As curriculum controversies rage, new law pushes Nevada schools to tell broader range of stories

There was a time in Mia Albright’s life that she cringed when her grandmother spoke Spanish in the grocery store. Instead of cultural pride, she felt shame.

The now-16-year-old traces those feelings back to school. Classroom lessons and reading material did not include enough diverse perspectives.

The Reno High School student, whose dad is white and whose mom is from Nicaragua, told state lawmakers this spring that the lack of Central American perspectives in her education left her with “serious questions” about her identity and culture and “fervently wishing to only be white.”

“No student should feel the way I felt, ostracized and alone, and no student should formulate or fall victim to those racist ideologies the way that I did,” Albright said at the Assembly and Senate Education Committee hearings for AB261 in the spring. Albright said textbooks with a wider range of viewpoints could mitigate or eliminate the issues she faced.

The change Albright advocated for is on its way. Earlier this year, AB261 passed along party lines in both the Assembly (26-16) and the Senate (12-9), with all Republicans opposed. The bill amends existing Nevada law to make sure those diverse perspectives are a core part of the K-12 curriculum. The law also prohibits the State Board of Education from selecting instructional materials that don’t accurately portray the history and contributions made by Native Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities and those from various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. 

Nevada is one of 16 states that has made efforts to expand such education this year, but it comes at a time when many states are going in the opposite direction. The national debate over how the history of various groups of people are taught at schools has led to backlash and confusion over terms such as “critical race theory” that proponents of inclusive education reform said have been conflated with others such as equity and social justice. 

Nevada students who testified during the legislative session said they felt the need to lobby for more inclusive instructional materials after discovering a slew of events they had not learned about in their U.S. History classes. 

Those included the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, in which a white mob looted the predominantly Black Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and killed an estimated 100 to 300 of its residents, and the 1969 Stonewall uprising, in which New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City, sparking a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents.  

Jonathan Moore, deputy superintendent of student achievement at the Nevada Department of Education, believes that while there have long been efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the Nevada school system, social justice movements that have recently gained more national attention — such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate — have accelerated changes that were already underway. 

Many of the groups of people that “are globally under attack” are reflected in the Nevada school system, Moore said. 

“I think the recent events have just accelerated the urgency [to take action],” he added.

Dianne Lopez, 17, won second place for this submission to The Nevada Independent's art contest on diverse perspectives in education. Learning about diverse perspectives can help students learn more about others and about themselves said Lopez, a senior at Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas.

The potential impacts of the bill

Proponents of the bill point to the wide variety of benefits it may have on student performance and well-being. 

While existing social studies standards include multicultural education – which includes “information relating to contributions made by men and women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds” – Nevada law did not specifically outline the other groups included in AB261 to be represented in the teaching of science, the arts, and the humanities. AB261 also places an emphasis on the accuracy of the portrayal of the included groups of people. 

The changes made by the bill will be funded by existing school district budgets and will only apply to textbooks adopted in the future, not textbooks currently in classrooms. 

Even curricula with minimal culturally relevant content can improve student achievement, according to Geneva Gay, a professor of education at the University of Washington and author of “Culturally Responsive Teaching.” She defines culturally relevant content as anything that “uses the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning more relevant and effective.”

Doing so, she said, can lead to higher test scores and grade-point averages as well as an improvement in students’ self-confidence and engagement with the subject matter.

Culturally relevant content improves student achievement by relating academic knowledge and skills to students’ lived experiences, making it easier for students to find meaning and interest in content and thoroughly learn it, Gay argued.  

Sheila Weathers, a fourth-grade teacher at Tanaka Elementary School in Las Vegas, agrees that culturally relevant material “opens the door” for teachers to teach students the necessary skills to be successful in the classroom.

“I see my kids. Their eyes light up when they see someone who looks like them [in a text],” Weathers said.

Proponents assert that the bill will help foster a safer learning environment in which students can learn more about their own backgrounds while helping students build critical thinking skills that are necessary for navigating a diverse world. 

“Do we want our kids to think critically? Do we want kids to have an accurate understanding of history? Do we want kids to know and appreciate a variety of cultures and backgrounds and know how to engage with each other appropriately? Who wouldn’t support that?” said Rebecca Garcia, president of the Nevada PTA and parent of four students in the Clark County School District. 

Garcia said she believes that there are groups spreading misinformation to influence parents to fight against causes that will actually benefit their children and that parents are often unaware of these efforts.

The bill became effective upon its passage in May for implementation and will be fully in effect in mid-2022. The bill kicks off a multi-year process of approving and adopting textbooks for various subject areas across all grade levels in each district.

Albright said that although she will no longer be in the Washoe County School District by the time the bill is implemented in schools, she recognizes the effect it may have on her younger sibling.

“I do have a little brother, and I really hope that he will be able to … feel included and heard and seen in a way that I wasn’t,” she said.

Zizi Boulware, 11, received an honorable mention for this submission to The Nevada Independent's art contest on diverse perspectives in education. "We should be studying the cultures, religions, accomplishments and histories of people from [the] countries [in my artwork]," Boulware said. Boulware is in sixth grade and attends Hyde Park Middle School in Las Vegas.

The Background of AB261

This isn’t the first time that Nevada lawmakers passed a bill to diversify school curricula. In 2015, Nevada lawmakers passed a bill that required the statewide standards for social studies to include multicultural education. Similar bills passed this legislative session. Among them: 

  • AB19, which removes government from the list of subjects included within social studies and adds civics, financial literacy and multicultural education.
  • SB194, which requires the state department to develop content standards for ethnic and diversity studies for high school students that include various perspectives that are similar to those listed in AB261. 

Unlike those bills, AB261 specifically pertains to instructional materials rather than content standards and focuses on science, the arts, and the humanities, including English.

Albright and Katie Hawley, another student who testified at an Assembly Education Committee hearing for the bill, both belong to youth activism organizations – the Las Vegas Youth Power Project and Washoe County Students for Change. Those organizations inspired Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks), an English teacher in Washoe County, to sponsor the bill. She had met with and listened to both organizations as they advocated for more diverse curricula at their local school board meetings in the fall of 2019. 

Anderson pointed to her background as an educator as the second source of inspiration for creating this bill.

“There was an article that came out and it stayed with me, [saying] that our literature should be both a mirror [and] a window,” she said. “And what that means is you want to be a mirror, a reflection of [who] our students are in their lives, but also a window into a different world.”

In a Senate Committee on Education hearing, Anderson said the intent of the bill was to give teachers more “tools in the toolbox” to teach diverse perspectives in their classrooms.

Luanne Wagner, a government and U.S. history teacher at Clark High School in Las Vegas, also teaches a class called “The African American Experience” for juniors and seniors. She said she often uses outside sources and supplemental materials to compensate for the lack of culturally relevant content in textbooks. 

When she discusses discrimination and civil rights in the United States, she tries to incorporate the histories of various groups of people such as the World War II history of Felix Longoria, the Mexican American soldier who was buried in Arlington National Cemetary after being denied burial alongside other veterans in Texas; the Japanese American unit that fought for the U.S. despite some of their family members being in internment camps; the Navajo Code talkers who used their language to develop a code that turned the tide of the war for the U.S.; and the Filipino people who risked their lives to offer food to American prisoners in Bataan, Philippines. 

AB261 will signal to textbook vendors who wish to sell their materials in Nevada that they must holistically and accurately portray the contributions and history of the groups of people outlined in the bill, Moore said. It will also provide legal support for teachers who want to promote diverse perspectives in their classrooms. 

“It’s nice to know that we have the state legislation that now backs us up and justifies us,” said Alyson Henderson, an English teacher at Clark High School in Las Vegas. “With it being law now, there’s going to be more teachers who are doing it.”

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno), who voted for the bill in committee but ultimately voted against it, feared the language of the bill was too restrictive. 

“I am for the premise of this legislation. My only concern was that … [the language may] create a situation where if a textbook did not include all of the different [groups outlined] … it would create a barrier for adopting new textbooks based on availability,” Tolles said. She emphasized that she was very supportive of multicultural education.

The intent of the bill is to ensure the accurate portrayal of those groups rather than to ensure that all of the groups are included in every instructional material and lesson, Anderson said at an Assembly Education Committee hearing. Tolles said she was later assured that the state will follow that intention in implementing the bill. 

Teia Venzon, 14, received an honorable mention for this submission to The Nevada Independent's art contest on diverse perspectives in education. Venzon is a sophomore at Reno High School.

Opponents of the bill

Although there were significantly more people who called in support of the bill during public comment at the committee hearings, some spoke against it.

At the Senate Education Committee hearing, Alida Benson, the political director of the Nevada Republican Party, said that there has been “a focus on revamping [the] curriculum to quietly insert backdoor critical race theory into our schools.” 

Anderson rejected that assertion. So did Addie Rolnick, a professor at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law with expertise in critical race theory (CRT) — she said CRT is primarily taught in law school or in some undergraduate- or graduate-level courses but does not see it included in AB261.

CRT is a legal academic theory that examines the relationship between race and law. Rolnick said the theory argues that racism is not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices, but that it can be unconscious and embedded in structures like the law. It is centered on the idea that race is not merely a biological trait, but a social construct that the law has helped define. Critical Race scholars argue that the legal system is not a set of neutral “colorblind rules,” but a system that perpetuates racial inequality.

It does not encompass everything that involves a discussion on race, Rolnick said. She believes the term has been inaccurately used as a catch-all phrase for a slew of loosely related topics including more inclusive history education.

“The teaching of real history and the acknowledgment of various people's experiences is part of what this bill is doing, but that's [the only similarity] at a very basic level, and CRT is a lot more than that,” Rolnick said. “And so they are not really related at all.”

Rolnick believes the nationwide anti-CRT backlash is part of “a carefully orchestrated campaign” in which conservative activists are deliberately attempting to conflate the CRT with other topics.

Albright said she is concerned that the spread of misinformation about CRT will cause public backlash for the bill, just as it did at a Washoe County School District board meeting in June 2021, when a new social justice curriculum was discussed. But Moore and Kindra Fox, the Washoe County School District’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction, said that districts will continue to follow the academic content standards, which also do not include CRT.

Bob Russo, who called to offer public comment in opposition to the bill, expressed his concerns that the bill will be “divisive.” 

“Personally, I believe that recognizing one’s accomplishments in accordance with their gender, race, or religion is divisive and undermines the recognition and honor a person deserves for what they have done,” Russo said during the Senate Education Committee hearing for AB261.

Rolnick said she understands the view that it is always dangerous to classify on the basis of race, but that she doesn’t agree with it. 

“It’s not the act of noticing [the] hierarchy that creates the hierarchy. And in fact, you have to notice it in order to undo it,” Rolnick said.

Arguing that classifying people on the basis of race is divisive also requires the assumption that race is merely one’s skin color or ancestry, rather than something that has determined how resources have historically been distributed, Rolnick added. 

Proponents of the bill argue that the measure may help foster empathy and prevent bigotry. 

“I met countless students who have entered the world unprepared because they weren't taught about the past properly,” Nathan Noble, a UNR student and graduate of the Nevada public school system, told lawmakers in the spring. “And I've witnessed firsthand how an incomplete view of the past breeds ignorance and how in turn that ignorance can sow the seeds of bigotry.”

JD Davis, 15, received an honorable mention for this submission to The Nevada Independent's art contest on diverse perspectives in education. "My artwork shows that no matter your sexuality, race, religion, etc. at the end of the day, we are all human," said Davis. Davis is a sophomore at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

The Funding and Timeline of Implementation

AB261 is an unfunded mandate, meaning that the state will not provide districts with the funds to fulfill the requirements of the bill. Rather, new instructional materials will draw from existing school district budgets.

But the bill does not require districts to adopt new textbooks immediately. Instead, districts will adopt them whenever they are scheduled to purchase new textbooks.

What that means: It will be years before districts’ instructional materials live up to the bill’s intent.

Washoe County and Lyon County school districts, for example, follow a seven-year textbook adoption cycle in which they try to adopt a new set of textbooks every year for a particular subject area. Sometimes, it takes longer than seven years if districts do not have sufficient funds at the time they are scheduled to adopt new instructional materials. 

Lyon County Superintendent Wayne Workman expressed his concerns about funding in an interview. However, funding for instructional materials has always been a concern for districts, even before this bill was passed, Fox said. 

Moore believes that funding will be less of a concern moving forward because AB261 only affects future textbook adoptions. That means districts will have more time to plan their funds to meet the requirements of the bill. Also, the state Department of Education has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funding during the pandemic that can be leveraged to provide new instructional materials, Moore said.

The bill only applies to state-approved core materials, not supplemental materials that individual districts, schools, or educators may use in addition to the core materials. Core materials can include a variety of materials such as standard textbooks, novels, and more. 

Sophia Empedrad, 17, received an honorable mention for this submission to The Nevada Independent's art contest on diverse perspectives in education. "Learning about diverse perspectives in school enhances knowledge and benefits not only the individual learning from others, but also the people around them," said Empedrad, a senior at Ed W. Clark High School in Las Vegas.

What does the instructional material adoption process look like?

Both Workman and Fox are eager to hear back from the state department about what the new standards will look like and what their next steps will be in integrating the new standards into the existing ones. 

Before the state begins the lengthy instructional material adoption process depicted below, the state department has to review the existing statewide standards and rubrics for evaluating instructional materials to ensure they meet the requirements of the bill. There is no set date for when they will begin this process given the other developments they are implementing, but they will be working on it soon, Moore said. 

Anderson said she hopes students are involved in the process of implementing this bill. Albright agrees.

“I’ve been used to adults speaking about what I want for almost like my whole life. Well, they aren't in school anymore,” Albright said. “They don't know what it's like to be growing up in a time like this, all the confusion that's going on … I think, as students, we're the most qualified to tell other people what we need and what we want from our education.”

Implementing the bill in the classroom

Adopting the instructional materials is only step one. Anderson said the most important step is teacher training and implementation.

Some are skeptical about how well the new changes will be implemented and enforced. Garcia, the president of the Nevada PTA, is among those who are skeptical about the implementation and enforcement of this bill. She said she has seen “incredibly inconsistent” practices across the Clark County School District. 

“I feel that will be a problem with this particular piece of legislation,” she said.

But teachers in Washoe County regularly implement changes in their classroom and the district’s curriculum and instruction department is used to providing lesson planning and professional development support, Fox said. She said the past multicultural standards have been “fun and interesting to implement” for some Washoe County teachers. 

As a teacher, Henderson said she hopes training sessions related to AB261 include a diverse set of staff or educators. She recalled a multicultural education training session she attended in the past that was run by two white women and organized by the Clark County School District. 

“If you’re trying to be more multicultural, I think maybe you shouldn’t have two white women running this training,” she said.

Weathers emphasizes the importance of having teachers be at the forefront of the process of implementing education bills. 

“[AB261] will be successful, number one, if there’s teacher voice there. Teachers need to be involved in how the bill will be delivered to schools … because teachers are going to need training,” Weathers said. 

Some teachers may be hesitant to teach about perspectives they are unfamiliar with out of fear of offending students. However, by engaging students in conversations and admitting that they do not know everything, teachers can help establish trust with their students, Henderson said. They must also do research about the texts that they are teaching beforehand, she added.

Both Henderson and Wagner said they have not experienced backlash and have received overwhelming support from parents, students, and administrators in teaching diverse perspectives. They attribute that support to creating a safe learning environment and trusting relationships with students. 

“I always tell the students, ‘Look, you know, [the] bottom line is a fact is a fact is a fact, and this a fact, not my opinion. But this happened, and so now we need to look at it, and we need to have a courageous conversation about it, and how do you feel about this topic?’” Wagner said. The key to ensuring students are comfortable is trusting students and creating a safe, respectful, and culturally responsive learning environment. 

She told a story about a white student who asked her if he could share something with his classmates in a U.S. history class she taught at Clark High School decades ago. 

The teen boy said he was raised as a white supremacist in Texas but his teachers at Clark High School changed his beliefs, Wagner said. His classmates were surprised but very accepting.

“If I can create an environment where students feel safe enough to say something like that, and to be accepted by their peers, I think we’re on the right track,” Wagner said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which legislators had the most success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success for Republican senators in passing bills was more rare.

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

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

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

Which legislators had the least success with their bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When were bills heard and when did they pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Lawmakers advance mining tax deal; Republicans who voted in favor explain why

State lawmakers voted Monday to advance a major mining tax package that will allocate a combined $500 million to public education through new and extended mining taxes and federal COVID relief dollars — pushing the compromise package through the legislative process quickly on the final day of session.

The Assembly vote on AB495 was 28-14, with all Assembly Democrats and two Assembly Republicans — Jill Tolles and Tom Roberts — in support. In the Senate, four Republicans — Ben Kieckhefer, Heidi Seevers Gansert, Scott Hammond and Keith Pickard — joined Democrats to pass the bill in a 16-5 vote, sending the bill to Gov. Steve Sisolak for approval.

The bill, introduced late Saturday and heard for the first time on Sunday, involved a complicated trade of bills — including commitments to kill certain bills and pass others — and some challenges reining in the multiplying requests of lawmakers being courted for votes. An amendment to Democrat-sponsored SB292 that eliminates provisions allowing for straight-ticket voting was one of the Republican-favored elements of the deal.

The bill, which creates a new excise tax on annual gold and silver mine gross revenue above $20 million, is expected to eventually direct up to $500 million to education — including $200 million in federal COVID relief dollars and the rest through new and redirected taxes on the mining industry. It also restores funding to Opportunity Scholarships, a private school scholarship program supported by private donations made in exchange for tax credits.

An amendment adopted shortly before the floor vote in the Assembly allocated an additional $15 million in federal funding for learning loss at charter schools; charters were previously set to be excluded from the pot of money. Groups such as the Nevada State Education Association teacher’s union have opposed more allocations for charter schools, which they say are exempted from too many accountability rules.

But Republicans have advocated for those schools, including in a bill, SB463, that will apply $3.8 million to hold a dozen charter schools harmless from funding drops they otherwise would have experienced in the transition to a new funding formula. Tolles also said some charters experienced similar closures of in-person learning during the pandemic.

“There was significant learning loss. They could utilize that help as well,” she said in an interview.

Passage of the bill out of both chambers was lauded by Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray, who said in a statement that the legislation “encapsulates what is possible when we stop worrying about north or south, urban or rural, teacher or miner, and remember our commonalities.” The Clark County Education Association — a key booster —  tweeted that a “bipartisan relationship made this possible.”

And in a joint statement with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, Sisolak called the legislation “one of the most significant steps our State could take on our road to recovery.”

“Today's historic vote was only made possible thanks to the partnership of education leaders, business and industry, a bipartisan group of legislators, stakeholders and community members,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Our comeback will be strengthened by the continued collaboration and efforts of all Nevadans committed to working together for our families and a brighter future.”

Assembly vote

Prior to the vote, Tolles and Roberts spoke with The Nevada Independent about their rationale for the votes, stressing that they had not only gained concessions in exchange for their pledge to support the tax, but also had an opportunity to improve education funding without overly burdening one single industry.

“For the mining industry, the caveat was everybody that is impacted agrees to it. There are no loss of jobs, there's … no loss of revenue to counties. And so the industry says we want this, that's a condition for us,” Roberts said.

The Nevada Mining Association on Sunday night made it clear in a tweet that they were in support of the bill, and association President Tyre Gray sat at the presenter’s table with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson during the hearing for the bill. 

Through the session, both lawmakers have struck a more moderate tone than others in the Assembly Republican caucus. Roberts, a former assistant sheriff with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, is planning to leave legislative service and run for Clark County sheriff in 2022.

For her part, Tolles said her entire rationale for getting involved in politics was to advocate for education — saying the combination of industry buy-in for the bill and the fact that proceeds would go to education checked all of her boxes.

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

Both lawmakers said that bill language adding back funding authorization to the Opportunity Scholarship program — a tax credit program offering private school tuition grants for low-income families — was a key element of negotiations, and said future discussions on the scholarship program have been promised.

Tolles wanted the scholarship program, which now counts only a little more than 1,000 enrollees and is at less than half its original size, not to be so restrictive and to ensure continuity of funding through budget cycles, so that parents with children enrolled in the program have more certainty year-over-year rather than having to face fears every two years about being dropped from the program.

“The way that the system, as I understand it works right now, is that every two years, it's a fight just to maintain,” she said. “And so that's very traumatic for those kids, and those families, to feel like it's essentially their version of an eviction moratorium like every two years.”

The bill does not guarantee that the scholarship lasts beyond the coming biennium, but does lift provisions from 2019 that did not allow new students to enroll.

Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) said in a speech on the Assembly floor that his Republican colleagues’ decision to support a tax hike “in exchange for concessions so modest as to be insulting is simply astonishing to me.” 

“Spending more money without enacting any structural reforms or accountability measures has never solved our educational problems,” he said.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said when evaluating good tax policy, one question she asks is “are the people who are going to be taxed understanding of that tax, and ... do they share those principles enough that they come in support?”

“We have that in Assembly Bill 495,” she said. “In this building, it is a rare thing to get consensus. It is even more rare when we get it around policies such as this. This is long overdue.”

Senate

Four Senate Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill on Sunday evening, easily clearing the required two-thirds majority just a few hours after the Assembly passed the bill.

Kieckhefer, who is termed out of office after this session, said in a floor speech that the bill represented the “art of legislating in a single bill,” representing a compromise of things he strongly supported and strongly opposed. 

“While there are plenty of reasons that I could point to to vote against this bill, I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks,” he said. “And when you get to this place, I think it's important to try to find a way to say yes to help people, and that's what this bill does.”

Seevers Gansert also pointed to the enhanced education funding in the bill, touching not only public education but also charter schools and Opportunity Scholarships, as the reason for her support. Pickard said he was troubled by “special interests” using the initiative petition process to “put pressure on us,” but said he would support the bill because of the additional funding for education.

Hammond said the process of getting to the vote “was a rocky one,” but said he ignored pressure from “outside interest groups and disaffected third parties” and voted to advance the policy because he agreed with the merits of the bill.

“While I don't expect the ... naysayers who don't even bother to read the legislation to keep their opinions to themselves, I will be voting yes, for all of our state’s students,” Hammond said. “I urge my colleagues to join me, because even if it's only one student, it’ll change their life without ever even knowing it and that's worth it.”

But five Republican senators voted against the bill, with several raising concerns with the rushed process that brought the legislation forward. Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) said he had wanted to see a credit offsetting any increased collection of the existing net proceeds tax on minerals against the new excise tax, and said it was “unfair to ask any one industry to come to the plate.”

“Education needs to be borne by all of us, not one single industry,” he said. “I think they were forced to be here, and forced to support this bill.”

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) also raised similar concerns about the industry-specific tax, saying that the state’s gaming industry had long skated by without paying its fair share to education, saying it would “allow the very people that have not paid enough consistently to get away with it once again.”

“(For) all but a handful of us in this room, the people that are going to pay this tax, they are not our constituents. They are mine. It's very easy to tax people that actually are not even in your district.”

Reporter Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report. Updated at 4:34 p.m. on 5/31/21 to add comments from floor speeches. Updated again at 7:30 p.m. to include details from the Senate vote.

Lawmakers introduce last-minute budget maneuvers for more financial flexibility as session draws to a close

Despite the sound and fury that accompany the end of every legislative session, lawmakers only have one actual constitutional requirement to fulfill before the end of the 120 days of session — pass a balanced state budget.

Closing a roughly $9 billion budget is rarely an easy task, and 2021 has brought a host of new challenges — better-than-expected tax revenue forecasts, a coming windfall of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars and a major state Supreme Court ruling on extended payroll tax and DMV fees blowing a roughly $200 million hole in the budget. 

During the final week of the legislative session, budget committees have introduced several bills aimed at providing more financial flexibility for legislative priorities — measures sometimes derided as budget “gimmicks” aimed at freeing up tens of millions of dollars to help balance the budget. These include measures extending a $1-per-DMV-transaction technology fee until 2026 after a previous iteration was ruled unconstitutional, and suspending a required money transfer to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Here’s a closer look at the last-minute budget moves being considered by lawmakers:

DMV fee extension, Highway Fund extension

Members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday discussed AB488, which extends the $1 DMV technology fee through June 2026 and retroactively permitting the fee from the end of June 2020 onward.

The previous extension in 2019 was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court because it increased collection of public revenue but did not pass out of each house of the Legislature with a two-thirds majority. It fell one vote short of that threshold in the Senate back in 2019.

Following that ruling, the DMV now lacks a dedicated revenue source to fund IT upgrades meant to shift more transactions online and make DMV interactions easier for the public. The state also has to refund the technology fees assessed during the time that the fee was unconstitutionally extended. During the Tuesday hearing, legislative staff said the state owes approximately $5.5 million in refunds.

Through AB488, lawmakers are seeking to (with a two-thirds majority in each house) reinstate that funding source for the IT upgrades and eliminate the need to refund the millions of $1 fee charges to motorists. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the money committee, noted that processing and disbursing the refunds could be more expensive than the refunds themselves.

“It's a $5 million refund, and it's going to cost us $8 million to give it back. And that impacts other services in the state,” she said. “I believe it is our responsibility to weigh those as we move forward and make the best decision that we need to make for the people of the state.”

Carlton also said that the refunds could be especially costly if the department were to use a back-credit process programmed through its own systems, following a suggestion from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno).

“The programming involved, in the investigations that we have done, could cost even more than the actual refund itself,” Carlton said. “You're basically putting the refund on steroids by trying to do all the programming … so don't ever go down the programming road with DMV because it is a very long, twisty, dark, scary road.”

However, the measure faces steep opposition from some Senate Republicans, who filed the lawsuit against the original extension of the fee.

In an atypical move, Sens. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) both testified against the bill during the contentious Tuesday hearing.

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

At roughly the same time on Tuesday, members of the Senate Finance Committee discussed and unanimously passed SB457, a measure that allows the DMV to use a greater percentage of highway funds to replace the DMV’s current technology and bring the majority of DMV services online over the course of the next four years.

The bill would increase the percentage of highway funds the DMV could use for administrative costs from 22 to 27 percent, and though the bill originally would have applied to the 2020-2026 fiscal years, a conceptual amendment made it so the bill only applies to fiscal years 2022-2026.

“During the pandemic, it became clear to us that [bringing DMV services online] needed to be our number one goal, as was the same with many businesses and state agencies,” said Julie Butler, the Director of Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. “This bill is needed to continue our progress on this critical project for the department and for the state of Nevada.”

But, when DMV representatives said they did not expect to go above the 22 percent threshold for fiscal year 2020-2021, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) noted that the retroactive provision seemed unnecessary.

“I would understand the need to increase it to 27 percent in the upcoming biennium, but for our current biennium. If we weren't going across over 22 percent the retroactive piece seems unnecessary,” Kieckhefer said.

Rainy Day Fund transfer suspension 

Members of the Assembly Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday also discussed AB487, which suspends an automatic transfer of 1 percent of the state’s projected revenue to the Rainy Day Fund for each of the next two fiscal years.

The suspension is intended to give lawmakers more financial flexibility ahead of the finalization of the state’s budget as the state awaits federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

“We know there are dollars coming,” said Carlton. “But we also know that we have to fund the government by May 31, so we can't pretend that money is going to be there. We have to actually use real money that is available right now.” 

According to projections from the Economic Forum in May, the amount of money that would no longer be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund if the bill is passed is $43.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $46.4 million in the following year, meaning lawmakers could have approximately $90 million in additional funds to spend before the session ends.

Lawmakers will be unable to backfill the fund with federal dollars, though. Spending guidance from the U.S. Treasury released earlier this month indicates that states will not be allowed to deposit American Rescue Plan funds into their reserve accounts.

Shortly after the hearing, the bill was voted out of the committee on Tuesday and awaits a vote on the Assembly floor.

Reporter Riley Snyder contributed to this report.

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

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

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

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

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

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

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

Medical debt collection

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana DUI

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

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

Removal of non-functional turf

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

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

Cage-free eggs

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

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

Hairstyle protections

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

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

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

Paid-leave for health purposes

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

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

Tiger King bill

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

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

Banning ‘ghost guns’

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

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

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

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

Those arguments failed to sway Democratic lawmakers.

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

Lowering barriers to birth control

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

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

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

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

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

Hate crime changes

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

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

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

Back on Track Act 

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

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

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

HOA debt collection

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

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

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

Marriage license fees to help domestic violence victims

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

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

Land and water conservation

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

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

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

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

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

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

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

Criminal justice changes

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

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

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

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

K-12 Education

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

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

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

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

Higher education changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy & Business 

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

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

Banning racist school logos or mascots

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

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

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

Pot for pets

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

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

Record sealing for pandemic summary evictions

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

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

Reporter Jacob Solis contributed to this report.

Lawmakers finalize budgets, but expect restoring many of their cuts

After months of review, legislative money committees closed their final budgets on Friday with many of the austerity measures in the governor’s budget, but are teeing up for a more pleasant round of add-backs to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars from revenue streams expected to over-perform earlier projections.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said the outcome of a Saturday budget hearing would depend on what numbers staff arrive at after adding up all the actions taken by the Legislature. But even as lawmakers have voted to approve painful cuts, they have hinted that they’re putting sticky notes on certain accounts with the intention of filling them back up. 

“It's a moving target, until the very end,” Brooks said. “But to the extent there's money available, we're going to try to add it back to everything that's been cut.”

He said K-12 education — specifically boosting a base per-pupil figure “as high as we possibly can” — is a priority. That number will be a key starting point as the state moves to a new “Pupil-Centered Funding Plan,” and future adjustments and weights will be calculated as multipliers of that figure.

Earlier in the week, lawmakers swept funding from a long list of targeted, “categorical” accounts into a larger pot of funding to be redistributed through the new funding. But some of those underlying accounts, such as one supporting class size reduction, were cut by tens of millions of dollars before being swept, and lawmakers and advocates gave dire warnings about the consequences of letting that decision stand.

“The proposed $156 million cut the class size reduction over the next biennium would mean a loss of about 1,000 teachers across the state, meaning even more students packed into Nevada classrooms,” said Chris Daly of the Nevada State Education Association teacher’s union. “This is not acceptable.”

Lawmakers already voted this week to undo one of the most loathed cuts during the pandemic — cuts in reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers — but budget committees made less-dramatic moves in recent days to shore up the budget in accordance with constitutional deadlines. Below are some highlights from budget closings on Thursday and Friday.

Medicaid and health care

Full budget committees on Friday approved moving forward with recommendations made earlier this week to roll back Medicaid rate decreases approved by lawmakers during a budget-slashing 2020 special session and a host of other add-backs to state health care spending.

Committee members approved recommendations of rolling back a 6 percent Medicaid rate decrease approved last year, as well as to finally enact a 2.5 percent increase in the acute care hospital rate starting in July. The move restores about $300 million in Medicaid funding, including about $110 million from state dollars.

Lawmakers also approved several other adjustments to the Medicaid budget, including significant caseload adjustments estimated to cost the state roughly $320 million in general fund dollars. The governor’s recommended budget had counted on a caseload of about 770,000 in each year of the biennium, now expected to be about 830,000 in fiscal year 2022 and 820,000 in fiscal year 2023.

Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-Las Vegas), who chaired a budget subcommittee, said Friday that her first few meetings “weren’t cheerful,” but that the state’s recent upward revision in projected tax revenue gave lawmakers the flexibility to reverse many of the proposed cuts.

“We're leaving knowing that we've made some changes now with this budget if we close it as it is, knowing we're making a direct positive impact on so many lives,” she said.

Assembly Ways and Means committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said Friday was “one of the good days in the Legislature at this moment in time,” saying that restoring the cuts helped lawmakers avoid tough decisions about which budgets and services to cut.

“The conversations on that were just heart wrenching,” she said. “We're getting back to square one, we still need to build a couple more rungs to the ladder to get out of the hole. We're not out of the hole yet, but at least we're getting close, especially to these vulnerable populations.” 

Corrections

Prison populations have fallen well below projected levels during the pandemic, so lawmakers approved funding for a reduced number of inmates. In the fiscal year that begins in July, lawmakers now expect there will be an average of 11,043 inmates in the system based on projections released in March; that’s about 1,300 people lower than an October 2020 projection of 12,345 inmates.

Another significant change in the last few months has been a delay in an effort to reclassify the  Ely State Prison as a medium security facility, down from its current status as a maximum security facility. The rural prison has long had troubles with staffing, and the status adjustment was aimed at reducing the number of correctional officers needed to supervise the inmates.

The Governor’s Finance Office says it is requesting the Nevada Department of Corrections to conduct an internal study and gather evidence that reclassifying Ely State Prison — and also raising the classification of medium-security High Desert State Prison — is appropriate for the 2023-2025 biennium.

Aging and disability

Lawmakers opted to restore some of the Aging and Disability Services cuts that would hit some of the most vulnerable Nevadans.

The governor’s budget had recommended cutting the rate paid to providers of early intervention services — which are targeted toward young children with disabilities — from $565 to $500 per month. The reduction would have saved $2.9 million over the biennium.

The full committees opted not to approve the recommendation, keeping the rate at $565 per month.

“I think we all share the same discomfort of the long-term impacts of not being able to intervene early that we know increase over time … and also the impact that has on need for state services down the road,” said Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno).

They also opted to reject proposed cuts of six adult rights specialist positions from the long-term care ombudsman program, which was aimed at saving $1.1 million over the biennium. Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) noted that residents of nursing homes were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the staff of the ombudsman’s office were the eyes and ears on the ground about conditions in long-term care facilities.

“It's not quality assurance, it's not licensing, it's very different,” Ratti said. “It's a place where families can go to share their concerns, and I just have significant concerns about not having that resource in place as we are navigating the rest of this pandemic.”

State parks

Lawmakers approved a fee increase for state parks passes to shift costs from the general fund to visitors, saving the state $2 million over the biennium.

Instead of $75, the cost for a day-use annual pass would be $100. There would also be a new $5 out-of-state fee.

Those changes were already imposed effective in April through temporary regulations, with a process set to begin in May to make the regulations permanent by November.

Parks officials do not anticipate that the changes will deter tourists. They said that camping increased 41.2 percent and boating increased by 10.4 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, and noted that other neighboring states charge out-of-state fees.

Budget differences

Lawmakers on budget committees also used Friday’s meeting to hash out budget closing differences — situations that occur when the Assembly and Senate differ on budget-related decisions.

This session, lawmakers only faced two relatively minor closing issues — one related to a travel and meeting budget for the Commission on School Funding, and one related to funding for the Knowledge account — the grant program for higher education facilities aimed at spurring the commercialization of research.

There were no knock-down, drag-out fights over either of the two items — lawmakers opted to go with the Assembly recommendation on the Commission on School Funding budget (dollars for two-day meetings every other month, as opposed to every month) and the Senate recommendation for the Knowledge Account — full funding of $5 million over the two years of the budget cycle.

Budget committee chairs and legislative leaders said they were generally pleased that despite the often intense budget review process, both houses made it to this point with only a handful of differences.

“We've had hundreds of budget accounts, countless hours of meetings, and between both houses, and all these members, and two different political parties, and it boils down to these two very simple closing differences,” Brooks said. “This is to me just an indication of how much we have in common, as opposed to what we differ on.”