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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB495: Mining tax compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB321: Permanent expanded mail voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB400: Marijuana DUIs

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

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

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

SB320: Transparency on food delivery fees

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

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

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

SB166: Hate crimes

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

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

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

SB327: Hairstyle discrimination

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

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

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

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

AB195: English Language Learner bill of rights

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

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

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

SB344: Tiger King bill

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

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

SB203: Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

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

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

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

June 2, 2021 Bill Signings by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

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 and advocates seek to keep youth offenders from adult criminal system through juvenile justice reforms

A wide variety of state and federal laws and policies treat minors differently from adults.

People must be 21 to buy alcohol. The youngest someone can be to enlist in the military is 17. In Nevada, a person must be 16 to apply for a full driver’s license. 

The differences have been perpetuated by case law, as well. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for minors, and in Graham v. Florida (2010), the court held that life-without-parole for non-homicide crimes is an unconstitutional punishment for minors.

Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), a juvenile public defender in Clark County, notes that scientific evidence about child brain development substantiates these differences in treatment.

“I think there's more realization now that children aren't able to make decisions the way adults do,” Ohrenschall said. “And trying to hold children accountable to the same standards we hold adults is not fair.”

Lawmakers this session are seeking to further separate the juvenile justice system from the adult criminal justice system at nearly every level, with legislation aimed at reducing referrals into the system, promoting rehabilitation programs and housing young offenders separately.

“I think the big effort on our part was to try to either keep kids from getting in the system if we can,” Ohrenschall said. “And if they are in the system, to try to see if there can be programs that can keep them closer to home, closer to their community.”

The efforts of Ohrenschall, who chaired the Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice during the interim, and others have made the 2021 legislative session a particularly active one for the subject. More juvenile justice bills were introduced this year than in each of the 2019 and 2017 sessions.

Though the 2017 session featured sweeping legislation such as a bill that established the Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission and another that enacted the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights, Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, said juvenile justice issues are often overlooked — adult criminal justice bills on the death penalty and police reform have been at the forefront of the Legislature this session.

“The issue of juvenile justice really gets pushed down in the broader conversation … amongst the very controversial adult criminal justice reform topics,” Welborn said.

Many of this year’s juvenile-focused bills have received broad support. Bills aimed at easing penalties for youth cannabis or alcohol possession, expanding record sealing for youth offenders and creating a new Miranda warning for minors all passed unanimously out of the Assembly.

“I think that a lot of my colleagues are concerned about the school to prison pipeline,” Ohrenschall said. “They want to try to see reform and see as much done as possible that can divert children from getting caught up in the system.”

Below is a roundup of the ongoing efforts to reform the juvenile justice system this session.

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

Reducing points of contact and racial disparities

Nevada’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission — a body of 20-plus juvenile justice experts and stakeholders — has found that “African American youth are overrepresented at almost every contact point” in the juvenile justice system.

The commission’s racial and ethnic disparities report for the 2020 federal fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2020, found that while less than 15 percent of the state’s youth population was African American that year, the group made up more than 32 percent of the youth arrests. As the commission and the Division of Child and Family Services actively engage in efforts to reduce those disparities, lawmakers have introduced multiple bills aimed at helping children of color.

AB158, a bill from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), would significantly lighten penalties for minors who purchase or possess alcohol or cannabis, including prohibiting jail time and fees for first and second offenses.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Monroe-Moreno said she brought the bill forward on behalf of A’Esha Goins, an advocate in the cannabis industry and the mother of a young Black man, who “had seen how other young kids of color have been charged with possession of marijuana and or alcohol.”

Monroe-Moreno discussed the importance of being constructive with children who make mistakes, rather than strictly punitive, and recalled her own experiences growing up.

“In our household growing up, you got three chances,” she said. “If you were stupid enough to do something that third time, then you really got in trouble, but the first time was my mom explaining why this behavior was wrong.”

Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 during the fifth day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

For people under the age of 21 found guilty of a misdemeanor for possessing, consuming or purchasing alcohol or possessing less than one ounce of cannabis, the bill would replace misdemeanor penalties of up to six months jail time and up to a $1,000 fine with penalties of up to 24 hours of community service and a requirement to attend a meeting of a panel of victims injured by a person who was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

The bill would also revise the penalties for a second violation to require up to 100 hours of counseling or participation in an educational program, support group or treatment program.

The measure is intended to reduce the number of minors who enter into the state’s criminal justice system.

In 2019, more than 8,000 youth were arrested in Nevada, with possession of marijuana being the second most common charge. In 2020, the number of youth arrests declined by more than 2,000, and possession, sale, or use of an illegal drug dropped to the fourth most common charge.

“I do think this bill will help a lot of kids not get caught up in the system,” Ohrenschall said during the hearing. “And possibly just get the guidance they need without having to either be in court or in a detention facility.”

AB158 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 20 and awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

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In the oversight commission’s racial disparities report, the group highlighted specific types of race-focused training for officers and dispatchers as a way to reduce disparities at the front end of the justice system. Though the report found that “police officers statewide generally receive training in racial profiling and implicit bias,” a bill this session is aimed at expanding that training.

SB108, created by the Nevada Youth Legislature, a program that allows a group of high school students to present one bill to the Legislature each session, would require all employees who interact with children in the juvenile justice system in the state to complete implicit bias and cultural competency training once every two years.

“It is urgent more so now than ever to address the inequality faced by minority youth within the Nevada juvenile justice system,” youth legislator Julianna Melendez said during an April 23 hearing. “I personally have friends who have been targeted by school police and treated differently compared to our white counterparts, specifically because of the color of their skin.”

Another youth legislator, Melekte Hailemeskel, shared how her worldview changed following the death of Trayvon Martin.

“From that day on, I began to see the world for what it truly was. My heart filled with fear every time my father stepped outside the house. I transitioned to fearing the police rather than feeling protected by them,” Hailemeskel said. “This bill gives the youth the opportunity to live life without fear of being victimized by implicit bias.”

The original version of the bill from the Youth Legislature would have mandated the training for all people employed in the criminal justice system; however, the amended version applies only to those employed in the juvenile justice system, such as juvenile public defenders, youth parole officers and school police officers.

The training would include explanations of the negative effects of implicit bias and the importance of understanding implicit bias, as well as cultural competency information focused on sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity and religion.

Kathryn Roose, a deputy administrator at the Division of Child and Family Services, said that the bill is aligned with the division’s goal of addressing racial disparities and noted that the agency would already have a process in place for implementing the required training.

SB108 STATUS: The bill passed 20-1 out of the Senate in mid-April and faces a possible vote in the Assembly.

New Miranda warning for minors

As other ongoing juvenile justice efforts attempt to limit entries into the system, Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) has introduced a bill that he hopes will help youth offenders better understand their rights when they are facing arrest.

AB132 would establish a plain-language Miranda warning system for minors. In the expanded list of disclosures, a police officer would have to say the following to a minor, before starting an interrogation:

  • You have the right to remain silent, which means you do not have to say anything to me unless you want to. It is your choice.
  • If you choose to talk to me, whatever you tell me I can tell a judge in court.
  • You have the right to have your parent with you while you talk to me.
  • You have the right to have a lawyer with you while you talk to me. If your family cannot pay for a lawyer, you will get a free lawyer. That lawyer is your lawyer and can help you if you decide that you want to talk to me.
  • These are your rights. Do you understand what I have told you?
  • Do you want to talk to me?
A Clark County School District Police officer monitors Western High School students after class on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The original Miranda warning was established through the U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona (1966). The case held that police cannot question defendants in custody until they are made aware of their rights. Once those rights have been explained, defendants can voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waive their rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement.

During a hearing of the bill in early May, Flores said the bill came from the idea that children typically do not knowingly and intelligently waive their rights because they do not have a full understanding of what rights they are entitled to.

Flores explained that he tested the new warning language used in the bill by giving it to teachers at Manuel J. Cortez Elementary School and the K-12 school, West Preparatory Academy, both located in Las Vegas, and having those teachers read both the current and proposed language to children.  

“This language that is in Assembly Bill 132 seemed to really go further into the understanding and comprehension of a child,” Flores said during the hearing.

Flores also said that the case law established by Miranda v. Arizona only set the bare minimum and that the state can go beyond that minimum by creating a new set of warnings that is easier for children to understand.

John Piro, a public defender in Clark County, explained that many police officers carry cards that have the Miranda warning language on them, so officers would not need to memorize all of the revised wording.

Piro also said that even if officers are unsure whether the person being taken into custody is an adult or minor, they could recite the new Miranda warning for minors because the revised language fulfills the legal requirements for all people.

AB132 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 19 and awaits a possible vote on the Senate floor.

Limiting direct file

Juvenile justice advocates have long sought to keep youth offenders within the juvenile system and out of the adult criminal justice system — for certain crimes, a prosecutor may override the jurisdiction of a juvenile court by filing charges against a minor in an adult criminal court in a process known as “direct file.”

AB230, sponsored by Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas), would prohibit the mandatory direct file process for children — aged 16 and up at the time of the offense —  who were charged with sexual assault involving violence or an offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm.

During a hearing of the bill in April, Miller called the measure “another big step forward in giving some of our most troubled youth a chance to live a productive life.”

The bill would still permit jurisdiction of the adult court for cases that do not involve “delinquent” acts, such as murder or attempted murder (if the offender was at least 16 years old), some felonies and any offense committed after the person had been convicted of a previous criminal offense.

Miller said that direct file laws were originally created as a response to narratives about heightened youth crime in the 1990s, and he called on other lawmakers to “right the wrongs” created by those laws.

“Much of this legislation stemmed from the devastating narrative that a monstrous wave of mythical creatures known as ‘super predators’ — impulsive, remorseless, elementary school youngsters who packed guns instead of lunches would take over,” he said at a March hearing. “Today, we all know that narrative wasn't true. And it led to more problems than it could have ever solved.”

Kelly Jones, a public defender in Clark County, said that youth sent to adult facilities are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and to commit suicide and have higher rates of recidivism.

Jagada Chambers, a rights restoration coordinator with a civic engagement advocacy group called Silver State Voices, also pointed out the disparate impact of direct file. Chambers said that of the 219 youths directly filed to the adult system in Clark County since 2013, roughly 200 were children of color.

However, the bill still faces an uphill battle because of its associated costs. A fiscal note from the Department of Health and Human Services states that more resources would be needed to house the increased number of minors that would no longer go to the Department of Corrections. The corrections department estimates the bill would save the agency close to $300,000 over the upcoming biennium.

The estimated cost to Clark County, the only county in the state to have direct files recorded in the past five years, though, would be more than $6.5 million over the next two years — that cost would come from a combination of increased staffing, mental health resources, food and nursing.

The bill also would require the Legislature’s interim juvenile justice committee to conduct a study on the need for and cost of housing young offenders awaiting certification for criminal proceedings as an adult. Miller said the study is necessary because the infrastructure and resources necessary to completely eliminate direct files are not currently available in the state.

AB230 STATUS: Though the measure is exempt from legislative deadlines because of its fiscal impact, the bill has not been discussed since its April 21 hearing. There has been broad support for the measure, however, as 30 lawmakers have signed onto the bill as primary sponsors or co-sponsors.

Jurisdiction over juvenile cases

A bill introduced on behalf of the Nevada Supreme Court, SB7, would also contribute to transferring greater jurisdiction to the state’s juvenile courts.

The bill would ensure that a juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction in cases in which it is alleged that a minor who is the adverse party to an order for protection has violated a condition of the order. A protective order is typically issued to protect a certain person or entity from harassment, abuse or sexual assault.

The juvenile court would only maintain jurisdiction for violations that involve delinquent acts, meaning some acts, such as murder, would not fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

During the initial hearing of the bill in early February, John McCormick, an administrator for the state’s Supreme Court, said the legislation is meant to establish statutory clarity where none exists and create a uniform system for jurisdiction across the state.

SB7 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate in mid-April and next awaits a vote on the Assembly floor.

Juvenile Court Hearing Master Soonhee "Sunny" Bailey on the bench during autism specialty court on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Changes to juvenile housing

Youth offenders certified as adults are housed by the Department of Corrections at Lovelock Correctional Center, a policy that has long been a concern for youth justice advocates, such as Welborn.

“My very first day with the ACLU of Nevada, the first call that I took was a call with a national organization to talk about the boys who are housed in Lovelock and the conditions that they're living in, the inhumane conditions that they're living in, how inappropriate those conditions are for youth,” Welborn said.

Two different Department of Justice investigations announced this year have highlighted issues with the state’s methods of housing youth offenders. One investigation is examining whether staff at two state correctional facilities — Summit View Youth Center and Nevada Youth Training Center — use pepper spray in a manner that violates youth’s rights under the Constitution. The other investigation is examining whether the state unnecessarily institutionalized children with behavioral health conditions in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As youth advocates and lawmakers seek to improve housing conditions for youth offenders, several bills introduced on behalf of the juvenile justice committee this session would make significant changes to housing policies.

One bill, SB365, would require the state to develop a pilot program for housing youth offenders convicted as adults in a child and family services division facility, rather than in an adult correctional facility. 

Welborn said that legislation and other bills that address youth housing are important because of the differences between minors and adults and the time it takes for the youth brain to fully mature.

“Most of these young people will be released at some point in time,” she said. “So ensuring that they have the adequate therapeutic services, educational opportunities, exercise, etc. for their full healthy development, in order to ensure that they will be successful when they leave. And that has to be the right types of interventions and treatment that is age appropriate.”

In past years, there have been roughly 20 youth offenders, at any given time, held at the Lovelock Correctional Center because they were certified as adults in the criminal justice system. The pilot program would move eight of those offenders to the Summit View Youth Center, operated by the child and family services division.

The division estimates the financial impact of the pilot program to be more than $2.3 million over the 2021-23 biennium, with costs based on the projected need to add more beds and staff.

SB365 STATUS: With the costs attached to the bill, the measure next faces a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee; however, no action has been taken since the bill  was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 8. There are no future hearings scheduled for the legislation.

Two other bills would work collectively with SB365 to address housing for youthful offenders.

SB357, a bill from the juvenile justice committee, would require the Department of Corrections to track expenses related to housing youth offenders, meaning the department would need to report all costs associated with the minors living at Lovelock Correctional Center.

SB356, another bill from the interim committee, would require the oversight commission to study the feasibility of housing youthful offenders, who are between 18 and 24 years old and who will be released from prison before reaching 25 years of age, separately from offenders who will continue to be incarcerated past age 24.

“It's also tough to go from taking a kid from the juvenile system and then shocking them into this very hardened adult system, when there's really something in between that works better for those young offenders,” Welborn said. “So that's why all of these bills are a part of a lot larger, broader conversation.”

SB357 STATUS: The bill passed 20-0 out of the Senate on April 13 and faces a potential vote on the Assembly floor.

SB356 STATUS: Though the bill is exempt from legislative deadlines because of its small financial impact, the measure has not been picked up by the Senate Finance Committee since being passed by the Judiciary committee on April 8.

Treating youth found incompetent

One bill from the juvenile justice committee, SB366, would address housing for a narrow portion of youth offenders: those ruled incompetent.

Roose, from the child and family services division, explained that the state does not have in place a facility to help restore children to competency. In a note attached to the bill, Ross Armstrong, administrator of the division, wrote that the agency “does not have the qualified staffing to serve the population with developmental disabilities” — children ruled incompetent typically suffer from an untreated mental illness or developmental disability.

“This is a really complex bill on a complex service and system that would need to be developed in collaboration with sister agencies,” Roose said. “It's just a system that doesn't really exist in Nevada. But, again, we have the opportunity to study and maybe build a solution.”

The actual impact of the bill remains unclear because of differences between the latest version of the bill and comments from the division. However, in line with Roose’s comments, a fiscal note from the division indicates the bill would fund a study to determine the resources needed for rehabilitating incompetent youth offenders.

SB366 STATUS: Though a fiscal exemption has kept the bill alive, the measure has not been acted on since passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early April.

Diverting more youth

One other bill from the juvenile justice committee in line with the efforts to improve housing, SB385, is meant to keep more youth offenders out of the deep end of the juvenile justice system and out of state-controlled correctional facilities.

Though the measure does not seek to directly divert more youth offenders away from state facilities, it would require that the division conduct a study during the interim on which activities and programs help reduce the number of minors committed to state facilities.

“The spirit of this bill is to take savings in our DCFS facility budget, through savings that we achieve through reducing the number of youth coming to us,” Roose said. “And take those funds and divert them to the counties to build up their service array, with the theory being that the more resources that the counties have to provide the services to youth that they need, the less likely they will ever come into a DCFS facility.”

SB385 STATUS: The bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on May 12 and next awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Sealing records

As lawmakers continue to address the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a bill from Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) would help some juvenile offenders avoid the repercussions of having a criminal record when they become an adult.

The bill, AB251, would establish provisions for a juvenile’s record to be automatically sealed at age 18 and allow those who are 18 or older to petition the court for the expungement or destruction of their juvenile record for any infraction, arrest or crime that was committed as a child that was equal to a misdemeanor or less.

“Young offenders may face serious consequences and obstacles as a result of their juvenile record,” Krasner said during a hearing of the bill on May 10. “A juvenile adjudication can prevent a young person from receiving financial aid for higher education, admissions to colleges, getting a job, joining the military or being admitted into certain licensed professions.”

Krasner called the measure a chance to provide young people with “a fresh start and a second chance,” pointing out that minors are unable to make logical, informed decisions in stressful situations because their brains are not yet fully developed.

AB251 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly on April 20 and awaits a vote in the Senate.

Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner holds a press conference on a human trafficking bill on March 2, 2021 at the Legislature in Carson City. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

Structural changes within the juvenile justice system

Though much of the juvenile justice legislation this session focuses on youth offenders themselves, lawmakers also have introduced a few bills that affect the greater justice system and the operations of the child and family services division.

AB448, a bill from the Governor’s Finance Office, would designate criminal investigators employed by the division as category II peace officers. Those investigators were not previously categorized as peace officers in statute. Other officers designated under category II include other criminal investigators, youth parole officers and school police officers.

AB448 STATUS: The measure is exempt from legislative deadlines; however, it has not yet received a formal hearing in any Assembly committee.

***

Another pair of bills would affect workers within the juvenile justice system. SB21, a bill introduced on behalf of the division, would create a uniform process for background checks for employee hiring across different juvenile agencies and facilities in the state. The other bill, SB317, introduced by Ohrenschall, would allow juvenile justice employees to receive back pay for unpaid leave administered during an investigation, if the employee is found not guilty or has their charges dismissed.

SB21 STATUS: The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate on April 20 and next faces a potential vote on the Assembly floor.

SB317 STATUS: After passing out of the Senate on 12-9 vote in mid-April, the bill awaits a vote in the full Assembly.

***

SB132, sponsored by Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), would appropriate $10 million from the General Fund to the Eighth Judicial District in Clark County for support services, including educational support services at The Harbor, a juvenile justice assessment center.

SB132 STATUS: The bill is exempt from legislative deadlines but has not yet received a hearing.

Future justice efforts

Four years ago, lawmakers passed AB472, which established the Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission (JJOC). This session, lawmakers are considering a bill that would, as Roose described the measure, “put a spotlight on the great work of the JJOC.”

SB398 would require the commission to submit a report to the Legislature with an update on the progress of its 5-year strategic plan. The report would include recommendations for any legislation related to both the plan and disparities in the juvenile justice system, such as racial disparities.

SB398 STATUS: The bill passed out of the Senate on a 20-0 vote in mid-April and next faces a possible vote in the Assembly.

While SB398 is meant to bring forward more legislation aimed at improving the juvenile justice system, another bill discussed this session could hamper reform efforts, according to Welborn.

AB443, an Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee bill, would overhaul the structure of interim legislative committees. The bill would, in part, eliminate the interim juvenile justice committee and instead establish a joint interim judiciary committee.

Welborn expressed concern that the initial version of the bill could draw attention away from the work being done to help young people. However, an amended version of the measure would require the interim judiciary committee to allocate five bill draft requests specifically for juvenile justice issues. 

“I fear that we lose that momentum, if we abolish that interim committee, or at minimum, don’t establish … some sort of subcommittee to handle juvenile justice issues,” she said. “If we don't, then they're not going to get the attention they need.”

AB443 STATUS: The measure is exempt from legislative deadlines and was last passed out of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on May 13.

As Welborn, among other advocates, fights to garner greater attention for youth justice issues, she noted that reform can take lots of time and work, and she recalls a quote from Ohrenschall, another youth advocate.

“We come to the Legislature wanting revolution, but what we get is evolution,” she said.

Lawmakers push to fund statewide sexual violence support services through marriage license fee increase

State Senator Julia Ratti speaks with Secretary of the Senate Claire Clift

In 1981, lawmakers passed a bill earmarking five dollars from every state marriage license to benefit domestic violence programs. Forty years later, that surcharge has gradually increased to $25, but advocates and lawmakers say the surcharge still falls woefully short of meeting funding needs for those programs.  

Though existing marriage license fees support domestic violence services throughout the state, there is no statewide funding source for sexual violence services. Only the Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas receives a 15 percent carve-out from marriage license fees for sexual assault services.

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) is looking to change that paradigm with SB177, which would expand use of the existing marriage license fee to also cover sexual violence services in all counties in Nevada, and better support for existing domestic violence support centers by doubling the surcharge from $25 to $50. Under the proposed legislation — which is expected to increase program funding from $2.5 million to $5 million — 75 percent of the total collected fee would go toward domestic violence services and 25 percent to sexual violence services.

"We have waiting lists and unmet need," Ratti said during a hearing on the bill in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday. "[This bill is] not doubling the (overall) marriage license fee, because these services only get a portion of the marriage license fee, but it is doubling the portion that goes to domestic violence and sexual violence."

Sexual and domestic violence services are crisis intervention-based programs that typically provide 24-hour crisis line services, counseling, support groups and referrals. The major difference between the two programs is that domestic violence services are focused on violence perpetrated by an intimate partner and usually offer shelter and financial support for people leaving a partner, whereas sexual violence services usually focus on an assault or instances of violence. Advocates say that there is often overlap between the two programs.

The last time the surcharge increased was in 2009, Ratti added, noting that the state can make up for 11 years of lost purchasing power by doubling the surcharge. The total cost of a marriage license in Nevada ranges from $60 to $80 depending on the county: Clark County-issued licenses cost $77, Washoe County charges $60, and Lyon County charges $80.

The bill, which requires a two-thirds vote, passed out of the Senate on a 16-5 vote earlier this month. Several Republicans opposed the measure over concerns that increasing the cost of a marriage license would dissuade people from getting married.

"[It's] completely inappropriate to put the cost of this effort squarely on the back of the marriage industry," Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said, noting that he would want to fund sexual and domestic violence through the state's budget, not a fee increase.

But support centers do not have the luxury to wait for lawmakers to find alternative funding sources, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) said.

"The choice before us is to increase this funding, or not … whatever the justification, may be," Harris said. "Is there some reason that the women of Nevada, who need help today, need to wait?"

During the Thursday bill hearing, Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) praised the measure, noting that the average cost of a wedding in the United States runs upward of $33,900, including the ring. 

"We spend so much money on a wedding with fancy dinners and open bars and a beautiful cake and a band and on and on and on and a dress and a ring," Krasner said. "And we can't increase the fee for victims of sexual assault in 16 of our counties? It's really shocking to me."

Ratti said the bill will have a tremendous effect for sexual violence and domestic violence service providers throughout the state.

"In 40 years, we haven't figured out a better way to do this. And people have tried," Ratti said. "So I strongly believe that the best path forward is to use the mechanism that is already in law, and make sure that it is enough of a resource to get the job done."

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY

Banning ‘ghost guns’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housing protections

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenant protections

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

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

Restorative justice before expulsion

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

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

Five Republicans opposed the bill.

Transparency on food delivery fees

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

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

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

Bail reform

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

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

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

HIV laws overhaul

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

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

Banning the declawing of cats

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

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

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

Allowing college athletes to profit off their likeness

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

AB254, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, would prohibit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from preventing students from using their likeness, name or image in sponsorships or for other professional services, with certain limits on what kinds of businesses that students can contract with. It also requires the Legislative Committee of Education to conduct an interim study on the issue.

Prohibiting ‘doxing’

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

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

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

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

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

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

Notaries charging more

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

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

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

Cage-free eggs

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

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

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

Citations, rather than arrests, for minor crimes

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

Multi-parent adoption

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

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

Small business advocate

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

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

MONDAY

Sealing eviction records during COVID

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

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

Unemployment bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowering barriers to contraception

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

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

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

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

Keeping wage history private

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

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

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

Four Republican senators opposed the bill.

‘Pattern and practice’ investigations of police agencies

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

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

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

Jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

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

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

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

Mining oversight

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

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

Hairstyle discrimination

In a 20-1 vote, the Senate passed SB327, which provides protections against discrimination based on hairstyles associated with particular races.

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

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

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

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

Paid leave for health reasons and getting vaccine

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

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

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

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

HOA debt collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate crimes

Members of the Senate cast a party-line vote, 12-9, to pass SB166, a bill clarifying that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

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

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

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

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

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

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

Ratios of students to social workers

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

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

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

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

Statewide human trafficking plan

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

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

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

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

It was the Deadline Day that wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are highlights from bills introduced Monday:

Single-stall restrooms

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

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

Public records penalties

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

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

Republican-backed election changes

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

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

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

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

Criminal justice reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

Business

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

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

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

Consumer protection

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

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

Lawmakers considering formation of a statewide human trafficking task force that could open access to federal grants

Lawmakers are considering forming a statewide task force on human trafficking that could open the door for new federal funding opportunities to aid trafficking survivors.

The bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to form the task force, AB143, also includes a provision for developing a statewide plan for the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking. Those services would include resources for medical care, housing and legal services, and the plan would also aim to develop strategies to increase awareness about human trafficking and the services available to survivors.

“Human trafficking has been described as a form of modern day slavery, impacting our most vulnerable population,” Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) said during a legislative hearing on Tuesday. “And it is a serious problem in Nevada that warrants the full attention of state government.”

Krasner was unable to identify what federal grants would be available after the formation of the state task force, but funding could potentially come from the Crime Victims Fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The fund includes support for state-level services for trafficking survivors, including crisis intervention and counseling.

During the hearing, James Dold, founder of the non-profit Human Rights for Kids, told his own story of surviving human trafficking as a child living in Las Vegas. 

“I can't tell you how important it is to have a plan in place for the delivery of services and the identification of trafficking survivors,” Dold said. “By having a victim services plan … we are increasing the likelihood that that trust between the victim and law enforcement will be created, and that they will be able to participate meaningfully in the prosecution of their traffickers.”

The bill attracted a broad group of supporters, including the attorney general’s office, the Clark and Washoe County public defenders’ offices, Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospital and the Nevada Women’s Lobby.

Krasner also pointed to the growing need for a state response to human trafficking, as more federal human trafficking cases were charged in Nevada last year than in any previous year, with seven prosecutions in 2020. An earlier study from UNLV found that Nevada tied for the ninth in the nation for most human trafficking cases in 2017. 

In 2019, there were 239 human trafficking incidents reported in Nevada, and of those, 200 involved sex trafficking, putting the rate of sex trafficking in the state far above the national average, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The only opposition to the bill came from Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who voiced concerns that a statewide task force could interfere with local human trafficking task forces in Northern and Southern Nevada.

During a news conference on Tuesday after the hearing, Krasner said that a statewide task force could help address the issue in the rural areas of the state — and that there are federal funds that are only available to state-level task forces.

The amended version of the bill proposed by Krasner removes a projected price tag by making the services provided permissive rather than mandatory, which means services for survivors of human trafficking would be made available as the state receives federal funds or allocates tax dollars towards programs.

Callaway also voiced concerns that the bill does not specify who the members of the state task force would be.

During the hearing, Krasner said that the task force would be made up of “interested parties and stakeholders” and that the task force would allow stakeholders to collaborate on efforts to aid human trafficking survivors. 

She added that the decisions about how the task force is run would be left to the Division of Child and Family Services, and the amended version of the bill includes a provision for the division to designate a human trafficking specialist within the Nevada Victims of Crime Compensation Program.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first discussion of the legislation. The Assembly Committee on Government Affairs did not hold a vote on the bill.

Biden narrowly leads Trump, but major Nevada races too close to call after Election Day

Joe Biden maintains the slimmest of leads in Nevada over President Donald Trump, while the other major congressional, statewide and local races significantly narrowed early Wednesday morning.

Biden and Democratic congressional candidates running in the state’s two competitive House districts — Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — maintain small leads over their Republican opponents but the races remain too close to call, particularly after a late batch of results from Clark County helped Republicans candidates there catch up to their Democrat opponents.

Down the ballot, it appears unlikely that Democrats will have supermajorities in either chamber of the Legislature next year, while a well-funded ballot question to take the Board of Regents out of the state Constitution appears in danger amid strong rural opposition.

More than 1.2 million Nevadans cast a ballot in the general election, although it’s unclear what the total turnout will be as last-minute ballots mailed in or dropped off have not yet been tallied.

Here’s a look at the status of major races on the 2020 ballot after initial results on Election Night:

Presidential:

The presidential race in Nevada remained too close to call Wednesday morning with former Vice President Joe Biden leading over President Donald Trump by a narrow 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2.4 percentage points in the Silver State four years ago.

The presidential election itself also remained up in the air as of early Wednesday morning, with key races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia still yet to be decided.

Congressional: 

In a pair of the state’s most competitive congressional races, preliminary vote tallies favored incumbent Democrats — though by narrow margins.

In the hotly contested race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in suburban Clark County, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee led Republican challenger Dan Rodimer by 1.5 percentage points, or 3,233 votes.

And in neighboring District 4, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford led his Republican challenger, former one-term Assemblyman Jim Marchant, by 2.4 points, or a margin of 6,697 votes.

Meanwhile, incumbents in Nevada’s remaining two congressional districts sailed to victory after early returns, with Democratic Rep. Dina Titus securing Las Vegas’ District 1 by a 26.6 point margin, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei winning Northern Nevada’s District 2 by a 15.8 margin as of early Wednesday morning.

Legislature:

Democratic dreams of holding super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate appeared on thin ice after initial results were posted late Tuesday, with no clear decision yet in many of the swing districts that will determine super-majority control.

Two Las Vegas-area state Senate districts remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Democratic candidate Kristee Watson trailing their Republican opponents — April Becker and Carrie Buck, respectively. In Reno, incumbent Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert posted a notable lead over her Democratic opponent, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, in a seat necessary for Democrats to take to capture a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

In the Assembly, Democrats appeared to be in danger of losing three seats — two in Southern Nevada, Districts 4 and 37, and one in Northern Nevada, District 31 — while leading narrowly in a fourth competitive seat in Assembly District 29. Republicans are likely to keep control of the fifth competitive seat, Assembly District 2, where Republican Heidi Kasama is leading by a sizable margin over Democrat Radhika Kunnel.

Democrats can only afford to lose one of the four competitive seats they currently hold in the Assembly in order to retain their supermajority.

Other less competitive races that remained too close to call early Wednesday morning include Assembly Districts 21, 35 and 41.

Candidates who have won their races include:

  • Dina Neal (D) in SD4
  • Dallas Harris (D) in SD11
  • Pete Goicoechea (R) in SD19
  • Brittney Miller (D) in AD5
  • Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D) in AD6
  • Cameron "C.H." Miller (D) in AD7
  • Jason Frierson (D) in AD8
  • Steve Yeager (D) in AD9
  • Bea Duran (D) in AD11
  • Susie Martinez (D) in AD12
  • Maggie Carlton (D) in AD14
  • Howard Watts (D) in AD15
  • Cecilia Gonzalez (D) in AD16
  • Clara Thomas (D) in AD17
  • Venicia Considine (D) in AD18
  • Glen Leavitt (R) in AD23
  • Lisa Krasner (R) in AD26
  • Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D) in AD27
  • Edgar Flores (D) in AD28
  • Natha Anderson (D) in AD30
  • Alexis Hansen (R) in AD32
  • Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D) in AD34
  • Jim Wheeler (R) in AD39
  • PK O’Neill (R) in AD40
  • Alexander Assefa (D) in AD42

The 11 Assembly and three Senate candidates who were the only person running in their districts are automatically assumed to have won their races.

Local Government: 

Three Democrats emerged victorious in Clark County Commission races, but one contest was too close to call after initial results.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, a Democrat, retained his District A seat, snagging 52 percent of the votes in initial returns. His opponent, Republican Michael Thomas, captured 48 percent. 

Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, also coasted to re-election, with 53 percent of early returns in the District B race. Her challenger, Republican Kevin Williams, garnered 44 percent of early returns. 

Democrat William McCurdy, meanwhile, handily won the District D race, replacing term-limited Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. McCurdy captured 77 percent of the early returns, while his opponent, David Washington, who’s not affiliated with a political party, only earned 23 percent. 

The District C race for Clark County Commission was neck-and-neck based on early returns. Republican Stavros Anthony received 50.8 percent of early returns, while Democrat Ross Miller grabbed 49.2 percent. The winner in this race will replace term-limited Commissioner Larry Brown.

Up north, Republican incumbent Vaughn Hartung won the District 4 race for the Washoe County Commission. Hartung grabbed 58 percent of the early returns, while his competitor, Marie Baker, snagged 42 percent. 

In the other Washoe County Commission race — for District 1 — Democrat Alexis Hill defeated Republican incumbent Marsha Berkbigler in an election upset. Hill emerged with 55 percent of the early returns, while Berkbigler received 45 percent.

Three Reno City Council members were re-elected to the board, but one race remains too close to call. Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado won the Ward 3 race, capturing about 63 percent of the early returns. His opponent, Rudy Leon, won about 37 percent of the vote. 

Councilwoman Neoma Jardon was re-elected to represent Ward 5, winning about 54 percent of the early returns, while her opponent, Darla Fink, received about 46 percent of the vote. 

Councilman Devon Reese defeated his opponent, Eddie Lorton, to continue serving in the council’s at-large seat. Reese snagged roughly 55 percent of the early returns, while Lorton received about 45 percent.

But the Ward 1 race remains close. Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus retained a slight 104-vote lead in a closely-watched race against real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. 

Supreme Court

District Court Judge Doug Herndon defeated Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in a race for an open Nevada Supreme Court seat, capturing about 47 percent of the early returns. Fumo received about 36 percent of the vote. “None of these Candidates” made up about 18 percent of the early returns.

Herndon was running to replace Associate Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, who announced last year that he would not run for re-election. 

Fumo, who has practiced law since 1996 and served as an adjunct professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, won the support of progressives. Herndon, a former deputy district attorney who has sat on the bench since 2005, received support from a PAC primarily funded by Sheldon Adelson.

Ballot Questions

The campaign for Question 1, a measure that would remove the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education from the Nevada Constitution, remained too close to call after initial returns.

However, all four other ballot measures have prevailed. They include:

  • Question 2, which amends the Nevada Constitution to permit same-sex marriage
  • Question 3, which restructures the Board of Pardons
  • Question 4, which enshrines a voter’s bill of rights in the Nevada Constitution
  • Question 6, which raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards calling for greater use of renewable energy

Special session cuts poised to undo marquee education advances Nevada lawmakers celebrated in recent years

From a large teacher union demonstration outside the Legislative Building to a long list of advocates weighing in through public comment phone lines, frustration over hundreds of millions of dollars of planned cuts to education was a prominent theme on the first day of a special session.

The proposed cuts play out like a reversal of the past three sessions, when a state recovering from the recession added and expanded a long list of “categorical” programs meant to provide extra support to students with extra needs. But on Wednesday, legislators spoke of cutting $70 million in hard-fought “weights” for disadvantaged students, eliminating $31 million in literacy specialists in a Read by Grade 3 program and slashing millions from anti-bullying and school safety initiatives.

The "story of our response to COVID-19 could easily be about what we sacrificed and what went wrong,” state Superintendent Jhone Ebert said in opening remarks as she described in broad strokes the state’s attempt to make the best of the pandemic’s fallout. “At the same time, this is a turning point in education, and time to focus on what is suddenly possible for the future."

Protestors rally against budget cuts to education outside the Nevada Legislature on the first day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The cuts amount to $166 million for K-12 education and $110 million for the Nevada System of Higher Education. Still, lawmakers tried to look for a bright side. 

Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson pointed out that basic per-pupil support would not be cut and had been increased in 2019 by $300 per student. Categorical programs have long been her least-favorite funding arrangement because they work like grant programs and don’t give employees within them long-term job security.

But legislators also picked apart the budget proposal and highlighted the ways it could harm students. Yvette Williams of the Clark County Black Caucus said in public comment that she was pleading with lawmakers to view cuts through an equity lens because eliminating the “weights” would disproportionately affect Black students.

Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara said that cuts of the program, authorized through SB178 in 2017, would be tough because of the sheer size of the reduction. But he said the overall strategy, which preserves unrestricted per-pupil funding while slashing restricted funding, allows the most flexibility.

“Any cuts will negatively impact our children,” he said. “However, the overall plan presented to you this afternoon is the least damaging option.”

Some Democratic lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, lamented the end of the Teach Nevada Scholarship, which provided up to $24,000 for aspiring teachers and was created in 2015 to stave off a teacher shortage.

Republican Lisa Krasner wondered aloud about the consequences of axing school safety and anti-bullying initiatives built up over the last five years, including $3 million allocated for “social emotional learning” and social workers. Also on the chopping block: More than $10 million set aside in 2019 to help reinforce campuses against school shooters and add school resource officers to police them.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Kristen McNeill said federal funds through Title IV and programs such as Safe Voice — an anonymous tip line for bullying and school safety issues — could maintain the focus on student mental health.

"We feel very confident that we will still be able to continue a very robust program in anti-bullying,” she said. 

Rebecca Recabarren and her daughter, Hadley protests proposed budget cuts to education outside the Nevada Legislature on the first day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Others took a more pointed approach with their questioning. Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank asked what steps upper management personnel in the education system were taking to share the pain of the budget cuts.

Ebert said she was taking 12 furlough days like all state employees, while McNeill said she was giving back $30,000 of her salary, or about 10 percent. Jara said the district had frozen hiring in the central office but the situation was complicated because some administrators are bound by collective bargaining agreements — an answer that Swank later said did not give her much clarity.

She asked the question again when higher education officials took the stand to describe budget plans that included 12 furlough days for all staff and per-credit surcharges of $3 for community colleges and $6 for universities. University president and chancellor base salaries, in some cases, top $400,000.

Chancellor Thom Reilly said presidents and himself were taking 18 furlough days. Swank pointed out that she made $50,000 a year when she started as an assistant professor at UNLV in 2005.

"I just think the difference, to have six more furlough days when your salary is much higher than those new assistant professors, maybe needs another look,” she said.

Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who is a teacher, asked whether the cuts would affect Nevada’s goals to improve its low-ranking public education system under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some initiatives facing imminent depletion, such as the Read by Grade 3 literacy program, focus on giving students the foundation they need to succeed in the rest of their academic careers.

"Our goals have not shifted,” Ebert said. “How we're going to meet those goals definitely will shift."

Here’s a partial list of cuts:

  • $2.5 million for turnarounds of underperforming schools
  • $6 million for class size reduction
  • $5 million in incentives for teachers at Title I schools
  • $4.5 million to reimburse teachers for spending on school supplies
  • $6.3 million for Pre-K and early learning programs
  • $750,000 to promote financial literacy

Updated at 11:42 a.m. on July 9, 2020 to reflect that proposed cuts to NSHE are about $110 million, correcting erroneous information from an earlier budget proposal document.