Republican Assembly members Leavitt, Black eye open state Senate seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Follow the money: Breaking down $2.8 million in combined legislative campaign spending from major industries

The Nevada Legislature building

Even as lawmakers perennially tout the strength of their small-dollar fundraising, the driving force of any campaign in any cycle — with few exceptions — is big-money donors. 

Often contributing upwards of six-figures across dozens of campaigns, money from these donors often comprises the vast majority of campaign funds, especially in the most competitive legislative campaigns.

However, while all these contributions are reported to Nevada’s secretary of state every quarter, parsing trends from such reports or determining how corporate or PAC donors are spending in the aggregate is no simple task, as each contribution is siloed either under individual candidates or individual donors. 

To get at those trends, The Nevada Independent analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to every sitting lawmaker elected in 2020. 

That $200 cutoff excludes a small portion of small-dollar fundraising, as well as two lawmakers who were appointed to their seats in 2021 (Sen. Fabian Donate, D-Las Vegas and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May, D-Las Vegas) and any fundraising by losing candidates. 

What is left is an expansive picture of the spending habits of Nevada’s biggest industries, from unions and casinos to health care giants and dark-money PACs. Over the course of our Follow the Money series, we’ve taken a deep dive into the spending of the state’s 10 largest industries, a group of donors that collectively spent $7.8 million of the $10.6 million in big money legislative contributions last cycle. 

Links to all previous installments of this series, including top-line breakdowns of all spending and all fundraising, have been included at the end of this article.

But beyond the largest 10 are the 14 “smallest” industries, according to our categorizations, which still spent upwards of $2.8 million combined. Below is a breakdown of that campaign spending, ordered by industry, from greatest to least. 

Spending nearly as much money last cycle as the much-debated Nevada mining industry were a number of alcohol and tobacco companies, which combined to contribute nearly $319,000. 

Spendiest among industry donors was tobacco company Altria (likely better known by its former name, Philip Morris Companies, Inc.), which gave 30 lawmakers a combined $95,050. Almost all of that money went to Republicans, who received $75,050 to the Democrats’ $20,000. 

Among all legislators, none saw more money from Altria than Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), who received $9,000. He was followed by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $8,750 and Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) with $7,000. The remaining 27 lawmakers, including eight Democrats and 19 Republicans, received $5,000 or less.

Other major industry donors include beer-giant Anheuser Busch ($50,500), the Nevada Beer Wholesalers Association ($49,000), alcohol distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits ($33,500) and electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs ($26,500). 

Contributing more than $306,000 combined, the state’s transportation industry included a varied mix of donors from car manufacturers, ride-sharing companies, railroads, taxis and associated organizations and individuals. 

Biggest of all was the Nevada automotive dealers PAC, NADEAC, which contributed $52,500 in total, split nearly evenly between Republicans ($27,500) and Democrats ($25,000). Most of NADEAC’s contributions were comparatively small, however, and only two legislators saw more than $2,500 — Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), each of whom received $5,000. 

Following NADEAC was electric car maker Tesla — operator of the massive gigafactory battery plant in Northern Nevada — which gave 20 legislators $45,000. Most of that, $34,500, went to legislative Democrats, with the two Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — receiving the most of anyone with $5,000 each. 

Other major transportation donors include the Nevada Trucking Association and its president, Paul Enos (a combined $42,500), Union Pacific Railroad ($33,500), rental car company Enterprise ($29,500) and the ride-sharing company Lyft ($21,000).

Twelve telecommunications companies combined to spend more than $300,000 on lawmakers last cycle, with the single largest chunk coming from internet service provider Cox Communications ($120,000). 

The largest internet provider in the state with a near-monopoly on internet service in the Las Vegas metro area, Cox’s spending largely favored legislative Democrats, who received $80,000 to the Republican’s $40,000. That includes one maximum $10,000 contribution to Frierson, as well as $8,000 for Cannizzaro.  

Communications giant AT&T followed with $82,250, again favoring Democrats ($58,750) to Republicans ($23,500). And here, too, the top recipients were Frierson and Cannizzaro, who received $8,000 each. 

Other major donors included internet service providers Charter Communications ($47,500) and CenturyLink ($14,000), as well as satellite TV provider Dish Network ($12,000). 

Though the pharmaceutical industry at large contributed nearly $273,000, more than half came from just one donor: the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which gave 45 lawmakers $140,500. 

Among the most powerful industry groups in the entire country, PhRMA’s contributions favored Republicans, who received $86,000 to the Democrats’ $54,500. Among individual lawmakers, PhRMA’s four top recipients were all Assembly Republicans: Roberts ($8,000), Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) ($8,000), Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) ($8,000) and Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) ($7,000). 

Other major donors include the drugmaker Pfizer ($46,250), National Association of Chain Drug Stores ($17,500), and biotechnology company Amgen ($11,000). Nineteen other donors, including major drugmakers such as Merck, Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson, gave $10,000 or less. 

Though 55 donors in the finance and banking industry combined to contribute more than $214,000, almost two-thirds of that money came from one source: the Nevada Credit Union League (NCUL), the credit union trade association, which gave $86,250 across 46 legislators. 

The NCUL’s spending widely favored Democrats, who received $62,000 to the Republicans’ $24,250. Much of that difference was made up by the sheer number of Democrats receiving contributions (30 Democrats to 16 Republicans), but also by three large contributions to Democratic Leaders. 

Frierson and Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) both received the $10,000 maximum, while Cannizzaro received $9,000. No other lawmakers received more than $5,000 from the group.   

Other major donors include One Nevada Credit Union ($25,500) and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors ($14,500). The remaining 52 donors gave just $9,500 or less. 

Unlike some other major industries, technology-related companies and donors gave to lawmakers in comparatively mid-sized or small amounts, with the largest among them — the data company Switch — giving a total of $62,000 to 21 legislators. 

That money was evenly split between 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, who combined to receive $31,0000 each. That even-split largely extended down to the individual level, too, with Democrats Cannizzaro, Frierson and Gansert, a Republican, receiving $10,000, while Republicans Hammond and Buck received $5,000 each. The remaining recipients all received $2,500 or less. 

The other significant chunk of technology contributions came from Blockchains, Inc. owner Jeff Berns and his wife, Mary, who combined to give $44,500. Berns was at the center of efforts this session to create so-called “Innovation Zones,” which would have created a semi-autonomous county in rural Nevada supported by the use of cryptocurrency. 

As criticism of the concept intensified over the course of the legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak backed away from Innovation Zones last week in announcing the proposal would take shape as a study, instead. 

The single biggest beneficiary of Bern’s contributions was Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who received $10,000 each from Jeff and Mary for $20,000 total. Wheeler’s district, District 39, encompasses parts of Storey County, where Berns’ Blockchains company owns roughly 67,000 acres of land that likely would have become the state’s first Innovation Zone, had the proposal passed muster.  

Berns also gave $5,000 to Cannizzaro, Frierson and Settelmeyer, as well as a handful of smaller contributions to six other lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans. 

Other technology companies gave comparatively little, with Reno-based precision measuring equipment firm Hamilton Company following Berns with $15,000, and the tax-software giant Intuit giving $12,500. The remaining 25 donors gave $11,000 or less.  

Insurance companies — close cousins to the finance industry — combined to give lawmakers $165,700, with the Farmers Employee and Agent PAC leading all donors with $63,000. 

Farmers’ spending was split nearly evenly between the two major parties, with Republicans receiving $32,000 to the Democrats’ $31,000. No lawmakers received the maximum amount from the group, though four — Frierson, Roberts, Gansert and Titus — did receive $5,000 contributions. The remaining 20 recipients received $3,000 or less. 

No other single insurance came close to Farmers’ spending. The next largest, USAA, gave just $25,500 (of which most, $17,000, went to Democrats), while small business insurer Employers EIG Services gave $24,000 (including $13,500 for Republicans and $10,500 for Democrats). The remaining 20 insurance donors gave $13,000 or less. 

Though the payday lending industry at large gave comparatively little — $128,000 split across 37 legislators — the single largest industry donor, TitleMax, was among the biggest spenders of any industry as it contributed $93,000 to 35 lawmakers. 

Most of that went to 20 Democrats, who received $56,500 to the Republicans $36,500. TitleMax’s largest individual contributions similarly went to Democrats, with Frierson and Cannizzaro each receiving the $10,000 maximum. Gansert followed with $7,500, while the remaining 32 legislators received $5,000 or less. 

Other payday lending donors gave little in comparison to TitleMax. Dollar Loan Center was next-closest with $23,500 contributed, followed by Purpose Financial with $8,500. The remaining three donors gave marginal amounts, including $1,250 from Advance America, $1,000 from the Security Finance Corporation of Spartanburg and $750 from Community Loans of America.

Breaking down the smaller industries

Dozens of donors categorized as “other” combined to become the 14th largest category, with donors who could not be classified as industry-specific — 357 in all — contributing a combined $247,761. Many of these donors were retirees or private citizens, and most, 262, gave $500 or less. 

Lobbyists and lobbying firms were the next-largest donor group trailing payday lenders, with 56 donors contributing $126,401 combined. There were few major donors in that group — all but 10 gave less than $3,000. The only exception was the Ferraro Group, which gave $32,500 spread across 33 lawmakers. The group’s donations were relatively small, however, and the single-biggest recipient — Cannizzaro — received just $3,500. 

Roughly three dozen education companies, teachers and other individuals combined to contribute $83,272, with the biggest sums coming from charter school company Academica Nevada ($28,500), education management company K12 Management Inc. ($13,500) and for-profit college University of Phoenix ($11,000). Notably absent in this category are major teachers unions, such as the Nevada State Education Association and the Clark County Education Association, as both of those organizations are covered in our analysis of union spending. 

Spending slightly less than they did in 2018 were 15 marijuana companies or related individuals, who combined to spend $86,500 (down from more than $91,000 spent in 2018). Most of that money was concentrated in the three biggest spenders: An LLC linked to The Grove dispensary ($24,750), Nevada Can Committee ($23,000) and a company linked to the Planet 13 dispensary ($15,000). 

The remaining two categories were the smallest of all: Nevada tribes, but only the Reno Sparks Indian Colony reported major campaign contributions with $30,500 across 37 legislators, while just seven agricultural donors combined for $10,950 (of which nearly half, $5,000, came from the PAC Nevadans for Families & Agriculture). 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent has published deep dives into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see any of the previous installments, follow the links below: 

Deadline Day: Banning ‘ghost guns,’ prohibiting cat declawing and bail reform all advance

At times with little debate, state lawmakers worked late into the night on Tuesday to pass more than 140 bills out of their house of origin prior to the Legislature’s second major bill passage deadline.

Lawmakers voted out measures including a tenant’s rights bill limiting application fees, a bill requiring eggs sold in Nevada be cage-free and a measure lowering penalties for youth caught possessing marijuana.

They also approved a contentious measure banning so-called “ghost guns,” after the bill was amended to remove sections giving businesses more rights to prohibit firearms on their property.

In total, lawmakers by Tuesday evening had approved 143 bills and resolutions, including 57 in the Senate and 86 in the Assembly. Legislators worked quickly — only one measure in the Assembly received any debate from lawmakers prior to a vote.

But Tuesday’s deadline is just one of many upcoming hurdles —  lawmakers will only have a few short weeks before the next major deadline to pass bills out of their second committee comes on May 14. 

However, a bill not passing by Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean it has entered the legislative graveyard — dozens of bills have been granted exemptions from legislative deadlines, either because they have a fiscal effect on the state budget or because they were granted a waiver from those deadlines from legislative leadership.

That includes major election-related bills moving Nevada to an expanded mail-voting system and a measure aimed at moving the state up the presidential primary calendar — both of which were granted exemptions from legislative deadlines and moved to a budget committee on Monday.

Legislators were also busy on Monday, approving more than 40 bills including measures aimed at improving access to birth control, sealing records of evictions that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a statewide human trafficking victim support plan and shoring up the state’s battered unemployment insurance system. 

Here’s a look at major policies that passed out of floor sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

TUESDAY

Banning ‘ghost guns’

Despite a significant amendment removing language giving casino resorts and other major businesses more legal weight to prohibit firearm possession on their property, members of the Assembly still cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s AB286.

The bill  — which had drawn strong opposition from pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association — now makes it illegal for a person to possess or sell any unfinished frame or reiever of a firearm, or any fireram not imprinted with a serial number. It’s intended to cut down on so-called “ghost guns,” which gun safety advocates say are used by criminals to obtain weapons that they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to purchase.

Those arguments didn’t fly with Assembly Republicans, including Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who said the bill didn’t have any protections for current gun kit owners and would turn them into criminals overnight.

“This bill is nothing but the camel’s nose under the tent, except this time, it's up to the neck,” he said. “This bill is another bite of the apple, and that apple is your Second Amendment rights being taken away, bite by bite.”

Jauregui said removing the portion of the bill empowering businesses to ban guns on premise was not ideal, but the bill’s focus was ghost guns and it was vital to pass the bill by deadline.

“We're still committed to working with stakeholders and my colleagues, because this discussion isn't over,” Jauregui told reporters Tuesday evening. “We have a big responsibility to the thousands and thousands of employees who work on the Strip every single day. They're entitled to a safe workplace.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, but it could coincide with recently announced plans by the Biden administration to also take action to limit the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.”

Housing protections

Along a party line vote with Republicans in opposition, the Senate passed SB254, a bill that establishes fair housing procedures and strengthens anti-discrimination laws.

Sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas), the bill would authorize the Nevada Housing Division to investigate housing discrimination and prohibit landlords from looking at arrest records of potential tenants.

The measure also prevents landlords from denying applicants because they rely on public assistance or have a disability.

“It is time that Nevada moves into the space where we actually stand behind our words of ‘second chances for citizens’ who have either served their time or who have not been further criminalized within the system and are not currently in jail,” Neal said. “Housing is a fundamental part of our lives.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) said that though he appreciates the intent of the legislation, the bill’s requirement that the attorney general prosecute on behalf of individuals who experience discrimination goes too far.

“It’s just inappropriate and not the right role for the attorney general in the state of Nevada," Kieckhefer said.

Tenant protections

Senators voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for a bill that expands tenant protections, including barring landlords from taking an application fee from more than one prospective tenant at a time. SB218 is sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks).

It also limits landlords to fees allowed by statute or that are “actual and reasonable,” requires fees be disclosed on the first page of the lease agreement and may not increase fees without 45 days advance notice for rent paid monthly.

Restorative justice before expulsion

Senators voted 16-5 to approve SB354, which prohibits schools from expelling a student without first providing them with an action plan based on restorative justice. The bill defines restorative justice as “nonpunitive intervention and support” meant to improve the student’s behavior and remedy any harm they caused.

It calls for a statewide framework of restorative justice that could include training for school staff on psychology, trauma and chronic stress. The bill also requires the state to recognize in its accountability system schools that reduce their rates of suspension and expulsion.

Five Republicans opposed the bill.

Transparency on food delivery fees

Senators unanimously approved SB320, which requires services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to clearly disclose fees applied to food orders.

The measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), 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.

Bail reform

Members of the Senate voted 17-4 to approve SB369, which amends Nevada’s law on pretrial release by requiring that a court only impose bail or a condition of release if its found to be the “least restrictive means necessary” to protect the safety of the community and ensure the person appears in court. It changes previous law requiring defendants show “good cause” for pretrial release that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2019.

Republican Senate Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said he opposed removing the “good cause” requirement, saying that he was concerned it could lead to more criminals on the street. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said it was needed to align the state with the court’s decision and still allowed courts to impose conditions of release on someone who might prove a danger to others.

“I think that this bill strikes a balance in protecting the community and providing some additional safeguards, while at the same time recognizing the Supreme Court's decision in (the 2019) case and aligning our statutes with their constitutional findings in that case,” Cannizzaro said.

HIV laws overhaul

In a unanimous vote, members of the state Senate approved Sen. Dallas Harris’ SB275 — a comprehensive bill aimed at updating the state’s laws on human immunodeficiency virus by treating HIV in the same way as other communicable diseases.

The bill repeals a state law making it a felony for someone who has tested positive for HIV to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease — putting it in line with how the state treats other diseases such as chlamydia and SARS.

Banning the declawing of cats

A measure generally prohibiting the declawing of cats, except for medically necessary purposes, passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14 vote.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), AB209 imposes civil penalties on any person who removes or disables the claws of a cat, as well as sets disciplinary actions that the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners can take against a veterinarian who conducts the procedure.

All Assembly Democrats, save Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas), voted in favor of the measure, with all Republicans. save Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama and Jim Wheeler, voting against it.

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

A measure clearing the way for collegiate athletes to profit off their image or likeness passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB254, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, 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 of Education to conduct an interim study on the issue.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve Rochelle Nguyen’s AB296, which creates the crime of ‘doxing’ — unauthorized sharing of personal identifying information, such as an address, with the intent to cause harm or mental anguish.

The bill as amended authorizes a person to bring a civil action against a person who “doxes” them, and allows a court to issue restraining orders against a person that disseminates that personal information.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Senators voted 18-3 to pass SB203, a bill that removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved. Previously, such actions were limited by deadlines, including one provision requiring a lawsuit be initiated within 20 years of a victim turning 18. 

The bill specifies that people are liable for damages if they financially benefit from the exploitation, although a hotel or motel with more than 200 rooms is not considered to have benefited from the rental of a room used in the commission of exploitation.

The three Republicans who voted against the bill raised several concerns, including how accurately a victim would remember a very old crime and why the measure included a 200-room limit. Sponsor Marilyn Dondero Loop responded that there needed to be some sort of room limitation or there would be no bill.

Notaries charging more

AB245, a bill that would allow notaries public to charge more for document preparation services, passed in a 31-11 vote.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said the bill was backed by small businesses that wanted the opportunity to make more money. It would double or triple the fees that notaries are allowed to charge for certain services, and create civil penalties for violators — a provision Flores said was meant to curb bad actors in the industry.

The industry can be open to malfeasance in part because of notaries misrepresenting themselves as authorized to process immigration documents because of the way the term “notarios” translates in Latin American countries.

Cage-free eggs

Members of the Assembly voted 27-15 to pass AB399, which requires eggs sold within the state to be housed in cage-free living arrangements by Jan. 1, 2024.

Sponsor Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) argued during a hearing that demands for efficiency in egg production led to hens living in “pretty horrific conditions” with less square footage than a piece of letter paper. Egg industry officials who testified said consumer demand for cage-free eggs is quickly rising, and several of Nevada’s neighboring states are adopting cage-free requirements.

Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City) was the lone Republican to support the measure.

Citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

Assembly members voted on party lines, with Republicans opposed, for AB440 — a bill that directs police to issue citations in lieu of arresting people over misdemeanors in more situations. The measure does make exceptions for when the matter is a “subsequent” offense, defined as something for which the person has been previously arrested, convicted or cited. 

Multi-parent adoption

A measure allowing multiple parents to adopt a child without removing a parent from a child’s birth certificate passed out of the Assembly on a 34-8 vote.

AB115, sponsored by Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), would recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

Small business advocate

On a 31-11 vote, members of the Assembly advanced a bill that would create an Office of Small Business Advocacy under the purview of the state lieutenant governor.

The bill, AB184, was amended to put a 2023 expiration date on the office and prohibits the lieutenant governor from funding positions in the office from budgeted dollars from the state’s general fund.

MONDAY

Sealing eviction records during COVID

Assembly members cast a party-line 26-16 vote to approve AB141, a bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) that would require courts to automatically seal eviction case court records for any summary eviction conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original version of the bill would have also required landlords to give certain long-term tenants additional advance notice before proceeding with a no-cause eviction, but those provisions were removed in an amendment.

Unemployment bill

Senators voted 12-9 to advance SB75, a measure that makes technical changes to the regular unemployment system, such as allowing more flexibility on when claimants are eligible for benefit extensions and assuring that layoffs during the height of the pandemic recession do not count against employers in determining their unemployment tax rate.

Republicans, who want more ambitious changes such as fast-tracking a major overhaul of computer infrastructure and the merging of the regular system with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and the self-employed, said the bill does not go far enough.

“It's the only bill that DETR brought, and yet it fails to address the bulk of the problems including the structural and technological deficits that have kept thousands of people from getting the benefits they paid for,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “I'm amazed that anyone thinks that this is enough.”

Pickard also spoke out against lawmakers’ decision to extend unemployment benefits to school support professionals who work from nine to eleven months a year. Those workers typically aren’t eligible for benefits because they have a reasonable expectation of their job returning after the summertime, although union representatives say a tough economic climate has hurt their summer job prospects.

But those workers will be eligible for unemployment this summer under emergency regulations adopted last week. Republicans say that even with federal funds footing 75 percent of the bill, it could cost districts millions of dollars.

“They were hired for nine months of work. This is a giveaway that I cannot support,” Pickard said.

Lowering barriers to contraception

Members of the Senate unanimously voted to approve SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The bill would allow women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit

Cannizzaro introduced similar legislation in 2019, but that bill never made it out of its final committee hearing. 

“Removing access barriers to birth control will lead to better health outcomes for Nevadans who need it,” Cannizzaro tweeted after the bill was voted out of the Senate. “I’m excited to move this bill on to the Assembly!”

If the bill passes, Nevada will become the 13th state to legalize pharmacist-prescribed hormonal contraceptives.

Keeping wage history private

Senators vote 17-4 to pass SB293, which prohibits an employer from seeking out a job candidate’s wage or salary history, or basing pay on a previous salary.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said the measure would help tackle the gender pay gap, ensuring that if a woman’s pay was lower than her male counterparts in her last job, it would not follow her to her next job and perpetuate a disparity.

She said the measure directs employers to base pay on a worker’s experience and qualifications instead of a previous pay scale.

Four Republican senators opposed the bill.

‘Pattern and practice’ investigations of police agencies

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB58, a bill sponsored by the attorney general’s office that authorizes the agency to conduct so-called “pattern and practice” investigations into systemic abuse or discrimination committed by law enforcement. 

During a hearing on the bill last month, Attorney General Aaron Ford said the measure was necessary because the federal U.S. Department of Justice — which was given authority to conduct such investigations in 1994 — ceased conducting them in 2017 under former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Though the policy may change, Ford said it is important for the state to have the ability to undertake similar investigations.

Jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

Members of the Assembly voted 32-10 to approve AB42, a bill seeking to implement a Nevada Supreme Court decision requiring jury trials in misdemeanor domestic violence cases that involve the defendant losing the right to have a firearm. 

The bill, which was sponsored by the City of Henderson, attempts to square a simmering implementation issue that arose for local governments after the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision requiring jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases.

Six Republican Assembly members — Annie Black, Melissa Hardy, Heidi Kasama, Lisa Krasner, Tom Roberts and Jill Tolles —  joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Mining oversight

Members of the Assembly voted along party lines (26-16) to approve AB148, a bill by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) that would prohibit the issuance of a mining operation or exploration permit to any person leading a company that has defaulted on obligations related to mining reclamation.

An amendment to the bill refined the definition of a “principal officer” of a company to a “person who has a controlling interest” in a mining company that has defaulted on obligations, and allows that person to receive a permit once past debts are paid. The measure, if approved, would go into effect in 2022.

Hairstyle discrimination

In a 20-1 vote, the Senate passed 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 arrives as part of a nationwide movement to end hair discrimination. Nevada is one of roughly thirty states considering adopting protections for hair styles, and at least 10 states, including Washington, California and Colorado, have already passed similar legislation.

“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,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas).

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) was the only senator to vote in opposition.

Paid leave for health reasons and getting vaccine

The Senate passed SB209 by a vote of 19-2 with Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) in opposition.

Introduced by Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), the bill would approve the use of state-mandated paid leave for any health reason, including receiving a COVID vaccine. It also requires the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct an interim study on the COVID public health crisis.

Kieckhefer said that though he supports paid leave for vaccines, the study did not seem necessary.

“I am … unabashedly pro vaccines,” Kieckhefer said. “However, I think the idea of charging the Legislative Committee on Health Care with the job of conducting an interim study on the state's COVID-19 response is a Herculean task that is most appropriate elsewhere.”

HOA debt collection

Members of the Senate voted 15-6 to pass SB186, a bill requiring collection agencies to file a report on collections related to homeowners’ associations (HOA).

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

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) spoke in opposition to the bill, citing increased burdens on HOAs. 

The bill initially required collection agencies to report on the race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation of people from whom they are collecting, but was replaced with a requirement for the homeowner’s ZIP code. Still, Pickard said that the bill’s history was problematic.

“If we wish to find true equality and treatment, it must begin with race neutral goals that put all people on an even playing field,” Pickard said. “Not simply changing the parameters of the prejudice that moves one ahead at the expense of another.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) joined Democrats in support of the legislation.

Hate crimes

Members of the Senate cast a party-line vote, 12-9, 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.

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.

Though the measure passed along party-lines, it generated no floor remarks or debate.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Low-income people could access savings accounts and matching funds that could multiply their deposits up to five fold under SB188, a bill that senators passed unanimously which creates the “Individual Development Account Program.” People living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system are eligible.

The bill calls for the state treasurer to work with a fiduciary organization that would accept grants and donations, then use them to match funds deposited by account holders, with up to $3,000 per beneficiary per year. The state would also be required to provide financial literacy training to account holders.

“This legislation will aid systems in supporting individuals to develop pathways out of poverty,” wrote Tiffany Tyler-Garner, head of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, in a letter of support. “Additionally, it establishes statewide infrastructure for fostering financial independence.”

Ratios of students to social workers

School districts in Clark and Washoe counties would have to create plans for achieving better ratios of students to mental health professionals under SB151, which passed the Senate in an 18-3 vote. 

Each year, districts must report to the governor, lawmakers and the Nevada Board of Education their ratio of students to “specialized instructional support personnel” (such as counselors, school psychologists and social workers). The bill also requires the districts to set targets for improvement and describe strategies for recruiting and retaining those staff members.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) voted against the bill, saying that the state’s current budget proposal will reduce the amount of funding available to social workers and lead to cuts in the positions even “as their contractual obligations continue to increase.”

“Hopefully, this measure will be able to be implemented with integrity that it needs to ensure that social workers are being funded at a level that is necessary,” he said.

Statewide human trafficking plan

Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve AB143, a bill by Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) that would require creation of a statewide coalition and plan to deliver services to victims of human trafficking.

Krasner said previously that the bill is intended to help the state qualify for federal grants that require formation of a statewide plan for human trafficking victim services. The program would be placed under the Division of Child and Family Services in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and includes a requirements that the state publish an online directory of services for victims of human trafficking.

This story was updated at 1:57 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2021 to include a quote from Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui on an amendment in the "ghost guns" bill.

Titus, Wheeler may face off for state Senate bid in 2022

Assemblywoman Robin Titus walking out of the Assembly

Assembly members Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and Robin Titus (R-Wellington) are both eyeing a move to the state Senate in 2022.

Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) is termed out of the Senate after this session, and the two Assembly districts nestled in his sprawling state Senate district are represented by Wheeler (one term left in the Assembly) and Titus (two terms left).

Settelmeyer’s Senate District 17 covers several western and northern Nevada rural counties, and is one of the safest Republican districts in the state — meaning the winner of the primary is essentially assured a Senate seat. Settelmeyer won the 2018 election with nearly 72 percent of the vote over his Democratic opponent.

Both Titus and Wheeler confirmed their interest in a bid when asked by The Nevada Independent. Titus said she would run for the seat, assuming that the boundary isn’t changed too drastically during the 2020 redistricting process, and Wheeler said he has moved beyond “interested” and is definitely running for the seat in 2022.

It’s not unusual for legislators to start jostling for future positions during the legislative session — then-Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) publicly weighed a bid for a state Senate seat held by Don Gustavson in the 2017 session, though the two worked out the issue with Gustavson opting not to run for re-election.

More recently, former Assembly members Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo left their seats to run for a state Senate seat vacated by termed out Sen. David Parks — both lost in a primary to eventual winner, Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas).

The two have largely avoided public spats, even as Titus took over as leader of the Assembly Republican caucus from Wheeler after the 2019 session. 

Both lawmakers have taken some preliminary steps to shore up their Republican Party credentials; Wheeler prior to the 2021 session announced formation of an “Assembly Freedom Caucus,” composed of seven fellow Assembly Republicans.

For her part, Titus has adhered closely to the state Republican Party line — including recently publishing an open letter on her Facebook page detailing Assembly Republican efforts to focus on “election integrity” during the session.

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

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

It was the Deadline Day that wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are highlights from bills introduced Monday:

Single-stall restrooms

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

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

Public records penalties

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

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

Republican-backed election changes

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

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

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

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

Criminal justice reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

Business

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

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

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

Consumer protection

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

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

Behind the Bar: Should inmates get minimum wage? Plus plans to address learning loss, an esports commission and Carson City Restaurant Spotlight

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

In this edition: Can either Assemblywoman Annie Black or a federal lawsuit open the Legislature to the public? Plus, details on a bill to pay inmates the minimum wage, a proposed esports commission and legislative Democrats’ plan to offset educational losses during a year of COVID. Carson City Restaurant Spotlight makes a triumphant return.

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

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


The effort to reopen the doors of the Legislature to the public has finally moved beyond rhetoric and press releases.

After giving a floor speech denouncing the continued closure of the building on Tuesday, Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) made a motion on the Assembly floor to “open the Legislative Building under the same safety procedures of Walmart, bars, casinos and other businesses.”

After a short recess to discuss legislative rules, the motion wasn’t recognized — the motion came under the wrong order of business (“Remarks from the Floor” and not “Motions, Resolutions and Notices”). Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) told my colleague Michelle Rindels after the session on Tuesday that it was an “inappropriate motion.”

Black nonetheless wrote in her newsletter that she plans to bring up similar motions during floor sessions. But Black — a freshman in the minority party who opted to not join the Assembly Republican Caucus — has relatively few cards to play under Assembly procedural rules. 

In essence, there’s no realistic pathway for a motion like the one Black brought to pass unless she’s able to get the support of a majority of the Assembly — an impossible task in the Democratic-controlled body. If she’s able to get her procedural ducks in a row, make the motion at the right time and is recognized by the Assembly speaker, Black could in theory force a roll call vote related to the building’s closure.

Such a vote would likely be on a motion to table Black’s initial motion, so not a direct vote on opening the building. It’d also default to a voice vote, but she’d need support from only two colleagues to force a roll call vote (fellow Republicans Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and John Ellison (R-Elko) spoke in favor of her motion on Tuesday).

Even if all the pieces fall into place and a roll call vote is taken, any victory would be symbolic — I don’t think any Assembly Democrats would publicly move away from leadership’s position that a limited reopening should come in mid-April, after building staff are fully vaccinated.

Outside of that fight, there have also been more developments in the legal effort to open up the Legislative Building. The federal lawsuit filed by four conservative lobbyists last month has now been appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, after the case was not granted an expedited briefing schedule by Judge Miranda Du.

Du issued a minute order (essentially a judge’s abbreviated decision that’s less formal than a written order) stating that the plaintiffs failed to request expedited briefing in their motion and “did not otherwise establish they are entitled to an expedited briefing schedule.” 

The plaintiffs appealed that minute order to the 9th Circuit on Tuesday (you can read a copy of the filing here). It largely recaps arguments from the initial filing, and says that Du’s order on the expedited briefing schedule is inaccurate because the lawsuit was filed as an emergency motion and because there are only 90 or so days left in the legislative session.

A 9th Circuit clerk’s order (also filed on Wednesday) stated that the appeals court “may lack jurisdiction over this appeal” because the minute order filed by Du “does not appear to be a final or appealable order.”  It ordered plaintiffs to either voluntarily dismiss the appeal or to show cause as to “why it should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction” sometime before March 8.

I’m not an attorney, and I haven’t owned a Magic 8 Ball since I was 9, so I’m hesitant to predict what the future might hold in terms of the timeline for re-opening the Legislative Building. 

But I think actually kicking off the vaccinations for building staff, legislators and press last week (plus the mid-April tentative date for a limited re-opening) helps quell at least some of the concerns that I’ve seen and heard expressed about the plan, or lack thereof, to safely open the building while still protecting staff. 

Addendum: This is the tenth edition of the newsletter that we’ve published, and we’re hovering around the 900-subscriber milestone. Thank you to everyone who continues to subscribe and read this newsletter every week. It’s listed at the top every week, but if you have any feedback or things you would like to see, please send me an email at rsnyder@thenvindy.com

— Riley Snyder


Should inmates get paid minimum wage?

In December 2015, Darrell White fractured a finger bone while on the job as a firefighter for the state Division of Forestry, leaving him temporarily disabled for 144 days.

White filed a worker’s compensation claim, but there was a problem: His job came through an inmate work program hosted by the Nevada Department of Corrections, and his worker’s compensation amount was tied to the miniscule wage ($18 to $22 a month, or $0.50 a day) paid to inmate workers in the state.

White lost a court case in 2019 challenging his worker’s compensation amount, but the issue of state correctional institutions paying inmates subminimum wage has drawn national attention.

It’s why Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) is sponsoring SB140, a bill that would require the Nevada Department of Corrections to pay inmate workers a salary equal to the state’s minimum wage, and change deduction programs to ensure that more dollars are given to inmates once released from prison. The bill was introduced last week and is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday.

In an interview, Neal said that paying inmates less than the minimum wage was a counterintuitive policy — the state already pays millions of dollars to prepare and support inmates for reentry into society, but once released, inmates (especially those who previously worked for in a skilled industry) have to essentially start from scratch because their previous jobs in a prison industry paid so little.

“It doesn't make sense to push them out onto welfare, when they've worked for a private corporation inside the prison,” she said in an interview on Monday.

Nevada inmates work in both “regular jobs” and in “correctional industries,” which covers a wide variety of programs including sewing clothes, welding, horse raising, printing, sorting hangers and auto restoration. The state’s correctional industry program is called “Silver State Industries” and employs around 4 percent of the state prison population at any given time, or about 400 to 600 individuals.

Inmates employed in Silver State Industries can make anywhere from $0.25 to $5.15 an hour, according to a 2017 survey of inmate wages by Prison Policy Initiative.

The legislation would also eliminate all deductions currently taken out of incarcerated worker salaries, save for those required for familial support or restitution for victims. Any wages left over after those deductions would be placed in the newly-created “Offenders’ Release Fund,” which would house inmate income and distribute aggregate wages to inmates once released from prison.

Inmates employed through Silver State Industries remit a significant portion of their wages — nearly a quarter go to room and board, 5 percent goes to a statewide account to compensate victims of crime, and another 5 percent goes to a fund for capital projects to “house new or expanded Prison Industry programs.”

Neal said she expects pushback from the state Department of Corrections, as the remitted inmate wages help with the agency’s usual budget woes. The agency filed a fiscal note on the bill, saying it would require the agency to “significantly” increase pay to inmates, and that another portion of state law prohibits inmates from entering into normal employment contracts with the state prison system.

But Neal said the current system was too reminiscent of convict leasing — a post-slavery practice of forcing mostly-Black prisoners to work on railways, mines or plantations for no wages.

“Now, whether or not the bill gets passed out of committee. I mean, at least I have a hearing to discuss what I think is a legitimate issue on how we are not really serving (inmates),” she said.

— Riley Snyder

Getting Nevada’s students back on track

The pandemic and the move to virtual learning over the past year has led to an ongoing academic achievement gap that Democratic lawmakers hope to address through an education policy aimed at at-risk students.

Legislators unveiled details of the policy proposal, which will provide school districts with funding for summer school programs and other resources, during a virtual press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"Learning loss because of the pandemic is a crisis that threatens to set many of our kids back with the potential of leaving behind a widened achievement gap," Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) said. "If we don't work now to correct it, it will have implications for their educational development for years to come."

Under the "Back on Track Act," school districts would:

  • Create a learning loss prevention plan reviewed and approved by the Nevada Department of Education.
  • Set up virtual or in-person summer programs for students pre-K through 12th grade
  • Receive funding to provide educators and support staff, including mental health professionals, with supplemental pay.
  • Offer transportation and meal services for students in need.

To fund the program, lawmakers are banking on federal aid that the state would receive as part of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package under consideration in the Senate. Parents will not pay any additional costs for the program, lawmakers said.

Tameka Henry, the mother of two children attending schools in the Las Vegas area, said that her children have struggled with their studies and mental health throughout the pandemic. 

"We cannot afford to leave one child behind," Henry said. "Parents should have the options at their disposal, as these summer schools, and other resources, especially counselors, and those dealing with our children's mental health. These should be free options that will help get us back on track."

— Tabitha Mueller

Could video games be Nevada’s latest pillar of economic development?

Andrew Andinster Woodward of Spacestation Gaming (Courtesy Hyperx Esports Arena)

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) has denied to this newsletter that he’s a gamer in real life.

But that’s not stopping the lawmaker from banking on large-scale “Fortnite” and “League of Legends” tournaments as a brave new world in Nevada economic development.

Kieckhefer’s bill, SB165, dropped Tuesday and would create a three-member Nevada Esports Commission. Duties would be something similar to those of the Nevada Athletic Commission that regulates boxing — Esports regulators would register events with purses larger than $1,000, enforce integrity of video game tournaments and even set drug-testing requirements for players.

It’s not a new idea for Nevada to explore the professional gaming realm. In 2016, then-Gov. Brian Sandoval entertained the idea and heard from professional “cyberathletes” during a meeting of his Nevada Gaming Policy Committee. 

Kieckhefer said it may have been premature five years ago, but since then, Las Vegas has unveiled venues including the Hyperx Esports Arena. It’s a 30,000-foot, self-described “gamer’s paradise” at the Luxor complete with a “gamer-inspired” menu heavy on Red Bull cocktails to fuel those all-night LAN parties.

“They fill stadiums all over the world ... for big tournaments of $20, $30 million. So the prospect of bringing these types of events to Las Vegas, I think, is a no-brainer,” Kieckhefer said. “Couple that with, sort of, the fact that a lot of these participants and fans are in their 20s — it's an opportunity to bring a young new audience to Las Vegas.” 

— Michelle Rindels

Carson City Restaurant Spotlight: Poké Beach

A soon to be devoured bowl of poke from the Poké Beach in Carson City. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

Trying poke (pronounce poh-kay) was a bit of a last food frontier for me — I have some lingering fish-hesitance from my childhood.

But since trying Poké Beach a few Nevada Days ago, I’ve been absolutely hooked on this place and the Hawaiian-inspired dish as a whole.

Think of it as deconstructed sushi, with all sorts of tasty fresh seafood heaped on a base of rice and topped with an abundance of veggies and sauces. What you lose in perfect sushi roll presentation, you gain in quantity, speed, and portability.

One of my favorite lunches is a Lava Bowl with half rice, half Fritos as a base, plus mango, jalapeño, avocado and a generous supply of sriracha. It’ll set you back $12 to $14, but it’ll power you through hours of afternoon committees and spare you both a carb coma and fried-food guilt.

Place your order at (775) 434-7066, get their app or order from the site at www.thepokebeach.com. The restaurant is located at 1442 E. Williams St. #2 in Carson City. 

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


What we’re reading

Storey County and the county water district are not so keen on the idea of letting a major tech company form their own separate autonomous governing structure, Daniel Rothberg reports.

Details on the effort to create the first statewide human trafficking task force, via Sean Golonka.

Another excellent installment of our Freshman Orientation profiles takes a look at Democratic Assemblywoman Natha Anderson, Michelle Rindels reports.

There are a handful of people in Nevada public life who you can read a quote from and hear it exactly in their voice. Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers, who argued for the Legislature in the Opportunity Scholarship program lawsuit oral arguments, is one of those people (via Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez).

Real estate, home builders and developers were the largest overall donors to lawmakers in the 2020 election cycle, Jacob Solis reports.

A hearing on a bill from the state Division of Water Resources to limit judicial review on decisions made by the state’s top water official almost (I’m so sorry for this) drowned in opposition (Nevada Current).

Nevada Department of Wildlife vs. Pete Goicoechea vs. the Center for Biological Diversity (Nevada Current)

Details on the bill to count house arrest toward times served (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“Washoe ZIP codes with the highest infection rates have a higher proportion of lower-income residents and a larger share of minorities — Hispanics in particular.” (Reno Gazette-Journal)

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 8 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 11 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 88 (May 31, 2021)

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lawmakers preparing for mining tax fight

Nevada legislators scrutinize mining tax breaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Riley Snyder


Assemblywoman goes viral with legislative TikToks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michelle Rindels & Riley Snyder


State seeks increased participation from tribal members in naming of places 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez


UPCOMING BILLS OF NOTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we’re reading

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

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

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

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

NSHE budget hearings are rarely dull, via Jacob Solis.

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

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

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

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

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

UPCOMING DEADLINES

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

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

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

Continued expansion of mail voting, straight-ticket ballots among election proposals on Legislature’s docket

Lawmakers kicked off the 2021 session in the shadow of a bruising election marked by the former president sowing doubt about the results and a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

It’s served to push the two parties further apart: Republicans are trying to roll back an expansion of voting opportunities based on instances they’ve seen of stray ballots and unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud. Democrats have become even more strident defenders of the election’s integrity.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) reiterated in an interview what state and local election officials have said about the election: that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. She said any policy discussions or ideas that stem from the “plethora of lies” related to the election wouldn’t see the light of day this session.

“To somehow say the Legislature should get involved in this, is really founded on that fundamental principle that is being spread throughout the United States, which led to an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Cannizzaro said in an interview on Thursday. “We're not going to do any policy in this building based upon that crime.”

Republicans in recent weeks distanced themselves from the more extreme allegations lodged by President Donald Trump’s supporters and campaign, which posited that up to 10 percent of ballots cast in Nevada might be fraudulent. Following a press conference last week, representatives of the Assembly Republican Caucus asserted that the election was not “fraudulent” but that reforms were still needed to button up procedures and address what polls show is a lack of confidence in the process.

But the issue is not totally put to rest. Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler still referenced 42,000 duplicate ballots in the press conference as something that should be investigated, and Republican Sen. Carrie Buck suggested 1,500 dead people voting during a committee hearing. Both allegations trace back to Trump campaign officials and were presented in an election challenge lawsuit rejected in court; proponents have yet to publicly attach names to the tens of thousands of votes they consider suspicious.

Under the stated goal of “enacting meaningful election reform,” Republican lawmakers have introduced a suite of legislation related to elections — everything from full-scale repeals of expanded mail-in voting, requiring identification to vote and rolling back changes lawmakers made in 2019, such as same-day voter registration.

Most of those could be considered dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson both said they’re open to concepts that will improve the function of the state’s election system, as long as they come in good faith and don't aim to solve an unsubstantiated voter fraud problem.

“We all want accurate elections,” Frierson said. “The folks that are concerned about accuracy and fraud, regardless of whether or not I believe that the basis for those concerns is legitimate or reliable, I do believe that we need to hear them out and make sure that we have an inclusive vetting process.”

Kelley George helps voters turn in their mail-in ballots at the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Keeping expanded mail-in voting permanently

Few bills passed out of the Legislature have sparked more partisan flames than AB4.

The bill, passed on party lines in a 2020 special legislative session, required state election officials to mail ballots to all active registered voters in the state, while continuing in-person early and Election Day voting and legalizing “ballot collection,” where individuals are allowed to pick up and drop off mail ballots for non-family members (a practice described pejoratively by Republicans as “ballot harvesting”).

Democrats said the measure was a necessary step in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; Republicans complained that it was a last-minute rules change aimed at giving the other party a leg up. (A lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign seeking to block implementation of the measure was dismissed before the election).

But with the dust mostly settled from the 2020 election — which saw a record number of votes cast and nearly half submitted through mail or a drop box —  Nevada Democrats are now doubling down. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson wrote in a recent op-ed that he planned to introduce a bill in the 2021 Legislature that would make the provisions of AB4 permanent and not subject to whether or not the state is in a pandemic.

In an interview Thursday, Frierson touted the heavy use of the mail option, saying it was evidence that voters would continue to use that method of voting even after the pandemic.

“It would be different if we went from 9 percent to 11 percent (mail turnout), and folks were simply determined to vote in person no matter what,” he said. “But the incredible turnout that we saw this past election cycle speaks to what Nevadans as a whole want, and as long as we continue to do that in a safe and secure and effective way, I think it's certainly always a good thing to give folks the freedom to make as many choices as they can.”

No bill language has been introduced, and Frierson said he would be “open to some tweaks” based on feedback from state and local election officials on any issues that came up in carrying out the 2020 election — notably in reporting results faster. 

But the Assembly Democratic leader poured cold water on proposals to cut back on ballot collection practices, saying he wouldn’t implement policy based on “a made-up concern that there's no factual basis for.”

“If you have suggestions about how to improve what we have, then we're going to have a vetting process to have that conversation,” he said. “But if your only answer is there are problems that we have not been able to identify, so we just think we should take steps backwards, that's not really something that is solving a problem.”

Nevada Assemblywoman, Robin Titus on the first day of the 31st Special Session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Republican pushback on AB4

But Republicans nonetheless chafe at AB4, and many signed on to bills that would repeal that section of law entirely.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus said her caucus remained opposed to the continued expansion of mail-in voting and that making the proposal permanent would “drive us further apart.” Any perception that voters are restricted without sweeping mail balloting is a “manufactured crisis by partisan politicians,” she said. 

“We have an unshakable conviction that universal mail and voting and ballot harvesting will further degrade the fragile civic trust already shared by millions of people in the state of Nevada,” she said.

Assemblyman Andy Matthews is sponsoring AB134, which would repeal all of the changes made in AB4. He said he wanted to bring the bill over concerns from constituents about the security of the state’s election system, including when ballots arrive at their homes for people who have moved or died.

“I'm not telling them they should have doubts about election security,” Matthews said. “And it's not coming from an elected official or from a news network or a pundit. This is just something they see with their own eyes. And they go, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn't add up.’”

Voters cast their ballots at a polling location inside John Dooley Elementary School in Henderson on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Straight-ticket voting and vacancy appointment changes

Legislative Democrats have broader ambitions for election policy beyond keeping universal mail-in voting in place.

Democratic Sen. Roberta Lange proposes allowing voters to cast a straight ticket vote in partisan races — essentially allowing voters to choose a party’s entire candidate slate with a single mark on the ballot. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only six other states still have straight-ticket voting laws on the books.

Lange said straight-ticket voting options help increase participation among minority populations, and that it could help avoid issues of “undervoting,” where people just cast a vote for high-profile races and skip down-ballot contests.

“Lots of times, it's too much for people to go through,” she said. “So it just gives an opportunity for people that want to vote straight Democrat or straight Republican to have options to bubble in, and it increases their participation.”

Another significant change in Lange’s bill, which has not yet been introduced, would come in the process of filling vacancies. 

Current law requires that county commissions fill vacant legislative seats in their jurisdiction, by picking from a slate of applicants who are required to live in the same district and be of the same political party. The proposed change would remove county commissioners from the appointment process and allow the highest-ranking member of the same party in the respective legislative chamber to choose the replacement.

Lange said that county commissioners have expressed frustration about making appointments to a body that they themselves don’t serve on. She said individual caucus leaders would be better suited to making that call.

“It's hard for the county commission to understand and know everything that we might need, because we work together, we're very close,” Lange said. “And so it just makes sense that it would stay with the body of where that opening is.”

The proposed bill also changes the procedure for filling nomination vacancies after a primary election but before the general election, giving the appointment power to the senior partisan leader in the appropriate jurisdiction.

It’d change the process if the vacancy occurs and there are no other members in the jurisdiction of the same political party — it’d then go to the governor, all statewide elected officers, and then legislative leadership, with the first elected official of the same political party in that lineup given the decision-making power.

Another provision would clear up conflicting opinions as to the selection of major party candidates in special elections to fill U.S. House seats — clarifying that a primary election is required before a special election.

The issue arose in the 2011, where political parties differed on whether state law on special elections should be considered “open” (with an unlimited number of candidates,) or if state party central committees should select the nominees for the special election. The election was won by Republican Mark Amodei, who still holds the seat. 

Lange’s bill would also repeal sections of state law related to the function and structure of major political parties in the state. She said the current statutory scheme could easily run afoul of the Constitution, as the state shouldn’t be involved in the governance and structure of political parties as private organizations.

“The political parties already have their own constitution and bylaws,” she said. “So it should be a fairly easy transition. It doesn't change what they're doing.”

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

Blanket primary

Nevada’s ever-growing bloc of nonpartisan voters could have a greater voice if lawmakers advance a bill to implement a “blanket primary,” although even proponents expect it will be a hard sell among legislative leaders who are the product of the two-party system.

The measure introduced by Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, SB121, creates a modified nonpartisan “blanket” primary system in which the names of all candidates appear on the primary election ballot and any registered voter may vote for any candidate, regardless of their affiliation with a political party.

It would essentially make Nevada elections that are run as partisan operations to run more like nonpartisan elections, such as those for local government seats. That doesn’t necessarily mean the candidates chosen are more moderate — outspoken conservatives such as Las Vegas City Council members Michele Fiore and Victoria Seaman won their nonpartisan races, for example.

“I think it's dangerous to make assumptions about what the outcomes are going to be because I don't think that's how it works,” Kieckhefer said. “I don't think it necessarily rewards moderation. It rewards responsiveness, attention to a broader swath of the electorate.”

Legislative leaders gave the idea a cold reception in interviews. Frierson said he personally wasn’t interested in the concept of open primaries, and had issues with the potential cost as well as effects on the party process.

“I don't see what problem that would be solving,” he said.

Cannizzaro said she didn’t know that Democrats were interested in the concept.

“We have political parties that are picking their nominations,” she said. “That's really what our primary election is for, is who's representing that particular … organized political party on the ballot.”

The Nevada Republican Party memorialized its opposition to the concept in its 2020 platform.

“We support the current, partisan primary election system, and oppose any alternative such as the Open Primary System,” the platform states.

Doug Goodman, executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform and a proponent of the concept, said he thinks the idea doesn’t stand a chance with the current leadership but might succeed if it went to a statewide vote. 

“One is the status quo,” he said. “‘This is how elections are done, and we're the party that benefits from the current system.’ They don't realize that the party that gets out there and actually expands the system is actually going to be the party that benefits.”

He also would like to see ranked choice voting, where voters can rank candidates in order of highest to lowest preference, and the candidate with highest overall favorability would win. Democrats used such a process during early voting for the presidential caucuses.

“It was very well received,” he said. “People loved it.” 

Cannizzaro said Democrats don’t have any plans to expand use of that concept.

Voter ID

Proposals to require ID to vote have failed even in Republican-led sessions. In 2015, the concept got a hearing but ultimately failed amid arguments that the practice throws up too many barriers for people, especially the elderly who may no longer have a license.

This time, Republican Sen. Keith Pickard and Republican Assemblyman John Ellison have both requested voter ID bills be drafted. 

The measures would keep the practice of voters who show up to the polls stating their name, signing a roster and having the poll worker look them up to verify they have not voted and comparing the signature to one on file. But it would add a requirement that the voter present proof of identification; those who do not have a driver’s license or similar identification could apply to the DMV for a voter identification card.

Cannizzaro panned the concept.

“Voter ID laws are, quite frankly, in every way in which you can look at this issue ... a way to disenfranchise poor, minority, and elderly populations, who have less ability to obtain state-issued licenses,” she said. “We're not going to do that now. We're not going to disenfranchise voters under the guise of election security.”

Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler outside of the Legislative Building before the Assembly gaveled in fon the fourth day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Saturday, July 11, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Legislature certifying the vote

Wheeler is bringing a bill that would have the Legislature certify elections — an idea that would be a shift from the current practice of  having Supreme Court justices canvass the results of a general election in late November. The governor then issues certificates of election to the winners in a process that is largely a low-key formality but garnered much more attention in 2020.

Wheeler has requested a resolution that would amend the Nevada Constitution and require the Legislature to do the canvass and certification. Formal language for that idea has not been released, and amending the Constitution would require approval in two subsequent legislative sessions and through a statewide vote.

Wheeler said such a change would align the Nevada Constitution with the U.S. Constitution. That appears to be a reference to a portion of the U.S. Constitution that says “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State.”

“I think that if the people saw it was their closest representatives —  legislators — certifying the elections, not the secretary of state, not the governor, not anyone else, not the Supreme Court, that it’s their legislators that are doing that, they're gonna have more faith in our elections,” he said. “And that's all I'm looking for.”

In the aftermath of his 2020 loss, President Donald Trump requested lawmakers in states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia to help him reverse a loss in those states by appointing an alternative slate of electors supportive of the president. None of the states ultimately fulfilled the request.

Wheeler said he doesn’t anticipate a change in the certification process would alter the results of the election, but would give lawmakers another juncture to review the results. 

“If there was widespread allegations of fraud … then we might call a hearing before we certify none of that happened," he said. "We've got that power, the other people don't."

Cannizzaro said such a concept was unnecessary.

“I have the utmost confidence in our election officials to be able to run elections and to be able to certify those results and to give us information about those results,” she said. “So I don't know why we would go and mess with that process, and insert ourselves.”

Reporter Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report.