Despite federal eviction ban lifting, Nevada housing advocates say not to panic

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Biden Administration's most recent pause on evictions, Nevada housing advocates and state officials had one message to share: Do not panic.

Though the high court’s late Thursday decision places hundreds of thousands of tenants across the country at risk of eviction amid a slow rollout of federal rent relief funds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants in Nevada are still protected by AB486, Nevada Legal Services Senior Attorney Daniel Hansen said. The law, passed during the 2021 legislative session, aims to ensure that landlords do not evict individuals because of backlogs in rental aid disbursement.

"For the most part, AB486 does cover basically everything the CDC moratorium did, and in some cases is a stronger protection than the CDC moratorium was," Hansen said in an interview Friday. "It did create additional requirements because it adds mediation protection; it does create a cause of action against landlords who are extremely bad actors. There are repercussions under AB486."

Under the state’s eviction prevention measure, tenants cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent as long as they are actively pursuing rental assistance, or if a landlord is not cooperating with the rental assistance process or has refused to accept rental assistance. The law also establishes a path for landlords looking to recoup rents lost because of the pandemic. 

Jim Berchtold, the directing attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada's Consumer Rights project, said the CDC moratorium only protected a tiny sliver of evictions not covered under AB486, including those who were denied rental assistance.

"The question really for those [denied] people is: What happens now?" Berchtold said. "Now there are these cases, this bucket of cases that have been stayed under the CDC moratorium that is no longer valid. So we just don't know how the court is going to deal with those cases."

It remains to be seen whether landlords in those cases will have to go back and ask for an eviction order to be reissued or whether the court will do it automatically, Berchtold said.

"We're trying to obviously get out information to tenants to let them know that this has happened," he said. "There's no point in getting a CDC declaration anymore, and if you have a declaration, it doesn't protect you. The message is 486, 486, 486."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest ban on evictions was enacted on Aug. 3 in response to the emergence of the Delta variant and the rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, and amid pressure by Democrats after the Biden administration allowed the prior moratorium to lapse. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had said the ban would provide time for relief to reach renters and increase vaccination rates.

The new moratorium followed the expiration of the federal moratorium at the end of July — and an announcement from Gov. Steve Sisolak that he would not be extending the state-directed moratorium further.

Members of the state's congressional delegation also pointed to state measures to deflect concerns over the brunt of the ruling. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she was concerned about the decision, but that “the state enacted AB486, which protects eligible tenants who are awaiting rental assistance from being evicted.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote to Democratic members of the House on Friday to highlight actions taken by the Treasury Department Wednesday to help expedite getting more of the $46.5 billion in rental aid to those who need it. Those actions included allowing self-attestation with regard to financial hardship, risk of homelessness or housing instability and income.

Pelosi also said Congress would continue to look at legislative options, though an effort to extend the moratorium before it expired failed. 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) also called for Congress to act. 

“Days before the expiration of the July 31st moratorium, I wrote to congressional leadership urging swift action to extend the moratorium. My stance hasn’t changed; we need to protect millions of Americans at risk of homelessness as COVID spreads,” Titus said.

But a legislative solution appears out of reach, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“If there were enough votes to pass an eviction moratorium in Congress, it would have happened. It hasn't happened,” Psaki said Friday, adding that Biden would welcome a legislative extension.

As for what the reversal of the moratorium means for landlords, Nevada State Apartment Association Executive Director Susy Vasquez said she and members of the association are waiting to see what will happen next.

“It's expired before, it's been extended before, so I think right now what we're mainly focusing on are those people that have already been evicted,” Vasquez said, explaining that she and members of the association are shifting their attention to guidance from the courts about tenants whose eviction proceedings were blocked by the extended moratorium.

In an emailed statement to The Nevada Independent, Sisolak's office said he and state lawmakers crafted the new law during the legislative session knowing that moratoriums would come to an end and that Nevadans would need continued assistance. 

His office added that state and local governments are working as quickly as possible to process rental assistance and distribute funds.

An estimated 61,000 households — or 12 percent of renter households in Nevada — are behind on rent, according to a National Equity Atlas analysis of June 2021 U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data. As of July 31, the state has received around $208 million in federal rental assistance through the first round of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program and has distributed about $60.6 million, or roughly 29 percent of the funds to Nevada households.

The state’s distribution of rental assistance has picked up the pace in recent weeks, which Vasquez said is helping landlords and creating room for more dialogue between landlords and tenants.

“Recently we have seen an uptick in the amount of money that's coming out, and communication has also improved between the program and our members,” she said. “So we're hopeful that we're going to be able to retain a lot of our residents that we currently have housed.”

Since March 2020, more than 31,000 households in Clark County have received housing or utility assistance, including more than 9,000 who have received rental assistance. In addition, the county used CARES Act funds to pay past-due electric bills for more than 57,000 local households and past-due gas bills for about 6,300 local households. 

The county has 8,500 rental assistance applications pending and has denied around 5,200 applications. The reasons for denial include not submitting the proper documentation, not qualifying under the income guidelines and no longer residing at the address for which they sought assistance.

In Northern Nevada, the Reno Housing Authority received 4,525 rental assistance applications, approving 1,173 of those applications and denying 72 households, mainly because applicants exceeded the income requirements. As of last week, the organization was still processing 1,965 applications.

As of last week, 2,855 applicants from rural parts of the state have applied for the first round of ERA funding through the Rural Housing Authority, which has made assistance payments to 311 households. So far, 513 applications have been rejected or removed at the initial intake point primarily because they fell outside of the organization's jurisdiction or applicants failed to fully complete the application. Another 1,145 were rejected for other reasons, including ineligibility for program assistance or failure to respond to requests for documentation, and 886 applicants are in varying stages of processing, which includes a review for eligibility.

Hansen said that anyone behind on rent or facing an eviction notice should reach out to legal aid providers, apply for rental assistance and respond to all eviction notices by filing a tenant’s affidavit in court.

“At the end of the day, this doesn't change anything that people who were facing eviction should do,” he said. “They still need to assert their defenses.” 

‘All eyes are on Congress’ after latest blow to DACA program bars first-time applicants

Maria Nieto Orta was driving home to Las Vegas last week from a family vacation in Utah when she found out about a federal judge’s decision to close the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, to first-time applicants. 

“I just remember being super sad about it, and kind of sitting in silence specifically because I didn't yet want to talk to my parents about it, because I knew they were going to ask a lot of questions,” Nieto Orta, 21, said in an interview with The Nevada Independent

Born in Mexico City, Nieto Orta has lived in Las Vegas since before she was age two. She’s among more than 600,000 DACA recipients in the U.S., including more than 11,000 in Nevada. She’s been protected by DACA for the last seven years, since she was 15. Although the recent ruling doesn’t immediately jeopardize her legal immigration status, she’s still worried about the future of DACA. 

“It really sucks, and it’s really disheartening,” said Nieto Orta, who works for Mi Familia Vota, a civic engagement organization in Las Vegas, as the state coordinator. 

The ruling marks a big, but not unexpected, blow for first-time applicants who had a seven-month window in the last three years to apply for the legal immigration status since the Trump administration attempted to terminate the program entirely in September 2017. 

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas wrote that the Department of Homeland Security can continue to receive applications for DACA, but it may not process or approve them until a further order from the District Court, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. Hanen, appointed by George W. Bush during his presidency, said the Obama administration violated administrative procedures when it created DACA in 2012. 

The fate of the DACA program and its recipients continues to swing through major court decisions, some offering momentary reprieve and hope for recipients while others bring a harsh reminder of the fragility of the protection offered to adults who were brought to the U.S. as infants or young children. 

“For people who haven't had DACA, who were in limbo during previous litigation, this just keeps them in limbo,” said UNLV Immigration Clinic Director Michael Kagan. “Obviously, people are desperate for a solution that will actually last."

Of 53,200 people who filed applications for DACA from the beginning of the year through Mar. 31, only 1,163 of them have been approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), according to government data. The agency had denied 513 applications as of that date and more than 55,500 were still pending before Hanen issued his decision last week. 

In a statement to CBS News in late June, the agency said the delays were pandemic-related.

President Joe Biden declared in a statement last week that the Department of Justice intends to appeal Hanen’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and urged Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which includes a years-long pathway to citizenship for DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients and undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. In his first week as president, Biden ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “preserve and fortify” the DACA program. 

The American Dream and Promise Act was approved by the House of Representatives in March, but faces challenging circumstances in the Senate as Democrats hold a slim majority well shy of the 60 votes often needed to pass legislation. Advocates and supporters have been calling for Senate Democrats to include the pathway to citizenship in a large infrastructure bill, which can be approved through the budget reconciliation process, waiving the requirement to get at least 10 Republican lawmakers on board to avoid a filibuster. 

“All eyes are on Congress,” Kagan said. “There is a glimmer of hope in Congress, which is not usual. It's been a long time since there was a real political prospect of passing any immigration legislation. There is a real prospect right now through the reconciliation process. But I don't think anyone knows how likely it is. And of course, in the past, people have been repeatedly disappointed.” 

The decision to halt the program drew words of support for DACA recipients from Nevada officials, including Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, and UNR and UNLV presidents Brian Sandoval and Keith Whitfield, respectively. 

“The U.S. is the only home that Dreamers have ever known, and they should not be forced to live in fear of deportation. DACA empowered undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and contribute to our communities in immeasureable ways — from serving in our military to being on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cortez Masto said in a statement, adding that she will continue to lead efforts in Congress to provide “permanent relief” to DACA recipients. 

“We must pass the American Dream and Promise Act without delay,” she said.  

‘There’s a lot of fear’ 

Nieto Orta said her “headspace is all over the place” since the ruling as she attempts to stay connected with first-time applicants who are unsure of the status of their applications or next steps, all while managing her own disappointment. 

She’s always seen DACA as a “Band-Aid,” she said — as something that allows her to work legally, but doesn’t expand to many benefits beyond that, such as a stable and dependable legal immigration status with a path leading toward citizenship for herself or her family members. 

Although she’s among hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who remain protected under the recent ruling, she’s thinking ahead about worst-case scenarios, such as losing her status. 

“Now I have to save money just in case they do take DACA away, because what's going to happen to my studies?” said Nieto Orta, who is in her second year at UNLV studying political science and criminal justice. 

“School is so expensive out of pocket, you know? I personally love school, so it's like, I want to continue going to school, what if I can't afford it? And what if I, unfortunately, can no longer work because I no longer have an employment authorization card? It's just a lot of questions going on in my head.” 

Applying for DACA or renewing it every two years costs nearly $500 in application fees, and recipients are encouraged to submit renewal applications every 180 days in order to prevent lapses caused by backlogs or slowdowns in processing, which amounts to a $1,000 annual payment. 

It’s uncertain whether people who applied to DACA but were not yet approved during the brief months-long window will receive refunds for their application fees. 

Based on the number of initial requests it received from the beginning of the year through March 31, USCIS received $26 million dollars from first-time applicants since the program reopened in December. The agency is funded largely through fees, such as the application fees needed to apply for DACA. Of the $495 to file an application, $85 is used for biometric processing, or a criminal background check. The rest, $410, goes to USCIS. 

“It’s definitely been a lot of questions from the community,” she said. “‘Do I get my money back?’ I mean, we're still in a pandemic ... the economy has not recovered yet.” 

There’s also concern about sensitive information included on DACA applications that USCIS will receive, but not process, and whether that information could be used to target applicants. 

“There's also a lot of fear,” Nieto Orta said. “[Applicants] are like, ‘OK, well, can you use this information against me?’ Or what's going to happen? Does my application just stay there?” 

Hanen clarified that nothing in the ruling requires the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice to “take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that either would not otherwise take.” 

Amid the persistent turbulence DACA recipients have experienced since the Trump administration first moved to terminate the program four years ago, Nieto Orta said the community is focused on banding together for support amongst themselves and urging their elected officials to fight for a permanent solution. 

“No one's going to offer better support than someone that isn't documented, because we know what we've been through,” she said. “And that's the best way to help each other.” 

‘Dark clouds on the horizon’ 

As an immigration attorney, what stood out to Kagan in Hanen’s 77-page opinion and court ruling was that the judge identified DACA as an illegal program, signaling potential future action to terminate it. 

“There are ominous signs in the court from this decision, although it was not unexpected in that Judge Hanen ruled that he thinks the entire program is illegal,” he said. “So obviously, this is dark clouds on the horizon. Nothing we did not know, but ominous nonetheless.” 

Kagan noted that both courts the decision could be kicked to — the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court — are conservative courts and that the Fifth Circuit Court has ruled against DACA in the past. 

“That sends a very strong signal that judges on that circuit are skeptical of DACA,” he said. “If you're a betting person, I don't think the government's odds are difficult.” 

He noted the risk of putting hundreds of thousands of people’s futures in the hands of the courts. 

“We really do not want people's lives to depend on the courts in these cases, because it's going to be difficult to save DACA through the courts this time,” he said. “I'm not saying it's all over. But I think we have to be realistic.” 

Cortez Masto, Susie Lee again lead second quarter fundraising tallies as 2022 money race ramps up

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaking into a microphone behind a podium

Nevada’s incumbent Democrats padded their campaign war chests through the second quarter, with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee leading their respective fields, according to data reported this week by the Federal Election Commission. 

Cortez Masto raked in nearly $2.8 million, exceeding her first quarter fundraising by nearly half a million dollars. Lee, meanwhile, raised more than $615,000, an amount roughly equaling her own first quarter numbers. 

With just under a year remaining before next year’s primary elections, fields in every race remain relatively small. Still, a handful of new entrants have emerged in the state’s key congressional battlegrounds, including three Republicans each in District 3 and 4 (both held by Democrats), and a primary challenger to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the deep blue District 1. 

Below are additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate who filed with the FEC as of Friday, broken down by congressional race and ordered from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) - incumbent

With no declared challengers through the entirety of the second quarter, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto boosted her campaign warchest with more than $2.7 million in contributions. Even after spending nearly $900,000, that sum lifted her cash on hand to nearly $6.6 million.

Cortez Masto’s campaign touted that cash on hand cushion as a crucial advantage this week, though the race to take or hold her seat in the Senate will likely draw millions more in fundraising for both major parties as next year’s general election approaches.

Still, her quarterly fundraising total was the lowest of any of the four Democratic Senate incumbents running in states rated as “Lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, a group of candidates that also includes Kelly ($6 million raised), Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock ($7.2 million) and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan ($3.3 million). 

A vast majority of her second quarter fundraising — more than $2.3 million — came from individuals. Another $342,000 came from PACs, with the remainder flowing from committee transfers ($101,000), expenditure offsets and other receipts.

Almost a quarter of Cortez Masto’s spending — more than $218,000 — went to expenses related to fundraising mailers, including consultants, printing and postage, with even more ($343,000) dedicated to online fundraising expenses. 

Two Republican candidates, Sharelle Mendenhall and Sam Brown, formed campaign committees in July and did not report fundraising in the second quarter, which ended in June. 

Susie Lee (D) - incumbent 

Frequently the top House fundraiser in Nevada, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee once again led the state’s congressional candidates in the money race with more than $615,000 in second quarter contributions, pushing her cash on hand to nearly $955,000. 

Almost three-quarters of Lee’s fundraising, about $447,000, came from individual contributions, with another $156,000 coming from PACs. Much of the total also came from big-money donations, including eight contributions of the $5,000 maximum from PACs, and another 85 contributions of the maximum $2,900 for individuals (all totaling for a combined $286,500).

Lee’s spending last quarter neared $144,000, with sizable chunks of that money flowing to consultants — who combined for $45,700 in expenses — and advertising, including $20,000 for a digital ad campaign from Washington, D.C.-based firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

A one-time 2020 Nevada Senate hopeful-turned congressional challenger, April Becker led the district’s field of Republicans last quarter with nearly $251,000 in contributions, as well as roughly $259,000 cash on hand. 

Almost all of Becker’s fundraising came from individual contributions, with some major donors including several linked to the Meruelo Group — including maximum $5,800 contributions from Alex Meruelo, his wife Liset, and Meruelo Enterprises Vice President Luis Armona — and members of the Station Casinos-owning Fertitta family, including $5,800 contributions from Frank Fertitta III, Jill Fertitta, Lorenzo Fertitta and Teresa Fertitta. 

Becker also far outspent her rivals, dropping nearly $123,000, including more than $84,000 on expenses related to consulting or advertising. Of that money, more than $17,000 went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm November Inc., and nearly $19,000 went to October Inc.

Mark Robertson (R)

Another early entrant into the District 3 race, veteran Mark Robertson trailed Becker with $104,000 in contributions and nearly $117,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of his fundraising, roughly $97,000, came from individual contributions, with another $3,000 coming from PACs and $3,600 coming from candidate loans. Many of Robertson’s biggest donors were Las Vegas-based business owners, including America’s Mart owners Nick and Kristy Willden ($5,800 each), Sunrise Paving’s Glenn and Jill Warren ($5,800 each) and Patrick’s Signs CFO Tiffani Dean ($5,800). 

Robertson reported spending only $31,000 last quarter, with much of it split between consulting, advertising and event fees. 

Noah Malgeri (R)

The newest Republican challenger in the field who entered the race in early June — just before the quarter ended — Republican attorney and business owner Noah Malgeri trailed the rest of the field with nearly $39,000 in second quarter fundraising and $32,400 cash on hand. 

That money stems mostly from more than $31,100 in candidate loans, buoyed by another $7,750 in individual contributions. 

Of the $6,300 Malgeri spent last quarter, almost all of it ($6,033) went to Las Vegas-based firm McShane, LLC. 

One other candidate, Republican Reinier Prijten, briefly filed in April before formally terminating his campaign committee in May.

Steven Horsford (D) - incumbent

Touting record off-year fundraising for a single quarter, Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford pulled in more than $581,000 last quarter, boosting his cash on hand to more than $1.2 million — a massive sum larger even than Nevada’s usual fundraising frontrunner, Susie Lee, and almost eight times as much money as his next nearest Republican competitor. 

A slight majority of Horsford’s fundraising ($305,800) came from individual contributions, with the remaining $275,000 coming from PAC money. Like Lee, Horsford also saw most of his money flow from big-dollar fundraising and maximum contributions, including 15 $5,000 maximum contributions from PACs, and another 127 individual contributions between the maximum $2,900 and $2,000. 

Together, those major contributions combine for more than $414,000. 

Horsford’s campaign spent more than $127,000 through the quarter, including more than $11,000 on online advertising and more than $22,000 on consulting.   

Sam Peters (R)

The runner-up in last year’s Republican primary in District 4, veteran and insurance salesman Sam Peters entered this year’s race with a fundraising edge on his Republican rivals. That edge continued into the second quarter, where he raised more than $119,000 and was left with more than $155,000 cash on hand. 

Peters saw a handful of maximum individual contributions through the quarter, with most coming from retirees or real estate-related donors. 

Peters was the only Republican spending large amounts last quarter, dropping more than $76,000. A sizable chunk of that spending, almost $34,000, went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm McShane, while another $18,700 went to credit card fees. 

Carolina Serrano (R) 

Though she was a relatively late entrant into the race, only forming her campaign committee in June, former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano still banked more than $49,000 last quarter and enters the third quarter with more than $42,000 left on hand. 

A majority of that fundraising came from a handful of big names (both current and former) in the gaming industry. That includes maximum $5,800 contributions from former Wynn CEO Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, as well as another $5,800 from Meruelo Group President Alex Meruelo, $4,200 from his wife Liset, $5,800 from Meruelo Group Executive Vice President Luis Armona and $4,200 from his wife, Margaret. 

Together, those six contributions alone total $31,600, or roughly two-thirds of all the money Serrano raised. 

Serrano spent comparatively little last quarter — just $6,200 — though nearly all of it came through a $5,000 digital ad buy.  

Tony Lane (R)

A former player for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the mid-90s and now a Las Vegas business owner, Tony Lane raised the least of any Republican in the race with just $3,942. He spent nearly all of it — $3,362 — leaving just under $580 cash on hand. 

One other candidate, non-partisan John Johnson, did not report fundraising for this period, despite forming a campaign committee in February. 

Dina Titus (D) - incumbent

Facing what could be her first serious primary challenge since winning District 1 in 2012, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus roughly tripled her fundraising from the first quarter to the second, raking in more than $152,000 and lifting her cash on hand to more than $463,000. 

Of all Nevada’s federal-level midterms next year, Titus’ race could become the center of a split between the establishment wing of the state party and a surging group of left-wing activists. 

Those activists won a key victory in March of this year, electing a slate of progressives to party leadership positions. Ahead of that loss, the party apparatus hemorrhaged staffers and hundreds of thousands in money was transferred from state party accounts to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Establishment Democrats have since launched a new campaign apparatus, the Nevada Democratic Victory campaign. 

Titus’ fundraising was almost even split between individual contributions ($80,000) and PAC money ($72,000), with some of Titus’ largest fundraisers including Las Vegas mega-donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,800), Las Vegas-based attorney and political director for the state Senate Democrats Alisa Nave ($5,600) and Las Vegas-based doctor and frequent Democratic donor Nic Spirtos ($5,800).

Titus spent little in comparison to her fellow incumbents, logging just under $29,000 in expenditures last quarter. Most of that money, almost $20,000, went to consultants, including more than $12,000 for fundraising consulting. 

Amy Vilela (D)

A third-place runner up in the 2018 race to fill the open seat left in District 4 by the departure of Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen (a race ultimately won by Steven Horsford), Amy Vilela has entered 2022’s primary for District 1 as a progressive challenge to the establishment-backed Titus.

Touting her efforts for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020 and, more recently, an endorsement from progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Vilela posted nearly $82,000 in second-quarter fundraising, with almost $58,000 cash on hand. 

All of that fundraising came from individual contributions, and all came through the online Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue. As a result, much of her fundraising came from out-of-state. Of 56 unique contributors to Vilela’s campaign, just 10 listed a Nevada address.

Vilela reported just $23,300 in spending, with almost all of it dedicated to operating expenses, including $2,500 spent on consulting. 

Mark Amodei (R) - incumbent

As he has continued to leave the door open for a possible run at the governor’s mansion, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei nearly outspent his fundraising through the second quarter, burning through more than $88,000 of the $90,000 raised, leaving roughly $325,500 cash on hand. 

Outside one $2,900 contribution from Cashell Enterprises CEO Rob Cashell Jr., most of Amodei’s major donations came from PACs or corporate donors. That includes $5,000 from Las Vegas Sands, $5,000 from the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, and $2,500 each from NV Energy, the American Bakers Association, construction materials company CalPortland and the law firm Holland & Hart. 

Some of Amodei’s spending went to a number of contributions to other Republican incumbents, including $1,000 each for Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, and California Rep. David Valadao. 

However, Amodei also spent large sums on consulting ($37,500) and “contributor relations” expenses ($15,400). 

One other candidate, Democrat Aaron Michael Sims, formed a campaign committee in the second quarter but did not file a campaign finance report as of Friday morning.

PHOTOS: After more than a decade of starts and stops, $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is open

The opening last week of Resorts World Las Vegas added to the landscape on the Strip’s north end and ended an 11-year-drought of new megaresort unveilings in Las Vegas. Since 2007, the 88-acre land parcel has had two owners and for eight years was an unfinished structure that sat untouched.

Thursday evening’s grand opening celebration for Malaysia-based Genting Berhad’s $4.3 billion property included a traditional Asian lion and dragon dance, drum performances and a ribbon cutting. But the big event in the porte-cochère of the Conrad Hotel portion of Resorts World will not be the last ceremonial event at the property.

Three areas – a 5,000-seat theater in partnership with AEG, Zouk Nightclub and the property’s spa – are being held back until the fall and winter months while additional enhancements are completed. Singer Celine Dion will open the theater in November.

Genting Chairman KT Lim, during his prepared remarks, also teased that the company is already planning for a second phase on the undeveloped portion of the site.

Lim was praised in remarks during the event by Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella, Hilton Hotels CEO Chris Nassetta, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick and County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whose district includes the hotel-casino complex.

Segerblom complimented the construction workers who continued to build the resort during the pandemic. Sisolak said following the ceremony that maintaining construction as an essential business last year when other businesses, including gaming, were ordered closed turned out to be the correct decision.

During the pandemic, construction workers finished – along with Resorts World – Allegiant Stadium, the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall expansion, Circa Casino Resort in downtown and a remodel of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

“All those properties have opened, and we’re on our way back,” Sisolak said. “That is something no other city can say they have.”

Sisolak has attended every event associated with Resorts World site: The implosion of the Stardust and the subsequent groundbreaking for Boyd Gaming’s Echelon, both in 2007; the announcement of the sale of the halted Echelon project and site to Genting in 2013; and a ceremonial groundbreaking for Resorts World in 2015.

“It’s done, and (Genting) went through a lot with the property,” Sisolak said. “Who back then would have thought we would have a pandemic to also deal with?”

During Thursday evening and well into Friday morning, Genting and Resorts World executives basked in the adulation from several thousand invited guests participating in a VIP extravaganza throughout the 117,000-square-foot casino. The party progressed onto the five-and-half-acre pool deck, where guests were entertained by celebrity DJs on the sixth-floor outdoor pool area that overlooks the Strip. Images from the evening were shown on the property’s 100,000 square foot LED screen attached to the south facing hotel tower.

During the evening, party guests sampled items from many of Resorts World’s 40 restaurants, including breakfast-centric Sun’s Out Buns Out, Japanese-themed Kusa Nori and Los Angeles chef Ray Garcia’s Mexican oriented Viva!

Resorts World’s food court, dubbed Famous Foods Street Eats, offered guests items of Filipino, Japanese, South Indian, Chinese and Singapore origin, as well as Texas barbecue and Italian cuisine. 

Shortly after a fireworks display from atop Resorts World Las Vegas’ roof, the doors were opened for thousands of visitors waiting to visit the Strip’s first new resort in more than a decade.

Here are some photos from the opening.

A dragon dance procession leads the first customers during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Genting Berhad Chairman KT Lim paints a dragon during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Gov. Steve Sisolak holds a souvenir following the Resorts World Las Vegas ribbon cutting on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Rick Hilton with his daughters Paris, left, Nicky and wife Kathy during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle around the digital sphere during the opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
An employee prepares a roulette table during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
The scene in the casino area during opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle at Gatsby’s during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
An Elvis impersonator stands in front of luxury cars at the Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, now UNR president, with his wife Lauralyn during the Resorts World Las Vegas grand opening party on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)
Guests mingle in front of Viva! during the opening night at Resorts World Las Vegas on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Rep. Dina Titus denies she is aiming for ambassadorship, signals support for death penalty repeal

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) on Monday denied reports that she is interested in leaving her House seat to become an ambassador in the Biden administration, calling them "rumors" and saying she is focusing on serving the needs of her constituents.

Titus’ remarks came during a press conference after she addressed the Legislature in a virtual speech promoting President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan and touting several pending Carson City bills, including ones pushing for criminal justice reform and greater voting access. 

"I have the best district in the country. We've got the airport, the Strip, Downtown, it's ethnically diverse, racially diverse; we just want to be sure that we come back stronger than ever," Titus said. "So that's what I'm doing, not packing my bags."

Her statements come almost a week after progressive activist Amy Vilela announced plans to run against Titus in a primary election. Titus declined to comment on Vilela’s announcement and said that she is instead concentrating on the immediate needs of her constituents, not the 2022 election.

"I've walked this district many times and I will do it again. So right now it's a year and a half ‘til the next election," Titus said. "Bringing back health care, getting shots in arms, children in school, people in jobs, money in pockets — those are my priorities right now."

During the press conference, Titus also declined to take a position on a pending bill that would repeal the death penalty in Nevada. She expressed general support for abolishing capital punishment but said it is not her role to dictate the Legislature’s actions.

“I'm generally opposed to the death penalty because there have been too many accidents and it's more expensive to issue the death penalty than to keep somebody in for life,” Titus said. “But that's up to the Assembly and the governor to decide.”

Contrasting with Titus’ early support for Biden during the 2020 presidential primary, one of her likely primary opponents, Vilela, served as a state co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) presidential campaign. In 2018 Vilela ran for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, finishing third in the primary behind now-Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and state Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas). Vilela centered her campaign on a push for Medicare for All — a quest inspired by the death of her 22-year-old daughter, who Vilela believes did not receive adequate care because a hospital did not think she was insured. 

The Netflix documentary "Knock Down the House'' featured Vilela's campaign alongside those of three other progressive women running for Congress, including current Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

"From Covid to climate change, politics-as-usual simply isn't working for regular people," Vilela said in a press release. "It's time to elect leadership that will fight like lives depend on it."

Nevada's 1st Congressional District covers the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, and is considered a safe Democratic seat given the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats relative to Republicans, though district boundaries are likely to change after the redistricting process later this year. 

Titus said that Nevada’s population is rapidly growing and that regardless of how lawmakers choose to draw boundaries in other districts, she hopes hers remains intact.

“You don't ever want to break up certain ethnic communities or geographical jurisdictions, but the Legislature will take all that into consideration,” Titus said.

Titus, who served more than 20 years in the Legislature and was the longtime state Senate minority leader, has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2012.

Cortez Masto, Lee top prior first-quarter fundraising tallies as congressional campaigns eye 2022 midterms

Congressional representatives across the state reported race-leading fundraising hauls this week, positioning each with an early money advantage more than a year in advance of next summer’s primary elections. 

Leading all fundraising was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), who reported more than $2.3 million in fundraising ahead of what is expected to be a competitive re-election bid. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is not up for reelection until 2024, reported $341,794.

In the House, District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) led the state’s delegation with $607,407 raised through the first quarter; District 4’s Steven Horsford (D-NV) followed with $363,210; District 2’s Mark Amodei (R-NV) reported $77,749; and District 1’s Dina Titus (D-NV) reported $48,080.

With so much time left before the formal filing deadline for congressional elections next spring, the field of challengers in each district remains relatively small. Even so, two Republican challengers in the state’s two swing districts reported six-figure fundraising hauls, including Sam Peters in District 4 ($135,000) and April Becker in District 3 ($143,000).

Below are some additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate, broken down by district from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) — incumbent

Ahead of her first-ever bid for re-election as a U.S. senator and as Democrats prepare to defend their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Cortez Masto reported $2.3 million in fundraising, boosting her cash on hand by roughly 55 percent to nearly $4.7 million. 

A vast majority of that money, about $1.8 million, came from individual donors, including roughly $1.35 million in itemized contributions and $460,000 in small-dollar unitemized donations. Cortez Masto also raised an even $349,000 from PACs, more than $51,000 from political party committees and nearly $86,500 from other fundraising committee transfers.  

With a fundraising total orders of magnitude larger than any other candidate in Nevada through the first quarter, Cortez Masto also has by far the most individual donors of the entire field with thousands of itemized contributions reported, including several dozen contributions of the legal maximum. 

By law, individuals can contribute up to $2,900 per candidate per election (i.e. for the primary and for the general) in federal elections, while PACs and other committees can contribute up to $5,000 per election. Major donors will often contribute that maximum twice, once for the primary and again for the general, up front, giving candidates between $5,800 and $10,000.

Among the many donors who maxed out their contribution to Cortez Masto were a handful of Nevada regulars, including businessman and major Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,900 in the first quarter, $5,800 overall) and MGM Resorts International ($5,000).

With nearly $663,000 spent this quarter, no Nevada politician came close to Cortez Masto in outlays. Most of that money, $382,206, went to nine firms involved in fundraising operations, including mailers ($213,406) and online ($168,800). 

Jacky Rosen (D) — incumbent

With more than three years before she’ll face voters again, Rosen reported a comparatively modest $341,794 in contributions last quarter, but her campaign has more than $1.85 million in cash on hand. 

Of that money, most ($226,165) came from individual contributions, with the rest flowing largely from PACs ($14,000) and authorized committee transfers ($97,600).

Among the several dozen donors giving Rosen the legal maximum were Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun ($5,800) and his wife, Myra Greenspun ($5,800); Niraj Shah, CEO of the furniture retailer Wayfair ($2,900); and a leadership PAC linked to former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the Seeking Justice PAC ($5,000).  

Most of the $137,000 spent by Rosen was for regular operating expenditures, though her campaign twice spent $5,000 for online advertising from New York-based firm Assemble the Agency. 

A district that covers much of the southern half of Clark County, including some of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs, District 3 has switched hands between the two major parties three times since its creation in 2002. 

For three cycles, that control has been maintained by Democrats, following a narrow win by Rosen in 2016, and subsequent victories by Lee in 2018 and 2020. Still, a narrow victory in the district by Donald Trump in 2016 and small voter registration gaps have marked District 3 as one of a few-dozen nationwide that may become key to deciding which party controls the House after the 2022 midterms.

Susie Lee (D) — incumbent

Frequently the top-fundraiser among Nevada’s House delegation, Susie Lee continued her streak last quarter with $607,407 in contributions. After Lee largely depleted her campaign reserves in a pricey bid to keep her seat last year, that first-quarter fundraising has left her campaign with just over $484,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of that money — $493,070 — came from individual contributions, with the remaining $114,000 coming from big-money PAC contributions. 

Among those individual donors were several dozen contributing the $2,900 maximum. Those big money donors were largely local business leaders — including Cashman Equipment CEO MaryKaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle and former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — though the group also included television showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes.

Among PACs that contributed the $5,000 maximum were a mix of business interests (including PACs related to Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International), and unions (including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and SMART, the sheet metal and transportation workers union, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.) 

Lee reported spending nearly $146,000 last quarter, an amount second only to Cortez Masto among the delegation members. Most of that money went to campaign consulting and staffing costs, with the single largest chunk — $32,000 spread over five payments — going to Washington, D.C.-based digital consulting firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

After her unsuccessful run for the Legislature in 2020, attorney April Becker is challenging Susie Lee (D) for her seat in Congress. In the first quarter of 2021, Becker raised $143,444 mostly from individual contributors. 

Becker received $2,000 from PACs, such as the Stronger Nevada PAC and (although not officially endorsed by) the campaigns for fellow Republican politicians, former Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei. 

Several of her big individual contributors included family members; donations from individuals with the last name Becker totaled $29,500, nearly a fifth of the total contributions. Local business owners also contributed to Becker, including some car dealership owners: $5,000 from Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company; Cliff Findlay and Donna Findlay of Findlay Automotive each donated the maximum of $2,900, totaling $5,800; and Donald Forman of United Nissan Vegas gave $5,800.  

Co-owners of the Innovative Pain Care Center, Melissa and Daniel Burkhead, each gave $5,800 totaling $11,600. Other contributors included several medical professionals, real estate investors and attorneys.

In the first quarter, Becker kept most of the money collected, $131,460, reporting spending only $11,983 on more fundraising efforts. 

Mark Robertson (R)

Also hoping to challenge Susie Lee, Army veteran Mark Robertson raised $61,631 in his first time running for a political seat. The sum includes $7,451 he loaned his campaign.  

Although he collected less than half than Becker in the first quarter, retirees were large contributors to his campaign, some nearly reaching the $5,800 maximum for both the primary and general elections. 

Several local architects, engineers and construction contractors were also among the contributors, including $5,000 combined from Kenneth and Michelle Alber of Penta Building Group, $3,000 from Brock Krahenbuhl, a contractor for GTI Landscape and $3,000 from Wayne Horlacher of Horrock Engineers. 

Robertson reported spending $25,148, including $5,250 on campaign consulting, $3,138 on office supplies and $3,270 on video and print advertising production services. After the expenditures, Robertson is left with $44,034 cash on hand. 

A geographically massive district — larger than some states — that encompasses parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and much of the state’s central rural counties, District 4 has been held by Democrats for all but one cycle since its creation in 2011. That exception came in 2014, when Republican Cresent Hardy unseated then-freshman Democrat Steven Horsford in an upset. 

Horsford retook the seat in 2018, defeating Hardy in an open race after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to mount his own re-election bid amid a sexual harassment investigation. Horsford later won re-election in 2020, beating Republican Jim Marchant by 5 percentage points. 

Steven Horsford (D) — incumbent

With $363,209 in reported fundraising, Horsford boosted his campaign war chest by more than 50 percent last quarter, lifting his cash on hand to $757,142. 

That fundraising was driven mostly by $205,883 in individual contributions, though Horsford also brought in a much larger share of PAC contributions ($157,251) than his delegation counterparts.

Among Horsford’s single-largest contributors was Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra, who both contributed the $2,900 maximum for the primary and general elections, or $11,600 combined. 

Horsford’s biggest PAC contributions came from a mix of political committees linked to the Democratic Party, unions and corporations. That includes $10,000 from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (of which Horsford is a member), $5,000 from the public employees union AFSCME and $5,000 from MGM Resorts International.   

A vast majority of the $102,000 spent by Horsford’s campaign last quarter went to operating costs, salaries and consultants, though — like his fellow incumbents — a sizable portion ($21,000) still flowed to a pair of fundraising and finance compliance consultants. 

Sam Peters (R)

After finishing second in last year’s Republican primary for District 4, veteran and local business owner Sam Peters led Republican fundraising efforts in the district this quarter. Peters’ campaign raised more than $135,000, which came entirely from individual contributions.

Those contributions were driven largely by retirees, as two-thirds of the 100 big-money contributions over $200 came from donors listing themselves as retired. Peters’ campaign was also boosted by a few maximum or near-maximum donations, including $5,800 from Frank Suryan Jr., CEO of Lyon Living, a residential development company based in Newport Beach, California, and $5,800 from Suryan’s spouse.

After spending a little more than $24,000, mostly on campaign consulting and fundraising services, Peters ended the quarter with nearly $115,000 in cash on hand, nearly double the amount he had at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

A district that includes Reno and much of rural Northern Nevada, District 2 has for two cycles been the only federal seat in Nevada still held by a Republican. The one-time seat of former Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons, both Republicans, the seat has been held by incumbent Republican Mark Amodei since 2011, when he defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election to replace the outgoing Heller. 

Mark Amodei (R) — incumbent

After Amodei spent close to a thousand dollars more than he raised through the first three months of 2021, his campaign war chest sits at $323,347 entering the second quarter.

His fundraising of nearly $78,000 came largely from big-money contributions totaling more than $50,000, including roughly 30 donations between $1,000 and $2,000. But Amodei was also boosted by several maximum or near-maximum donations from Margaret Cavin, owner of plumbing company J&J Mechanical in Reno ($5,600), and Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research ($5,800).

Amodei’s fundraising was also boosted by a few large contributions from political committees, including $5,000 donations from PACs affiliated with MGM Resorts International and New York Life Insurance, $3,500 from a PAC affiliated with the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation and $2,500 from Barrick Gold, a mining company.

Amodei’s spending was distributed across a wide range of categories, as he spent $7,625 on radio advertising, $4,000 on campaign consulting, nearly $20,000 on fundraising consulting, $12,750 on accounting services and more than $7,500 on meals and entertainment for contributor relations — including nearly $700 paid to cigar companies and more than $2,000 spent at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Located in the urban center of Las Vegas, the deep blue District 1 has been held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus since 2012. Titus won the seat after losing a previous re-election bid in nearby District 3 in 2010, which she had held for one term after a win over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2008.

Dina Titus (D) — incumbent

With no clear challengers in the district, Titus finished the first quarter with the least money raised of any Nevada incumbent — she received $48,080, which was $1.85 less than she raised through the same period last year.

More than half of those funds were given by four PACs that contributed a combined $25,000. The American Institute of Architects’ PAC, a PAC associated with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC gave $5,000 each, a pro-Israel PAC called Desert Caucus donated $10,000.

Titus also received $14,280 from individuals, including a $1,000 contribution from former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and a maximum contribution of $5,800 from Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research.

After spending $37,000 in the quarter, Titus brought her cash on hand total to almost $340,000.

Tracking traffic stop data, ‘bias indicators’ for officers lauded by criminal justice reform groups, but questioned by law enforcement unions

In 2003, Nevada lawmakers headed into session with their hands on a troubling new data analysis — Black and Hispanic drivers in Nevada were statistically more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops than white motorists.

The report — which analyzed nearly 400,000 traffic stops statewide — resulted in legislation from then-state Sen. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) to require police to attend racial sensitivity training and continue collecting data on traffic stops as an attempt to stem any ongoing racial bias issue in traffic stops. 

That legislation was opposed by police groups and ultimately failed to advance out of committee. But nearly two decades later, the issue hasn’t gone away.

Many of the same arguments from 2003 reappeared on Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary committee hearing on SB236, a bill introduced by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) that would re-start data collection and analysis on traffic stops, and require police departments to implement a system of tracking “bias indicators” for individual officers.

Harris referenced the 2003 study in her testimony on the bill, saying it was important for lawmakers to follow up on the now-decades old report and take action if racial disparities in traffic stops still exist.

“It's imperative that the Legislature take another look at this in an aggregate sense and get some statistical analysis done on whether these biases exist in traffic stops or not, so that we can actually address if there's a problem, and if there is, figure out the best way to solve it,” she said.

SB236 has two primary functions. The first would require every law enforcement agency in the state to establish an early warning system for finding police officers who display “bias indicators” — including having a large number of citizen complaints, being involved in a large number of use of force incidents, making a large number of arrests for resisting an officer or arrests that don’t result in filed charges or having a “negative attitude” toward programs aimed at boosting community and police relations, according to the bill text.

If an officer is tagged for displaying bias indicators, SB236 would require the police agency to increase supervision of the officer and offer additional training or counseling. If that officer is “repeatedly identified” by the system, the agency “shall consider the consequences that should be imposed,” including transfers or discipline.

Harris compared the system to a Doppler weather radar, saying that like the weather forecast, bias indicators may not be an exact prediction, but can prepare law enforcement for the potential of a “catastrophic event.”

“We want to help leaders identify potential problems and to intervene so that these problems do not become catastrophic,” she said.

The second part of the bill would require the state’s Department of Public Safety to begin developing a standardized method for use by all police agencies in the state as to how to record traffic stop information, including the race, age, and gender of the person stopped and any police action taken — such as a warning, citation or search.

It would require that information be transmitted annually to the state starting in 2023, and “to the extent that money is available,” contract with a third party to conduct a statistical analysis of the data for the purpose of “identifying patterns or practices of profiling.” 

The original version of the bill would have required police officers to have at least an associate’s degree or two years of military service, and would have placed limits on qualified immunity — a legal provision protecting law enforcement from civil lawsuits unless officials “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Both of those provisions were removed under a conceptual amendment submitted by Harris ahead of the hearing.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) questioned how the bias indicator tracking system envisioned in the bill would work, saying that most examples of illegal driving came from young males regardless of racial background.

“When cops are pulling people over, and we're seeing that disproportionality among races and in gender, did anyone ever consider that it might be the fact that those people are the ones that are committing a disproportionate share of the crimes?” he said.

Harris pointed back to the 2001 survey, saying that the disparity between Black drivers and traffic stops had a strong statistical basis.

“Yes, we've considered it, and I do not believe there is any evidence that African Americans are more likely to speed in the same manner that there is evidence that males are more likely to speed, hence the higher insurance rate for males,” she said.

The bill was supported by a wide range of criminal justice reform advocates, from the ACLU of Nevada to libertarian-leaning Americans for Prosperity. Many shared stories of past examples of police violence; the niece of Byron Williams, a Black man killed in police custody in Las Vegas after saying “I can’t breathe” two dozen times, testified in favor of the bill.

“There's nothing radical nor unreasonable in this bill,” Mass Liberation Project lead organizer Leslie Turner said. “This is actually the bare minimum, data collection and transparency.”

The bill even attracted support from some police unions.

“It will require further dialogue with the law enforcement agencies to develop those policies,” Executive Director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers Rick McCann said. “You know, dialogue is not a bad thing. We need more of it, quite frankly. Statistical analysis is not a bad thing.”

But the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — the union representing Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department rank and file officers and the largest police union in the state — testified in opposition to the bill, saying many of the measure’s supporters were from anti-police groups that supported the abolition of police unions.

LVPPA representative John Abel said the union hadn’t been in contact with Harris about the bill, and could potentially be in support of the legislation if it was shown that officers did not have any “newly added paperwork or documentation” for the measure. He suggested that other support from other police unions, such as NAPSO, wasn’t reflective of how most police in the state felt about the issue.

“These two groups should denounce this legislation as I know their members probably aren't supportive of their union,” he said.

Metro police lobbyist Chuck Callaway said the agency was opposed to the bill, but was working with Harris on amendments that move the state’s largest police force to the neutral position. Metro filed a fiscal note estimating an annual $22 million cost to implement the bill, but Harris said the agency would be able to use existing data collection systems and not require them to find new software.

Still, Callaway bristled at some of the comments made by bill supporters.

“In regards to some of the testimony that was made during the hearing, I kind of take a bit of offense to the term ‘police violence,’” he said. “Police officers are out doing a very difficult job on a daily basis, and they react to the actions of suspects and people that they encounter on calls and on stops during the course of their duties.”

Sen. Melanie Schieble (D-Las Vegas) said she understood why law enforcement may have an emotional response to suggestions of implicit bias — saying that she had in the past been accused of “pretty much racism” in online and real-world spheres, an experience she called “emotional and jarring.”

But she said the purpose of SB236 was not punitive, and in fact represented one of the lightest approaches possible to deal with implicit bias.

“You're not calling people out on Twitter, you're not putting them on the record in a court of law, you're not posting a list in their front lobby,” Scheible said. “You are privately talking to one officer with actual data to say ‘Hey, we noticed that over the last six months, these 10 things happened...and you might not know this, but that's not normal. I can't think of a lighter touch for an officer than that one on one conversation.”

Freshman Orientation: Assemblywoman Clara "Claire" Thomas

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring new state lawmakers. This is the thirteenth installment in the series. Check out our other profiles for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson (D-North Las Vegas), a four-term assemblyman and longtime education advocate who passed away while in office in 2019
  • Represents District 17, located in North Las Vegas
  • District 17 leaned heavily Democratic (48 percent Democratic, 21 percent Republican and 25 percent nonpartisan) in the 2020 election
  • Thomas ran unopposed in the 2020 Democratic primary and then defeated Republican Jack Polcyn in the general election with 66.2 percent of the vote.
  • She will sit on the Government Affairs, Health and Human Services and Legislative Operations and Elections committees.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Thomas came to Southern Nevada in 1982 while she was serving in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. After 20 years of service, she retired and decided to settle in Las Vegas. Thomas then pursued higher education, working two jobs to put herself through school and raise her two children. 

Thomas holds an associate's degree from the College of Southern Nevada and earned a bachelor's in psychology and then a master's in public administration from UNLV. In her free time, she enjoys babysitting and spoiling her grandchildren.

CAREER

An Air Force veteran, Thomas now works as a court clerk in the Clark County district attorney's office and is a member of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1107. 

Assembly members Cameron (C.H.) Miller, left, and Clara "Claire" Thomas on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

PROFILE

When Thunderbirds fly across the sky, jet streams trailing behind, Thomas said she feels a sense of pride, duty, excitement and hope.

A retired air traffic controller with the Air Force, Thomas said that the feeling of watching Thunderbird flyovers is how she describes the feeling of the start of the 81st legislative session as a first-time lawmaker. 

Thomas never intended to run for political office. She loved spending time with her grandchildren, working as a member of several Democratic Party groups and as a volunteer with various organizations, including the Rape Crisis Center of Southern Nevada.

But that all changed after Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson unexpectedly passed away during the 2019 legislative session.

Suddenly, a larger-than-life figure who supported legislation prioritizing education, homeless people and veterans was gone, leaving behind a gaping hole that needed to be filled, Thomas said.

"He was promoting all of these things, making us aware and bringing everything to the forefront, especially education … I was extremely concerned," she said.

Thomas said she hoped that someone would run to fill the empty seat, but after a few months of waiting and asking leadership whether someone had decided to run, the answer remained the same: no one was coming forward.

"I was like ... if no one steps up, I'd like to step up. And from that point, I threw my hat in the ring," Thomas said.

Though there are many areas that Thomas wants to focus on, she said she is prioritizing health care, education and veteran’s affairs.

"I'm a vet of 20 years, and I think that it's important for us to pay back our veterans," Thomas said. "I work around the courthouse and to see the homelessness and knowing that a lot of them are vets — breaks my heart."

With ongoing discrimination and educational disparities based on race or socioeconomic status, Thomas said she also wants to create a better future for her grandchildren and other young people and be part of a state that is setting a historic precedent.

"We're making a name for ourselves, this little state that people took for granted," Thomas said. "We elected the first Latina senator ... Cortez Masto. Jacky Rosen. It's Susie Lee, Dina Titus .... women that are going forward and making our country what it should be."

To create effective change, Thomas said she and other legislators are going to have to work together.

"I'm one of those believers that in order to get anything done, you actually have to have a cohesive group," Thomas said. "Everyone doesn't believe the same thing, but as far as our politics is concerned, we have different religions, we have different ways of raising a family, but collectively we come together for the betterment of a group.”

One of Thomas's favorite areas of study is history because it holds lessons for the present moment. She said that she is looking forward to bringing her expertise and knowledge to the table, learning from other more experienced legislators and making decisions to help the state.

"I'm just excited to be there and to work and to just forge ahead and make things better for people that are in dire need right now because we have a lot of people that are in dire need."

Assemblywomen Clara "Claire" Thomas, left and Daniele Monroe-Moreno during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Early childhood education

One of Thomas's priorities is increasing access to early childhood and pre-kindergarten education. 

"I believe in early education. And my group of kids that I adore are from the ages of two and four, because they are like sponges and they tell you what's on their mind because they don't know any different, they only know truth," Thomas said. "And I love that."

Affluent families can afford to give their children early educational opportunities. Children from lower-income families often do not have access to that and are therefore disadvantaged before school even begins, Thomas said.

"Our children deserve no less [than early education]," Thomas said. "Every child in every state of the union deserves to be educated and be competitive because as time goes by, we need to be competitive with the rest of the world. Just that simple."

Criminal justice reform

Thomas said she remembers teaching her son what to do if a police officer approached him, warning him that if an officer ever told him to do a jumping jack, then he was going to do a jumping jack.

"Why am I telling my son that? Why am I feeling that my son, when he goes out, that he has to be more compliant to an officer … why is he different?" Thomas said.

Though she did not discuss any specific reform measures, Thomas said she is following legislation around criminal justice reform and looking for ways to increase equality.

Election reform

Thomas applauded the state's ability to increase access to voting and successfully carry out an election amid a pandemic.

"We had a record number of people voting in the state. That's something that's great," Thomas said. "We had young people, 18, voting, out there getting their family members to vote who never vote."

She said that claims of voter fraud have not been supported in court and using mail-in voting increased people's opportunities to participate.

"That's something that we should have been doing for years and being a military member, we voted that way … so why was that fraudulent? It wasn't," Thomas said. "I'm proud of the fact that Nevada's secretary of state, who's a Republican, just embraced that, our local leaders embraced it and we made it work."

Behind the Bar: Lawsuit to open building hits roadblock. Plus: tiny house regulations, opt-out organ donation, state ERA advances and tribal burial site changes

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: Where the lawsuit seeking to open the Legislative building to the public stands after a 9th Circuit Court dismissal. Plus, details on a bill allowing tiny house development, an icy reception for the organ donation opt-out bill, advancing a state-based Equal Rights Amendment, and changes to tribal burial site laws. Carson City Restaurant Spotlight returns.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


The legal effort to open the halls of the Legislature to the public isn’t going so well.

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by an attorney for the group of four conservative lobbyists who sued to open the building in mid-February.

The order was brief — just five lines — and echoed what defendants in the case have said all along: the appeal was inappropriate because it was focused on a non-appealable interlocutory order, which is legal jargon for the procedural order issued by the federal District Court judge in the case. 

The appeal in this case focused on Judge Miranda Du’s order setting a normal and non-emergency briefing schedule in the case — a decision made because the plaintiffs (the four lobbyists) didn’t check all of the boxes needed to qualify for an emergency briefing. 

A filing submitted by Deputy Solicitor General Craig Newby to the 9th Circuit outlines where the initial lawsuit fell short in providing information typically required for an emergency, expedited briefing. It also seeks to have Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford — named defendants in the lawsuit — dismissed from the case, because, well, the executive and legislative are separate branches of government (the response helpfully links to a Schoolhouse Rock video in a footnote).

“Unlike other cases brought by Plaintiffs’ counsel, there is no emergency directive issued by the Governor mandating that the Legislature close (or open) the Legislative Building,” Newby wrote in a separate filing submitted to the district court. “The Governor understands the risks of COVID-19 spread in our community, resulting in difficult decisions he has had to make. Here however, the difficult decisions for keeping the Legislative Building open or closed lie with the Legislature, not him.”

I’m not an attorney, but I would guess that barring some kind of Hail Mary appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case will fall back to the original District Court.

But even then, the lawsuit still has issues. 

In a filing submitted on Tuesday, Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers told the court that the plaintiffs had “ failed to serve the Legislative Defendants, or an agent designated by them to receive service of process, with the summons and complaint.”

“In the absence of such service, the Legislative Defendants have not officially become parties to this action, and this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over the Legislative Defendants for any matters, including, without limitation, the emergency motion for preliminary injunction,” Powers wrote in the motion, which asked the court to pause all briefings in light of the then-pending appeal with the 9th Circuit Court.

(It should probably be noted that the attorney for the plaintiffs, Sigal Chattah, is running for attorney general in 2022.)

If you made it through all that legalese and are still reading, 1) congratulations, 2) now you know what it’s like to live in my brain and 3) you’re probably wondering where exactly this leaves the lawsuit and potential of a judicial-ordered reopening of the legislative building.

Again, not a lawyer, but I think there’s certainly a case to be made that an expedited briefing is appropriate in this case — we’re already a third of the way into the 120-day legislative session.

But that ticking clock also works against the litigation — legislators and staff got their first COVID vaccine shot last month, and legislative leadership are still targeting mid-April for a tentative, limited reopening date. 

As that tentative date gets closer, I think it makes it less likely that a judge would feel inclined to issue an emergency injunction to open the building, especially if the limited reopening is just a few weeks away.

But I’ll continue to follow the court case regardless; if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that making predictions in this business should be left to the supremely confident or foolhardy

— Riley Snyder


More options for tiny houses in Nevada

Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) is the latest supporter of a housing movement that began when Henry David Thoreau rejected society and moved into a 150-square foot cabin near Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

Though Harris has not committed to a solitary existence in a small cabin near a pond, nor the modern-day option of applying for the popular television series Tiny House Nation, she did say that allowing more tiny homes to be built in Nevada could help address the state’s housing shortage.

"This is something I personally would choose to live in and maybe build as a permanent residence because of who I am and my own personal tastes," Harris said during a Senate Government Affairs committee hearing on the bill SB150 on Monday. "What I'm looking to do here is to allow those who like to build one ... or who would like to put it in their backyard, I would like to give them the option." 

Under Harris' proposed bill, municipalities in counties with more than 800,000 people would have to create zoning laws for tiny houses no more than 400 square feet in size that would: 

  • allow homeowners to build tiny houses as an addition to a property
  • recognize tiny homes as single-family dwelling units
  • set aside space for tiny house parks similar to mobile home parks. 

Counties with 100,000 residents or less would follow through with at least one of the three options, Harris said.

The bill addresses a need for specificity around zoning for tiny houses which are often a smaller square footage than what is normally permitted for single-family residences and sets up a regulatory structure for the housing type, supporters said.

But one skeptic of the bill, Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), worried tiny homes might depreciate housing values or exacerbate zoning disparities.

"I'm not a fan of tiny houses, mainly because I don't want it to go into poor areas. And I don't want it to go into poor areas that I want redevelopment to occur and actually have sustainable homes, good homes ... the American Dream home " she said.

Harris chalked up Neal's comments to a difference in philosophies. She said the legislation would provide an alternative for people who may not be able to find or afford a larger home and a way to increase density in more established communities.

"I also see [tiny homes] as a stepping stone to larger home ownership in that American Dream sense," Harris said.

— Tabitha Mueller


Proposed opt-out organ donation system gets icy reception

Critics of a new bill that would make Nevada the first state with an opt-out organ donation system are concerned that the new method would infringe on personal liberties and might even reduce the state’s donor pool.

The bill, SB134, would adjust the current opt-in system by making Nevadans who update or apply for a new driver's license or state ID card organ donors by default. If the bill is passed, someone filling out a DMV application would have to opt out of becoming an organ donor instead of opting in.

“I'm afraid that Nevada Donor Network has a very deep concern that an opt-out system is likely to have unintended negative consequences that would actually result in decreasing the availability of organs and tissues,” said lobbyist Dan Musgrove, a representative for the non-profit organ procurement organization, during a Monday hearing of the bill.

Musgrove explained that the opt-out system could create conflict with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which sets a regulatory framework for organ donation across different states. And he said the system could pose a problem by creating a group of people who decide to not be organ donors and remove themselves from the donor pool.

The main presenter of the bill, Ashley Biehl, a 30-year-old who had a heart transplant in 2017, pointed to the thousands of Americans who die each year waiting for a transplant, as well as Nevada’s “abysmal” rate of organ donor registration, which at 41 percent sits below the national average of 49 percent.

“Senate Bill 134 seeks to help alleviate that burden and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths by making more organs eligible for donation,” Biehl said.

Those who opposed the bill during the meeting, as well as some of the lawmakers on the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee, expressed concerns that a change to the organ donation system could infringe on individual rights.

“The general consensus has been over the years that government can't make choices over our bodies, over our personal opinions. And yet, this would seem to do violence to that concept,” Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said during the hearing. 

Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) also said the change to an opt-out system could potentially confuse people. Hammond said that someone could miss the change to the system and become an organ donor, even though they do not actually want to be one.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), said during the meeting that he would continue to work with stakeholders to address concerns about the bill language.

“Certainly the intent of this bill is to make a bold statement that Nevada would be the first opt-out state in the nation,” Ohrenschall said. “There is no intent to replace anyone's conscious decision as to whether they want to participate or not.”

— Sean Golonka


Nevada Equal Rights Amendment moving on to the next round

The Nevada Equal Rights Amendment is one step closer to the 2022 ballot, after the resolution passed out of committee with a 4-1 vote on Tuesday. 

The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee passed the resolution, SJR8, that would amend the Nevada Constitution to include that rights shall not be denied or abridged “on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.” It echoes language from the federal Equal Rights Amendment, which Nevada ratified (35 years after the fact) in 2017.

Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) was the sole vote opposing the resolution. She argued that the bill is “redundant” as it lays out equality and protection to multiple groups that the federal and state constitutions already protect. She also said the resolution’s list of specific groups of citizens is “bound to miss some.” 

“I believe in the rights of all people… I embrace those voices and the narratives behind those who have said ‘enough is enough,’ they are equal and I am equal with them,” Buck said. “I just cannot in good conscience support a bill that has the potential to harm, exclude or potentially forget a subgroup of people who were left off the list.” 

This is the proposed constitutional amendment’s second round of approval after being passed during the 2019 legislative session. If approved by the full Legislature, the resolution goes to a statewide vote in 2022. 

The committee vote comes after a setback for a national movement to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution. A judge ruled last week that the effort could not advance, even though Nevada and two other states recently ratified the proposed amendment, because a 1982 deadline set by Congress has passed.

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford said he is exploring further legal options, and Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) said she would continue the fight.

“There have been a long list of people who have been fighting for this, hoping for this, and praying for this,” said Spearman, who led the charge to have Nevada ratify the national amendment. “We are the hope. We are an answered prayer. We are the continuation of their work. We will not stop until the work is finished, and it will not be finished until the Equal Rights Amendment becomes the 28th amendment in our U.S. Constitution.” 

— Jannelle Calderon


Bill amends law that protects Native American burial sites

It’s illegal in Nevada to knowingly excavate an Indian burial site, which has been the case since 2017. 

But the current law exempts entities engaged in lawful activity, such as construction, mining and ranching, from obtaining permits from the State Museum so long as the purpose of the activity is exclusive from excavating a burial site. 

Nevada lawmakers are looking to clear up any ambiguities in the law through AB103, which seeks to clarify that the activity in question can only occur on the portion of the private land that does not contain the known burial site. 

“It got interpreted that there was an exemption,” said Marla McDade Williams of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony during the bill’s presentation in the Assembly Natural Resources committee on Monday. “So this legislation in front of you simply makes that clarification to say that as long as the activity occurs only on a portion of the private land that does not contain the known site, then they don't have to get the permit.” 

Although the bill doesn’t significantly change the scope of the existing law, it brought an important conversation to the Legislature regarding the presence of Native American peoples who lived, died and were buried throughout the state before other populations settled here. 

“The core theme of AB103 is to ensure protection of our ancestors' final resting place where they were originally buried, and to ensure Nevada tribes are part of the discussions and decisions made affecting the management, treatment and disposition of Native American ancestral human remains,” said Michon Eben, manager for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony cultural resource program. 

Eben said that just as any other human remains are respected as they lay within cemeteries, so too do Native American remains throughout the state need to be respected and remain undisturbed. 

“Native American remains and sacred objects were desecrated by early pioneers and settlers, but what remains buried throughout the state is still important to contemporary Native society,” Eben said. 

While many areas are not necessarily marked as burial sites, the law holds that landowners who find remains (called “inadvertent findings”) must notify the State Historic Preservation Office, which then catalogs the findings into a database of known findings. The database is not publicly accessible. 

Eben also clarified that while the law currently protects Native American remains, it does not protect Native American cultural items or objects found across the state, adding that this is something “we’d like to change in the future.” 

— Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez


Carson City Restaurant Spotlight: Antojitos la Jefa

I thought it was a pretty good sign when the woman answering the phone to take my order at Antojitos la Jefa did so in Spanish.

And it was another good sign (although a little nerve-wracking for this half-vaccinated restaurant critic) that this cozy joint on Carson Street was positively hopping on a Friday night.

Antojitos la Jefa is one of the newest restaurants in town, replacing what used to be a sushi joint sandwiched between the FISH thrift store and O’Reilly Auto Parts. Loosely translated, the name is “Snacks from the Girl Boss.”

I ordered a gordita with asada and all the fixins and a “pambazo” al pastor — an item I’d never heard of but that entailed a guajillo sauce-treated sandwich roll filled with all the tasty pork taco fixings you’d otherwise find on a tortilla. It was all quite delicious, particularly after watching the tortillas made by hand just behind the counter.

If you miss Tacos El Gordo in Vegas, this place can fill the void in your heart. And at less than $20 out the door for two entrees plus beans, rice and a few chips, it won’t leave much of a void in your wallet.

Antojitos la Jefa is located at 1701 North Carson Street. Open until 9 p.m. Order your takeout in English or Spanish at (775) 461-0771.

Have a restaurant suggestion for the Spotlight? Tell me at michelle@thenvindy.com. FYI: We’re not accepting free food in order to preserve the integrity of the reviews.

A soon to be devoured gordita and “pambazo” al pastor from Antojitos la Jefa in Carson City on March 5, 2021. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading:

Daniel Rothberg and Joey Lovato’s must-read interview with Blockchains CEO Jeff Berns, who wants to build a 36,000-person, self-governing, blockchain-run “Innovation Zone.” (Berns: “I don’t know yet how we’re going to raise money.”)

The Guinn Center does its best Dina Titus impression and finds that Nevada is still on the bottom of the good list of states that receive the most federal grants.

Jannelle Calderon reports on the bill from Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) to ban racially discriminatory language or imagery in school “identifiers.”

A state of play on where state worker collective bargaining contracts stand.

We also report on Sen. Chris Brook’s big energy policy plans for the 2021 session; $100 million for electric vehicle charging stations, potentially moving the state to a wholesale electric market, expanding renewable energy tax credits, calling for more transmission infrastructure build-out, and prison sentences for Hummer owners after 2025 (one of those may not be true).

Unions and labor groups contributed more than $1 million to legislative candidates in the 2020 election cycle, Jacob Solis reports

A provision in the recently-passed federal defense bill could shine more light on company transparency — and possibly affect the millions of dollars in registration fees that Nevada makes on being a haven for “shell” companies. (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Another look at the opt-out organ donation bill. (Nevada Current)

A bipartisan group of 17 female lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to focus the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee to focus on “disparities among persons of color, geographic region and age.” (Nevada Current)

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the state’s judicial commission of conspiring to ruin her reputation after she criticized officials including Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. (Nevada Current)

A lawsuit over MGM Resort’s use of resort fees. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Sisolak lays down the marker and tells the AP that Nevada will be “the safest place to have a convention or to come and visit.” (Associated Press)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 1 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 4 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 81 (May 31, 2021)

Behind the Bar: Just how slow is the start of session? NV GOP alleges election fraud (again), unemployment updates and bills to watch for this week

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: Has this session started slower than others? Plus, the Nevada Republican Party turns in election complaints, unemployment updates and related GOP indignation, plus a look at upcoming major bill hearings.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


It’s around this time of every legislative session, pandemic or no pandemic, that the whispers start.

“What’s taking drafting so long? Why are they going so slow? How are they going to meet the deadline?”

While there might not be lobbyists in the building just yet, I’ve started to hear the same whisperings this session.

The day this newsletter publishes, March 8, is the 36th day of the 120-day legislative session. The deadline for lawmaker bill introductions is a week away (March 15), and the deadline for most other remaining bill introductions is two weeks away (March 22).

Rather than just rely on a general sense that things are moving slowly this session, I wanted to take a look and compare this session’s quote-unquote productivity with recent sessions.

So far in 2021 (as of Friday, March 5), there have been 401 bill or resolution introductions, along with 349 committee actions (hearings, amendments, or bills mentioned) and 881 floor actions — which includes bill introductions, amendments, votes or generally any other action taken on the Senate or Assembly floor.

That’s behind the pace of the 2019 legislative session, which at this point had 539 bills or resolutions introduced, 432 committee actions and 1,103 floor actions. 

It’s even further behind the pace of the 2017 session — 574 bill or resolution introductions, 559 committee actions and 1,579 floor actions at this point.

So by those metrics, the pace so far is slower than the last two sessions. Some caveats: let me be the latest reporter to tell you that we’re in a pandemic; many of the normal practices and courses of the legislative session have been thrown off by COVID-related disruptions and delays.

And going by raw numbers of bills isn’t the best measure of productivity — not all bills are created equal, and many are destined for the legislative graveyard (see Richard McArthur’s bill eliminating scheduled minimum wage increases or any of the other red-meat Republican Party priorities).

That said, there isn’t too much of a public sense of urgency with nearly a third of the session completed. There’s only been one Friday floor session to date (last week in the Assembly) and many committees are still canceling meetings scheduled for Thursday evening or Friday, save for the budget committees. 

Circling back to the original point, I don’t think this is some unique failure of current legislative leadership — there’s always been a slow start to the session, with a frantic rush at the end to wrap everything up before Sine Die arrives.

If you think slow legislative starts are by any means a new phenomenon, check out this neat compilation of legislative history on the constitutional amendment that set the strict 120-day time limit for legislative sessions (passed in 1998, debated in 1995 and 1997. A special hat tip to lobbyist Lea Case for forwarding it). 

It’s a fun read — the back and forth between former Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio and then-Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus is feisty, and a certain large Las Vegas newspaper supported the change in an op-ed because “lawmakers operating under a hard-and-fast deadline will become more focused and less prone to mischief.” 

And in a weird twist, former Democratic Sen. Mike Schneider in a floor speech in 1997 appears to have sort of eerily predicted the future virtual session, warning that: “Maybe legislators, 50 years from now, will be with their lap top computers and be called from Carson City and hearings will be held instantaneously around the state.”

“Each session has different priorities and each session probably takes a different number of days to complete,” said Schneider, the only “no” vote against the resolution in 1997. “We do not know how long it will take to complete a session because of the types of bills that come in.”

— Riley Snyder


NV GOP’s voter fraud crusade continues

A full 121 days after Election Day 2020, Nevada Republican Party leadership and a crowd of about 40 supporters gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday to turn in boxes filled with what they said were more than 122,000 reports of election irregularities in the previous election.

Despite assurances from the Nevada secretary of state and election officials in major counties and state court decisions rejecting the notion that widespread voter fraud had occurred in the 2020 election, Republican Party leadership nonetheless continued to echo the unsupported rhetoric that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

The complaints submitted Thursday largely include instances of alleged fraud previously identified by the Trump campaign and state Republican Party in court — deceased voters (1,506), non-citizen voters (3,987) commercial or non-existent addresses (8,842 and 8,111) and alleged duplicate voters (42,284). 

Many of those categories were mentioned in data reports submitted as part of the Trump campaign’s lawsuit against the state, but were initially filed under seal (some later released on the party’s website) and did not publicly name which individuals it had accused of cheating the system.

On Thursday, speakers sought to walk a careful line between relitigating 2020 and various claims of fraud, while looking ahead to future elections and potential legislative changes to the state’s election process.

“We don’t agree on much these days, but at the end of the day, we have to come together and unite to fix this broken abortion of a bill,” state party Chairman Michael McDonald said in reference to AB4 of the 2020 special session, at one point adding that “this isn’t about the past election...if we do not have fair and open elections, this state is dead.”

Others, such as former Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant, remained focused on 2020.

“I believe the race was stolen from me,” said Marchant, who lost by more than 16,000 votes in his bid against incumbent Democratic Rep. Steve Horsford. “I believe the race was stolen from Donald Trump.”

Marchant said he was “very passionate” about voter fraud issues and planned to run for Secretary of State in 2022.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state confirmed that the office had received the complaints and will “review them and investigate when warranted.”

— Riley Snyder


DETR by the numbers

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) presented its projected unemployment insurance budget for the upcoming two-year budget cycle to a joint budget committee on Thursday.  Here are some figures that stood out:

82,847: The number of unemployment insurance (UI) and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) claims that DETR still has pending. Those are initial claims that the department still must process and administer funds for. UI and PUA claims each make up about half of the total pending claims.

306,632: The number of UI and PUA claims suspected to be fraudulent that are pending identity verification. More than 250,000 of those are PUA claims. Jeff Frischmann, an administrator at DETR, said that many of those claims came from a spike of around 100,000 claims filed in early January following the passage of the federal stimulus bill.

4: The projected number of years it will take DETR to modernize its UI computer system. A January report from the DETR Rapid Response Strike Force recommended that the department modernize its UI system, with upgrades projected to cost between $30 and $50 million. During the budget presentation, Marylin Delmont, the department’s IT administrator, said that it would take at least three and a half to four years to implement a new system after receiving a federal award for the upgrades. However, the funding request process can take as long as a year, and DETR has not yet identified a source for federal funding for system modernization.

$178 million: The state’s unemployment trust fund debt. That number, which continues to climb, represents nearly $200 million in loans that Nevada has received from the federal government in order to maintain the state’s unemployment trust fund. Those loans remain interest free through the middle of March, though the interest moratorium could potentially be extended by the next federal stimulus bill. 

155: The number of intermittent full-time employees that DETR hopes to maintain in the upcoming biennium to handle the increased number of pandemic-related claims. The 155 employees are a part of a proposed amendment to the department’s budget and have not yet been approved. Those employees would cover a variety of different roles, including 92 positions for call center support and 36 for fraud support. The estimated cost of the proposed amendment is a little more than $12 million for each fiscal year of the biennium.

— Sean Golonka


Republicans call DETR situation “shocking”

Republicans took to social media after the DETR budget presentation described in the previous item to call the numbers of claims held up over ID issues “shocking,” with Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) adding “it’s time for us to ask the tough questions of our unemployment compensation system.”

Dickman has requested a BDR that would take the following steps:

  • Allocate $48.5 million for the modernization of DETR’s system
  • Begin updating the system immediately upon allocation
  • Have the legislative auditor examine DETR’s processes for ensuring accurate data about claims during the pandemic, and evaluate the agency’s processes for detecting and preventing fraud. A report would be due at the end of 2022.

It’s also worth noting that Republican senators including Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) recently met with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants to try to develop an intervention into DETR problems.

Bill language has yet to come out, and with this expenditure not included in the governor’s budget, Republicans who have been vociferous about the unemployment problems under a Democratic administration still need to identify where the money for an immediate modernization would come from. Another big question: would any of these big-picture plans address the immediate pain of claimants who are stuck in the system right now, or are less-flashy tweaks the answer?

We’ll be watching this week for more specifics about these proposals, what happens when DETR’s capstone bill SB75 comes up for a work session on Monday, and how the COVID relief bill that’s on the brink of passage may change the entire calculus.

— Michelle Rindels


Upcoming Bills of Note

Requiring courthouses to have lactation rooms for members of the public, preventing schools from having racially insensitive mascots or logos, and creating an all-payer claims database related to health services are just some of the top issues scheduled for hearings this week.

Below, we’ve listed out the hearing times and short descriptions for those high-profile measures. They’re accurate as of Sunday afternoon, but are subject to change at any time (given that the Legislature is exempted from Open Meeting Law). For links and times to watch committee meetings, check out the Legislature’s website.

Here’s what to watch this week in the Legislature:

Monday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary reviewing AB64, a bill that increases penalties and makes other changes to laws on prostitution. It’s sponsored by the attorney general’s office.

Monday, 10 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB196, which generally requires courthouses in the state to provide a lactation room for a member of the public.

Monday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure plans to review SB196, a bill by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) that would make an “anatomical gift” (organ or other body part donation after death) an opt-out, rather than opt-in system.

Tuesday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB99, which would raise the prevailing wage minimum threshold for public works or construction projects undertaken by the Nevada System of Higher Education. It’s sponsored by Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko).

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. - Assembly Education to review AB88, a bill by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) prohibiting schools from using an “identifier” such as a name, logo, mascot, song or other identifier that is racially discriminatory or is associated with a person “with a racially discriminatory history.” It’d also authorize higher education governing bodies to adopt similar provisions, but require the state Board on Geographic Names to change any similar racially discriminatory names of places or geographic features. 

Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Health and Human Services to review SB40, a bill by the state Patient Protection Commission that would create an all-payer claims database of information relating to health insurance claims resulting from medical, dental or pharmacy benefits provided in the state.

Wednesday, 8 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary to hear AB42, a bill that implements the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Anderson v. Nevada requiring any person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime that would prohibit them from owning firearms have the right to a jury trial

Wednesday, 1 p.m. - Senate Judiciary will review SB140, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would require inmates working for the state to be paid the minimum wage.

Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure to hear SB162, which would allow drivers of low emission and energy-efficient vehicles to use the HOV or carpool lane regardless of the number of passengers.

What we’re reading

The first installment of Megan Messerly’s ‘What Happened Here’ COVID retrospective.

Tabitha Mueller takes a deep dive into issues of affordable housing and housing supply that could come up this session. Didn’t realize it, but the highly-touted $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing hasn’t really been used at all in the last two years. 

A 54 percent increase in contract buyouts among Nevada colleges and universities, via Jacob Solis.

Jannelle Calderon reports on fallout from a federal court loss for backers of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Has COVID killed off the famous Las Vegas buffets? (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Legislation aims to end racial disparities in youth possession of weed (Nevada Current).

“In a letter read into testimony, one inmate said because of the deductions, his mother ‘has to send $17.50 for me to buy a $2.50 deodorant’” (Nevada Current).

Assemblywoman makes case for treating pretrial house arrest as time served. (Nevada Current)

Attorney Sigal Chattah takes a break from suing the state to announce a run for attorney general (Associated Press).

The understaffed Department of Corrections wants a staffing study, but Assemblywoman Brittney Miller asks why we need a study for a problem we’ve already identified (Nevada Appeal).

In proceedings slightly less dramatic than the 1917 October Revolution, Judith Whitmer defeated Tick Segerblom to become the new head of the Nevada State Democratic Party (Las Vegas Review-Journal).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 4 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 7 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 84 (May 31, 2021)

Updated at 10:20 a.m. on Monday, March 8 to correct the number of filed bills or resolutions for the 2021, 2019, and 2017 session. The previous totals did not include the number of pre-filed bills.