song Sutton, former Assemblyman Jim Marchant and Nye County Commissioner Leonardo Blundo, among others. Read our preview here.

REGENTS: Four of the 13 nonpartisan seats on the board overseeing the Nevada System of Higher Education are up for grabs, and the primary will narrow the field of candidates to two. One district features former Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus and former state Senate candidate Byron Brooks; another pits former regent Bret Whipple against former Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. Read our preview here.

ASSEMBLY: Democrats are all but guaranteed to retain their majority heading into the 2021 legislative session, but the question is whether Republicans can score enough seats to get out of a weak “superminority” status, in which Democrats can pass taxes without a single GOP vote. The most interesting contests include primaries in swingy suburban districts. Read our preview here.

SENATE: One race for state Senate will be decided in the primary — Senate District 7, a seat held by termed-out Democrat David Parks. The Democratic primary pits two Assembly members — Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — against former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange, who has the endorsement of state Senate Democrats. Read our preview here.

CLARK COUNTY COMMISSION: Four seats are up for grabs on the powerful Clark County Commission, including incumbents Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Michael Naft running for additional terms. Crowded Democratic primaries in seats held by termed-out Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Larry Brown have drawn some familiar names, including former Secretary of State Ross Miller (District C) and Assemblyman William McCurdy, state Sen. Mo Denis and North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron (District D). Read our preview here.

RENO CITY COUNCIL: Four councilmembers are running for re-election in 2020, including Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus who is in a bitter fight with two well-funded opponents, including one endorsed by Mayor Hillary Schieve. Council members Devon Reese, Neoma Jardon and Oscar Delgado are also running for re-election. Read our preview here.

SPARKS CITY COUNCIL: Three seats on the Sparks City Council have attracted 10 candidates, with each race seeing well-funded incumbents try to fend off multiple opponents. Read our preview here.

CARSON CITY MAYOR & SUPERVISORS: Longtime Mayor Bob Crowell is termed out, and with two incumbents not running for re-election, the Carson City Board of Supervisors will have three new faces come 2021. Read our preview here.

DOUGLAS COUNTY COMMISSION: Three of the five seats on the Douglas County Commission are on the ballot, and they’ll be all but decided in the primary because no Democrats filed for the seats. One race features Danny Tarkanian, who has run unsuccessfully for major offices in Southern Nevada before moving north, against incumbent Dave Nelson. Read our preview here

WASHOE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Fifteen candidates have filed to run in the four seats up for election for the board overseeing the state’s second-largest school district, including incumbents Scott Kelley and Angela Taylor. Read our preview here.

CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Thirty candidates are competing for four nonpartisan seats on the board that governs the nation’s fifth largest school district. Three seats are open after trustees termed out; in a fourth, Trustee Lola Brooks is seeking reelection. The primary will narrow the field to the top two, although a candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the vote wins outright. Read our preview here.

NEVADA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: The four elected positions on the 11-member board that works in tandem with the state Department of Education are up for grabs. Felicia Ortiz and Mark Newburn are defending their seats, while five candidates are vying for a spot representing a Las Vegas district and a lone candidate — Katie Coombs — is seeking a seat in a Northern Nevada district. Read our preview here.

JUDGES: Numerous judge positions are on the ballot, including District Court and Family Court hopefuls. Read our guide on Clark County judge races here.