Lawmakers begin tackling complex issue of jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

In 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a ruling that fundamentally changed the state’s criminal justice system.

The state’s highest court found that a recent state law prohibiting firearm ownership for individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes was a serious enough punishment to warrant jury trials for defendants in those cases.

But a state Supreme Court order doesn’t always neatly translate into real-world practices. Municipal courts throughout the state, which typically handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases, scrambled to figure out ways to hold jury trials in courts and courtrooms not really set up for them (the City of Las Vegas temporarily stopped prosecuting domestic violence cases as a result of the case).

The issue was temporarily put on the backburner in 2020, as courts throughout the state halted all forms of jury trials as a precautionary measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the issue hasn’t gone away, and now local governments are looking to the Legislature to hash out the issues and develop a structure for such jury trials to commence.

That’s why lawmakers in the Assembly Judiciary Committee spent several hours Wednesday hearing AB42, a measure sponsored by the City of Henderson and intended to implement the court’s 2019 decision by creating a framework for the novel phenomenon of holding jury trials in municipal court.

“We had never had this in the state of Nevada prior to this decision,” Henderson Senior Assistant City Attorney Marc Schifalacqua said during the hearing. “And while the decision was very straightforward, and the reasoning makes sense, it did raise many more questions than it actually answered.”

Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial, some jurisdictions (including Nevada) have not offered rights to a trial by jury for individuals charged under a “petty” offense, which typically means a violation with a maximum prison sentence of no more than six months. For an offense to move out of the “petty” category, it must come with additional penalties that are “so severe that they clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense in question is a serious one.”

In 2015, state lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Michael Roberson that in part prohibited anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Nevada (or any other state) from owning or possessing firearms — the first domino that eventually led to the court’s 2019 ruling and subsequent implementation problems for municipalities.

Part of the problem, Schifalacqua said, is that the ruling came a few months after the Legislature had adjourned in 2019, meaning that cities and municipal courts didn’t have statewide guidance or a set of laws to follow to ensure that the new rules were being followed in all jurisdictions around the state. Additionally, several cases have been filed challenging municipal court authority in those cases, as those courts are typically governed by city charter and don’t have explicit authority to oversee a jury trial.

Many jurisdictions ended up passing city ordinances to implement the court’s order, but Schifalacqua said that solution was a “Band Aid” on the underlying implementation issue.

The bill (including an amendment proposed by the City of Henderson) provides “clear language” that municipalities have a discretionary right to conduct jury trials on domestic battery charges, provides a set of rules for how municipal courts conduct jury trials, and modifies the definition of which domestic violence crimes warrant a prohibition on gun ownership.

That last part, which changes state law from a federal definition of domestic battery to the one in state law (or “substantially similar” laws in other jurisdictions), attracted a host of questions and concerns from both lawmakers and pro-gun groups, including that it would inadvertently broaden the class of people prohibited from owning a firearm because the state domestic violence law is broader than the federal definition.

“The federal law is important because it provides consistency,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid told the committee. “There's clear elements as far as what is both domestic and violent to the lifetime prohibition for firearms.”

Bill supporters, including Schifalacqua, noted that the provisions wouldn’t affect individuals who committed a domestic violence crime prior to the enactment date of January 2022 — meaning that they wouldn’t lose their firearm rights overnight. Schifalacqua also noted that about 30 other states had adopted protections related to domestic violence that went beyond the federal definition, with many of them also prohibiting gun ownership.

The bill attracted support from prosecutors and victim rights advocates, who said the measure could help reduce gun violence in the state. Nevada routinely ranks high in state rankings of domestic violence — Schifalacqua said states that had gone further than the federal domestic violence definition have seen a sizable decrease in gun violence or homicides between people in domestic relationships.

Carlene Helbert, a deputy city attorney with the City of Las Vegas, said the jurisdiction handles between 3,500 to 5,000 referrals of misdemeanor domestic violence cases every year. She said that legal challenges related to the city’s ability to prosecute those cases had left them at a “standstill,” mentioning that she had seen victims of abuse attend court, testify, and then go home with the alleged abuser.

“As a prosecutor, I have to watch this person leave with somebody who's committed violence against them, knowing that they're going to a house that has firearms in it,” she said. “And I have to think to myself, is that victim actually safer for having gone through this process?”

Michael Pariente, an attorney representing criminal defense trade group Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the attorney who successfully argued the initial case before the state Supreme Court, said it was “unacceptable” that the bill allowed smaller municipalities and courts to potentially opt out of the bill’s provisions, and that it should be amended to either require jury trials or require those cases be filed in another court. Pariente also said the minimum jury size (six) was too low.

“A defendant in a civil case who's being sued for more than $15,000 has the right to an eight person jury, though he or she is not facing incarceration, not facing a criminal conviction, nor facing the loss of a constitutional right,” Pariente said. “Yet a person charged with battery domestic violence faces up to six months in jail, and the lifelong loss of a constitutional right. Again, a person facing battery domestic violence only gets six persons on their jury.”

Representatives of the Clark and Washoe county public defender’s office also testified against the bill, saying the limited number of peremptory challenges in selecting jurors was “very detrimental” to finding fair and impartial jurors. But many opponents of the bill sounded cautious notes of optimism that additional amendments could fix their issues with the legislation.

“There is a cure to this problem, but the bill as written, even with its amendments, are not the cure,” Clark County Public Defender’s Office representative John Piro said. “But I think we can get there if we continue to work on that.”

Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Andy Matthews

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring all the new lawmakers in the state. This is the ninth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

ASSEMBLYMAN ANDY MATTHEWS

  • Freshman Republican who succeeds Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus
  • Represents District 37, which is north of Summerlin and contains parts of Sun City Summerlin in Las Vegas
  • District 37 has a slight advantage in voter registration for Democrats (36.8 percent Democratic, 35.2 percent Republican and 21.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Matthews defeated three other candidates with 49 percent of the vote in the 2020 Republican primary, including former television journalist Michelle Mortensen, Jacob Deaville and Lisa Noeth.
  • He then defeated incumbent Assemblywoman Shea Backus in the 2020 general election, winning a little less than 51 percent of the vote.
  • He sits on the following committees: Government Affairs, Health and Human Services, Legislative Operations and Elections

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Matthews was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism and worked as a sports journalist before entering the political field.

He and his fiancé Valerie live in Las Vegas.

CAREER

Andy Matthews never expected to be here.

For one, he thought he would be working on the other side of the Capitol Amphitheater after serving as policy director for former gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s 2018 campaign. But Laxalt lost the race to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, and no job in the governor’s office materialized (Matthews described the loss as a “punch to the gut”).

But beyond that, 42-year-old Matthews never really expected to end up in the political field, much less in the Nevada Legislature. Born in Massachusetts and initially trained as a sports journalist before transitioning to the political realm, he says he “took the scenic route” to the Legislature.

“If you told me at 12 years old when I was living in rural Massachusetts, I would serve in the Nevada State Assembly someday, I’d probably ask you what a state assembly was, and ask you a lot of questions about how I got from point A to point B,” he said. “But I’m honored to be here, and it's been a great experience so far.”

Matthews was born in New Bedford, but grew up in a rural area (Freetown) about 50 miles south of Boston. A life-long Red Sox fan, Matthews played basketball and baseball in high school but moved away from athletics after getting a job at a local newspaper, writing up box scores and brief game summaries. In high school, he and another student helped start a student newspaper — the “Laker Pride,” named for the bodies of water around the area, not a reference to the Celtics’ main rival.

After graduating college with a journalism degree, Matthews worked at a variety of sports reporting jobs, including at FOX Sports and a stint for MLB.com (where, for an article, he went undercover and attended an open-to-the-public Red Sox tryout. Matthews says he was never “really in danger of making the team.”)

But his interests broadened beyond sports; first with the contentious circumstance around the 2000 presidential election, but also with the terror attack on 9/11. At the time, Matthews was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a view from his bedroom window into lower Manhattan. Working nights, he said he didn’t know about the attacks until his dad called him. He remembers pacing between the television and his bedroom window.

“I think the combination of those things in my early 20s for me put issues front and center in my life, in my mind, that I hadn't really given a whole lot of thought to before,” he said.

Matthews worked on a New Jersey political race in 2005, then moved to Nevada to work as campaign manager for former state lawmaker Bob Beers’ ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2006. Deciding to stay in Nevada, Matthews was hired on as communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute (a nonprofit, pro-free market think tank) and eventually became the group’s director in 2011.

He said the organization was a great fit for him because of his political interests and background in communications skills, but at times he was frustrated that the group’s legislative advocacy didn’t translate into desired policy results.

Outside of “facetious barstool conversations,” Matthews said he hadn’t really considered a run for office himself, but a turning point came in 2015 after former Gov. Brian Sandoval (a Republican) pushed through a record-breaking package of new and extended taxes worth more than $1.1 billion.

“If we're not getting what we should be getting, in my view, out of the current crop of elected officials, maybe we need some different officials,” he said. “The best way to change policy sometimes is to change policy makers.”

So in 2016, Matthews decided to jump in the contentious Republican Party primary for the state’s 3rd Congressional District. With then-state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (who helped Sandoval shepherd through the tax package in 2015) and well-known and perennial conservative candidate Danny Tarkanian also in the race, Matthews said he hoped to run as a “new face principled outsider” — and carve out the middle ground between Tarkanian and Roberson.

But that pathway was largely closed off when firebrand then-Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore also decided to jump in the primary. Matthews says he continued to campaign hard, but ended up coming in fourth out of the seven-way contest (noting that he and Fiore combined had a vote share roughly equal to that of Tarkanian, who ended up winning the primary but losing to Democratic nominee Jacky Rosen).

After that election cycle, Matthews moved to the political orbit of former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, leading his Morning in Nevada PAC for a spell before moving to work on Laxalt’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. 

But the 2018 election cycle was a nadir for Nevada Republicans, and Matthews said that though that loss stung, he figured political fortunes in a swing state such as Nevada would eventually swing back. Running for the Legislature, he said, was a way to get in on the ground floor.

“We're going to rebuild, one way or another, we're going to get stronger, and I'd love to be part of that,” he said. “So that as our party starts to gain strength and have more of a say, in the future, I can be at the table and try to try to shape things as best I can, in a way that aligns with the principles that I think we really ought to adhere to.”

Assemblyman Andy Mathews during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Taxes

Matthews is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise for federal and state candidates to oppose any and all tax increases without some kind of corresponding revenue-neutral tax cut. Matthews said that pledge includes the gaming and sales tax initiative petitions circulated by the Clark County Education Association and now before the state Legislature. 

“We need to rebuild our economy, and I do not believe saddling Nevadans with higher taxes is the way to do it,” he said.

Election security

Matthews plans to introduce a bill that would repeal AB4 from the state’s 2020 summer special session, which provided for sending out mail ballots to all active registered voters and also legalized ballot collection, the practice where individuals can collect and turn in absentee ballots for other voters (Republicans often refer to this practice as “ballot harvesting”).

He said he was fine with no-excuse absentee ballots, but that the practice of automatically mailing ballots to voters made the state’s election system “susceptible to fraud and error.” 

Asked whether he believed that massive voter fraud happened to a level that would have affected the outcome of the presidential race in Nevada, Matthews noted that there was some degree of “error, fraud, or irregularities” that happened in the election (citing statements made by Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria on discrepancies in a close county commission race).

But he said his primary focus is election security, and that he doesn’t want to get “bogged down” in whether “the outcome of one particular race (was) the proper outcome in terms of voter intent.”

“Right now under our system, it's designed in a way that makes it much, much easier than it should be to cheat if one wanted to,” he said. “And so, we can go back and forth all day on, did no one cheat, did one person cheat, did 200,000 people cheat? We don't know; no one knows; you don't know; I don't know. Because we have a system that's designed in such a way that we can't know. So my job as a legislator, it's to make sure that we have the proper systems in place to make sure that we do have an election that's secure.”

(The secretary of state’s office has said it did not see any evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in the 2020 election, though election officials have said they’re pursuing several individual cases of possible election-related fraud in the 2020 election).

Criminal justice reform

While critical of measures passed in recent sessions that he said “went much too far in terms of tying the hands of law enforcement,” Matthews said he was broadly supportive of efforts to reduce recidivism and help current and former inmates successfully adjust back into normal society.

“That's an area where I think we all can look at, because we are all going to benefit,” he said. “If someone comes out of our prison system after a number of years and doesn't have the skillset to find a job, there’s a very good chance that person may end up back in that cycle of disruptive behavior. That benefits nobody.”

Other proposals

Other bills that Matthews plans to introduce this session include the following:

  • A measure that would allow local jurisdictions to opt-in to the 287(g) program, a federal partnership between local police and federal immigration officials to place “detainers” on people not legally in the country but arrested or taken into police custody for non-immigration related reasons. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opted out of the program in 2019 after a federal court case enjoined ICE from issuing so-called detainers without “explicit state statute authorizing civil immigration arrests.”
  • A measure creating a state-level REINS Act, a proposal championed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul essentially requiring significant regulations with a major financial impact to be approved explicitly by the Legislature, as opposed to an executive branch agency. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker implemented a similar program in that state
  • A measure to increase penalties for public agencies that fail to comply with public record law violations
  • A bill to subject the collective bargaining process between government employee unions and local government employers to requirements in the state’s Open Meeting Law
  • A measure allowing creation of “charter agencies,” a concept promoted by former Controller Ron Knecht and the Nevada Policy Research Institute to rework state government agencies by giving them broad policy goals and “allowing agency directors to determine the best means of achieving those objectives.”

Matthews acknowledged that many of his bills will likely not move very far in a Legislature and governor’s office controlled by Democrats. He said that while he hopes to attract bipartisan support for at least some of his proposals (including the bills aimed at improving government function), there was still some value to be gained by at least introducing the concepts.

“If I can move the needle at least on the conversation on some of these things, there's value in that as well,” he said. “If a particular bill doesn't get implemented in this particular legislative session, at least (we’re) beginning the conversation, and maybe changing some minds, and hopefully taking a step toward a place down the road.”

Election Preview: During critical time in education, four Clark County trustee seats up for grabs

The stakes were already high for the Clark County School District, which despite pockets of excellence, has for years battled crowded classrooms, less-than-ideal funding and lackluster student achievement. 

Add a pandemic to the mix, and the list of difficulties facing the nation’s fifth-largest school district just expanded. 

That’s why several down-ballot races this year should arguably receive more than the cursory passing glance: Four seats are up for grabs on the Clark County School Board of Trustees, and with only one incumbent running, the seven-member governmental body will gain at least three new faces come January. The revamped board will be guiding the district through an uncertain time, as the pandemic’s academic and economic aftershocks come into sharper focus.

Three longtime school board members — Deanna Wright (District A), Chris Garvey (District B) and Linda Young (District C) — are termed out at the end of this year. Board President Lola Brooks, meanwhile, is running for re-election in District E against Alexis Salt, a teacher at Indian Springs Middle and High School. 

These are the matchups in the other races:

Before we dive deeper into those contests, let’s step back to the basics. For starters, what does the school board actually do?

On the surface, the role of a school trustee may appear rather dismal: The nonpartisan elected office comes with long meetings, meager pay ($9,000) and occasional torrents of public rage. But there is an upside: Trustees in theory have a chance to make a difference in the lives of roughly 310,000 children across Southern Nevada. 

The Clark County School Board operates under this vision statement: “All students progress in school and graduate prepared to succeed and contribute in a diverse global society.”  In practice, that means the trustees provide policy oversight and give direction to Superintendent Jesus Jara. For instance, the board voted on school reopening decisions earlier this year and also gave Jara his first evaluation.

But personality conflicts among trustees and division over Jara’s leadership have defined the board in recent months. In July, three trustees requested a special meeting to discuss the superintendent’s actions and employment. But the meeting ended before it really even got off the ground.

It’s difficult to say whether those events or pandemic-related education concerns are driving more interest in the trustee races. By natural association with the general election, the contests will likely see higher voter participation rates. During the June primary election — which whittled the field to the current eight candidates — the school board races drew, on the low end, 26,505 votes in District C to, on the high end, 52,229 votes in District A. 

Map of District A for the Clark County School Board of Trustees.

District A

Two education unions that have long been at odds with each other have backed different candidates in this race to represent the Henderson-area district.

The Clark County Education Association has endorsed Liberty Leavitt, a former teacher and administrator with the school district who now works at a nonprofit serving underprivileged children. She’s also the wife of former GOP state Sen. Michael Roberson.

Liberty Leavitt

The Nevada State Education Association and its smaller local affiliate, meanwhile, have thrown their support behind Lisa Guzman, executive director of the Education Support Employees Association.

But both women say they entered the race on their own accord, buoyed by the chance to make an imprint on the K-12 education system.

For Guzman, the decision came at the very beginning of the pandemic when she grew dissatisfied with what she viewed as the district’s lack of planning for any disaster situation. “I just felt horrible because I wish I could have helped,” she said.

Lisa Guzman

For Leavitt, the decision was a combination of growing up in the district, watching the reorganization play out behind the scenes as a central office administrator and then becoming a mother this year. “I have the experience as a teacher and administrator, as somebody who knows the state Legislature and knows the business community and works closely with the business community,” she said. “And now I’m a mom ... Between all of those relationships, I really want to best serve our kids.”

The dynamics of the existing school board and fellow trustee races haven’t gone unnoticed, though.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of partisan politics. I think we’ve seen a lot of political agendas and personal agendas,” Leavitt said. “And I just think that needs to end, quite frankly. That’s a detriment to our students.”

Guzman said her union experience doing interest-based bargaining — a strategy that involves bringing multiple options to the table to solve disputes — would aid her well on the school board.

“If I walk in and I don’t bring my ego to the table, and I just bring options, and I see how they evaluate those options, then I think it will make it so that folks realize that I’m really, truly looking out for the kid,” Guzman said.

In the June primary, Guzman scooped up 26 percent of the votes, while Leavitt captured 19 percent. But Leavitt has a fundraising advantage, with $65,270 banked through the second quarter of this year, according to campaign finance records. Guzman has raised $15,405 during that same period.

Whoever wins the contest will be coming aboard at a critical juncture in the district’s history. 

Leavitt said the district needs to take an honest look at itself and figure out why students are leaving for other options in the community, such as charter or private schools. The district’s enrollment is down roughly 3 percent this year. As a former magnet coordinator at Advanced Technologies Academy, Leavitt said she saw firsthand the demand for entry into that school.

“We know those work,” she said, referring to magnet schools. “So we’ve continued to improve them, but let’s do more. What does it take in our local elementary schools? Why are parents sending their kids to Pinecrest?”

Guzman, on the other hand, said the district needs to do a better job sharing its narrative with the Legislature, especially when it comes to the inequities regarding student achievement. She said state lawmakers should be keenly aware of how budget cuts magnify those inequities. But Guzman also said she believes strengthening community involvement is another path toward eliminating some of the achievement barriers.

“Once the community gets involved with a school, then the inequities are lessened because there are supports in place,” she said.

Leavitt has picked up endorsements from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Vegas Chamber and Clark County Black Caucus, among others. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Nevada State AFL-CIO and the Education Support Employees Association are among the organizations backing Guzman.

The Las Vegas Sun endorsed both Leavitt and Guzman.

Trustee Deanna Wright currently represents District A, which covers a large swath of Henderson as well as Laughlin and Searchlight.

Map of District B for the Clark County School Board of Trustees.

District B

The race for the District B seat has arguably been the most partisan battle, despite the position being a nonpartisan office. A self-described conservative is facing off against a moderate Democrat to represent this district, which covers a large portion of the upper valley, including parts of North Las Vegas.

On her campaign website, Katie Williams describes herself as a mother, veteran and former small business owner who is “fighting to bring a new, conservative voice to the Clark County School Board.” Her opponent, Jeff Proffitt, is a native Las Vegan and business manager of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 88 whose campaign site says he is running for school board because he believes “our kids should come first.”

Jeff Proffitt

In a crowded primary race, Williams secured 24 percent of votes, and Proffitt snagged 19 percent. Whoever wins the general election will replace Trustee Chris Garvey.

Williams said she jumped into the race because she sees too many young mothers or voters complain about local government without doing anything about it. She has a preschool-age daughter.

“I don't ever feel like I can complain about something if I'm not actively trying to help change or fix it,” she said.

Katie Williams

Even so, Williams has come under scrutiny for her outspoken nature on social media. Last year, she made headlines after saying she was stripped of her Ms. Nevada title for espousing her conservative viewpoints online. 

With 12,000 followers on Twitter, Williams has cultivated a social media presence with posts that support President Donald Trump, decry socialism, back school choice and tout her pro-life views. For instance, on Oct. 5, she tweeted: “I’ll wear a mask when you decide it’s not ok to kill babies. Being Pro Life means protecting the most at risk. That’s the 1 million babies per year this country kills, not the adults walking around scared of their own shadow.”

Williams makes no apologies for her partisan posts but says education is a nonpartisan issue because “our students don't care if you're Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal.” She said they just want their needs met.

“Yes, I am outspoken. I’m outwardly supportive of the president. I’m outwardly supportive of certain Senate members and congressional members,” Williams said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t always put those thoughts and views set aside for those moments in time because again, like I said, when I'm looking at the kids, that’s my mission. That’s my goal. I don't really care if their parents are Democrats or Republicans. I want their parents to be involved.”

Her opponent, Proffitt, describes himself as a moderate Democrat but has largely shied away from partisan politics, at least in the social media universe. Proffitt said he has friends on both sides of the political aisle and believes bipartisanship is the path toward accomplishing education improvements.

“They both want to fund education. They just want to do it a different way,” he said, referring to Democrats and Republicans. “But I think if they would just stop the party politics, they would probably realize that they're probably pretty close to each other 80 percent of the time.”

From a platform standpoint, both candidates have articulated some clear missions if they were to be elected. Williams has said she would donate her trustee salary, call for a forensic audit of the school district, push for schools to fully reopen, advocate for school choice and work toward eliminating union influence.

“I think that it's very important for the schools to rebuild trust with the parents because I think that they've lost that over the last couple months,” Williams said.

Proffitt also wants schools to reopen, starting first with students who have special education needs and followed by clear transition plans for elementary, middle and high schools.

“It’s time to start putting plans in place,” he said. “The numbers are looking good.”

Additionally, Proffitt — whose two youngest children attend the school district in Moapa, where his family lives — said he wants to see the school system expand its career and technical education opportunities, hire more educators with diverse backgrounds and take a more critical look at why students are leaving for charter or private schools.

“There's a lot of issues that CCSD just doesn't want to be flexible about that other school districts, charter schools, and these microschools, they don't have a problem thinking this way,” he said.

Some of the organizations that have endorsed Proffitt include Power 2 Parent, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the Las Vegas Sun, the Clark County Education Association, the Nevada State Education Association and the Education Support Employees Association. The Public Safety Alliance of Nevada, the Law Enforcement Loyalty PAC, the Las Vegas-Review Journal and Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black support Williams.

As for campaign cash, Williams reported raising $3,406 through the first half of the year, while Proffitt banked $38,471 during that period.

Map of District C for the Clark County School Board of Trustees.

District C 

The race for the District C trustee seat features two women — Tameka Henry and Evelyn Garcia Morales — who have some distinct similarities.

They both grew up in the neighborhood they hope to serve. They both have been immersed in various education and child wellness initiatives. And they’re both deeply concerned about achievement gaps that exist among students attending school in District C, which covers parts of West Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

Tameka Henry

Henry has been a longtime advocate for Head Start, a federal program focused on school readiness for children from low-income families. She is director of mentorship for TULIPS, a nonprofit mentorship program for young female leaders, and a program instructor for After-School All-Stars, an enrichment program for K-12 students.

Garcia Morales, meanwhile, spent 11 years in Washington, D.C., managing leadership programs for Latino students across the country. Now, she’s executive director of the Fulfillment Fund Las Vegas, a nonprofit focused on college attainment for low-income students.

Evelyn Garcia Morales

Henry and Garcia Morales are seeking the school board seat held by Trustee Linda Young. The pair finished neck and neck in the June primary, where Henry emerged with 21 percent of the votes and Garcia Morales captured 20 percent.

For Henry, the decision to run was rooted in wanting to give families more of a voice in improving education opportunities for their children. 

“We deserve access to high-quality education as well,” she said. “And so I just want to do my part as a trustee to ensure that I continue to uplift the voices of the families and communities.”

Of Henry’s four children, two remain in the K-12 education system. One daughter attends the Clark County School District, and another daughter goes to Nevada State High School, which is a charter for juniors and seniors. Henry said her daughter made the switch to a charter because she wanted more college courses and smaller class sizes.

Her daughter’s move to a charter school — which she acknowledged isn’t possible for all families because of transportation hurdles — has reinforced her desire to improve neighborhood schools within the district.

“I know that we can strengthen our public schools and we need to address classroom sizes,” Henry said. “The only way we're going to be able to do that is to get the additional funding as needed.”

Garcia Morales, who has a son in the Clark County School District, said she worries about the low academic proficiency rates for students and how that will affect them in the long run. For instance, it may hamper their higher education dreams if they’re saddled with remedial coursework after high school, she said.

As a trustee, Garcia Morales said she would commit herself to working with colleagues and families to “advance the work in equity so that our community is in less pain.”

As the race hurtles toward the general election, Garcia Morales has a fundraising advantage with $29,437 socked away during the first half of the year. Henry, meanwhile, raised $19,640 during that same period.

Several elected leaders, including state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, Assemblywoman Selena Torres and State Board of Education Member Felicia Ortiz, have endorsed Garcia Morales, along with the Las Vegas Sun. Assemblywoman Kasina Douglass-Boone has thrown her support behind Henry as well as organizations such as the Clark County Black Caucus, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Clark County Education Association.

Map of District E for the Clark County School Board of Trustees.

District E

Do voters in this largely suburban district want continuity or representation from an educator?

That’s the major question in this race, which features the only incumbent, Clark County School Board President Lola Brooks, who is being challenged by Alexis Salt, a school district teacher. 

Brooks, a data analyst at a charter school serving at-risk students, says she considered walking away after one term. But she didn’t think it would be wise for the school board to have four new members navigating a learning curve amid the pandemic. 

Lola Brooks

“Honestly, I just think the stakes are too high to not do it,” she said. “I think that even without a pandemic, it's very hard to have four brand new board members.”

Her opponent disagrees. Salt said she started attending school board meetings years ago for informational purposes. She began speaking up during board meetings more than a year ago when Superintendent Jesus Jara proposed eliminating the dean positions. 

“As time went on, it became increasingly obvious that they did know how their decisions were impacting the classroom,” Salt said, referring to trustees. “And it just either wasn't a priority, or it wasn't something that they were overly concerned with.”

Alexis Salt

Her decision to run for school board stemmed from that realization as well as encouragement from some fellow educators. If she wins the election, she will resign from her teaching job.

 “Ultimately, I can impact a lot more students sitting on that dais than I can in my classroom,” she said. 

Salt’s campaign, however, has gotten a boost from an existing board member — Trustee Danielle Ford, who has at times publicly clashed with Brooks. Rising Phoenix LLC, a company owned by Ford, contributed $10,000 worth of in-kind donations — described as “website and marketing” — for Salt, according to campaign finance records.

Brooks declined to address that dynamic — a fellow trustee helping her opponent — other than to say it’s not something she would do; however, she did express concern about some candidates vying for a position on the board.

“I do think that there are some people running that I feel would create more division and more attention on that board than already exists and would really, really would not allow the board to focus on their true mission of serving students and their families,” she said.

Salt defended the in-kind contribution she received from Ford, saying they are friends and wanted to report it so as to be fully transparent.

Both candidates have filed their campaign finance reports through the third quarter of this year, and those reports show Salt has a significant fundraising advantage. Salt reported raising $30,492, while Brooks tucked away $13,184.

Brooks maintained a slight edge in the June primary, garnering 22 percent of the votes cast in District E. Salt earned 18 percent of the votes. 

Heading into the general election, Salt said she wants potential voters to know that she intends to improve communication by serving as a “bridge between the bureaucracy that is the school district and the community.”

She’s also sounding the alarm about the district needing a solid mental health plan in place before students and staff return to in-person instruction.

 “Just one traumatized kid can throw a classroom off for an entire year, and we're looking at a lot of traumatized kids coming back to school,” Salt said. “And so I think, if nothing else, people need to really be pressuring the school district and their local schools to make sure that we have a strong plan to meet that when we come back, because our community is really hurting right now.”

Brooks said the board and district need to clearly communicate the reopening plan, spelling out the metrics used to make the decision as well as the timeline and process for bringing students back to the classroom. The reopening decision over the summer contributed to three other trustees — Linda Cavazos, Danielle Ford and Linda Young — calling for the special board meeting to discuss Jara’s performance. Brooks was among the trustees who voted to swiftly end the special meeting before a discussion about the superintendent’s employment.

Brooks defended herself against any insinuations that she has been too soft on Jara, saying that instead she’s trying to fulfill her role as board chair.

“I’m also trying to keep board members within the boundaries of their role, and these are things that you really don’t get to see other board members do because they’re not chairing a meeting,” she said.

The Clark County Education Association, the Vegas Chamber and the Latin Chamber of Commerce, Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal are among the organizations that have endorsed Brooks. Salt, meanwhile, counts the Nevada Education Association of Southern Nevada, the Education Support Employees Association and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 among her supporters.

Follow the Money: Campaign finance reports show GOP edges in key Assembly races, tight contests in State Senate

Front of the Nevada Legislature building at night

A year after legislative Republicans became close to an endangered species after widespread 2018 electoral defeats, the party’s attempted comeback was boosted by candidates in several key races outraising incumbent Democratic lawmakers during the last year.

Details from the 2019 contribution and expenses reports, due on Jan. 15, detailed how much legislative incumbents and candidates raised over the last calendar year and painted a more hopeful picture for Republicans in several “swing” Assembly races, with a more mixed view in competitive state Senate seats.

Although there are 63 seats in the Legislature — 42 Assembly members and 21 senators — actual control of the body, or more likely whether or not Democrats have a two-thirds majority (required for passing any increase in taxes) in either body, will likely come down to just a handful of competitive seats up in 2020. 

Changing the balance of the state Assembly, where Democrats enjoy a 29-13 seat advantage, could be the best ticket for Assembly Republicans. In at least three races — Assembly Districts 4, 29 and 37 — Republican candidates reported raising at least six figures and each substantially outraised the Democratic incumbent in the seat.

Only 10 seats are up for election in the Senate, with members serving staggered four-year terms. Democrats control 13 seats — one shy of a super-majority — but have not endorsed candidates in the two most likely pick-up districts; Heidi Gansert in Senate District 15 and Scott Hammond in Senate District 18. And those incumbents will start with a significant financial advantage — Gansert raised $245,000 in 2019, and Hammond also pulled in $107,800.

Senate Democrats will also have to work to defend two competitive seats — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s Senate District 6 and the open Senate District 5, vacated by termed-out Sen Joyce Woodhouse. They’ll also have to deal with a competitive, three-way primary in safely Democratic Senate District 7 between caucus-backed Roberta Lange and two long-time Assembly members, Richard Carrillo and Ellen Spiegel.

And with no major statewide or federal races (beyond congressional seats and the presidential election) on the ballot, it’s likely that more attention and funds will make their way to down-ticket legislative races, especially ahead of an expected redistricting after the 2020 Census that could determine the political trajectory of the state over the next decade.

Fundraising reports, especially those filed nearly a year before an election, aren’t a perfect barometer of the success of any particular candidate, but offer a helpful context in determining which races that individual parties determine to be the most winnable and whether or not individual candidates have the resources to compete in a down-ballot race. (It’s also worth noting that incumbents are disadvantaged in fundraising because of a legally required “blackout” period before, during and shortly after the 120-day legislative session).

On the flip-side, a close examination of major contributors can pull back the veil on which businesses or industries are trying to curry favor with lawmakers ahead of the 2021 legislative session. 

Here’s a look at the financial status of major legislative races:

Major state Senate races

Although 10 state Senate races will be on the 2020 ballot, only a handful of races are likely to be competitive and shift the current 13-8 seat advantage currently held by Democrats.

A key battleground will be in Senate District 6, which is held by Cannizzaro, who narrowly beat former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman in the 2016 election. Senate Republicans have endorsed April Becker, a Las Vegas-based attorney. Democrats make up 40 percent of registered voters in the district, and Republicans make up roughly 32.8 percent of registered voters.

Cannizzaro, who also beat back a politically motivated recall attempt in 2017, starts the race with a significant financial advantage after raising more than $326,000 throughout 2019, spending just $22,000 and ending the reporting period with $531,000 in the bank. Her top donors include $30,000 from properties affiliated with the Las Vegas Sands and $10,000 checks each from the Mirage, Switch and the Home Building Industry PAC, as well as nearly $10,000 from Woodhouse’s campaign.

But Becker’s first campaign finance report isn’t shabby; she reported raising nearly $313,000 over the fundraising period (including a “written commitment” from herself for $125,000) and ended the period with $152,000 in her campaign account.

Top donors to Becker included several Republican senators ($10,000 each from James Settelmeyer and the Senate Republican Leadership Conference, $5,000 each from Ben Kieckhefer, Joe Hardy and former state Sen. Michael Roberson and $2,000 from Keith Pickard), as well as $10,000 each from Abbey Dental Center owner Sanjeeta Khurana, the law firm of Gerald Gillock & Associates and Nevsur, Inc. (owned by Bruce and Barry Becker ).

Another highly competitive seat is Senate District 5, where Woodhouse narrowly beat Republican candidate and charter school principal Carrie Buck by less than one percentage point in the 2016 election. Democrats make up 38.4 percent of registered voters in the district compared to 32.6 percent for registered Republicans.

Buck, who is running again and has been endorsed by Senate Republicans, reported raising nearly $63,000 and ended the fundraising period with nearly $58,000 in the bank. Her top donors were fellow Republican senators; $10,000 each from the caucus itself and Settelmeyer, $5,000 each from Kieckhefer, Roberson and Hardy and $2,000 from Pickard.

But Buck’s fundraising total was eclipsed by Democrat Kristee Watson, a literacy nonprofit program facilitator endorsed by Senate Democrats in October.

Watson, who ran unsuccessfully for a Henderson-area Assembly seat in 2018, reported raising nearly $87,000 through the fundraising period, with a significant chunk coming from transfers from other candidates and office-holders. She received $10,000 contributions each from a PAC affiliated with Cannizzaro and the campaigns of Sens. Woodhouse, Chris Brooks, Marilyn Dondero Loop, and $5,000 from the campaigns of Sens. Melanie Scheible, Julia Ratti and Yvanna Cancela.

Other potentially competitive state Senate races feature a lopsided fundraising advantage for the incumbent. Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris in Senate District 11 was appointed to fill the term of now-Attorney General Aaron Ford, and reported raising nearly $46,000 over the fundraising period ($65,000 cash on hand). Her Republican opponents, Edgar Miron Galindo and Joshua Dowden, raised only $7,250 and $ 11,500 respectively over the fundraising period.

Two Republican incumbents up for re-election also posted impressive fundraising numbers that far outstripped potential opponents. Gansert in Senate District 15 raised nearly $246,000 and has nearly $237,000 in cash on hand; potential Democratic opponent Lindsy Judd did not file a 2019 campaign finance report.

In Senate District 18, incumbent Hammond raised nearly $108,000 and has more than $91,000 left in his campaign account; potential Democratic opponent Liz Becker raised $21,700 in comparison and has just $11,200 in cash on hand.

Primary battles

One of the most intriguing legislative races could come in the three-way Democratic primary to replace longtime Sen. David Parks, who is termed out of his Senate District 7 seat. Two Assembly members — Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — are running for the seat, but state Senate Democrats have thrown their weight behind another candidate, former state party head Roberta Lange.

Lange — who only made her bid for the seat official in mid-December — reported raising more than $64,000 for the seat, essentially during only the last two weeks of December. Her major donors included $10,000 from Cannizzaro’s political action committee, and $5,000 each from six incumbent senators — Ratti, Brooks, Scheible, Woodhouse, Cancela and Dondero Loop. She also received $2,500 from Parks, $1,000 from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s Searchlight Leadership PAC and $5,000 each from UNLV professor and former gaming executive Tom Gallagher and his wife, Mary Kay Gallagher.

But she faces a potentially tough primary fight from Spiegel, who raised $63,000 throughout 2019 and has nearly $213,000 in available cash on hand. Her top contributor was Cox Communications ($10,000 cumulative) but other top givers included the Nevada REALTORS PAC, pharmaceutical company trade group PhRMA, health insurance giant Centene and AT&T ($3,000 from each). 

Carrillo lagged behind both Lange and Spiegel in initial fundraising reports. He reported raising $29,500 throughout the fundraising period, spending $37,600 and having just $17,000 left in available cash. His biggest contributor was the Laborers Union Local 872, which donated $12,500 through contributions by five affiliated political action committees. Other top contributors include tobacco company Altria and the political arm of the Teamsters Union ($5,000 each), and $3,000 each from Nevada REALTORS PAC and the Nevada Trucking Association.

Another major primary election is brewing between Republican candidates Andy Matthews (a former campaign spokesman for former Attorney General Adam Laxalt) and Michelle Mortensen (former television host and congressional candidate) in a primary for the right to challenge Assemblywoman Shea Backus in Assembly District 37.

Matthews raised a massive $154,000 over the fundraising period, the highest amount of any Republican Assembly candidate and the second most of any Assembly candidate behind only Speaker Jason Frierson.

He reported spending $23,800 and ending the period with more than $130,000 in available cash. His top donors included $10,000 combined from manufacturer EE Technologies and founder Sonny Newman, and $5,000 each from Las Vegas-based businesses Vegas Heavy Haul and InCorp Services, Inc. 

Mortensen also posted a substantial fundraising total; more than $102,000 raised, $9,500 spent and more than $93,000 in cash on hand. Her major donors included primarily family members; her husband Robert Marshall and his company Marshall & Associates ($20,000 total), her father-in-law James Marshall ($10,000) and maximum $10,000 donations from several family members including Betty Mortensen, Tom Mortensen, Ryan Mortensen and Mila Mortensen.

Both Republican candidates outraised incumbent Backus, who raised nearly $25,000 during the reporting period and has nearly $64,000 left in cash on hand. Her top donor was Wynn Resorts, which gave her $5,000. Backus narrowly defeated then-Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant in the 2018 election, the first time a Democrat won the district in four election cycles.

Another competitive primary is happening in Assembly District 36, where appointed Assembly Republican Gregory Hafen II is facing off against Joseph Bradley, who ran for the seat last cycle against former Assemblyman James Oscarson and famed brothel owner Dennis Hof, who won the primary but died before the election.

Hafen reported raising $62,000 over the fundraising period (including a $9,500 loan) and has nearly $47,000 in cash on hand. Bradley reported raising $54,000 and has $38,500 left in his campaign account.

Key Assembly races

Nevada’s Assembly Democrats hit a potential high-water mark in 2018, winning control of 29 seats for the first time since 1992 and gaining enough seats to relegate Assembly Republicans to a super-minority (fewer than two-thirds of members).

But in a handful of competitive Assembly seats currently held by Democrats, Republican candidates posted substantial fundraising totals that not only eclipsed but often lapped the amount raised by incumbent Democrats, giving Republicans a financial leg up in some of the state’s most competitive legislative districts.

In Assembly District 4, first-term lawmaker Connie Munk reported raising $18,600 throughout 2019 and ended the period with just over $30,000 in cash on hand. Her biggest donors were PhRMA and trial attorneys-affiliated Citizens for Justice, Trust.

But her fundraising total was overwhelmed by Republican candidate Donnie Gibson, who reported raising $115,000 and has $87,000 left in his campaign account. Gibson, who runs a grading and paving company called Civil Werx, received maximum contributions from home builders and developers: $10,000 each from Associated Builders & Contractors, Associated General Contractors, the Nevada Contractors Association and the Home Industry Building PAC.

A similar disparity in fundraising totals was also present in Assembly District 29, where incumbent Democrat Lesley Cohen reported raising $16,000 over the fundraising period and has just under $50,000 in available cash.

Steven Delisle, a dentist and former state Senate candidate who announced his intention to run for the Assembly seat on Thursday, reported raising more than $134,000 for the race against Cohen, including a $125,000 loan to his campaign account.

But Democrats may have caught a break in Assembly District 31, where incumbent Skip Daly has won multiple races despite representing a district that went for President Donald Trump in 2016. Daly raised $46,425 through 2019 and has $75,800 left in his campaign account.

Assembly Republicans initially rallied behind Jake Wiskerchen, a marriage and family therapist who reported raising $27,700 for the race and had $19,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2019. But Wiskerchen opted to publicly drop out of the race in early January, leaving Republicans without an endorsed candidate for the time being. Daly’s 2018, 2016 and 2014 opponent, Jill Dickman, reported raising $8,800 in 2019 and has nearly $104,000 in leftover campaign cash.

Legislative leaders

Democratic Assembly Speaker Frierson reported raising more than $233,000 through the fundraising period, spending $174,000 and ended the period with just under $475,000 in cash on hand. His top contributors included a wide swath of Nevada businesses, including $10,000 each from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, the campaign account of former Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, Home Building Industry PAC, MGM Resorts and UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC. He also received $5,000 from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Republican Assembly Leader Robin Titus, who took over the caucus leadership position after the 2019 legislature, raised just over $38,000 during the fundraising period, spending more than $16,000 and ending the period with $72,000 in cash on hand. Top contributors to Titus included PhRMA and the Nevada REALTOR PAC ($5,000 each).

Her Republican counterpart in the state Senate, Settelmeyer, reported raising nearly $95,000 over the reporting period, with top contributors including UFC parent company Zuffa ($7,500), TitleMax, Nevada Credit Union League PAC, Grand Sierra Resort and Storey County businessman Lance Gilman ($5,000 from each). Settelmeyer ended the reporting period with $137,000 in cash on hand.

Sisolak

Although he isn’t up for re-election until 2022, Gov. Steve Sisolak broke fundraising records for Nevada governors in their first year in office after raising more than $1.6 million for his campaign and another $1.7 million for two closely affiliated political action committees. 

Sisolak reported having more than $2.3 million in available cash on hand at the end of 2019, and only reported spending $164,000 throughout the year. The governor also raised $1.7 million between the Sisolak Inaugural Committee and the Home Means Nevada PAC, which were initially set up to manage Sisolak’s inaugural events but have since been used for pro-Sisolak advertising. Political action committees in Nevada are allowed to accept unlimited donations.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. on Saturday, January 18th to include fundraising totals from Senate Republican candidate Joshua Dowden.

GOP state Senate candidate asked 2016 opponent for forgiveness on recall efforts, help with job search

Carrie Buck meets with principals

Republican state Senate candidate Dr. Carrie Buck sent multiple text messages to Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse earlier this year expressing regret for her role in an earlier attempt to recall Woodhouse and asking for her help in applying for a high-profile position with the state.

Buck, who ran against Woodhouse in 2016 and announced her intent to run for the term-limited senator’s seat again last week, was listed on documents filed by recall organizers in late 2017 as the candidate to replace the incumbent in a drawn-out and ultimately failed recall effort.

Buck sent several text messages to the senator throughout late January and February 2019, ahead of a state Supreme Court hearing on the Republican-backed efforts to recall Woodhouse and fellow Democratic Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro.

The messages, which Woodhouse provided to The Nevada Independent and were confirmed as legitimate by Buck, include requests for an in-person meeting and feedback on her resume as part of her application for the role of state superintendent — saying that she could “improve efficiencies” at the state Department of Education because of her experience running a charter school network and as a teacher in the Clark County School District.

Buck was one of 33 applicants for the position of state superintendent; Gov. Steve Sisolak eventually appointed Jhone Ebert to the position in March.

The text messages also include an apology for her role in the attempted recalls, and to “mend things and see how I can help.”

“I’m not a recall candidate as signatures were not qualified and I don’t want to run for state senate ever again,” she wrote in a text message sent on Feb. 13. “I truly thought this was over a year ago. I would love the opportunity to sit face to face with you and apologize.”

Woodhouse, who declined the requests for a meeting at the time, said in a statement on Wednesday that she thought the text messages were “highly inappropriate and unprofessional,” raising concerns with Buck’s request to apply for a “position she wasn’t qualified for” in the midst of legal efforts to dismiss the recall efforts.

“From my point of view, the entire proposal felt very transactional,” she said in an email. “The texts were unseemly and unbecoming of someone who aspires to be a public servant.”

In an interview, Buck said she had sent the text messages as a “peace offering,” with no “malicious intent.”

“I just wanted to put politics aside, and sit down with the woman, and see what can we do to help kids,” she said. 

Buck also said that she decided to mount another run for the state Senate seat after securing permanent employment with the Pinecrest Academy, getting family support and seeing less education “accountability.” 

She said that part of her reason for reaching out was to bury the hatchet with Woodhouse, whom she accused of interfering in her attempts to gain employment elsewhere, but declined to name specific roles she had applied for.

“There’s a vendetta there on her part,” Buck said.

Asked to comment on the allegation, Woodhouse said, "The only job I have ever prevented Carrie Buck from getting was representing District 5 in the State Senate."

The recalls, which were funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee and championed by former Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson, initially targeted Woodhouse, Cannizzaro and Republican-turned-independent Sen. Patricia Farley. 

The initial paperwork filed to recall Woodhouse was spearheaded by former Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus, who listed Buck as the intended replacement for Woodhouse if the recall attempt was successful and a special election was held. Buck said she “absolutely” regretted her role in the process, but noted that the recall effort was already “in motion” when she was asked if her name could be added to the recall documents.

Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized the attempted recalls as an abuse of the system; stating that they were filed more for political reasons than any personal malfeasance or abuse of office. The recall efforts targeting Woodhouse and Cannizzaro were initially deemed to have enough signatures to trigger a special election, but a District Court judge reversed that decision and declared the recalls dead after determining hundreds of so-called “post submittal strike requests” (requests by voters to remove their name from a recall petition after it was filed with the secretary of state’s office) were legitimate.

A last-chance appeal filed to the state Supreme Court was heard in March 2019, with the state’s highest court ruling in favor of the Democratic senators and finally ending the recall attempts in April 2019.

Inspired in part by the recall efforts, state lawmakers in 2019 approved a bill making various changes to the recall process and adding additional barriers before a recall election can be verified.

Buck narrowly lost her bid against Woodhouse in the 2016 election, with the incumbent squeaking out a 469-vote win out of more than 54,000 cast. Woodhouse is barred from running again because of legislative term limits; the Senate Democratic Caucus has endorsed literary nonprofit worker Kristee Watson in her bid for the seat. Buck was endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday; a spokesman for the caucus declined to comment on the text messages.

Carrie Buck/Joyce Woodhouse text exchange by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Dispute between school district, union obscures lack of leadership for decades

A small group of kindergarten age children sitting on a floor

In 2003, Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican and former superintendent who helped pass billions to build Clark County schools, pushed through what was then the largest tax increase in history to enhance education funding.

Twelve years later, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who responded to the increasing minority population in schools and the lack of accountability, signed the largest tax increase in history during a session in which both houses were controlled by the GOP.

That same session, state Senate Leader Michael Roberson, a Republican who would later allow his lust for power to corrupt him, became the first lawmaker to announce a significant infusion into English Language Learner programs in Southern Nevada.

Yes, despite the Democratic preening of late, the last three major funding enhancements and policy changes in the last two decades have come from…Republicans. All of that money, hundreds of millions of dollars, has been infused into a system producing woeful high school graduation rates — and those who do matriculate often need remedial help in college. And now we stand on the brink of the first teacher strike in Nevada history as members have been misled about what happened in Carson City and what is in their own contract, mostly by a ruthless union leader who is fine with scorching the earth so long as he can claim victory.

As the latest version of the embarrassing and pathetic blame game plays out in Clark County, Democratic leaders are pointing fingers at Superintendent Jesus Jara, Republicans are reveling in the other party being caught in the crossfire and two so-called education unions are engaging in a pointless, circular firing squad.

The inability to treat education funding and policy as anything more than a numbers game at the margins every two years is not a partisan problem, not a school district problem, not a union problem. This is a decades-long collective failure of public and private citizens to recognize that a state is not defined by its sports teams or Megabucks jackpots but by how it educates its children — and what it really costs to do so in this state. The recurring myopia by those seeking partisan advantage for the next election and the incessant wailing by those unwilling to pay a little more have left Nevada as an education backwater, where graduation rates are abysmal and teachers are confronted every day with Sisyphean tasks.

Whether there is a strike (doubtful) or whether teachers get a relative pittance for so-called professional development (likely) matters little in the context of a system that continues to deteriorate despite cosmetic changes. Long after Superintendent Jesus Jara has had to buy a new Peloton and union boss John Vellardita has burned his last Nevada bridge, the core problem will still remain: In the real-life game of overseeing education, with very few exceptions, Nevada’s leaders have bunted to get the runner into scoring position and left him stranded rather than swinging for the fences without fear of striking out in the next election.

What’s so bothersome – nay, infuriating – about this latest kerfuffle (and that is all it is) is how familiar it seems, how culpable all the players are and how small it truly is. They are arguing over a few million dollars when we have a multibillion-dollar problem that has metastasized year after year as the district has become majority-minority and all the players seem to be speaking different languages.

Let me show you the disingenuousness here on all sides:

Sisolak and Democratic legislative leaders did pour some new money into education during the Legislature but this was, as I have said before, The Session of What Might Have Been. They used various gimmicks – punting a still-uncertain sales tax to the locals, taking money from the Rainy Day Fund – to arrive at an arbitrary number and still left tens, maybe hundreds of millions on the table. (More coming on The Table.)

No one expected them to solve all the problems brought on by decades of cancerous neglect in one session, but they made it sound as if they accomplished miracles – or so they will say in their pre-written campaign mailers. They didn’t need to play the brinkmanship with Republicans on extending the payroll tax – they should have started negotiating earlier, as they did not even need that money to get to their number and there are still dollars on the table sitting in the reserve fund.

The Republicans in Carson City played a different game of spin, one where they had the chutzpah to claim they were better friends of education AND Defenders of the Constitution. Outside of Guinn, Sandoval and a few others, most Republicans through the years have been unwilling to discuss money and were automatons whose programming short-circuited if any word other than “accountability” was spoken.

Sure, the Republicans want to be on their high horses now and are enjoying the union and school district warfare because the Democrats have to wear this. But their history generally is to genuflect to business interests that act as if small increases in a payroll tax (Guinn) and a new Commerce Tax (Sandoval) would destroy them, as they continue to profit from an economy created by and for gaming. The GOP’s so-called principle in not voting a few months ago for an extension of that payroll tax rate is less about their commitment to that document written in 1864 and more to the checks they want to receive in 2020.

The Clark County School District has a credibility problem that is well-earned. There is no question the district and its lobbyists moved the goal posts during the session, frustrating the governor and lawmakers alike. But their failure to communicate aside, they did inform Sisolak and his team – as well as lawmakers – about the need for more money, including the professional development funds now at the center of the dispute.

Jara, as an outsider unlike some superintendents, came in with an air of superiority and a sense of shock at just how antediluvian the state’s approach to education really was. He didn’t handle some of the optics very well – firing deans by video, buying the fancy exercise bike. But he should not wear all of this, especially because the school board Mensans gave him the money in his contract to buy the Peloton, and his supposedly connected lobbying team was responsible for keeping him apprised from afar.

Jara has made himself an easy villain for Sisolak to demonize, but the local union is far from heroic. Vellardita is being rewarded for his thuggery – as one legislator told me every negotiation started with him “pointing a gun at our heads”, thinking he can catch more legislators with threats than honey. Many teachers surely appreciate him being smashmouth in his approach, but Vellardita has misled teachers as to what is in their contract (it only had the professional development allowances last year), although they should read it themselves if they are going to complain now.

The union was supposed to be hand-in-glove with the school district to lobby in Carson City, and I recall no one making an issue of these professional development funds during the session. Instead, the CCEA was fighting with the state teachers union, which has been ineffectual for many years, creating confusion for lawmakers, teachers and parents.

Let’s not forget this nettlesome fact, either: A strike is illegal under Nevada law. Teachers who are making this a brave act of lawbreaking akin to what Mahatma Gandhi or the Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square did are doing themselves no favors.

And by not condemning the strike threat when they excoriated Jara on Friday, the governor and lawmakers tacitly condone breaking the law. As Orrin Johnson pointed out Sunday in these pages, there is a reason public employees are not allowed to strike.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures – but a lawsuit over funding adequacy is much preferable to a strike. Sisolak and the Democrats surely are worried about the political damage, too, although it is the governor’s job to intercede and to try to force a resolution. But by siding with the union, which supported the governor but caused endless problems for him during the session with its Pearl Harbor tactics and constant threats, Sisolak and the others are taking sides in a fight where neither one deserves an endorsement.

The most important question will remain after they scale this molehill made to look like a mountain: How do you improve a system that continues to set thousands of children up to fail?

“Everything is on the table except for one thing and that’s doing nothing and the status quo, because it’s not working,” Sisolak said when he was running for governor. It’s only one session into his tenure, but not much more than nothing has been accomplished, except an infusion of money with the same old legislative legerdemain.

They also didn’t even introduce a new funding formula to replace one that is a half-century old until shortly before the end of the session, then turned it essentially into a study and approved it. If that isn’t a microcosm for the short shrift given to education funding in Nevada, I don’t know what is.

The table Sisolak referred to remains bare, and if everything is supposed to be on it come 2021, that should include the gaming tax, the Commerce Tax, a sales tax on services, property taxes and – close your eyes – a graduated income tax. Debate it all.

And whether you are an elected official or major donor or business person or parent or teacher or….anyone, the time has come. The fault, my dear Nevadans, is not in the district or the union or even Carson City; the fault is in ourselves – all of us – that we have not made education a cornerstone of what this state is all about instead of a battle over small budget numbers and pathetic partisan positioning biennium after biennium.

Strike or no strike, deal or no deal, the real problem won’t go away and what the state needs most isn’t more money: It’s leadership.

Jon Ralston is the founder and editor of The Nevada Independent. He has been covering politics for more than 30 years. Contact him at ralston@thenvindy.com.

Bills reversing 2015 changes to collective bargaining pick up steam in last week of Legislature

Union member stands holding flag

Two bills reversing changes made to Nevada’s collective bargaining law in the Republican-controlled 2015 Legislature appear to be finally moving forward in the last week, although the fate of a more ambitious bill extending bargaining rights to state workers is still in flux.

Months after the bills were first introduced and heard, members of the Senate Finance Committee held hearings Monday on SB153 and SB111 — two bills sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Parks that aim to reverse many provisions of a wide-ranging collective bargaining bill passed in 2015 that modified the collective bargaining process for local employees and prohibited principals from participating in collective bargaining agreements. Several labor unions argued the bills would improve the bargaining process and cut down on time spent in arbitration, while the Clark County School District warned that the bills add tens of millions in new costs.

Though their appearance in the Finance Committee is a sign that the bills are likely to start moving through the legislative process with roughly a week to go before the end of the 120-day session, their appearance is likely to spark questions about the future of SB135, which would allow state government workers the right to collectively bargain.

Parks said he didn’t know when or if the bill — entombed in the Senate Finance Committee since mid-April — would move forward. But he said his other two collective bargaining bills would go a long way to restoring the system in place prior to the passage of the 2015 law, which he and only three other Democrats opposed at the time.

“I think that it certainly fell far short of what the intent was when those bills were introduced,” he said. “My attitude is from having many years of labor negotiations and experience in the public sector, we had a system that didn’t work perfectly, but it certainly worked well. What (SB241) did was just make a mess of it, and it’s been that way since.”

The biggest fight on Monday came over Parks’ SB111, which reduces the amount of funds a local government can exempt from their ending fund balance in collective bargaining negotiations from 25 percent to 16.67 percent, and a new requirement that any money appropriated by the Legislature for salary and benefits be part of a negotiation during collective bargaining and considered by a fact-finder or arbitrator when determining a school district’s ability to pay compensation.

That last section of the bill sparked opposition from the Clark County School District, which placed a massive fiscal note on the bill saying that implementation would cost $36 million a year, and $72 million in future budget cycles in order to comply with annual pay raises without sufficient funding. But it could also play a critical role as lawmakers look for ways to fund a promised 3 percent teacher pay raise without having the district use the funds for other purposes.

Stephen Augspurger, head of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, gave legislators a copy of the last budget’s legislative allocations showing that the state had appropriated $164.8 million for a 2 percent merit increase for educators and staff, and said that the provisions in SB111 would ensure that the money would actually be spent for merit increases as opposed to filling gaps in the district’s budget.

“The Legislature has provided that money to the school district,” he said. “They have that money. It should be spent for normal movement on the salary schedule. It hasn't, it would be disingenuous to say now that there's a fiscal note on this bill.”

Brad Keating, a lobbyist for the school district, said the fiscal note was accurate and that the district often faced unexpected and huge costs (such as an extra $18 million needed for special education) and that the state’s antiquated and byzantine funding formula made it hard to draw a straight line between money appropriated by state lawmakers and actual dollars going to educators for merit pay increases.

“When dollars go into the formula, they don't come out to the same amount and nothing is broken down by line item,” he said. “So how are we supposed to give out at guaranteed raises when we don't know how much we truly receive as a district?”

Parks said he didn’t believe the school district’s fiscal note was accurate.

“I have a strong opinion about fiscal notes, and I think that if you want to kill a bill, you put a fiscal note on it,” he said in an interview. “I think that in this particular situation, I think it’s an unsubstantiated fiscal note.”

The other portion of the bill — lowering the reserved ending fund balance that could be walled off from collective bargaining negotiations — was supported by union representatives and Mary Walker, a lobbyist for several rural counties who said the change would still ensure governments had at least two months in a reserve balance while having enough financial flexibility for personnel costs during times of an economic downturn.

“I believe this is sound fiscal policy, and that SB111 will provide local governments financial stability in times of recession,” she said. “This will help minimize layoffs during cutbacks.”

The other bill, SB153, makes several reversals and repeals sections of former Republican Sen. Michael Roberson’s bill from the 2015 session that added several restrictions toward the ability of school principals and administrators to collectively bargain.

The bill repeals three sections of the 2015 law, including provisions requiring that employee organizations offer concessions for the full cost if an employee takes leave to perform duties or services for their union, and two sections requiring school principals to be at-will employees and for certain school administrators to re-apply for their positions every five years. It also allows school principals and other administrators below the rank of superintendent to participate in a collective bargaining unit separate from school teachers — undoing another provision of the 2015 law.

The measure also revises certain rules on arbitration for impasses in collective bargaining negotiations, including a requirement for four (rather than eight) negotiating sessions and time limits on holding hearings after selecting an arbiter. It also would allow for “evergreen” clauses in collective bargaining agreements, which are provisions that allow regularly scheduled pay raises and other parts of collective bargaining agreements to continue after an agreement expires.

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a similar bill last session that attempted to make many of the same changes to the 2015 collective bargaining law.

Professional Firefighters of Nevada lobbyist Tom Dunn said the lack of those clauses hurt workers and incentivized local governments to delay negotiations as long as possible.

“All it's going to do in the long term is cost both local government and more importantly the bargaining units that we represent time and money,” Dunn said. “All it's going to do is drag out the process further than it was prior to 2015, and there is going to be a harm to local government employees because every day that this process gets dragged out is potentially a benefit or more importantly a PERS retirement contribution that has been decreased. And it's a complete and total budget savings for local government.”

As introduced, the Clark County School District said implementing the bill would cost around $36 million per year to implement, raising similar concerns to Parks’ other bill that would require additional spending for merit pay increases without any increase in funding.

Chris Daly, a lobbyist for the Nevada State Education Association, said that the current bargaining rules were “cumbersome and unworkable,” and said the district’s assumptions in the fiscal note were a worst-case scenario and unlikely to actually occur.

“We think that this fiscal note is not real in terms of how this would play out for that school district,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who chairs the Senate Finance committee, said she hoped to bring both bills up for a committee vote sometime later this week.

Bill to automatically restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated touted by Assembly speaker

Nevada lawmakers are poised to take a significant step toward restoring the right to vote to any individual released from prison, a top criminal justice reform priority that could have a sizable impact on future election turnout.

Sponsored by Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, AB431 would end the state’s byzantine legal structure for the restoration of voting rights for previously incarcerated people, and instead require that any individual not behind bars is afforded the right to vote. An estimated 90,000 Nevadans were unable to vote in the 2016 election because of prior convictions, or about 4 percent of the voting-age population.

Although the original version of the bill would have prevented anyone on parole or probation from voting, Frierson proposed an amendment to the measure that opens voting to anyone not in prison, telling members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee during a hearing Wednesday that keeping those restrictions would be “administratively difficult” and distract from his overall goal of encouraging people to stay out of prison by giving them a path toward societal participation.

“These are the carrots that keep people complying with any conditions of supervision,” he said. “These are the things that motivate someone to maintain that, to be able to keep that right.”

Joseph Abraham, a Las Vegas resident who had his right to vote restored after several felony convictions in 1999, said he wasn’t sure that voting rights restoration would have a measurable impact on recidivism, but told lawmakers that it was a crucial element to re-integrating into society.

“I’m a practical man,” he said. “I don’t believe that restoring an individual’s civil rights will have a tremendous impact on the recidivism rate. However, I am absolutely certain of one thing; that if you prevent a convicted person from participating in the voting process, you eliminate the possibility of them building into the community in a positive fashion.

The bill comes just one session after Frierson and former Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford pushed for legislation that substantially changed the state’s process for restoring voting rights to previously incarcerated people, which the Brennan Center for Justice has called “one of the most complex disenfranchisement laws in the country.”

Prior to 2003, all felony convictions in the state resulted in permanent disenfranchisement — prohibiting them from serving on juries or voting — unless individuals petitioned the Department of Public Safety or were granted a pardon. But that process was rarely used; the Campaign Legal Center estimated that only 281 people used the court petition process to restore their voting rights between 1990 and 2011, an average of 13 per year. 

In 2003, lawmakers approved a bill allowing for the automatic restoration of voting rights for most people convicted of a felony, but carved out several exemptions including whether the person had been honorably discharged from parole or probation, whether the person had committed a category A felony or certain types of category B felonies,  in case where the person had a prior felony conviction, and whether the felony conviction was in another state or federal court.

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a 2011 bill that would have automatically restored voting rights to any person upon release from prison, but in 2017 signed AB181 into law, automatically restoring the right to vote for any individual convicted of a nonviolent Category B felony or lesser felony charge or who was dishonorably discharged from parole or probation, and retroactively restored civil rights including jury service and voting rights to anyone released from prison or discharged from parole or probation prior to Oct. 1, 2017. Felonies in Nevada are categorized from A to E, with Category A considered the most severe and holding the harshest penalties.

But the 2017 bill did not apply any changes to anyone convicted of multiple felonies, certain category B felonies or a category A felony, and only took effect in January 2019, meaning it was not in place prior to the 2018 midterm elections.

Frierson on Wednesday called the 2017 bill only the beginning of efforts to restore voting rights; his 2019 bill would remove any waiting requirement and instead automatically apply rights restoration to any person regardless of the severity of their crime, or if they are on parole or probation. It would also immediately restore voting rights for anyone released from prison prior to passage of the bill, and for anyone convicted of a felony in another state but has since been released and now lives in Nevada.

“I believe when we have folks involved in the criminal justice system and expect them to reintegrate into society, there is especially in this day and time, no better way to motivate someone to stick to the rules, to comply with societal norms, than to allow them to participate in the electoral process,” he said.

The bill only applies to voting, and wouldn’t apply to participation in jury trials and other civil rights lost upon incarceration. In an interview, Frierson said he wanted to make sure that the restoration of other rights did not distract from his primary purpose of the bill.

“My purpose was voting rights restoration, so the other issues are not fundamental to what I think most citizens associate with meaningful participation back in the community,” he said.

If it’s approved by lawmakers, Frierson’s bill would take effect in July 2019, meaning it would be in place for the 2020 election. The bill also comes as legislative Democrats have pushed for other voting-related proposals including bills to expand early voting and allow for same-day voter registration. Both of those concepts were embraced by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in his January State of the State address.

Frierson on Tuesday said his intent wasn’t to juice turnout, but rather to right a wrong from the state’s previous tough-on-crime policies that left tens of thousands of Nevadans without the ability to vote or participate in regular society in a meaningful way.

“We don’t have throw away citizens,” he said. “We believe in second chances, in my opinion. The spirit behind the existing law came from a period where we threw away citizens, where we didn’t value everyone’s input and it was only those who had the wherewithal to fully participate that were able to do so.”

It’s unclear how much Republican support the bill will get — the more moderate 2017 legislation attracted votes from only two Republicans; Assemblyman (now Senator) Keith Pickard and former Assemblyman Paul Anderson.

Voting right restorations for felons has recently drawn more attention in other states — nearly 65 percent of Florida voters approved a 2018 ballot question automatically restoring the right to vote for any person with a prior felony conviction (outside of murder or sexual offense) upon release from prison. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states and the District of Columbia automatically grant the right to vote back to an incarcerated person upon release, and two states — Maine and Vermont — never remove the right to vote and allow incarcerated people to cast ballots.

Frierson said he was opposed to expanding the right to vote to prisoners, saying his goal was to ensure “that when people pay their debt to society, they should be able to fully integrate back into society.”

Lawmakers on the committee also heard details of AB315 on Wednesday, a bill by freshman Democratic Assemblyman Alexander Assefa that initially would have allowed for automatic sealing of criminal records in most cases after a person is released from prison. But Assefa submitted an amendment to the bill deleting it entirely and instead narrowing the focus to allow a wrongfully arrested person to submit an application to a court to delete their arrest record.

Frierson said he wasn’t at all concerned about being tagged as “pro-felon” — a favorite insult of former Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson — and said he believed the bill would actually improve public safety.

“Senator Roberson lost,” he said in an interview. “I think that we’re here to do the work of the people, and I think that our community is ready to give people second chances when they’ve paid their debt to society. This isn’t about violent criminals or nonviolent criminals, this is about expecting people to buy into societal norms, and I think we’re actually creating a safer public when we have incentives for folks that have made mistakes in their life in the past, to stay on the straight and narrow.”

Update at 11:52 a.m.: This story has been updated to better reflect Nevada law regarding voting rights restoration prior to 2003.

After background checks bill, lawmakers prepare wide variety of gun bills

Various handguns as seen on display inside Discount Firearms & Ammo in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2018.

Hundreds of impassioned supporters and opponents flooded the halls of the Nevada Legislature last week to testify on a contentious measure requiring background checks for most private gun sales and transfers — a stark reminder of the high emotions spurred by nearly all firearms-related legislation.

Although Gov. Steve Sisolak signed that measure into law on Friday, a slew of legislation and bill ideas affecting firearms in potentially significant ways are continuing to work their way through the legislative pipeline.

Several Democratic lawmakers are working on proposals to ban bump stocks — a firearm accessory that mimics automatic weapons fire, used in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas — as well as creating penalties for leaving a firearm accessible to children and allowing municipalities to set their own regulations on guns. But it’s still unclear whether lawmakers will move to address Sisolak’s campaign promises to ban assault rifles and silencers.

Although they are in the minority in both houses, a handful of Republican lawmakers are also seeking changes to laws affecting concealed carry permits, storing guns on school campuses and taxing out-of-state gun sales.

Here’s a look at some bills affecting firearms that could come up throughout the rest of the legislative session.

Bump Stocks

One of the highest-profile changes to firearm policy will likely be the banning of bump stocks, but lawmakers are still working on introducing legislation.

Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui has submitted a bill draft request related to “gun safety,” and said in an interview on Tuesday that she’s finalizing language on a comprehensive measure that will include a ban on bump stocks and reversing pre-emption language giving the Legislature final authority over gun laws in the state. Jauregui, who attended and survived the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in 2017, said she was working with interested parties, including law enforcement agencies and the Nevada Resort Association, and had concluded the measure will not include an assault weapons ban and likely won’t contain limits on high-capacity magazines, saying limits on stockpiling weapons or ammunition may be more effective.

Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela has also submitted a bill draft request that would ban use of bump stocks in the state.

Pre-emption

Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank has filed a bill draft request to undo a 2015 law change that give the Legislature control over regulation of, and policies on, firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition.

The 2015 bill, sponsored by former Republican Sen. Michael Roberson when the GOP controlled both houses, gave the Legislature power to regulate and oversee nearly all aspects of firearm policy, preventing local governments from crafting any ordinances or rule changes affecting firearms.

Although bill supporters at the time said that legislation was needed to ensure uniformity in the state’s gun laws, local officials, including then-Clark County Commission Chair Sisolak, have criticized the law and said it prevents local governments from taking action to ban “bump stock” devices or other restrictions on firearm accessories. Swank said a revision was needed given the very different environments across the state.

“Battle Mountain and Las Vegas are very different places,” she said.

Storing guns in cars near schools

Freshman Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen is sponsoring a bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to legally store firearms at public schools, college campuses and child care facilities.

Introduced on Friday, AB167 would allow permit holders to bring firearms onto school campuses as long as the gun is out of “common observation,” inside a motor vehicle that is either locked or occupied, or stored in a locked container.

Hafen called the measure a “common sense gun law,” and said he had a brief conversation with Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman Steve Yeager about holding a hearing on the bill. A similar bill was proposed in 2015 by Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, but it failed to make it out of committee.

Fellow Republican Assemblyman John Ellison introduced a similar bill on Monday, AB202, which would allow concealed weapon permit holders to possess a handgun on the property of a community college as long as the firearm is not in sight and is stored in a locked container affixed to a vehicle.

Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer said he has submitted a similar bill draft request, but is considering using it instead as a vehicle to change provisions of the recently approved measure requiring background checks on nearly all private firearm sales and transfers. Every legislative Republican voted against the measure, which was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday.

“We’ll see how much they want to work together,” Settelmeyer said.

Red Flag Laws

In a repeat from 2017 legislation, Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti has re-introduced a “red flag law” bill that allows law enforcement or the court system to temporarily seize the firearms of anyone deemed a serious threat of violence to themselves or others.

At least 13 states have enacted so-called “red flag” laws, with many moving to adopt the legal mechanism after the mass shooting in Parkland, Floridia. Ratti’s bill was staunchly opposed by the National Rifle Association and legislative Republicans in 2017, who compared it to the concept of “pre-crime” from the 2002 film Minority Report — the bill passed on party-lines out of the Senate and failed to make it out of the Assembly.

In an interview on Monday, Ratti said she was still working on the bill and didn’t expect a hearing on the legislation soon, but that her goals for the measure were the same as in 2017 — giving law enforcement a “tool that we need” to take precautionary steps for people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Concealed carry

AB217, introduced Monday by a group of Assembly Republicans led by Jill Tolles, would require county sheriffs who grant concealed carry permits to give priority to applications filed by people with a court order of protection against another person. Current law requires that an application for a concealed weapon permit be granted within 120 days.

At least two other states — Tennessee and Indiana — allow certain victims of domestic violence or those who possess a restraining order against another person to temporarily carry a concealed weapon without a permit, but Tolles said she would prefer anyone with a concealed carry permit first undergo the required training.

“I personally wasn’t comfortable with that,” she said. “I still felt it was important to go through all those steps, but I think just prioritizing somebody with a more urgent need is a reasonable accommodation.”

The bill also requires that courts which enter a verdict based on an individual’s mental health (such as involuntary admission to a mental health facility, a plea of guilty but mentally ill or acquittal by insanity) more quickly report findings to the state’s central repository for background checks on firearm sales. Current law sets a five-day limit, whereas AB217 lowers the time to “as soon as practical” and within no more than 3 days.

Tolles said she added those provisions to the bill after last week’s debate on the background checks bill, saying she wanted to ensure more timely reporting of mental health records to the state’s background check repository. States vary on how long courts are allowed to report mental health information, from up to 30 days in Utah and Texas to immediately in California and Arkansas.

“The background checks are only as good as the information that’s input in them,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro said she’s also submitted a bill draft request through the Senate Judiciary Committee that would allow law enforcement to waive charges against a person found to be carrying a concealed weapon without a permit if the person completes the required eight-hour training course and successfully applies for a legal permit. She said the bill would also create an escalating penalty for repeat offenses of felons found in illegal possession of a firearm.

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler has also submitted a bill draft request related to laws on concealed firearms, but said it was a “placeholder” measure for possible future use.

Firearm storage

Proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, AB153 would create a misdemeanor penalty for persons found to have “negligently” stored or left a firearm at a location under their control if they know there is a “substantial risk” a child can access it.

Fumo said the bill arose after a constituent’s daughter was shot and killed at a friend’s house where a loaded gun was kept within easy reach of children, but the Clark County district attorney opted not to file child abuse and neglect charges against the parents. Fumo said he worked on the bill with the district attorney’s office and included the misdemeanor penalty as a compromise, but didn’t want to include further penalties unless a child was injured or killed.

“When a child has brought a gun to school or someone’s been injured, there’s already been one tragedy,” he said.

Taxes on out-of-state gun sales

Proposed by Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus, AB113 would amend state law by prohibiting a federally licensed firearms dealer from charging sales tax when they facilitate an out-of-state gun sale between two individuals.

Federal law prohibits out-of-state gun purchases unless it is first delivered to a federally-licensed gun seller, who can finish the sale after running a background check on the purchaser. AB113 would amend definitions to prevent the dealer’s portion of the sale to be subjected to the state sales tax, instead requiring that the individuals pay the tax through a sales and use tax form.

Titus said the bill had taken on extra importance with last week’s passage of the background checks bill, saying she was concerned that every out-of-state gun sale processed through a firearms dealer would technically add to their total revenue, potentially requiring them to pay under the state’s Commerce Tax (assessed on business revenue above $4 million) without actually gaining any more revenue.

“I think the governor and the retail association, they’ve kind of perked up their ears on the bill because of passage, and the potential impact of the Commerce Tax on that,” she said.

Former Republican Assemblywoman Jill Dickman submitted a similar proposal in the 2015 Legislature, but the bill never made it off the Assembly floor.

Muzzle-loading muskets

Submitted on behalf of the state’s Department of Wildlife, SB55 clarifies a state law prohibiting transfer of loaded rifles or shotguns on any public road to include language specifically targeting muzzle-loading rifles or muskets.

The bill clarifies that muzzle-loading firearms — where the propellant charge is loading through the gun’s forward end, or muzzle — can be transported on public highways as long as the priming component to fire the weapon is removed prior to transport.

Nevada State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson

INDY FAST FACTS
Michael Roberson

Office: Former state senate minority leader
Party: Republican
In office: 2010-2019
Senate Republican leader since 2015
Birthdate: June 20, 1970
Education:
University of Kansas (B.S.)
University of Kansas School of Law (J.D.)