Indy Q&A: Speaker Jason Frierson on the new mining tax, death penalty repeal and school funding

With the dust of the 2021 legislative session finally settled, few individuals played more of a prominent role in the outcomes of the session than Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas).

Frierson, who underwent treatment for prostate cancer in March, played a crucial role in negotiating the final mining tax package that won support from a broad swath of interest groups — not only the mining industry, but also progressive groups, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), broader businesses interests and enough Republicans to clear the required two-thirds constitutional hurdle for a new tax increase.

The final negotiated package ensured that proposed mining tax constitutional changes and a pair of CCEA-backed tax initiatives will be withdrawn from the 2022 ballot — a win for both a mining industry that feared a large tax increase and Democratic lawmakers who were hesitant to appear on a potentially unfriendly midterm ballot with multiple tax increases.

In the middle of all of it was Frierson, who sponsored the mining tax bill. He gave more details on how the final “deal” came together in an interview with The Nevada Independent on Monday.

The Assembly leader also gave a rundown of enhanced K-12 education funding and what lawmakers want the Commission on School Funding to do in the interim, and all but declared another sales tax hike to help fund education off the table.

Frierson also gave more details on the demise of efforts to repeal the death penalty this session and why the Assembly advanced the measure. He also discussed when and if a special session on federal COVID relief funding may be called, and what his future in public office may hold — including potentially the position of Clark County district attorney.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

How did “the deal” come together, from your perspective?

The mining deal reflected a tremendous amount of collaboration ... I think it was great that the industry came forward and represented being a willing payer, and a participant and wanting to do their fair share. And, of course, when the economy turned down and the value of gold went up, we recognized that we needed to take further steps to diversify our economy. 

I think that COVID certainly helped develop momentum to one resolution to invest in public education. There was obviously, out of our control, CCEA’s effort with a couple of ballot initiatives that I think brought more folks to the table. And then of course, last special session, both the Senate and Assembly resolutions that proposed to approach generating greater revenue from mining also provided motivation for folks to come to the table.

Those resolutions were designed to … put a measure before the people, because I think our legislative institution was tired of not making progress in that regard. And so it was up to them to come together and offer something that was an alternative. And they did just that.

How did you guys get to a place where even folks on the left were OK with this?

I met with progressives weekly, all session, but also met with the business community all session, I met with labor all session, I met with various stakeholder groups all session to hear from them. 

And I think across the board, while everyone had what they thought would be an ideal amount or a minimum, everyone also agreed that we needed to have meaningful movement towards increased revenue from mining for education. 

While we would have liked 200, 250 million, maybe even 300 million, these are all projections that aren't certain anyway. At the end of the day, when I'm at the door with voters, and I'm talking about having meaningful increases in contributions for public education, they're not going to split hairs over whether it's 170 million or 175 million. They wanted to see a meaningful contribution, and I think what we were able to accomplish did just that. 

It seems the structure was set, and then came negotiations about what concessions would be made. Can you tell us how that developed?

The first step was, what will it take to get the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate across that finish line? If we don't have them, then it would be a lost cause. 

And then after that, we can start to talk about how we could get two or three Republicans across the finish line to support the cause and what it would take to get them there. 

Why did it happen so late?

I certainly would have preferred that it happened sooner. But again, legislation is the art of compromise. And so I don't know that we had Republican colleagues ready to give up a two-thirds vote. 

The Commission on School Funding calls for researching new revenue ideas. They came out with a report in April pointing to sales and property tax. What more do you want them to do?

What I don't think that they had the benefit of is knowledge that we were going to make a record investment in public education, that we were going to fast forward what was, by some studies, projecting periodic increases over a 10-year period. We made a record investment right off the bat, and I think that changed a lot of the approaches that were laid out. 

So we would like for them to continue to look at not only how much money we need, but other sources and other ways to get to that point. 

You have been public against raising the sales tax because of its regressive nature, but the other recommendation was the property tax. Are you calling on people to be studying that over this interim?

I'm calling on [the commission] to look at all options, and look at all options that do it not on the back of hardworking families.

Last interim was a difficult interim with COVID and our inability to meet in person, folks concerned about getting ill. We look forward to this upcoming interim; I think there's going to be a much more productive and traditional interim session where we can have those conversations, bounce ideas off of each other.

Is it safe to say that as long as your leader I mean, the sales tax is off the table?

I believe that increasing a sales tax in a state that already has a high sales tax is a regressive approach, and does the opposite of what we're talking about doing. 

I think that we're going to consider all options that make sense, so long as it doesn't do it on the backs of the folks that can sustain it the least.

You just finished this exercise of pulling all stakeholders together to get more education money, but the commission is calling for about $200 million more every year beyond where we're at. Is that daunting to you?

Well, first, I think that the $200 million per cycle mark was, again, before we made the unexpected $500 million investment in education, plus provide not only $170 million in new revenue, but $140 million of existing revenue dedicated expressly for education.

I think that we need to continue to work towards making increases in our support for public education. I think that it pays dividends in our workforce, and in the quality of our education. I think that increases the chances of more industries coming to Nevada when we improve investments in our public education system.

You put in a bill draft request before the session for a constitutional amendment that would have gotten rid of the two-thirds requirement if a tax went directly to K-12 education. Why did that concept not advance?

I think that legislation is the art of compromise. That was a reflection of the frustration that I've seen over the past decade or more of an unwillingness by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to increase funding for public education. 

But we provided an alternative ... and I have never lost hope in finding bipartisan solutions. I have said, since I became Speaker, that I will always extend an olive branch across the aisle to try to get us where we need to go. And we were able to do that without putting another measure on the ballot.

Some of the groups that are very closely watching the funding formula are looking at how the base per pupil funding compares to what it was in legislatively approved 2019 levels. Do you feel confident that it's higher or lower than what it was in 2019? And how relevant do you think that question even is?

I think it's relevant. And I think whether or not the numbers, historically, that have reflected Nevada's investment in per pupil spending have been accurate, we have money outside of the base that was not taken into account. And so I believe that what we have right now is a more efficient and effective way of providing per pupil spending than the way that we've done it. 

So we've gotten rid of our old funding formula, we have changed our formula so that the money follows the student, and I believe we've done it in a way that makes it more challenging and more difficult to supplant versus supplement education funding. So I believe it is a smarter way to fund public education moving forward. 

We’re not done, this is just the beginning. For folks that think that we moved backwards, I just disagree. I think we moved forward in the structure of how we fund education, and provided alternatives that allow us to put additional dollars on top of that base funding.

What protections are there against the supplanting of the net proceeds of minerals tax, now that it is earmarked for education?

I think that the protections are a simpler and more transparent, straightforward way of funding public education, and a will of an electorate to do that. We have come together, and I think we recognize now that we cannot move backwards.

I think ... that's going to be the expectation of legislators moving forward is that we continue to make progress and that we don't move backwards. So it's accountability and transparency. But I think that we have collectively the will, in a bipartisan way, to continue to value public education.

Sitting here with the benefit of hindsight, is there is there anything that you would have done differently in terms of the death penalty repeal bill?

At the end of the day, my caucus believed that it was a priority. And as you saw, my entire caucus supported the cause. This isn't new, we've been talking about this for some time. And it's not because of the nature of our day jobs. I've been a public defender, I have been a deputy district attorney, and efforts previously have failed, regardless of which side of that issue in my day job we're on. 

But moving forward, we thought this year, with the COVID economic downturn and the challenges with our budget, that this was an appropriate time to reconsider whether or not that's a wise use of our public dollars. 

I think that what it showed is that we're not monolithic, we all have different concerns. And I think on that particular issue, there was a desire to have a much more thorough, broad conversation in a regular interim, where we didn't have limitations that we have this last interim, and I respect that outcome. 

But my job as leader of my caucus is to empower the members of my own team. And in this case, we felt like it was the right time and the right opportunity to have that conversation. But ultimately, it didn't result in a bill on the governor's desk. 

And so I'm confident we'll continue to work together this upcoming interim ... to talk about whether or not there are other compromises or alternatives that we were not able to talk about this session. 

Did you know that the governor would have the position that he did — that he would oppose the full repeal of the death penalty — before the death penalty repeal bill came up for a full vote in the Assembly?

I didn't. And I think that we had not decided whether or not it was going to be a full repeal, or a scale back on the circumstances under which somebody could seek the death penalty. I think it was an adjusting matter that we had discussions about and tested with our colleagues both internally within the Assembly, as well as conversations with the Senate. 

So we didn't know for sure, but we weren't sure what version would ultimately be moved. And I don't think that we foreclosed the ability to have conversations about different versions up until the last day of session. But again, it wasn't able to get across the finish line. That's the process, we dust off, and we get back to work.

Even the governor said the issue for him is that he hadn't had enough conversations about it. Do you think that's going to resolve the concerns?

I don't think it's a simple issue at all. I think that there are victims, groups that have strong feelings about it … there are families that have been impacted in the criminal justice system. I think that there are advocates on both sides of the issue. It’s a complicated and emotional issue, and I think it's worth having extensive conversations about.

The Assembly believed that we had considered it and we had considered it in the past and not moved forward. And I think if there's an interest in having greater conversation about it. It is not a simple issue by any means. 

Do you know of any specific conversations that are planned, or people reaching out trying to set things up at this point?

I don’t. We're less than a month out of session. 

We have lots to be proud of that we're focusing on. We'll again test our messaging and talk to our constituents after the session to find out what they're interested in continuing to consider as a policy matter moving forward.

Do you share the opinion of some criminal justice advocates that district attorney offices are overzealous in pursuing the death penalty?

We have not carried out the death penalty in some time. I know that there's litigation going on right now, I won't comment on that. But I think that we have to culturally, as a state, look at our criminal justice system, and the best way to use our public dollars in a way that advocates for criminal justice that protects victims, that protects the community, but it's also responding to a desire to be more responsible with our public dollars. 

Look, I've been in the DA’s office, I've been in the public defender's office, I think that there are valid concerns across the board. And that's what this conversation is about. It's about balance and having collective discussions about it. 

Do you have an interest in eventually running for Clark County District Attorney or another position outside of the Legislature?

My job's not done here. I'm proud of the work that we've done, and I'm looking forward to the impact that's going to have on Nevadans. I'm proud that we've done it in a bipartisan way. 

So I haven't made a decision about what's next for me, that's a conversation that  when we all recover, and figure out what the path forward looks like, we'll have a conversation with our families about what's next for us.

Do you have any interest at all in the Clark County DA's office?

There are a lot of different ways that I feel like I could contribute and help the community. I think that's certainly a possibility. That's something I have considered and discussed with close friends and colleagues. 

But I've also been able to do tremendous things in the Legislature. I have an obligation to continue to do that, to continue to bring up new leaders and train them and get ready. I’ll have to decide what the best way moving forward is to serve the community, and when myself and my family have figured that out, we'll take that next step.

Do you have any more clarity now that we're two weeks out for the session on whether the distribution of federal COVID aid needs to be addressed in a special session?

Well, we advanced legislation that prioritized where we want to spend those dollars. We worked with both the Senate and the governor to set a framework of how we want to spend those dollars. 

But the guidelines were lengthy, and so we're going to have to continue to look at and analyze those guidelines and figure out whether or not the framework that we've provided thus far is enough. I do believe that the guidelines call for public input, so to the extent that we can have that type of dynamic, without having a special session, it would be great. I'm not entirely sure we'll be able to do that. 

So you haven't asked the governor or expressed that we're going to need a session this summer?

No, we've talked about it since the guidelines came out, we've talked about how we'd like to see those dollars used and, and what the process would look like. 

To the extent that we're able to distribute federal dollars with the structure that we already put forth, we’ll do so. To the extent that we ultimately decide there are other things that we need... that we were unable to include in the structure, in that 120 days, we'll have a conversation with the governor and with the Senate about the best way to be able to do that.

Do you have a sense of when this special session to do the redistricting process is going to happen?

I don’t. I think that the census data finalization is what we need. It was originally September, I believe it's gotten moved up slightly to possibly in August, and then we'll have to work within that structure to have public input and do the normal things that we do every 10 years to get public participation in order to be responsible with drawing maps. But we're not there yet.

Is there any desire to potentially merge those two into one special session to both deal with ARP money and redistricting?

No … we haven't had that conversation. But I think redistricting is a huge undertaking that deserves a separate conversation without unduly politicizing it.

We don't even know we'll have to have a special session for the purposes of redistributing federal dollars. 

What are the next steps for you and for Democrats in the state to try to end up to be the first state in the presidential nominating process?

We'll continue to work with the DNC and the RNC to make sure that we're complying with the rules. Again, we can only meet for 120 days every other (year). But this was never for Nevada. This was because we believe Nevada is a more accurate reflection of where the country is going, and we believe that Nevada is a more fertile ground for candidates to make their case.

And so they can continue to go to states that don't reflect the direction the country's going in, or they can come to a state of manageable size that allows them to test their messages.

Now the state GOP has moved in a different direction, but this was certainly a bipartisan led conversation prior to session starting. So we're going to continue to advocate for and work with both the DNC and RNC. And we will land where we land.

If the RNC and if the state party aren't on board with moving Nevada off the calendar, does that kneecap this whole effort?

I'm confident Nevada is the best state for serving candidates and testing messages. So we're not going to violate our DNC rules. We're not going to put our Republican colleagues in a position of violating RNC rules.

We believe we have a strong case to make. And if the DNC and the RNC agree with us, then Nevada will be first. And if they don't, we will have to live with the confines of our statute, and our statute is currently consistent with our guidelines for the DNC and RNC. 

What can you say about why a ‘Death with Dignity’ bill allowing for physician aid-in-dying didn't move forward? 

At the end of the day, I don't believe that it had the support to move forward. As we do every session, [we] started to pivot our focus on the things that we knew have at least a chance of moving forward, and I think that's reflected in the demise of that bill and many other bills.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment, and the biggest disappointment of the 2021 session for you?

I'll say the biggest accomplishment for me, despite having challenges with COVID and access to the building, was advancing record increases in support for public education. I think that that is by far the best thing that we could do, the thing is going to have the longest impact in our state for our families. So I'm most proud of that. 

We don't advance bills without the intention of trying to get some progress on those policies. And so all of those are a disappointment. But focusing on the positive, I'm proud of what we were able to actually accomplish. And for everything else, as we do every session, we dust off, to get back to work, and find out what we can advance and what common ground we can find moving forward. 

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.

Nevada Indian Country celebrates wins at the Legislature, including greater access to higher education for students

Tribal leaders and advocates are eyeing their communities’ futures with more hope after priority bills for Native leaders made it across the legislative finish line last week. 

“I say unequivocally there’s never been a better time to be Indigenous and live in the state of Nevada,” said Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, during an event last week at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, where Gov. Steve Sisolak signed three bills affecting Nevada tribes  — AB262, AB88 and AB270 — into law. 

Stacey Montooth, Executive Director of the State of Nevada Indian Commission speaks during a bill signing ceremony with the Governor at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The legislation prioritized by Native leaders that cleared the lawmaking session include measures that waive fees at Nevada colleges and universities for Native students; prohibit racially discriminatory language or imagery in schools; and provide environmental protection for sacred sites, among others. 

Marla McDade Williams, an enrolled member of the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone and lobbyist for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said legislation crafted with input from Native community members has been steadily increasing over the last few years in the Legislature, a trend that continued this spring.

“As long as people just continue to keep issues at the forefront, there's always going to be a legislator who is willing to bring those issues forward and see how we can craft a solution that is beneficial for the Native American community and tribes,” she said. 

Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said the inclusive legislation fosters unity amid an era of reckoning with historical injustices. 

“This is, I think, a groundbreaking legislative session for advancing the rights and issues of Indigenous people and fostering inclusion among all of us, because while we come from many different communities, we're also all one community and all Nevadans,” he said during the bill-signing event. 

Governor Steve Sisolak during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City after signing bills AB88, 262 and 270 on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Here’s a look at the bills that passed during the session, all of which have also been signed into law by Sisolak, that affect Nevada tribes:

AB262: Fee waiver for Native students 

One of the top priorities this session for Native leaders and advocates, AB262 waives registration, laboratory and other mandatory fees at Nevada System of Higher Education institutions for Native people who are members of federally recognized tribes in Nevada or descendants of enrolled tribal members. With in-state tuition, waiving fees at universities and colleges significantly reduces the financial burden to attend school for students.

The law goes into effect on July 1. 

At the signing event, Montooth said the measure “exponentially broadens” the futures of 70,000 Native Americans in the state. 

“I use that large number, not to scare NSHE (Nevada System of Higher Education), but because in Indian Country, when one of us earns a degree, our entire family earns a degree,” she said. 

Tribal leaders, such as Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlan Melendez, who advocated for the bill during the session said the increased access to education will help lift tribes and their community members out of disproportionate poverty rates. 

Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Reno), who sponsored the bill, told The Nevada Independent that her hope is that it will ultimately benefit those who live on tribal lands. 

“The goal is really for students to be able to attend school and then come back hopefully to the community so that way we can get Native American doctors on the Native lands, we can get an attorney on Native American land — those things make a difference,” she said. 

Assemblywoman Natha Anderson attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Cheryl Simmons, an enrolled member of the Washoe Tribe, said she’s excited for the measure to be implemented in time for her classes to start in the fall. As a single mother of two children who is also helping raise her grandchild, she said the fees pose a barrier to people such as herself who want to work toward an associates or bachelor’s degree. 

“I’d like to see that change in our school system because it’s penalizing [students] to learn more,” she said, adding that she’s working toward her fifth associates degree in criminal justice at Western Nevada College. She has other degrees in general studies, art and business management. 

Besides being an enrolled Nevada tribal member or descendant of one, students also must be eligible for enrollment in a university or college, be a Nevada resident for a year or more, maintain a 2.0 grade point average and fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to be eligible for the fee waiver. 

The bill also requires the Board of Regents to submit a report to the Legislative Counsel Bureau regarding the number of students eligible and the total funding available for the waived fees by Sept. 1, 2022, in order to provide accurate data for future legislative bodies.

The original version of the bill included providing in-state tuition at colleges and universities for members of tribes outside of Nevada, which was amended out of the final version. 

In a fiscal note, the Nevada System of Higher Education stated it could not determine the financial impact of the bill as it depends on how many students will take the opportunity to use it. 

The Assembly approved the bill nearly unanimously, with Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko) as the lone lawmaker who voted against it, and the Senate unanimously approved it on the final day of the session. 

AB88: Bans offensive, racially discriminatory imagery in Nevada schools 

Sponsored by Watts, the measure bans offensive or racially discriminatory language and imagery, names, logos or mascots in Nevada schools. 

The legislation came about during a time of reckoning across the country, with Native people calling for sports teams, businesses and schools to remove offensive names. Earlier this year, UNLV retired its Hey Reb! mascot after taking its statue down last June in response to a history tied to confederate symbolism and, last year, the Squaw Valley Ski Resort announced it would drop “squaw” from its name after years of protest from the Washoe Tribe. On the national stage, the Washington professional football team announced a name change in January, dropping the “Redskins” title after 90 years. 

Assemblyman Howard Watts attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Watts said the goal of the measure is to continue promoting awareness about the injustices of the past in order to move forward. 

“That's really what Assembly Bill 88 tries to do is help educate people about some of the racially discriminatory aspects of our history, from our school mascots, to the names that we've given to places, places that were named first by Indigenous peoples, and then renamed when settlers arrived, and also addressing the issue of sundowner sirens,” he said during the bill-signing event. “I believe that by confronting these issues, and working together to address them, we can all move forward together and have a brighter future for the state.”

Nevada schools may still use language, imagery or mascots in connection with tribes as long as they have consent from local tribal leaders to do so. For example, the Elko band of the Te-Moak Tribe allowed the Elko High School Indians mascot to remain the same. 

Signs and flags of the Elko Indians at the Elko High School in Elko, Nevada. (Famartin / Creative Commons)

The bill also prohibits Nevada counties, cities and unincorporated towns from sounding sirens, bells or alarms historically used to alert people of color to leave town at a certain hour, known as a “sundown ordinance.” The bill specifically applies to Minden in Douglas County, which repealed the sundown ordinance in 1974 but continues to sound the siren at 6 p.m. each day. Tribal leaders have asked for years that the siren be removed, or at least changed to a different hour of the day.

Serrell Smokey, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, said the measure gives the tribe a better “foothold” in its fight against the siren, which is triggering for some tribal elders who lived through the era of sundown ordinances. 

“We’ve seen this even in some elders nowadays, if you ask them about the siren, they'll say, ‘Don't mess with that, don't talk about it,’” Smokey said. “That's historical trauma. They're still scared about it and they don't want to address it. Us younger generations have more fight in us and we know we need to capitalize on taking action with social injustices that have been going on throughout the world.” 

The bill also asks that the State Board on Geographic Names recommend name changes for geographic features of places in the state that have racially discriminatory language or imagery. The board includes two Native representatives. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill 36-6 and 12-8, respectively, with some Republican lawmakers voting against it. Sisolak signed the bill into law during the event on June 4. 

AB270: Stewart Indian School preservation

Sponsored by Assemblyman Philip O’Neill (R-Carson City), the measure allows the museum director of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum 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. 

The Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The bill also earmarks any funds made through the special events to be paid into the State Treasury for credit to the Nevada Indian Commission Gift Fund. Those funds must be used by the commission to maintain and preserve operations and cultural integrity of the Stewart Indian School. 

During the bill-signing event in Carson City, O’Neill said the measure will help ensure the museum can continue to educate the public on the harsh history of the boarding school. The measure also includes preservation efforts for the State Prison. 

“[The Stewart Indian School and the State Prison] are long standing in our Nevada history, both good and bad. And we need to teach that, have that available, so our future generations do not repeat. And that's the strongest part of all of our bills today is that we prepare our future generations to be better than we are,” he said. 

Assemblyman P.K. O'Neill attends a bill signing with Governor Steve Sisolak for AB88, 262 and 270 during a ceremony at the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The Stewart Indian School was one of hundreds of federal boarding schools in the United States that housed Native children, often kidnapped from their families and forced to attend, in order to assimilate them into white culture. Their traditional long hair was cut short and their languages and spiritual practices were forbidden. It reopened last year, after receiving funding from the state, as a museum to share the story of what happened there, as told by school alumni, some of whom are still living in the state. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously, and Sisolak signed it into law during the event on June 4. 

AB261: Expand historical contributions of diverse groups in education 

Sponsored by Anderson, the measure requires that education curriculum used throughout the state promote greater inclusion and accurately reflect societal contributions made by various demographic groups.  

The bill requires the board of trustees of each school district and the governing body of charter schools ensure educational material includes contributions to science, arts and the humanities made by Native Americans and tribes, people of marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity, people with disabilities, people from African American, Basque, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds and more. 

The bill addresses frustrations expressed by Native leaders and educators that education generally focuses on Native people as historical figures and fails to acknowledge the historical contributions and modern day presence of Native people and tribes in Nevada. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill in 26-16 and 12-9 votes, respectively, with Republican lawmakers voting against it, and Sisolak signed the bill into law in May. 

AB321: Expanded voting measure becomes law 

Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), the bill sets in stone the expanded voting measures implemented last year in response to the pandemic. Native leaders and advocates have widely supported the measure as it includes extended deadlines for tribes to request polling locations and so-called “ballot harvesting,” which allows people to submit ballots for non-family members.

McDade Williams, Te-Moak tribe member and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony lobbyist, said the law improves access to voting for tribes. 

“Being able to recognize that tribal communities are isolated and figuring out ways to help them participate in the state selection process — these are all good things for tribes,” she said. 

A Native voter wears a "voting is sacred" T-shirt at a polling location for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Nevada Native Vote Project.

The next step: Educating Native voters about how to access the ballot in time for the midterm election season next year, she said. 

“Hopefully those initiatives can really bear some fruit over the next 12 months, getting some resources at the tribal level to start training voters on how to access the process and how to understand candidates and what to look for in candidates,” McDade Williams said. 

The bill passed along party lines in the Assembly and Senate, and Sisolak signed it into law on June 2. 

AB103: Protecting Indian burial sites in Nevada 

A follow-up to legislation approved in 2017, the bill clears up ambiguities in the law regarding excavation of Indian burial sites across Nevada. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), the measure clarifies that entities engaged in lawful activity, such as construction, mining and ranching, are exempt from obtaining permits from the State Museum so long as the activity will not affect a known burial site. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law following the end of the session in May. 

During a hearing for the bill in March, Michon Eben, manager for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony cultural resource program, said the current law does not protect Native items or objects found across Nevada and is something Native people would like to change in the future. 

AB171: State protection for “swamp cedars” 

The measure sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee grants state protection to Rocky Mountain juniper trees, known as “swamp cedars,” outside of Ely in Spring Valley. Native elders and tribal leaders widely supported the measure because the site where the swamp cedars are found, known as Bahsahwahbee in Shoshone, is sacred to Indigenous people. 

The Assembly approved the bill 29-13. It later passed the Senate in a 13-8 vote, with Republicans voting against it, except for Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), who crossed the aisle to approve the measure despite raising concerns about historical inaccuracies regarding massacres of Indigenous peoples cited in the bill. Sisolak signed the bill before the session ended in late May. 

AJR4: Federal protection for “swamp cedars”  

Further expanding on AB171, the resolution, also sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, urges Congress and the Biden administration grant protections to  swamp cedars and designate the area as a national historic monument or expand the Great Basin National Park to include Spring Valley.

The Assembly approved the bill 29-13, with Republican lawmakers voting against it, and was later unanimously approved by the Senate. 

AJR3: Naming Avi Kwa Ame a national monument 

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas), the resolution heads to Congress to establish Spirit Mountain, known as Avi Kwa Ame in the native Mojave language, as a national monument. Avi Kwa Ame is a spiritual center for several tribes spanning across Nevada, California and Arizona, including the Fort Mojave Tribe. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill largely along party lines, with Republican lawmakers voting against it. 

Adding Native representatives to state groups: 

AB72: State Board on Geographic Names 

The measure adds another spot for a Native representative from the Nevada Indian Commission on the State Board on Geographic Names. The board already included a spot for a member from the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and includes representatives from the state Bureau of Mines and Geology, UNR, UNLV, the U.S. Forest Service and more. 

The Assembly and Senate unanimously approved the bill and Sisolak signed it into law on May 21. 

AB52: Land Use Planning Advisory Council 

Sponsored by the Assembly Natural Resources committee, the bill adds a voting member appointed by the Nevada Indian Commission to the Land Use Planning Advisory Council. The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law last week.

AB54: Advisory Traffic Safety Committee 

Sponsored by the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee, the bill creates the Advisory Traffic Safety Committee, which will be tasked with reviewing, studying and making recommendations regarding best practices for reducing traffic deaths and injuries. As part of the committee, the bill adds a member representing Nevada tribal governments recommended by the Inter-Tribal Council. 

The Assembly approved the bill 36-4 and the Senate 12-9, with Republican lawmakers voting against it. Sisolak signed the bill into law on May 21. 

AB95: Legislative Public Lands Committee 

Sponsored by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections committee, the bill adds a member representing Nevada tribal governments recommended by the Inter-Tribal Council and appointed by the Legislature to the Legislative Public Lands Committee. 

The Assembly and Senate approved the bill unanimously and Sisolak signed it into law on May 27. 

Sisolak celebrates bills that expand voting access during ceremonial signing

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday held a ceremonial signing of a handful of bills designed to make casting ballots easier in Nevada, marking a deviation from other states where lawmakers have passed more restrictive voting laws.

The bill-signing ceremony at the East Las Vegas Community Center kicked off the last day for the governor to pen his name on bills passed during the 81st Legislature. The five bills, a couple of which he had already signed, are all election-related:

  • AB121 allows people with disabilities to vote using an electronic system created for uniformed military members and other voters living overseas.
  • AB321 permanently expands mail-in voting while letting voters opt out of receiving a mail ballot, and it also gives Indian reservations or colonies more time to request the establishment of a polling place within its boundaries.
  • AB422 implements a top-down voter registration system, moving away from the existing setup that involves 17 county clerks maintaining their own systems and transmitting voter registration information to the secretary of state’s office.
  • AB432 expands automatic voter registration to other state or tribal agencies, such as those designated by the Department of Health and Human Services that receive Medicaid applications and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. 
  • AB126 moves the state to a presidential primary system, ending the use of the caucus.

Sisolak noted that lawmakers in other states have introduced 389 bills that would restrict voting rights, and 20 have been signed into law. He called it an “assault on one of the key tenets of our democracy — the right to vote.”

“But today, in the great state of Nevada, we are so proud that we are sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voter rights — rather, we’re doing everything we can to expand access to the poll while ensuring our elections are secure and fair,” Sisolak added.

The bill-signings come roughly seven months after a contentious election season, during which Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, received an avalanche of threats and harassment after unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud following former President Donald Trump’s loss. Because of the pandemic, Nevada lawmakers expanded mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson celebrate the signing of election-related bills at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Mikayla Whitmore/The Nevada Independent)

Sisolak lauded AB321 for permanently enshrining mail-in voting in the Silver State, which he said gives voters more options. He also commended Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) for being a “tenacious fighter” when it comes to preserving and expanding voting rights.

Frierson emphasized that AB321 doesn’t eliminate any voting options — people can vote by mail, deposit their ballots in drop-off boxes or vote in person.

“These are all options and individual liberties that Nevadans have come to enjoy,” he said.

The governor and state lawmakers also celebrated the state’s conversion to a presidential primary, which could place Nevada ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa to become the first nominating state in the nation. But that’s subject to approval from the Democratic National Committee. AB126, which moves Nevada away from a caucus, establishes that presidential primary elections would occur on the first Tuesday in February of presidential election years.

Sisolak touted Nevada’s diverse population as a reason for why it should lead the primary process, saying it “undoubtedly” represents the composition of the country.

The governor has spent the week in Las Vegas, attending a variety of bill-signing ceremonies to usher new measures into law. The legislative session ended at midnight on Memorial Day.

Sisolak signs permanent expansion of mail-in voting, mining tax compromise, dozens of other bills

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed dozens of bills on Wednesday, including one making widespread distribution of mail-in ballots permanent for elections and another imposing a new tax on the mining industry as part of a bipartisan compromise to raise revenue for schools and prevent more drastic tax proposals from heading to the 2022 ballot.

“At a time when State legislatures across the country are attempting to roll back access to the polls, I am so proud that Nevada continues to push forward with proven strategies that make voting more accessible and secure,” Sisolak said in a statement about the elections bill. “Nevada has always been widely recognized as a leader in election administration and with this legislation, we will continue to build on that legacy.”

The bill signings come two days after the Legislature adjourned on Monday at midnight, sending hundreds of bills to Sisolak’s desk for a signature. The governor has ten days (excluding Sundays) after the Legislature adjourns to either sign bills, issue a veto or allow it to become law without a signature.

Here’s a look at some of the 58 bills the Democratic governor signed on Wednesday.

AB495: Mining tax compromise

Six Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in the waning hours of the session to support AB495, a bill that creates a new excise tax on the gross revenues of gold and silver companies. The new tax is estimated to bring in an extra $150 million to $170 million a biennium, and the bill as a whole will earmark more than $500 million over the biennium to education.

“This investment will benefit every student, educator and family in Nevada and I am so proud of the collaborative effort undertaken by stakeholders to bring this legislation over the finish line,” Sisolak said in a statement. “With this legislation, we are well on our way toward creating a better Nevada for our educators, students and families.”

The mining tax came in the face of pressure from three proposed constitutional amendments unveiled last summer. If lawmakers had advanced those, they would have headed to a statewide vote in 2022 and could have had a more dramatic impact on the mining industry, which has long been a target of progressive advocates who say it is not paying its fair share of taxes.

Instead, lawmakers let the three measures die. Two other proposed ballot initiatives — a sales tax hike and a gaming tax hike supported by the Clark County Education Association — are also supposed to be withdrawn by the union as part of the agreement.

The bill also includes a host of other elements of the deal. It designates existing mining tax revenues to education instead of having them flow to the general fund, and it sets aside $215 million of the state’s allotment of American Rescue Plan funds to support traditional and charter schools in their efforts to help children rebound from learning losses brought on by the pandemic.

It also gives a boost to Opportunity Scholarships, a tax credit-funded program that helps low-income children attend private schools but otherwise was on track to be phased out, opens the door for more funds for Medicaid personal care services, calls for a study on alternatives to the current model of elected school board trustees, and tasks the Commission on School Funding with exploring other routes for raising revenue for schools.

AB321: Permanent expanded mail voting

Nevada is now the sixth state to adopt largely all-mail voting systems after Sisolak signed Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s AB321, permanently codifying pandemic-related election changes adopted for the 2020 election season. The legislation was staunchly opposed by Republicans; the bill passed on party lines out of both the Assembly and Senate.

“I’m proud of the work we did to expand access to the ballot box for all eligible Nevadans. As John Lewis said, voting is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy,” Frierson said in a statement.

The bill requires all county and city clerks to send every active registered voter a mail ballot before a primary or general election. Inactive voters, who are legally registered to vote but don’t have a current address on file with election officials, will not be sent a mail ballot. The bill will allow voters to opt out of being mailed a ballot by providing written notice to their local or county election clerk, and the measure maintains certain minimum requirements for in-person polling places. 

The legislation does change some of the deadlines that were in place for the 2020 election — shortening from seven to four days the timeframe after an election when mail ballots postmarked by Election Day can be accepted. There is a reduction of seven to six days in time for voters to fix issues on their mail ballot (a process called “signature cure”). 

It also shortens the time for election officials to finish counting mail ballots after Election Day from nine days to seven days. It also requires the secretary of state’s office to enter into an agreement with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics to cross check the list of registered voters in the state with a list of deceased individuals.

The bill also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices in signature verification, require more training on signature verification and adopt a handful of other provisions aimed at beefing up election security measures — including daily audits on any electronic checking of signatures.

A last-minute amendment added to the bill will allow the sponsors of initiative petitions to withdraw qualified petitions up to 90 days before an election — a change intended to give legal authority for the Clark County Education Association to withdraw initiatives aimed at raising sales and gaming taxes. Union leaders have said they’ll pull back the proposed ballot questions after lawmakers approved the mining tax compromise bill, AB495.

The bill appropriates about $12.2 million over the two-year budget cycle to the secretary of state’s office for the costs of ballot stock, postage and postcard notifications.

AB400: Marijuana DUIs

This bill removes “per se” limits on the amount of marijuana metabolite that can be in someone’s blood to trigger a DUI. While the limits are removed for situations that would constitute a misdemeanor, they remain when a person is facing a felony charge.

Supporters of the bill say the per se limits are an inaccurate way to detect impairment because of how marijuana works through the body differently than alcohol. 

The measure passed the Assembly 26-16, with all Republicans opposed, but 16-5 in the Senate after it was watered down from its original version.

SB320: Transparency on food delivery fees

Passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly, this measure requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

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

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

SB166: Hate crimes

This measure clarifies that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

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

The measure passed out of the Senate on a party-line vote with Republicans in opposition, and then out of the Assembly in a 33-8 vote.

SB327: Hairstyle discrimination

Nevada joined at least 10 other states, including Washington, California and Colorado, with the passage and signing of SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

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

The bill passed out of the Senate in a 20-1 vote, with the only opposition vote from Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks). In the Assembly, Republicans Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), Lisa Krasner (R-Reno), P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) and Jill Tolles (R-Reno), joined Democrats in support of the legislation, leading to a 33-8 vote.

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

AB195: English Language Learner bill of rights

This measure establishes an English Language Learner (ELL) bill of rights which includes the right to a free and public education (regardless of and without disclosing immigration status), the right to have an interpreter for significant interactions with school districts and information about the student’s progress in the appropriate language. 

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), said during one of the bill’s hearings that the legislation will help families be aware of their rights and more easily receive aid. 

The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote and then unanimously out of the Senate.

SB344: Tiger King bill

This so-called “Tiger King” bill, nicknamed for the Netflix series on a wild animal collector, prevents people who own a wild animal from allowing it to come into contact with the general public, including through allowing people to take a photo while holding the wild animal.

After passing through the Senate in a 12-9 vote along party lines, the measure was significantly watered down from its original version, which banned the owning, breeding, importing and selling of dangerous wild animals. Members of the Assembly voted 35-6 to pass the bill.

SB203: Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

This measure, sponsored by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), allows a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation, who was a minor at the time of the offense, to commence a civil action to recover damages at any time after the violation occurred. The bill does maintain, though, that any action must commence within 20 years after the victim turns 18 years old.

Entities are also liable for damages if they financially benefit from the exploitation, although a hotel or motel with more than 175 rooms is not considered to have benefited from the rental of a room used in the commission of exploitation.

The bill passed 18-3 in the Senate and 32-9 in the Assembly. All those opposed were Republicans.

June 2, 2021 Bill Signings by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Gun free zones in casinos, increasing justice court fees and licensing midwives among many casualties of legislative session

Lawmakers ended the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday night passing dozens of high-profile measures but many others, including an effort to license midwives and a bill allowing casinos to prohibit firearms, failed to advance.

Out of roughly 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced during the 120-day legislative session, more than 400 measures failed to pass through the Senate and Assembly and make it to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk. Many bills were left for dead at deadlines for committee or house passage, but some — including an effort to increase justice court filing fees — were in limbo until minutes before the clock struck midnight on Monday.

Other major bills that failed to advance included a measure aimed at transitioning Nevada residents away from natural gas use, several affordable housing bills and a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that died at the end of the session:

SB452: Prohibiting guns on casino properties

In the waning weeks of the session, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) revived discarded portions of the session’s other major gun bill in the form of MGM Resorts-backed AB452, which aimed to grant casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises.

When Cannizzaro presented the bill, which would have required non-restricted gaming license holders (defined as more than 15 slot machines on property) to opt in to the provisions and would have prohibited individuals from bringing firearms onto casino property with certain exemptions, she described the measure as a way for lawmakers to further protect workers on the Las Vegas Strip.

Supporters said that the bill would largely mirror prohibitions on firearm possession at schools and libraries, but opponents — a broad coalition of Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform organizations — argued it would create uncertainty for gun owners and have a disparate racial impact.

The measure narrowly passed through the Senate in a 11-10 vote on Wednesday, but failed to receive a vote in the Assembly before sine die. During the joint committee hearing on the bill, many Assembly Democrats questioned its merits and expressed concerns about how the measure would affect minority communities.

“We are going to have situations where Black folks and brown folks are going to be the ones who are going to be not asked to leave, but who are going to be the ones that the police are called on,” said Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) during the hearing.

AB387: Midwifery licensure board 

Nevada is the only state in the west that does not license midwives, but a proposed Board of Licensed Certified Professional Midwives nearly became a reality this session after falling just one vote short of a needed two-thirds majority late Monday evening.

During the last day of the legislative session, the Senate voted 13-8 on Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno’s AB387, with Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) joining most Democrat senators in support. Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) joined the Republican senators against the measure, ensuring the bill fell short of the needed two-thirds majority (because the bill required fees for licensure). 

The Assembly had previously passed the bill and its amendments with a 28-14 vote on May 28.  

The board would have been responsible for establishing an optional licensure process for practicing midwives and also would have set training and education requirements. 

An emotional hearing in the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor took place in April, in which several mothers shared their experiences with midwives and desire to have birth freedom while also having certain regulations and protections in place for all parties. 

Opposition to the measure was just as passionate, with opponents arguing that the board would overly restrict birthing options and punish midwives who may not want to be licensed or who have learned through apprenticeships rather than in a formal environment. 

SB437: Increased fees for justice court actions

An effort to double administrative fees for actions within the state’s justice courts fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass on the last day of the session.

SB437, which would have increased the fee from $1 to $2 on the commencement of any action in a justice court for which a fee is required, in order to help fund the work of the state demographer within the Department of Taxation, passed through the Senate in mid-May on a 14-7 vote, but only after Sens. Kieckhefer and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) switched from nay to yea votes.

Members of the Assembly then voted 26-16 along party lines on the measure, falling two votes short of the 28 votes needed to pass with a two-thirds majority. Republicans opposed to the bill, which was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, expressed confusion and concerns that it would tax the wrong people by imposing funds on litigants within the justice courts to fund the state demographer within the executive branch.

AB161: Study on summary evictions

A severely watered-down measure that would have created a legislative committee to study the state’s “summary eviction” process during the interim was left dead at the end of the session after failing to receive a vote in the Assembly.

The initial version of AB161, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would have completely banned the “summary eviction” process, which involves possession of a rental unit and requires a tenant to either pay rent, vacate the property or respond to a notice through the courts within seven days. But the language in the bill was replaced with a study after lawmakers expressed concerns that there was not enough time to consider the consequences of upending the existing system in the midst of the eviction moratorium and amid staunch opposition from real estate groups.

The amended version of the bill, which received support from a slew of progressive groups, was passed out of its first committee in early April but never saw further action from lawmakers.

SB187: Limits on solitary confinement 

Sen. Pat Spearman’s (D-North Las Vegas) bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in Nevada prisons to 30 days never made it to an initial floor vote. 

SB187 also would have required regulations to limit solitary confinement to use only as a last resort. It also called for frequent mental health evaluations and giving inmates at least two hours of out-of-cell time daily, visitation and phone access.  

The Department of Corrections submitted a fiscal note stating that the measure would cost the department more than $40 million dollars for the biennium in order to modify policy at its seven major institutions and provide additional mental health support. 

“Even if they are guilty, they are still human beings, and we should treat them as such,” Spearman said of inmates during the bill’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12. “If rehabilitation is the goal, then solitary confinement impinges upon that goal.” 

SB139: Prohibiting insurance companies from denying treatment for gender dysphoria

A bill that would have prohibited insurers from denying treatment for gender dysphoria – the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between sex assigned at birth and gender identity – did not survive after passing out of the first committee. 

Sen. Melanie Scheible’s (D-Las Vegas) SB139 aimed to require insurance companies, including Medicaid, to cover medically necessary treatment and surgeries for transgender Nevadans. 

The bill was meant to address instances of insurance companies denying coverage for treatment such as hormone replacement therapy and surgeries, despite existing laws and policies prohibiting the denial, exclusion or limitation of medically necessary health care services based on gender identity or expression. 

Advocates said that access to treatment should be considered medically necessary because without it, the mental health of people who have gender dysphoria suffers greatly. 

“When insurers fail to cover medically necessary care, people suffer anxiety, depression, social ostracism, and a higher risk of suicide,” transgender rights advocate Brooke Maylath said during the bill’s only hearing on March 12. “SB139 is designed to send a clear message to the greater healthcare community – discrimination is not acceptable in Nevada."

Although it received a deadline waiver, the measure did not advance after being referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on April 16. The state Public Employees' Benefits Program (PEBP) had submitted a fiscal note for $1 million for the biennium to extend the coverage for treatments. 

SB235: Additional marijuana licenses for unsuccessful applicants

A bill that became a lightning rod for marijuana industry criticism over a proposed amendment aimed at spurring the creation of scores of new dispensaries failed to make it to the legislative finish line.

The measure from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), SB235, and a proposed amendment would have offered an alternative path to licensure for marijuana dispensary applicants who were unsuccessful in a 2018 licensing round. In that round, 61 dispensary licenses were issued to just 17 companies even though 127 potential businesses applied.

Those who lost out on the coveted permits pursued a massive lawsuit that ended with a judge saying there were flaws in the state’s process, but that the law did not permit her to order additional licenses as relief. An amendment to Harris’ bill that would have given unsuccessful candidates a path forward was forcefully criticized by the Nevada Dispensary Association, a statewide dispensary trade association whose representatives argued that it would threaten the strength and integrity of the industry.

Opponents also argued that the market could not support a large number of new stores without hurting existing ones; supporters countered with a competing analysis positing that the state could absorb nearly 1,300 new dispensaries.

The Cannabis Compliance Board submitted a fiscal note on the bill saying it would gain at least $610,000 over the biennium as a result of the increase in license renewal fees, and that it would cost an estimated $150,000 to complete a market study to determine demand for the issuance of additional cannabis licenses. 

The bill passed out of a Senate committee, was referred to the Senate Finance committee on April 20, and saw no further action before the end of session.

AB382: Regulating student loan servicers

A sweeping piece of student loan legislation that would have established new regulations on loan servicers in Nevada and would have granted more rights to borrowers was left for dead just a few days before the end of the session after falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

The bill was primarily aimed at enacting broad consumer protections through a borrowers’ bill of rights, as well as the licensing and regulation of servicers by the state’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions. 

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) joined all Democratic Assembly members in voting in favor of the measure; however, some Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the licensing fees that servicers would be required to pay. Student loan servicers Sallie Mae and Discover also opposed the bill, arguing that it could lead to greater costs for borrowers.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said he adopted an amendment before putting the bill up for a vote that was aimed at addressing the concerns brought up by opponents.

“But some of the student lender interests decided to dig in on it. And unfortunately, again, all members of the minority caucus decided to side with them except for Assemblywoman Tolles,” Watts said, “in my opinion, picking those interests over borrowers that are in our state.”

SB462: Republican-backed effort to change redistricting commission

With the state set to handle the redistricting process in a likely special session sometime later this year, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) introduced an emergency measure, SB462, just two days before the end of the session that would have given Democrats and Republicans equal power in creating a redistricting commission.

That bill received zero action in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Instead, members of both the Senate and Assembly adopted SCR13, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), creating an interim reapportionment and redistricting committee composed of four Democrats and two Republicans.

Increasing awareness of mental health services

As the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in heightened mental health issues across the country, lawmakers in Nevada took steps to increase access to behavioral health care, typically through federal relief funds — but a pair of bills aimed at increasing awareness of mental health support services failed to advance out of the Legislature before the end of the session.

AB167, sponsored by Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City), would have required K-12 schools and colleges to put information relating to mental health resources on student ID cards, including the phone number and text messaging option for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. After passing out of the Assembly on a 41-1 vote in late April, the bill did not receive a committee vote in the Senate.

AB315, which passed out of the Assembly unanimously a few days before the end of the session, would have required law enforcement agencies and fire departments to provide officers and firefighters with information about mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment, and provide two hours of mental health counseling within three months of retirement. The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), passed out of a Senate committee on Sunday, but failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor during the final day of the session.

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

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

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

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

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

$15 million earmarks on American Rescue Plan funds

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Closing ‘classic car’ loophole

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Permanent expanded mail voting and ballot initiative withdrawals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Authorizing cannabis consumption lounges

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Taxing and regulating short-term rentals

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Bill removing citizenship requirement for higher education scholarships revived

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

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

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

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

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

It also addresses other higher education inequities by:

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Deportation defense funds

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

Transmission build-out, electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill passes

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

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

The measure previously passed unanimously out of the Senate. 

— Riley Snyder

Minimum energy efficiency levels for appliances

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

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

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

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Overhauling interim legislative structure

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Fifth time’s the charm to decriminalize traffic tickets 

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Nevada joins and leapfrogs primary states

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

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

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

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

— Jannelle Calderon

Allocating federal COVID aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

DMV repayment

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder

Public option likely all but a done deal after Assembly approves bill on party lines

Nevada’s bid to establish a state-managed public health insurance option appeared all but certain to become a reality late Sunday evening after the Assembly voted on party lines to approve legislation setting the process for establishing such a plan in motion.

The bill, SB420, cleared the Senate on party lines last week and now will return to that body on Monday to concur on an amendment that makes several minor, mostly technical changes to the bill and adds an additional appropriation to cover the costs of implementing the public option. Because the amendment was made with the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor, it is likely to clear the Senate without issue.

Once the Senate approves the amendment, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Steve Sisolak for his signature. If he signs it quickly, Nevada will become the second state in the nation, after Washington, to approve a public option. (Colorado is also in the final stages of approving a public option bill.)

Sisolak has not taken a public position on the legislation, though it would be unlikely for the Democratic governor to veto the bill. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed a different public option proposal in 2017 that would have allowed anyone in the state to buy into a Medicaid-like system of health insurance. At the time, Sandoval said the proposal was “moving too soon, without factual foundation or adequate understanding of the possible consequences.”

Since then, the Legislature has continued to consider establishing a public option, including approving an interim study in the waning days of the 2019 legislative session to look into the possibility of allowing Nevadans to buy into the state Public Employees’ Benefits Program.

SB420, now the third iteration of the public option proposal in Nevada, will require insurers that bid to provide coverage to the state’s Medicaid population to also offer a public option plan. The plans will resemble existing qualified health plans certified by the state’s health insurance exchange, though the legislation requires them to be offered at a 5 percent markdown, with the goal of reducing average premium costs in the state by 15 percent over four years. The public option will be available for purchase starting in plan year 2026.

Because the concept differs from the prior two public option proposals lawmakers have considered, no one yet knows for certain what kind of an impact the bill might have on reducing costs and expanding accessibility to health care, two goals that proponents have honed in on in advocating for the legislation. To that end, the bill requires an actuarial study to be conducted as part of the four-and-a-half year ramp up before the bill takes effect.

The bill also expands coverage for certain Medicaid services to the extent money is available, including community health workers and doulas.

The Assembly’s swift approval of the bill on Sunday came as no surprise after Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) threw their support behind the bill on Saturday after previously remaining mum on the topic. While health care industry representatives had angled to turn the bill into an actuarial study only — removing the portions of the bill actually setting the public option in motion — both Frierson and Carlton voiced comfort in the fact that the bill offers significant time before the public option is actually offered for purchase.

“This is a good first step. We're trying to get someplace. We know there's an issue. We're trying to address it. This is a long term process to get there,” Carlton said on the Assembly floor. “The part of the bill that I support the most is being able to get that actuarial study done, know where the state stands and for future legislators sitting in these seats to be able to make a decision. I'm not sure if this is the right way to go, but we're not going to know until we get the data, and that's the part of the bill that I truly support.”

Republican lawmakers have staunchly and uniformly opposed the bill, siding with industry concerns that the legislation will not only not achieve its goal of increasing health care access and affordability but that it will destabilize Nevada’s already fragile health care system. 

“If passed, the bill would mandate insurers to offer a public option and mandate physicians and hospitals to accept rates below cost,” Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington), a family practice doctor by trade, said on the floor. “Doctors will leave the state and hospitals will raise rates or cut critical elective services that are widely used by all. The net effect is less access to care and higher costs for the remaining Nevadans, just the opposite of what we should want.”

Mining tax bill starts advancing through Legislature, with industry, progressives, teacher’s union in support

A major bill, aimed at directing about $500 million in mining revenue and federal aid to public education and staving off politically perilous 2022 ballot questions, began its race against the legislative clock late Sunday with a broad coalition of mining interests, progressive advocates and the Clark County teacher’s union on board. 

The bill, AB495, was heard in a joint Senate-Assembly budget meeting on Sunday evening ahead of a crucial legislative period — the 120-day session ends Monday at midnight, and the bill must still clear the Assembly and Senate with a two-thirds majority vote, requiring at least some Republican buy-in. The bill passed out of the Assembly Ways and Means committee late Sunday on a party-line vote.

The bill is much more than just a tax increase. In addition to creating a new excise tax on gold and silver mine total revenue above $20 million — a provision that is estimated to bring in between $150 to $170 million over the biennium — the bill redirects existing mining taxes to education alone. It also allocates $200 million in federal funds to address learning loss, makes changes to Medicaid and restores funding to a private school scholarship program supported by private donations made in exchange for tax credits.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) framed the bill as the product of compromise between divergent interests, saying that many provisions had left those involved “holding their nose and nodding their head.”

“This is, I believe, a reflection of collaboration that in my career has seldom been seen,” Frierson said.

Presenting the bill alongside Frierson was Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray, and a representative from the largest player in the mining industry — Nevada Gold Mines — also testified in support.

“Mining is a willing payer to achieve these goals,” Gray said. “Though mining alone cannot solve the structural fiscal and funding issues of the state of Nevada, it is within our DNA to be first at the table and be part of the solution.”

Also at the table was Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita, whose presence has implicit election implications. Frierson said passage of the bill would result in lawmakers not advancing any of the three proposed mining constitutional amendments approved in the 2020 special session, and the teacher’s union is expected to withdraw its 2022 ballot petitions aimed at increasing gaming and sales taxes if the legislation passes.

Vellardita said earlier this spring that the union wasn’t “wed” to its ballot measures and would embrace an alternative if “it satisfies what we think needs to be done,” although he didn’t name a number at that time. At the hearing, Vellardita referred to his union’s effort to “force a conversation around investing” and lauded the bill as a historic investment in base per-pupil funding.

“I think the most significant thing that's out of this piece of legislation is a dedicated funding stream for K-12. Is it enough? No, but it's a start,” Vellardita said at the hearing.

The new tax envisioned by the bill is an excise tax levied on gross revenue of gold and silver mines in the state. The rates would be set at 0.75 percent on revenue above $20 million and up to $150 million a year, and at a 1.1 percent rate for any revenue above $150 million. 

The bill also allows for deductions — including for proceeds deriving from federal land that is also a military base — and sets a calculation for determining gross receipts, which is similar in structure to the one related to Nevada’s Commerce Tax (a levy on annual revenue over $4 million that was approved in 2015).

In a diversion of an existing tax revenue stream, the bill directs money from the net proceeds of minerals tax to the state education fund rather than the general fund. Vellardita acknowledged it was possible lawmakers could use the mining money to supplant existing general fund contributions to education, but said lawmakers would face pressure not to do that from voters who expect meaningful improvement in schools. 

And in a likely nod to needed Republican support, the bill will also add back $4.745 million in tax credits for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides private school tuition grants to eligible low-income children but is fiercely opposed by many progressive groups who see it as sapping money from traditional public schools. The program, which serves just over 1,000 students, was severely curtailed in the 2019 Legislature and closed to new enrollees — Frierson at the time argued that an annual 10 percent growth factor built into the program would quickly build to “simply unsustainable” levels.

During the hearing on Sunday, Frierson said the number of students in the program had “dropped off significantly faster than I think we anticipated last session, and so we are now within the parameters of that program.” He characterized the bill not as an expansion of the program, but as maintenance of 2019 levels.

The legislation would also direct the Commission on School Funding to explore new options for public education revenue. A report from the commission that was released last month suggested sales tax and property tax as the best mechanisms, but Frierson opposes altering the sales tax, and he said he didn’t want to “presuppose” what the commission might recommend based on AB495’s directive.

“This bill is the beginning of a conversation and we are not going to stop calling for stable funding for education in this state,” Frierson said. 

In the meantime, the bill also calls for the appropriation of $200 million in federal COVID relief funds for COVID-related learning loss programs for school districts, including tutoring, summer school programs, extended learning and enrichment programs and support for at-risk students. The bill includes charter schools as a potential recipient of the funds, but Frierson said they would be removed in an amendment.

Another planned amendment to the bill will also charge the commission with exploring the issue of school board composition — a subject Frierson and other lawmakers have championed in efforts to make more school board members appointed.

Additionally, the bill appropriates $600,000 per year to the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program — the state-supported needs-based financial aid program. That allocation would restore funding to levels approved in 2019.

Another section would include aspects of Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer’s legislation authorizing Medicaid reimbursement for personal care services. Frierson said that language was “something that I think collectively, folks thought was worthwhile as being a part of this package.”

Progressive supporters of the bill highlighted the need to fund education in Nevada, praising the measure as a necessary step toward helping students succeed, but lamented that lawmakers did not consider AJR1, proposed during the special session.

“While we maintain that AJR1 from the 32nd special session would have been the ideal solution to raising revenue this session,” said PLAN lobbyist Christine Saunders. “This deal is a start to addressing the privileged position mining has held in Nevada’s tax code until now.”

Amanda Hilton, the general manager of Robinson Nevada Mine, a copper mine operating out of White Pine County, choked up as she testified in support of the measure. She said that the bill will not only enhance the industry’s investment in education, but it will also protect the economic vitality of Eastern Nevada.

“I sit here before you today representing the 600 miners at Robinson and my White Pine County community,” Hilton said. “This legislation will keep our miners working within the economic engine of our community.”

Brian Mason, the vice-chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute tribe, was the only caller in opposition. He said that he was “disappointed” that tribes were not included in the discussion and that state dollars should be allocated to help “poverty stricken” reservation communities. The Nevada Republican Party also submitted a letter in opposition.

If the measure fails to advance, the electoral consequences will be felt on the 2022 ballot. Frierson has vowed to advance one of the proposed mining tax resolutions if the deal falls through, and Vellardita said after the hearing that the teacher’s union was prepared to spend up to $10 million in the 2022 cycle to try to pass the gaming and sales tax initiatives — estimated at one point to raise a combined $1.4 billion.

Vellardita said he was optimistic about the bill’s chances — saying it represented significant compromises on all sides, while noting the union’s initial funding ask from the mining industry was closer to $400 million over the biennium. Despite that, he said the potential for things to go haywire over the final hours of the session remained high.

“The shit drops, it's anybody’s game,” he said in an interview. “Everybody that is potentially the deciding vote has a self-inflated view of value, and they try to trade it. And that's what you're seeing right now. So do I think it's there? Do I think it's possible? Absolutely.”

College athlete compensation, cannabis investigations and ‘pot for pets’ among latest bills signed by Sisolak

As Nevada lawmakers work through the final weekend before the adjournment of the 120-day legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak has also been busy fulfilling his end of the process — signing more than 40 bills into law on Friday and Saturday.

Some of the higher-profile measures signed by Sisolak over the past two days include bills aimed at allowing collegiate athletes to receive compensation, lowering the penalties for minors caught in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana, requiring teaching about minorities and historically underrepresented groups and raising the legal and age prerequisites for a person to become state attorney general.

Sisolak had signed 174 bills into law as of Saturday evening. Once bills are approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the governor’s office, the state’s chief executive has five days during sessions and 10 days after they adjourn to either sign the bill, veto the measure or allow the clock to expire, which causes a bill to automatically become law.

Here’s a look at some of the major bills signed by Sisolak on Friday and Saturday. For a full list of bills signed by the governor this session, click here.

AB101: ‘Pot for pets’

Sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 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.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly. 

AB158: Lowering penalties for minors caught buying alcohol or marijuana

This measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) generally lowers the criminal penalties for minors found in possession of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana. 

Specifically, the bill prohibits imprisonment or a fine and instead requires any such person under the age of 21 found in possession of the prohibited substances to perform up to 24 hours of community service, attend a panel of victims of persons killed or injured by intoxicated drivers or undergo an evaluation to see if they have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.

The bill also requires the automatic sealing of criminal records related to underage possession once a juvenile successfully completes the terms and conditions set by a court.

It passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly.

AB177: Prescription drug instructions in non-English languages

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), requires most pharmacies in the state to provide specific instructions on the use of a prescription drug in a language other than English, if requested by the recipient. It exempts pharmacies from civil liability if they contract with a third party translation service and injury cannot be linked to the “negligence, recklessness or deliberate misconduct of the pharmacy or employee.”

The measure passed out on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, but passed the Senate unanimously after an amendment was added granting civil immunity to pharmacies.

AB200: Regulations for veterinary telemedicine

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas), the measure establishes regulations for veterinary telemedicine, allowing licensed veterinarians to practice telemedicine only after an in-person examination of an animal. Under the bill, veterinarians would not have to examine every member of a herd to consult remotely, and a doctor with access to medical records could also consult via remote communication.

The measure passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote and then unanimously out of the Senate.

AB254: College athletes can profit off likeness

This bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) would prohibit colleges or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing student athletes from being compensated for use of their name, image or likeness. It’s intended to align with planned moves by the NCAA to allow for student-athlete compensation.

The bill also requires that the Legislative Committee on Education conduct an interim study concerning the issue.

It passed on a 34-8 vote in the Assembly and on a unanimous vote in the Senate.

AB261: Teaching about history of underrepresented groups 

This measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks), requires Nevada students to learn about the history and cultural contributions of minorities and historically underrepresented and discriminated against groups, including Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community and African Americans. It would also require that textbooks and instructional materials accurately portray the history and contributions of marginalized groups.

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

SB58: Cannabis investigations

This bill expands the duties of the Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety to include assisting in investigations related to cannabis that the Department of Taxation or the Cannabis Compliance Board might be undertaking, if those agencies request the help. 

The bill passed unanimously in both houses.

SB66: Connecting kids to computers

This bill expands the work of the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, calling on the agency to develop a statewide system to determine the extent to which students have access to the internet and computers in their homes. It also tasks the office with helping connect students to that technology. 

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 35-4 vote in the Assembly, with some Republicans opposed.

AB227: Cracking down on independent contracting in construction

This bill bars contractors from hiring people who don’t have a contractor’s license and are not their direct employees to do work for a contractor that requires a contractor’s license. Backed by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), the bill is one strategy to tackle the issue of employee misclassification but was opposed by all Republicans.

The bill passed on party-line votes in both houses.

AB190: Sick leave used to care for family

This bill requires that employers who offer sick leave to their workers also let those employees use that accrued time to attend to medical needs of their immediate family, whether that be for an illness, injury or doctor’s appointment. It allows employers, however, to limit the amount of sick leave a worker can use for that purpose.

The bill, sponsored by the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, includes a preamble stating that caregivers in Nevada provided 324 million hours of uncompensated care in 2013, at an estimated value of $4.27 billion.

The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 30-12 vote in the Assembly; all who voted against it are Republicans.

AB236: Raising requirements to be attorney general

This bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), raises the prerequisites for serving as attorney general. It requires the person in that role to be at least 30 years old — up from the current minimum age of 25 — and have lived in Nevada for at least three years, up from two.

The person must also be a member in good standing of the Nevada Bar.

Frierson said that the duties of the office have become increasingly complex over the years, and Nevada’s minimum qualifications have not kept up with the prerequisites common in other states. Opponents said other constitutional offices, such as governor or treasurer, only require the person to be 25 and have no other professional prerequisites.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) also said it gives way too much latitude to the state bar and limits the choices of Nevada voters.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Assembly and 12-8 in the Senate. All those who voted against it were Republicans.

SB362: Operating a ‘microtransit’ system

The bill authorizes the Regional Transportation Commission in Clark County to offer microtransit services, or transportation by a multi-passenger vehicle that carries fewer passengers than vehicles used on regular routes and is dispatched through a digital application service.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate and on a 36-5 vote in the Assembly.

SB363: Reporting requirements for charter schools

This measure requires charter schools that contract with education management companies to submit a report to the sponsor of the charter school, detailing the amount paid to those companies in the current and preceding fiscal years. Charter schools will also have to submit the same report to the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau in even-numbered years.

The bill passed on a 19-2 vote in the Senate and a 35-6 vote in the Assembly.

AB181 - Mental health parity, attempted suicide report

This bill requires health care providers to report cases or suspected cases of attempted suicide to the state, with that information reported annually to the Patient Protection Commission. It also calls for an evaluation by the state Insurance Commissioner on whether insurers are adhering to a federal law requiring mental health parity — not limiting mental health benefits more than physical health benefits.

The measure passed 26-16 in the Assembly and 14-6 in the Senate. Those opposed were Republicans.

This story was updated on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 12:53 p.m. to reflect that Assemblywoman Natha Anderson was the primary sponsor of AB261.