Lawmakers accept $2.7 billion in American Rescue Plan funds; approve millions for homeowner assistance, education programs

State lawmakers have formally approved accepting Nevada’s $2.7 billion share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, while also approving a slew of initial spending programs including more than $50 million to help low-income Nevadans pay for housing.

Members of the Interim Finance Committee met Tuesday to authorize the governor’s office to accept the full ARP allotment and designate allocations of more than $76 million in federal aid programs, including $39.5 million in rental assistance, $12.1 million in homeowner assistance and $13.9 million for the Department of Education to ensure federal relief funds are properly administered.

Tuesday’s meeting — the first interim meeting of legislators since the regular 120-day session ended last month — also served to outline how lawmakers and the governor’s office plan to spend the multibillion-dollar federal windfall. 

The vote taken by lawmakers (which also funds the $5 million in vaccine incentive prizes announced by the state last week) will place the federal dollars into an executive budget account, which lawmakers said they will use similarly to a reserve account and to fund proposed programs after gathering additional public input. The state set up an online portal to accept spending ideas from members of the public, members of executive branch agencies and state lawmakers, and IFC Chair Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said it has received about 1,000 submissions since it opened in April.

Lawmakers stressed that the votes on Tuesday were not intended to leapfrog other priorities for the federal funds — including legislation passed just weeks ago requiring the state to spend $335 million of the allotment to pay back money borrowed from the federal government to sustain unemployment benefits and $54 million to modernize the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“This is the agreement that we have, and we just want to make sure it's very clear to folks that we can walk and chew gum and fix two or three problems at the same time,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said during the meeting.

Brooks said that the $2.7 billion was only a portion of the estimated $7 billion total in federal monies coming to the state in the form of direct grants to school districts, counties and cities, and myriad other programs. With all the different pots of money, he said lawmakers “want to make sure that there's no waste, and that it's going to the best and highest use, and there's no duplication.”

Here’s a look at some of the major funding allocations made by the committee on Tuesday:

Homeowner assistance program

Programs to help tenants catch up on rent have been up and running for the last year, but a vote on Tuesday gets the ball rolling on an entirely new, $121 million program to support struggling homeowners.

The Homeowner Assistance Fund is targeted toward property owners who have faced hardship since late January 2020 or after on account of the pandemic. Because the state needs time to set up a portal and put the project out to bid, it will probably take at least 90 days before applications are accepted.

Instead of being disbursed through the state and local government agencies, the fund will be managed by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation, which previously had been administering money from the U.S. Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund that supported 18 states affected most by the Great Recession.

The Hardest Hit Fund was a $200 million program that ultimately supported about 8,000 individual homeowners. The new Homeowner Assistance Fund is expected to help about 6,800 households.

Carlton said federal COVID-19 aid had previously been reserved to help renters pay their landlords, on the understanding that tenants were exposed to the more immediate effects of the pandemic and mortgage forbearance initiatives would relieve pressure on homeowners. But she said many homeowners have been asking for assistance.

“Seeing a program come forward for homeowners is very gratifying,” she said.

Lawmakers approved spending 10 percent of the allotment to get the program up and running, with plans to build out technology infrastructure and ramp up staffing at the corporation that officials say is operating with a skeleton crew. The first initiatives are expected to be the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program — which would bring homeowners who are receiving unemployment benefits current on payments and help support a monthly payment — as well as a Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program geared toward people who have returned to work and need to get current with payments to avoid a foreclosure.

The unemployment program is expected to be capped at $54,000 per recipient, with the reinstatement program capped at $35,000 per recipient. But officials are eyeing a complete program limit of $100,000 per recipient, with the understanding that the program might evolve over time and people also could need principal reduction. 

Officials plan to get the word out through partnerships with housing counseling agencies, legal aid organizations and more than 100 mortgage servicers. The outreach involves coordinated mail campaigns that put special emphasis on hard-hit areas.

The program is expected to last for about five years. Some lawmakers questioned whether the estimated $17 million in administrative costs for the program was too high; officials said the costs stem from the complexity of complying with U.S. Treasury guidelines and the fact that applicants may need widely varying amounts of money.

Preparing for education spending

The committee also approved a round of allocations of ARP funds for the Department of Education that included nearly $14 million to ensure that federal relief funds for K-12 schools are properly administered.

“This is a whole new world for us,” said Carlton, who also serves as vice chair of the committee. “So we just want to be able to build in some of that transparency and ongoing communication between the department and IFC on how these dollars are spent in the future.”

In order to ensure the department’s spending of ARP funds is in compliance with guidance from the U.S. Treasury, the agency plans to use $431,000 of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to hire an “education programs supervisor,” who will help oversee the rollout of ARP funds over the coming years.

The additional funds for the department will go toward other temporary positions aimed at supporting the administration of ARP funds, as well as a few other small programs, including $400,000 to help the department in its transition to the new funding formula.

However, one project included within the department’s allocation of ARP funds was hotly contested during the meeting — a request for $10 million to contract with an external auditor who would help ensure the department remains compliant with ESSER and ARP requirements.

Some lawmakers questioned whether the audit would be needed and how long the contract would take, while others expressed concern over giving the agency the full $10 million for a multiyear contract when the department still needs to reach an agreement with a third party to complete the audit.

“We totally appreciate the audit function,” Carlton said. “Not with the Department of Education, but with other departments, we've had problems where we've given it all to them and found out at the end that none of it worked. And we ended up in a lawsuit, and we had to fund it all over again.”

The committee settled on allocating $5 million for the contract, with plans for the department to come back to the committee when it needs the rest of the funding for the audit contract.

The IFC additionally approved $1.8 million for the department with the goal of identifying and supporting the needs of homeless students.

However, IFC Chair Chris Brooks questioned the breakdown of that allocation across different county school districts. The breakdown was not available for public viewing.

“Why does Carson City — a population of 50,000 people — get $170,000 and Clark (County) — population of two-point-something million — get roughly twice that $342,000?” Brooks asked.

Seng-Dao Yang Keo, director of the Office of Student and School Supports for the department, explained that districts are awarded the grants competitively based on a variety of factors that include percentage of youth who are homeless and county capacity for serving those youth, which is why “one might see the disproportionality.”

Through ARP funding for homeless children and youth, the state will eventually be getting another round of funding of nearly $5.3 million to support that same population.

Other allocations

The committee approved a wide swath of work programs during the Tuesday meeting, including a few smaller allocations of ARP funding.

One allocation of federal funds will grant the Nevada Arts Council nearly $800,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to help support non-profit arts organizations and individual artists as they recover from the pandemic.

The committee also approved $2.7 million to improve access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by bolstering the infrastructure of the program, which includes expanding the program’s call center capacity and reducing call center wait times. The allocation is meant to ensure benefits can better reach underserved communities.

Another allocation of a little more than $100,000 in ARP funds, along with more than $200,000 in CARES Act funding, will go towards setting up the Office of Small Business Advocacy, which was established by AB184 during the 2021 legislative session. The office is meant to provide assistance directly to small businesses owners, including connecting those owners directly to economic relief programs.

After some discussion, committee members approved an allocation of around $2.5 million in federal funds aimed at addressing health disparities among at-risk and underserved populations. Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) commended the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to coordinate and work with a variety of stakeholders during the pandemic, but noted that “we also want to do a better job specifically on health equity, specifically on disparate impact.” 

DHHS officials responded that the department is looking at continuing to fund its Office of Minority Health and Equity and support its Minority Health and Equity Coalition. Tina Dortch with the office of Minority Health and Equity said that the office has been cultivating relationships in minority communities and will keep working with those communities. Dortch added that the additional funding will allow staff to continue to develop those relationships and build out existing programming.

Legislators on the committee also approved allocating $283,000 to the Department of Motor Vehicles for computer programming costs associated with legislation approved in the 2021 session, including measures decriminalizing traffic tickets (AB116), changes to special license plates for the Las Vegas Golden Knights (AB123) and the “Divine Nine” Black sororities and fraternities (SB163) and prohibiting the suspension of driver license fees by a court over unpaid fees or fines (SB219).

Updated on June 24, 2021 at 8:25 a.m. to correct the amount of funding allocated to the DMV for implementation of bills passed by the 2021 Legislature.

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.

Lawmakers begin wrapping up 2021 session; ‘Right to Return’ passes, Death with Dignity fails

The Nevada Legislature building as seen in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017.

Crunch time has finally arrived for the Legislature, with lawmakers planning to work steadily through Sunday to work out compromises and pass scores of bills with less than a day and a half left in the 120-day session.

Much attention has been paid to negotiations over the long anticipated AB495 — the measure implementing a new excise tax on mining and various other education and health care changes, up for its first hearing on Sunday evening. But many other high-profile measures are finally approaching the finish line — including final votes on “Right to Return” legislation, as well as last-minute appropriations and amendments.

Here’s a look at some of the latest developments in Carson City on the penultimate day of session. 

Physician aid in dying legislation will not advance

A deeply divisive bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication is not moving forward.

Bill sponsor Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent on Sunday that there was no consensus on AB351 and the bill would not receive any further hearings or a floor vote. 

“I've lost all hope,” Flores said. “The position of the leadership is just, we don’t think the votes are there.”

Similar legislation divided Republicans and Democrats in 2017, when it passed 11-10 in the Senate. Democrats largely supported the measure, but the bill never made it to a final vote after it died in an Assembly committee. A 2019 measure sponsored by then Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas) also never received a floor vote after passing through its first committee.

Flores chalked the death of the bill up to ethical dilemmas and hesitancy to pass such a contentious piece of legislation. But he hopes to continue the dialogue in future sessions.

“It's funny how … there's very contested bills and then one session it just comes in and it goes right through,” Flores said. “And I think it's a lot of just that education component, and then kind of holding out, just being consistent.”

In early April, New Mexico became the latest state to provide a legal pathway for physician aid-in-dying, Flores said, noting that opinions are shifting.

“There's an obvious trend where states are recognizing that there's folk who need it, and should have a right to request it if they want it,” Flores said. “So I think we'll come back in two years and do this whole thing again.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Assembly approves ‘Right to Return’ legislation, bill heads back to the Senate for final vote

The Assembly gave quick party-line approval to legislation that would guarantee the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

The 26 Democratic Assembly members outvoted 16 Republicans to send SB386 back to the Senate for final concurrence on an amendment. The Senate voted along party lines last Wednesday to approve the legislation.

Lawmakers on Friday evening adopted an amendment that exempts small businesses — ones that prior to the pandemic employed 30 or fewer workers — from being affected by the so-called “Right to Return” legislation. The amendment likely exempts small restaurants and vendors operating in casinos from having to comply with the hiring requirements in the bill.

Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) urged lawmakers to vote against the legislation, saying its passage would hurt small businesses and 30 “seemed like an arbitrary number.”

However, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) called SB386 a bill that “protects the people that built this state. They are the economic engine of Las Vegas.”

Carlton said the 78-day shutdown of the gaming industry in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic a year ago March, “was done for the right reasons. This is also the right thing to do. This protects everyone.”

Gaming interests and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile legislation earlier last week, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers. The Nevada Resort Association agreed to take a neutral position on the bill in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators are on board with the proposed legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors the right to return to their jobs, covering those workers laid off after March 12, 2020, and who were employed for at least six months in the year before the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

— Howard Stutz

Amendments to a bill pushing citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

A bill directing law enforcement to issue citations in lieu of arresting people for misdemeanor crimes, AB440, passed out of a conference committee Sunday morning with two amendments, one proposed by Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) and the other from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas).

Settelmeyer’s amendment establishes requirements for candidates running for county sheriff in rural Nevada counties. Specifically, the amendment lowers the population threshold for required qualifications from 100,000 to 30,000 and stipulates that a candidate running for county sheriff must have accumulated at least five years of service as a law enforcement officer and have been certified by the state or a federal law enforcement training program.

The other amendment gives law enforcement officials time to implement the measure, specifying that provisions within the act do not apply until the Division of Parole and Probation has sufficient resources to carry out the measure.

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

— Tabitha Mueller

Gender-neutral bathrooms bill gets messy

A discussion over a bill requiring that single-stall bathrooms be designated as gender neutral going forward turned into a discussion about whether more urine ends up on the floor in men’s rooms.

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he would oppose the bill — AB280 from Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) — because he doesn’t think there should be mandates on businesses to make their restrooms unisex. He also argued that “women have more sensitive sensibilities as a whole.”

“By doing this, we're going to be making all the restrooms men's rooms, and that will create problems for a good number of women in society,” Pickard said.

Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), a doctor, also offered an anatomical explanation for why the floor of men’s rooms might be dirtier.

“So, it sounds to me like men are the problem, and they could work on that, but in the meantime, I think the bill is fine,” concluded Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas). 

The committee ended up passing the bill — which “grandparents” in existing restrooms but governs future builds — with Republicans opposed.

— Michelle Rindels

$1 million to Immunize Nevada in AB355

AB355, a bill that already includes a variety of allocations for nonprofits, has a new proposed addition — $1 million for the statewide nonprofit Immunize Nevada.

Sen. Julia Ratti said the organization has seen a deluge of support for the COVID-19 vaccination effort, but much of that is strictly limited to the pandemic. Ratti said she doesn’t want the group to be shortchanged in its normal work.

“This gives them the flexibility to make sure that we're not disrupting the regular programming that they do for flu, back to school,” she said.

So far, the bill includes: $750,000 for the “Expanding the Leaderverse” initiative at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, $350,000 for the “We the People” civics program in schools, more than $3 million for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, $1 million for the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation and $2 million for the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas to develop an ethnobotanical garden for teaching indigenous farming techniques.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) has said that nonprofits often approach the Legislature seeking allocations that they can leverage into further donations, and AB355 is a vehicle for such allocations.

— Michelle Rindels

DETR provides more details on $54 million unemployment system modernization, but timeline of implementation remains unclear

Lawmakers learned more details about a plan from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to modernize the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system during a hearing on Monday, but some legislators were left with questions about how long the project will take and what effect it will have on Nevadans.

Elisa Cafferata, the department’s director, outlined the various ideas for system improvements — primarily deriving from a National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) assessment of the unemployment system — using $54 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. They included: 

  • Vendor development costs ranging from $20 to $30 million
  • Support for programming staff and consultants ranging from $10 to $12.5 million
  • Annual operating costs ranging from $3 to $5 million
  • A 10 to 15 percent project management fee ranging from $3.3 to $7.1 million

Cafferata noted during the hearing that the combination of those costs puts the estimated total for the modernization project between $36.3 million and $54.6 million. Along with Cafferata, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) joined the hearing to present AB484 — the bill authorizing the department to use $54 million in federal funds for the modernization project after that money is received.

Frierson emphasized the need for upgrading the state’s unemployment system, as Nevada dealt with record-setting unemployment in April 2020 amidst the pandemic. 

“We're all aware that our technology is significantly dated,” Frierson said. “We hired additional staff, called upon our retirees and used every available resource to help Nevadans through this crisis. However, the reality is that despite the extra help, our outdated technology systems left us fighting a fight without equipment that can keep up with our needs.”

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) additionally called the proposed fixes to the unemployment system the “number one priority” for the Legislature this session.

Cafferata noted that although the department would use some of the federal funds immediately on short-term upgrades, the complete modernization of DETR’s unemployment system would not begin until the department completes the request for proposal (RFP) process to solicit a business partner for creating the new cloud-based unemployment system.

After multiple lawmakers questioned how long it would take until those in the unemployment system begin to notice changes, the department provided little clarity on a timeline but did note that upgrades could come in different phases.

“The timeline is fluid because we need to develop the RFP for the modernization, and that will, based on the business requirements, really sort of flesh out what the timeline would be,” Cafferata said. “We will work with our IT governance team to sort of add some details around the phased implementation.”

Cafferata added that NASWA’s estimated timeline for the project is two and a half to three and a half years. However, that project would be undertaken after the RFP process that Cafferata said is designed to flesh out the business requirements of the project, which could include anywhere from 400 to 1,000 different requirements.

Though some legislators expressed displeasure with the vague timeline provided and continued to press the department about when modernization would be completed, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly’s budget committee, came to the department’s defense.

“We don't have the money yet, so it's really hard to tell how long it's going to take,” Carlton said. “We don't know when those dollars will actually come across the state borders for us to be able to spend.”

She and other lawmakers also highlighted the significant amount of work the department accomplished during the pandemic.

Despite still having an outdated system, Cafferata announced on Monday that DETR no longer has a backlog of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims, and she said the department is current in its handling of all new PUA claims in accordance with the federal guidelines to process initial claims within 21 days. She also said that the backlog of regular unemployment claims is down from the hundreds of thousands from when she had started as director to now in the tens of thousands.

Both the department and lawmakers spent time highlighting the need for and benefits of an upgraded system.

The department is working with NASWA, a national organization representing all 50 state workforce agencies, as it plans its system upgrades and works on short term goals to improve the current system. Marilyn Delmont, an administrator at the department, said that NASWA has partnered with 20 states to help them with unemployment system modernization projects, including 13 states that upgraded to cloud-based systems, similar to the one DETR will change to.

Delmont and Cafferata emphasized that the new system would be more capable of scaling up and down, which would make it better equipped to handle a crisis similar to the spike in unemployment claims seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new system would also better allow DETR to implement new federal programs, such as the PUA program.

Frierson said it was important to have a better unemployment system in place to help Nevadans for when the next financial crisis occurs.

“I think that we would have been in a much better place had we been able to have the foresight to modernize our system 10 years ago,” he said. “I am not remotely hesitant in investing dollars and trying to modernize our system, and I wish that we had had the vision to be able to see that this could happen and have done this a long time ago.”

Industry-heavy Patient Protection Commission could get significant membership overhaul

When Gov. Steve Sisolak proposed establishing a Patient Protection Commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of Nevada’s health care system, he told industry representatives that his goal was compromise — and that those not working toward that goal could lose their seats at the table.

Under a bill Sisolak put forward and the Legislature approved in 2019, the commission was established as an industry-heavy body, with a few patient and general public representatives added in, that would come together to address pressing health care issues in the state — in the vein of an industry working group that had successfully compromised on surprise emergency room billing legislation earlier that year.

Today, the commission’s representatives include two doctors, two hospital CEOs, one union health trust representative, one private insurance representative, one drug company executive, a regional behavioral health coordinator and two patient advocates.

But, if Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) has her way this session, the commission may soon see a shakeup of that membership.

A bill sponsored by Carlton, AB348, would overhaul the commission’s membership to instead center primarily around patient advocates and those who work in the nonprofit health care space. 

Carlton, in presenting the bill to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday, lamented what she described as the commission’s “industry flavor,” suggesting it was at odds with the commission’s work, including with the Peterson-Milbank Program, which helps states set and implement health care cost growth targets.

“If we’re going to have real, honest, objective conversations, I believe the industry needs to step back and let other folks come forward and have those real conversations,” Carlton said. “This doesn’t say that the industry can’t participate, they just will not be voting members.”

In an email on Wednesday, Sisolak spokeswoman Meghin Delaney didn’t comment directly on the specifics of the legislation but said the governor supports “bringing more patient voices to the Commission and wants to ensure that all representatives of Nevada's health care community can participate in critical discussions about the future of care in our State.” 

“Governor Sisolak is grateful to the members of the Patient Protection Commission who have spent the past year-and-a-half engaged in transparent and comprehensive dialogue about how to bring affordable and quality health care to Nevada’s residents,” she said.

Delaney also said the governor is “proud” of the commission’s acceptance into the Peterson-Milbank program and that he “looks forward to working closely with the Commission as they implement health care cost growth targets.”

AB348 would specifically require that the commission be made up of:

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

The bill also would transfer the Patient Protection Commission from the governor’s office to the director’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services. It also would require the commission to adopt bylaws and commission members to disclose conflicts of interest and abstain from votes when conflicts arise.

The Health Services Coalition, the Nevada State AFL-CIO and the Culinary Health Fund testified in support of the legislation on Tuesday.

While several industry representatives testified in favor of adding extra voices to the commission, they rebuffed the complete overhaul of the commission's membership as proposed by the bill, which would limit — or in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, entirely eliminate — their representation on the commission.

“We have no concern about the expansion of the commission but would request that the committee consider reinstating at least one more hospital to provide some of the diversity of that perspective and the cost drivers that go with that,” Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist for the Nevada Hospital Association, said during the Tuesday hearing.

But state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, was blunt in her assessment of the commission in its current form. During the hearing, Ratti said she has spent “significant” time working on the two bills that came out of the commission this session — a telehealth bill, SB5, and an all-payer claims database bill, SB40 — and that, in her view, the commission isn’t working.

Ratti praised the commission’s executive director, Sara Cholhagian, and said she believed there have been “good and sincere” efforts by the commission. But she also said she was “okay with trying something a little new.”

“I feel like I’ve been relatively engaged in this process, and I’ve tried to be a good, neutral player to continue to move things along,” Ratti said. “But I hope that, whether you have a seat on the board or not, that everybody stays engaged and we continue to try to figure out how to work together as people who care about advancing health care.”

Several members of the Patient Protection Commission, however, took issue with Ratti’s assessment of the commission during their Wednesday meeting, saying that it glossed over the hours of effort they put into building relationships with one another and trying to come to consensus.

“I am really disappointed, to say the least, about the opinion in the legislators’ minds that the commission is not working,” said Dr. Ikram Khan, the commission’s chair. “It may not be doing what the legislators, in their mind, thought should be happening, and there is always room for modifying the subjects to be addressed and brought to the commission.”

Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted on Tuesday evening on party lines to forward the bill to the Senate for a final vote. The committee’s two Republican members, Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), voiced support for more industry representation on the commission and voted against the legislation.

The proposal passed out of the Assembly last week, also on party lines.

Disclosure: This story and all others about the Patient Protection Commission are edited by Managing Editor Elizabeth Thompson and/or Assistant Editor Michelle Rindels. Sara Cholhagian, the commission’s executive director, is in a relationship with Editor Jon Ralston.

Bills promoting worksharing, college sexual misconduct study and unsupervised play fail at deadline

Although the demise of a bill to abolish the death penalty attracted widespread attention, another 18 bills met their fate in the Legislature at a Friday deadline for second committee passage.

Those included criminal justice reform measures that would have barred police from using deadly force if a subject appeared only to be a harm to themselves, a bill that would have created a treatment program option for people charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and another that would have promoted race-blind charging among prosecutors.

Other ideas — such as a bill relaxing rules around children playing without parent supervision, and one creating a “worksharing” program as an alternative to layoffs — also hit a wall after  passing in their house of origin.

The next major legislative deadline comes Friday, when most bills not exempted from legislative rules have to pass out of their second chamber.

Below is a rundown of the bills that failed to move forward.

AB17: Sponsored by the state’s Division of Parole and Probation, this bill would have eliminated the distinction between an honorable and dishonorable discharge from parole or probation. It passed out of the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, and was heard in the Senate Judiciary committee on April 27, but never came up for a vote before the deadline. It was opposed by the state district attorneys association.

AB129: This campaign finance transparency measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), would have required political action committees in the state to report their cash on hand totals when filing contribution and expenditure reports, similar to the requirement for political candidates. The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly, but never received a hearing in the Senate.

AB160: Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), this bill would have required courts to allow credit for time served in confinement prior to a criminal conviction. The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 33-9 vote, but never received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee prior to the deadline.

AB180: A bill aimed at expanding supplemental policies attached to Medicare for people with disabilities failed to advance past the deadline after never receiving a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee. The measure was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed out of the Assembly on a 40-2 vote.

AB201: Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Cecelia Gonzalez (D-Las Vegas) that aimed to require more tracking and reporting on use of criminal informants failed to advance out of committee by deadline. The bill, which was approved on a party-line 26-16 vote in the Assembly, was heard in the Senate on May 13 and was scheduled for a committee vote on Friday, but was pulled and never voted on.

AB209: Cats may have nine lives, but this bill from Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas) banning the practice of declawing a cat only had one life, which was snuffed out Friday without ever receiving a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It previously passed out of the Assembly on a 28-14.

AB243: A bill that would have required courts to consider whether a defendant is younger than 21 when deciding a sentence failed to clear the deadline. The bill, whose primary sponsor was Assemblyman David Orentlicher (D-Las Vegas) would also authorize prosecutors to establish a system of race-blind charging when considering criminal charges or allegations of criminal delinquency against a child. The bill passed on party lines in the Assembly, with all Republicans opposed.

AB268: The Senate failed to advance a measure that would have required law enforcement agencies to post their use of force policies on their websites. It also would have prohibited police from using deadly force against a person solely based on the premise that the person is a danger to themselves, and if a reasonable peace officer would not consider that the person poses an imminent threat of death or serious harm to the officer or another person. The bill, whose lead sponsor was Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno), also had Democratic co-sponsors and passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB313: This bill would have adjusted the law for removing people from the executive board of a homeowners association, including allowing people voting by secret ballot to do so electronically. It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) and passed in a 40-2 vote, with two Democrats against.

AB339: A bill allowing justice courts to create treatment programs for people convicted of misdemeanor battery that constitutes domestic violence did not survive a deadline. The measure would also have required a court to seal the record of a defendant who successfully completes the program, if it is at least seven years after the charge is conditionally dismissed. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), passed the Assembly with just one lawmaker opposed. 

AB367: Nevada students will not see requirements for “disciplinary skills” in their American government instruction after this bill died. The measure sought to cultivate skills that help students discern the reliability of any given source, and was supported by the Clark County Education Association, which said it would help students tell the difference between information and misinformation. The bill passed with just two Democrats in the Assembly opposed.

AB384: This bill would have authorized a survey on sexual misconduct for students in the Nevada System of Higher Education and would have shaped a process for responding to reports of misconduct. It also would have required an annual report from the system on certain information about sexual misconduct. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

AB395: This bill would have abolished the death penalty. Although it passed out of the Assembly on a party-line vote with Republicans opposed, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the day before the deadline that the bill had no path forward in the Senate. 

SB90: Members of the Assembly did not vote on this bill, which would have used different language to describe investigations of health care providers that turn out to be unsubstantiated. Rather than calling the regulatory probe an “investigation,” it would refer to it as a “review and evaluation” for purposes of employment, professional licensure or liability insurance. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), passed unanimously in the Senate.

SB123: This bill would have relaxed the requirements for joining the Silver Haired Legislative Forum, which acts on issues of importance to seniors. It would have allowed people to be appointed to the forum as long as they had lived in Nevada for six months — down from five years — and would have reduced the residency requirement in the appointee’s senatorial district from three years to 30 days. 

SB143: This so-called “Let Grow” bill with bipartisan sponsorship failed to clear Friday’s deadline. It would have spelled out that people aren’t abusing or neglecting a child just because they allow a child to do independent activities. It also explicitly stated that minorities and children living in poverty are disproportionately subject to intervention about their child-rearing practices and deserve equality under the law. Co-sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks), the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate.

SB218: Landlords would be required to disclose extra fees on the front page of a lease agreement, would not be allowed to assess late fees until three days after rent is due and would only be able to charge one prospective tenant at a time a fee for a rental application. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) passed the Senate on a 12-9 vote, with all Republicans opposed.

SB308: Assembly members did not vote on this bill, which would have required the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to create a worksharing program through which employers could opt to reduce the hours of a group of employees instead of laying them off, and DETR would provide partial unemployment benefits to those workers. The measure, backed by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), passed the Senate in a 13-8 vote, with most Republicans opposed.

SB381: This bill, which aimed to modify and expand definitions in law around “service contracts” — defined as contracts where a provider agrees to repair, replace or perform maintenance on goods over a certain period of time — failed to advance out of the Assembly after passing unanimously in the Senate.

Lawmakers seek greater oversight of billions in opioid settlement funds projected for the state

Pills spilling from bottle

A few state lawmakers are hoping to establish greater legislative oversight over how the state spends billions of dollars in opioid settlement funds projected to be won by the attorney general in litigation throughout the next decade.

SB390, a bill presented by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) and sponsored by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, would create a state fund to house proceeds from opioid settlements, such as the $45 million Nevada is set to receive from the settlement of a lawsuit against consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which provided services for opioid manufacturers.

Jessica Adair, chief of staff in the attorney general’s office, explained during a Wednesday hearing that the bill would give legislative authority to the Department of Health and Human Services to disburse the money in the fund. That spending would follow the guidance of an advisory committee that determines what substance abuse and behavioral issues in the state should be addressed.

Sens. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) expressed concern that the Legislature would be limited to only giving a yes or no vote on the expenditures proposed by the department.

“This could be a multibillion-dollar settlement fund,” Kieckhefer said. “And the idea that it sort of lies exclusively in the executive branch sounds a lot like this summer to me, where the Legislature ultimately rubber stamps a lot of expenditures.”

Lawmakers were critical of the process for allocating CARES Act dollars over the past year, which was heavily influenced by the executive branch with less legislative input than many lawmakers wanted.

Both senators referred to the Fund for a Healthy Nevada, which houses proceeds from a massive settlement with tobacco companies that was finalized in 1998, as a guidepost for what oversight of opioid funds could look like because that fund receives greater oversight from the Interim Finance Committee than SB390 proposes.

Ratti did not push back on the idea, saying she could work on an amendment to the bill to provide greater legislative input on expenditures while still ensuring that the advisory committee steers use of the settlement funds.

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

Nevada’s drug transparency program could get two years of funding as lawmakers consider expanding its scope

Four years after passing the state’s first drug transparency law, lawmakers may finally put dollars behind the effort as they continue to build upon the original legislation this session.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee this week considered a $780,000 fiscal note from the Department of Health and Human Services on the latest drug transparency bill, SB380, which would allow state health officials to transfer the existing drug transparency database to the state’s Enterprise Information Technology Services Division, where it would live and be maintained moving forward. It also would allow the state to hire a pharmacist to manage the drug transparency program and a management analyst to assist with the program’s facilitation.

The original drug transparency bill passed in 2017 required manufacturers of diabetes drugs that experience a significant price increase to report certain costs and profits to the state, and a 2019 bill expanded that law to include asthma drugs. Neither bill, however, came with dollars attached, leaving it up to the Department of Health and Human Services to figure out how to fold the bills’ requirements into their existing workflow.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has been doing yeoman’s work to fulfill the NRS around transparency reporting — and I don’t want to say duct tape and baling wire, because I think it’s been better than that — but the resources haven’t necessarily been there to do the robust analysis and the robust reporting with the data we have available,” said state Sen. Julia Ratti. “With this bill, we requested the unsolicited fiscal note to really look at, what would it cost to implement our drug transparency program in a sustainable way where we’re not taking a little bit of somebody’s time over here and a little bit of somebody’s time over there.”

The department has suggested covering that fiscal note with roughly $1.1 million in reserves it has collected in penalties and fees from drug companies that have failed to meet the state’s reporting requirements under the diabetes and asthma transparency laws. 

The 2017 and 2019 bills originally envisioned those funds would be used to support diabetes and asthma education programs, a goal state Sen. Julia Ratti characterized as “noble” during the Senate Finance meeting on Wednesday. Using the dollars to instead support the running the drug transparency program, would be “less noble but more practical,” she said.

“We need to fund the actual work that we’re doing first,” Ratti said. “The practicality of it is we have these fees. They haven’t been put to use, and we can cover the cost with them.”

Ratti noted the penalties don’t represent a “long-term sustainable solution” to funding the program because they aren’t a stable revenue source. But she said funding the program this way would allow the state to “mature” the program and then reevaluate the funding source during the next legislative session.

“At that point, we would see how the fees and penalties are coming in for compliance and if they’re not sufficient, it would frankly be up to the governor’s office to decide if they want to put it in their base budget to make it an ongoing program,” Ratti said.

Ratti is shepherding the bill through the legislative process after former state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the sponsor of the 2017 and 2019 bills, resigned her legislative seat earlier this year to take a job in the Biden administration.

In addition to the funding component, the bill being considered this session would make significant changes to the state’s drug transparency program by shifting the focus from just diabetes and asthma drugs to all drugs over a certain cost that experience a significant price increase. 

Primarily, SB380 would require manufacturers of drugs that exceed a $40 list price, known as a wholesale acquisition cost, for a course of therapy that saw a 10 percent price increase during the prior calendar year — regardless of what disease the drugs are used to treat — to report certain information about the costs and profits associated with producing the drug.

The bill also attempts to capture some limited information at other points in the drug supply chain — requiring prescription drug wholesalers to report to the state certain data points for drugs with a list price exceeding $40 for a course of therapy, including the minimum and maximum list prices of the drug over the last year and the aggregate amount of rebates negotiated with drug companies, manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers — though far less than it had originally proposed to in the first version of the legislation.

Those who testified in support of the legislation during the initial bill hearing in April included AARP Nevada, the Culinary Health Fund, the Retired Public Employees of Nevada and Battle Born Progress. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents drug companies, testified in opposition.

Asher Lisec, deputy vice president of state advocacy for PhRMA, told lawmakers that the bill fails to address the challenges that patients experience in affording and accessing prescription drugs and does not “expressly extend” protections for proprietary and trade secret information. PhRMA also submitted to the Legislature a long list of arguments against the bill, which parallel those drug companies have made in previous sessions.

“I do want to emphasize the importance of looking at all entities in the supply chain in any transparency bill,” Lisec said. “In California, when they expanded their bill to look at transparency for all members of the supply chain, they found that rebates are growing faster than the underlying cost of prescription drugs.”

So far, the state’s diabetes and asthma drug transparency laws haven’t had much of a measurable impact policy wise, a point that state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer made during the Senate Finance hearing and that Ratti acknowledged. That’s at least in part because drug companies have requested that pricing information they are required to submit to the state, and which they believe to be trade secret protected, be kept confidential — leaving the annual reports the state is required to compile more general than proponents originally intended.

But Ratti said during the hearing that she is hopeful that there has been a sunshine component of the legislation.

“Do I believe that those behaviors have changed because now there’s bright sunlight on that Absolutely. Can I quantify that? Not necessarily,” Ratti said. “But I think sunlight and transparency are helpful for changing behaviors.”

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

Lawmakers finalize budgets, but expect restoring many of their cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicaid and health care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corrections

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

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

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

Aging and disability

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

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

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

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

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

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

State parks

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

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

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

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

Budget differences

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

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

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

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

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

Deadline Day: Lawmakers advance dozens of bills as death penalty repeal, tenant protection measures fail

Despite the high-profile spiking of an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, Nevada lawmakers rushed to process more than a hundred proposals ahead of another major legislative deadline.

Friday at midnight marks the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass out of their second committee, typically a major legislative culling with less than two weeks left before lawmakers must adjourn the state’s 120-day session.

As of Friday, lawmakers had passed more than 90 bills out of committee with several committees running into the evening hours. High-profile measures making the cut on Friday included bills expanding anti-discrimination housing protections, limiting police use of force and banning use of police ticket quotas.

But one of the biggest casualties of deadline day was already known by Thursday, when Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democratic leaders announced that an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, AB395, had “no path forward” this legislative session. The bill had previously been approved by the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, but faltered in the Senate amid hesitation from Democratic lawmakers and Sisolak to fully repeal capital punishment.

The demise of the bill — which one public defender described as a “gut punch” and ACLU representatives described as “an embarrassment” — eclipsed much of the attention for the day, with supporters calling in to unrelated hearings to relay deep disillusionment with Democratic leaders who failed to advance it. Progressives also lamented the bill’s failure on social media and said that aside from AB116, a bill that could decriminalize traffic tickets and is in limbo in a money committee, no other legislation considered this session comes close to fulfilling hopes of expansive criminal justice reform.

Outside of that high-profile bill failure, lawmakers nonetheless moved to pass out dozens of noteworthy bills ahead of Friday’s deadline, including measures banning decorative turf, limiting no-knock police warrants, allowing curbside pickup of cannabis products and implementing rate caps on calls to inmates.

But the relentless ticking of the clock continues. The next major legislative deadline, for bills to pass out of their second house of origin, is set for May 21 — just a week away.

Here’s a look at which higher-profile bills passed and failed as of Friday’s deadline.

FRIDAY

Cat declawing ban dies

A bill that would have banned the declawing of cats will not survive past the deadline, according to Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), AB209 would have imposed civil penalties on any person who removed or disabled 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.

“I think there were just a lot of different moving parts and we couldn't really come into agreement,” Doñate said. “There were other bills that we had to prioritize like the water bill, the mining bill.”

He said some lawmakers were hesitant because relatively few other states have enacted such a law. There were also unanswered questions about how the bill’s provisions interacted with other parts of statute — specifically, whether veterinarians who declaw a cat would be prosecuted for animal cruelty.

“Hopefully we get the chance to bring it back next session, now that we know where it stands,” he said.

Bill banning police tickets quotas 

Nevada is one step closer to joining the handful of states that ban police tickets and arrest quotas, even though law enforcement agencies have previously said they do not have such quotas. 

The Senate Committee on Government Affairs passed out AB186, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), which prohibits police agencies in the state from ordering, mandating, or requiring officers to “issue a certain number of traffic citations or make a certain number of arrests over any period.”

An amendment to the bill was made to remove a provision which would have also prohibited agencies from considering the number of citations issued, arrests made or amount of fines assessed from citations by any individual police officer during a performance review, a concern that was brought up during a previous hearing of the bill

“The bigger concern I had is when we eliminate it from even being considered, you hear that enforcement does use things like this to determine whether or not they have a rogue copy on hand,” Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said prior to voting against the bill.

But Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) assured the committee that if the agency already does not use quotas then the bill “wouldn't matter” because they are applying what the bill sets in statute and the amendment addresses the concern of using the number of citations and arrests during performance reviews. 

Reducing barriers to contraception 

Members of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor passed out SB190 on Friday, which is 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.

An amendment on the bill would require the State Board of Health to create a protocol for dispensing contraceptives that would include providing patients with a risk assessment questionnaire to patients who request contraception.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

“I still have some concerns about especially minor children getting birth control dispensed without seeing a doctor,” Dickman said. “So I'm going to be no right now, I might change on the floor.”

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

HOA debt collection reform

SB186, a homeowner’s association (HOA) reform bill, passed out of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas), would prohibit a collection agency from collecting a debt from a person who owes fees to an apartment manager, homeowner’s association, or tow car operator, under certain circumstances. It also requires a collection agency to file an annual report with information about debt collected for an HOA during the previous year.

Amendments on the bill prohibit an HOA that uses the foreclosure process from selling a foreclosed home to any person involved or connected to the foreclosure process, requires an HOA to send its notices and communications via e-mail as well as physical mail and mandates that each HOA in a common-interest community with more than 150 units establish a website or electronic portal that members may access.

Republican Assembly members Heidi Kasama and Jill Dickman were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

Regulations on food delivery platforms

Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee also passed out AB320, a measure sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would establish regulations for the relationships between restaurants and delivery platforms. 

Under the bill, food delivery platforms would need to be transparent about all fees attached to an order, including a disclosure of the commission charged to the restaurant — expressed as a percentage of the food purchase price.

Regulations specify that a food delivery service platform provider would need to enter into a written agreement with a food establishment before facilitating an online order and that an establishment may submit a written request to be removed from a platform. Any providers in violation of the bill would be subject to a daily $500 penalty.

An amendment attached to the bill would:

  • Lower the limit on the maximum fee that could be charged by a food delivery serve platform provider from 20 percent to 15 percent during a state of emergency declared by a county
  • Provide that the limitation on the maximum fee that may be charged is effective only in a county in which a declaration of emergency is in effect
  • Stipulate that the bill does not preempt any local ordinance that places limits on the maximum fee that may be charged, as long as that ordinance was in effect before April 30, 2021

Tiger King bill

SB344, a bill that bans people and organizations from possessing, breeding, importing or selling dangerous wild animals except for those who fall in a certain category, including veterinarians, certain accredited zoos and certain resort hotels, passed unanimously out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Friday.

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

A committee amendment passed along with the bill clarifies that employees with a special license and training are allowed to have direct contact with dangerous wild animals. The amendment also provides that people who receive disciplinary action relating to their wild animal license may still be exempt from the prohibitions of the bill, if they resolve the issue before July 1.

Tiny house bill survives deadline

Members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee voted Friday evening to keep alive a bill by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) authorizing and requiring large counties and cities regulate and zone areas for tiny houses.

The bill, which passed out with some Republican opposition, set requirements for cities and counties to develop zoning laws for tiny houses no more than 400 square feet in size, with options including building tiny houses as an addition to a property, as designated single-family dwellings or in a space similar to a mobile home park.

The measure was passed out of committee with a conceptual amendment offered by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) that would require counties take environmental impacts into account when zoning for tiny houses.

Temporary suspension of pupil growth requirement

AB57, a bill pausing certain requirements for teacher and administrator evaluations, passed out of the Senate Committee on Education with some Republican opposition.

As amended, the bill suspends requirements that pupil growth account for 15 percent of the evaluation of a teacher or administrator for the 2021-2022 school year and holds teachers harmless who did not meet their student learning goals from 2020-2021.

Changes to teacher-student ratios

Members of the Senate Committee on Education also passed AB266, a bill prohibiting administrations from being included in teacher to student ratio calculations and requiring that school districts determine the number of vacancies needed to reach state board recommended ratios.

The measure also requires that anyone evaluating a teacher responsible for a class that exceeds ratio recommendations to award the teacher additional weight on criteria within the state’s performance evaluation system. But an amendment attached to the bill would apply that weight only if a teacher was past the probation period and rated as effective or better and prohibit the additional weight from raising the score above the maximum possible score.

Wide-ranging housing protections

A bill aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination housing protections for formerly incarcerated individuals passed out of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on a party-line vote, with all Republicans in opposition.

SB254, which also passed out of the Senate on party lines with Democrats in support, prohibits, with some exceptions, a landlord looking to rent or lease a dwelling from:

  • Inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history, conviction record or arrest record
  • Refusing to rent or negotiate a rental or lease agreement based on an applicant’s criminal background
  • Publishing or releasing any notice that indicates a preference based on an applicant’s criminal history
  • Evicting a tenant based on an arrest record or criminal history.

Exclusions within the bill allow landlords to still conduct a background check to determine whether an applicant has committed arson, a sex crime or a violent felony — and subsequently refuse to rent to someone based on those criminal convictions.

The bill previously stipulated that a landlord could not reject an application because the prospective tenant receives housing assistance funds, but lawmakers on Friday approved removing those protections through a conceptual amendment.

Still, Republicans opposing the bill cited fears that it would infringe on landlord’s property rights.

"There are cases where we should protect people's right to housing. But these people made a choice to break the law," Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) said during the committee’s hearing on the bill. "And I believe that we don't have a place to tell a private property owner who they can and can't rent to, whether we have done that historically or we haven't."

Open-meeting laws exemption

Members of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs approved moving forward with a bill allowing elected officials to meet behind closed doors when discussing certain projects with environmental effects.

SB77, proposed on behalf of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands, would exempt certain pre-decisional meetings and records involving environmental issues from the state’s Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act. The bill passed out of committee with all Republicans in opposition.

Supporters say that the bill is needed to comply with both federal and state laws, but open government advocates have argued that the measure would limit transparency in a process that has real-world consequences — whether mines are approved or power lines are erected. 

Per a verbal conceptual amendment added by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill would specify that a pre-decisional meeting should not have any other additional agenda items.

Hate crime definitions

The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed SB166 on Friday, 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.

The bill specifies that such characteristics include race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and provides that a perpetrator may be punished with an additional penalty if the person commits a crime based solely on the characteristic of the victim.

An amendment from public defenders in Washoe County and Clark County was added to the bill to clarify that the actual or perceived characteristic of the victim must be the primary cause of the crime. Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), the chair of the committee, also noted that the language in the amendment would be cleaned up by legal counsel before the measure reaches the Assembly floor.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB203 with an amendment from the bill’s sponsor Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) and the Nevada Justice Association. The bill allows a victim of sexual abuse, exploitation or pornography involving minors to commence a civil action to recover damages at any time after the violation occurred.

The amended version of the bill maintains the existing 20-year statute of limitations to commence an action after a victim reaches 18 years of age, though a previous version of the bill completely removed the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved.

The bill also 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.

Limits on police use of force

A sweeping police reform bill, SB212, putting additional limits on police use of force, use of restraint chairs and police dispersal techniques during protests passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday, largely along party lines with Republicans in opposition.

The bill would require police officers to use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives before resorting to higher levels of force to arrest an individual and require police agencies to adopt use of force policies.

The bill limits use of the restraint chair to no more than two hours unless authorized by a supervising officer and would ban its use for a person who is pregnant.

The measure also aims to put limits on police activities during protests or demonstrations, prohibiting officers from firing nonlethal rounds “indiscriminately” into a crowd or targeting a person’s head, pelvis or other vital areas.

A wide-ranging amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), was also passed with the bill. The amendment prohibits an officer from using deadly force against people posing a danger to themselves, if they are not also posing an imminent threat to the officer or others.

The amendment additionally provides that if there is an immediate threat of harm or death at a protest or demonstration, then officers are not required to give an order to disperse.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Assembly members in the Health and Human Services Committee passed SB188, which could grant some low-income Nevadans the opportunity to create a savings account and receive matching funds from a bank of up to five times the amount of their deposits.

The bill creates the “Individual Development Account Program,” if sufficient funds are obtained, and would allow people living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system, to be eligible to set up an account.

The measure 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.

An amendment passed with the bill would allow a relative or fictive kin of a minor placed in his or her care by an agency which provides child welfare services to set up a savings account for the child, that could be accessed when the minor reaches 18 years of age.

THURSDAY & WEDNESDAY

Tenants rights bill

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) has acknowledged that her tenants’ rights bill SB218 is dead. Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, told the Nevada Current that she would not give the bill a hearing by the deadline.

The bill would have enshrined a grace period of at least three days before a landlord could assess late fees for rent, required landlords to return a security deposit within 28 days rather than 30, specified that a landlord could only charge an application fee to one prospective tenant at a time and clarified that landlords cannot dock a person’s security deposit for normal wear and tear.

During a short interview with The Nevada Independent on Friday, Jauregui said that the bill did not receive a hearing because there was not enough time to work with all stakeholders.

“There was a ton of opposition and I obviously didn’t have time to work through it,” Jauregui said. “Sometimes these discussions are lengthy and they involve a ton of stakeholders, and we have to make sure that we’re giving everyone the opportunity to weigh in on them.

The bill had drawn significant opposition from real estate agents who, along with developers and PACs funded by real estate companies and other development industries, contributed more than $1.3 million to lawmaker campaigns — the most money any single industry donated to state legislators.

“We are losing, I think, the biggest tenant’s rights bill of the session thus far,” Bailey Bortolin of the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers said during a forum hosted by Battle Born Progress.

Bortolin said she was told there was too much opposition to the bill, but added that “I don't think it would have been worthwhile to pursue a bill that didn't have any opposition.”

Ratti said in a brief interview on Thursday that she couldn’t speak to why the bill was set aside, but “I think it's good policy and I stand by the bill.”

Ratti added that the most important thing in the works this session is yet-to-be-introduced legislation that would provide a “glide path” that averts a wave of evictions once moratoriums lift this summer. 

Bortolin said she does expect another tenant rights bill — AB141 from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) — will come up for a committee vote on Friday and clear the deadline. That bill automatically seals the records of people who were subject to a summary eviction during the pandemic.

It will not cover tenants whose landlords sought other routes to evict them during the pandemic, such as for a lease violation, but would cover people who were unaware of how to defend themselves during the moratoriums and were subject to a rapid summary eviction, Bortolin said.

Banning decorative grass

An estimated 12 billion gallons of Colorado River water could be saved each year under AB356, which passed unanimously on Thursday out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, pushed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), aims to phase out decorative grass in non-residential developments in Southern Nevada over the next five years.

An amendment attached to the bill clarifies that the waters in the Colorado River distributed by the SNWA or its member agencies may not be used to irrigate grass on any property that is not zoned exclusively for single family residences. The amendment also expands membership of a grass removal advisory committee from seven to nine members, adding a second Homeowner’s Association representative and a golf course representative.

“This is an opportunity for the Nevada Legislature to take action on one of the largest and boldest water conservation initiatives, ever," Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said when he presented the bill to the committee on Monday. “It is one that our community in Southern Nevada is going to depend on in order to sustain itself moving forward."

Pot for pets

Veterinarians could soon be allowed to prescribe hemp or CBD products to an animal under a measure passed by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

Sponsored by Assembly Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 would give veterinarians the ability to administer hemp or CBD products containing no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC to an animal, or recommend those products to a pet owner.

Supporters of the bill say that it could help veterinarians treat conditions such as anxiety, pain, cancer and arthritis and would stop the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from disciplining licensed veterinarians or facilities solely for administration or recommendation of a hemp or CBD product.

Incentives for affordable housing developments

Members of the Assembly Committee on Revenue on Thursday unanimously approved a measure designed to support Nevada’s affordable housing market.

SB284, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), would remove an expiration date on the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program — established during the 2019 session as a pilot program allocating $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing development annually over a period of four years.

The program was one of the state’s most high-profile efforts to address the affordable housing crisis in 2019, but the pandemic slowed down its rollout, and Ratti said eliminating expiration dates on the program would give it more time to grow.

Multi-parent adoption

Democrat Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen’s AB115 — allowing multiple parents to adopt a child — passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

The bill authorizes a court to determine that more than two people may have a parent relationship with a child. It would also 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.

Cathy Sakimura, deputy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the bill is vital for children's well-being and would ensure diverse and multi-parent families are "protected and given the same dignity and respect as other families."

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he opposed the bill because of an amendment specifying that each prospective parent may petition the court for the adoption of a child as an individual petitioner.

“The inclusion of language and the amendment of a joint petitioner without creating a mechanism whereby joint petition is authorized, I think, is going to be particularly problematic for the courts,” he said.

Giving teeth to a DMV pilot program 

A measure making changes to a DMV pilot program gathering data on annual vehicle miles traveled passed out of an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Thursday with four Republicans in opposition.

The bill, SB371, removes recreational vehicles from the list of vehicles for which odometer readings must be submitted to the DMV, prohibits the DMV from disclosing information provided under the pilot program to an insurer and authorizes the DMV to fine participants for not reporting miles traveled. It previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

In response to objections from Republican committee members, supporters said that the fines would be the lightest way to ensure that the program generates a robust data set that offers insight into driving patterns in the state.

“As long as people follow the rules, they don't have to pay the fine,” Assemblywoman and Committee Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) said.

Rate caps for inmates

Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee members also passed SB387, a bill that would require the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to regulate and set rate caps on businesses that provide calling services for inmates.

The bill, which passed unanimously out of committee, would authorize the PUC to establish rate caps and charge limits on inmate calling services — requiring any competitive supplier of inmate calling services to file their rates with the commission, and publish their rates, terms and conditions on their website.

Tribal government representation

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections committee also voted out AB95 on Thursday, granting approval to the bill that would add a tribal government representative to the  Legislative Committee on Public Lands.

Proposed constitutional changes advance

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee advanced two proposed amendments aimed at cleaning up outdated language in the state Constitution.

Committee members unanimously advanced AJR1, a proposal from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) that would modernize language currently referring to institutions for the “Insane, Blind and Deaf and Dumb” with “persons with significant mental illness, persons who are blind or visually impaired, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and persons with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities.”

The committee also approved AJR10, a proposed change by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) removing language allowing slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.

If approved by the full Senate, both resolutions would advance to the 2023 legislative session. If lawmakers two years from now approve the resolutions again, they will head to the 2024 ballot.

Limiting no-knock warrants

Following calls across the country spurred by the death of Breonna Taylor to ban no-knock warrants, lawmakers are continuing to push forward a bill to restrict that practice in Nevada.

The latest push came Wednesday as members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance SB50, a bill introduced on behalf of the attorney general that would prohibit the issuance of no-knock warrants unless a sworn affidavit demonstrates that the underlying crime is a felony that could pose a significant and imminent threat to public safety or the warrant is necessary to prevent significant harm to the officer or another person. The bill previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

Though progressive advocacy groups have pushed for a complete ban of no-knock warrants, it has attracted support from police groups after amendments were added to the bill.

Curbside pickup for marijuana

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB168 on Wednesday, with no votes from the four Republican legislators on the committee.

The bill authorizes dispensaries to engage in curbside pickup under regulations from the state Cannabis Compliance Board, such as setting designated parking spots for pickup. Curbside pickup for marijuana sales had previously been authorized by Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2020 as an emergency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also makes some changes to the packaging of cannabis products, including a requirement to label all products with the phrase “keep out of reach of children” and a provision giving the compliance board the authority to regulate the packaging and labeling of products.

Tobacco and vapor products

Members of the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee approved AB360 on Thursday. It would require any seller of tobacco or vapor products “utilize age-verification technology at the point of sale” to ensure that any buyers who appear under the age of 40 are at least 18 years old. Violators of that procedure would be liable for a $100 civil penalty for each offense.

Another tobacco-related bill, AB59, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It would ensure state compliance with a federal law that raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 in December 2019. The state has three years from the passage of that legislation to conform its minimum age law, before facing possible financial penalties.

Updated at 3:23 p.m. on Friday, May 14 to include details of bills that passed out of committee on Friday. Updated again at 8:43 p.m. to add additional details of bills that passed out of committee.