From health care transparency to a public option, lawmakers largely drilled into non-pandemic health care issues in 2021 session

When lawmakers kicked off their 120-day legislative session in February, the state was still recovering from a brutal winter surge of COVID-19, which saw a thousand new cases of the virus reported across the state each day.

Lawmakers early in the session came forward with some modest proposals to address the pandemic — including a bill to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated — but it was unclear at that point what COVID-19’s trajectory in the Silver State would be. With an influx of federal financial support boosting the state’s pandemic response, it wasn’t always easy to tell where lawmakers could be of most help. With sessions slated for only 120 days every other year, it also wasn’t clear they could craft policy responsive enough to the ever-changing needs created by the pandemic.

Instead, lawmakers generally focused on a host of other important, but perhaps less high-profile, health care proposals, from legislation to support the provision of telehealth services in the state, which became all the more popular during the pandemic, to a bill that would provide for Medicaid coverage of community health workers. They also honed in on data transparency, hearing bills that would make changes to the state’s drug pricing transparency program and establish an all-payer claims database in an effort to better understand the health care landscape in the state.

Lawmakers also took up a last-minute bill to establish a state-managed public health insurance option in Nevada, the second-ever to be approved in the nation. Despite reservations from Republican lawmakers — and even from some Democrats — the Legislature introduced and approved the bill in just a little more than a month with some strong-arming by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who spearheaded the legislation. 

Behind the scenes, there were frustrations, though, among health care lobbyists. Industry lobbyists, for instance, were caught off guard that Cannizzaro hadn’t involved them in the process of developing the public option bill and dropped the proposal on them in the final weeks of the session.

“I can tell you that when there are very challenging things that occur within health care, when you lock us all in a room, we tend to find solutions,” Tom Clark, lobbyist for the Nevada Association of Health Plans, said during the bill’s first hearing.

Bobbette Bond, policy director for the Culinary Health Fund, also said it was difficult to craft good policy in a legislative environment so heavily shaped by the pandemic. For much of the session, the legislative building was closed to the public and committee meetings were only able to be attended virtually.

“It was hard to get revisions made. It was hard to have good conversations about what could be done. It was hard to build stakeholders,” Bond said. “It was hard to communicate, and I think the policy suffered for that.”

Bond also expressed dismay in the two-thirds requirement for passing tax increases, on the grounds that it has prevented lawmakers from tackling more ambitious health care legislation. Because there isn’t more funding to go around, including to support health care, she said lawmakers have turned to putting mandates on industry.

“The mandates … end up substituting for actual public health policy,” Bond said.

The Culinary Health Fund, which is the health insurance arm of the politically powerful and Democratic-aligned Culinary Union, did, however, continue to play a significant role in shaping health care policy this session with Democrats remaining in control of both chambers of the Legislature. Other industry representatives, who often work collaboratively with Democratic lawmakers but more often align with Republicans on business priorities, had less of an upper hand.

Mike Hillerby, a longtime lobbyist on health care issues in the state, said Nevada loses “a lot of subtlety in the public policy debate” when the discussion is “driven by the relationship between a couple of unions and a couple of hospital chains.”

“That drives so much of what we do, and it's so contentious. Look at balance billing from 2019. Look at some of the stuff this time, and everything's driven by that. That's not indicative of the market and the rest of Nevada. That's not indicative of what's happening with providers and patients and payers in rural Nevada, in the Reno area, and yet so much of it is driven by that and that financial reality, that bargaining relationship, those contractual relationships,” Hillerby said. “We just lose a lot of the subtlety and the ability to make better decisions.”

Here’s a look at some of the health policies that passed this session and others that didn’t.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed several pieces of public health-related legislation into law in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Public option

The highest-profile piece of health care legislation to pass this year, SB420 — Nevada’s public option bill — was introduced with just a little more than a month left in the legislative session by Cannizzaro, the Senate majority leader. Proponents were quiet about the legislation for the first couple of months of the session until Cannizzaro was asked by a reporter in mid-April about the proposal and health care lobbyists started receiving briefings from consultants on the concept.

The bill, which builds upon previous public option proposals introduced in Nevada in 2017 and 2019, aims to leverage the state’s purchasing power with Medicaid managed care organizations — private insurance companies that contract with the state to provide coverage to the state’s low-income population — to get insurers to also offer public option plans. The plans will resemble existing qualified health plans on the state’s health insurance exchange, though they will be required to be offered at a 5 percent markdown with the goal of reducing the plans’ premium costs by 15 percent over four years. The plans won’t be offered for sale on the exchange until 2026.

The proposal cleared both the Senate and Assembly on party line votes and was signed into law in early June by Gov. Steve Sisolak, making Nevada the second state in the nation after Washington to enact a state-based public health insurance option into law. Colorado became the third state to establish such a policy in mid-June.

Though the legislation was heavily opposed by the health insurance industry — with some groups running ads and sending mailers opposing the proposal — Cannizzaro muscled the bill through the Legislature as the clock counted down to the end of the 120-day session. The bill easily cleared the Senate — where Cannizzaro, as majority leader, controls which bills come to the floor — and Democratic leaders in the Assembly threw their support behind the bill shortly thereafter, setting aside concerns about whether the bill can accomplish its goals of improving health care access and affordability.

“It's not a secret I have been skeptical of this bill from the very beginning, but I've seen the amendments, and I have talked to a number of the different proponents of the bill and opponents of the bill on it,” Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said in late May, shortly before allowing the bill to be voted out of her committee. “I feel much more comfortable knowing that, in the future, the people that are in this building now that do come back are well aware of what's going on, and I trust them to make the best decisions they can to protect the constituents of this state.”

In her remarks, Carlton was referring to the long runway the bill establishes before the public option actually goes into effect, leaving time for the state to conduct an actuarial study to figure out whether the bill actually accomplishes the goals it sets out to and two legislative session in 2023 and 2025 for lawmakers to make any tweaks to the policy as necessary.

Heather Korbulic, who as head of the state’s health insurance exchange will have a key role in shaping the policy’s implementation, has said she plans to bring stakeholders together to “outline the actuarial study and conduct a meaningful analysis of the public option as it relates to every aspect of health care throughout the state.” 

Richard Whitley, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview earlier this month that the public option isn’t “a single solution” but “does definitely enhance the opportunity for individuals to gain access to health care.”

“I think of this as an option for coverage,” Whitley said. “It definitely enhances that overall framework of health care coverage.”

Nuclear medicine technologist Vanessa Martinez, views scans at Lou Ruvo Center of Brain Health, on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Transparency and data efforts

For the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have focused on prescription drug cost transparency, passing a first-in-the-nation diabetes drug transparency law in 2017 and expanding that law to include asthma drugs in 2019. This year, lawmakers built upon those transparency efforts by passing legislation requiring transparency from more portions of the health care industry.

This year, lawmakers approved a bill, SB40, to establish what’s known as an all-payer claims database — a state database of claims of medical, dental and pharmacy services provided in the state. The law requires all public and private insurers regulated under state law to submit their claims to the database and authorizes insurers governed by federal law — such as the Culinary Health Fund — to submit their claims to the database. A similar bill proposed during the 2019 legislative session failed to move forward in the final minutes of that session, though the concept was revived by the Patient Protection Commission, which brought SB40 forward this session.

The bill, however, required extensive work when it got to the Legislature, with state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) taking the bill under her wing as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and working with industry advocates — including the Nevada Association of Health Plans, the Nevada State Medical Association and the Nevada Hospital Association — to finalize the legislation.

“We knew the bill was going to pass, at some level ... so we wanted to make sure that the information that was going to be collected was accurate, was consistent with what was required in other states that had all-payer claims databases and also to learn from what those other states had done so we wouldn’t make the same mistakes,” Clark, the Nevada Association of Health Plans lobbyist, said. “Fortunately, Senator Ratti and others were good to work with and we’re comfortable with the way the bill passed.”

The legislation additionally makes data contained in the all-payer claims database confidential, meaning that it is not a public record or subject to subpoena, and specifies how the information contained in it can be disclosed. It can be shared in de-aggregated form to state or federal government entities, including the Nevada System of Higher Education, and any entity that submits data to the database. Anyone else looking to obtain the data can only receive it in aggregated form by submitting a request to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawmakers also built upon the diabetes and asthma drug transparency bills passed in 2017 and 2019, respectively, by expanding the universe of drugs the state imposes transparency requirements on. SB380, which was proposed by an interim committee created during the 2019 session to study prescription drug costs, requires the state to compile a list of prescription drugs with a list price that is more than $40 for a course of therapy that has undergone a 10 percent price increase in the preceding year or a 20 percent increase in the two prior years.

The legislation requires drug manufacturers to submit a report to the state explaining the reason for the price increase and explaining the factors that contributed to the price increase. Meanwhile, pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the middlemen in the drug pricing process, are required to submit their own reports with certain data about the drugs, including rebates negotiated with manufacturers and the amount of the rebates retained by the PBM.

The state’s drug transparency program will also, for the first time, have funding behind it, utilizing dollars that have been collected in the form of fines paid by companies for not complying with the state’s drug transparency law. The Department of Health and Human Services put a $780,000 fiscal note on the bill to allow state health officials to transfer the existing drug transparency database to the state’s Enterprise Information Technology Services Division and hire a pharmacist and management analyst to manage the drug transparency program.

SB380 was, however, only one of two bills put forward by the interim prescription drug committee to pass this session. The other was SB396, which allows the state to establish intra- and interstate drug purchasing coalitions with private entities. 

The three bills that did not pass were:

  • SB201, which would have licensed pharmaceutical sales representatives
  • SB378, which would have required at least half of the health plans offered in the state by private insurers to provide prescription drug coverage with no deductible and a fixed copayment and limit the total amount of copayments insured individuals are required to pay in a year 
  • SB392, which would have licensed PBMs and created additional rules for how PBMs can operate.

Nick McGee, senior director of public affairs for PhRMA, the drug industry advocacy organization, in an email expressed disappointment that lawmakers pursued SB380 this session while not advancing the other proposals out of the interim committee. PhRMA did, however, in the end testify in neutral on SB380.

“We are disappointed that the legislature overlooked this opportunity to address patients’ concerns related to their ability to afford and access the medicines they need,” McGee said. “Instead, lawmakers pursued onerous reporting and unnecessary registration requirements that won’t do anything to help patients afford their medicines and fail to provide transparency into why insurers are shifting more and more costs on to patients.”

Bond, the policy director for the Culinary Health Fund, which played a key role in bringing the 2017 bill to fruition, described SB380 as a “step forward,” though she said the bill didn’t end up “as strong as we would have liked.”

“It’s incremental, and it’s progress,” she said.

Lawmakers did not advance SB171, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), which would have barred most insurance companies from implementing copayment accumulator programs for any drug for which there is not a less expensive alternative or generic drug. Such programs prevent drug manufacturer coupons from applying toward patients’ deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs.

The Legislature additionally made a budgetary change to boost transparency, approving a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to centralize its data analysis efforts within the office of Data Analytics within the Director’s Office, while the Patient Protection Commission, which is focusing on health care spending and costs, was transferred from the governor’s office to Director’s Office as well.

Whitley, the department’s director, framed the reshuffling as an effort to bring together disparate health data collection and analysis efforts, adding that the pandemic showed the kind of real-time data the department could provide, as in the case of its COVID-19 dashboard, among other dashboards it now maintains.

“Usually people go, ‘We need more money.” Well, in government sometimes what you need is organizational structure,” Whitley said. “Putting data analytics all in one unit in my office … was really because of seeing all of the benefits that were coming out of monitoring the pandemic. That really served to inform what we could be doing.”

The Legislature also made a significant change to the Patient Protection Commission this session, transforming it from a largely industry-focused body to one instead made up largely of non-profit health industry representatives and patient advocates. AB348, sponsored by Carlton, requires the commission be made up of:

  • two patient advocates
  • one for-profit health care provider
  • one registered nurse who practices as a nonprofit hospital
  • one physician or registered nurse who practices at a federally qualified health center 
  • one pharmacist not affiliated with any retail chain pharmacy, or a patient advocate
  • one public nonprofit hospital representative
  • one private nonprofit health insurer representative
  • one member with expertise advocating for the uninsured
  • one member with expertise advocating for people with special health care needs
  • one member who has expertise in health information technology and works with the Department of Health and Human Services
  • one representative of the general public.

The bill also makes the Patient Protection Commission the sole state agency responsible for administering and coordinating the state’s involvement in the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs, a program that provides technical assistance to states developing targets for statewide health care spending trends. 

Health care industry representatives have, however, chafed at the reduction — or in the case of the drug industry, removal — of their representation on the commission. McGee, from PhRMA, said the change “[undermines] the ability of the commission to provide a comprehensive perspective.”

But Bond, a commission member whose ability to serve will be unaffected by the policy shift, said the change would give patients and consumers more of a voice.

“I understand the concerns about losing representation from the industry, but I also believe that industry has other places where they get represented,” Bond said. “They have the Nevada Hospital Association, the pharmaceutical industry has PhRMA. They get well represented in their core arena. Patients really don't have a core arena they can go to.”

The Patient Protection Commission’s other bill this session, SB5, also was approved by lawmakers, making a number of changes to telehealth in the state. That bill also contains a data transparency component, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services, to the extent money is available, to establish a data dashboard allowing for the analysis of data relating to telehealth access.

Another big bill that tried to tackle health care costs this session, AB347, sponsored by Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas), died without receiving a vote. The ambitious bill, among other provisions, proposed establishing a rate-setting commission “to cover reasonable costs of providing health care services” while ensuring providers “earn a fair and reasonable profit.” The bill also would have raised Medicaid payments to Medicare levels via a provider tax.

Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital staff gather in the emergency room area in Elko
Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital staff gather in the emergency room area in Elko on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Antitrust in health care

Lawmakers approved two antitrust in health care bills this session. The first one, AB47, requires parties to certain reportable health care or health carrier transactions to submit a notification to the attorney general with information about the transaction at least 30 days before it is finalized. Reportable transactions include material changes to the business or corporate structure of a group practice or health carrier that results in a group practice or health carrier providing 50 percent or more of services within a geographic market.

The bill, which was presented by the attorney general’s office, also prohibits employers from bringing court actions to restrict former employees from providing services to former customers or clients under certain circumstances and bars noncompete agreements from applying to employees that are paid on an hourly wage basis.

The bill attracted opposition from the Nevada Hospital Association and the Nevada State Medical Association. During a May hearing on the bill, Jesse Wadhams, a hospital association lobbyist, thanked the attorney general’s office for working with them on the bill but said the association still could not support the legislation.

“We believe the policy itself comes from a faulty premise,” Wadhams said. “We believe policies should promote more physicians, more access to care and more investment in the health care community.”

Another bill, SB329, requires hospitals to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of any merger, acquisition or similar transaction. It also requires physician group practices to report similar transactions if the practice represents at least 20 percent of the physicians in that specialty in a service area and if the practice represents the largest number of physicians of any practice in the transaction. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) and pushed for by the Culinary Health Fund, requires the department to publish that information online and write an annual report on that information.

Another section of the bill allows the attorney general or other individuals to bring a civil action against a health care provider that “willfully” enters into or solicits a contract that bars insurance companies from steering insured individuals to certain health care providers, putting health care providers in tiers or otherwise restricting insurers. It also makes such an action, known as “anti-tiering” or “anti-steering,” a misdemeanor. (A final amendment to the bill reduced the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor.)

“I think this is one of the early steps in what will probably be a national trend,” Bond, of the Culinary Health Fund, said in an interview. “I think contract provisions are going to become more and more antitrust looking.”

The bill was opposed by the Nevada Hospital Association and individual Nevada hospital systems and hospitals.

“The technical elements of this and eliminating antitrust provisions by themselves are not the problem we have with this bill — it is making sure that it doesn’t impede the open contracting that occurs otherwise in this highly competitive environment,” Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist for the hospital association, said during a May hearing on the bill.

Tristian McArthur cares for an infant inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)


In perhaps the most substantial victory for health care providers this session, lawmakers rolled back a 6 percent Medicaid rate decrease approved by the Legislature during a budget-slashing special session last summer.

Legislative fiscal analysts projected the move would restore about $300 million in Medicaid funding both in the current fiscal year and in the upcoming biennium, including about $110 million in general fund spending.

“Nevada faced an unprecedented state budget crisis,” Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, and Jaron Hildebrand, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, wrote in a letter to the governor in May. “The work you did alongside the Nevada Legislature to restore funding to hospitals and providers will be instrumental in safeguarding the health care available to many Nevadans.”

Lawmakers made a number of other changes to Medicaid services as well, providing for coverage of doula services in AB256 and community health workers in AB191. The public option bill, SB420, also contained several Medicaid provisions, including one section providing that pregnant women are considered presumptively eligible for Medicaid without submitting an application for enrollment and another prohibiting pregnant women who are otherwise eligible for Medicaid to be barred from coverage for not having resided in the United States long enough to qualify.

On the mental health front, SB154 requires the state to apply for a waiver to receive federal funding to cover substance use disorder and mental health treatment inside what are known as institutions of mental disease — or psychiatric hospitals or residential treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. Medicaid has long been barred from paying for care in such facilities, but states were recently given the ability to apply to the federal government to cover these services through Medicaid via a federal waiver.

Lawmakers also approved AB358, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), which will allow for a more seamless transition of incarcerated people to Medicaid upon release from prison. The bill requires a person’s Medicaid eligibility to only be suspended, rather than terminated, when they are incarcerated and specifies that individuals who were not previously on Medicaid should be allowed to apply for enrollment in the program up to six months before their scheduled release date. The bill also requires eligibility for and coverage under Medicaid to be reinstated as soon as possible upon an individual’s release.

In a major victory for families of children with autism, lawmakers passed SB96, which boosts reimbursement rates for autism services.

A member of the Nevada National Guard places a swab in a container after performing a COVID-19 test at the Orleans on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Public health

Lawmakers, by and large, did not spend much time tackling the COVID-19 pandemic head on during their legislative session, likely a byproduct of how rapidly the situation has evolved over the last six months.

Legislators did, however, approve SB209, sponsored by state Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), which requires employers to provide paid leave to employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct a study during the 2021-2022 interim about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations to the governor and lawmakers for the next legislative session in 2023.

They also passed SB318, also sponsored by Doñate, requiring public health information provided by the state and local health districts to “take reasonable measures” to ensure that people with limited English proficiency have “meaningful and timely access to services to restrain the spread of COVID-19.” 

Beyond COVID, the Legislature passed a number of other public-health related measures this session, including, notably, establishing a public health resource office within the governor’s office through SB424, with the goal of taking a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to public health in the state. 

Lawmakers also approved SB461, which requires the state to disburse $20.9 million of American Rescue Plan dollars to specifically to address needs spotlighted by the public health emergency including “mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment and other  behavioral health services, construction costs and other capital improvements in public facilities to meet COVID-19-related operational needs and expenses relating to establishing and enhancing public health data systems.”

The Legislature additionally passed a few tobacco-related pieces of legislation including AB59, sponsored by the attorney general’s office, officially raising the tobacco purchase age in the state to 21 — the federal Tobacco 21 law went into effect in December 2019 — and AB360, sponsored by Assemblyman Greg Hafen (R-Pahrump), which prohibits people from selling, distributing or offering to sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to a person under 40 without first conducting age verification. Additionally, SB460, the budget appropriations bill, allocates $5 million for vaping prevention activities.

Lawmakers also approved SB233, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), which appropriates $500,000 to the Nevada Health Services Corps, a state loan repayment program for physicians and other health practitioners aimed at encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas of the state. The Legislature also approved SB379, a health workforce data collection bill that proponents say is critical for the state’s health professional shortage area designation. 

“It’s kind of nerdy, wonky data stuff, but those designations are really critical for Nevada, for loan repayment, for health service corps, for [federally qualified health center] and community health center designation and reimbursement and all sorts of stuff,” said John Packham, co-director of the Nevada Health Workforce Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. “We just need better data, period, on the workforce.”

Vitality Unlimited provides substance abuse treatment in Elko
Vitality Unlimited provides substance abuse treatment in Elko. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Mental health

While mental health advocates have become accustomed to making slim gains each legislative session, Robin Reedy, executive director of NAMI Nevada, believes 2021 was a good session for mental health.

“For once, it’s a long list. It’s just so amazing,” Reedy said of the mental health bills that passed this session. “Everything has just been an uphill climb constantly … but this year, oh my God.”

In addition to SB154, mentioned above, key mental health bills passed this session hone in on mental health parity (AB181), implement the 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Hotline (SB390), bolster crisis stabilization services in the state (SB156) and remove stigmatizing language from state law referring to people with mental illness (AB421).

Lawmakers also approved bills put forward by the regional behavioral health policy boards established during the 2017 legislative session, including SB44, which aims to smooth the licensure process to boost the number of behavioral health providers in the state, and SB70, which makes changes to the state’s mental health crisis hold procedures.

Reedy attributed the increased focus on mental health this session to a “perfect storm of things coming together.”

“I think it's incredibly sad that it took a pandemic for people to actually look more at mental health — when everyone was going through some form of anxiety or depression from being isolated, from not knowing what the future held, from it being just really untenable, and everyone has different levels of acceptance of those things, and living through those things, different levels of resilience,” Reedy said. “Suddenly it's like, ‘Mental health.’ We've been working on this forever. Finally.”

But Reedy said there’s still a long way to go. For instance, she wishes that SB390, which authorizes the state to impose a surcharge on certain mobile communication services, IP-enabled voice services and landline telephone services to fund the 9-8-8 line, would have capped that charge at 50 cents instead of 35 cents. She believes had the session been a regular session and had mental health advocates been able to pack the committee room with patients, they would have been able to get that fee cap increased.

“I just don't think 35 cents is going to be enough … We’re 51st in the nation [for mental health],” Reedy said. “I know telecommunications does not want to pay to fill the hole, but that means crisis lines are going to be busy.”

A medical staff member prepares a COVID -19 vaccine during the Amazon employees Covid-19 vaccination event at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in North Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Other health care bills

In addition to reigning in drug pricing costs, lawmakers passed several bills making changes to how Nevadans can access certain kinds of prescription drugs. SB190, sponsored by Cannizzaro, will allow pharmacists to dispense certain kinds of hormonal birth control directly to patients. SB325, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), similarly allowed pharmacists to dispense preventative HIV medication, including PrEP.

Other prescription-drug focused bills passed this session include AB178, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) requiring insurers to waive restrictions on the time period in which a prescription can be refilled during a state of emergency or disaster declaration, and AB177, a bill from Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) aiming to expand access to prescription drugs in people’s preferred language.

Lawmakers also passed a number of other health care related bills including:

  • SB275, sponsored by state Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), modernizes state laws on HIV by treating the virus the same way as other communicable diseases
  • SB342, sponsored by the Senate Education Committee, puts the legislative stamp of approval on a major partnership between the UNR School of Medicine and Renown Health
  • SB290, sponsored by state Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), makes it easier for certain stage 3 and 4 cancer patients to receive prescription drug treatment by allowing them to apply for an exemption from step therapy, which requires patients to approve that certain drugs are ineffective before insurance will cover a higher-cost drug 
  • SB340, sponsored by state Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), provides for the establishment of a home care employment standards board
  • SB251, sponsored by state Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), requires primary care providers to conduct or refer patients for screening, genetic counseling and genetic testing in accordance with federal recommendations around BRCA genes, which influence someone’s chance of developing breast cancer

Several health care bills also died with the end of the legislative session, including AB351, which would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication, and AB387, a midwife licensure bill.

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

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

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

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

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

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

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

Medical debt collection

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana DUI

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

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

Removal of non-functional turf

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

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

Cage-free eggs

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

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

Hairstyle protections

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

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

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

Paid-leave for health purposes

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

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

Tiger King bill

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

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

Banning ‘ghost guns’

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

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

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

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

Those arguments failed to sway Democratic lawmakers.

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

Lowering barriers to birth control

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

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

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

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

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

Hate crime changes

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

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

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

Back on Track Act 

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

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

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

HOA debt collection

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

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

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

Marriage license fees to help domestic violence victims

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

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

Land and water conservation

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

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

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

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

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

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

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

Criminal justice changes

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

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

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

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

K-12 Education

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

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

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

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

Higher education changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy & Business 

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

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

Banning racist school logos or mascots

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

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

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

Pot for pets

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

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

Record sealing for pandemic summary evictions

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

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

Reporter Jacob Solis contributed to this report.

Behind the Bar: Mining tax Q&A, legislators go viral on TikTok and more Native representation in naming geographical sites

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

In this edition: Recapping a Q&A with the head of the state mining association, how one lawmaker went viral on TikTok and details on a bill aimed at getting more Native American involvement in the naming of geographical places. Plus, a look ahead at this week’s major bill hearings.

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

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

“Is the Nevada mining industry paying its fair share?”

Lawmakers preparing for mining tax fight

Nevada legislators scrutinize mining tax breaks

You’d be forgiven for thinking that those headlines refer to the efforts from the 2020 special session and current legislative session to raise the constitutional cap on the net proceeds of mining taxes.

But all of those stories linked above are from a decade ago, when lawmakers and progressive advocates facing record budget shortfalls and a sluggish economy looked to the state’s countercyclical mining industry as a way to avoid massive revenue shortfalls.

Those efforts a decade ago fell short; the late Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce’s bill reducing the amount of deductions that mining companies could apply against the tax never passed out of committee in the 2011 session, and an effort to take the entire section on net proceeds out of the Nevada Constitution fell short on the 2014 ballot.

But I don’t think many involved in the conversation about mining taxes in 2021 will tell you that past will be prologue; the Legislature has changed tremendously over the past decade, with more and more of the state’s political power centered in Southern Nevada and away from mining-dependent rural communities.

If anything, the huge advertising and PR blitz that the Nevada Mining Association has embarked on between the end of last year’s special sessions and the 2021 session is proof enough that the industry is at least somewhat concerned that lawmakers could again push through a mining tax hike (though likely through the ballot box, as the two-thirds majority for a tax increase remains a high bar).

I was curious heading into session as to how the Nevada Mining Association would approach the still-pending proposed constitutional amendments, which is why I reached out to association President Tyre Gray for an interview (published today on our website).

Gray confirmed that the association is still “neutral” on AJR2, the “compromise” proposed constitutional amendment that was a product of negotiations between the industry and Speaker Jason Frierson. 

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in covering the Legislature, it’s that “neutral” testimony is rarely actually neutral. It seems clear that the mining industry still doesn’t really like the proposed tax changes. Gray said that the increased 12 percent net proceeds cap is still “beyond our comfort level as an industry” and would mark a “fundamental change to the mechanisms by which we're accustomed to being taxed in the state of Nevada.”

(Gray also mentioned a “trailer” bill that would change the net proceeds calculation — another piece of the mining taxation puzzle to keep an eye on.)

If you’re confused or would like to know more about the mining taxation debate beyond the normal talking points, (incoming cheap plug alert) The Nevada Independent is hosting a free panel on the topic on March 16, with longtime mining lobbyist James Wadhams, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Executive Director Laura Martin and former Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich.

The event is being hosted by my talented colleague Daniel Rothberg and Editor Jon Ralston — you can see the event details on this page.

— Riley Snyder

Assemblywoman goes viral with legislative TikToks

With members of the Legislature now born as recently as 1996, it was only a matter of time that TikTok would come into play in Carson City.

But we were still impressed to see that Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres’ efforts to engage with young Nevadans through the platform — which limits videos to 60 seconds and rewards good music and humor — have quite literally gone viral. At last check, a clip of her and Republican Assemblyman Greg Hafen doing a viral dance dedicated to bipartisanship had upward of 179,000 views.

Torres, 25, says her motivation for starting with TikTok came from the high school students she teaches at Mater Academy in East Las Vegas. After the riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when she asked if they had seen the news, they said they heard about it on TikTok.

“I could see that, in reality, TikTok is the form of information for this generation of high schoolers and also for college students,” she said in a Spanish interview with The Nevada Independent En Español. “Why don’t we use TikTok to inform the community how the Legislature works?

Torres’ videos do everything from highlighting where to sign up for a COVID vaccine to guiding viewers on how to participate in committee hearings and — an Indy fan favorite — spoofing “The Bachelorette.” And her colleagues are beginning to follow suit — Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Assemblyman Steve Yeager have also joined the platform.

Even Hafen, the youngest Republican in the Legislature, is getting some residual fame.

“It’s kind of surprising. I was like, ‘Oh. Wow. Cool,’” Hafen said. “I’m still trying to figure out what TikTok exactly is, so when I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

— Michelle Rindels & Riley Snyder

State seeks increased participation from tribal members in naming of places 

In 2019, the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names renamed a mountain peak in the Great Basin National Park christened after Confederate President Jefferson Davis to Doso Doyabi, meaning “white peak” in Shoshone.

Native voices could be given more prominence in such decisions if the Legislature approves AB72, which would add a Nevada Indian Commission member to the state geographic names board. The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing for the bill last week. 

“This is designed to provide more opportunities for our Native citizens to be able to participate in this important name process,” said Cynthia Laframboise, state archives manager at the Nevada State Library. 

The bill would add yet another seat at the table for tribal citizens as the board already includes the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, which includes representatives from all 27 tribes. 

Laframboise said that the board is seeking the additional representation because it has not always been successful in getting feedback from tribal members, and pointed to a gap in access to technology. 

“I do appreciate the efforts, especially considering that many of these places had names before other communities came in and ‘officially’ named them,” said Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), who is also the committee chairman. 

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) raised a concern that an even number of members on the board could lead to split votes, and asked how such a situation would be resolved. 

“I've been on the board for nine years, and we've never had a situation where we've even had anyone disagree with the name. It's always been unanimous,” Laframboise said. 

One supporter called in to remind the committee that Nevada was originally the territory of the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe. 

“Many historical names used by the tribal people were replaced by settler names, and having representation on this group will contribute to enriching Nevada’s history with accurate representation,” said Marla McDade Williams of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. 

— Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez


Bill hearings on a cannabis testing database, disclosure of election-related text messages, requiring children stay in car seats longer and a budget hearing for the state’s beleaguered Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) are likely to draw much attention during the upcoming fifth week of the Legislature.

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

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

Monday, 1 p.m. - Senate Education reviewing SB118, which establishes the Nevada First Scholars Program to provide extra support to first-generation and low-income students within NSHE

Tuesday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviewing AB143, which requires development of a statewide plan to deliver services to human trafficking victims

Tuesday, 1 p.m. - Senate Revenue and Economic Development reviewing SB117, which requires statewide economic development plan to be updated at least every three years and seeks interim study on tax abatements and exemptions

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. - Assembly Growth and Infrastructure reviewing AB118, requiring older children to use car seats and sit in the back seat

Tuesday, 4 p.m. - Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections reviewing AB166, which requires the disclosure of who is paying for election-related text messages

Wednesday, 8 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary reviewing AB149, which requires Cannabis Compliance Board maintain a database of testing results for cannabis products

Thursday, 8 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary reviewing AB141, which requires more notice for people before executing a no-cause eviction and would seal records of evictions carried out during pandemic

Thursday, 8 a.m. - A joint budget subcommittee is reviewing the DETR budget

Walk around Carson City and the Capitol Complex for just a little bit, and you're bound to stumble into some historical trivia. This is the First Presbyterian Church of Carson City on Musser Street just a few blocks away from the Legislature, a place that has a fascinating history. From a marker on the front of the building; "Many key figures in the State’s history are numbered on its rolls. Not the least of these was Orion Clemens, Secretary of Nevada Territory, 1861-1864. His brother Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) donated the proceeds of the Third Session (1864) of his famed ‘Third House’ toward the church’s construction.” (Riley Snyder/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

Another education must-read from Jackie Valley on how teachers are adjusting to classrooms “in the age of COVID-19”

Our roundup of pending election-related bills. Making the AB4 vote-by-mail provisions permanent has gotten a lot of headlines, but Sen. Roberta Lange’s straight-ticket voting and legislative vacancy changes bill would also be a huge change.

Somehow the plan to build a 36,000-person “Painted Rock Smart City” on undeveloped desert land near a business park “is everything that the environment absolutely needs.” Michelle Rindels reports on Gov. Steve Sisolak and fellow state leaders’ Friday roundtable on Innovation Zones.

Details on the bill that would prevent driver license suspension for unpaid tickets, via Jannelle Calderon.

NSHE budget hearings are rarely dull, via Jacob Solis.

Marijuana consumption lounges, which seem like the last place you’d want to be in a pandemic, are coming back this session (Las Vegas Review-Journal).

Legislative leaders say the next phase of “limited reopening” of the Legislative Building could come in mid-April (Associated Press).

In an obvious move to throw red meat to his base, Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer wants to change the formula for how home care workers (who are paid a national median wage of $12 an hour) are compensated under Medicaid (Nevada Current).

‘Pharmacy deserts’ may be contributing to vaccine inequities in Nevada (Nevada Current).

Details on the bill expanding eligibility for good time credits (Nevada Current).


Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 11 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 14 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 91 (May 31, 2021)

Special session draws to a close as lawmakers pass COVID liability bill exempting hospitals, schools

Lawmakers ended the second special session of the summer shortly after midnight on Wednesday after passing a heavily lobbied bill that shields many businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits but ultimately exempted school districts, hospitals and other health care facilities from receiving the additional protections.

Members of the Assembly, after a five-hour hearing Wednesday night, voted 31-10 to grant final approval to SB4, the last major piece of legislation to advance in the special session. It mandates certain health and safety protections for hospitality workers, in addition to granting broad liability protections to nearly all businesses, governmental bodies and nonprofit groups in the state so long as they follow required local, state and federal health protocols. 

Several lawmakers described the vote as one of the most difficult of their legislative career, saying it was born of backroom deals and seemed to arbitrarily cut out important segments of the workforce. But supporters said they ultimately settled on the bill out of recognition that gaming is the lifeblood of the Nevada economy.

"Ultimately it comes down to one thing: I don't want to be back here in a few months trying to figure out where to find money on the backs of the most vulnerable among us to fill another $1.3 billion budget hole,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod. “We talk all the time about how we need to diversify our economy but the fact remains we are still a one trick pony — gaming and tourism fuel our economy.”

Four Democrats — Selena Torres, Edgar Flores, Richard Carrillo, and Brittney Miller — and six Republicans — John Ellison, Greg Hafen, Alexis Hansen, Al Kramer, Robin Titus and Chris Edwards — opposed the bill, which was approved by the Senate on a 16-5 vote earlier in the day.

In effect, the bill means that most regular businesses will be relatively protected from lawsuits if a customer contracts COVID-19 on the premises, so long as the company is following local, state and federal health mandates, such as ensuring that patrons are wearing masks. Customers will still be able to sue, but they’ll have to meet a much higher threshold for a court to allow their case to move forward.

The legislation also establishes protections for casino industry workers and outlines enhanced cleaning policies that large casino companies must follow, provisions the politically powerful Culinary Union has been long pushing for. Adolfo Fernandez, a Caesars Palace utility porter and Culinary Union member, died after contracting the virus in June, and his daughter, Irma, tearfully testified that she was carrying on a mantle of worker protection at his direction.

The two proposals were married together as SB4 in order to ensure that businesses — including gaming companies — and casino workers alike received the protections they wanted. 

However, while that mechanism ensured buy-in from some of the most politically powerful interests in the state, others were excluded from the process of drafting the bill. Hospitals and other health care facilities bemoaned their exclusion from the bill, schools argued against a last-minute amendment excluding them from liability protections and local health districts questioned why they weren’t consulted over new provisions that give them an enhanced oversight role over hotels.

“I share, like many of my colleagues, sentiments that this bill picks winners and losers and gives preferences to some special interest groups,” said Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus. “I am very disappointed and hope that future legislatures will be able to right the wrongs that are being done today.”

Hospitals protest exclusion

During a lengthy public comment period, hospitals and health care workers warned that excluding health care facilities from liability protections would lead to them having to exclude vendors and visitors to hospitals, as well as think twice about transferring patients to lower-level facilities and threaten their ability to keep beds open during a pandemic.

“If we are following clear rules from the government, and in our case CDC guidelines, we should not be excluded,” said Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association. “By excluding medical facilities from this bill, access to patient care will be impacted.”

Representatives of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office tried to point to an emergency directive from April extending additional immunities from liability to providers of medical care engaged in the state’s COVID-19 response as justification for why hospitals and other health care facilities were excluded from the bill’s liability protections. 

However, Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers told lawmakers Wednesday night that whether those additional immunities extend to health care facilities — not just their workers — is an “open question.”

“We cannot say that [the directive] provides medical facilities with the same immunity that their workers enjoy under [state law],” Powers said.

It also remained unclear as of Wednesday night who was responsible for health care facilities being excluded from the bill’s liability protections. During a hearing on the bill in the Senate early Tuesday morning, Brin Gibson, Sisolak’s interim general counsel, said the legislation was a byproduct of “some of the most important members of Nevada’s economy,” a point that several Assembly members asked about during the hearing on the bill.

Pressed during Wednesday’s hearing on who those “important members” were, Gibson demurred.

“There were myriad interests that were involved in the negotiation of this bill, from the travel and tourism industry, primarily, but there were a number of different interests,” Gibson said. “I don’t have a list.”

Sisolak’s staff, on Wednesday, acknowledged that the move was a policy decision from the governor’s office but offered no explanation as to why exactly hospitals had been excluded, other than that they believed that the facilities have enough existing protections.

At another point, the governor’s office suggested that putting in place liability protections would have been too difficult.

“This bill is around health and safety for public accommodations and also for businesses,” said Francisco Morales, a governor’s office staffer who presented the bill alongside Gibson. "To try and tackle liability protections for hospitals and medical providers ... would’ve been extremely complex, and I just want to go back and say that there are already robust protections under (state law).”

School district exemption

An amendment introduced early Wednesday carved out K-12 school districts, including charter schools, from the enhanced liability protections in the bill — a concession celebrated by two of the state’s largest teacher unions, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) and Clark County Education Association. 

Democratic lawmakers initially pitched the amendment as a way to ensure school districts would be more cautious about sending teachers back to school without high health and safety standards in place. Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti said it would “put our schools in the position of having to think just a little bit harder about the safety standards that they're providing.”

Legislative legal staff told lawmakers that schools would still be able to use normal litigation immunity offered under existing law, but several school districts said the lack of enhanced liability standards would open them up to liability and that they should be treated the same as other governmental entities.

“If employees and students choose not to follow health and safety standards outside of school, the district shouldn’t be at fault for their actions,” Nevada Association of School Boards President Bridget Peterson said in written testimony. “The potential lawsuits will be costly and put school districts in a financial risk at a time where our budgets are being reduced and expenses are increasing.”

Churchill County School District Superintendent Summer Stephens said districts were working hard to ensure that they could address health and safety issues as they arose and that the enhanced liability protections would put them in a better position in spite of existing liability protections written into law.

“Adding schools back into the bill does not mean schools will not protect their staff members,” she said.

In the end, NSEA lobbyist Chris Daly testified against the bill, saying that it wanted to show solidarity with workers who did not benefit from the measure.

"An injury to one is an injury to all,” he said.

Health districts excluded from drafting

The heads of Nevada’s two urban health districts said on Wednesday that they were not consulted as the legislation was being drafted, despite the fact that it newly tasks them with regular inspections of hotels to ensure compliance with COVID-19-related protocols and establishes a new enforcement role.

“It’s just another burden being placed upon the health district while we’re already overextended in our response to COVID-19,” Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said.

The health districts have also raised concerns that, while the bill appropriates additional funding to them, it only makes that funding available through the end of the calendar year. SB4 appropriates $2 million to the Southern Nevada Health District and $500,000 to the Washoe County Health District.

Michelle White, chief of staff to Sisolak, said that the governor’s office understands the health districts’ concerns about the time frame of the funding but that they are “completely confident” that the health districts “understand the critical nature of this work to protect Nevada’s employees and our economy.” She added that health districts already have existing authority and expertise with public accommodations, such as hotels, and so they seemed like an “obvious choice” to take on the new role.

“We are incredibly sympathetic with the health districts that they can do this as an expansion,” White said. “We will be a very strong partner with those health districts as we have been and can’t be more appreciative of the work and partnership that they’ve had thus far with us.”

Furloughs would help fill state’s budget shortfall; opposed by state workers

A key plank of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plan to balance the budget by freezing merit pay and implementing once-a-month furloughs for state employees was sharply panned by many state workers during the proposal’s first public hearing.

As proposed, implementing furloughs and merit pay freezes for the state’s 18,000 employees would save the state a combined $66 million ($51.7 million from state workers and $14.3 million from merit pay freezes), which would help address the $1.2 billion shortfall in the state budget.

But more than a dozen state workers, who testified against the bill (AB1) during a hearing in the Assembly on Saturday, said the state should not balance its budget through cuts to its workforce. 

Paige Menicucci, one of the workers who testified, said that she’s putting in more hours during the COVID-19 pandemic while working from home. She previously lost her job working for a local regional quasi-governmental agency during the Great Recession and said the furloughs and pay freezes would cause hardship for her and other state workers.

“We’re working families. I drive from Reno to Carson to go to work because I’m passionate about what I do,” Menicucci said. “I want to do something for our state and to do something that’s right and this bill is not right for our state and it’s not right for our employees.”

AB1 would require state employees to take the equivalent of one unpaid furlough day a month, with a sliding scale requiring part-time workers employed by the state to take a proportional amount of unpaid time off.

The bill creates an equivalent “premium holiday” for state agencies paying into the Public Employees’ Benefits Program (PEBP). That means state agencies for one month of the fiscal year will pay their normally set aside state subsidy share of the health insurance program into the state's general fund, rather than into PEBP.

The bill does create some exemptions to the furlough requirement. Any agency with employees in a field of “critical need,” including public health, safety or welfare, can opt to not require employees take the furlough days, but instead requires them to reduce their salary by a proportional amount (4.6 percent) as if they had taken furlough days.

The bill will also exempt employees of the state Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. That agency, which is funded by hotel room taxes, has already cut weekly hours of division employees to 32 hours a week, which is equivalent to a once-a-week furlough.

But several Democratic legislators appeared hesitant to apply an across-the-board furlough policy for state employees, asking if it would be possible to limit furloughs for those on the lower end of the salary scale, 

Department of Administration Director Laura Freed said the majority of state workers (more than 10,700) make less than $60,000 a year, with the rest broken down as follows:

  • 3,173 employees making between $60,000 and $69,999 annually
  • 1,784 employees making between $70,000 and $79,999 annually
  • 832 employees making between $80,000 and $89,999 annually
  • 1,602 employees making more than $90,000 annually

Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno said her biggest concern with the legislation is that the furlough and subsequent decrease in salary for state workers on the lower end of the salary spectrum would in turn may need to use social or medical programs offered by the state but are at risk of having their budgets slashed to address Nevada’s budget shortfall.

“If they take that one day of furlough, 12 days in total, has a greater impact on the income coming into their home,” she said. “They would have to use, as my colleague mentioned, some of those services that we are also being faced with cutting.”

Fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank suggested that state workers on the higher end of the pay scale be required to take additional furlough days, which would “(spread) the pain out in ways that don't overly burden folks that are not making as much money as people who are at the upper levels.”

Freed said that it would take the department several days to run the analysis to estimate savings if certain categories of state workers had to take additional furlough days.

Republican Assemblyman Greg Hafen III suggested during the hearing that lawmakers, who are currently not affected by the bill given constitutional prohibitions on changing legislative salaries during their terms of office, should donate or give up a portion of their salary in solidarity with state workers. 

Legislators, who are normally paid $160 a day for the first 60 day of normal legislative sessions, opted to voluntarily reduce their salary by 4.6 percent in the 2011 session to match similar furloughs asked of state workers, a move that returned a combined $25,000 back to the state.

More than a dozen public employees testified against the legislation, which they said unfairly placed the burden of balancing the state’s budget on the backs of workers.

Ken Edmonds, another state employee, suggested that lawmakers were taking the easy way out by proposing the furloughs and pay freezes instead of raising taxes on corporations.

“State workers and the communities we serve are always asked to make sacrifices while corporations enjoy low tax rates, subsidies and deductions,” Edmonds said. “It’s time for corporations to share in this sacrifice.”

The state workers have been supported by AFSCME Local 4041, which represents several categories of state workers granted rights in 2019 to collectively bargain with the state for pay and benefits. The union has sharply criticized Sisolak’s plan for furloughs, filing an Unfair Labor Practices complaint against his administration last month.

No one testified in favor of or neutral on the legislation.

Correction at 6:11 p.m. on Saturday, July 11, to correct information on how the bill affects the state's Public Employees' Benefits System.

Primary election turnout exceeds 480,000, sets up major races for November

After more than a week, Nevada’s unique, mostly mail 2020 primary election is finally in the books and will end as one of the highest-turnout primary elections in state history.

Final results from the state’s June 9 primary election are updated as of Thursday, ahead of the legal deadline for votes to officially be canvassed on Friday. More than 480,000 ballots were cast in the election, or around 29.5 percent of registered voters.

The long delay in reporting was a result of Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s decision to hold a mostly all-mail election in an effort to mitigate potential spread of COVID-19, with limited in-person voting sites in each county. Most voters opted to use a mail-in ballot, with only around 7,800 people opting to cast their ballot in-person.

The delay in reporting results also saw delayed victories by several legislative caucus-backed candidates who appeared behind opponents after initial results were published last week. Most notably, former Nevada State Democratic Party head Roberta Lange won a close victory over Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel in a state Senate primary, after Spiegel appeared ahead in initial results. 

But in several heated races in the state’s congressional districts, the slow count left few surprises. Republican primaries in Districts 3 and 4 were won easily by former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer and ex-Assemblyman Jim Marchant, respectively, while a competitive race among Democrats in ruby-red District 2 fell decisively to one-time legislative candidate Patricia Ackerman. 

They will now go on to face incumbents who, across the board, easily secured their own renominations. Across all four districts, only one incumbent — Democrat Steven Horsford — received less than 80 percent of the vote. 

Check out our summary below on the status of major races heading into the November general election. Full results are available here.

U.S. House

  • In District 4, former Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant will take on incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford. Marchant emerged from a crowded primary field with 34.8 percent of the vote, while Horsford won nearly 75.1 percent in the Democratic primary. 
  • In District 3, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee will face one-time legislative candidate and ex-wrestler Dan Rodimer in the general election. Lee cruised to victory in a non-competitive primary, securing 82.7 percent of the vote, while Rodimer won 49.8 percent in a bitter, often-combative three-way Republican race. 
  • In District 2, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei also enjoyed a wide margin of victory, winning 80.8 percent of the vote. He will go on to face Democrat Patricia Ackerman, who secured 48.9 percent in a hotly contested primary. 
  • In District 1, incumbent Democrat Dina Titus also easily secured her renomination, winning more than 82.6 percent of the vote. She will go on to face Republican Joyce Bentley, who challenged and lost to Titus in the 2018 general election. Bentley emerged from a field of five Republicans with 35.7 percent of the vote. 

State Senate

  • In District 7, former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange won this three-way Democratic primary against two current lawmakers. Lange secured 38.3 percent of the vote, followed by Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel at 36.9 percent and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo at 24.9 percent. Lange is all but guaranteed a victory in November as she faces no challengers in the general election.

State Assembly

  • In District 2, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama won this crowded Republican primary. She secured 47.9 percent of the vote, followed by commercial real estate agent Erik Sexton with 27 percent of the vote and Jim Small, a retired member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service, with 19 percent. She faces Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor, in the general election. Kunnel won her primary with 35.9 percent of the vote over Jennie Sherwood, a journeywoman electrician, with 31.5 percent.
  • In District 4, former Republican Assemblyman Richard McArthur will face a rematch in November against Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk after winning his Republican primary. He defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, with 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9 percent.
  • In District 16, community activist Cecelia González won this four-way Democratic primary with 50.1 percent of the vote. González is likely to win the general election against the one Republican in the race, Reyna “Alex” Sajdak, because of the overwhelming voter registration advantage Democrats have in the district. 
  • In District 18, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada attorney Venicia Considine, who ran with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this four-way Democratic primary. She secured 39.4 percent of the vote after initially training Lisa Ortega, a master arborist and owner of Great Basin Sage Consulting, in early primary results.
  • In District 19, Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards lost his re-election bid in the primary to Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black. Black won with 61 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 39 percent. Black is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election in November, as there are no Democrats or third-party candidates in the race.
  • In District 20, UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who was running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this Democratic primary with 46.5 percent of the vote after initially trailing in early results. No Republican candidates filed to run in this Paradise-area seat, meaning Orentlicher is essentially guaranteed a victory come November.
  • In District 31, former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman won this three-way Republican primary with 51 percent of the vote. She goes on to face a rematch against Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly after losing the seat to him by fewer than 50 votes in 2016.
  • In District 36, Assemblyman Greg Hafen defeated challenger Dr. Joseph Bradley in the Republican primary in this rural Nevada Assembly district with 54.9 percent of the vote. Hafen is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election as no Democrats or candidates from other parties filed to run for the seat.
  • In District 37, Andy Matthews, former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, defeated former television reporter and congressional candidate Michelle Mortensen with 49 percent of the vote. He goes on to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Shea Backus, in the general election.
  • For more information on the outcomes of primary races, check out our legislative results story.

Board of Regents

  • In District 3, Byron Brooks will face off against Swadeep Nigam in the general election. Brooks garnered 31.4 percent of the votes, while Nigam secured 23.8 percent.
  • In District 4, Patrick Boylan and Nick “Doc” Spirtos will head to the general election. Boylan captured 37.6 percent of the votes, and Spirtos received 33.3 percent.
  • In District 10, the general election will feature a contest between Kevin Melcher and Joseph Arrascada. Melcher earned 28.4 percent of the primary votes, while Arrascada garnered 21.9 percent.

State Board of Education

  • In District 1, Tim Hughes will face off against Angelo Casino in the general election. Hughes received 37.7 percent of the primary votes, while Casino captured 24 percent.
  • In District 2, Katie Coombs ran unopposed and, thus, won the election outright.
  • In District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz won the seat after securing 63 percent of the primary votes. If a candidate receives the majority of votes in this primary race, he or she automatically wins the seat without running in the general election.
  • In District 4, incumbent Mark Newburn will compete against Rene Cantu in the general election after a neck-and-neck primary race. Cantu captured 35.8 percent of the primary votes, while Newburn secured 35.3 percent.

Clark County School Board of Trustees

  • In District A, Lisa Guzman and Liberty Leavitt will be heading to the general election. Guzman received 26.1 percent of the primary votes, while Leavitt captured 19 percent.
  • In District B, Katie Williams will face off against Jeff Proffitt in the general election. Williams secured 23.9 percent of primary votes, while Proffitt snagged 18.7 percent.
  • In District C, Tameka Henry will compete against Evelyn Garcia Morales in the general election. After a close primary race, Henry emerged with 21.1 percent of the votes, while Garcia Morales secured 20.3 percent.
  • In District E, incumbent Lola Brooks will face challenger Alexis Salt in the general election. Brooks, who currently serves as the board president, received 21.6 percent of the primary votes, while Salt garnered 17.5 percent.

Washoe County School Board of Trustees

  • In District A, Scott Kelley will compete against Jeff Church in the general election. Kelley snagged 33.4 percent of the primary votes, while Church garnered 23 percent.
  • In District D, Kurt Thigpen became the outright winner of that seat after securing 52.9 percent of the votes. His victory comes with added significance because he will be the board’s first LGBTQ school trustee.
  • In the At-Large District G, Diane Nicolet and Craig Wesner are heading to the general election. Nicolet received 43.6 percent of the primary votes, while Wesner captured 24.5 percent.

Election results: Several caucus-backed candidates prevail in primaries; one legislator loses re-election bid

One lawmaker lost his re-election bid, while several caucus-backed candidates eked out narrow victories when the final results from the June 9 primary election trickled in on Thursday.

Final but still unofficial results updated Thursday morning show that Democratic caucus-backed Senate candidate Roberta Lange and Assembly candidates David Orentlicher and Venicia Considine won narrow victories after initially trailing in the early results. Lange and Orentlicher are guaranteed victories in November because they face no opponents in the general election, while Considine is all but guaranteed a victory in her overwhelmingly Democratic district.

The results also show Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards has lost his seat to Mesquite Councilwoman Annie Black. An incumbent losing in a legislative primary is relatively rare; only three incumbent legislators have lost their seats in a primary over the last two election cycles.

The results will become official when they are certified on Friday. Until then, here’s a look at who prevailed in each legislative primary.

State Senate District 7

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange defeated Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel by a narrow 131-vote margin in this eastern Las Vegas and Henderson Senate district. Lange faces no challengers in the general election.

Lange won 38.3 percent of the vote, with Spiegel at 36.9 percent and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo with 24.9 percent. More than 9,500 votes were cast in the race.

Lange's victory represents a win for the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus, which had endorsed her. Spiegel significantly outraised both Lange and Carrillo in the race in the first quarter and had a massive war chest on hand.

Assembly District 2

Former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama won this crowded Republican primary to replace termed-out Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick with 47.9 percent of the vote. Erik Sexton, who works in commercial real estate, secured 27 percent of the vote, followed by Jim Small, a retired member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service, with 19 percent.

Kasama ran with the backing of the Assembly Republican Caucus, while Sexton was endorsed by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon. Small had the support of former congressional candidate and businessman Danny Tarkanian and conservative commentator Wayne Allyn Root, among others.

Kasama significantly outraised her opponents in the first quarter, and the Alliance for Property Protection Rights PAC, which is funded by the National Association of REALTORS Fund, inserted itself into the GOP primary in support of her bid.

On the Democratic side, Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor, won the primary over Jennie Sherwood, a journeywoman electrician. Kunnel secured 35.8 percent of the vote while Sherwood won 31.5 percent. A third candidate, Eva Littman, won 23.7 percent.

Republicans have a good shot of keeping control of this seat come November, given the 2.3 percentage point voter registration advantage they hold in this district. The Assembly Democratic Caucus did not endorse a candidate in the primary.

Assembly District 4

Former Assemblyman Richard McArthur won the Republican primary in this northwest Las Vegas Assembly district with a narrow, 2.3 percentage point victory over Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company. McArthur secured 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson's 48.9 percent, a 130-vote margin.

McArthur, a former FBI special agent, has served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. Gibson, a political newcomer, was endorsed by the Assembly Republican Caucus in the primary.

McArthur will go on to a rematch against Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk, who did not draw a primary challenger. She narrowly defeated McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast.

Assembly District 16

Community activist Cecelia González won this four-way Democratic primary to replace Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, who has represented the district since 2012 and opted not to run for re-election.

González secured 50.1 percent of the vote, followed by Joe Sacco, a union trade show and conventions worker with IATSE Local 720 and a REALTOR, with 23.9 percent of the vote. Russell Davis, a two-decade Clark County employee and SEIU member, trailed with 13.7 percent of the vote, and online finance professor Geoffrey VanderPal had secured 12.4 percent of votes cast.

González and Davis had split the endorsement from major Democratic-aligned groups in the race. Both candidates were endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO, while González was also endorsed by the Nevada State Education Association, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League, and Davis was endorsed by SEIU Local 110. The Assembly Democratic Caucus did not endorse in the primary.

González is likely to win the general election against the one Republican in the race, Reyna “Alex” Sajdak, because of the overwhelming voter registration advantage Democrats have in the district. 

Assembly District 18

Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada attorney Venicia Considine eked out a victory over Lisa Ortega, a master arborist and owner of Great Basin Sage Consulting, in this four-way Democratic primary to replace Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, who lost a primary for state Senate.

Considine won with 39.4 percent of the vote, while Ortega secured 37.4 percent and Char Frost, a former campaign manager and legislative staffer for Carrillo, secured 15.4 percent.

Considine ran with not only with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus but SEIU Local 1107, Nevada State Education Association, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League. Considine had also raised nearly one and a half times as much as Ortega during the first quarter of the year.

Assembly District 19

Assemblyman Chris Edwards won't be returning to Carson City next year after he was defeated in the primary by Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black. Black won with 61 percent of the vote to Edwards' 39 percent.

Black ran to the right of the already conservative Edwards, who has served in the Assembly for the last three terms. Black's victory represents a significant upset in the race as incumbents rarely lose their primaries.

Black is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election in November, as there are no Democrats or third-party candidates in the race.

Assembly District 20

UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who was running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this Democratic primary with 46.5 percent of the vote, defeating Emily Smith, the CEO of the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation, by 7.7 percentage points. The seat is currently occupied by Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, who lost her primary for state Senate.

Orentlicher ran with the backing of almost all of the major Democratic-aligned organizations, including the Nevada State AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 1107, the Culinary Union, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada and the Nevada Conservation League. Orentlicher raised about $5,000 in the first quarter of the year and had about $23,000 in cash on hand, while Smith raised only about $1,000 and had only $700 in the bank.

No Republican candidates filed to run in this Paradise-area seat, meaning Orentlicher will be essentially guaranteed a spot in the Legislature.

Assembly District 21

Attorney Elaine Marzola won the two-way Democratic primary in this race to replace replace Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who is running for Nevada Supreme Court.

Marzola received most of the Democratic-aligned endorsement in the primary, including from the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League. 

Her opponent, David Bagley, is the director of operations for the stem cell diagnostics company Pluripotent Diagnostics and was also Marianne Williamson’s Nevada state director for her presidential campaign last year. He ran with the support of the Nevada State Education Association.

Marzola won 70.6 percent of votes cast, with Bagley at 29.4 percent.

Marzola will go on to face Republican Cherlyn Arrington in the general election, though Democrats hold a significant voter registration advantage in the district. Fumo defeated Arrington by 12.6 percentage points in 2018.

Assembly District 26

Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner successfully fended off a primary challenge from Dale Conner, obtaining more than 83.7 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for this Reno-area district.

Krasner will advance to the general election to face off against Democrat Vance Alm.

Assembly District 31

Former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman won this three-way Republican primary to represent this Sparks-area Assembly district. Dickman secured 51 percent of the vote, followed by Washoe County Republican Party treasurer Sandra Linares with 34.1 percent of the vote and businessman David Espinosa with 14.9 percent of the vote.

Dickman is hoping to reclaim the seat she held for one term and lost by fewer than 50 votes to Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly in 2016 and again in 2018. Daly did not face any primary challengers in the race.

Assembly District 36

Assemblyman Greg Hafen defeated challenger Dr. Joseph Bradley in the Republican primary in this rural Nevada Assembly district, which covers portions of Nye, Clark and Lincoln counties. Hafen was appointed to the seat after brothel owner Dennis Hof died weeks before the election but still won the seat.

Hafen, a fifth generation Nevadan and general manager of a Pahrump water utility company, won with 54.9 percent of the vote, while Bradley earned 45.1 percent.

Hafen is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election as no Democrats or candidates from other parties filed to run for the seat.

Assembly District 37

Andy Matthews, former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, has won the Republican primary in his swingy Summerlin Assembly district. Matthews secured 49 percent of the vote, while former television reporter and congressional candidate Michelle Mortensen won 26.3 percent.

Matthews secured a long list of endorsements in the primary, including from former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, several Trump campaign officials including Corey Lewandowski, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and several current and former state lawmakers. He also was a top legislative fundraiser in the primary, outraising all other Republican Assembly candidates, including current office holders.

Matthews will go on to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Shea Backus, who won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018. Democrats hold a narrow 2.2 percentage point voter registration advantage in the district, making it one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle.

Assembly District 40

Former law enforcement officer and one-term Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill appears to be heading back to the Legislature in this heavily-Republican Assembly district after defeating his lone Republican primary opponent, attorney Day Williams.

O’Neill filed to run for the Carson City-area seat on the last day of filing, after incumbent Al Kramer announced he would not run again due to family reasons. O’Neill served one term in the Assembly between 2014 and 2016, but lost to Kramer amid a backlash against Republican candidates who supported former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s large K-12 focused tax increase in 2015.

O’Neill won 54.2 percent of the vote, while Williams won 45.8 percent. O'Neill will go onto face Democrat Sena Loyd in the general election.

Updated 6-10-20 at 6:52 p.m. to correct that Assembly District 20 is primarily in Paradise, not Henderson.

As Republicans eye Nevada, the state’s battleground status may come down to one man: Joe Biden

Republican party staffer leads training

President Donald Trump’s rallies are a certain kind of spectacle.

Supporters clad in Make American Great Again hats and assorted Americana-themed shirts and sweaters and necklaces and shoes camp out for hours beforehand with pop up chairs and blankets to secure a spot in line. When the doors open, thousands swarm into giant convention halls in Las Vegas or jostle for a spot on the tarmac at the Elko Regional Airport or wherever the day’s event happens to be. The speakers pulse with boppy hits like “We Are The Champions” and “Eye of the Tiger.” The crowd goes wild when Trump arrives.

Even a casual supporter of the president might show up to one of these rallies just for the experience. But it takes a different kind of supporter entirely to turn up to a meeting room in a library in Southwest Las Vegas on a Saturday morning a year and a day out from the presidential election to learn those crucial and yet entirely unsexy staples of any political campaign’s ground game — how to knock on doors and make phone calls.

Yet still they came, a little more than a dozen of them last weekend, dressed ready for a Trump rally, to hear a pitch about how Republicans lost each precinct in Nevada by an average of only 14 votes in the 2018 election — causing them to cede a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s mansion to the Democrats — and how if only they door knock, or make phone calls, or help coordinate events, or register voters, Nevada might just go red in 2020.

“The Dems, they don't anticipate Nevada going red. But if we can get Nevada to go red, that is going to be a huge boost for President Trump when it comes toward the Electoral College,” Chris Haskins, regional field director for the Nevada Republican Party, told the group. “It's six extra points in the Electoral College that they were not expecting us to get.”

Nevada, with its independent, Western sensibilities, has long been a swing state. In the last 108 years of presidential elections, the state has only not voted in support of the winning presidential candidate twice, choosing Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. In every other election — that’s Wilson twice, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR four times, Truman, Eisenhower twice, JFK, LBJ, Nixon twice, Reagan twice, H.W., Clinton twice, W. twice, and Obama twice — as Nevada went, so went the nation.

But two cycles of blue wave elections in Nevada — coupled with an increasingly non-white electorate — has left many political observers wondering if the Silver State is now permanently blue. Several electoral college forecasts project Nevada as a lean blue state, with the real battlegrounds in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona. Democrats aren’t taking Nevada’s newfound blueness as a foregone conclusion though, naming it as key state needed to take back the presidency, and neither are Republicans, who believe the other party has drifted so far left that it stands to alienate Nevada’s moderate voters in 2020.

A case in point: While Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive, is surging in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire is beginning to look like a race between her and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” it is the moderate former Vice President Joe Biden who is leading in Nevada. And, though the state went blue in 2018, even Republicans will acknowledge that Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen are hardly liberal firebrands.

The general sense among the more than a dozen Republicans operatives, party leaders, current and former elected officials and Trump supporters interviewed by The Nevada Independent is that if the Democratic nominee is Warren or Sanders, Nevada is in play in 2020; if Biden clinches the nomination, maybe not.

“If Biden is able to keep his head above water long enough to make the entire run and get the nomination, I think Democrats will close ranks around him,” said former Gov. Bob List, a Republican who led the state in the early 1980s. “You’ll see, despite all of his gaffes and his weaknesses and the questions about him, I think he’d be a much stronger candidate in Nevada than anybody else in that field.”

But Republicans nationally are promising the state will be a battleground no matter what. Rick Gorka, a national spokesman for the Trump Victory campaign who worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign in Nevada in 2008, noted that every hand on the July debate stage, including Biden’s, was raised when the candidates were asked whether their health care plan would cover undocumented immigrants — something that the left has long dreamed of but has never been a mainstream Democratic platform.

“If Gov. Sisolak would’ve run on gun confiscation and health care for illegals, I think you would say he would’ve lost this race … This is what the Democrats nationally are running on,” Gorka said. “When you look at where the 2020 field is now, I think Nevada is a much more competitive place today than it was a year ago. That’s just me being honest about it.”

Trump supporters protest on street
Sayuri Rupani-Hayes, left, holds an impeachment sign while supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate in front of Rep. Susie Lee's Las Vegas office on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Reactivating the ground game

The Republican ground game in Nevada in 2018 was — from the accounts of several Republican operatives who know the state well — better than any other in recent history. The party started staffing up in June 2017, a full year and a half before the election, and by January had hired 10 paid staff members and onboarded more than 500 fellows through nearly 100 trainings in all 17 counties of the state. 

The Republican National Committee hosted a summit in early 2018 that brought together GOP consulting firms and Republican campaigns from across the state to learn how to use the massive trove of data the national party had gathered, a predictive analytics system known as the National Voter Scores program. By the primary, the party had trained 1,300 fellows, neighborhood team leaders, core team members and volunteers in Nevada and hit one million voter contacts in the Silver State by August.

The investment was significant — “unprecedented,” they said at the time — but proportional to the importance of the midterm election in Nevada, with Republican Dean Heller’s U.S. Senate seat and control of the governor’s mansion on the line. When the GOP lost what should have been a nailbiter of a Senate race by a full 5 points and the governor’s mansion by 4 points, Republicans were left grappling with what had gone so wrong. The national party’s conclusion was that all the time, money and effort they invested into Nevada had staved off an even worse defeat.

Now, they’re working to reactivate that infrastructure early in the hopes that it will help them pull out a win in the Silver State this time around. The Trump Victory campaign here in Nevada has, according to its self-reported statistics, already reactivated 300 volunteers, held roughly 100 trainings with more than 900 attendees, hosted 50 house parties, knocked 16,000 doors, made 13,000 phone calls and collected 6,000 petition signatures. The campaign also officially opened its Reno office last month, which staffers here believe is the first Trump Victory office outside of the national headquarters anywhere in the United States.

“We have an even larger ground game right now than we did at this point in the 2018 cycle,” said Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party. “We’re looking obviously at the infrastructure of getting our message out door to door, and we also have programs where we’re looking at the crossover, the Democrats who are looking for a home to go to because the other side is going so far left.”

But much of the party’s messaging right now has been centered around the ongoing impeachment inquiry, which will officially move into its public phase next week. Impeachment was the primary focus at the recent Trump Victory training in Southwest Las Vegas.

“That's why we're here today is to encourage everyone to volunteer, register your friends, and get people out to actually vote and send a message back to Washington D.C. that we want you to work for us. You promised to work for us, it's time you held up your promise,” Assemblyman Greg Hafen, the Trump Victory campaign’s rural chair in Nevada, told the group. “It's witch hunt after witch hunt. When are they actually going to do some work for us?”

Impeachment is part of what got Las Vegas resident Thomas Sobol out to that training. He said that he’s never been involved in a political campaign before, but that he was spurred to action generally by his support for the president and specifically by the impeachment inquiry.

“I've always voted Republican growing up but I've never been involved like this,” Sobol said. “I've had conversations with family and friends, but I think now is the time to get out there to try and get something done.”

The Trump Victory campaign is aiming to engage two million volunteers, like Sobol, nationwide in 2020. To that end, the campaign already has staff in 17 states across the country, including more than a dozen here.

“The emphasis is on training and recruiting volunteers and those highly trained volunteers, which we call fellows, for the re-election effort,” Gorka said. “What we’re able to do, because we’re running with an incumbent, is we get to focus on building out the infrastructure and building out capacity where Democrats are worried about a primary.”

It also helps that they have the money to do it. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $125 million in the third quarter of the year, double what President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee had raised by the same point in 2011 for his re-election bid.

“The lucky part for us is that we have more money than we know what to do with," Gorka said. "That allows us to build that ground game while targeting voters in Nevada with messaging and paid efforts." 

In fact, Trump spent significantly more on Facebook ads in Nevada in October than all of the Democratic field except billionaire Tom Steyer, whose strategy has focused around spending millions on television and digital advertisements.

Gorka promised an ongoing investment in Nevada through the general election, regardless of which Democrat eventually picks up their party’s nomination. 

“We’re in Nevada to win. We don’t invest in a state with any other intention,” Gorka said. “They’re going to have all the resources that are necessary to make that happen.”

Several Republican operatives on the ground here not involved with the Trump Victory campaign said they’re seeing the fruits of that investment early on, from the staff on the ground to the party’s merchandise-focused fundraising efforts. (The state GOP is selling everything from a “Witch Hunt” t-shirt featuring cartoon versions of prominent House Democrats on broomsticks to an “Impeach This” tote bag with a county-by-county map of the results of the 2016 election.) 

Where operatives are less sure is how the party infrastructure will continue to be built up over the course of the election cycle — including to what extent there will be coordination with down ballot races like there was in 2018 — and whether it even will be if someone like Biden is the nominee. 

“I think they’ll make those decisions sometime mid-year next year. They probably will put some infrastructure in place and see what happens here, what happens through the caucus and primary process, and who they think the nominee is going to be,” said Greg Ferraro, a longtime Republican operative in the state who isn’t affiliated with any campaigns this cycle. “I think then they look back at a state like ours with a million plus voters and see if it can make a difference.”

Even if the Trump Victory campaign decides to spend the bulk of its resources elsewhere, Republicans here anticipate at least some level of national investment in Nevada, owing to the fact that Chris Carr, who has deep Nevada ties, is Trump Victory’s political director, as well as the relationship that McDonald has built directly with the president and his family. Donald Trump Jr. will, for instance, be in Las Vegas on Monday for a fundraiser.

“We have a different relationship with the president, the White House, and the Trump campaign than any other state,” McDonald said. “We’re privileged to have that relationship with the family … We have privileges that other states don’t, and I don’t take them for granted.”

Others, however, aren’t sure how much the Republican ground game will actually matter with so much of the race shaped directly by Trump and his direct outreach to voters through social media and other channels.

“I believe that Donald Trump is going to win Nevada, and he’s going to win Nevada based on what Donald Trump says and does over the next year,” said Chuck Muth, a conservative political consultant. “They’ve got all these staff on the ground, these trainings on the ground, that’s really not going to make the difference. It’s not going to make or break the race.”

Longtime Republican consultant Pete Ernaut put it this way.

“All the Republicans are going to come out and vote,” he said, “and they’re all going to vote for the president whether they spend 10 cents or $10 million."

Trump volunteer talks to press
Trump volunteer Thomas Sobol speaks after the "Stop the Madness" Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training in Las Vegas on Saturday Nov. 2, 1019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Bringing Nevada into play

If the 104 days until Nevada’s Democratic caucus is an eternity in political time, Election Day 2020, which is 359 days away, is doubly so. But most Republican operatives agree that to what extent Nevada matters in those intervening 255 days will essentially come down to Biden.

“Who the Democratic nominee is in Nevada is almost going to totally determine whether the president is viable here or not,” Ernaut said. “But I don’t think that’s unique to Nevada. That’s probably the case in 20 states."

That’s why many Republicans are eagerly eyeing Biden’s stagnating performance in the first two early nominating states, which could sink his ship before he can make it to Nevada or South Carolina, and his poor fundraising numbers.

“I think as Biden goes along he’s going to continue to erode in his strength,” List said. “I think he’s slipping, and I think there are a lot of people who are questioning his viability — I don’t want to be too rough on him — but in terms of his viability to grasp the issues and express himself. He appears to me to be to have lost a lot of vigor and some of his edge has slipped and so I’m not as concerned about that as I once was.”

List said that if the Democratic nominee is anybody but Biden, Nevada is “certainly” in play.

“I think if it’s Biden, I still believe that Trump can win this state and that he will invest here and campaign here,” List said. “But it would be closer. It would be tougher.”

But Republicans are counting on a number of other factors, including stable relationships with other countries and a good economy. Gorka noted the occupancy rates in Las Vegas — which are near a historic high — coupled with significant gaming wins, two methods of gauging the strength of the casino industry here.

“It’s pretty clear that the economy is doing fairly well and Nevada is benefitting, with some of the records we’re seeing on the Strip as far as occupancy and win,” Gorka said. “When this economy is performing at the level that it is, it’s hard for a Democrat to say that the economic policies of this president are bad for Nevada.”

And if Warren or Sanders is the nominee, they’ll be eyeing Nevada’s union workers even more closely. 

“Do you think that a Culinary Union member is going to knock for Elizabeth Warren to get their health care taken away from them if she wins? I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Gorka said, referring to the union’s concerns about the Medicare-for-all health care plan that the Massachusetts senator favors. “Maybe the union leadership is all on board with whomever the nominee is, but the rank and file who see the policies coming from the Democratic Party, it’s not the Democratic Party they’re used to voting for.”

Jeffrey Proffitt, business manager of SMART Local 88, told The Nevada Independent last month that his union is split somewhere between 50-50 and 60-40 between Democrats and Republicans. He said many of his union members still openly support the president and noted that Trump was “saying the right things for union members” during the last election. But he believes it’s going to be a tougher sell this time.

“He was talking about trade. He was talking about the working person’s issues and come to find out that’s not what he was really about,” Proffitt said. “He was about giving away to corporations and tax cuts to corporations.”

But McDonald said that Republicans are planning to make another push for union support this cycle.

“We’re going into union households and talking about the president of the United States when they’ve been one thousand percent behind the Democrats,” McDonald said. “This president can go into union shops and union households and get their support. That’s something that’s a plus on our side.”

Assemblyman speaks in favor of Trump
Trump Victory Rural Nevada Campaign Chair Greg Hafen, speaks during the "Stop the Madness" Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training in Las Vegas on Saturday Nov. 2, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The trickle down effect

Most everyday Nevadans aren’t tuned into the presidential race, let alone any other contests that will appear on their ballot next year. But Republican operatives here are already beginning to look at how Nevada’s national competitiveness will affect the state’s down ballot races.

Every three presidential election cycles, there is no U.S. Senate race on the ballot, because Senate terms span six years and are staggered. Catherine Cortez Masto was elected to the Senate in 2016, followed by Jacky Rosen in 2018, meaning that 2020 is Nevada’s off election for the U.S. Senate. There is also no gubernatorial race this year, since in Nevada those elections fall during the midterm.

Voters in two Southern Nevada districts will face potentially close House races, in the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts, but without a competitive statewide race there is not a lot of extra incentive for national parties to invest in Nevada if the presidential race isn’t looking close.

It’s not yet clear what that means for down ballot races. Presidential races generally see higher voter turnout than midterm elections, which will help get voters to the polls for races they know less about, including the congressional and legislative races. But it’s hard to tell which races will end up being competitive, with the swingiest congressional district, the 3rd District, yet to attract a robust field while Republican candidates crowd into the 4th District, which leans blue and is the more difficult pickup opportunity of the two. In the Legislature, Republicans are defending two Senate seats while gunning for two Democratic-held ones — which, if successful, would still leave Democrats with a 11-10 majority — and the math is even more difficult in the Assembly where Republicans are primarily aiming to not be in the super-minority.

There are two schools of thought on this. One is that all politics is local, and even if Nevada isn’t competitive in the presidential election and doesn’t see a high Republican turnout, Republicans still have a shot at some of these seats on a district by district basis.

“From the Assembly perspective and Assembly races it’s all about the candidate knocking on the doors. You see that in vote totals where Republican Assembly candidates get more votes in their precincts than Donald Trump,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus. “For me Assembly is all about ground game and then how much can the individual candidates sell themselves to a voter.”

The other is that all politics is national, and to what level Republicans succeed down ballot primarily depends on what happens at the top of the ticket.

“The only thing that matters in politics right now in Nevada is the initial after your name,” Ernaut said. “What happens in the presidential race, who the Democratic nominee is, and what shape they come of the primary process in is going to almost completely dictate the election, from the election of the president to the dog catcher of a county you can’t pronounce."

In some ways, both are true. There’s one question that Republican operatives say down ballot candidates get asked the most by their constituents.

Do you support the president?

Trump supporters protest on street
Robert Crooks discusses his support for President Donald Trump while other supports demonstrate in front of Rep. Susie Lee's Las Vegas office on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Gregory Hafen

The inside of the Nevada Legislature during State of the State

This is one in a series of profiles of legislative newcomers.


  • Freshman Republican appointed to replace brothel owner Dennis Hof, who died prior to being elected to the Assembly in 2018
  • Represents District 36, which includes parts of Nye, Clark and Lincoln counties
  • District 36 leans heavily Republican (46 percent Republican, 27 percent Democratic and 27 percent nonpartisan or other in the 2018 election)
  • Hafen was appointed to replace Hof from a field of 19 applicants. He was unanimously approved by the Clark and Lincoln county commissions and received just one dissenting vote in Nye County.
  • He will sit on the Government Affairs, Health and Human Services and Taxation committees.


Hafen is a fifth-generation Nevadan with family roots in the state Assembly, filling the same seat that his grandfather, M. Kent “Tim” Hafen, was elected to in 1966. Born in Las Vegas, Hafen received his bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In his free time, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, from riding ATVs at Big Dune to biking on the Cottonwood Trails.


Hafen is the general manager of the Pahrump Utility Company, a water utility that was founded by his grandfather, father and aunt in 1995. Prior to his appointment to the Assembly, he was chairman of the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission and the Pahrump Capital Improvement Advisory Committee. He also continues to serve as chairman of the Desert View Hospital Board and as a member of the Nevada Taxpayer Association, a non-profit advocating for fiscal responsibility in government.


What are your top legislative priorities for the 2019 session?

My top priorities for the 2019 session are education and health care.

I would love to see the state of Nevada in the top 10 rankings for education, and I think that we need to create a path forward to try and accomplish that. And health care is a growing industry, especially in Nevada. With the new UNLV medical school, we need to try and retain those students that we're educating through expansion of the residency program, fellowship programs, and one of the bills that I've sponsored, a loan forgiveness program for doctors that stay in the state.

What programs/parts of the state government could be cut? What programs/areas need more funding in 2019?

With the advances in technology, Nevada should be looking at how to utilize new technologies to make Nevada more efficient.

I'm on the technology committee, so we went and visited with [the Regional Transportation Commission] and a few other agencies that are integrating technology. One of the issues they're running into is that they're required to go with the lowest bid. However, that may not be best technology and, in the long term, may not be the most efficient. So, yes, it may be the low bid now, but over the long run a different technology may be more efficient for the state and may end up saving the state more money.

What specifically should Nevada do to improve health care this session? How about education?

I have proposed the following [bill draft requests] to help improve health care and education: BDR 850 - Provides funding for the Education Savings Accounts, BDR 851 - Establishes provisions to attract medical professionals to practice in Nevada, and BDR 851 - Revises provisions governing workforce development.

[On education], I'm not an education professional, I don't pretend to be an expert, but when you look at the rankings and the statistics we are typically ranked in the bottom of the nation. To me that's not acceptable, there's no reason why Nevada should not be in the top 10. We have an opportunity right now to improve that, and we need to have all the cards on the table to try and figure out what the best solution is.

[On healthcare], the statistics all show that where a medical student goes and does their residency, they typically stay, so if we can retain the students that we're educating, it would be a good investment.

[On workforce development], there's already some provisions, so I'd like to try and expand some of those to try and get additional apprenticeships, internships and expose children to different workforce fields that they could possibly go into that they, currently, are not being exposed to. I think that it's important to start young and let the child see what fields are out there, what their interests are, and then once they find an interest, then continue to help them along that path.

Should Nevada raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard to 100 percent by 2050? If not, what should the state's RPS compliance standard be?

I believe that the standards should be driven by the market and its customers. In the rural parts of Nevada, 100 percent may not be feasible.

If you look at the current renewable energy technology out there, the majority of it in Nevada is solar. Just to go to 50 percent, we're looking at roughly 100,000 acres of new solar panels. Right now, solar energy is about comparable to fossil fuels, so from a cost perspective, we're finally there.

But to get past that 50 percent threshold we're shooting toward right now, is going to require, at least with solar technology, an extensive amount of battery storage or other kinds of storage to store the energy for the evenings or nights when the solar's not able to generate electricity.

So I just don't know that the technology is there. I think we should invest in the technology and the research and the development, but I just don't see the technology today.

Do you support modifying or eliminating current property tax caps in state law?

At this time, I do not support modifying or eliminating the current property tax caps.

People live on a budget. If somebody bought their house five years ago and their property values have gone up substantially, in some instances, they're still living on that budget. To potentially double their taxes could end up being a substantial burden on the taxpayer or the homeowner or the property owner, and I just don't know that that's something that should really be done.

Are there any particular issues on which you see yourself working across party lines? If so, which ones? If not, why not?

My top priorities for the 2019 session are education and health care. I hope that both parties can work together by discussing every option on the table to develop the best possible solution.

In the governor's State of the State, some of his priorities were health care and education. I think that we all have the same goal, that we want to improve health care and education, and I don't think you'll meet anyone up there that says, 'No, we don't want to.' We might disagree on some of the details, but at the end of the day I think we all have the same goal in mind.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Lawmakers, top officials continued raising campaign cash in two months post-election

Election night has come and gone, but Nevada’s elected officials continued to rake in campaign cash in the months preceding the 120-day legislative session.

Even state lawmakers and elected office-holders who won’t be back on the ballot for two more years at the earliest continued to bring in large campaign contributions in the last two months of 2018, according to campaign finance reports required to be filed with the secretary of state on Tuesday. The reports span Nov. 2 to Dec. 31.

Nevada lawmakers, the governor and the lieutenant governor are barred from receiving campaign contributions during the 120-day session and for 30 days prior to and after the session’s end. But because of how Nevada’s campaign finance reporting requirements are structured, the applicable reporting period only runs until Jan. 1, meaning any contributions brought in over the first four days of the new year won’t be reported until next year.

The “blackout” period means that Gov. Steve Sisolak — who has raised more than $1 million since the election — had to cease fundraising by Jan. 4. But the restriction does not apply to PACs, and the new governor also planned two inauguration events in January, with sponsorships costing up to $50,000.

In the two month period, Sisolak raised a total of $1.3 million and spent a little more than $1 million over the same time period. The Nevada Independent detailed those contributions here.

For a look at how much the state’s other top elected officials raised — including the attorney general, lieutenant governor and legislative leadership — as well as what contribution Nevada’s newly appointed lawmakers have raked in since taking office, read below.

Aaron Ford

Attorney General Aaron Ford reported raising nearly $160,000 in the last two months of the year, including $10,000 from the Cosmopolitan, $10,000 from philanthropists Daniel and Brianne Ziff, $5,000 from the American Resort Development Association, $5,000 from R&S Leasing, $5,000 from the Orleans Hotel & Casino, $5,000 from the Nevada Realtors PAC, $5,000 from Marnell Gaming, $5,000 from Republican consultant Pete Ernaut, $5,000 from the South Point Hotel and Casino and $5,000 from Cox Communications.

Ford spent $94,000 over that same time period, including contributing $18,400 to the Nevada State Democratic Party and other expenses related to staff, special events and consultants.

Kate Marshall

The new lieutenant governor reported raising more than $129,000 over the fundraising period, with the vast majority — $127,000 — raised in the period following the election.

Marshall, who defeated Republican candidate Michael Roberson in the November election, took large contributions from some of the state’s major gaming companies after the election, including $20,000 from two MGM Resort properties, $10,000 from the Las Vegas Sands, $6,000 from the Grand Sierra Resort, $5,000 from Wynn Resorts and $5,000 from Boyd Gaming.

Other large contributions included $10,000 from the Nevada Realtors PAC, $5,000 from the law firm of Eglet Prince, $5,000 from Burger King, $5,000 from Barrick and $5,000 from NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC.

She reported spending roughly $63,000 over the reporting period, primarily on payments to consultants and staff.

Legislative leadership

Democratic Speaker Jason Frierson raised a little more than $52,000 over the two-month reporting period, including $6,500 from the Associated General Contractors Build PAC, $5,000 each from title loan company Titlemax and the Orleans Hotel & Casino, $4,000 from the Palace Station Hotel & Casino and a pair of $3,000 donations from used car company Copart and insurance company Employers EIG.

He spent roughly $35,000 over the same period, including $11,856 paid to the Assembly Democratic Caucus for paid staff, advertising, special events and other contributions. He also contributed $5,000 each to two new members of his caucus, Rochelle Nguyen and Bea Duran.

Republican Assembly Leader Jim Wheeler reported raising a little more than $23,000 in November and December, including $5,000 from Farmers Employee Agent PAC and $2,000 each from the Nevada Realtors PAC, Tesla, the salvage car company COPART and Manufactured Home Community Owners.

He spent a little less than $27,000 over that same time period, including expenditures related to advertising, polling and special events.

Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson reported raising more than $449,000 over all of 2018, including about $82,000 after the 2018 election.

Top post-election contributions to Atkinson included $5,000 from Barrick, $5,000 from Boyd Gaming, $5,000 from online vehicle auction provider COPART, $5,000 from Cox Communications, $5,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers and $5,000 from R&S Investment Properties.
He reported spending $165,000 throughout the year, including some large contributions to other candidates and PACs, including $10,000 to the Nevada Senate Democrats.

Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer reported raising just over $37,000 in the post-election period, and more than $281,000 throughout the calendar year. Top contributors included $2,500 from the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, $2,500 from the Manufactured Home Community Owners, $2,500 form Farmers Insurance Employee and Agent PAC, $2,500 from Pfizer and $2,500 from Nevada Health PAC, affiliated with the Nevada Hospital Association.

He totaled nearly $50,000 in expenses over the reporting period, the bulk of which came via a $25,000 transfer to the Nevada Jobs Coalition, the PAC supporting Republican state Senate candidates.

Appointed lawmakers

Although they won’t be up on the ballot until 2020, several of the lawmakers appointed to fill vacant seats spent portions of the last two months raising funds ahead of the legislative session.

Freshman Bea Duran has raised $11,500 since being appointed to the Assembly on Dec. 18 to fill Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz’s seat.

Most of her contributions came from fellow Democratic lawmakers, including $5,000 from the Committee to Elect Jason Frierson, $1,000 from the Assembly Democratic Caucus, $1,000 from the Committee to Elect Tyrone Thompson and $1,000 from Friends for Lesley Cohen. She also received $1,000 from the Nevada Strong PAC, $1,000 from Citizens for Justice and $500 from the AFL-CIO.

She reported just $267 in spending during the same period, a single payment for a hotel room.

Rochelle Nguyen, appointed to fill the vacant Assembly seat of newly-appointed state Sen. Chris Brooks, raised $17,450 in the most recent filing period. Her top donors also largely include Democratic colleagues, including $5,000 from the Committee to Elect Jason Frierson, $2,000 each from the campaign of Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle and the law firm Maningo Law, and $1,000 each from the campaigns of Assembly Democrats Daniele Monroe-Moreno, Maggie Carlton, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Steve Yeager, Tyrone Thompson and Lesley Cohen.

Nguyen also reported just over $950 in expenses, including an airplane flight, office supplies and $200 to herself in loan forgiveness.

New state Sen. Dallas Harris, appointed to fill the seat of Attorney General Aaron Ford, reported raising $38,250 over the reporting period. The largest chunks of her haul including $10,000 contributions from Atkinson’s Leadership PAC and fellow appointed state Sen. Chris Brook’s campaign account. She also received $5,000 from Citizens for Justice Trust, $5,000 from the Clark County Education Association, $1,000 from Dollar Loan Center and $250 from Advance America. She also received $1,000 from a PAC affiliated with Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse and another $1,000 from defeated state Senate candidate Julie Pazina’s campaign.

She reported spending only $466, including $36 on office expenses and $139 to herself for loan forgiveness.

Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, appointed to replace the deceased Dennis Hof, reported raising $1,000 over the reporting period, $500 from the Nevada Credit Union League and $500 from the Associated General Contractors PAC. He did not report any spending.

This story was updated at 8 AM on Wednesday with more reports.