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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislature live blog: Lawmakers pass bills expanding mail voting, authorizing cannabis lounges, short-term rental taxes

The clock struck midnight, and Nevada lawmakers finally adjourned the 2021 Legislature after a frantic final few hours that saw the passage of major election, budget, tax and other big-ticket bills.

By the end of Monday evening, lawmakers had advanced bills decriminalizing traffic tickets, moving the state to a presidential primary, authorizing cannabis consumption lounges and permanently expanding mail voting. Legislators also approved a major transmission and clean energy bill, approved a new tax structure for short-term rentals and set spending priorities for the state’s coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds.

The final hours of the Legislature traditionally see a host of last-minute amendments, compromises and changes to legislation — something already readily apparent on Monday, with lawmakers authorizing nearly $8 million in funding to pay back DMV fees recently declared unconstitutional, and an amendment keeping special tax districts in play for Clark County but without the ability to use them for a potential major league baseball stadium.

The Nevada Independent is covering all the final moves, votes and maneuvers of the 2021 Legislature. Here’s a look at some of the major votes and last-minute developments on the final day of session:

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

One last-minute addition was $15 million in earmarks for federal COVID-19 relief money. An amendment added to SB461 in the Assembly includes:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation for services for people with disabilities. Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) had proposed a bill to support the foundation, but it never got a hearing.
  • $5 million to the state treasurer’s office for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program. The program provides seed money in tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities; a bill passed this session to enable the program but did not fund it.
  • $4 million for a statewide program modeled after UNR’s Dean’s Future Scholars Program, which provides mentoring, tutoring and other support for prospective first-generation college students. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) had a bill that supported first-generation students, but it died. She crossed over and supported a mining tax along with Democrats before the amendment was revealed.

— Michelle Rindels

Requiring public buildings/accommodations to have inclusive single-stall restrooms 

On a 15-6 vote, members of the Senate voted to approve Assemblywoman Sarah Peters’s AB280 — a bill requiring any single-stall restroom in the state to be designated as gender neutral.

The bill, which wouldn’t affect existing bathrooms but would govern future construction, was amended before passage to more narrowly define the types of bathrooms affected by the bill, and removed language allowing for civil litigation if people felt they were denied access to or punished for using a single-stall restroom.

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

An effort to close the ‘classic car’ loophole by limiting the types of older vehicles exempted from smog checks has passed out of the Senate on a party-line 12-9 vote.

The bill, AB349, is sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and seeks to fix a loophole created by a 2011 law that redefined a “classic car” to include any vehicle over a certain age that drove less than 5,000 miles. It resulted in a sharp increase in the number of classic cars registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

Nevada will move to permanently expand mail voting and send all active registered voters a mail ballot starting in the 2022 election, after members of the state Senate voted along party-lines to approve AB321 on Sunday evening.

The bill will make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters will be allowed to opt out and vote in person if they choose. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, the legislation has been embraced by Democrats as a way to enshire expanded voter access to elections, but pilloried by Republicans as not having enough safeguards to prevent fraud while making what they say are unnecessary changes to the state election structure.

Though amendments to the bill still need to be agreed to by the Assembly, passage of the bill will largely cement the pandemic-induced temporary election changes used in the 2020 election as a permanent fixture of elections moving forward.

The bill does modify aspects of the rules in place for the 2020 election, including shortening the deadlines for fixing issues with signatures on mail ballots and for when a mail ballot can be counted after Election Day from seven to six days.

It also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures. 

Prior to the vote in the Senate, however, lawmakers adopted an amendment explicitly authorizing the withdrawal of initiative petitions 90 days prior to an election. That law change is intended to address a lack of clarity in existing law about when a ballot initiative can be withdrawn and is intended to give the Clark County Education Association a chance to pull back two initiatives raising the sales and gaming taxes.

Another amendment, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer, sought to require statewide elected offices including the attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller to follow the same fundraising blackout rules that members of the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor are required to follow during legislative sessions. But the amendment failed on a 10-11 vote, with all Democrats save Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) voting against the measure.

The bill appropriates about $12.1 million to the secretary of state’s office over the budget cycle to help with costs of the legislation.

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

Senators voted 17-3, with one abstention, to authorize cannabis consumption lounges where people can legally consume marijuana after a similar effort failed in the last session.

AB341, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), aims to resolve the conundrum that recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, but consumers are technically not allowed to partake of it anywhere outside of a private residence. It also has been framed as a way to diversify the ownership of Nevada’s relatively homogenous cannabis industry by offering certain incentives to applicants who were adversely affected by the War on Drugs.

Before passing the measure, senators added an amendment that allows local governments to establish rules for the businesses that are stricter than the statewide regulations.

Republican Sen. Ira Hansen and two Democrats — Sen. Dina Neal and Sen. Fabian Donate — voted against the measure. Donate said that while he supports the concept, he had public health-related concerns including about how employees would be protected from secondhand smoke.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) abstained because his wife is a member of the Cannabis Compliance Board.

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

Senators voted 15-6 for a bill from Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that subjects short-term rentals such as Airbnb to the taxes that hotels face and other regulations.

Opponents of AB363 were all Republicans, including Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who said that while he wants to combat the nuisance of illicit “party houses,” he thinks land use planning “is fundamentally a local issue.”

“I certainly understand the impetus to do this,” Pickard said. “The reason, however, that I can't go far enough to support this bill is because I believe that it's an intrusion into the proper operation of local government.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) has pointed to taxation of vacation rentals as a route for bringing more revenue to schools.

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

An amendment added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) during an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting Monday evening proved that nothing is truly dead until the clock strikes midnight on sine die.

The amendment, attached to SB347, revives AB213, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) that died before it received a vote on the Assembly floor because of a concern over a 5 percent allocation from a grant program for creating an alternative to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Flores told The Nevada Independent during a short interview that the proposed amendment removed the 5 percent allocation, stipulating instead that an alternative to the FAFSA program could be established as money is available.

"I'm excited that we at least have accomplished the step of getting it to the floor," Flores said. "The bill is sending a very clear message that regardless of status, so long as you graduate you're going to get in-state tuition."

The amendment would remove de facto citizenship requirements for higher education scholarship programs and secure access to in-state tuition for any graduate of a Nevada high school.

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

  • Removing the requirement to complete the FAFSA, which requires a Social Security number, in order to receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant (a state-support financial aid program for low-income students attending community or state colleges within the Nevada System of Higher Education)
  • Guaranteeing that any graduate from a high school in the state can receive a Silver State Opportunity Grant or a Nevada Promise Scholarship (a scholarship for Nevada high school graduates attending community college)
  • Eliminating a rule that the Board of Regents must distribute scholarships first to students who complete the FAFSA
  • Prohibiting a prepaid tuition program or college savings program from excluding a person or his or her family from participating in the program based solely on immigration status.

Access is at the heart of the amendment, Flores said, adding that the measure will lower barriers to higher education and address fears brought about by the college application process and having to share information regarding immigration status.

“An undocumented student has these added layers to be able to pay for college that ... a lot of other students don't have to go through,” Flores said. “So that it's often a deterrent for a lot of very highly talented,qualified students.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

A bill that will allocate half a million to the UNLV Immigration Clinic’s work defending people against deportation got a party-line vote in the Senate, with Republicans opposed.

AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would create a “Keeping Nevada Working Task Force” to support immigrant entrepreneurship as well as making the appropriation.

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said he opposed a provision that requires the attorney general to develop model policies that seek to limit the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Agencies must report back whether they adopt the policies.

“The standards that are to be developed by the attorney general and then imposed upon ... all other areas of the state, I think, are inappropriate,” he said.

The bill was significantly watered down from its original form, which directly called for limiting collaboration between police and federal immigration enforcement officials.

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

State lawmakers advanced the Legislature’s marquee clean energy bill, SB448, on a 32-10 vote on Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), will clear the way for completion of a major intrastate transmission line sought by NV Energy as part of the utility company’s planned $2 billion transmission infrastructure upgrade project. It will also require the utility to invest $100 million in electric vehicle charging stations, and makes a host of other energy policy changes aimed at boosting carbon reduction efforts in the state.

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

Members of the Senate passed out an energy efficiency measure, AB383, on a party-line vote on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), sets minimum energy efficiency levels for certain residential and commercial appliances and products, ranging from water coolers and air purifiers, to commercial fryers and ovens.

During a bill hearing in April, Watts said that less energy expended would result in less pollution and that using more efficient appliances and devices could also mean lower utility bills. The standards set in the bill would not apply to appliances sold after the bills goes into effect until July 2023, giving manufacturers time to adjust to the new regulations.

Previously, the bill passed out of the Assembly on a 26-13 party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

Members of the Senate voted 18-3 to approve a bill from Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) overhauling the interim structure of the Legislature to match the committee structure used during 120-day sessions.

Rather than the current slew of more than a dozen interim committees, AB448 would repeal and replace almost all of them with interim joint standing committees, a change aimed at increasing continuity and policy expertise between legislative sessions.

Not all of the old interim committees are going away — the bill was amended on Friday, shortly before passing out of the Assembly, to revive an existing Legislative Committee on Public Lands to now serve under a joint interim subcommittee on natural resources.

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

After four failed attempts in prior sessions, AB116, a bill decriminalizing traffic tickets, cleared the Legislature with a 20-1 vote in the Senate. 

The bill would make traffic violations civil infractions and not punishable by jail time. It adjusts current practice where, if unpaid, minor traffic offenses become warrants that can lead to arrests and are punishable by up to six months in jail. 

Although Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he is in support of the policy behind the bill, he was the only senator to vote against the measure for certain concerns regarding rural counties’ ability to implement it. 

“This is the fifth session that I can think of where we've attempted to do this, so it's definitely a step in the right direction,” Hansen said. “But we need to keep in mind there's some very small counties with very limited budgets and for them to be able to implement this is going to be very, very difficult.”

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

The Senate voted 15-6 to pass AB126, which would end Nevada’s presidential caucus and replace it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who voted against the measure, had introduced a similar bill, SB130, this session to convert Nevada from caucus to primary but it died in April. During the Senate vote on Monday, Pickard said that as he was preparing his bill, constituents said that they would not be happy with moving the primary to the beginning of the year as campaigning efforts during December holidays may be “intrusive.”

“I was told pretty consistently by my constituents that they did not like the idea of moving the primary up to the beginning of the year because it meant that we'd be campaigning, we'd be knocking on their doors and we'd be disturbing them during the holidays,” he said. 

Six of the nine Republican senators voted against the bill, which had previously received a 30-11 vote in the Assembly.

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

With time up in the session, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Monday advanced SB461, a so-called “waterfall” bill that sets priorities for spending billions in American Rescue Plan funds. 

Many of those goals — which include backfilling the general fund to compensate for revenue loss and shoring up health care and education — were laid out months ago in a framework document released by the governor and legislative leadership.

“It's day 120, those dollars are not here, but we still know that we have priorities in the state that we want to make sure that can be addressed and that the legislature doesn't slow the process down,” said Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “We don't necessarily need to come back and come together for a day or two to do, that there is a process by which we can set this up to set our priorities to allow these dollars to hit the ground running as soon as they're here.”

Carlton’s comments suggest at least some of the work of distributing the federal dollars will take place through work programs that come through the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, as opposed to a special session.

“It doesn't mean we have to do it that way. Nothing stops us from coming in and doing a special session,” she said in a subsequent interview. “But ... getting 63 of us together and queuing up this building is not a small feat ... so this is just a way to make sure that those issues are dealt with.”

In the meantime, the bill allocates $335 million of the state’s $2.7 billion allocation through the American Rescue Plan to the unemployment trust fund. That was depleted after the pandemic-related shutdowns pushed Nevada’s unemployment rate to around 30 percent.

The amount will bring the trust fund essentially to the point where it is not taking out a loan, fiscal analysts said. Following the Great Recession, employers had to pay higher tax rates for years to pay back a debt to the federal government; the allotment will ensure tax rates won’t be going up for debt service.

“This will be one of the small things that we can do to not have that one more thing added on to that bill, as everyone is trying to climb out of the pandemic and get back to square one in the future,” Carlton said. “This will be one way to lessen those impacts of the pandemic on everyone who pays into this month.”

The Treasury allows states to use American Rescue Plan money to pay back their unemployment trust funds back to pre-pandemic levels, but Nevada’s trust fund was nearly $2 billion before the pandemic — meaning the state could potentially use nearly all of its federal allocation for that purpose.

But, Carlton said, “this is a balancing act and there was a lot of harm done across the state and all different sectors and we're trying to make an impact on all of the different sectors.”

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

A feisty debate about how to repay $1-per-transaction DMV technology fees that were found to be enacted unconstitutionally has finally been resolved in the form of an amendment to another bill.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee over the weekend sparred over whether allocating $7.8 million to pay back $5 million in fees to Nevada motorists needed to be done immediately or could wait until something more cost-efficient could be worked out. Lawmakers are seeking to refund the money after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an extension of the fee in 2019 needed to be passed on a two-thirds majority (it was one vote shy of that threshold).

They opted to add an amendment with the allocation to SB457, a bill that otherwise allows more of the state Highway Fund to be used for administrative costs and has now passed both houses.

“Last night, with time constraints and with the people digging their heels in on stuff it was like, ‘we can't wait, we have to pay for this,’” Carlton said. “This is not a political discussion. You can't make hay out of this anymore. We just need to move on and get our jobs done.”

— Michelle Rindels

Clark County gets STAR bonds exemption; A’s stadium talks nearly derail

An effort to finally phase out oft-criticized special tax districts that use a portion of sales tax for bond repayments received a last minute amendment sought by Southern Nevada governments — though lawmakers took steps to ensure that they can’t be used for a potential major league baseball stadium.

AB368, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), would require the Department of Taxation to report information on existing Tourism Improvement Districts — geographical areas where a public-private partnership is created using a portion of sales tax dollars to help finance construction and bond payments.

Those agreements, financed through Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue (STAR) bonds, were used in the mid-2000s to help finance construction of several Northern Nevada developments including Cabela's and Outlets at Legends — agreements later criticized, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, for not building in enough accountability measures into the projects.

Benitez-Thompson — who said her mother was laid off by the City of Reno after the municipality was forced to use general fund dollars to make bond payments on a STAR bonds project — submitted a conceptual amendment to the bill phasing out all language for STAR Bond tax financing, in effect sunsetting the program.

But that raised concerns from representatives of Southern Nevada local governments, who on Monday morning held an unusual back-and-forth with the six members of the conference committee on a request to exempt Clark County from the bill. Conference committees are appointed when the Assembly and Senate disagree over an amendment, but often are also used to push last-minute changes to legislation on the final day of the session.

Lobbyist Warren Hardy, representing a consortium of Southern Nevada governments, said there was interest in allowing STAR Bonds and tourism improvement districts as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for developers — including potentially the Oakland A’s, who have publicly floated moving the professional baseball team to Las Vegas.

But the idea of using STAR Bonds for a stadium rankled lawmakers on the conference committee.

“I’ve been very clear on how these things need to be done … if we’re going to do Huntridge (Theater), small nonprofit, things along that line, I think that’s where these funds really could possibly work,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said. “But if we’re talking about a stadium and trying to pay for that, I have a lot of concerns about moving forward at that level.”

After a small amount of debate, the conference committee (with the implicit blessing of Southern Nevada lobbyists) agreed to move forward on the bill with an amendment only allowing STAR Bonds to be extended in Clark County, and striking existing language that allows the bond proceeds to help pay for a professional sports stadium.

— Riley Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

Physician aid in dying legislation will not advance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Howard Stutz

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Gender-neutral bathrooms bill gets messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

$1 million to Immunize Nevada in AB355

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Assembly finally moves to close the 'classic car' loophole as end of session looms

The examples are all around. Cars driving around with a “classic vehicle” license plate that are not, by any reasonable definition, classic. That’s because of a 2011 law that redefined a “classic car” to include any vehicle over a certain age that drove less than 5,000 miles. It resulted in a sharp increase in the number of classic cars registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

It also created a loophole for emissions testing. Cars with a “classic vehicle” license plate are not required to pass an emissions test. AB349, legislation backed by Assemblyman Howard Watts III (D-Las Vegas), looked to close the loophole with the goal of improving air quality. 

To fix the problem, the legislation required classic-vehicle drivers to hold classic-car insurance. The bill was received with wide support from environmental groups, the Nevada Public Health Association, the American Lung Association, and health districts in Clark County and Washoe County. They said closing the loophole would reduce pollution and benefit public health.

AB349 made other changes to the state’s vehicle emissions program. It includes provisions to use remote sensing for emissions testing and exempts new, less-polluting cars from emissions testing for the first three years of the vehicle’s life. The bill looked to raise existing fees, bringing them closer to their inflation values, and use funds to help drivers repair and replace old cars.

Going into the last week of the session, lawmakers moved to adopt an amendment authorizing county commissions to impose fees related to emission reduction — a change aimed at removing the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote on the bill, as it previously raised taxes and fees.

After the amendment was approved, the Assembly passed the legislation 25-17 in a largely party-line vote. Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) joined Republicans in opposing the legislation.

The amended legislation removes the fee changes, but it allows Clark and Washoe counties to impose new fees that support vehicle emission reductions. The amendment requires that any new funds be used by local air quality agencies, with at least 50 percent of the funding going “to reduce emissions from a motor vehicle for the benefit of historically underserved communities.” 

But the revenue element of the legislation, Watts said, was critical because it provided a funding pathway for drivers to ensure their vehicles comply with emissions testing requirements.

“The whole reason that I'm working on this revenue piece is to be able to provide a way to help people, sooner rather than later, be able to afford and transition into cleaner vehicles,” he said.

Watts said the legislation, as amended, is an important step in addressing air pollution.

“It’s hugely important to the community,” Watts said on Tuesday. “We know that transportation, and particularly vehicles, are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. We know that it's contributing to all kinds of things that worsen in public health — heat, drought, wildfire, etc… So I think anything that we can do to reduce that is going to be hugely beneficial.”

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

Lawmakers clarify price tag for expanding undocumented student access to Silver State Opportunity Grant

unlv campus

Allowing undocumented Nevada students to apply for the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant without filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, which requires a Social Security number, would cost about $250,000 annually, officials told lawmakers on Thursday. 

Attending college can be particularly burdensome for students without legal status, who are ineligible for awards such as the federal needs-based Pell Grant. 

While AB213 does not include a fiscal note, bill sponsor Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Andrew Clinger, chief financial officer for the Nevada System of Higher Education, clarified that in order to create an alternative form and process for undocumented students to apply for the grant, the Nevada System of Higher Education will draw up to 5 percent of the Silver State Opportunity Grant program funds, which total $5 million a year allocated from the state general fund. 

“That's why there's not a fiscal note on that piece, because with that language in there it gives us the resources to go ahead and implement that alternative FASFA,” Clinger said during a hearing before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee last Thursday. 

Clinger added that he was unsure whether the complete 5 percent, or $250,000 annual total, earmarked in the bill would be necessary to implement AB213.

“Obviously we want to get as much of those funds out to the students as possible so we will keep those administrative costs as low as we can,” he said. 

Flores, who also practices immigration law, added that the process of filling out the alternative form would ensure privacy protection for undocumented students. 

“It's very similar to the way you would go about filling out a passport, except that it would be our own revised new version of it and it would not be reported and it would not go out to the federal government. It would be locally handled within the jurisdictional boundaries of Nevada,” he said. 

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, expressed concern about the recurring cost the bill would mean for the grant program. 

“If it's an ongoing cost and we start scraping money off of tops of scholarships to get things done, then I think that's a bigger policy discussion for everyone to have,” she said. 

Along with removing the FAFSA requirement to apply for the Silver State Opportunity Grant, AB213 would also scrap the requirement that students sign an affidavit declaring themselves either citizens of the U.S., legal immigrants or to have filed for a legal immigrant status in order to apply for the Millennium Scholarship, which offers free or reduced tuition to Nevada colleges and universities. 

Heading off concerns about the value of extending the scholarship to undocumented students, Flores noted that undocumented students’ immigration status is likely to change through their time in higher education and said the state has a responsibility to support all students. 

“We have a vested interest in ensuring that our students who are graduating here, we've already invested X, Y and Z in ensuring that they go through our system of K-12. Now we have a vested interest in continuing to ensure that they graduate and can put all those benefits and resources and all those capabilities to work for our state,” Flores said. 

In addition to expanding access to the state grant for undocumented students, AB213 would also enshrine certain Nevada System of Higher Education practices in state law, such as guaranteeing that graduates from Nevada high schools receive in-state tuition and are eligible for the merit-based Millennium and last-dollar Nevada Promise scholarships. 

The measure also aims to ensure enrolled members of federally recognized tribes in Nevada are eligible for in-state tuition regardless of state residency status. 

The committee did not immediately vote on the bill, which still needs a vote from the full Assembly and Senate in order to be passed as state law before the Legislature ends on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reducing points of contact and racial disparities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Miranda warning for minors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limiting direct file

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jurisdiction over juvenile cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes to juvenile housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treating youth found incompetent

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

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

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

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

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

Diverting more youth

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

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

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

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

Sealing records

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structural changes within the juvenile justice system

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Future justice efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s one month left in the session. Here’s where the Legislature is on taxes, the death penalty and more.

The checkered flag is poised to start waving as state lawmakers enter the final month of the legislative session with a host of major policy and budget issues still unresolved, from repeal of the death penalty to raising taxes on the mining industry, wholesale changes to the K-12 funding formula and many other big-ticket items.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic Forum — the panel of five economists who forecast expected state tax revenue — is generally viewed as the green light for a host of budgetary issues and major bills to move to the finish line before the clock strikes midnight on sine die, May 31.

Most indicators are that the improving economy, coupled with rising COVID vaccination rates, will boost state tax revenues above what the Forum forecasted in December — about $8.5 billion over the next two fiscal years, or about $500 million less than the last two-year budget cycle.

Legislators have nonetheless proceeded based on the less-rosy budgetary picture, making tough cuts to education and health care programs that at times drew heated debate. While a recovering economy is expected to help alleviate some of those previously identified cuts, lawmakers say they’re still waiting on the bigger piece of the puzzle — U.S. Treasury guidance on how the state can spend the roughly $2.9 billion allocated through the recently passed federal American Recovery Act.

But without guidance soon, legislators say it's almost a guarantee that a summer special session will be needed to make a decision on how to dole out the one-time federal windfall.

“Every day from this day forward, we're running out of time,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Chris Brooks said. “(If) that happens at a certain point ... the only way we can do it is to close the budget, and then fill it back in at a later date, just because we'll run out of time.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Chief of Staff Michelle White echoed those comments, saying that the governor’s office didn’t want to recommend allocating general fund dollars to needs that may later be met by an influx of federal funds — even on topics that might attract bipartisan support, such as funding a replacement unemployment insurance system, a broad expansion of preschool and more. Beyond the flexible $2.9 billion, other pots of federal funding with more specific earmarks are also expected.

“The governor wants to make sure that that's a process that can go through the appropriate budgetary process, and with the Legislature having full input,” she said. “We hope that's the case.”

Outside of the budget, legislators are beginning their typical ritual of rolling out ambitious bills in the waning days of the session, including a state-based public health insurance option, fixes to the oft-criticized unemployment insurance system, and a major transmission and electric vehicle omnibus bill. They’re also making progress on behind-the-scenes negotiations, including on a much-publicized effort to raise mining taxes and implementing a wholesale change to the decades-old K-12 funding formula.

But hopes in early May can often turn to tears by June, with many landmines and potential pitfalls awaiting lawmakers and major pending legislation. Here’s a look at the state of play for some of the biggest proposals on tap for the last month of the session.

A gold pour
Molten gold poured into ingot molds at a mine in northern Nevada. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Mining taxes

The question of a potential mining tax hike has simmered in the background through the first three months of session. There’s been little public movement from lawmakers, but three proposed constitutional amendments raising the industry’s constitutional rate cap are playing the role of Chekov’s gun.

Though progressive advocates are clamoring for lawmakers to move forward on AJR1 — striking what they call the mining industry’s sweetheart deal in the Constitution and imposing a 7.75 percent tax on the gross proceeds of mining companies — discussions are ongoing about a potential deal that would lead to lawmakers dropping the proposed amendments in favor of a more immediate tax change.

Democratic legislators appear wary of sending a mining tax resolution to the 2022 midterm ballot and stirring up rural angst at a time when Gov. Steve Sisolak and other high-profile Democrats are up for re-election. The mining industry may also be wary of a ballot measure — voters in 2014 narrowly defeated a ballot question removing the language in the Constitution capping mining taxation, but that victory for the industry came during a midterm election that favored Republicans and had particularly low turnout (though many expect the 2022 midterms to be difficult for Democrats as well, given that the party controlling the White House historically does poorly in midterm elections).

“I said even last special session that if we can find common ground and some compromise that would avoid us having an expensive … exercise on the ballot, that we will certainly be open to that, and we still are,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) said on Monday.

Negotiations are still fluid — meaning things could easily collapse between now and the end of session. But lawmakers, including Senate Finance Chair Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), say that some sort of immediate mining tax increase may be the “best and only option” to raise revenue this session.

“I would prefer to see a collaborative approach between the industry and the Legislature to come up with a change in the current [taxation] structure that they have,” he said. “That would be a sustainable way to put money into our budgets in the short term, and not many years from now. I'm supportive of that approach.”

But any struck deal will lead to a math problem — lawmakers need at least a handful of Republican votes in the Assembly and Senate to clear the needed two-thirds threshold for a tax increase. 

One of Republicans’ most prominent concerns when the proposed constitutional amendments emerged over the summer was that the mining industry was surprised by them; this time around, the industry is at the table for discussions. Republican leaders in both chambers have not completely closed the door on a tax increase, but said they want more input in the process and would want any revenue hike be narrowly tailored and go to specific programs or functions amenable to both parties.

“I think that all tax bills should have been discussed from the get-go,” Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said in an interview. “I don't think it's proper to bring anything with 30 days left and say, ‘Oh, here you go. We made the deal, and now we want you to vote for it.’ Why not have a discussion with us?”

Hospital beds for infants as seen during a tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State-based public option

One of the most heavily lobbied issues over the last month of the session will be the effort to implement a state public health insurance option — requiring insurers that bid to provide coverage to the state’s Medicaid population to also apply to offer a state-backed public option plan. 

SB420 was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and has already been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.

The legislation — dubbed “CannizzaroCare” — comes from public option efforts in past sessions, including a 2017 effort to allow Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program, (which the Legislature approved but that was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval), and a 2019 study lawmakers approved to look into the possibility of allowing Nevadans to buy into the state’s Public Employee Benefits Program (PEBP) health plan.

The legislation is backed by a cadre of public health groups (including health districts in Washoe and Clark counties) and progressive organizations, but has attracted an organized opposition effort from doctors, hospitals and health insurance panning the legislation as an “unaffordable new government-controlled health insurance system.” 

Death with dignity

The latest in a long line of efforts to legalize a process allowing terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication prescribed by a physician hasn’t made much movement since it was referred without recommendation out of committee by the first committee deadline in early April

The bill, AB351, was referred to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee shortly after, where it’s sat ever since. But bill sponsor Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said he was confident about the bill’s chances — adding that he expected it to come up for a hearing and likely vote at some point once the budget committee finishes processing more straightforward agency bills.

“Eventually we'll have an opportunity to have a hearing there, and then hopefully get it to the floor,” he said. “And I'm confident that that's where it's at now. Obviously, things may change, but I think that's where we're at now.”

Flores said he had also spoken with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and believed the agency would take its fiscal note (estimated cost to implement) off the bill.

The concept has divided lawmakers, and not always along strict party lines. Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said she had struggled with the bill; her libertarian side supported giving patients those rights, but thought that many of the concepts including limiting a coroner’s investigation and timelines in the bill were improper. 

“I have real issues with those things, apart from my struggle with does a person have a right to decide how they end their life,” she said.

The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada
The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., is seen on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Death penalty

Members of the Assembly recently voted along party lines to abolish the death penalty, pushing the proposal as far as it’s ever been in Nevada after fits and starts in recent sessions. But the bill hasn’t been touched in the Senate, where both the committee chair responsible for processing it and the Senate majority leader are prosecutors whose boss — Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson — has been vocal in favor of keeping capital punishment.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has at times expressed unqualified opposition to the death penalty, and on other occasions said he would support it for extreme cases, such as the Oct. 1 mass shooting. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Melanie Scheible has said that the bill could move forward if the sponsor can come with an amendment that is acceptable to the governor, but bill presenter Assemblyman Steve Yeager — while acknowledging he wants to make progress — says he’s not sure whether he and abolition supporters would accept a watered down version of the bill.

Others, including leaders of the Nevada State Democratic Party, say the onus is on senators to at least give the bill the courtesy of a hearing. In a video not widely circulated before this week, Scheible affirmed unequivocally at the Battle Born Progress Progressive Summit in January that she supported the quest to end the death penalty.

Offices of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in Las Vegas. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

DETR bill

Republicans have latched on to one of the most prominent failings of the executive branch — massive backlogs in an inundated unemployment claims system — as one of their top priorities this session. Lawmakers of both parties often mention the emails they have received from claimants desperate for stalled benefits.

Senate Republicans have met with claimants in the glitchy Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and hinted for weeks that they would introduce legislation to address issues identified in a lawsuit brought by PUA claimants, such as the lack of communication between a regular unemployment and PUA computer system. They also have been publicly critical that the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation loan policy bill, SB75, makes technical changes to the regular unemployment program but does not speak to some of claimants’ marquee complaints.

Though Republicans’ bill, SB419, dropped last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Brooks described it as a “stunt” and likely dead on arrival because it proposes spending $40 million from the strained general fund on a multi-year modernization project.

Brooks said the ambitious project should wait until the latest round of federal funding comes through. Democrats have listed a modernization project as a top priority in a framework on how to spend the money, and say they expect the federal guidance will allow such a use.

White said Democrats are in agreement with recommendations made by a governor-appointed unemployment strike force led by former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

“We have to make sure that anything that we've identified last year that could be better, that we're making all efforts to change now that funding … will be available, pending eligibility,” White said.

DETR officials have said it could take up to a year to design a request for proposals laying out exactly what the state wants out of the IT overhaul. In the meantime, the governor’s budget proposes a modest $1 million over the biennium for contractors to help resolve close to 2,000 technical issues of various sizes within the benefits system.

Students stand in line at Wengert Elementary School for the first day of in-person learning on Monday, March 1, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Education

Release of the long-awaited report from the statutorily-created Commission on School Funding last week laid bare what many lawmakers and public education advocates have long suspected — moving Nevada to the national average in per-pupil school funding will cost more than $2 billion over a decade and hundreds of million of dollars in additional revenue every year.

The report recommended that lawmakers implement major changes to the current sales and property tax systems, but those general proposals have largely fallen flat. On property tax changes, Brooks said he “absolutely” agrees changes are needed but “I don't think now's the time to do it” as the state continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Frierson in a previous statement panned the sales tax as regressive but signaled support for restructuring the mining tax and bringing in revenue from short-term rental companies such as Airbnb. 

"With regards to other revenue structures, many take time and robust stakeholder outreach and that has not been something we have had during this session," Frierson said.

Still, lawmakers are moving forward with plans to accelerate a shift to the new “Pupil-Centered Funding Formula,” an update to the dated past funding formula initially approved by legislators in 2019. Many of those budget details, including promises to implement various hold harmless protections to avoid massive overnight funding losses for rural school districts, are still in the works.

Some Republicans have expressed openness to increase funding for education if it has direct ties to student outcomes and is allocated in a transparent manner; they fear that it could otherwise be swept up into collective bargaining agreements. They also have bristled at the shift toward the new funding formula, which has reshuffled the deck on some of their party’s most significant legislative accomplishments — a series of “categorical” programs targeted toward specific student groups with special needs that flourished under unified Republican control of the governor’s office and Legislature in 2015.

Settelmeyer cautioned that Republicans would only be likely to support tax increases directly tied to targeted education spending (the so-called “categoricals,” which include programs such as Read by Grade 3, and Zoom and Victory schools). He said the odds of starting a discussion on a “bipartisan way of how to get there” didn’t bode well at this late stage in the session.

“That's nothing new. Education has always wanted more money,” he said. “Republicans have shown consistently, if it goes to a purpose, we'll have a discussion. You want it to just go to the same system? I think we tend to be a little bit less likely to agree.”

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

Cannabis 

A bill to authorize cannabis consumption lounges seeks to resolve a longstanding conundrum in the state — that using cannabis is legal, but consuming it anywhere outside a private home is illegal. It stands at odds with an assumption that drove much investment in the Nevada marijuana industry — that tourist consumption would make the Silver State’s cannabis industry punch above its weight.

The measure, AB341, is described — even by the director of the Cannabis Compliance Board — as the most promising vehicle for diversifying an industry with upper ranks that skew white and male. “Social equity” elements of the bill would give a competitive advantage to lounge operators who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, bringing new players into an industry characterized by extremely high barriers to entry and fierce competition for a limited number of licenses.

A similar consumption lounge concept failed late in the 2019 session, but that was before the Cannabis Compliance Board had formally assumed regulatory oversight of the industry. Proponents are optimistic that with a focused regulatory body in place, the state is now ready to take a step toward lounges.

The bill has been parked in the Ways and Means Committee because of the estimated $3 million the Cannabis Compliance Board would have to spend to support the projected 30 new positions needed to regulate scores of consumption lounges. Marijuana regulation is generally self-supported by licensing fees, although the board has not yet estimated how much revenue the lounges would bring in to balance out the ledger.

“I'm hopeful it's gonna move,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor, adding that it would likely be one of the last things finished in the session. “I just think it's gonna sit there for a while, because we have to close sort of everything else … before we can really have a discussion about what might be available to satisfy that fiscal note.”

Another potential wrench in the wheels is that the bill requires a two-thirds majority vote, which means it’s possible Republican-raised concerns about people driving after consuming marijuana could sideline the bill.

Asked about the possible reemergence of a policy allowing coveted dispensary licenses for applicants who did not win them in a contentious 2018 licensing round, Gilles said the governor’s office is not committing to any policies on that front, citing many moving parts, including ongoing litigation.

“I will be happy to engage in any conversations with folks if there's a proposal that's worth ... being worked through the Legislature that's going to resolve everybody's issues and everybody's concerns,” he said. “I don't know that that's possible.”

Tesla Model X with doors up
A Tesla Model X as seen during an NV Energy and NDOT Electric Vehicle Guest Drive Event at Bruce Trent Park in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Energy policy

One of the biggest remaining policy-focused bills yet to drop is Sen. Chris Brooks’ forthcoming major energy policy bill, which is expected to be introduced sometime this week.

Brooks has described the provisions of the bill in past interviews — it will require a $100 million investment by NV Energy to facilitate greatly expanded electric vehicle charging infrastructure, while doubling down on transmission infrastructure — aimed at finishing NV Energy’s proposed Greenlink transmission project, which utility regulators partially approved in March

On Friday, Brooks said that those portions and others previously described — including adoption of “tenant solar,” allowing utility-scale battery storage projects to access renewable energy tax abatement programs, and moving the state to a larger wholesale electric market would all be included in the legislation.

Brooks reiterated that there were no surprises in the forthcoming bill, and he said the goal was to start the state on major transmission projects as soon as possible — saying that while the Public Utilities Commission made the right choice in the most recent transmission case, lawmakers needed to sign off on any major policy push toward greater transmission infrastructure. 

“It’s not the PUC’s job to encourage economic development in the state of Nevada, it's the PUC’s job to keep the lights on,” he said. “And so the argument that we need transmission, so that we can become a regional hub for transmission in the West, and so that we can attract economic activity to our state, is not necessarily the regulator's job... it's the policymakers and legislator’s jobs and the governor's job to give that message.”

Enrique, who was recently evicted from his home, poses for a photograph in a Las Vegas neighborhood on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Housing and rental assistance

Gov. Steve Sisolak has said that the state extension of the eviction moratorium, which runs through May at the state level but is backed up by a federal moratorium that lasts through June, will be the final one. But lawmakers are working on a bill that creates a “glide path” from the eviction ban into normalcy, and ushers out the hundreds of millions of dollars the state has received in rental assistance but has struggled to get out to people quickly.

“As we're coming up to the end of the moratorium, we need to figure out a way to even further ... perfect the way in which we get those dollars into the hands of landlords,” said Scott Gilles of the governor’s office. 

Gilles said the governor’s office doesn’t think they can get around a federal government restriction that prevents payments directly to a landlord — with no tenant involvement — but the legislation aims “to ensure that a tenant who wants to engage and take advantage of the rental assistance dollars will ultimately have that opportunity.”

Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said discussions include how “we can slow the eviction process enough so that the monies that are there get used” and whether there are other pots of less-restricted money that could help tenants who don’t qualify under newer, stricter federal rules setting income limits or landlords who are having trouble securing the required tenant cooperation.

It’s still unclear whether the bill would have provisions that prevent landlords from immediately evicting a tenant after receiving overdue back rent through the assistance program. 

“We're looking at … whatever options are there to keep people in their homes and if there's some enticement for a landlord to be paid these dollars or ... have some sort of agreement going forward through the mediation program,” Gilles said. “Obviously that's the intended result.”

AFSCME workers prepare to unionize
Ken Edmonds, a developmental support tech at Desert Regional Center, reads a statement before filing for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State worker collective bargaining

Another potential hurdle in the rush to finish the session will come in the novel process of approving collective bargaining agreements for state workers — the first-ever undertaking since lawmakers expanded bargaining rights to state employees in 2019.

In theory, the bargaining units (representing a swath of state workers) are supposed to come to a tentative agreement with the state’s Department of Administration, go for approval to the state’s Board of Examiners (composed of the governor and other statewide elected officials), and is then transmitted to the Legislature as a budget amendment, prior to the end of session.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said Friday that only one agreement (with the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association) out of the seven recognized bargaining units is ready to go before the Board of Examiners. 

The agency said it does not “currently have a timeline” for bringing forward agreements with bargaining units represented by AFSCME (which represents four) and is still negotiating tentative agreements with two other units — the Battle Born Fire Fighters Association and Nevada Police Union.

The 2019 legislation authorizing state workers to collectively bargain also contains provisions giving the governor the final say on wages or other monetary compensation despite any approved collective bargaining agreement.

White said that the main focus right now was timing, and getting budget amendments over to lawmakers with enough time to spare before the end of session.

“Anyone could look at it right now with 30 days left and say that's a tight timeline, and it is a tight timeline but, we feel confident in our partnership throughout this process to negotiate in good faith and get everything done that we can possibly get done in these negotiations and agreements,” she said.

Mirage guest room attendant Perla Padilla, defending champion in the Housekeeping Olympics bed making event, cleans a room on Monday, Oct. 8. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Right to Return

A bill presented by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) that guarantees hospitality workers the right to return to the job they lost during the pandemic has not advanced since it had a public hearing in early April. But the measure, SB386, has a waiver that exempts it from legislative deadlines, and parties have been negotiating to address stark disagreements between union and business interests.

“Our whole goal is making sure people can get back on the job and so it's something we're monitoring. I think there are some real, real challenges that people are trying to work through. And that's kind of the last update I've had on it,” White said on Saturday. “So I think we'll see. I think it's something that folks want to find a resolution on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills sent to budget committees

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

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

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

Cannabis

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

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

Health care

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

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

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

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

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

Decriminalizing traffic tickets

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

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

Election bills

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

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

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

Bills that actually died:

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

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

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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

Deadline Day: Banning ‘ghost guns,’ prohibiting cat declawing and bail reform all advance

At times with little debate, state lawmakers worked late into the night on Tuesday to pass more than 140 bills out of their house of origin prior to the Legislature’s second major bill passage deadline.

Lawmakers voted out measures including a tenant’s rights bill limiting application fees, a bill requiring eggs sold in Nevada be cage-free and a measure lowering penalties for youth caught possessing marijuana.

They also approved a contentious measure banning so-called “ghost guns,” after the bill was amended to remove sections giving businesses more rights to prohibit firearms on their property.

In total, lawmakers by Tuesday evening had approved 143 bills and resolutions, including 57 in the Senate and 86 in the Assembly. Legislators worked quickly — only one measure in the Assembly received any debate from lawmakers prior to a vote.

But Tuesday’s deadline is just one of many upcoming hurdles —  lawmakers will only have a few short weeks before the next major deadline to pass bills out of their second committee comes on May 14. 

However, a bill not passing by Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean it has entered the legislative graveyard — dozens of bills have been granted exemptions from legislative deadlines, either because they have a fiscal effect on the state budget or because they were granted a waiver from those deadlines from legislative leadership.

That includes major election-related bills moving Nevada to an expanded mail-voting system and a measure aimed at moving the state up the presidential primary calendar — both of which were granted exemptions from legislative deadlines and moved to a budget committee on Monday.

Legislators were also busy on Monday, approving more than 40 bills including measures aimed at improving access to birth control, sealing records of evictions that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a statewide human trafficking victim support plan and shoring up the state’s battered unemployment insurance system. 

Here’s a look at major policies that passed out of floor sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

TUESDAY

Banning ‘ghost guns’

Despite a significant amendment removing language giving casino resorts and other major businesses more legal weight to prohibit firearm possession on their property, members of the Assembly still cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s AB286.

The bill  — which had drawn strong opposition from pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association — now makes it illegal for a person to possess or sell any unfinished frame or reiever of a firearm, or any fireram not imprinted with a serial number. It’s intended to cut down on so-called “ghost guns,” which gun safety advocates say are used by criminals to obtain weapons that they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to purchase.

Those arguments didn’t fly with Assembly Republicans, including Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who said the bill didn’t have any protections for current gun kit owners and would turn them into criminals overnight.

“This bill is nothing but the camel’s nose under the tent, except this time, it's up to the neck,” he said. “This bill is another bite of the apple, and that apple is your Second Amendment rights being taken away, bite by bite.”

Jauregui said removing the portion of the bill empowering businesses to ban guns on premise was not ideal, but the bill’s focus was ghost guns and it was vital to pass the bill by deadline.

“We're still committed to working with stakeholders and my colleagues, because this discussion isn't over,” Jauregui told reporters Tuesday evening. “We have a big responsibility to the thousands and thousands of employees who work on the Strip every single day. They're entitled to a safe workplace.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, but it could coincide with recently announced plans by the Biden administration to also take action to limit the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.”

Housing protections

Along a party line vote with Republicans in opposition, the Senate passed SB254, a bill that establishes fair housing procedures and strengthens anti-discrimination laws.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), the bill would authorize the Nevada Housing Division to investigate housing discrimination and prohibit landlords from looking at arrest records of potential tenants.

The measure also prevents landlords from denying applicants because they rely on public assistance or have a disability.

“It is time that Nevada moves into the space where we actually stand behind our words of ‘second chances for citizens’ who have either served their time or who have not been further criminalized within the system and are not currently in jail,” Neal said. “Housing is a fundamental part of our lives.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said that though he appreciates the intent of the legislation, the bill’s requirement that the attorney general prosecute on behalf of individuals who experience discrimination goes too far.

“It’s just inappropriate and not the right role for the attorney general in the state of Nevada," Kieckhefer said.

Tenant protections

Senators voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for a bill that expands tenant protections, including barring landlords from taking an application fee from more than one prospective tenant at a time. SB218 is sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks).

It also limits landlords to fees allowed by statute or that are “actual and reasonable,” requires fees be disclosed on the first page of the lease agreement and may not increase fees without 45 days advance notice for rent paid monthly.

Restorative justice before expulsion

Senators voted 16-5 to approve SB354, which prohibits schools from expelling a student without first providing them with an action plan based on restorative justice. The bill defines restorative justice as “nonpunitive intervention and support” meant to improve the student’s behavior and remedy any harm they caused.

It calls for a statewide framework of restorative justice that could include training for school staff on psychology, trauma and chronic stress. The bill also requires the state to recognize in its accountability system schools that reduce their rates of suspension and expulsion.

Five Republicans opposed the bill.

Transparency on food delivery fees

Senators unanimously approved SB320, which requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

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

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

Bail reform

Members of the Senate voted 17-4 to approve SB369, which amends Nevada’s law on pretrial release by requiring that a court only impose bail or a condition of release if its found to be the “least restrictive means necessary” to protect the safety of the community and ensure the person appears in court. It changes previous law requiring defendants show “good cause” for pretrial release that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2019.

Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said he opposed removing the “good cause” requirement, saying that he was concerned it could lead to more criminals on the street. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said it was needed to align the state with the court’s decision and still allowed courts to impose conditions of release on someone who might prove a danger to others.

“I think that this bill strikes a balance in protecting the community and providing some additional safeguards, while at the same time recognizing the Supreme Court's decision in (the 2019) case and aligning our statutes with their constitutional findings in that case,” Cannizzaro said.

HIV laws overhaul

In a unanimous vote, members of the state Senate approved Sen. Dallas Harris’ SB275 — a comprehensive bill aimed at updating the state’s laws on human immunodeficiency virus by treating HIV in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill repeals a state law making it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease — putting it in line with how the state treats other diseases such as chlamydia and SARS.

Banning the declawing of cats

A measure generally prohibiting the declawing of cats, except for medically necessary purposes, passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

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

All Assembly Democrats, save Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas), voted in favor of the measure, with all Republicans. save Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama and Jim Wheeler, voting against it.

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

A measure clearing the way for collegiate athletes to profit off their image or likeness passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB254, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, would prohibit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing students from using their likeness, name or image in sponsorships or for other professional services, with certain limits on what kinds of businesses that students can contract with. It also requires the Legislative Committee of Education to conduct an interim study on the issue.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve Rochelle Nguyen’s AB296, which creates the crime of ‘doxing’ — unauthorized sharing of personal identifying information, such as an address, with the intent to cause harm or mental anguish.

The bill as amended authorizes a person to bring a civil action against a person who “doxes” them, and allows a court to issue restraining orders against a person that disseminates that personal information.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Senators voted 18-3 to pass SB203, a bill that removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved. Previously, such actions were limited by deadlines, including one provision requiring a lawsuit be initiated within 20 years of a victim turning 18. 

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

The three Republicans who voted against the bill raised several concerns, including how accurately a victim would remember a very old crime and why the measure included a 200-room limit. Sponsor Marilyn Dondero Loop responded that there needed to be some sort of room limitation or there would be no bill.

Notaries charging more

AB245, a bill that would allow notaries public to charge more for document preparation services, passed in a 31-11 vote.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said the bill was backed by small businesses that wanted the opportunity to make more money. It would double or triple the fees that notaries are allowed to charge for certain services, and create civil penalties for violators — a provision Flores said was meant to curb bad actors in the industry.

The industry can be open to malfeasance in part because of notaries misrepresenting themselves as authorized to process immigration documents because of the way the term “notarios” translates in Latin American countries.

Cage-free eggs

Members of the Assembly voted 27-15 to pass AB399, which requires eggs sold within the state to be housed in cage-free living arrangements by Jan. 1, 2024.

Sponsor Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) argued during a hearing that demands for efficiency in egg production led to hens living in “pretty horrific conditions” with less square footage than a piece of letter paper. Egg industry officials who testified said consumer demand for cage-free eggs is quickly rising, and several of Nevada’s neighboring states are adopting cage-free requirements.

Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) was the lone Republican to support the measure.

Citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

Assembly members voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for AB440 — a bill that directs police to issue citations in lieu of arresting people over misdemeanors in more situations. The measure does make exceptions for when the matter is a “subsequent” offense, defined as something for which the person has been previously arrested, convicted or cited. 

Multi-parent adoption

A measure allowing multiple parents to adopt a child without removing a parent from a child’s birth certificate passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB115, sponsored by Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), would recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

Small business advocate

On a 31-11 vote, members of the Assembly advanced a bill that would create an Office of Small Business Advocacy under the purview of the state lieutenant governor.

The bill, AB184, was amended to put a 2023 expiration date on the office and prohibits the lieutenant governor from funding positions in the office from budgeted dollars from the state’s general fund.

MONDAY

Sealing eviction records during COVID

Assembly members cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve AB141, a bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would require courts to automatically seal eviction case court records for any summary eviction conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original version of the bill would have also required landlords to give certain long-term tenants additional advance notice before proceeding with a no-cause eviction, but those provisions were removed in an amendment.

Unemployment bill

Senators voted 12-9 to advance SB75, a measure that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions and assuring that layoffs during the height of the pandemic recession do not count against employers in determining their unemployment tax rate.

Republicans, who want more ambitious changes such as fast-tracking a major overhaul of computer infrastructure and the merging of the regular system with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and the self-employed, said the bill does not go far enough.

“It's the only bill that DETR brought, and yet it fails to address the bulk of the problems including the structural and technological deficits that have kept thousands of people from getting the benefits they paid for,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “I'm amazed that anyone thinks that this is enough.”

Pickard also spoke out against lawmakers’ decision to extend unemployment benefits to school support professionals who work from nine to eleven months a year. Those workers typically aren’t eligible for benefits because they have a reasonable expectation of their job returning after the summertime, although union representatives say a tough economic climate has hurt their summer job prospects.

But those workers will be eligible for unemployment this summer under emergency regulations adopted last week. Republicans say that even with federal funds footing 75 percent of the bill, it could cost districts millions of dollars.

“They were hired for nine months of work. This is a giveaway that I cannot support,” Pickard said.

Lowering barriers to contraception

Members of the Senate unanimously voted to approve SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The bill would allow women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit

Cannizzaro introduced similar legislation in 2019, but that bill never made it out of its final committee hearing. 

“Removing access barriers to birth control will lead to better health outcomes for Nevadans who need it,” Cannizzaro tweeted after the bill was voted out of the Senate. “I’m excited to move this bill on to the Assembly!”

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

Keeping wage history private

Senators vote 17-4 to pass SB293, which prohibits an employer from seeking out a job candidate’s wage or salary history, or basing pay on a previous salary.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said the measure would help tackle the gender pay gap, ensuring that if a woman’s pay was lower than her male counterparts in her last job, it would not follow her to her next job and perpetuate a disparity.

She said the measure directs employers to base pay on a worker’s experience and qualifications instead of a previous pay scale.

Four Republican senators opposed the bill.

‘Pattern and practice’ investigations of police agencies

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB58, a bill sponsored by the attorney general’s office that authorizes the agency to conduct so-called “pattern and practice” investigations into systemic abuse or discrimination committed by law enforcement. 

During a hearing on the bill last month, Attorney General Aaron Ford said the measure was necessary because the federal U.S. Department of Justice — which was given authority to conduct such investigations in 1994 — ceased conducting them in 2017 under former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Though the policy may change, Ford said it is important for the state to have the ability to undertake similar investigations.

Jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

Members of the Assembly voted 32-10 to approve AB42, a bill seeking to implement a Nevada Supreme Court decision requiring jury trials in misdemeanor domestic violence cases that involve the defendant losing the right to have a firearm. 

The bill, which was sponsored by the City of Henderson, attempts to square a simmering implementation issue that arose for local governments after the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision requiring jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases.

Six Republican Assembly members — Annie Black, Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama, Lisa Krasner, Tom Roberts and Jill Tolles —  joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Mining oversight

Members of the Assembly voted along party lines (26-16) to approve AB148, a bill by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) that would prohibit the issuance of a mining operation or exploration permit to any person leading a company that has defaulted on obligations related to mining reclamation.

An amendment to the bill refined the definition of a “principal officer” of a company to a “person who has a controlling interest” in a mining company that has defaulted on obligations, and allows that person to receive a permit once past debts are paid. The measure, if approved, would go into effect in 2022.

Hairstyle discrimination

In a 20-1 vote, the Senate passed SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

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

The bill arrives as part of a nationwide movement to end hair discrimination. Nevada is one of roughly thirty states considering adopting protections for hair styles, and at least 10 states, including Washington, California and Colorado, have already passed similar legislation.

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

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was the only senator to vote in opposition.

Paid leave for health reasons and getting vaccine

The Senate passed SB209 by a vote of 19-2 with Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) in opposition.

Introduced by Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), the bill would approve the use of state-mandated paid leave for any health reason, including receiving a COVID vaccine. It also requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct an interim study on the COVID public health crisis.

Kieckhefer said that though he supports paid leave for vaccines, the study did not seem necessary.

“I am … unabashedly pro vaccines,” Kieckhefer said. “However, I think the idea of charging the Legislative Committee on Health Care with the job of conducting an interim study on the state's COVID-19 response is a Herculean task that is most appropriate elsewhere.”

HOA debt collection

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to pass SB186, a bill requiring collection agencies to file a report on collections related to homeowners’ associations (HOA).

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

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) spoke in opposition to the bill, citing increased burdens on HOAs. 

The bill initially required collection agencies to report on the race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation of people from whom they are collecting, but was replaced with a requirement for the homeowner’s ZIP code. Still, Pickard said that the bill’s history was problematic.

“If we wish to find true equality and treatment, it must begin with race neutral goals that put all people on an even playing field,” Pickard said. “Not simply changing the parameters of the prejudice that moves one ahead at the expense of another.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) joined Democrats in support of the legislation.

Hate crimes

Members of the Senate cast a party-line vote, 12-9, to pass SB166, a bill clarifying that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

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

Though the measure passed along party-lines, it generated no floor remarks or debate.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Low-income people could access savings accounts and matching funds that could multiply their deposits up to five fold under SB188, a bill that senators passed unanimously which creates the “Individual Development Account Program.” People living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system are eligible.

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

“This legislation will aid systems in supporting individuals to develop pathways out of poverty,” wrote Tiffany Tyler-Garner, head of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, in a letter of support. “Additionally, it establishes statewide infrastructure for fostering financial independence.”

Ratios of students to social workers

School districts in Clark and Washoe counties would have to create plans for achieving better ratios of students to mental health professionals under SB151, which passed the Senate in an 18-3 vote. 

Each year, districts must report to the governor, lawmakers and the Nevada Board of Education their ratio of students to “specialized instructional support personnel” (such as counselors, school psychologists and social workers). The bill also requires the districts to set targets for improvement and describe strategies for recruiting and retaining those staff members.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) voted against the bill, saying that the state’s current budget proposal will reduce the amount of funding available to social workers and lead to cuts in the positions even “as their contractual obligations continue to increase.”

“Hopefully, this measure will be able to be implemented with integrity that it needs to ensure that social workers are being funded at a level that is necessary,” he said.

Statewide human trafficking plan

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB143, a bill by Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) that would require creation of a statewide coalition and plan to deliver services to victims of human trafficking.

Krasner said previously that the bill is intended to help the state qualify for federal grants that require formation of a statewide plan for human trafficking victim services. The program would be placed under the Division of Child and Family Services in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and includes a requirements that the state publish an online directory of services for victims of human trafficking.

This story was updated at 1:57 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2021 to include a quote from Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui on an amendment in the "ghost guns" bill.

Blame for death of affordable housing bills falls on special interest groups, lack of legislative prioritization

For decades, lawmakers and lobbyists have haggled over bills aimed at addressing Nevada's affordable housing crisis, participating in a game of give and take — hoping to appease all sides just enough to get a piece of legislation onto the governor's desk.

Since the start of the 2021 session, lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen housing-focused measures. The bills fall into two camps: clarifying eviction proceedings and tenants’ rights and increasing the amount of affordable housing.  

Though a majority of the bills surrounding tenants’ rights and evictions survived the first legislative deadline in early April, a cluster of affordable housing measures that supporters emphasized would give local governments more tools to address the housing crisis ended up on the cutting room floor.

Among the most prominent measures that bit the dust without a committee vote were bills aimed at giving local governments the ability to raise money to support affordable housing projects, a proposal attempting to balance out billions of dollars offered to corporations in the form of abatements and a bill establishing a statewide landlord registry.

Some activists lamented the death of the bills on Twitter, calling out the longevity of the housing crisis and lack of legislative action, the power of special interest groups and the prioritization of other pieces of legislation.

Campaign donations ahead of the session underscored the conversation surrounding the housing bills. Developers, real estate corporations and PACs funded by those companies contributed more than $1.3 million to lawmakers' campaigns—the most money any single industry donated to state legislators.

Lawmakers said they are focused on opening pathways to more affordable housing, but because of the pandemic and job loss, the eviction crisis presents more of a pressing issue, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in an interview with The Nevada Independent.

“Affordable housing is challenging, and it does take a lot of resources to do, and so where we can make strides in that, we're trying to do that,” Cannizzaro said. “The eviction piece is obviously something that is necessary for us to step in and help address at this moment, and that's not to say that affordable housing is not also equally as important.” 

Opponents of the affordable housing bills that faded away consisted primarily of developers, home builders and other development industry professionals. 

During bill hearings, representatives from those groups emphasized that housing insecurity is a problem of supply and demand. Solutions to the affordable housing crisis should focus on reducing red tape for affordable housing developments and offering density bonuses for mixed income development, lobbyists for developers and home builders said, not on increasing costs for market-rate housing.

Advocates for the bills pointed to 2019 and said this is the second legislative session in a row that a majority of the affordable housing-related bills opposed by developers did not survive.

"It's a lesson in power," said J.D. Klippenstein, the statewide director of Faith in Action Nevada, a faith-based social justice advocacy nonprofit. "I was deeply frustrated and disappointed when all these bills died or got gutted … To be honest, I'm not surprised. This is an extremely powerful industry that uses their money to influence elections and legislation."

Addressing affordable housing gaps is a local government matter, Sen Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) told The Nevada Independent. 

In 2019, Ratti championed and passed SB103, which gave local governments the ability to reduce or subsidize impact fees for affordable housing projects. She said state government can provide tools that local governments can access to address the affordable housing crisis but ultimately, local governments need to decide whether and when to implement those tools.

But advocates say lawmakers’ failure to pass legislation giving local governments more ways to increase funding for affordable housing is leaving jurisdictions without options.

Meanwhile, amid an economy-crushing pandemic in a state with the least available, affordable housing in the country, roughly 7,169 people (about 1.27 percent of Nevada's population) are experiencing homelessness on any given night, and more than 64 percent of low-income renters face difficulty in paying housing and utility costs. 

Advocates are pinning their hopes on the remaining affordable housing bills. One would remove sunsets on a $10 million tax credit program approved in 2019 that offers incentives for developing affordable units. Another would strengthen protections for former inmates searching for housing and stipulate that landlords could not discriminate against applicants receiving public assistance.

"We're not going to stop working together and collaborating for the solution," Nevada Housing Coalition Director Christine Hess said. "If we do nothing, we're going to continue to build our deficit, and not build affordable housing or preserve that which we have."

Local government housing tools fail to advance

AB334, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas), would have given local governments the option to require developers to follow inclusionary zoning policies — stipulating that a certain percentage of new construction has to be affordable for low-income households or developers must pay a fee to avoid those requirements. 

The bill also would have given municipalities the option to adopt fees referred to as linkage fees, ranging from $0.75 to $10 for each square foot of commercial or residential development.

Democratic Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola's AB331 would have allowed local governments to incorporate the two options from AB331 into their affordable housing plans and asked larger cities and counties to establish five-year goals for preserving and producing affordable housing. 

Both bills were heard on April 6, but did not come up for a committee vote by the deadline, even though several Assembly Government Affairs committee members were listed as co-sponsors on one or both bills. That included committee chair Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), who said he personally supported the measures but that the backing just was not there.

"I know that the votes weren't there," he said in response to questions about why the bills never made it to a committee vote.

Flores added that the issue both bills were attempting to address — local control over affordable housing issues — may be solved through other means.

"There's a larger conversation happening around housing that the whole state's invested in," he said. "I'm very confident that our leadership with the leadership of the Senate and the governor's office are working on a holistic plan that we can continue to work towards."

When she realized AB334 was not going to get a vote, Summers-Armstrong said she was disappointed but planned to redouble her efforts to move the housing discussion forward in future sessions.

"If one door shuts, you go to the next door. If one person says no, you talk to five more people until you get a yes, and I have nothing else to do right now but have as many conversations and make as many phone calls and try as hard as I can to try and make something happen," Summers-Armstrong said.

The Nevada Home Builders Association and Southern Nevada Home Builders Association declined an interview request from The Nevada Independent, but forwarded a letter sent to the Assembly Government Affairs Committee reiterating the need for more housing but cautioning that additional fees on development projects would place an undue burden on home builders.

"When inclusionary zoning requirements are adopted, it shifts the cost of housing subsidies onto new development," the letter read. "The ordinance itself raises cost, and it will likely reduce the number of units that are built, which aggravate housing shortages and further accelerate prices."

The two trade associations backed a media effort that ran digital ads opposing both AB331 and AB334. Since the bills failed to advance past the committee deadline, the “Nevada Housing Now” group has run ads thanking lawmakers — including Marzola, Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson — for “protecting affordable housing this legislative session.”

The argument that developers would pay more under the proposed legislation is missing the point, Klippenstein pushed back.

"We are already paying," he said. "It's just a different part of the community is paying for it. Those who can probably least afford it and those whose lives are more deeply impacted by the lack of resources that come from it."

Tax abatements and affordable housing

Another housing-related bill that never made it to a committee vote was AB449, proposed by Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno). 

Heavily opposed by development authorities, the bill would have limited the Governor's Office of Economic Development's suite of tax incentives and required that businesses receiving tax incentives from the state make payments into a state fund for affordable housing.

The bill's concept was to create a nexus between the growth that the state is encouraging through economic abatements and a tie to affordable housing, Benitez-Thompson said in an interview after the bill failed to advance. 

"I think it's absolutely tragic that we weren't able to get more of a substantive conversation going," she said. "I would hope that there's still a sentiment and an appetite out there somewhere to make sure that we leave the session having done at least one big good thing."

The Nevada Housing Coalition had not endorsed AB449 when the committee first heard it. Still, Hess (the coalition's executive director) said the only major issue that she saw with the bill was that it needed more discussion. 

Out of five affordable housing-related bills the coalition was advocating for this session, only two remain. Along with AB331 and AB334, AB317, which would have prohibited landlords from denying applicants based on assistance from the government or child support, was the third bill supported by the coalition that never made it past the first deadline day. The bill was later added as an amendment to a housing protections bill proposed by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas).

All five were designed to create a comprehensive policy package, Hess said. Without more tools for local governments, the housing crisis will only continue to worsen, she added.

"Rent stabilization is not the same as affordability, and in order to really make progress there needs to be that understanding," Hess said. "We're not talking about the $350,000 home. We're talking about people who are not making a housing wage ... and affordable housing doesn't just get built by the market."

The Legislature's short timeframe of only 120 days to create and pass laws is not conducive to comprehensive housing reform, unless lawmakers make it a priority, Klippenstein said.

"I don't think the established leadership of the Democratic or Republican Party in our state highly prioritizes housing," he said. "While a more diverse Legislature leads to more opportunities, it still doesn't change that power dynamic unless that more diverse Legislature decides to have a different approach to housing."

Reporters Michelle Rindels and Riley Snyder contributed to this report.