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

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

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

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

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

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

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

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

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

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

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

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

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

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

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

False alarm fees, urban composting among few casualties from legislative deadline day

Nevada lawmakers worked late into Friday to pass 175 resolutions and bills by the one of the final major deadlines of the legislative session, but not every bill made it past the finish line before the clock struck midnight.

According to a tally by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, only four bills failed to pass out and died by Friday’s deadline — largely under-the-radar measures affecting composting, rules on school suspensions and expulsions, alarm systems and special assessments by local governments.

The bills fell just short of the final legislative finish line — lawmakers are scheduled to finish their 120-day session on Monday, May 31, with legislators scheduling most of the final week to finish budget details and finish the long list of last-minute major policy bills that need to be resolved before the Legislature adjourns.

Here’s a look at the bills that failed to advance on Friday:

AB67: This bill, sponsored on behalf of the state Department of Education, would have expanded and clarified school discipline procedures, including definitions for suspension, significant suspension, expulsion and permanent expulsion, as well as updating circumstances in which those punishments could be appalled. The bill passed on a 40-0 vote in the Assembly on April 16, but was placed on the secretary’s desk in the Senate on Friday. However, lawmakers granted the bill a late exemption on Monday from the normal legislative rules.

SB57: Sponsored on behalf of Clark County, SB57 would have authorized a board of county commissioners or city government to recover any unpaid property fines or fees by treating them as a special assessment, which can be collected in the same manner as normal county taxes. Clark County officials said the measure was aimed at giving code enforcement more tools to go after abandoned property and short-term rentals; the measure passed out of the Senate on 12-9 vote on April 20, but the bill was placed on the Chief Clerk’s desk on May 19 in the Assembly and died by the deadline.

SB253: This bill from Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Gardnerville) would have prohibited any local government from imposing fees, fines or penalties on alarm system contractors or monitoring companies for any false alarm that cannot be attributed to the improper installation of the alarm system or other error. The bill was aimed at avoiding punishing alarm companies for false alarms — a lobbyist for ADT Security Services described it as “sending an individual’s speeding ticket to General Motors.” The bill passed the Senate on an 18-3 vote on April 20, but died in the Assembly after being placed on the chief clerk’s desk on Friday.

SB349: Sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), this bill would have authorized cities and counties to establish urban composting zones for use by the community by ordinance, including potential inclusion in a county or city’s master plan. It also would have authorized the state or a local board of health to adopt regulations on the sale of unpackaged produce at a farmers’ market. The bill passed on a 13-8 vote in the Senate on April 20, but was placed on the Chief Clerk’s desk on Friday and died on the deadline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reducing points of contact and racial disparities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Miranda warning for minors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limiting direct file

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jurisdiction over juvenile cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes to juvenile housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treating youth found incompetent

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

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

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

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

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

Diverting more youth

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

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

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

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

Sealing records

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structural changes within the juvenile justice system

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Future justice efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican-introduced bills decimated by committee passage deadline

The majority of bills introduced by Republican legislators this session failed to advance past last Friday’s first committee passage deadline, with nearly half of GOP-sponsored bills dying without a hearing.

Out of 249 bills and resolutions introduced by Republican legislators this year, 162 died at the deadline, including 121 bills that never received a committee hearing. Some of the top Republican-backed efforts that failed included election bills repealing expanded mail voting (AB134) and requiring proof of identity before voting (AB137, AB163) and attempts to curb the governor’s emergency powers (AB93, AB373).

A handful of Republican senators bore the brunt of that devastation, including Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) and Carrie Buck (R-Henderson), who combined to sponsor 34 bills that never received a hearing prior to the deadline.

Pickard, who backed out of a deal with Senate Democrats during 2020’s special session, led that group with 13 bills that died without a hearing. However, Pickard does have some bills left alive, as six of his 20 introduced bills were ruled exempt from the deadline.

Buck, a freshman lawmaker who does not have a single bill left alive and received a hearing for only one piece of legislation she introduced, said on Twitter during deadline week that she thinks the policy this session is “ALL bad.”

In this year’s Democrat-controlled Legislature, lawmakers in the majority fared better. Of 334 bills introduced by Democrats, 78 died at the deadline, with only 46 of those never receiving a hearing.

Some Democratic lawmakers even escaped the first deadline with no casualties. Assembly members Cameron “C.H.” Miller (D-North Las Vegas), Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas) introduced a combined 26 bills this session, none of which died last Friday.

Several Democratic lawmakers were not as fortunate. Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) were the only lawmakers in their party to have more than half of their introduced bills killed at the deadline. Several of those failed bills were controversial, including an effort to curb use of the death penalty and a bill that would have established an opt-out organ donation system.

With the next major deadline less than a week away, Republican legislators are facing another potential wave of dead bills, as more than 90 percent of their remaining measures have yet to receive a floor vote.

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

Deadline Day: Death penalty abolition, physician aid-in-dying and gun control bills advance

Friday marks the do-or-die moment for hundreds of legislative proposals — bills must pass out of their first committee unless they have a special exemption.

Lawmakers began Friday by holding marathon committee meetings throughout the day on Friday, working to process backlogged bills or cut last-minute deals on controversial legislation.

Proposals that advanced Friday morning include measures repealing the state’s death penalty, allowing operation of cannabis consumption lounges and banning so-called “ghost” guns.

But Friday doesn’t mark the end of all major pending issues — legislative leaders granted special exemptions to a handful of high-profile proposals, including the three mining tax constitutional changes first passed in the 2020 special session, a measure expanding automatic voter registration beyond the DMV and a bill draft request creating “Innovation Zones.”

Lawmakers haven’t crammed all pending bills into Friday meetings. Since Monday, lawmakers have already voted out 155 bills from committees, including major election changes, criminal justice modifications, adding additional marijuana licenses and even increasing fees on marriage licenses. 

But those measures and likely hundreds already passed face another daunting deadline — the first House passage deadline on April 20, just eleven days away.

Here’s a look at major policies that passed out of legislative committees on Thursday. The Nevada Independent will update this story as additional bills are passed out of committee on Friday.

Abolishing the death penalty 

With little comment, members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 9-6 on party lines to advance a bill abolishing the death penalty. All Republicans on the committee opposed the bill.

Friday’s vote pushes the death penalty abolition cause further than ever — Nancy Hart of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty said such bills have been introduced in 2001, 2003, 2017, 2019, 2021, and sometimes got a committee hearing, but never a committee vote until Friday.

AB395 would turn all existing death sentences into sentences of life in prison without parole. Another death penalty abolition bill in the Senate is more modest, abolishing capital punishment for crimes committed after the law takes effect.

Nevada is one of 24 states that still has the death penalty, although nobody has been executed in Nevada since 2006. The most recent state to end the practice is Virginia, which outlawed capital punishment last month.

“This is a tremendous step forward for sure,” Public Defender Scott Coffee, who is pushing for abolition, told The Nevada Independent. “I think the committee vote today is recognition that Nevada's death penalty is broken beyond repair. A variety of recent events has given the repeal a new sense of urgency,  proving it is not an issue which can be ignored or placed on the back burner.”

Ghost guns and businesses banning guns

In a Friday surprise, members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted out AB286 on a party line vote, a hotly contested firearm regulation bill that would ban so-called “ghost guns” and make it easier for businesses to prohibit guns on their property.

The bill was amended to include more specifics on what kinds of signs have to be posted for a business deciding to opt-in to the provisions of the bill, and limits the provisions related to not allowing firearms on premises only to businesses with a non restricted gaming license (casinos).

Several Republican members of the committee asked to delay the vote on the bill, saying they received the amendment only a few minutes before the committee meeting. Several Democrats on the committee indicated that they’d like to see additional changes to the bill.

Physician-aid-in-dying

AB351, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) that would allow terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication passed out of the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services without a recommendation.

According to legislative procedure, a committee may move a bill or resolution forward in the process "without recommendation” if members were unable to reach a conclusion on what they believe the action the Assembly at large should take.

Modeled after Oregon's 1997 Death with Dignity Act, AB351 would authorize a physician to prescribe medication designed to end a patient's life in instances where a patient is at least 18 years of age, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness by at least two doctors, has been given six months or less to live, is a Nevada resident, is making an informed and voluntary decision and is not requesting medication because of coercion.

The bill revived a debate that has emerged in the last three legislative sessions and advanced 7-5 along party lines, with Republicans in opposition.

Marijuana DUIs

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed a bill that will remove from state law specific numeric quantities of marijuana metabolites in the blood that trigger a DUI. 

While the bill still allows such measurements to be taken, it cannot be the sole evidence used to prove a DUI case. Prosecutors would have to use other indicators of impairment, such as visual observations or field sobriety tests, to make their case.

Proponents of the bill say that the “per se” limits in the law reflect the lowest detectable levels of marijuana in the blood, rather than indicating impairment, and could ensnare someone who consumed cannabis days or weeks earlier but it no longer high because of the way marijuana works through the body differently than alcohol.

The bill, AB400, was amended so that “per se” limits remain in portions of the law dealing with workman’s compensation. Opponents of the bill said that removing such limits could put an employer on the hook in a claim even if an employee who was high on the job caused an accident.

Cannabis consumption lounges

Nevada residents and visitors may soon have places where they can publicly consume marijuana legally after the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed AB341. The bill authorizes cannabis consumption lounges, which are akin to bars for marijuana use.

Supporters framed the bill as a way to bring a diverse new group of entrepreneurs into Nevada’s cannabis industry, whose upper echelons skew white and male, and which has high financial barriers to entry and a strictly capped number of stores.

An amendment brings more specificity to who qualifies as a “social equity applicant” — defined as someone who has been adversely affected by the previous criminalization of cannabis — and that licensing fees can be reduced by up to 75 percent.

It also bans consumption lounges in airports and calls for the lounges to serve “single-use” servings of cannabis rather than larger amounts that would make the lounges de facto dispensaries.

Tenants’ rights bill

Landlords could face more restrictions on the fees they can charge tenants under SB218, a bill sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.

A detailed amendment toned down several provisions from the original bill. While the measure initially prohibited landlords from charging any application fees to prospective tenants, the bill now allows landlords to charge one potential tenant or tenant group at a time — a provision aimed at preventing landlords from collecting fees from dozens of housing-hungry people who don’t have a realistic chance of landing the place.

The bill originally barred any add-on fees aside from those allowed in statute, based on testimony that some landlords tacked on microwave fees, refrigerator fees and other added expenses that were unknown to tenants until seeing they owed hundreds of dollars more than their base rent. As amended, the bill limits fees to those that are allowed under statute and those that are “actual and reasonable;” it also requires fees be listed on the first page of the lease before signing.

SB218 also limits landlords from dipping into the security deposit for cleaning if they have already charged a cleaning deposit.

Inmate account garnishment

The Nevada Department of Corrections would be limited in how much it can garnish from inmates’ personal funds under SB22, passed Friday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The original bill only changed the priority order of where garnished funds go, but an amendment adds language addressing recent heartburn from inmates’ families that the department was diverting up to 80 percent of inmate funds in an attempt to comply with Marsy’s Law — a voter-passed victims’ bill of rights.

Inmate families testified that they sacrifice to send their loved ones money each month to buy products such as lotion and supplemental food, and argued that heavy garnishment passes the burden of restitution to families.

As amended, the bill caps garnishments at 25 percent of contributions an inmate receives, or 50 percent of wages the inmate earns directly. It also calls on prisons to provide twice-yearly statements for free about how much money is in an inmate’s account and what deductions were made.

Committee Chairwoman Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) said the amendment was a compromise between the prisons and inmate advocacy groups. The committee’s attorney said the provisions of the amended bill remain in compliance with Marsy’s Law.

Requiring legislative approval for large regulations becomes study

A bill by Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) requiring state lawmakers to approve any proposed regulations with a financial impact estimated north of $10 million was passed out of the Assembly Government Affairs committee on Friday, after it was amended to become an interim study.

The amended version of AB340 would require the interim Legislative Commission to appoint a six-legislator panel aimed at studying the number of regulations that the original bill would have captured and any potential cost associated with studying the economic impact of state regulations.

Annual behavioral health check-ups for police

Members of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee also voted out AB336 on Friday, a bill by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) that requires the state’s police standards board to adopt regulations for annual behavioral health check-ins for law enforcement.

The bill was amended to change language requiring an annual behavioral “healthcare assessment” to an annual “wellness visit,” and changed the effective date of the bill to start in 2023.

Statewide grants office and matching grant funds

The Assembly Government Affairs committee voted along party lines to approve AB445, a bill making various structural changes to the state grants office and creating a new fund for matching grant programs.

The bill transfers the current Office of Grant Procurement, Coordination and Management in the Department of Administration to the governor’s office, and renames it the “Office of Federal Assistance.” It requires that the office create and maintain a state plan for maximizing federal grants and assistance, and creates a grant matching program funded by proceeds from the state’s Abandoned Property Trust Account.

Protecting wage and salary history

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed out a bill sponsored by Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) that would prohibit employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s wage or salary history.

Amendments attached to SB293 included a section allowing anyone who believes they were discriminated against by an inquiry into salary history to request a right-to-sue notice and a requirement for employers to disclose salary range or wage rate to an applicant. 

The amendment also removed a provision stipulating that applicants can voluntarily disclose their wage or salary history, and employers are not prohibited from using the information to determine pay rate.

Tobacco and vapor products

Members of the Assembly Revenue committee voted unanimously to approve Republican Assemblyman Greg Hafen’s AB360, which would require any seller of tobacco or vapor products “utilize age-verification technology at the point of sale” to ensure that any buyers are over the age of 21.

The bill, which was substantially amended from its original version, wouldn’t require age verification for anyone who appears to be over the age of 40 and would impose a $100 civil penalty for violators.

Bill banning declawing cats, requiring cage-free eggs advance

Members of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted to advance legislation on Friday that would ban the declawing of cats, and require all eggs sold in Nevada be cage-free starting in 2024.

AB209, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez, would generally ban the practice of surgically removing a cat’s claws, unless deemed medically necessary. An amendment to the bill removes a requirement that a licensed veterinarian who declaws a cat provide a written statement to the state veterinary board and impose civil penalties for those that fail to do so.

Members of the committee voted along party lines to approve AB399, which requires any chicken eggs sold in the state come from chickens living in cage-free housing systems, with various civil penalties for farm owners found in violation.

Land grant institutions

The Senate Education Committee passed SB287, sponsored by Sen. Dallis Harris (D-Las Vegas), which would designate UNR, UNLV and the Desert Research Institute as land grant institutions. 

The bill was amended to require that the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education develop a plan to manage the resources of the state land grant institutions and the Board of Regents to approve the plan. The amendment stipulates that the plan be submitted to the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the governor by Feb. 1, 2023. 

Supporters of the bill hailed it as a way to bring more federal dollars and investment to Nevada’s universities, but opponents worry that the bill would reduce UNR’s Cooperative Extension funding, which is a partnership between federal, state and county governments.

If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2021.

Addressing sexual misconduct in higher education

Democratic Sen. Melanie Scheible’s SB347, a bill aimed at helping victims of sexual misconduct and improving reporting requirements and prevention programming in higher education institutions, also passed out of the Senate Education Committee.

As amended, the bill would authorize the Board of Regents to conduct a sexual misconduct survey every two years. It would also allow the board to require institutions to include trauma-informed, LGBTQ and gender inclusive programming surrounding sexual misconduct and provide annual reporting of sexual misconduct incidents, among other changes.

The bill passed along party lines with Republicans voting in opposition, citing concerns over lack of clarity around terms such as sexual misconduct and sexual violence and advocating for sexual misconduct prevention efforts in early education.

Before he voted to pass the bill through committee, Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) said that though there are still some kinks to work out, reform is needed.

“Too many times have my friends and classmates been devastated from the treatment of student conduct officials when dealing with their sexual assault case,” he said. “I am supportive of this bill and I hope that any remaining issues [with the bill] can be solved through this process.” 

THURSDAY

Permanent expanded mail-in voting

In a contentious vote, members of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Election Committee voted Thursday to approve AB321, the bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) making expanded mail-in voting similar to the 2020 election a permanent feature of Nevada elections going forward.

The measure included several proposed amendments that were previewed during the bill’s first hearing last week, including mandating a minimum number of in-person voting locations, setting deadlines on mail ballots for new voters and allowing for uninterrupted online voter registration all the way through election day.

Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) said he was appreciative that the amendment addressed some of the “concerns of constitutions,” but still planned to vote against the bill.

That irked Frierson, who said the amendment was crafted to address concerns from Republicans in the Assembly and that “until recent cycles, (it had) been customary to make concessions and make good bills better and make bills that you don't agree with less bad.”

“If someone's a no, then be a no, and don't list out things that are the problems, if those problems get addressed and it’s still a no,” he said. “I think that AB321 goes a long way in addressing both constituent concerns concerns we received via email and concerns expressed by members of this body.”

Police ticket quotas

Police agencies in Nevada generally maintain that they do not set quotas for tickets or arrests for their officers, although some people in a recent hearing on AB186 said there’s widespread suspicion that police are judged by departments on being prolific ticket-writers.

Democratic Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen’s (D-Las Vegas) bill banning quotas passed from the Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Although it still prohibits law enforcement agencies from ordering, requiring or mandating a specific number of citations or arrests, or from considering how much ticket revenue a police officer is generating in a performance revenue, the amended version of the bill now allows agencies to “suggest” a certain number of citations an officer should be making.

Proponents of the bill said police should be spending time on activities in the community that are not punitive. But law enforcement agencies cautioned that if the bill was too stringent, they may not have a way to address officers who are simply not doing their work and are slacking on the job. 

Additional marijuana licenses

Marijuana companies that did not win permits to open a dispensary in a contentious 2018 licensing round initially sought to double their licenses through Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris’ bill SB235. But groups including the Nevada Dispensary Association strongly opposed the concept, saying that the industry — which includes 81 dispensaries — would be destabilized if a proposed amendment took effect and added up to 110 new marijuana stores.

The bill that passed out of the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday no longer seeks to grant additional licenses to those who previously did not win them. Instead, it seeks to take steps such as creating a single, streamlined marijuana dispensary license rather than requiring stores to have both a recreational and medical store license.

But committee members raised the concern that creating a consolidated license for marijuana stores would halve the revenue that the state brings in from dispensary licenses. While the bill lives for another day, lawmakers said they had reservations about it and wanted to explore how to avoid a precipitous drop in revenue.

Tiger King bill

Nevadans will be banned from keeping, breeding, importing or selling a dangerous wild animal unless they fall in a certain category such as maintaining a zoo or being a veterinarian under Democratic Sen. James Ohrenschall’s SB344, which passed from the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

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

An amendment also clarifies that casinos and the film industry would be exempt from the bill’s provisions. Las Vegas entertainers who use live animals in their shows were some of the most prominent opponents of the bill during an earlier hearing.

Marriage licenses

A fee on marriage licenses that supports services for victims of domestic and sexual violence would increase from $25 to $50 under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB177, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti, seeks to shore up funding for victim services that has suffered with the decline of marriages, especially during the pandemic.

Republican Sen. Ira Hansen forcefully opposed the bill, arguing that higher fees would discourage marriage, and cited a study drawing a correlation between marriage and a lower risk of domestic abuse. And Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer asked why federal aid funds are not being used to bolster the services.

Ratti said the marriage certificate funding stream is a stable way to address the issue, rather than the one-shot help that federal funding represents. She also said that putting fees on divorce certificates was not a workable alternative because there are significantly fewer divorces than marriages, and often people don’t have enough money to get a divorce.

Top down voter registration system

Members of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee voted to approve AB422 on Thursday, which requires the secretary of state’s office to begin implementing a top-down voter registration system. The bill was amended to push the implementation date back to 2024, and require the secretary of state’s office to provide biannual updates on the project’s progress.

‘Tiger King’ bill draws criticism from exotic animal owners

Legislation banning possession of dangerous wild animals failed in 2017 and in 2019, but it’s back this session, and has a new nickname —  the “Tiger King” bill.

The Netflix series of the same name garnered viral success in portraying the life of Joe Exotic, a big cat collector based in Oklahoma who was convicted of killing five tigers and selling and trafficking other wild animal species.

“Although it wasn't the show's intent, it did raise awareness about the plight of captive big cats and expose the hidden suffering associated with a practice called cub petting,” Jeff Dixon, Nevada state director for the Humane Society, said during a Thursday hearing of the bill. “It also highlighted why SB344 is the least that Nevada can do to help address this issue.”

The bill, SB344, is sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) and would prohibit a person from importing, possessing, selling, transferring or breeding dangerous wild animals — a classification that includes elephants, non-human primates, bears, tigers and other big cats. Certain groups would be exempt from the ban, though, such as licensed veterinarians, law enforcement, animal control, the Department of Wildlife and entities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of zoos.

Proponents of the bill argued that it would help protect the community from the dangers of exotic animals, including both physical attacks and the spread of disease, as well as protect the animals themselves from potentially unsafe living conditions. And Ohrenschall noted that there are 20 other states with “comprehensive bans” on the ownership of dangerous wild animals.

But the bill received significant backlash from exotic pet owners and from entities accredited by a different wildlife management nonprofit, the Zoological Association of America. The Humane Society and other animal advocate groups have been critical of the ZAA’s more lenient policies in the past.

“This is a giant witch hunt to try to find an excuse to shut down the zoo, because this bill really isn't about protecting the public or protecting the animals,” said Tim Stoffel, of the Sierra Safari Zoo in Reno, which advertises itself as the state’s largest zoo with 50 different species. “It's about finding another way to eliminate these animals from the human population.”

The bill also received opposition from some Las Vegas entertainers who use animals in their shows, though one of the bill’s presenters, former Republican Sen. Warren Hardy, said he would be working with stakeholders in the state’s gaming and entertainment industries to ensure “good actors” from those groups are not affected by the bill.

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

Nevada lawmakers discuss abolishing death penalty for first time since ill-fated 2017 effort

The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada

Four years after a proposal to abolish the death penalty in Nevada had its first and last hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, a similar bill — with similarly uncertain prospects — came before the same committee Wednesday for a lengthy and emotional discussion.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) presented AB395, which would abolish the death penalty in Nevada and convert all existing death sentences to life in prison without parole. Before speakers gave at-times graphic accounts of crimes committed by people sentenced to death, he urged lawmakers to weigh the drier aspects of the debate: how much the process costs, the likelihood of errors, and whether the law is applied unevenly across regions.

“This is going to be an emotional, difficult hearing. You may be brought to tears by some of the testimony,” Yeager said. “But even in the midst of sharing that pain, we need to come together as Nevadans to evaluate whether the death penalty is working, and whether it should remain as part of Nevada's justice system.”

New dynamics

Nevada is one of 24 states that have the death penalty — 23 states have abolished it and another three have governor-imposed moratoriums, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Last week, Virginia became the latest state to end the practice.

Two major variables for the bill’s future are whether a death penalty ban can survive in the Senate, where two prosecutors hold key leadership positions at the head of the entire Senate and the Senate Judiciary Committee and have the power to kill the bill, and whether Gov. Steve Sisolak would sign such a bill if it makes it to his desk.

“There are a lot of differing opinions on that. Personally, it’s something that I’m open [to] hearing and having a discussion,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who is a prosecutor, recently told The Associated Press.

Sisolak has previously expressed opposition to the death penalty, but during his 2018 campaign, clarified that he would support it for extreme cases. Sisolak spokeswoman Meghin Delaney was noncommittal when asked about his position on the issue in early February.

“As is the case with all other bills or bill drafts going through the legislative process, the governor will review and evaluate any legislation that may come before him,” she said.

Since Nevada last had an open hearing on the issue in 2017 and that bill died in committee, the state came close to putting to death an inmate — Scott Dozier — but the execution was called off amid a legal battle over whether the state could use certain execution drugs. Dozier died by suicide in early 2019.

Although a 2017 poll showed most Nevadans firmly oppose the death penalty, a new poll released this year by anti-death penalty activists, which phrased its questions differently, showed Nevadans narrowly oppose the death penalty by a split within the margin of error. 

Another death row inmate is now heading toward a possible execution. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week that Clark County prosecutors are planning to seek a warrant of execution in coming weeks for Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people and injuring a fifth in a Las Vegas grocery store in 1999.

While Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the development, just as lawmakers are mulling the issue, is “coincidental,” he added that “I think the timing is good.” 

“Our legislative leaders should recognize that there are some people who commit such heinous acts, whether it be the particular type of murder or the number of people killed, that this community has long felt should receive the death penalty,” he said, according to the newspaper.

Some critics have said the timing suggests prosecutors are using Floyd's life as part of a political play. Yeager said he doesn’t think the case playing out in the background will change the discussion in a meaningful way.

“It doesn't affect, sort of, my perspective on things … it's a policy decision, apart from any cases that might be out there, apart from any ongoing litigation,” he said. “Can't really control what else is going on.”

The death penalty debate

One of proponents’ main arguments is that in spite of the costs of pursuing the death penalty and following through with appeals that can span decades, the state rarely enacts the punishment. The most recent execution was 15 years ago, in 2006.

There have been 161 people sentenced to death in Nevada since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and only 12 executions — 11 of which were “volunteers” who chose to forego appeal rights.

“The point is, we don't execute anybody, even when a death sentence is imposed,” said Scott Coffee, a public defender. “But the money is spent.”

Tom Viloria, a Reno criminal defense attorney who was formerly a prosecutor, testified that he switched from supporting to opposing capital punishment after seeing how much knowledge of a case and decision-making power is concentrated in an individual lead prosecutor. He said decisions to seek the death penalty can be arbitrary and motivated by a prosecutor’s desire for “notoriety, or just a general reputation of being a hard-nosed, bulldog prosecutor as they advanced through their career.”

Family members affected by capital punishment also weighed in to support abolition, including Cynthia Portaro, whose son Brandon Hill was killed in 2011 in Las Vegas. She argued that the drawn-on proceedings of a death penalty case is “just too much on a family to have to handle,” and that families experience the same void and lack of closure whether the penalty is execution or life imprisonment.

But prosecutors held the line on keeping the death penalty an option. Wolfson said his stance has been reinforced by mass shootings, including the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas, in which the shooter killed himself shortly after firing on a concert and left 60 people dead.

"If the appropriate punishment for a single murder is life without parole, how do you punish a person who commits multiple murders?” he said. “Should we punish someone who kills one person the same as someone who kills two, 10, or 60? I say no."

Lawmakers also heard from Jennifer Otremba, who described the murder of her 15-year-old daughter Alyssa in 2011 near her Las Vegas home. Javier Righetti, who was 19 at the time of the killing, was given a death sentence in 2017.

“He did not consider Alyssa’s life. Why should his life be considered?” Jennifer Otremba said. “I waited five and a half years for justice for my daughter, and if I have to continue to fight politicians for the rest of my life to ensure that justice is served, then I will do that.”

Another death penalty abolition bill, Democratic Sen. James Ohrenschall’s SB228, takes a more moderate approach by banning capital punishment for crimes committed in the future, but letting previous death sentences stand. It has not yet had a hearing.

Above all, proponents are urging lawmakers to do away with an “eye for an eye” mentality. Jodi Hocking, founder of a group called Return Strong for families of people who are incarcerated, said she’s been more convinced that executions need to end because of conversations she has each Sunday with inmates who are waiting to be put to death. She quoted Sister Helen Prejean, and anti-death penalty advocate, in her testimony.

“If we believe that murder is wrong and not admissible in our society, then it has to be wrong for everyone, not just for individuals, but for governments as well,” she said.

Wednesday’s was the first hearing for the bill. The committee did not vote on the measure.

Self-driving Ubers, closing ‘classic car’ emissions loophole and death with dignity among bills introduced on Legislature’s deadline day

Despite suspending some bill introduction rules, state lawmakers and legislative drafters still rushed on Monday to introduce dozens of legislative proposals affecting a wide variety of topics — everything from banning loud mufflers, to requiring Postmates be more transparent on food deliveries and requiring school board trustees to spend one day a year as a teacher.

Legislators in both houses introduced a combined 91 bills during an initial round of floor sessions Monday — nominally the deadline for committee introduction of bills, but a deadline largely postponed or ignored amid a move last week to suspend a rule on bill introductions.

The Assembly adjourned midday — having suspended all bill introduction rules last week. Members of the Senate, however, held a second floor session in the early evening to introduce 18 additional measures — allowing legal drafters more time to work on legislative proposals.

The next major legislative deadline is for bills to make it out of their first committee. Assuming no more rule suspensions, that deadline is only 18 days away (April 9).

Here’s a look at some of the higher-profile bills introduced so far on Monday.

Elections

Major changes could be in store for the state’s election administration under SB292, a bill from Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas) that requires general election ballots to have an option for straight-ticket voting for all candidates of a certain political party.

But the bill does more than just that — it also raises qualification requirements for minor political parties and requires the governor to appoint a person of the same political party to a vacated U.S. Senate seat (current law just requires the appointee to be a “qualified person”). The bill also takes the power to make appointments for legislative vacancies away from county commissions and gives it to the majority or minority leader of the chamber with a vacancy.

And while legislative Democrats are pushing a bill that would make expanded mail voting a permanent feature of Nevada elections, Republican state Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) has introduced a similar proposal that could reduce the long wait times before ballots are processed.

His SB301 would similarly require election clerks to send mail ballots to all active registered voters, but has shorter timelines as to when ballots can arrive and when issues with signatures can be addressed to a period generally on or before Election Day. It’d also require election boards complete the count of mail ballots by midnight on Election Day.

The measure would also require all county election clerks to adopt uniform signature standards, make the registrar of voters an elected office in Washoe and Clark counties and allocate $5 million to the Clark County Registrar of Voters’ Office to obtain a larger central location for counting ballots and hiring staff for the 2022 election.

Transportation

A bill sponsored by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) would prohibit modifications on a car’s exhaust system that make the vehicle louder than it would otherwise be. It calls for civil fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for violators.

Nevada’s “classic car loophole” — which allows older but not necessarily classic vehicles to avoid smog tests — could finally be closed in Assemblyman Howard Watts’s (D-Las Vegas) AB349.

While existing law allows any vehicle over 20 years old to qualify for a special antique motor vehicle license plate (at a lower price than normal registration and without the requirement for a smog test), AB349 would limit those license plates to vehicles not used for general transportation (defined as fewer than 5,000 miles traveled in a given year) and have an insurance policy designed for an antique car.

It would also make some changes to the regulations for people who test exhaust emissions and authorize the DMV to establish a remote sensing system for exhaust emissions in Clark and Washoe counties. It also raises the fees assessed on businesses that conduct smog tests. 

The bill also exempts new motor vehicles from having to undergo a smog test until their fourth year of life. Current law requires it after the second year of life.

Could your next Uber or Lyft pickup actually be a self-driving car? That could be the case under a bill from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), SB288, that would authorize transportation network companies to enter into agreements with artificial intelligence businesses for transportation services. A safety engineer would be required to be in the car at all times.

Education

Republican Sen. Scott Hammond’s SB306 is trying to revive Education Savings Accounts, a lightning rod school choice program that allows families to use money that would support public schools for their child and spend it on private school or other kinds of educational programming. 

The program was approved in 2015 but never funded amid a lengthy legal battle that ended with the state Supreme Court ruling the program was constitutional but needed a different funding mechanism. The bill also creates an Office of Educational Choice within the state that would oversee the existing Opportunity Scholarship program funded by businesses that donate to get a tax credit, and it would appropriate $60 million to fund the ESAs. Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, have long opposed ESAs on the grounds that they divert scarce public school funding to private schools.

Republican Sens. Ben Kieckhefer and Heidi Gansert are sponsoring SB316, a bill that would allocate $25 million in federal funds approved in the late-December stimulus bill to a pilot program in the next two school years to support students who have not graduated on time and want to enroll in a fifth year of high school.

That Republican duo is also sponsoring SB312, which allocates $8 million in federal dollars from the late-December stimulus bill for distribution of grants to pay for enrollment of at least 500 prekindergarten students over the next two school years.

School board trustees would be required to walk a day in the shoes of a teacher if AB364, sponsored by Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) and other Democrats. The trustee would have to be supervised at all times by a licensed teacher and would not be allowed to post on social media about the experience.

The bill also requires that public comment submissions to school board meetings be included as part of the record even when they are provided via email.

An on-the-surface straightforward bill (AB352) from Assemblywoman Cecelia González granting public school students in the state a legal right to “high-quality public education” could have repercussions in an ongoing legal fight over education funding in the state.

Education advocates are still actively pushing a lawsuit arguing that the state isn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to sufficiently fund public education. The case is now before the state Supreme Court on appeal, after a District Court judge dismissed it in October — in part due to the court’s reluctance to “substitute its judgment for that of the Legislature with respect to the education policy.”

A measure to break community colleges into a system separate from the Nevada System of Higher Education has emerged as SB321, sponsored by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden). The concept was previously introduced in the Legislature in a past session and resurfaced in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s State of the State speech in January.

Economy & Business

Businesses could designate zones free from government-imposed COVID mitigation measures where only people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID can enter. The bill, SB323, is sponsored by Republicans including Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden).

SB308, sponsored by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) would require the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to establish a work-sharing program. Also called a “short-time compensation program,” an employer would reduce hours for a group of employees instead of laying them off, and they can collect partial unemployment benefits in addition to the wages from their reduced hours. 

Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) has proposed SB314, which would add more regulations to vendors who are active on online marketplaces. It would require vendors who make 200 or more retail transactions in a year, worth more than $5,000, to provide certain types of identifying information to that site as soon as they reach high-volume status.

Neal is also sponsoring SB320, which would cap fees assessed by online food delivery platforms such as DoorDash or Postmates to no more than 20 percent of the food purchase price order (during the COVID state of emergency). It would also require more transparency on fees assessed by those platforms, and add civil penalties for any platform that offers food delivery without the expressed consent of the restaurant or eatery where the food comes from.

“You need to know what you're paying for,” she said in an interview Monday. “They have an administrative fee, which is outside of the tip, (and) I think there's four fees that actually pop up before you actually get the bill for the food. And I think you ought to know, so you can make a choice, right?”

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee is sponsoring AB355, which allocates half a million dollars from the general fund to UNLV’s International Gaming Institute’s “Expanding the Leaderverse” initiative to diversify the leadership of the casino industry. At the height the “Me Too” movement against sexual harassment in 2018, surveys found no women served as president, CEO or board chairman of 21 gaming companies surveyed, and casinos companies had an average of only 14 percent female board members. 

Among the bills that dropped on Monday was one for consumers who don’t speak English as their primary language. AB359, sponsored by Assemblywoman Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas), makes it a deceptive trade practice if a business that negotiates a deal in a language other than English does not also provide the contract in the same language used for the rest of the transaction. 

Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) has introduced a bill (SB335) that would pull all of the state’s occupational licensing boards and commissions under a single division within the Department of Business and Industry. It would also eliminate five existing occupational boards — Homeopathic Medical Examiners, Dental Examiners, Oriental Medicine, Athletic Trainers, Massage Therapy and Barbers’ Health and Sanitation Board — and move oversight of those professions to the newly created Division of Occupational Licensing.

Immigration

Lawmakers are seeking to curb local police cooperation with immigration enforcement officials through AB376, sponsored by Democrats, including Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas). The bill declares that it is not the primary purpose of local law enforcement to enforce civil federal immigration law, bars law enforcement from detaining a person at the request of immigration authorities unless there is a warrant for that person, and requires police to warn people that their answers to questions about their birthplace could be used against them in deportation proceedings.

Separately, the bill calls for a “Keep Nevada Working Task Force” affiliated with the Office for New Americans that would explore ways to attract and retain immigrant-owned businesses and stabilize the agricultural workforce.

Health care

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) is sponsoring AB358, which makes changes to ensure more people have access to Medicaid health insurance when they leave prison. The bill requires a person’s Medicaid insurance is suspended, rather than terminated, when they’re incarcerated, and allows people to apply for Medicaid for up to six months before their scheduled release. 

AB351, sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), allows a doctor to prescribe life-ending drugs to a person who has a terminal illness. The patient would have to meet requirements such as having psychological evaluations and would need to self-administer the drug.  Sen. Dallas Harris introduced a similar “death with dignity” bill in the Senate.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Henderson) addresses concerns that government-sponsored Medicaid insurance often reimburses health care providers so little that they decide not to accept the insurance. AB347 would impose an assessment on certain specialists, then use the proceeds from the fee to raise reimbursement rates for providers who take Medicaid.

A similar arrangement is in state law regarding personal care providers. 

AB372, a bill from Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) would authorize the Doctors for Nevada Program to reimburse the student debt for physicians who move to Nevada to work and provide a stipend to any resident doctor who commits to practice medicine in Nevada for at least two years after completing their residency. The program would not pay more than $200,000 per resident or physician.

Housing

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) is sponsoring SB284, which would extend the timeline for the state's highest-profile 2019 effort to address the affordable housing crisis — a program that allocated $10 million in tax credits for builders developing affordable housing.

The bill would eliminate the tax credit program's timeline by removing the program's expiration date and stipulating that transferable tax credits are issued before a project is completed. It would also place a cap on the total amount of tax credits the state can offer over the program's lifetime to $40 million.

The tax credit program's rollout has been slower than anticipated, and lawmakers say that the additional time will allow for more people to participate.

"We're seeking to remove the sunsets so that that program can stay established in law and so future legislators could choose to allocate more resources to that and not have to rebuild the entire construct," Ratti told The Nevada Independent. "And then also just some technical changes to make it more realistic and about how these projects get built in the real world."

Ratti is also sponsoring SB311. The bill would allow the Nevada Rural Housing Authority to set up for-profit businesses to provide low-income housing in rural areas. The housing authority could also rent or lease housing to people with higher incomes as long as the housing project mainly serves people with low to moderate incomes.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Nevada Rural Housing Authority, told The Nevada Independent that the program would allow the housing authority to rent some units in a housing project at a market rate and then use the revenue from those units to subsidize lower-income households within the same complex.

In the Assembly, Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) is sponsoring AB363, requiring counties or cities to establish rules surrounding temporary lodging rentals such as rooms or houses listed through AirBnB or Tripping.com.

Nguyen described the legislation as "long overdue," noting that there is almost no oversight for people renting their homes or spare bedrooms for temporary stays, and oftentimes people overseeing short-term rentals are not paying taxes. The legislation is designed to collect some of the lost tax revenue and regulate the short-term housing market, she added.

"I think we are capturing people that are avoiding taxation right now. So this isn't a situation where we are increasing the taxes on anyone else, we are just incorporating people that have been able to avoid paying taxes," Nguyen said. "And we are making a mechanism for them."

In the Senate, Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) has introduced similar legislation (SB322) affecting short-term rentals. It would prohibit local governments from outright banning short-term rentals, exempt those properties from transient hotel lodging taxes and instead apply a 1 or 2 percent tax on the gross receipts of any short-term rental operator.

Lawmakers delay bill introduction deadline, still introduce dozens of proposals on criminal justice, education and elections

It was the Deadline Day that wasn’t.

Despite expectations that floor sessions on Monday — the 43rd day of the session and deadline for individual legislator bill introductions — would stretch late into the night to accommodate numerous bills, legislative leaders suspended rules and allowed the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s legal division to keep working throughout the week.

Legislative leaders attributed the delay in bill drafting to a “short-staffed” legal division, as well as difficulties associated with the mostly virtual session. It came after a weekend of work on the bills and some lawmakers withdrawing bill draft requests to lighten the load.

“We've held out hope that we would be able to get them both done today,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) told reporters on Monday. “But it wasn't enough. And so we're going to provide legal with the extra, I would estimate, a couple of days.”

Legislators ended up introducing 55 bills and resolutions on Monday. In 2019, lawmakers introduced 144 measures on the legislator bill introduction deadline day, and in 2017, there were 204 bills introduced on deadline day.

Another deadline — for introductions of bills sponsored by committees — looms next Monday. But legislative leaders reiterated that the challenges of holding a session during a pandemic could result in additional delays.

“It just sometimes takes them a little longer to get everything out and get it where it needs to be so we can pass good policy, and they need a little bit more time,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said. ”So we're able to give it to them, and we still have plenty of bills to hear and lots of work to do.”

In spite of the lower volume, a wide swath of concepts still were introduced on Monday, including bills to eliminate the death penalty, increase the number of marijuana dispensaries allowed in the state and address Republican concerns that election procedures were too loose. 

Here are highlights from bills introduced Monday:

Single-stall restrooms

Assemblywoman Sarah Peters introduced a bill, AB280, that requires single-stall restrooms in businesses or other buildings open to the public to be labeled as accessible to all instead of designated for a specific gender. It would apply to places built Oct. 1, 2021 and later.

“The people who this bill touches are people who right now have to overcome a social stigma to enter into a restroom that's not their specific gender,” Peters said. “And I think this is just really a human bill, recognizing that we all come from different walks of life and need different accommodations.”

Public records penalties

Assemblyman Andy Matthews introduced a bill, AB276, to stiffen penalties against agencies that unreasonably delay or deny public records or charge excessive fees for the documents. While existing law says requesters who prevail in court can recoup their costs and attorney’s fees, the bill allows them to recover double that amount.  

“I think it's great to have something on the books that says that a public records request comes in, we have a need to provide the information,” Matthews said. “But I think absent stronger enforcement mechanisms and punitive measures ... we have seen a lot of non compliance.”

Republican-backed election changes

In the wake of an election where Republicans questioned the use of a machine to check voter signatures and amid accusations that the voter rolls were “unclean,” Republicans are bringing several measures forward. Democrats have generally said they reject legislation stemming from the premise that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

AB263, introduced by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), requires county and city clerks to periodically audit the performance of people who check signatures. The bill would also require further signature-checking in counties that use automated signature-matching machines by having them randomly selecting at least 1 in 50 ballot return envelopes processed by a machine and have employees of the clerk’s office manually review the signatures to see whether they match voter files. 

The bill reflects concerns from Republicans during the 2020 election about having machines match signatures on ballots with those on file. 

Another measure, AB264 from Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), requires county clerks to submit affidavits before each election confirming the correction of their voter registration list — and that they have canceled the registrations of those determined to be ineligible to vote. The bill calls for the secretary of state to set a deadline for submitting an affidavit of the voter roll cleanup activities and to post those affidavits online.

Criminal justice reform

A movement to reform criminal justice and policing practices — spurred in part by Black Lives Matter protests over the summer — continues through bills introduced on Monday.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) introduced a bill, SB228, to eliminate the death penalty from Nevada law. It’s the first of two bills expected to drop on the topic; the other has been requested by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner’s (R-Reno) bill, AB268, requires police departments to create and adopt a written use of force policy that includes general guidelines for the use of deadly force, requires police to use de-escalation techniques when feasible and requires officers trained in crisis intervention to respond to incidents where a person has made suicidal statements.

The bill also would prohibit police use of force against a person who poses a danger to themselves, but does not pose an “imminent threat” of death or serious bodily harm to the police officer or another individual.

On a similar note, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) is sponsoring SB236, which requires law enforcement agencies to establish “early warning systems” to identify police officers that display bias indicators or other “problematic” behavior. It also would require all police officers to have at least an associate’s degree or to have completed two years of military service.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) is also sponsoring two criminal-justice-related bills introduced on Monday. One, AB282, would authorize the Nevada Supreme Court to implement implicit bias training for judges and also require such training for court employees who interact with the public.

The other, AB271, would require police agencies in Washoe and Clark counties to maintain a ratio of one first-line supervisor for every ten nonsupervisory employees. The bill would require first-line supervisors to assist in de-escalation of any “volatile situation,” provide guidance or investigate use of force for officers under their supervision.

Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Reno) has introduced a bill, SB246, that would prohibit police from collecting surveillance data without a warrant, except in limited circumstances, such as when an electronic device is reported stolen or the surveillance is done as part of a missing person investigation. It’s not the first police surveillance bill introduced by Republican senators — Sen. Ira Hansen has a similar measure, SB213.

Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) are also backing a bill, SB242, that would create a misdemeanor penalty for “targeted residential picketing.”

Education

Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks) has introduced a bill, AB262, that would prohibit the Board of Regents from charging out-of-state tuition to members of federally recognized tribes who graduated from a Nevada high school.

Anderson also is sponsoring AB265 — which provides an alternative licensing structure for school administrators — and AB261, which would require instruction on the history and contributions of various minority or marginalized populations, and prohibit the purchase of instructional materials that don’t “accurately portray the history and contributions of those groups.”

Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill, SB230, that requires reporting on the effects of distance learning on the mental health of students and teachers. It also requires board members of school districts to be trained on social and emotional trauma.

Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) is sponsoring a bill, AB266, that would prohibit administrators and other school support personnel from being included in the ratio of teachers to students measured by school districts.

Business

Businesses would have incentives to hire inexperienced young workers through a bill backed by Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden). AB272 waives the payroll taxes businesses would otherwise pay on behalf of employees if they are under 21, working in entry-level positions and are paid $1 more per hour than normally is paid for that position.

SB237 would encourage entrepreneurship in the LGBTQ community. This bill from Sen. Dallas Harris and Sen. Melanie Scheible — both Democrats from Las Vegas — would allow LGBTQ-owned businesses to be included in programs that provide extra resources for disadvantaged business enterprises. The bill also seeks to have the Cannabis Advisory Commission explore marijuana market participation by LGBTQ people.

Another bill from Harris, SB235, could increase the number of marijuana dispensaries in the state by allowing holders of a medical-only marijuana license to apply for it to be converted into a regular adult-use cannabis dispensary. The Cannabis Compliance Board could assess a fee for such a conversion. 

Consumer protection

Several consumer protection measures also emerged on Monday. Gansert’s bill SB239 expands the rights of people who were subject to hacking. While existing law requires a data collector to notify people whose information was stolen, the bill would require notification if the collection of data was reasonably believed to have been breached, even if not outright stolen. 

SB248 from Dondero Loop sets restrictions on collections of medical debt, including that collection agencies must provide at least 60 days notice — and information about possible financial aid — before beginning to try collecting the debt. It also prohibits collectors from charging a fee of more than 5 percent of the amount of medical debt. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But even then, the lawsuit still has issues. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder


More options for tiny houses in Nevada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller


Proposed opt-out organ donation system gets icy reception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Sean Golonka


Nevada Equal Rights Amendment moving on to the next round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon


Bill amends law that protects Native American burial sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez


Carson City Restaurant Spotlight: Antojitos la Jefa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we’re reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPCOMING DEADLINES

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

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

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