Lawmakers pump brakes on DMV plan to pay back $1 technology fees that were ruled unconstitutional

The Nevada DMV’s plan to pay back millions of collected $1 fees — charges declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court — is temporarily on ice after state lawmakers said they want additional buy-in on the plan.

Members of the Interim Finance Committee on Wednesday opted to not accept the agency’s plan to transfer $6 million in collected technology fee payments into a new refund budget account and attached disbursement plan. IFC Chair Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) lauded the proposal as a “creative solution” but said the committee wanted explicit approval from the court and state Senate Republicans (who filed the initial legal challenge over the fees).

“Once we pull the trigger on this, this work program, then it's out of our hands until it falls in our lap,” Brooks said.

The required payments are the result of a May decision by the Nevada Supreme Court finding that two taxes — the DMV $1 fee and a higher payroll tax rate — were unconstitutionally extended in 2019 beyond their set-in-statute expiration dates without a two-thirds vote, required for any tax bill passed by legislators. The lawsuit was filed by all members of the state Senate Republican caucus shortly after the close of the 2019 legislative session.

But while the Department of Taxation has made progress on refunding unconstitutionally collected payroll tax — reporting last week that it had refunded a total of $30.6 million to more than 22,600 businesses — the DMV has faced more roadblocks in its task to return millions of $1 transaction fees to customers.

Multiple legislative solutions to pay back the fees were proposed but ultimately dropped in the final days of the 2021 legislative session, with exasperated lawmakers finally deciding to give the DMV a $7.8 million check to pay back $5.9 million in transaction fees and related costs.

Nevada DMV Director Julie Butler briefed lawmakers on the agency’s plan — it would run a customer query and send postcards or a letter to all individuals who paid the technology fee in the 2021 fiscal year, giving them instructions on how to claim their refund. Those individuals could log onto a “secure website” and select their refund preference — either receiving it through an electronic transfer (Zelle), or opting for a paper check. 

Individuals also could opt out of receiving a refund and allow the DMV to keep the technology fee as a “donation,” and customers who did not respond within a certain amount of time would have their refunds kept in the state’s Unclaimed Property system. Those who paid multiple installments of the $1 fee (such as for multiple vehicles or trailers) would receive their refund and interest in a single payment.

Butler said those steps were necessary because the cost of simply sending a $1 paper check to affected customers in the state could end up costing close to $50 or $60 per check, and the agency wanted to give customers the option to opt-out after receiving several calls from customers indicating they were not interested in receiving a refund.

Asked whether the plan had the blessing of the court or attorneys for the state Senate Republicans who filed the initial lawsuit, Butler said their approval wasn’t necessary. She said she made an error in telling legislators in the final days of the 120-day session that any repayment plan needed the court or GOP buy-in, and that the agency wanted to move quickly to “get these refunds out to our customers as quickly as possible.”

“I do know our attorney has talked about our plan with opposing counsel, (but) whether or not they like the plan, it's really the department’s plan to comply with the court order,” Butler said. “We believe it's a good plan, and the more that we dither around with this, the longer it's going to take us to effectuate these refunds.”

But that course of action was questioned by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who said she wanted the buy-in from the Republicans who challenged the initial tax extension, lest they bring another lawsuit forward for not following the terms of the state Supreme Court’s order.

“I think we need to get everybody on the same page saying, ‘This is the way to move forward,’ so that we can get this finished and over and done with,” Carlton said. “We're already spending more money on it than we probably should, money that could be going to a lot of other places.”

Butler said she had spoken with Republican Senate Leader James Settlemyer (R-Minden) in May, but that his suggestions were untenable — issuing a credit on future transactions could end up benefiting new residents or other individuals who did not pay the fee, and the programming costs of adding a $1 credit to existing charges would cost “significantly more” than the plan proposed to legislators.

“We feel that this is the best solution in a bad situation,” she said.

Ultimately, Brooks instructed the DMV to bring the item back during the next IFC meeting, saying that more “conversations” needed to take place before he was comfortable moving forward with the plan.

“I think there is more work that needs to be done to give us the level of comfort we need to make sure that we're all on the same page, and that we are going to satisfy all parties involved, including the taxpaying Nevadans,” he said.

Mining oversight board still without members one year after Sisolak said he planned to make appointments

Throughout the year, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office sends out press releases that include a long list of recent appointments to state boards, commissions and agencies. In June, the Democratic governor made 78 appointments. The month before, he made 31 appointments. 

Missing from those lists: The Mining Oversight and Accountability Commission.

The mining oversight board, set up by the Legislature in 2011 and modeled after the Gaming Commission, held its last recorded meeting in December 2015. Since then, it has struggled to maintain a quorum, and today, all seven board seats on the commission are vacant.

In February 2020, a Sisolak spokesperson told The Nevada Independent that the governor was working on making appointments, a responsibility shared with legislative leaders. But more than one year later, Sisolak has not made any new appointments to a commission that progressive members of his party have advocated for and the Legislature approved in a bipartisan vote. 

It’s unclear why Sisolak has not made appointments, but in a statement, the governor’s office appeared to attribute the slow process to the pandemic and delays from legislative leaders. 

As the board has withered with no members, lawmakers and state officials have grappled with what to do. Some have questioned whether the commission, housed under the Department of Taxation, should be dissolved or restructured. Mining watchdog groups argue that there is still a role for a broad mining oversight board that could serve as a forum to discuss issues involving the industry. 

Despite being housed in the state’s tax department, the oversight board had a broader statutory reach than a narrow focus on fiscal policy. The law gives the board the authority to probe many aspects of mining, reviewing regulations for operations, safety and environmental impacts. The commission further has the power to request audits, call witnesses and subpoena documents. 

The law also required state agencies responsible for regulating mining, including the Division of Industrial Relations and the Division of Environmental Protection, to submit reports to the board. 

But unlike the Gaming Commission, the board did not have the authority to levy penalties. And in reality, even when the commission had a quorum, it lacked the resources and staffing to do much more than take testimony and register public comment, former board members have said. 

The governor’s office did not respond to a written question about whether Sisolak supports efforts to overhaul the board’s structure. The office also did not elaborate on its timeline for appointments or whether Sisolak is concerned about having vacancies on the commission.

Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks at a roundtable discussion with reporters about the 2021 session in Carson City on June 1, 2021. Photo by David Calvert.

A spokesperson for the governor, Meghin Delaney, said Sisolak plans to make appointments to the board, and she suggested that COVID-19 pandemic was partially responsible for the delay.

She said “the office was actively working to get the remainder of recommendations and confer with legislative leaders in February and early March of 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic shifted all focus of this office to address the unprecedented and historic crisis facing our state.”

Sisolak appointed more than 200 people to commissions, boards and agencies between August and December, at the height of the pandemic, according to a review of public announcements.

Questions about the board’s future come as Nevada mining companies are looking to capitalize on efforts to expand domestic mining for critical minerals, the metals necessary to build electric cars and lithium batteries, both important technologies for transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Sisolak touted Nevada’s lithium potential in his State of the State speech earlier this year, and his administration gave tax breaks to a high-profile lithium project near Winnemucca that has prompted concerns from local residents and Native American tribes in the Great Basin. 

“Policies to rapidly deploy new technologies are currently calling for increased mining in a big way,” said John Hadder, who directs Great Basin Resource Watch, a mining watchdog group that supports the oversight board. “And I think we need to be prepared for that. What kind of permitting do we want to have in place to deal with what is, in some ways, almost a gold rush?"

Even as more exploration companies eye lithium, gold remains a major player in Nevada. A political action committee affiliated with Sisolak received half a million dollars from the state’s largest mining operation, Nevada Gold Mines, a joint-venture between Barrick and Newmont.

Another factor potentially delaying the appointment process is consultation with legislative leadership. Sisolak is not the only one responsible for appointments to the mining board. The law that created the oversight board requires the governor to confer with legislative leaders.

Under the law, top legislative leaders from both political parties are required to submit a list of recommendations to the governor. The governor must then choose five members from those recommendations. The governor is allowed to select the remaining two members on his own. 

Before making a final decision, the law requires the governor to consult with legislative leaders to ensure that “not more than two of the members have a direct or indirect financial interest in the mining industry or are related by blood or marriage to a person who has such an interest.”

Trucks at mine site.
A loader and haul truck at a Northern Nevada mine in April 2017. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Delaney said the office had received applications from 11 individuals, including one person who withdrew. The governor’s office is also waiting on legislative recommendations. The office, she said, “has received some, but not all recommendations from legislative leaders.” 

The statement from the governor’s office said that Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) sent recommendations.

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) has also sent a recommendation to Sisolak’s office, a staffer for the Nevada Republican Senate Caucus confirmed.

Delaney said the office had not received recommendations from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus and was working with Cannizzaro “to make sure her recommendations still stand.”

Titus, in a statement, said neither Sisolak nor his office had contacted her.

“I have not heard from the governor’s office nor the governor,” Titus said. “At my request, the [Legislative Counsel Bureau] Director is looking into it. Assembly Republicans stand ready for collaborative apolitical governance for the benefit of those who call Nevada home.”

Even if the vacancies are filled, questions remain about the board’s efficacy. Former members of the commission told The Nevada Independent last year that although there was potential for the board to provide oversight, it lacked resources and never fully lived up to its name. 

Hadder said that’s not a reason to give up on it altogether. Still, he would also like to see some big changes. For one, he said he would like the board moved out of the Department of Taxation. 

As for why no one has been appointed to the board, Hadder said it’s a valid question. 

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he added.

Republican Assembly members Leavitt, Black eye open state Senate seat

With state Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) termed out, two Republican Assembly members are eyeing his seat, with one of them already openly campaigning.

At a Fourth of July parade in Boulder City on Sunday, Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) broadcast his intention to run for the open seat with a banner attached to a pickup truck and handshakes with parade attendees. First-term Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) indicated in an interview that she is considering running for the seat as well.

Leavitt, first elected in 2018, told The Nevada Independent in a brief interview on Tuesday that he decided to run for the state Senate seat after Hardy approached him and asked if he would be willing to do so.

“A lot of the constituents in the district have said that they would prefer to have me there and continue to serve that district, the same way that I’ve been serving as an assemblyman,” Leavitt said. “So it was a kind of a natural organic progression, it wasn’t something that I pre-planned, but when it came about I was willing to accept that challenge and opportunity.”

Hardy confirmed that he had spoken with Leavitt and had endorsed him some time ago.

“I feel like [Leavitt] is capable, and not only capable but experienced too,” Hardy told The Nevada Independent. “I look forward to watching someone else in the campaign.”

Black said she is thinking about running for the same seat, but is waiting to see how redistricting later this year affects district lines. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in 2020 Census operations, meaning lawmakers were unable to complete the redistricting process during the 2021 session and thus will need to draw new congressional and legislative district boundaries during a yet-to-be-announced special legislative session sometime this fall.

Should the district boundaries fall along similar lines, Black said that she would “most likely” run.

Assemblywoman Annie Black standing with her right hand raised
Assemblywoman Annie Black on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Both Leavitt and Black represent Assembly districts that are nestled within Hardy’s Senate District 12, which encompasses Boulder City, Mesquite and rural portions of Clark County that border Lake Mead, Arizona and California.

A Nevada Independent analysis of bill passages during the 2021 legislative session shows that Leavitt was among the Assembly Republicans who passed the least amount of bills (one out of 10) and Black passed none of her proposed pieces of legislation (zero out of six).

Republicans hold a double-digit active voter registration advantage over Democrats in the district. Hardy won his last re-election race in 2018 by more than 23 percentage points over Democrat Craig Jordahl.

Leavitt and Black are not the only two Republican Assembly members looking to move to the Senate. Assemblymembers Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and Robin Titus (R-Wellington) have also confirmed plans to run for the seat of termed-out state Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden). 

Despite potential changes that could come in the redistricting process, Leavitt said he is planning to campaign for the seat and will continue to advocate for small businesses and economic growth.

“My messaging platform will stay consistent with how it’s what it’s always been,” Leavitt said. “There’s no big platform message at this moment, just to continue to serve.”

This story was updated on Wednesday, June 7, 2021 at 2:48 p.m. to include comments from Sen. Joe Hardy.

New law will allow pharmacists to administer HIV prevention medication without prescription

Nevada will become one of the first states to allow pharmacists to prescribe human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention drugs to patients at risk of contracting the virus, as the state works to combat one of the highest rates of HIV diagnoses in the country.

A bill signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak on June 6 authorizes pharmacists with sufficient liability coverage to prescribe, dispense and administer HIV prevention drugs — including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to people who may have come into contact with HIV and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for people at risk — without a prescription from a practitioner starting as early as Oct. 1, in accordance with protocols to be developed by the State Board of Pharmacy over the next several months.

“One of the biggest obstacles, across the globe, and specifically here in Nevada is access,” said Rob Phoenix, a family nurse practitioner who runs Huntridge Family Clinic, a LGBTQ-centric medical clinic in Las Vegas focused on HIV prevention and treatment. “It's hopefully going to bring an access point where patients can literally walk in, talk to the pharmacist about HIV and their risk and reduction in a culturally competent and sex-positive way.”

Since the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, significant advancements in the treatment of HIV have been made. Certain contraceptives, such as condoms, have long been and remain a commonly used and effective prevention method, but within the past 10 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved drug therapies for those who live at risk of being infected.

In 2012, the administration approved Truvada, a PrEP drug that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent and is recommended for all adults and adolescents at risk for HIV through sex or injection drug use, including people who have a sexual partner with HIV. In 2019, the FDA approved a second PrEP drug, Descovy, though the medication is recommended for a smaller group of people that only includes gay and bisexual cisgender men and transgender women because the drug’s effectiveness for preventing infection through vaginal sex has not been evaluated.

Despite the effectiveness of those drugs, there were only 1,535 PrEP users in Nevada in 2019, while there were more than 10,000 Nevadans living with HIV in 2018, according to data from AIDSVu, an online tool from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health that visualizes the impact of the HIV epidemic.

Phoenix explained that limited access to prevention options can create problems in Nevada, which had the fifth highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in 2018, behind Washington D.C., Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. 

“Patients are coming in to providers, they're asking for HIV prevention and they're either being told, ‘we don't know what that is’ or ‘you shouldn't be having that kind of sex’ or ‘I don't prescribe that kind of medicine,’” Phoenix said.

Expanding access to prevention options is also especially important for the LGBTQ community. More than 80 percent of Nevada men living with HIV in 2018 contracted the virus during male-to-male sexual contact, and that year, gay and bisexual men made up 69 percent of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the country.

Sisolak signed SB325, which was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), into law during an event on June 6 focused on support of the LGBTQ community.

“In our state, we celebrate our diversity,” Sisolak said in a statement. “I am so grateful to sign legislation to ensure that our LGBTQ+ community feels safe, protected and can continue to grow and flourish in the Silver State.”

Settelmeyer did not respond to requests for comment from The Nevada Independent about the legislation, but the senator based out of rural, conservative Douglas County was joined during presentations of the bill by Elizabeth MacMenamin, vice president of government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada, where he noted the need for expanding health care access in the state.

“We all know that this health crisis has shown us, without a doubt, that we do not have enough doctors out there to help individuals,” Settelmeyer said during a hearing of the bill in May. “What this bill seeks to do is allow pharmacists to kind of step in and help out, especially in the realm of dealing with pre-exposure to immunodeficiency and also to post-exposure.”

The measure received no opposition during its initial hearing and was voted unanimously out of the Senate, before passing 40-2 in the Assembly, with Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) and Annie Black (R-Mesquite) as the only opponents to the bill.

Preventing more cases

Advocates of SB325 have framed the measure as a wide-reaching public health effort that can both decrease the state’s high transmission rate and decrease stigma around HIV.

André Wade, who chairs the state’s HIV modernization task force and serves as the state director for Silver State Equality, an LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, explained that getting medication directly from a neighborhood pharmacy can be much easier than having to first go to a primary care provider.

“Someone can just go to the pharmacy and request PrEP or PEP and not have to go to their doctor, if they even have one, and have insurance, if they even have insurance,” Wade said. “So, it just takes away that barrier.”

Phoenix also said that some people may simply be more comfortable with going to the pharmacy because “the pharmacy is a pretty stigma-free zone,” where people already pick up other kinds of medication, such as antibiotics or blood pressure medicines.

One other bill, SB190, which was approved by the governor on June 8, expands access to medication in a similar way by allowing women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit.

The prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases in Nevada also creates a greater need for more prevention options, Phoenix said. People who have a sexually transmitted disease typically have a greater risk of contracting HIV, according to the CDC, with syphilis and gonorrhea more closely linked to HIV than some other diseases. In 2018, Nevada had the highest rate of syphilis cases and the 12th highest rate of gonorrhea cases in the country.

As the state attempts to get more people at risk of HIV transmission on PrEP, Phoenix said the tools already in place through pharmacies can also help people adhere to prevention treatments.

“There's a significant drop off in persistence with PrEP over time,” he said. “One of the advantages of the pharmacy-based model is they're already getting reminders about other prescriptions, and the pharmacies have built-in processes for auto reminders and things like that.”

PrEP medications are typically administered on a 30-day basis, with one pill meant to be taken daily. The medication reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 percent when taken as prescribed, according to the CDC.

The ease of access provided by pharmacies also could help prevent new HIV cases through the administration of PEP for people exposed to the virus because PEP must be taken within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV. Treatment using PEP then continues every day for 28 days. 

Phoenix said that having pharmacists administer the drug can help deliver more treatments within that crucial 72-hour window, as many primary care providers are closed during the weekend.

“I can tell you dozens of examples of patients here in Las Vegas that have presented to urgent cares and quick cares and ERs and freestanding ERs, and they're denied PEP,” Phoenix said. “I see probably two or three patients a week for PEP, and the majority of them have been somewhere and they've been told, ‘we don't do that here’ or ‘we don't know what that is.’”

Wade also noted that people living in rural areas of Nevada will be able to access prevention drugs through neighborhood pharmacies, rather than through primary care providers that are more sparsely located in certain parts of the state.

Increasing testing

As SB325 passed through the Legislature, proponents of the bill stressed that prevention does not happen in a bubble. Testing is also a vital part of limiting the number of new HIV diagnoses.

“People are less likely to transmit the virus if they know their status,” Wade said. “So all these efforts, public health efforts, to help people better understand and know what HIV is — the transmission, trying to increase testing so people can know their status and just decreasing the rate of transmission overall — eventually, it just has the potential to have the numbers go down and down.”

The bill requires the State Board of Pharmacy to develop protocols for pharmacists to not only prescribe and administer prevention drugs, but also to order or conduct the laboratory tests necessary to find out whether such medication is appropriate for the patient.

Phoenix said that the testing component of the bill could potentially lead to a quicker turnaround time for patients to receive PrEP.

“Ideally, they'll be able to do same-day PrEP,” he said. “The pharmacist will be able to just get them set up with a lab [test], so that they send them to the lab to get their blood drawn. But they get [the patient] their medicine to go.”

Increased testing is also a key goal of UNAIDS, a joint United Nations effort to end the global HIV and AIDS pandemic. UNAIDS is working towards a 90-90-90 target, which aims to have 90 percent of all people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV to receive sustained treatment and 90 percent of all people receiving treatment to experience viral load suppression.

Nevada lags behind those goals. In 2018, 19.1 percent of the new HIV cases in the state were diagnosed late, which is defined as receiving an AIDS diagnosis within three months of an initial HIV diagnosis. Other CDC data from that year suggests one in five Nevadans are unaware of their status. 

Another bill, SB211, which was signed by the governor on June 4, also would help ensure more people know their HIV status, Wade said.

The measure requires medical providers who provide emergency medical services in hospital and primary care settings to offer STD testing, including tests for HIV, to anyone age 15 and older.

“We need all the tools from our toolbox to address this issue,” Wade said. “Testing is a tool, so people can know their status. Medication, like PrEP and PEP, is another tool.”

Reducing costs

Even as the testing and prevention options become more widespread, the high costs of HIV medication remain a barrier to reducing new cases.

Truvada and Descovy, the two federally approved PrEP medications, each cost roughly $2,000 for a 30-day supply of tablets. A full, month-long course of PEP treatment can cost $600 to $1,000 for people without insurance.

However, insurance coverage and certain federal and state programs can help reduce costs.

SB325 requires private and public health plans, including Medicaid and plans for government employees, to provide coverage for the costs of HIV prevention drugs, as well as the costs of any associated laboratory or diagnostic procedures. Under the bill, those insurers are also required to reimburse pharmacists for testing and prescribing in the same manner that primary care providers would be reimbursed for the same services.

Gilead, a biopharmaceutical company that makes both Truvada and Descovy, has a program called Advancing Access, which provides copay coupon cards to certain eligible patients who need financial assistance with their copays. In 2019, the company also announced plans to donate 2.4 million bottles of Truvada annually to the CDC for uninsured Americans at risk for HIV, with donations running through 2030.

At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services runs a program called Ready, Set, PrEP which helps people who lack prescription drug coverage gain access to PrEP at no cost. In connection with that program, there is a federal HIV services locator available online that can connect people to the closest testing and prevention services in their area.

Phoenix said that few Nevadans are aware of the program and federal support available for people at risk of HIV.

“In Nevada, we've done a really poor job of advocating for Ready, Set, PrEP,” he said. “We only have about 25 people that are on that program, and it's been out for about three or four years.” 

He added that even pharmacists may be unaware of the options for support.

“I can tell you my personal stories, the pharmacists don't know this,” Phoenix said. “I went to CVS and tried to get Ready, Set, PrEP, and they're like, ‘what's that?’ And they wanted to charge me $5,000 for a 90-day supply of medicine.”

People who have contracted HIV also have support options at the federal level through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides HIV information resources and helps connect people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured to treatment services.

Phoenix noted that new HIV treatment and prevention options could help with expanding access for patients at risk as more drugs are given approval over the coming years. In January, the FDA approved the first injectable, complete regimen for adults living with HIV that is administered once a month, and Phoenix noted similar options could eventually be available for PrEP.

“There are some new mechanisms for PrEP that are coming out that are probably going to be injectable, so this bill will allow the pharmacists to do the injections as well,” Phoenix said.

The remaining work

Following the passage of SB325 in early June, the State Board of Pharmacy has a maximum of two years to develop protocols to allow Nevada pharmacists to become some of the first in the nation to directly prescribe and administer HIV prevention drugs. The board is aiming to implement those protocols as early as Oct. 1.

In the past two years, California and Colorado have passed similar laws allowing pharmacists to administer HIV prevention drugs directly to patients, and an Oregon bill allowing pharmacists to administer PrEP and PEP was signed by the state’s governor on June 23.

As the regulations for Nevada’s pharmacists are developed, Phoenix said it will be important for the protocols to not create hurdles for pharmacists, noting that some laws in other states have included some limitations. In California, for example, pharmacists are not allowed to furnish a 60-day supply of PrEP to a single patient more than once every two years.

The state’s pharmacy board will be holding public meetings in the coming months to gather feedback on the regulations, including protocols for the administration of the drugs and rules on what level of liability insurance is sufficient for a pharmacist to engage in those protocols.

Though the timeline for enacting those regulations remains uncertain, proponents of the measure have stressed that the passage of SB325 is a significant step for the state.

“The idea of pharmacists being able to prescribe PrEP and PEP has been something folks have been talking about from a research and policy perspective for years,” Wade said. “So, I’m glad it's being implemented in Nevada … It is something that they needed for a very long time.”

With approval of consumption lounges, state ushers in next expansion of cannabis industry

After a tumultuous round of dispensary licensing in 2018 brought uncertainty and infighting to the state’s nascent cannabis industry, the Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) assumed the marijuana regulatory reins in 2020, cracking down on bad actors and providing specialized regulation that brought stability to the industry ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

From that baseline, lawmakers took a major step this session to expand and diversify the industry’s disproportionately white and male ownership and also provide tourists with a place to legally consume marijuana by creating a new license type for cannabis consumption lounges. They also approved a slew of other changes — including allowing permanent curbside pickup, revising how law enforcement determines whether someone is driving under the influence of marijuana and changing product labeling — built from lessons learned in the eight years since the state first authorized marijuana dispensaries.

“It's been a long journey from where we started, really, in the 2013 session and then launching dispensaries, so it's really nice to see how the industry has matured,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas). “The legislation that we see this session is really in recognition that we've primarily done things right and to try to take that next step.”

After the compliance board began its work governing the state’s marijuana industry in July 2020, the 2021 legislative session presented the agency with an important opportunity to hold conversations with lawmakers, said Tyler Klimas, the board’s executive director.

“We’re very pleased with how the CCB came out in this session … So much of this particular legislative session was about education for the CCB,” Klimas said. “In 2021, this was really our first chance to come back in front of the Legislature and update them on the progress of the CCB … I think the Legislature was very receptive to our message.”

The session saw a wide variety of cannabis-related legislation passed that Yeager emphasized was largely aimed at implementing best practices and making selective tweaks to existing regulations. He also noted that many of those changes came as the pandemic saw more people get comfortable with marijuana use.

“I think the stigma is definitely going to lessen. I think it did during the pandemic … I think we have a lot of new customers in the cannabis industry because of the pandemic,” Yeager said. “The more we sort of move forward as an industry, consumers will become more comfortable with it.”

Here’s a look at the bills that passed during the session related to the state’s marijuana industry and the work of the CCB, all of which have been signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak:

AB341: Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

The biggest change for the marijuana industry from the 2021 legislative session comes by way of AB341, a bill that provides for the licensing and regulation of cannabis consumption lounges by the CCB.

The measure, introduced by Yeager, has been heralded as a major step by many in and around the industry as a way to increase diversity in the state’s disproportionately white group of cannabis business owners. Throughout the session, the Las Vegas-based assemblyman also described the consumption lounges as a way for the state to solve tourists’ dilemma of having no legal place to consume cannabis.

“I see that only as a plus from the tourism aspect,” Yeager told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “But then on the local side, right, being able to bring in new players into the business, having that create jobs — that's really important coming out of the pandemic.”

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

Though a cannabis consumption lounge does already exist near Las Vegas in the form of NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, which sits on the land of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Yeager’s bill allows for the first state-licensed and regulated locations where Nevadans will be able to consume cannabis outside of their homes — and where tourists will be able to legally use marijuana products. 

Lounges will be restricted to people 21 and over, and venues will be able sell ready-to-consume or single-use products, although not in quantities that would make them de facto retail cannabis dispensaries.

Scot Rutledge, a lobbyist who serves on the advisory board of the Chamber of Cannabis, a nonprofit organization whose members include individuals and businesses within the marijuana industry, said that many members have expressed enthusiasm about the lounges.

“There’s a tremendous amount of excitement because this is the first time in Nevada we're providing for a new license type,” Rutledge said. “The intent is to allow folks who aren’t in the industry to have as much of a chance, if not more, to participate.”

The bill allows for the initial licensing of up to 20 independent consumption lounges and 20 retail consumption lounges that will be attached to existing dispensaries, with the possibility of additional independent licenses if the CCB approves more than 20 retail lounge licenses before June 30, 2022.

Those new licenses open up the possibility of expanding diversity within the ownership of the industry, which has been limited in the past. A demographic report on the state’s cannabis industry released by the CCB in February showed that marijuana business owners and board members in Nevada are disproportionately white and male, compared to the industry workforce, which is made up of a greater proportion of people of color.

The bill explicitly prioritizes expanding diversity within the industry by requiring at least 10 of the first 20 independent lounge licenses to be issued to social equity applicants.

“Those 10 licenses are reserved for social equity applicants, and if there aren't any, they stay there until there is. They don't get redistributed among other people,” Yeager said. “We're purposely holding some back, which I'm hoping is going to help us achieve the purpose.”

However, the definition of a social equity applicant is left up to the discretion of the CCB. Klimas said that definition will be established with the help of an equity, inclusion and diversity subcommittee formed under the Cannabis Advisory Commission.

“We'll need to define what a social equity applicant is. That's really the start of it,” Klimas said. “What does it mean to be an individual that has been harmed by the War on Drugs and how can we help get those individuals into this industry.”

The measure also allows the CCB to give more financial leeway to social equity applicants. An application for a retail consumption lounge costs $100,000, but an application for an independent consumption lounge costs $10,000, and the license issuance and renewal fees are each $10,000 for both types of lounges. But the bill also allows the board to reduce all fees by up to 75 percent for a social equity applicant.

Outside of social equity, the bill leaves much of the regulatory work to the board, with the ability for local governments to provide additional regulations through ordinances.

“We just didn't believe that 120 days was really enough time to sort of figure out some of the details around how these venues might be operated or all of the things that need to be considered in licensing those businesses,” Rutledge said. “So I think we did it the right way by deferring a lot of those decisions to the CCB.”

Klimas said that prior to the licensing of lounges, the board will spend the next several months developing the regulations for the new cannabis establishments, through workshops, board meetings and advisory commission meetings.

The 2018 licensing round, conducted by the Department of Taxation, was marred by accusations that state officials played favorites and unevenly distributed key information about application scoring.

“Given some of the past licensing processes, this process is going to be about openness and transparency and thoroughness to ensure everybody's on the same page and the board is very public in how we're going to do things,” Klimas said.

Even though the CCB will complete most of the regulatory work, Rutledge emphasized that there is a certain framework he and other cannabis advocates hope to establish for the lounges. One aspect of that came from law enforcement, which did not want to see marijuana and alcohol sold in the same place. Another is focused on ensuring that businesses have more freedom in operating their lounges, because the bring-your-own-marijuana model has been ineffective for such businesses outside of Nevada.

“We also understood that what they had done in Denver originally … that didn't allow these lounges to sell cannabis — it was a bring your own cannabis model — and those did not work very well, either.” Rutledge said. “The idea of having just a place where patrons who purchase cannabis of your dispensary could walk in and consume and leave with really no entertainment or food or beverage. That wasn't what we wanted to get to.”

Layke Martin, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said both the retail and independent lounges could foster new ideas within the industry.

“I think there's a lot of opportunity for creativity and entrepreneurship,” Martin said. “I think a lot of these can become a destination, in and of themselves. And so it could be a video game thing where you can also consume cannabis. Or it could be like a tasting room situation where you can also consume cannabis, and you have the opportunity to get educated and try new products, kind of like a tasting room in a winery.”

Martin also noted that several existing dispensaries, including Planet 13 and The Apothecary Shoppe, have been planning for the possibility of lounges since the idea was brought forward and then axed during previous legislative sessions. She said that “some already have the space ready to go.”

Dispensary with casinos in background
Planet 13 Cannabis Dispensary located near the Las Vegas Strip is seen Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

While Klimas said that it likely won’t be until the beginning of next year or even mid-2022 when the new licenses “come on board,” Yeager sees the lounges as a way to help boost the return of the state’s economy.

“I can tell you without a doubt that Vegas is back in a really big way, and I think the addition of consumption lounges is only going to add to that,” Yeager said. “I actually think it's going to put Las Vegas on the map, to the extent that it isn't already, to be the cannabis destination, especially if we're able to open up some really interesting, innovative concepts.”

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill 29-12 and 17-3, respectively, with the Senate passing the bill on the last day of the session, as Sens. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) and Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) were the only members of their party to oppose the measure.

Customers gather inside NuWu Cannabis Marketplace at 1235 Paiute Circle on Thursday, March 14, 2019. The dispensary is owned by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

AB149: Increasing transparency of cannabis testing

This bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), requires the board to develop, implement and maintain an online database where the public can find information about cannabis products tested by laboratories in the state.

The CCB still needs to receive approval from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee in order to fund the database, which is projected to cost nearly $250,000 over the next two years, but Klimas expressed enthusiasm about offering the feature to consumers.

“It's just another level of transparency that we can bring out. I would do it tomorrow if I had the capacity to do it,” he said. “This data should be available for everybody to use. Right now, you can go to a dispensary, and if you purchase a product, you can ask for the certificate of analysis. So you can see that kind of information, [but] some people don't know they can ask for it.”

Some of the state’s independent labs have in the past voiced concerns about transparency. In 2019, an association of four marijuana testing labs rebuked certain unidentified labs over allegations that the labs were inflating THC content readings and giving fewer samples a failing grade in an attempt to attract more business.

The measure builds off of existing law that requires the CCB to establish standards for independent cannabis testing labs, which test cannabis and cannabis products for a variety of factors, including for microbial substances (bacteria, molds, and yeasts), potency of the product (cannabinoid and terpenoid profiling), heavy metals and pesticides.

The information available online will be based off of the seed-to-sale tracking that the board uses to track cannabis products as they are grown and sold throughout the state, and the database also will be required to contain the final results of all testing performed on cannabis products by an independent lab.

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill with no opposition. Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) did not vote on the measure because his wife, Riana Durrett, is a member of the CCB.

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

SB168: Curbside pickup for cannabis products

Sponsored by Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), this bill authorizes and allows dispensaries to offer curbside pickup in accordance with regulations adopted by the CCB. The measure legalizes a practice first allowed last year when the state was still in a coronavirus-related stay-at-home order.

Some of the present-day features of curbside pickup include designated parking spaces for pickup, security cameras with a direct line of sight to those spaces and a prohibition on people less than 21 years of age being in the vehicle. 

Proponents of the measure have touted the service as beneficial to businesses and a way for customers to more conveniently obtain their products.

“Customers really liked it, actually,” Martin said. “If you go through reviews of dispensaries, you'll often see curbside pickup positively viewed as a feature.”

The measure additionally allows local governments to adopt ordinances regulating curbside pickup beyond the rules adopted by the board.

The bill was approved in a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and a 19-1 vote in the Senate, and the governor signed the measure on May 27.

Parking space marked for Thrive Dispensary
A parking space outside the future Thrive dispensary in Reno on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by David Calvert.

SB122: Extra health and safety training for cannabis employees

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), requires employees of cannabis establishments, including cultivation and production facilities and dispensaries, to complete a health and safety course developed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within one year of being hired.

Employers are required to cover the cost of the training and are required to fire an employee who has not completed the training within one year. Employees hired before July 1, 2021 are required to complete the OHSA training program by July 1, 2022, and certain employees not involved in the day-to-day operations of an establishment, as well as communications and legal employees, are excluded from the requirement.

The required training includes a 30-hour course for supervisory employees and a 10-hour course for other employees, which must be conducted by an authorized outreach trainer and may be online or in person.

Though there are other training requirements already in place for employees of cannabis businesses, Martin emphasized the importance of such training.

“It's a highly regulated industry. Safety and security [are] paramount,” she said.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Assembly and 14-7 in the Senate, with some Republican lawmakers voting against the measure. During a committee vote on the bill in March, a few Republican senators expressed concerns that the bill would be onerous and unnecessary for retail employees in the industry.

Criminal justice changes

AB400: Marijuana DUIs

This Yeager-sponsored measure, which went into effect on July 1, removes specific “per se” limits for cannabis metabolites that if found in a person’s blood would trigger a DUI — except for in cases where the DUI is punishable as a felony, including those that caused someone’s death or substantial bodily harm. Cannabis metabolites are the substances that form when THC is broken down in the body.

Under this law, drivers generally will be considered to be under the influence of marijuana if the substance has impaired their ability to safely operate their vehicle, instead of having impairment determined by a test for a specific amount of marijuana in their blood or urine.

“There's no scientific basis toward ‘per se’ limits,” Rutledge said. “That's problematic for anyone who consumes cannabis, certainly. It's especially cruel to patients who theoretically consume larger amounts of THC than the average recreational consumer and may not actually be under the influence while operating a vehicle.”

Yeager explained that the science has shown for years that the “per se” limits are not an accurate reflection of impairment because cannabis is metabolized differently in different people’s bodies.

“I was up at the session in 2013 and 2015 as a lobbyist,” he said. “And I remember talking back then to folks in the Legislature about the DUI laws because cannabis is this weird ... space because it's federally illegal but legal in the state. And our state laws around DUI really contemplate its federal illegality, and we're almost zero tolerance.”

Yeager said that it took a long time for other people to get comfortable with the idea behind the bill and realize that impairment for cannabis cannot be treated the same as alcohol, which ultimately led to his measure passing during the 2021 session.

The bill was passed along party lines in the Assembly with Republicans opposed and passed out of the Senate on a 15-6 vote, with some Republican senators opposed.

AB158: Lessening penalties for minors possessing marijuana

This bill from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) significantly lightens 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 framed the measure as a way of being constructive with children who make mistakes, rather than strictly punitive. Proponents of the measure have described the bill as another way to help the communities most negatively affected by the War on Drugs.

For people under the age of 21 who are found guilty of a misdemeanor for possessing, consuming or purchasing alcohol or possessing less than one ounce of cannabis, the bill replaces 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 also revises 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 was approved unanimously in the Assembly and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on May 28.

AB326: Cracking down on the illicit market

Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), who previously worked for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, this bill aims to curb the state’s illegal cannabis market by authorizing a district or city attorney to bring a civil action — with a penalty of up to $50,000 — against any person who engages in a cannabis business activity, including cultivating and selling cannabis, without a license. Someone who commits such a violation could still be subject to a criminal prosecution.

The bill also seeks to bring more transparency to existing businesses, while restricting illegal marijuana delivery services, by requiring all advertising for a cannabis establishment to contain the establishment’s name and license number.

“It's really intended to keep the black market, the illicit market, from operating within the shadow of the legal market,” Martin said.

The bill received no opposition in votes in the Assembly and Senate, with Ohrenschall recusing himself from the vote when it passed out of the Senate on May 21.

Regulatory changes

SB168: Granting the CCB regulatory power over packaging and labeling

In addition to making curbside pickup a permanent feature for cannabis businesses, this measure authorizes the board to adopt regulations for the packaging and labeling of cannabis and cannabis products.

“We have really extensive packaging and labeling regulations on the books right now,” Klimas said. “What this bill allows and recognizes is that this is an ever-evolving industry, so let's make sure the board has the power to … host workshops and get stakeholder feedback both from the public and the industry. And if we need to make changes on packaging and labeling, then we can do that and we don't have to wait every two years.”

Klimas added that the board will regularly host workshops focused on labeling and packaging, so that the agency can “constantly stay ahead” on regulations.

The bill was approved in a 35-6 vote in the Assembly and a 19-1 vote in the Senate.

A customer and retailer exchanging money at a cannabis retailer
A medical marijuana patient, right, pays for cannabis at Reef Dispensaries at 3400 Western Ave. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

SB49: Changes to CCB disciplinary hearings

This bill, brought forward on behalf of the CCB, makes a number of changes to disciplinary hearings conducted by the board — including authorizing the CCB to employ support staff for conducting such hearings, authorizing the chair of the board to grant extensions to the 45-day requirement within which hearings must be held and removing an authorization for the board to take the testimony of a witness by deposition because of the intensive time and resources typically required for depositions.

The measure also removes a barrier for minor stakeholders in cannabis businesses, allowing the board to adopt policies for waiving the registration requirements for people who have an ownership interest of less than 5 percent in the establishment. That provision is meant to lighten the burden for publicly traded companies.

David Staley, an audit investigator for the board, said during a February hearing for the bill that the background check and registration requirements can be restrictive for publicly traded companies with thousands of shareholders that have shares traded on a daily basis.

Under this bill, the labeling of cannabis products offered for sale is required to include the words “THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS CANNABIS,” rather than “THIS IS A MEDICAL CANNABIS PRODUCT” or “THIS IS A CANNABIS PRODUCT.”

No lawmakers voted against this bill; the measure passed 41-0 and 20-0 in the Assembly and Senate, respectively.

SB278: Clarifies the cannabis wholesale tax

Sponsored by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), this bill clarifies the definition of “wholesale sale” for the purpose of the marijuana excise tax.

“It just clarifies [that] facilities that are owned by the same individuals can move product back and forth if one facility is more capable of performing a function than the other one,” Klimas said. “That just clarifies … when that is actually taxed.”

The bill passed through both chambers with no opposition and was approved by the governor on June 3.

SB404: Authorizes regulations for cannabis weighing and measuring equipment

Brought forward on behalf of the Governor’s Office of Finance, this bill authorizes the State Sealer of Consumer Equitability to adopt regulations for cannabis weighing and measuring equipment. The bill is meant to update existing law, which did not previously include references to cannabis-specific equipment.

The measure passed 20-0 out of the Senate, while members of the Assembly voted to pass the bill 33-8, with some Republican lawmakers opposed.

Cannabis on display at Reef Dispensaries, 3400 Western Ave., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Other bills

AB101: Authorizes veterinarians to administer CBD products to animals

This measure, sponsored by Yeager, authorizes licensed veterinarians to administer products containing CBD or hemp in the treatment of an animal and to recommend use of such products to pet owners. It also prohibits the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from taking disciplinary action against veterinarians who administer or use such products.

As Yeager notes, this bill — nicknamed the “pot for pets” bill — does not actually deal with marijuana, as do several other measures he sponsored. Cannabis contains more THC and less CBD, while hemp products (authorized for use by this bill), contain more CBD and less THC. The two compounds are both found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

“It was surprisingly easy to get through, this time,” Yeager said of the measure, which has been considered but rejected in past legislative sessions. “And maybe that's just the comfort level that we have, Nevadans have, not just with the cannabis industry but certainly with CBD. I think a lot of people have experience with CBD at this point.”

The bill was approved 40-0 in the Assembly and 20-0 in the Senate, before being signed into law by the governor on May 28.

SB58: Investigations into cannabis offenses

Brought forward on behalf of the Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety, this measure is aimed at improving coordination between state agencies during cannabis-related investigations by requiring the division to provide investigative services to help carry out criminal investigations relating to cannabis when requested by the CCB, Department of Taxation or Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

This legislation passed with no opposition in the Assembly or Senate.

Failed licensing efforts

While lawmakers authorized the licensure of 40-plus new cannabis establishments through consumption lounges, discussions of adding other new license types stalled during the session.

SB235: Dual licensing

This measure, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), would have allowed the CCB to issue cannabis establishment licenses in excess of the caps set by the state when the licensing of adult-use cannabis dispensaries began. The new licensing procedure, intended to prioritize social equity applicants and increase the number of new licenses, would be determined by a study conducted by the board every two years.

However, the bill was met with significant backlash, even sparking internal conflict within the Nevada Dispensary Association that resulted in some members leaving the group. Some smaller operators within the association favored an amendment that sought to give those who lost out during a 2018 round of licensing a chance to receive a license.

The amendment, which would have established a path for adding a significant number of new licenses for those who lost out in 2018, reignited arguments from a yearslong legal battle over the previous licensing round and disputes about whether the market can support a large number of new marijuana stores.

As of June, there were 85 active dispensaries licensed by the CCB, with the possibility for roughly 40 more dispensaries approved during the 2018 licensing process. Unlike other business types, the number of retail cannabis stores in the state is strictly capped. 

Nevada law allows counties to have a certain number of dispensary licenses based on population, with current numbers allowing for up to 80 licenses in Clark County, 20 licenses in Washoe County, four licenses in Carson City and Lyon County, and two licenses in all other counties. However, local regulations can further restrict the number of licenses allowed in a county.

Though Yeager never heard the measure in the committee he chaired, he said there was a lot of controversy surrounding the idea. 

“The industry itself was so conflicted on that concept, and it just kind of blew up,” he said.

The legislation never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Medical marijuana and retail customers stand in line to check out at The+Source dispensary in Henderson on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

AB322: Licensing cannabis events

Sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), this bill aimed to establish a form of “micro-licensing” by allowing the CCB to issue a new license type for cannabis events where products could be sold and consumed. Events could be similar to food festivals, for example, where different vendors sell marijuana products at the event and attendees are able to consume the products at the event.

With a financial impact estimated to be in the millions by the CCB, the measure never received a hearing in the Assembly’s money committee but was touted as a positive next step by proponents of other cannabis legislation.

“I think it's a good concept,” Yeager said. “I think we were just very wary of doing too much at one time, given how long it's taken us to get cannabis lounges up … Probably, [the] next step is cannabis events and licensing of larger events because the truth is people are consuming those events anyway. We know that, so we probably should regulate it in some fashion.”

Even though the CCB will only have two new types of licenses to work on over the next two years with the addition of retail and independent consumption lounges, Klimas said the board is still thinking about future rounds of licensing.

“Obviously lounges will be a licensing round, but when we're talking about the traditional establishments, like cultivation, production and retail, we're going to open up those licensing rounds at some point,” Klimas said. “But we want to make sure that those decisions on how many to award, how many to open up are driven by data.”

Though an effort to establish a cannabis market study failed with SB235, Klimas said that the board is still planning to perform a comprehensive study of the industry, likely conducted by a third party that Klimas hopes will provide an unbiased look at the market.

“We want to know what is the health of the market in the state of Nevada, what's our supply, what's our demand, what are our needs,” Klimas said. “That's going to be something exciting over the next year or two to get those results and see where this industry needs to continue to mature towards and how the CCB is going to facilitate that. That'll likely end up and result in new legislation that we’ll bring forth in the 2023 legislative session.”

Why Nevada is spending $8 million to refund millions of $1 DMV fees

In the near future, Nevada drivers and anyone who made a transaction at the state Department of Motor Vehicles over the past two years is in line for a somewhat meager payday — a refund of the $1 per transaction technology fee.

Although the actual form of the refunds is still undetermined, the state has allocated roughly $7.8 million to pay back a total of $5.1 million worth of the $1 technology fees assessed on all DMV transactions over the past two years.

Refunds of the technology fee — which has been in place since 2015 and was designed to fund a long-awaited but scandal-stricken DMV system modernization upgrade — didn’t exactly come as a surprise. The fee and an extension of the state payroll tax were challenged by state Senate Republicans in a 2019 lawsuit, and the state Supreme Court ruled in their favor in May 2021, requiring that the state pay back the unconstitutionally extended taxes collected over the past year.

While the DMV this session had requested a further extension of the $1 fee (which legislators did not approve), the agency also had made plans in case of an adverse ruling from the state Supreme Court, sequestering about $5.9 million in fee revenue in case it was ordered to pay the amount back to customers.

But paying back 5.9 million worth of $1 fee transactions comes at a cost — $7.8 million in state Highway Fund dollars, which legislators appropriated to the DMV through a last-minute amendment in the final days of session. 

A DMV spokesman said the agency was still working on details of the refund payments, and that any proposal would need to go through legal review, be approved by all parties involved in the court case and finally receive approval through the Interim Finance Committee — meaning any refund payments are likely months away.

Frustration over the situation was palpable among legislators in the final week of session.

“The biggest part of this whole damn thing is they need the money to fix the technology, so that if they had this problem again, they'd have the technology to fix it,” Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said in a late May interview. “It's chicken and the egg, it's just circular. It's crazy. This is a circular firing squad.”

After the state Supreme Court handed down its decision in early May, legislators introduced several bills — AB488, AB491, AB490 — aimed at either retroactively enacting the technology fee or appropriating dollars to the DMV to help cover the cost of issuing refunds.

But all of those measures ran into a similar problem — Republican lawmakers (whose votes would be needed to exceed the constitutional two-thirds majority needed for any tax increase) were generally against any kind of legislative maneuvering to keep the fees in place, either going forward or retroactively.

During a late May hearing on AB488, which would have extended the fee through June 2026 and also would have retroactively permitted the fee from the end of June 2020 onward, state senators James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) took the unusual step of testifying in person against the bill.

“Judgment has been entered by the District Court in favor of the plaintiffs in the two-thirds case and, in particular, the judgment in favor of the taxpayers and the fee payers,” Settelmeyer said at the time. “I don't want to belabor this point. I'm tired of litigation. People deserve their money back.”

Without a clear path to a two-thirds majority to implement or reinstate the technology fee, Democratic legislative leaders instead opted to focus on allocating funding to the DMV to process the refunds. During a Saturday, May 29 evening budget meeting on AB490, an appropriations bill covering the cost of conducting the refunds. Carlton said lawmakers had a “responsibility to do this now.”

“Believe me, I'd much rather spend this $8 million on autism, that would help solve a big problem with autism right now, but instead we are spending $8 million on helping the DMV refund $5 million,” she said at the time. 

Republican lawmakers on the committee chafed — Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) suggested that since the court gave no timeline, lawmakers could wait and see if the DMV could instead implement a credit system rather than sending out checks. Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) suggested that lawmakers put the money in a contingency fund and dole it out through the Interim Finance Committee once the DMV had a more solid plan or other options in place.

“I do believe it's a little premature. I think there's some other options that we can do later on,” Roberts said.

An irked Carlton opted to set the bill aside, saying that she wanted to ensure that a repayment option was actually supported, and was “not just being suggested, and then still voted against, which I have had an experience with this year.”

“Madame Chair, I'll give you my word if that's the way that we go, I’ll support it.,” Roberts replied.

“No comment,” Carlton replied.

Between Republican skepticism and the truncated timeframe of the final days of the session, all three of the legislative fixes to the DMV fee issue were relegated to the legislative dustbin and never advanced past the hearing stage.

Death of the technology fee will not immediately affect the DMV’s planned system modernization upgrades. Language included in one of the budget implementation bills (AB494) directed the state to allocate an additional $13.6 million to the project if the two proposed Assembly bills AB488 and AB491 failed to pass.

Instead, lawmakers opted to amend language into SB457 — another last-minute measure authorizing the DMV to use a greater share of state Highway Fund dollars — that appropriated $7.8 million for the cost of issuing refunds of the technology fees.

“There is no time to wait, and we need to get it done now,” Carlton said prior to Assembly adoption of the amendment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency and data efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three bills that did not pass were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antitrust in health care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicaid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other health care bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis: Which lawmakers were least likely to toe the party line?

From permanent expanded mail voting to the state public health option, the 2021 legislative session saw no shortage of headline-grabbing partisan disagreements — but a look at actual vote totals reveals that the vast majority of bills were passed with at least some bipartisan buy-in.

Out of nearly 1,200 votes on bills and resolutions during the 120-day session, 625 (53 percent) were passed with no lawmakers in opposition, and a small minority of 52 votes (4 percent) included just one “nay” vote. Meanwhile, roughly 100 votes (8 percent) happened strictly along party lines. 

But there was a fourth, significant group of votes: on more than 150 votes, a minority of Republican lawmakers broke with their caucus and voted with Democrats, helping to pass bills ranging from marijuana DUI reform to expanded environmental protections.

So which Republicans were the most likely to side with Democrats?

The Nevada Independent analyzed and tallied every bill that received a recorded vote in at least one house where less than half of Republican caucus members supported the measure — a tally that includes 49 votes in the Senate and 104 in the Assembly. The analysis included any bill that received four or fewer votes from the nine-member Senate Republican Caucus and any bill that received seven or fewer votes from the 16-member Assembly Republican Caucus.

Instead of looking more broadly at all votes taken during the legislative session, focusing the analysis on the roughly 150 votes where less than half of Republican caucus members voted in favor of a particular bill offers a better view of which individual Republican lawmakers were most likely to cross party lines. 

Because Democrats control both the Assembly and state Senate, no Republican-sponsored bills with even a whiff of partisanship made it to a full floor vote, though a handful of Democratic lawmakers proved willing to buck their party on a smaller number of votes.

The analysis reveals that Sens. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) were the most likely to break with their caucus and vote with Democrats in the state Senate. On the Assembly side, Jill Tolles (R-Reno), Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) and Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) most often broke with the rest of their caucus and sided with Democrats.

The guide below aims to take a look at what kinds of issues were at play when Republicans chose to break with the majority of their caucus on a particular issue — including high-profile votes on a new mining tax and a Democrat-backed effort to change Nevada to a presidential primary state.

We’ve double-checked our work to make sure we’ve counted every vote, but if you spot something off or think a vote wasn’t counted, feel free to email sgolonka@thenvindy.com.

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert voted with Democrats and against the majority of the Republican caucus 30 times, including eight times as the only two Republicans joining Democrats in support of a measure. Kieckhefer is termed out after the 2021 session and cannot run for re-election, and Seevers Gansert will not face voters until 2024 after winning her re-election race last year.

Both lawmakers broke party lines to join all Democrats in favor of AB115, allowing multiple parents to adopt a child, and AB181, a bill aimed at improving mental health parity and reporting on cases of attempted suicide.

Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert were also among four Republican senators who voted with Democrats in favor of AB495, a bill that creates a new excise tax on the gross revenues of gold and silver companies, estimated to bring in an extra $150 million to $170 million a biennium for education. As the measure passed in the waning days of the session, Kieckhefer said the benefits of the bill outweighed the drawbacks, and Seevers Gansert pointed to the enhanced education funding as reason for voting in favor. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, as it created a new tax.

Seevers Gansert and Kieckhefer rarely broke from each other when crossing party lines to vote with Democrats. In one instance, Seevers Gansert was the lone Republican who sided with Democrats on SB237, a bill aimed at giving more support to LGBTQ-owned businesses, while no other Republicans did so. Kieckhefer had no such votes.

State Senators Ben Kieckhefer and Heidi Seevers Gansert during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Pete Goicoechea: 20

Goicoechea joined Democrats as the lone Republican in support of AB148, which revises the application requirements for obtaining a permit to engage in an exploration project or mining operation.

He joined Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert as the only members of their caucus to vote in support of AB126, which eliminates Nevada’s presidential caucus and replaces it with a primary election, and also aims to make the state first in the presidential primary calendar — ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Goicoechea also broke from the majority of the Republican caucus to vote with Democrats in support of a few environment-related measures, including AB146, which expands efforts to mitigate water pollution, and AB71, which makes rare plant and animal locations confidential. The Eureka Republican is in his final term of office after winning re-election in 2020, and cannot run again in 2024.

Joe Hardy: 17

Hardy, who is termed out after this session, voted as the lone Republican in support of bills in the Senate more often than any other member of his caucus.

The Boulder City-based lawmaker joined Democrats as the only Republican in favor of SB61, which creates the Nevada Committee of Vendors Who Are Blind, as well as three other Democrat-sponsored bills — including a measure backed by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), AB308, which requires a three-day grace period before landlords can charge late fees for overdue rent.

Hardy was one of three Republicans in the Senate who voted in favor of AB400, which removes “per se” limits on the amount of marijuana metabolite that can be in a person’s blood to trigger a DUI, though the limits remain when someone is facing a felony charge. He was also one of two Republicans in the caucus to back another marijuana-related bill, SB122, which requires occupational training for employees of cannabis establishments.

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

Scott Hammond: 14

The northwest Las Vegas Valley lawmaker was one of four Republican senators who voted in support of a new tax on the mining industry. Hammond previously said he would vote in support of the bill, AB495, “for all of our state’s students.”

Hammond also joined Democrats in voting in favor of AB296, which allows victims of ‘doxing’ to bring a civil action to recover damages, and SB450, which allows school districts to use excess revenue from existing tax rates to fund “pay as you go” capital improvement projects, such as remodels and needed facility upgrades.

Keith Pickard: 6

Along with Kieckhefer, Seevers Gansert and Hammond, Pickard voted in favor of the new excise tax on the mining industry through AB495, also citing increased education funding as reason for his support.

Pickard was also one of three Republican senators who voted in favor of removing “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana (AB400), and the Henderson-based legislator joined Kieckhefer and Seevers Gansert in voting in favor of raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, in line with federal law (AB59).

Ira Hansen: 5

Hansen was one of two Republican senators (along with Hardy) to record votes as the sole GOP member siding with Democrats on multiple votes.

Hansen was the only Republican who voted in favor of protecting the Spring Valley population of Rocky Mountain junipers, known as “swamp cedars” (AB171). Prior to the vote, Hansen had angered some Native advocates when he rebutted the historical accuracy of testimony shared by tribal leaders and elders.

He also was also the only member of his caucus to support SB349, which would have allowed unpackaged produce to be sold in farmers markets, but the legislation failed to advance in the Assembly.

Carrie Buck: 3

The freshman legislator rarely broke from the majority of the Republican caucus, only doing so to support an extension on school use of excess revenue for facility upgrades (SB450), cage-free eggs (AB399) and a clarification on registration requirements for lobbyists (AB110).

James Settelmeyer: 2

The Senate minority leader broke from the majority of his party less than any other Republican senator, only joining Democrats in support of two measures.

Settelmeyer joined Hardy and Pickard in support of removing “per se” limits on non-felony DUIs involving marijuana (AB400) and voted with Kieckhefer, Pickard and Seevers Gansert in support of a measure revising the issuance of orders for protection against high-risk behavior (SB6).

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

Among Assembly Republicans, Tolles and Roberts were the most likely to cross party lines and vote contrary to the majority of their caucus.

Out of the 104 votes in which a minority of the 16 Republican Assembly members joined Democrats in support, Tolles and Roberts voted together with Democrats 85 times, though only six of those votes featured no other Republicans in support.

Tolles and Roberts were the only two Republicans in the Assembly to vote in favor of the new mining tax (AB495) — giving the bill enough Republican votes to overcome the required two-thirds majority needed for a tax increase. Prior to the vote, both lawmakers spoke with The Nevada Independent about their rationale for the votes, stressing that they had gained concessions in exchange for their support and had an opportunity to improve education funding.

They were additionally the only members of their party to support other education-related measures, including an expansion of the core subjects contained within social studies in K-12 education (AB19) and a Democrat-sponsored bill to create the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct at Institutions of Higher Education (SB347).

Tolles and Roberts supported a wide range of Democrat-backed legislation, including measures focused on the economy, state government and criminal justice. The duo voted in support of a ban on race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327), a Frierson-backed effort to establish the Office of Small Business Advocacy (AB184) and a measure that doubles the fee on marriage licenses from $25 to $50 to better support sexual violence and domestic violence victim services in all counties (SB177).

Tolles has a history of voting more moderately than others in the Assembly Republican Caucus, and she was the only caucus member to join Democrats in support of legislation on multiple occasions. She was the only Assembly Republican to vote in favor of AB47, which gives the attorney general greater powers over mergers within the health care industry, and for AB382, an effort to license student loan servicers (that failed to receive a two-thirds majority). 

Though he was not joined by Tolles, Roberts (who has said he plans to run for Clark County sheriff in 2022) voted with several other Republicans in favor of bills authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341) and a resolution to remove the Board of Regents’ constitutional protection (SJR7).

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

The Henderson-based assemblywoman was the lone member of the Republican caucus who voted in favor of AB85, which authorizes the State Quarantine Officer to declare any weed to be noxious by regulation.

Hardy also backed a wide range of Democrat-backed efforts, including a variety of bills sponsored by Frierson including a bill that eliminates Nevada’s presidential caucus and replaces it with a primary election (AB126).

In dissenting from the majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus, Hardy voted the same as both Tolles and Roberts 46 times, including when all three — along with Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) — joined Democrats in support of AB486, which is meant to ensure more tenants are connected with rental assistance as eviction protections expire.

Glen Leavitt: 55

Though Leavitt sided with Democrats more frequently than most other Assembly Republicans, he rarely did so without support from several other caucus members. There was only one instance in which Leavitt joined Democrats without at least three other Republicans in support of the measure.

In that case, just two other Republicans joined Leavitt and Assembly Democrats in favor of a bill allowing the State Board of Cosmetology to license a new group of people designated as “advanced estheticians” (SB291).

Additionally, Leavitt was among a minority group of seven Republicans who supported a pair of education measures from Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), including SB173, also referred to as the “Back on Track Act,” which calls on districts to create learning loss prevention plans and set up summer school programs, and SB151, which is aimed at improving teacher-to-student ratios.

Heidi Kasama: 52

The freshman assemblywoman from Las Vegas was the only Republican in either house who voted in support of a Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation-backed measure, SB75, that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions. Other Republicans voiced concerns that the bill did not go far enough in addressing issues with the system. 

Along with Hardy, Leavitt and Tolles, Kasama also voted with Democrats to pass AB356, which prohibits water-intensive decorative turf within medians, along roads and in business parks in Clark County.

Kasama and Hardy were also the only Republicans who voted in favor of banning the declawing of cats, though the measure, AB209, failed to advance through the Senate.

From left, Assemblywomen Cecelia González, Heidi Kasama and Melissa Hardy on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Lisa Krasner: 36

Krasner voted with a minority of her Republican colleagues on mostly Democrat-supported measures on three dozen occasions, including joining Tolles and Roberts in support of measures protecting swamp cedars in Spring Valley, AB171 and AJR4.

The Reno-based lawmaker also joined Tolles, Roberts, Hardy, Leavitt and Kasama in supporting SB448, an omnibus energy bill expanding the state’s transmission infrastructure that was passed out of the Assembly on the final day of the session.

Gregory Hafen: 30

The second-term legislator representing portions of Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties was one of only three Assembly Republicans who voted in favor of massively increasing fines for violating certain regulations from the Public Utilities Commission (SB18).

Hafen was also part of a limited group of Republicans who supported a change to the Live Entertainment Tax to exclude events held on behalf of a governmental entity (SB367) and a ban on race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327).

Alexis Hansen: 18

When Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen broke from her party majority and sided with Democrats, the Sparks-based lawmaker supported a wide range of measures, covering topics from health care to criminal justice to state government. Although she rarely joined fewer than four other party members in her dissent from the caucus, she was one of only two Republicans in the Assembly who voted to pass SB77, which exempts certain environmental impact reviews and discussions from the state’s open meeting law.

Robin Titus: 5

The minority floor leader rarely voted against the majority of her caucus, but Titus did join Democrats and several of her Republican colleagues in support of five bills, including a bill requiring state Medicaid plan coverage for doula services (AB256) and an appropriation of $5.4 million for upgrades to the Gaming Control Board’s IT systems (SB413).

Assembly members Robin Titus, Danielle Monroe Moreno and Steve Yeager return to the Assembly chamber after letting the Senate know they have adjourned sine die on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Annie Black: 3

Though she was absent or not voting for more than 100 votes after being censured by other members of the Assembly for violating COVID-19 protocols, Black was one of the least likely to side with Democrats on a bill. She was, however, one of four Republicans in the Assembly who voted in favor of authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341).

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

At the beginning of the session, six Republican Assembly members announced the formation of the Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus, a coalition of state legislators dedicated to the values of constitutional conservatism. Those six lawmakers — Jill Dickman, John Ellison, Andy Matthews, Richard McArthur, P.K. O’Neill and Jim Wheeler — rarely sided with Democrats.

P.K. O’Neill: 19

One member of the Freedom Caucus sided with Democrats significantly more often than any other, as O’Neill was one of just four Assembly Republicans who supported a measure requiring employers to allow people to use sick leave to care for ill family members (AB190).

The Carson City-based assemblyman also backed several Democrat-sponsored bills, including SB166, which clarifies that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime, and SB177, which doubles the fee on marriage licenses from $25 to $50 to better support sexual violence and domestic violence victim services in all the counties.

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

Almost every member of the Freedom Caucus was among the list of Republicans least likely to side with Democrats, though some threw support behind a few high-profile measures.

Dickman and Matthews were among four Assembly Republicans who voted in favor of authorizing the licensing of cannabis consumption lounges (AB341). McArthur supported a bill aimed at increasing the availability of peer support counseling for emergency response employees (AB96). Wheeler voted to pass a measure that increases fees on special Vegas Golden Knights license plates to help give more funds to charities (AB123).

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

While votes throughout the legislative session were dominated by unanimous vote counts and instances of mixed support and opposition from Republicans, nearly 5 percent of all votes included just one lawmaker in opposition.

In the Senate, Hansen stood above the pack, providing the only “nay” vote 15 times out of 26 such votes in that chamber. Hansen was the lone opponent in the Senate against measures authorizing curbside pickup at dispensaries (SB168), banning race-based discrimination against certain hairstyles (SB327), decriminalizing traffic tickets (AB116) and requiring employees within the juvenile justice system to complete implicit bias training (SB108).

State Senator Ira Hansen inside the Legislature on Friday, May 14, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The other Senate Republicans who provided the only vote against a bill were Buck, who did so six times, Pickard, who did so twice, and Kieckhefer, who did so once. Buck was the only member of the caucus to not support a bill authorizing the sealing of someone’s criminal record after an unconditional pardon (AB219), and Pickard was the only Senate Republican to vote against an appropriation of $25 million for the UNLV Medical School (SB434). 

In the Assembly, there were 26 votes that included a single “nay” vote. Ellison led the Republican caucus with 10, including votes against bills requiring the Board of Regents to waive tuition and fees for Native students attending Nevada public colleges and universities (AB262), prohibiting law enforcement agencies from having arrest or ticket quotas (AB186) and expanding the continuing education courses that law enforcement officers are required to take to include crisis intervention (AB304).

Other Assembly Republicans who stood alone in their opposition included Black, who provided the only “nay” vote on a bill five times, and McArthur, who did so twice. Hafen and Kasama were each the lone Assembly opponent to a bill once.

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

While disagreement among Republicans was far more common in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, a few Democrats in both houses were more likely to depart from the caucus consensus than their colleagues from the same party.

Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) was more likely to vote differently from the rest of the Senate Democrats than any other member of her party. Neal was the lone opposition vote to AB435, which expands a Commerce Tax exemption to include trade shows, and SB150, which requires local governments to authorize tiny houses in certain zoning districts. She previously expressed concerns that tiny homes might depreciate housing values or exacerbate zoning disparities.

Neal also dissented from the Senate Democratic Caucus to vote with her Republican colleagues at least three times, including voting against a bill that would have granted casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises (SB452).

Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) speaks with Assembly members Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) and Rochelle Nguyen on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sens. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) and Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) each disagreed with their fellow caucus members at least once. Spearman was the only Democrat who voted against a bill raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 (AB59), and Denis was the lone member of his party to not support an effort to license midwives (AB387). With Denis voting no, the bill fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

In the Assembly, Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) was among the Democrats most likely to dissent from the majority position of the caucus. Miller was the lone opponent to a bill during two votes, including voting against SB172, which requires school districts and charter schools to develop programs for dual credits. Miller also joined a majority of Assembly Republicans in opposing a bill that prohibits homeowner associations from circumventing local ordinances when determining when construction can start in residential areas (AB249).

Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) was the only Assembly member to oppose AB258, which clarifies existing law by requiring the trustees of the Clark County Library District to appoint an executive director, and AB477, which abolishes the DMV’s Revolving Account for the Assistance of the Department. She also joined the majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus in voting against SB190, which allows women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit.

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) additionally dissented from her caucus on more than one occasion, as she provided the lone “nay” vote to AB435, which expands a Commerce Tax exemption to include trade shows. She was also joined by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) in voting with a majority of Assembly Republicans against SB287, which formally recognizes UNLV and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) as land-grant institutions alongside UNR.

Behind the Bar: How the mining tax compromise deal came to be

Since The Nevada Independent sprung into existence in 2017, we’ve covered three legislative sessions and fights over major tax policies pushed to the very end of the 120 days.

In 2017, a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana was defeated after negotiations broke down over a bill funding Education Savings Accounts, but was eventually resurrected in a compromise that saw another “school choice” program funded in exchange for votes from Republicans.

In 2019, Democrats pushed through a bill making permanent an expiring state payroll tax rate, relying in part on a legal opinion that the maneuver did not require a two-thirds majority vote (a move eventually struck down by the state Supreme Court.)

Even in the 2020 special session, a bill reducing mining tax deductions died, then appeared to gain a crucial Republican vote, then died again within 48 hours.

But even with diminished Democratic majorities, the mining tax bill of the 2021 session (AB495) appeared to glide to passage — introduced on Saturday eveningheard Sunday, and then passed out both legislative chambers on Monday with the needed two-thirds majority, even getting four of nine Republican senators in favor.

But the quick passage and (relatively brief) floor speeches are only the tip of the iceberg and don’t explain why a tax deal in 2021 worked out when many of the same players and issues were involved in past sessions. 

The final deal was sealed up in a Sunday morning meeting in the state Capitol — all four legislative leaders, budget committee chairs and top Republicans on those committees (Sen. Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles) met with Gov. Steve Sisolak and his staff, agreeing to the rough contours of the “deal” to pass the mining tax with enough Republican votes in tow. Negotiations on both the structure of the mining tax itself and the concessions made to Republicans were handled by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the face of the deal in public and the prime legislative negotiator of the deal in private.

The deal wasn’t fully baked — negotiations and last minute requests continued until the final hours of session, including a hold up on voting out the capital improvements budget bill until the final 15 minutes of the session, just to ensure that all parts of the bargain were fulfilled.

Participants involved say that a tax compromise worked in 2021 (as opposed to all the previous examples) both because of political pressure — potential tax initiatives on sales and gaming revenue from the Clark County Education Association, as well as three legislatively driven mining tax question. All three of those could have not only major political ramifications, but serious ramifications for industry — many feared a mining tax, which would likely gin up rural turnout and hurt Democrats statewide, would still likely pass given how close a similar 2014 initiative came to passing.

But beyond the ballot questions, personalities and quirks of term limits also played a role. Three of the six Republican votes for the deal are either termed out, or planning to run for a nonpartisan race. 

The deal: Several portions of the “deal” closing the session and getting votes for the mining tax bill were readily apparent as of sine die.

Lawmakers moved to strip the straight-ticket voting language from Sen. Roberta Lange’s SB292, and other Republican asks were included right in the text of AB495. These include:

  • $15 million in federal COVID relief funds to help with learning loss at charter schools.
  • $4.745 million in tax credits in the coming fiscal year for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides private school tuition grants to eligible low-income children. The bill also loosens the rules and allows new students to apply for the program.
  • $600,000 per year to the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant Program, restoring funding to levels approved in the last biennium.
  • Authorizing Medicaid reimbursement for personal care services, legislation long sought by Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Gardnerville).

Other sweeteners were added in a last-minute amendment to SB461, the “waterfall” funding bill directing allocations of the state’s expected $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars. The $15 million in appropriations include:

  • $6 million to the Collaboration Center Foundation to augment services and programs assisting people with disabilities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas), a yes vote on the mining tax bill, is an advisory board member at the foundation. 
  • $5 million to the Nevada ABLE Savings Program to be distributed as grants to persons with disabilities affected negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • $4 million to UNR to establish a statewide “Dean’s Future Scholars Program” aimed at assisting prospective first-generation college students in the sixth grade or higher. Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) previously worked as an executive at UNR, and sponsored a bill this session (SB118) establishing a similar statewide program for first-generation college students.

Obviously, Republicans asked for more during the negotiations, but any concessions had to be weighed against whether their inclusion would peel off any votes from progressive Democrats and satisfy the Clark County Education Association (see the last-minute inclusion of a study on school board makeup and potentially appointing trustees). 

One of the bigger sticking points was a permanent funding source for Opportunity Scholarships. One of the biggest concerns is that families receiving the scholarships will run into the same issue in the 2023 legislative session and again have to advocate for funding amid strong pushback from public education advocates.

A Republican governor in 2023 would likely push for expansion of the program, but Sisolak was cagey when asked during a post-session press conference on Tuesday about whether he would include funding for the program in his recommended budget for the next biennium.

“This was an agreement that was made. I'm going to follow through with my side of the agreement, all the terms that were made,” he said.

Republicans also pushed for further election changes (removal of ballot collection or “ballot harvesting” from the expanded mail voting bill), and a partisan balance on an interim redistricting commission — both rejected by Democratic leaders. 

Other requests, less partisan and more focused on education, were easier to swallow, including money so charter schools were held harmless against financial losses in the switch to a new funding formula (SB463) and inclusion of the $15 million in federal dollars for learning loss programs at charter schools. Other Republican requests were deemed noncontroversial — including measures related to prescription HIV treatment drugs and enrolling recently released inmates in Medicaid (a Settelmeyer bill on both those topics failed to make it out of the Assembly, but the concepts were passed out in other legislation).

The politics: The six Republicans who voted for the mining tax deal had different rationales for voting for the compromise.

Kieckhefer is termed out after this session, and Hammond is termed out after the 2023 session. Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) is planning to run for Clark County sheriff in 2022, a nonpartisan race.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), who in a floor speech complained about special interests pushing the decision, all but committed in an April interview with the Associated Press that he would support a mining tax proposal if it came up in the session. The Henderson Republican said he was undecided on his vote walking into the floor session.

Tolles and Gansert — who represent Northern Nevada — have both staked out reputations as more moderate and willing to discuss enhanced education funding in the right circumstances.

In interviews with The Nevada Independent, Tolles and Roberts both said that having the mining industry in support of the measure was a necessary factor, as well as having the money specifically earmarked for education.  

“I'm not going to be in politics forever, but I'm always going to be a human being and a wife and a mom and a professional and a member of my community,” Tolles said. “And so every decision that I have to make can't be about whatever is going to happen in the future, it has to be about whether or not I feel good about what's right in front of me and how I feel about it when I'm looking back at my life.”

Updated at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, June 3, 2021 to include more details about the end of session negotiations.