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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remote learning enrollment not as robust as expected in Clark, Washoe county school districts

Demand for distance learning programs in the Clark and Washoe county school districts has fallen short of projections, signaling families’ desire for more traditional classroom instruction.

In Clark County, 17,762 of 194,732 student registrations for the upcoming school year — roughly 9 percent — indicated a preference for full-time distance education, according to school district data. Those figures were as of May 21, the Clark County School District’s deadline for registering for online learning. 

The Washoe County School District, meanwhile, planned for 2,000 students enrolling in its North Star Online School, but only 750 students registered by the May 28 deadline, said Jeana Curtis, an area superintendent. 

“We’re definitely seeing the numbers a lot lower than we expected,” said Mike Barton, chief college, career, equity and school choice officer for the Clark County School District. 

The pandemic-forced conversion to distance learning last year unearthed a host of challenges — such as too few laptops and spotty internet access — but some students thrived. Those success stories paired with ongoing fears about the virus and limited vaccine eligibility for children have prompted some school districts, including in Las Vegas and Reno, to bolster remote learning opportunities moving forward. 

It’s not a universal trend, though. The New York City public school system and others across the country are axing remote learning when classes resume later this summer or fall.

But legislation recently passed in Carson City has provided more of a nudge in Nevada: SB215, sponsored by Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) and signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak, requires school districts and charter schools to develop distance learning plans and determine technology needs.

“We want to always view our educational system from the parent perspective, and we can always look at how we can conduct business better,” Barton said. “So I think we always viewed distance education as an option.”

In April, Clark County School District officials announced that for the 2021-2022 academic year families could opt their children into full-time remote learning. Depending on enrollment numbers, distance education will be offered through students’ existing schools or Nevada Learning Academy, the district’s online school. In-person instruction will resume five days a week for all grade levels as well.

The distance learning option, however, comes with tightened requirements for participating students and families. For instance, elementary children must have an adult supporting them during the day at home, and students’ days of logging into class and then promptly turning off the computer camera are over. Students will be required to maintain a visual presence during live class sessions, though they will be allowed to blur their backgrounds.

Barton said principals are double-checking with families to ensure they fully understand the expectations. In some cases, he said, children registered themselves for distance education without their parents’ knowledge. 

“We’re also having that dialogue with families as well just to say, ‘Things are different now. There’s still the face-to-face option,’” he said.

Sarah Popek, principal of Myrtle Tate Elementary School in northeast Las Vegas, said families of a dozen students initially selected distance learning, but after consulting with them, only one truly wanted their child to work remotely next year. Without enough students to warrant staff devoted to distance learning at Myrtle Tate, the student was referred to Nevada Learning Academy. 

The pandemic inspired Nevada Learning Academy to add third through fifth grade last year, and it’s expanding down to kindergarten for the upcoming school year, Barton said. The district recently posted about 30 positions in its quest to beef up the online-only school’s staff.

As the new school year rapidly approaches — both districts start Aug. 9 — scheduling and staffing plans are well underway. But Barton acknowledged the distance learning numbers in Clark County could shift slightly given the thousands of families who have yet to register their students. Late registrations for distance learning in both districts will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Despite lower-than-projected registrations, enrollment in distance learning programs still remains higher than pre-pandemic times. North Star Online School in Washoe County, for example, typically served about 300 students each year, Curtis said. With 750 student registrations for the upcoming academic year, its enrollment stands to more than double.

Washoe County school officials, like their colleagues in Clark County, have been answering questions and explaining the nuances of what distance education will look like during the new school year. The district hosted a virtual forum in mid-May for prospective students and families.

“Sometimes there's a misinterpretation that (students) just go online and do it independently,” Curtis said. “The family needs to be involved.”

Unlike the Clark County School District, the Washoe County School District offered at least some form of in-person instruction to all students for almost the entire 2020-2021 school year. Curtis said many families appear eager to send their children back to in-person school full time, specifically for the social-emotional benefits. And high school students, in particular, seem less interested in distance education in Washoe County.

“You just miss that high school vibe,” Curtis said.

Barton said the Clark County School District will evaluate how school-based distance learning programs fare compared with Nevada Learning Academy this year before making any decisions about future arrangements.

Gun free zones in casinos, increasing justice court fees and licensing midwives among many casualties of legislative session

Lawmakers ended the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday night passing dozens of high-profile measures but many others, including an effort to license midwives and a bill allowing casinos to prohibit firearms, failed to advance.

Out of roughly 1,000 bills and resolutions introduced during the 120-day legislative session, more than 400 measures failed to pass through the Senate and Assembly and make it to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk. Many bills were left for dead at deadlines for committee or house passage, but some — including an effort to increase justice court filing fees — were in limbo until minutes before the clock struck midnight on Monday.

Other major bills that failed to advance included a measure aimed at transitioning Nevada residents away from natural gas use, several affordable housing bills and a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that died at the end of the session:

SB452: Prohibiting guns on casino properties

In the waning weeks of the session, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) revived discarded portions of the session’s other major gun bill in the form of MGM Resorts-backed AB452, which aimed to grant casino resorts greater authority to ban firearms on their premises.

When Cannizzaro presented the bill, which would have required non-restricted gaming license holders (defined as more than 15 slot machines on property) to opt in to the provisions and would have prohibited individuals from bringing firearms onto casino property with certain exemptions, she described the measure as a way for lawmakers to further protect workers on the Las Vegas Strip.

Supporters said that the bill would largely mirror prohibitions on firearm possession at schools and libraries, but opponents — a broad coalition of Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform organizations — argued it would create uncertainty for gun owners and have a disparate racial impact.

The measure narrowly passed through the Senate in a 11-10 vote on Wednesday, but failed to receive a vote in the Assembly before sine die. During the joint committee hearing on the bill, many Assembly Democrats questioned its merits and expressed concerns about how the measure would affect minority communities.

“We are going to have situations where Black folks and brown folks are going to be the ones who are going to be not asked to leave, but who are going to be the ones that the police are called on,” said Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) during the hearing.

AB387: Midwifery licensure board 

Nevada is the only state in the west that does not license midwives, but a proposed Board of Licensed Certified Professional Midwives nearly became a reality this session after falling just one vote short of a needed two-thirds majority late Monday evening.

During the last day of the legislative session, the Senate voted 13-8 on Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno’s AB387, with Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) joining most Democrat senators in support. Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) joined the Republican senators against the measure, ensuring the bill fell short of the needed two-thirds majority (because the bill required fees for licensure). 

The Assembly had previously passed the bill and its amendments with a 28-14 vote on May 28.  

The board would have been responsible for establishing an optional licensure process for practicing midwives and also would have set training and education requirements. 

An emotional hearing in the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor took place in April, in which several mothers shared their experiences with midwives and desire to have birth freedom while also having certain regulations and protections in place for all parties. 

Opposition to the measure was just as passionate, with opponents arguing that the board would overly restrict birthing options and punish midwives who may not want to be licensed or who have learned through apprenticeships rather than in a formal environment. 

SB437: Increased fees for justice court actions

An effort to double administrative fees for actions within the state’s justice courts fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass on the last day of the session.

SB437, which would have increased the fee from $1 to $2 on the commencement of any action in a justice court for which a fee is required, in order to help fund the work of the state demographer within the Department of Taxation, passed through the Senate in mid-May on a 14-7 vote, but only after Sens. Kieckhefer and Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) switched from nay to yea votes.

Members of the Assembly then voted 26-16 along party lines on the measure, falling two votes short of the 28 votes needed to pass with a two-thirds majority. Republicans opposed to the bill, which was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, expressed confusion and concerns that it would tax the wrong people by imposing funds on litigants within the justice courts to fund the state demographer within the executive branch.

AB161: Study on summary evictions

A severely watered-down measure that would have created a legislative committee to study the state’s “summary eviction” process during the interim was left dead at the end of the session after failing to receive a vote in the Assembly.

The initial version of AB161, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), would have completely banned the “summary eviction” process, which involves possession of a rental unit and requires a tenant to either pay rent, vacate the property or respond to a notice through the courts within seven days. But the language in the bill was replaced with a study after lawmakers expressed concerns that there was not enough time to consider the consequences of upending the existing system in the midst of the eviction moratorium and amid staunch opposition from real estate groups.

The amended version of the bill, which received support from a slew of progressive groups, was passed out of its first committee in early April but never saw further action from lawmakers.

SB187: Limits on solitary confinement 

Sen. Pat Spearman’s (D-North Las Vegas) bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in Nevada prisons to 30 days never made it to an initial floor vote. 

SB187 also would have required regulations to limit solitary confinement to use only as a last resort. It also called for frequent mental health evaluations and giving inmates at least two hours of out-of-cell time daily, visitation and phone access.  

The Department of Corrections submitted a fiscal note stating that the measure would cost the department more than $40 million dollars for the biennium in order to modify policy at its seven major institutions and provide additional mental health support. 

“Even if they are guilty, they are still human beings, and we should treat them as such,” Spearman said of inmates during the bill’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12. “If rehabilitation is the goal, then solitary confinement impinges upon that goal.” 

SB139: Prohibiting insurance companies from denying treatment for gender dysphoria

A bill that would have prohibited insurers from denying treatment for gender dysphoria – the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between sex assigned at birth and gender identity – did not survive after passing out of the first committee. 

Sen. Melanie Scheible’s (D-Las Vegas) SB139 aimed to require insurance companies, including Medicaid, to cover medically necessary treatment and surgeries for transgender Nevadans. 

The bill was meant to address instances of insurance companies denying coverage for treatment such as hormone replacement therapy and surgeries, despite existing laws and policies prohibiting the denial, exclusion or limitation of medically necessary health care services based on gender identity or expression. 

Advocates said that access to treatment should be considered medically necessary because without it, the mental health of people who have gender dysphoria suffers greatly. 

“When insurers fail to cover medically necessary care, people suffer anxiety, depression, social ostracism, and a higher risk of suicide,” transgender rights advocate Brooke Maylath said during the bill’s only hearing on March 12. “SB139 is designed to send a clear message to the greater healthcare community – discrimination is not acceptable in Nevada."

Although it received a deadline waiver, the measure did not advance after being referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on April 16. The state Public Employees' Benefits Program (PEBP) had submitted a fiscal note for $1 million for the biennium to extend the coverage for treatments. 

SB235: Additional marijuana licenses for unsuccessful applicants

A bill that became a lightning rod for marijuana industry criticism over a proposed amendment aimed at spurring the creation of scores of new dispensaries failed to make it to the legislative finish line.

The measure from Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), SB235, and a proposed amendment would have offered an alternative path to licensure for marijuana dispensary applicants who were unsuccessful in a 2018 licensing round. In that round, 61 dispensary licenses were issued to just 17 companies even though 127 potential businesses applied.

Those who lost out on the coveted permits pursued a massive lawsuit that ended with a judge saying there were flaws in the state’s process, but that the law did not permit her to order additional licenses as relief. An amendment to Harris’ bill that would have given unsuccessful candidates a path forward was forcefully criticized by the Nevada Dispensary Association, a statewide dispensary trade association whose representatives argued that it would threaten the strength and integrity of the industry.

Opponents also argued that the market could not support a large number of new stores without hurting existing ones; supporters countered with a competing analysis positing that the state could absorb nearly 1,300 new dispensaries.

The Cannabis Compliance Board submitted a fiscal note on the bill saying it would gain at least $610,000 over the biennium as a result of the increase in license renewal fees, and that it would cost an estimated $150,000 to complete a market study to determine demand for the issuance of additional cannabis licenses. 

The bill passed out of a Senate committee, was referred to the Senate Finance committee on April 20, and saw no further action before the end of session.

AB382: Regulating student loan servicers

A sweeping piece of student loan legislation that would have established new regulations on loan servicers in Nevada and would have granted more rights to borrowers was left for dead just a few days before the end of the session after falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

The bill was primarily aimed at enacting broad consumer protections through a borrowers’ bill of rights, as well as the licensing and regulation of servicers by the state’s Commissioner of Financial Institutions. 

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) joined all Democratic Assembly members in voting in favor of the measure; however, some Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the licensing fees that servicers would be required to pay. Student loan servicers Sallie Mae and Discover also opposed the bill, arguing that it could lead to greater costs for borrowers.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said he adopted an amendment before putting the bill up for a vote that was aimed at addressing the concerns brought up by opponents.

“But some of the student lender interests decided to dig in on it. And unfortunately, again, all members of the minority caucus decided to side with them except for Assemblywoman Tolles,” Watts said, “in my opinion, picking those interests over borrowers that are in our state.”

SB462: Republican-backed effort to change redistricting commission

With the state set to handle the redistricting process in a likely special session sometime later this year, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) introduced an emergency measure, SB462, just two days before the end of the session that would have given Democrats and Republicans equal power in creating a redistricting commission.

That bill received zero action in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Instead, members of both the Senate and Assembly adopted SCR13, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), creating an interim reapportionment and redistricting committee composed of four Democrats and two Republicans.

Increasing awareness of mental health services

As the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in heightened mental health issues across the country, lawmakers in Nevada took steps to increase access to behavioral health care, typically through federal relief funds — but a pair of bills aimed at increasing awareness of mental health support services failed to advance out of the Legislature before the end of the session.

AB167, sponsored by Assemblyman Glen Leavitt (R-Boulder City), would have required K-12 schools and colleges to put information relating to mental health resources on student ID cards, including the phone number and text messaging option for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. After passing out of the Assembly on a 41-1 vote in late April, the bill did not receive a committee vote in the Senate.

AB315, which passed out of the Assembly unanimously a few days before the end of the session, would have required law enforcement agencies and fire departments to provide officers and firefighters with information about mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment, and provide two hours of mental health counseling within three months of retirement. The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City), passed out of a Senate committee on Sunday, but failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor during the final day of the session.

Cheers, then jeers: Why the proposed K-12 education funding bill created questions and confusion

A student working on classwork at Pat Diskin Elementary School

What are the fruits of Nevada lawmakers’ efforts to fund K-12 education this year?

Well, that’s difficult to say because they don’t want to talk about fruit at all. They say the two funding formulas — the old Nevada Plan and the new Pupil-Centered Funding Plan — do not lend themselves to an apples-to-apples comparison.

Last week, state lawmakers patted themselves on the back for adding roughly $500 million to the education budget. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who warned there would be naysayers and skeptics, declared that she had “been waiting a damn long time to put this amount of money into education.”

The celebratory dust had barely settled before questions began emerging. When the large K-12 education funding bill (SB458) dropped earlier this week, education observers noticed a peculiar aspect in the very first section: The total public support for the upcoming biennium will be an estimated $10,204 per pupil the first fiscal year, followed by $10,290 per pupil the next fiscal year. Both figures are lower than the total public support appropriated in the current biennium — $10,227 per pupil for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 and $10,319 for Fiscal Year 2020-2021.

The apparent decrease muddied the water for several days with few clues clarifying the situation. But, late Thursday afternoon, Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) said he had received information from the Legislative Counsel Bureau pointing to ending-fund balances as the culprit. In 2019, under the Nevada Plan, school district and charter schools’ ending-fund balances were calculated into the per-pupil estimate for total public support, Denis said. Moving forward with the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan, ending-fund balances are not calculated into total public support.

It’s a calculation deviation with a large price tag attached to it: For the current biennium, ending-fund balances totaling $283.5 million were included in total public support each year, Denis said. 

So despite similar language describing total public support in SB458 and SB555, the K-12 funding bill passed during the 2019 session, the two aren’t mirror images of each other. It’s unclear what the combined ending-fund balances would have totaled this year, but it likely would have been enough to significantly prop up the per-pupil estimates for total public support.

“This is the highest amount we've ever put in for schools,” Denis said.

Still, portions of the additional $500 million were used to backfill pandemic-related education budget cuts, making it more restoration-oriented than a pure funding infusion. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) couched it as progress during a tough time. 

“The Strip was dark,” he said, referring to the pandemic shutdown of the state’s primary economic engine. “It’s impossible to suggest that we’re not going to have to make some difficult decisions. I think that, quite frankly, it is incredible that we came even close to pre-pandemic spending. And so it’s a good signal moving forward.”

The shift to the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan has also caused meteoric change to many categorical funding programs — such as Class Size Reduction, Read by Grade 3 and Zoom and Victory schools — which are being swept into the larger education funding pot and then redistributed to students. Therein lies another difficulty measuring the 2019 Legislature’s education appropriations with those happening right now in Carson City.

In theory, it will be easier to track moving forward — after this first biennium of fully transitioning from the old funding model to the new one. Then it will be time to cue the appropriate fruit comparisons, or at least that’s how lawmakers envision the process playing out. 

As it stands now, Carlton said comparisons between the upcoming biennium and previous one are “like grapes to watermelon.”

State Superintendent Jhone Ebert pointed to the Commission on School Funding as proof of the complexity of moving away from one finance model and implementing a new one. The advisory body met 22 times during the interim and issued a series of recommendations for how to transition. Still, there’s no crosswalk, so to speak, between the two models.

“It’s natural to ask for a crosswalk — how do you get from where you’re at and to where you're going?” she said. “The fact of the matter is, that’s not how this was developed.”

But the mere perception of a funding dip has rankled education advocates. The Nevada State Education Association, which has routinely questioned moving to the new funding formula without a significant bump in revenue, has openly critiqued the proposed K-12 budget on social media and in legislative hearings.

NSEA has raised concerns about the so-called weights — extra money intended to support certain student groups — established in SB458. The weights — 0.24 for English learners, 0.03 for at-risk students and 0.12 for gifted and talented students — will serve as a multiplier to the statewide base per-pupil funding. The result appears to be approximately an extra $1,648 for English learners, $209 for at-risk students and $837 for gifted and talented students.

NSEA leaders called the at-risk weight “anemic” and incapable of covering the expense of services meant to support low-income students.

Educate Nevada Now, an equity-focused organization, issued a statement Thursday lamenting the lack of financial clarity surrounding SB458 when it was unanimously passed in a joint subcommittee last week.

“We are glad that lawmakers could restore those funds, especially after such trying economic challenges, but we need to be clear about what these dollars mean and manage people’s expectations,” Amanda Morgan, ENN’s executive director, wrote in a statement. “This does help put us near where we were in 2019, but it does not mean students will see smaller class sizes or that schools will see more resources or supports.”

The ending-fund balance rationale posed by Denis didn’t dissipate skepticism among NSEA and Educate Nevada Now officials who want lawmakers to produce documents showing the money transactions.

“This whole thing doesn’t engender a lot of confidence in the new formula,” said Chris Daly, an NSEA lobbyist.

Lawmakers, however, argue that schools will see more resources courtesy of the massive wave of federal coronavirus relief funds. The three rounds of federal funding stand to bring Nevada school districts roughly $1.5 billion. The Clark County School District alone expects to receive more than $777 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, which is the third round of federal funding.

School districts are developing plans for how to use the federal funds, especially in terms of mitigating academic challenges created by the pandemic. The caveat, of course, is that the federal windfall is not recurring. The funds must be used within specific timeframes.

“I would count on the educational experience being better for our children,” Ebert said, referring to the effect of the federal funding.

But Michelle Booth, communications director for Educate Nevada Now, cautioned against an overreliance on the pandemic-related federal funding.

“Federal funds are great,” she said. “They’re helpful, but everybody knows that unless we do anything different, unless we have revenue, we’re going to have a fiscal cliff after that.”

Another unknown with five days remaining in the legislative session is whether lawmakers will pass any measures boosting mining taxes. If that were to occur, Denis said that money could be directed into the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan. 

Frierson on Wednesday expressed optimism there would be movement on the mining front but didn’t divulge details. Republicans, who will be key to getting a deal through, said they haven't seen concrete language on what a compromise tax deal with mining would look like and can't commit until they do, but have heard it’s in the ballpark of $70 to $80 million a year.

"I expect for there to be a policy passed dealing with revenue from mining, whether it's a resolution on the ballot or a deal,” Frierson told The Nevada Independent. “I expect to do something."

This story was updated at 8:33 p.m. on May 27, 2021, to include additional comments from Nevada State Education Association and Educate Nevada Now officials.

Eliminating barriers for paraprofessionals heralded as another way to address teacher shortage

Proposed legislation that advocates say would chip away at the state’s chronic educator shortage and diversify the teaching ranks drew widespread support Monday during its first hearing.

SB352 aims to eliminate barriers that prevent paraprofessionals — support staff who often work with students as classroom aides or tutors — from becoming licensed educators. The bill, which is sponsored by the Senate Education Committee, would allow paraprofessionals to continue working while student teaching.

It would also require the Department of Education to accept student teaching completed in another country if “the program or experience substantially fulfills the standards of a program of student teaching” in Nevada.

Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, framed the legislation as a way to ensure people interested in entering the teaching profession can do so without numerous obstacles in their way. 

“What keeps me awake sometimes is knowing that as more of the state’s Baby Boomers retire, our need for new teachers will only grow, making our teacher corps even younger and less experienced,” he said.

Michelee Cruz-Crawford, principal of C.C. Ronnow Elementary School in Las Vegas, was a driving force in bringing this bill to life. The administrator said she noticed huge desire among paraprofessionals at her school to become full-fledged teachers, but they often hit a sticking point when they encountered the student teaching portion of their undergraduate coursework: Many couldn’t afford to quit their paraprofessional jobs in order to student teach for the required 16 weeks.

Some paraprofessionals, who generally have nine- or 10-month contracts, make only $13,000 to $20,000 a year, Cruz-Crawford said.

“They obviously love the work they do because they do it for peanuts,” she said during an interview with The Nevada Independent. “They have the experience.”

Cruz-Crawford said she began reaching out to local colleges and universities to see if they would be open to allowing paraprofessionals to continue working in their existing schools while student teaching, as long as their experience matched the licensure they were trying to obtain. After receiving positive responses, the idea eventually morphed into SB352.

At C.C. Ronnow Elementary School, Cruz-Crawford said she typically has one or two paraprofessionals a year working on undergraduate coursework to become licensed teachers and nearing the student teaching requirement. She has seen firsthand their financial dilemmas once reaching that point.

Removing that barrier, she said, would help paraprofessionals secure their teaching licenses while also easing the state’s teacher shortage and helping diversify staff. 

Despite a diverse student body in the Clark County School District, the overwhelming majority of licensed educators (65 percent) are white; by comparison, only 36 percent of support staff members are white. Twenty-three percent are Black, and 29 percent are Hispanic.

Cruz-Crawford described paraprofessionals as “amazing hard workers” whom she would hire in a heartbeat. Many have accumulated years of experience inside the classroom and live in the neighborhoods where they work, making them more likely than out-of-state candidates to stay.

Fatuma Abdullahi, a specialized program teacher assistant at C.C. Ronnow Elementary School, is one of those people. She has worked as an SPTA since January 2015, but her dream is to become a fully licensed special education teacher.

“I've been taking only two classes at a time, because I have to work to pay for my rent, my car and utilities bills,” she said while testifying in support of SB352. “Now I'm at the point where I have to leave work so that I could finish my last year in school. This is the bill that is going to make hundreds of dreams come true — dreams that are being delayed over and over again.”

The Nevada State Education Association, Clark County Education Association, Vegas Chamber, Clark County School District, Washoe County School District and UNLV are among the organizations and institutions that testified in support of the bill. No one testified in opposition or neutral.

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

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $769,000 in gaming-industry spending on legislative campaigns

Amid the most dire threat to casino profits in the history of the Las Vegas Strip, a gaming industry hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic still gave more than $769,000 to 52 state lawmakers over the course of the 2020 campaign cycle. 

Even so, the effect of the pandemic on campaign spending was clear: Industry campaign contributions dropped by roughly 52 percent compared to the $1.6 million spent in 2018, and almost 60 percent compared to the $1.9 million spent in 2016. 

Among some donors, that drop was even steeper. MGM Resorts International has for years been by far the largest single gaming donor, contributing upwards of $340,000 on average, of which more than two-thirds usually went to Democrats. 

But in 2020 — in the midst of the pandemic, land sales and a broader restructuring — MGM gave just $42,000 across its properties and subsidiaries. It’s a drop of roughly 88 percent compared to 2018, and it puts the casino giant in the same spending realm as Boyd Gaming ($58,000); the Meruelo Group, which owns the Sahara in Las Vegas and the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno ($52,500); and Golden Entertainment, which owns the STRAT and PT’s Pubs, among other casino properties ($44,750).  

These spending trends come as a backdrop to the electoral reality of the 2020 cycle. Though Democrats continued control of both houses of the Legislature — extending their state government trifecta for another two years — Republican gains chipped away at the edges of that majority. Republicans gained one seat in the Senate, where they now trail 12-9, and another three in the Assembly, where they are behind 26-16. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 276 contributions from 43 donors fell under the umbrella of the gaming industry. 

However, it is important to note that because parent companies often contribute to the same candidates through multiple subsidiaries — a process that effectively allows the largest companies to sidestep legal limits on maximum campaign contributions — this analysis treats those contributions as if they came from the parent company in order to simplify overall spending trends.

Also of note, two legislators are excluded from this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed in February by the Clark County Commission to fill legislative vacancies, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

Though 53 legislators reported receiving at least some money from the gaming industry last cycle, a vast majority of it went to just five lawmakers: Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert ($161,000), Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro ($106,500), Sen. Carrie Buck ($63,500), Sen. Scott Hammond ($60,500) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($59,500). 

Together, those five combined to receive $451,000 in gaming contributions, or about 59 percent of all the money donated by the industry last cycle. 

Based on broader trends in campaign fundraising, it comes as little surprise that these five legislators are the biggest fundraisers, as they all were either in highly competitive elections (such as Gansert (R-Reno), Buck (R-Las Vegas) and Hammond (R-Las Vegas)) or were expected to reprise a role in leadership (such as Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — or both (Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). 

Still, no legislator saw as much gaming money as Gansert, whose $161,000 was more than a fifth of all gaming contributions. Most of that money came in the form of large contributions from the biggest gaming operators, including $30,000 from companies linked to Las Vegas Sands; $20,000 each from Station Casinos properties and companies linked to Marnell Gaming; $17,500 from Golden Entertainment and its subsidiary, American Casino and Entertainment Properties; and $10,000 each from Peppermill Casinos, the Meruelo Group, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming. 

Outside the top five, legislators generally saw little in the way of gaming contributions. 37 of the remaining 47 recipients received less than $10,000, and the median legislative fundraising haul from these gaming donors was just $4,500. 

While most industries will have a handful of individual donors contributing a plurality, or even majority of the campaign money, the gaming industry was unique in that it was functionally dominated by the top-10 donors, who combined for nearly 88 percent of all the industry money contributed last cycle. 

This is partly because of the construction of this analysis. Contributions by properties or LLCs owned by a parent company — such as the ownership of the Venetian by Las Vegas Sands or the Sahara by the Meruelo Group — were counted under the single umbrella of the parent company.  

However, the greater determining factor is simply the increased degree to which the largest gaming companies use their subsidiaries to donate $10,000 maximum contributions to the same candidates. In all, parent companies for Las Vegas Sands, Station Casinos, MGM Resorts International and Golden Entertainment all saw subsidiary companies contribute in combined amounts that exceeded $10,000 for at least one candidate. 

Similar spending patterns are relatively rare across other industries, where the mechanisms for spending in excess of that maximum are usually beyond the scope of most donors. Of note, only one other major donor — Nevada REALTORS — contributed more than $10,000 to one candidate, though it did so through a trio of PACs, not corporate entities. 

By far the single-largest industry donor and among the largest donors of the entire cycle, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and two of its subsidiaries, the Venetian Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center, gave $161,000 to just 13 lawmakers last cycle. 

Even so, that total is a far cry from spending by the Sands in 2018 and 2016, when it doled out $240,000 and $310,500, respectively. 

That spending could also represent a final salvo for the company in Nevada politics, where it has long been among the biggest donors under the stewardship of billionaire founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Widely known for his status as a Republican mega-donor on the national stage, Adelson died in January following a lengthy illness, and the company has since sold its Las Vegas properties for $6.25 billion as it signaled an exit from the Strip and a focus on foreign markets.

Most of the Sands’ contributions flowed to state Republicans, with $30,000 each going to Sen. Scott Hammond, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert and Sen. Carrie Buck. Some Democrats did see major contributions from Sands companies, however, including Cannizzaro ($30,000), Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) ($10,000) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas)($10,000). 

One lawmaker, Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) received $5,000, though the remaining six — a group of five Republicans and one Democrat, all in the Assembly — received just $2,500. 

With $116,000 contributed across 41 legislators from a handful of different properties, Station Casinos was one of few gaming donors to actually contribute more in 2020 than it did in 2018, when it only gave $108,500. 

Station Casinos’ spending clearly favored legislative Republicans, who received $66,500 to the Democrats’ $49,500. On average, it meant individual Republicans received about 55 percent more than their Democratic counterparts, $3,500 to $2,250. 

Station Casinos’ single largest recipient was Gansert, who received $20,000 in the aggregate. One other lawmaker, Cannizzaro, received more than the maximum ($10,500), while another two — Buck and Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) —  received $10,000 even. 

Most other recipients generally received far less, however, and 32 lawmakers who received at least some money from Station Casinos properties saw $2,500 or less. 

Contributing $108,000 across 40 lawmakers, Caesars Entertainment was another gaming donor that saw contributions tick up in a dire 2020. In comparison, the company gave legislators $92,000 in the aggregate in 2018, making Caesars just the eighth-largest industry donor at the time. 

Though spending from Caesars slightly favored Democrats overall — $56,500 to the Republicans’ $51,500 — individual Republicans still received more money on average, $3,218 to the Democrats’ $2,354. 

Three lawmakers, Frierson, Gansert and Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), received the $10,000 maximum, while another three, Cannizzaro ($8,500), Hammond ($7,000) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) ($7,000), saw larger-than-average contributions. 

Most recipients received far smaller amounts, however, including 32 legislators who saw $2,500 or less. 

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

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Behind the Bar: Tax credits for charter schools, discrimination in jury selection, adding checks to HOA foreclosures

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

In this edition: Adding additional checks before an HOA can foreclose on a home, expanding jury discrimination rules, and tax credits for charter school facilities and construction. Plus, another Carson City Restaurant Spotlight.

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

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


On Monday, The Nevada Independent’s legislative coverage team hit an important milestone.

We published the 14th and likely final installment of our Freshman Orientation series this session, the final edition focused on freshman Democrat David Orentlicher.

We’ve done some form of a freshman profile since the Nevada Independent launched in 2017, and have rarely lacked subjects — term limits on the Legislature ensures there are anywhere from one to two dozen new faces every session.

Heading into the 2021 Legislature, we wanted to put extra effort into this series. In the past, they’ve usually just included a quick biographical rundown and answers to a questionnaire focused on major policy areas.

Knowing that at least the start of the session would be closed to the public — meaning that people have even less access to their representatives than normal —  we wanted to put more work into describing and profiling the freshman lawmakers.

Yes, many of these individuals are (at least for their first session) legislative backbenchers — few if any will end up working on major pieces of legislation late into session, or stay in the headlines.

But especially as the press corps covering the Legislature has continued to thin out, it’s an important public service to profile these elected officials, many of whom will likely go on to hold major roles or helm major policy pushes in future sessions. 

I know that these aren’t the sexiest or “scoopiest” stories that we’ve ever published, but I think there is real value in providing regular high-quality, in-depth reporting on the occasionally mundane topics. 

There’s a line from a 2008 Washington Post piece authored by The Wire creator David Simon that’s stuck with me for a long time and is applicable here — that even the best newspapers and news organizations have a tendency to focus not on the “form of consistent and sophisticated coverage of issues, but of special projects and five-part series on selected topics — a distraction designed not to convince readers that a newspaper aggressively brings the world to them each day, but to convince a prize committee that someone, somewhere, deserves a plaque.”

None of these Freshman Orientation articles are going to win a Pulitzer Prize. But there’s value in this journalism and in telling the stories of these people making major decisions for the state. I hope you take time to read a few of them:

Assembly: David Orentlicher, Clara “Claire” Thomas, Elaine Marzola, Cameron “C.H.” Miller, Andy Matthews, Heidi Kasama, Tracy Brown-May, Venicia Considine, Cecelia González, Shondra Summers-Armstrong, Natha Anderson.

Senate: Roberta Lange, Fabian Doñate, Carrie Buck.

— Riley Snyder


Bill seeks to add checks to HOA foreclosure process

Under Nevada law, if a member of a Homeowners Associations (HOA) fails to pay off debt or dues, the association can foreclose on the property without going through the court system.

Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas) is looking to change that with SB144.

The HOA foreclosure process disproportionately affects communities of color, Spearman said during a bill hearing Friday, adding that communities of color experience higher HOA foreclosure rates than other demographics.

"The ability to buy a home has been and is the foundation on which we build personal wealth in this country, indeed there is a direct correlation in the widening wealth gap and the lack of home ownership in BIPOC communities," Spearman said.

The bill would require an HOA go through the judicial process when pursuing a foreclosure, adding a layer of due process. It also would require HOAs to submit a report documenting the demographics of people whose past-due obligations are sent to a collection agency, and create a website allowing homeowners to check their accounts and receive immediate notices.

Spearman described the bill as a vital tool for gathering data on HOA practices and keeping Nevadans housed during a pandemic that has dried up income sources and threatened the state's most vulnerable populations.

"This bill does not remove the HOA's ability to enforce the non-payment of dues or assessments; it simply changes the process," Spearman added.

Supporters of the bill praised it as a necessary step to addressing housing insecurity in Nevada. A letter from a Culinary Union member read during public comment stated that a woman owes her HOA $900 and does not know where she will go if her home is foreclosed.

"I'm afraid that they will come after me at any time," the letter-writer said, adding that the bill will help her and others in a similar situation.

Critics questioned increased costs that might stem from the judicial process. Cameron Clark, president of Nevada Association Services, characterized the legislation as "a punitive measure on the homeowners that are paying their bills."

Spearman pushed back against the criticism, saying that homeowners would not bear the brunt of additional costs.

"I really want us to look at what Senate Bill 144 does. It helps people stay in their home. And it helps to give them an extra layer of protection for due process. That's all it does," Spearman said. "I have no idea why the judicial process has worked folks up so much."

Tabitha Mueller


Expanding jury discrimination rules to include sexual orientation, gender identity

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark 7-2 decision in the case of Batson v. Kentucky, finding that prosecutors could not use peremptory challenges in criminal trials to remove potential jurors solely based on their race without a stated rationale. 

Nevada could go beyond that ruling under Sen. Dallas Harris’s SB233, expanding what’s known as a Batson challenge — a motion objecting to opposing counsel’s use of peremptory challenges to strike jurors based on race — to also include sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical disability or other inherent factors.

“These protections are not a new idea,” she said on Tuesday, during a bill hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They just need to be codified to be preserved.”

The bill itself is straightforward — adding those specific protections against juror discrimination, while also noting that the provisions don’t infringe upon any statutory or constitutional rights of accused persons, nor creating any right of a potential juror to serve on a potential jury (or to sue, if that potential juror is strange enough to want to serve on a jury). Harris said 11 other states have adopted similar protections for sexual orientation, and eight had approved similar language on gender expression.

Asked by Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) if there was an issue with the Clark County district attorney’s office regarding discrimination in jury selection, Harris said she wasn’t aware of any “flurry of prosecutors striking people unfairly.”

But advocates said the measure would beef up existing law prohibiting discrimination in jury selection, marking a needed step beyond existing federal protections (under Batson v. Kentucky) and because of issues in past cases with prosecutors in Clark County.

“Neither Senator (Melanie) Schieble nor Senator (Nicole) Cannizzaro is guilty of this, but the Clark County district attorney's office as a whole has a long and tortured history of violating Batson and getting serious cases reversed because of their problems with that issue,” Clark County Public Defender’s office lobbyist John Piro said, referencing two legislators employed by the district attorney’s office.

Harris said SB223 wasn’t the end point of discussions on diversity on juries — she said she hopes to bring legislation next session (or, if she can “pull off a miracle,” this session) to address the front end issue of ensuring jury pools represented an adequate cross-section of society, before any selections are made or peremptory challenges are filed.

“I could not quite get there, but you are correct,” she said in response to a question by Scheible. “We need to worry about both sides of the issue. This bill only addresses the latter.”

— Riley Snyder

Tax credits for charter school buildings and facilities

State Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) participated in an education choice rally roughly five years ago as a newly minted charter school principal. 

Now, as a first-year state senator, Buck said she has come “full circle” by introducing legislation that would help solve one of the problems she lamented during that rally years ago — the lack of facility funding for charter schools.

SB333 would provide up to $10 million in annual tax credits to businesses that donate money to help Title I charter schools that serve students from low-income households. The donated money would be distributed to eligible schools on a per-pupil basis to help with facility costs. Although charter schools are technically public schools, they do not receive funding generated by local property taxes for facility needs or capital projects. That leaves them dipping into their operational budgets to cover those expenses.

It has long been a point of contention in the charter community given that traditional public school districts receive about $1,200 more per student for facility needs.

Buck framed the proposed legislation as the key to incentivizing high-quality charter schools to open in neighborhoods with struggling traditional public schools. Finding available and affordable buildings or land can be difficult in dense urban areas, she said, which has been a barrier in expanding charter school access to the state’s most vulnerable students.

“I’m hoping that we can prove that this would make a difference and then maybe inevitably grow the fund in my next term,” Buck said. 

If this bill passes and becomes law, the businesses that donate money would receive a credit against the modified business tax (assessed on payroll) or the general tax on insurance premiums. The credit amount could not exceed that of the donation itself.

Renee Fairless, principal of Mater Academy East Las Vegas, said the facility funding would do wonders for her school, which is temporarily operating out of a site formerly occupied by Mountain View Christian Schools. A new building for Mater Academy East Las Vegas is under construction and will cost $2.3 million per year in payments, she said. But Fairless recently learned it will cost $46,000 to fix the air conditioners in portable classrooms they’re currently using. 

She said it’s an example of how facility costs balloon quickly for charter schools, especially ones in high-need neighborhoods where it’s even more difficult to find space or land. Mater Academy East Las Vegas is sponsored by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.

“I think all charter schools — all state schools — should get funding. I don’t think you can put the word ‘state’ in front of what I’m doing and then not provide dollars to open a facility,” she said. “But do I think if you start with Title I schools that that’s a good start? I definitely think it is. I think a lot of people can get behind that because they know we need these resources.”

No bill hearings have been scheduled yet. 

— Jackie Valley

Carson City Restaurant Spotlight — Mangia Tutto

A few months back, I had some friends visiting from Chicago, and figured that my default Little Caesars wasn’t going to cut it for people with easy access to the best pizzas in the world.

But I figured Mangia Tutto, located just to the north of the Capitol and with a name that means “eat everything” in Italian, could impress even a discriminating pizza snob. I was right.

Last week, I went back and splurged on one of the restaurant’s hearty deep dish pizzas. The “Kiss Me” pizza featured pepperoni, Italian sausage and hot giardiniera— pickled peppers and other vegetables — for a great kick even before I doused it with red pepper flakes.

But beyond the showstopper pizzas is the real star — the Mangia Tutto salad. With chicken, bacon, gorgonzola, tomato and — surprise! — pasta, it’s like a whole summer barbecue in a bowl. I don’t say this often, but you will not forget this salad.

An extra large pizza (big enough for six servings) and a large salad (big enough for two large portions) will set you back $67 with tip, but you’ll be glad you did it. Place your order at (775) 461-3353 — allow at least 45 minutes or so for that huge pizza to cook through — and then pick it up at 200 N Stewart St. Open until 8 p.m.

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

What we’re reading

Nevada’s female-majority Legislature could pass a bill this session that allows women to bypass a doctor’s visit and receive birth control through a pharmacy, Tabitha Mueller reports.

Michelle Rindels with major takeaways from the latest Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation budget hearing.

The bill upping penalties for litigation brought over noncompliance with public record requests got expected pushback from local governments, Sean Golonka reports.

Sean also reported a bill that would modernize state laws related to HIV.

A must-read roundup of environment and mining bills in Daniel Rothberg’s weekly newsletter.

On the ACA’s 11th anniversary, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra made some news in announcing an extended open enrollment period for health insurance exchanges during a visit to Carson City, Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez reports.

Not sure any parents will willingly go back to distance learning once schools resume in-person instruction, but just in case, the Department of Education and Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) have a bill for that.

Our roundup of “deadline day” bill introductions (bill introduction deadline rules were all suspended, continual proof that we’re in the Whose Line is it Anyway-themed session).

Totally normal and cool to make a small, retroactive $41,000 loan to your political action committee that you’ve used to pay your daughter’s events company and spend more than six figures on restaurants, travel and your own business for “constituent outreach.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The indomitable Ray Hagar reports on Nevada Newsmakers interviews with Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas).

Slavery is still in the Nevada Constitution. Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) wants to take it out (Nevada Current).

The Reno City Council’s plan to end gun violence by not immediately banking with JP Morgan Chase (Reno Gazette-Journal).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Start closing budgets: 5 (Tuesday, March 30, 2021)

First Committee Passage: 15 (Friday, April 9, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 70 (May 31, 2021)

Lawmakers push bill requiring school districts to offer distance learning plans, identify technology needs

For many parents over the past year, the experience of watching their children sit through hours and hours of online distance learning hasn’t been the most pleasant experience.

But even as school districts across the state and country begin rolling out more in-person instruction, Nevada education officials say that lessons learned from the COVID-related school closures can translate into an improved education system for the state.

That’s the impetus behind SB215, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) that would require schools to develop formal plans for distance education, while also identifying solutions for teachers and students who don’t have access to the necessary technology for distance learning. 

“We need to ensure that Nevada's laws create the flexibility needed to ensure student success no matter where their classrooms or their style of learning,” Denis said during a Tuesday virtual press conference on the bill.

The bill itself is the product of several recommendations made by the “Blue Ribbon Commission for a Globally Prepared Nevada,” a group of lawmakers, education experts, teachers and parents that was convened by state Superintendent Jhone Ebert last year to focus on issues of competency-based education, distance learning and instructional time.

Ebert said during the press conference that the recommendations initially focused on ways to add “updates and flexibility” in state law to reflect the ways that school districts adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. But she said as the work progressed, “we moved toward a more visionary goal of future-proofing Nevada's education system.”

“We know that the academic recovery, reclaiming our education system during COVID-19, is one that we need to take on without looking back but driving everything forward,” she said.

As written, SB215 would require school districts (including charter schools) to develop a plan for distance education, present the plan to members of the public at a meeting and provide a copy of the plan to the “school community,” including parents and employees of the school district.

It would also require each school district to identify students, teachers and other school employees on or before Oct. 1 of every year who do not have access to “technology necessary to participate in a program of distance education,” such a computer or Internet access.

The bill would then require those school districts to develop a plan to make technology available to those students or school employees, including estimated cost. It would have to be finished before Dec. 31 and posted publicly on the district’s website.

Denis acknowledged that “some of the pieces” of the bill would cost money to implement, but said the bill did not have a direct funding mechanism — noting that the bill sets up a “framework” but doesn’t explicitly require districts to actually make the purchases needed to close the technology gap.

Ebert added that many of the potential costs associated with the bill could be addressed through expected funds coming into the state through the late December and March federal stimulus and COVID recovery bills.

Students enrolled in a distance education program who demonstrate “sufficient progress” toward completion of the program would also be eligible to complete their program in a shorter period of time than normal — a nod to competency-based education, where students progress on their own pace as opposed to a more regimented system.

The bill would also remove restrictions on the ability of school districts to set up alternative schedules for instruction, specifically taking out sections of state law limiting those programs to rural areas of populous counties, or requiring the state superintendent to determine issues with overcrowding before approving an alternative schedule.

Denis said he anticipates the bill will come up for a hearing sometime in the next two weeks, and he said that lawmakers this session have an opportunity to use the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to improve the state’s education framework.

The push to expand or create permanent distance learning programs isn’t a surprise. School district leaders, including Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara, have indicated a desire to make distance learning a more robust fixture in their districts given what educators learned over the last year. While some students massively struggled with online learning, others thrived — heightening calls for it to be another choice for families.

“We're at a moment in time where everything has come together to allow us to now move forward in education to really work on innovative ways in doing things a different way than we've done in the past, to help our kids learn even better,” he said.

Jackie Valley contributed to this report.

Behind the Bar: Read by 3 cuts, builders back Innovation Zones, inside the home builders ad campaign, and a watered down first responders bill

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

In this edition: Is this the session lawmakers find a funding solution for the Millennium Scholarship? (No). Plus, it’s another deadline day, the future of Read by 3, building trades back Innovation Zones, major changes to a mental health hotline bill for first responders and details on an affordable housing campaign backed by the home builders.

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

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


Near the end of his 1999 State of the State address, Gov. Kenny Guinn shared a major announcement: His administration would use its sizable share of the national tobacco settlement to fund a universal scholarship program for graduating high school seniors.

That program — dubbed the Millennium Scholarship — was promoted as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide Nevada’s children with the means to advance their education in a way never thought possible.”

“Using 50 percent of the settlement money to fund these scholarships, and reverting the unused portion of the initial years to an endowment fund, will enable us to fund these scholarships in perpetuity,” the governor said at the time. “Without an increase in taxes.”

More than two decades later, the program has become an unabashed success, helping more than 143,000 Nevada students pay for college over its 21-year-existence.

But continued success of the program (as well as Nevada’s population growth over the last two decades) has left the state in an uncomfortable position — the program has grown so large that it now takes general fund (i.e. tax) dollars to continue funding it.

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval started allocating general funds to the program in 2013, and every session since then has seen the state chip in more general fund revenues to help keep the scholarship program afloat. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 2021-23 budget calls for a hefty $44 million one-shot appropriation for the scholarship program.

Discussion around finding a more permanent and reliable funding source for the scholarship program isn’t new — it came up in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Now, in 2021, lawmakers are prepared to finally figure out the funding solution for the scholarship program. The only problem is that solution will have to come next session, in 2023, and only maybe.

Any progress on a permanent Millennium Scholarship funding solution will have to come from SB128, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) that would create an interim study focused on ways to improve the scholarship program (as well as the Promise Scholarship and Silver State Opportunity Grant).

“At some point, we have to find a permanent solution for funding these scholarships, but before we can have that discussion, we need to make sure that they're being run as efficiently and that they're accomplishing what they need to,” Denis said during the Thursday hearing.

The study will focus on both student outcomes of the scholarship programs, as well as a “comprehensive evaluation of the short-term and long-term financial viability” of the programs, as well as estimated cost of administering them in the future. It’ll be overseen led by state Treasurer Zach Conine’s office and funded out of the state college savings endowment account. 

Conine has been a vocal proponent of finding a permanent funding source for the program, and made what I think is a really good point back when I interviewed him on this topic two years ago — eventually, the size of the scholarship program is going to grow so large that it’ll be nigh impossible to avoid cutting it during any sort of budget downturn.

“Any solution that we can come up with that doesn't require general fund appropriations every year stops the Millennium Scholarship from having this possibility of being a random casualty of the budget process,” he said at the time.

— Riley Snyder


Read by Grade 3 is being downsized and diluted. A new bill would take us back to 2015

There’s no shortage of bad headlines about Nevada students’ academic performance, but reading has been a success story: fourth graders in the Silver State performed on par with their national peers in 2019 after being a year behind them in 2009, and their scores are among the fastest increasing in the country.

Many credit Read by Grade 3, an initiative authorized by the Legislature in 2015 that requires students to read at grade level by third grade, calls on schools to designate a literacy specialist to coordinate reading supports and provides about $62 million a biennium to make it all happen.

But funding was zeroed out during the summer special session, and Gov. Steve Sisolak’s recommended budget restores less than half of it. Because of a transition to a new funding formula, the money will also be sent to a large pot and redistributed to all students, rather than being earmarked for literacy in the lower grades. 

The arrangement is drawing criticism from several corners, including Republican senators Heidi Gansert and Ben Kieckhefer, who introduced a bill last week, SB273, calling for keeping Read by Grade 3 money in a separate account and requiring specific accountability for it. Gansert said she’s not necessarily opposed to the new funding formula overall, but is concerned about diluting the funding toward literacy and not establishing a special “weight” of funding for children who can’t read.

“This program is also focused on very young students versus the entire spectrum of age groups that are in K through 12,” she said in an interview. “Literacy is essential.”

The Nevada State Education Association teachers union argued that an unintended consequence of following through with the funding formula transition during a recession could erase progress Nevada has made since 2015 through “strategic investments” in student mental health, Zoom and Victory schools.

“The most important line of accountability between districts and the state is blurred,” said NSEA lobbyist Chris Daly. “While requirements may continue in statute, the impetus for districts to deliver on these legislative priorities is watered down.”

Federal funding might help bail to blunt the pain. Nevada schools are receiving $477 million from the late-December stimulus bill. 

But officials with the Nevada Department of Education weren’t able to answer any specifics during a Friday budget hearing about where those dollars, which were formally accepted by lawmakers in February, would be going.

“It will take us some time to go back and review each sub grant to identify specifically how each school district has chosen to invest those dollars, but that we'd be happy to provide that information to your staff,” said state Deputy Superintendent Heidi Haartz.

We’ve asked for them to copy us when they have an answer.

— Michelle Rindels


More support builds for Innovation Zones

Building and construction unions across the state are backing Blockchains LLC’s proposal to build a new city outside of Reno and accompanying legislation that would allow developers with large land holdings to establish “Innovation Zones,” autonomous local governments. 

On Thursday, two groups representing building unions in Southern and Northern Nevada put their weight behind the proposal, backed by Gov. Steve Sisolak, who pitched the “Innovation Zone” concept as a key economic development driver for the state’s post-pandemic recovery.

Economic impact studies, cited by Blockchains and the governor’s office, claim the company’s proposal to build a technology park and a new city of about 36,000 residents could create, over time, about 123,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. An economic analysis also said the plan could generate a total economic impact of $16.4 billion.

Rob Benner, secretary treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada said in a press release Thursday that “Nevada Innovation Zones, and Blockchains' Smart City proposal specifically, have incredible potential to help Nevada thrive again.”

The trades council’s membership includes local unions that represent workers across the region. The Southern Nevada Building & Construction Trades Council also backed the plan.

The Southern Nevada Building & Construction Trades Council contributed a total of $27,250 to sitting Democratic lawmakers in 2020, according to an analysis by The Nevada Independent. The Building and Trades Council of Northern Nevada contributed $2,500 to Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. 

Daniel Rothberg


Mental health support for first responders bill severely watered down

A bill that would have established a dedicated commission and hotline focused on mental health issues for emergency responders has been overhauled to severely limit the bill’s impact, after the Division of Public and Behavioral Health estimated the financial impact to be more than $1 million per budget cycle.

With a conceptual amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson), AB96 would no longer require the establishment of a hotline, and instead would just authorize government agencies that license and regulate first responders (including firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service providers) to contract a non-profit organization to carry out peer support counseling for those first responders.

“I'm just looking at the amendment, right. We're doing just a gut and replace,” Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said during the bill’s first hearing on Wednesday. “It feels local governments have established relationships… This is definitely meant to kind of be complementary to anything that might be happening within a local entity already.”

With the amendment, the bill would only require the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to maintain a website with information for first responders about available peer support services. That would simply build off of what is already available to first responders in the state through the Nevada Peer Support Network — which offers peer support, mental health resources and toolkits throughout the state.

Cohen acknowledged that the slimmed down version of the bill is the result of a lack of funding. But it would still provide more structure to existing peer support provided to first responders in Nevada, and, as Cohen put it, “basically promote peer support for first responders.”

And though the impact of the bill is limited, those in the meeting discussed an important need to provide support for first responders.

“We have a lot of national data out there that tells us that our first responders are in crisis,” Benitez-Thompson said.

From June through February, a warmline for health care workers that is run by the UNLV School of Medicine received 30 calls. And calls for the Nevada suicide prevention Lifeline increased from 19,000 in 2019 to 21,000 in 2020.

— Sean Golonka


Home builders behind Facebook ads for affordable housing, praise Sisolak

With Nevada lawmakers debating dozens of proposals aimed at addressing the state’s affordable housing crisis, an advocacy group backed by the Nevada Home Builders Association has started running a social media campaign urging the governor and Legislature to “Do no harm.”

Nevada Housing Now, a self-described "grassroots arm of the Nevada Home Builders Association," has in recent weeks launched a digital ad campaign highlighting articles discussing Nevada's record-high rent prices, statistics characterizing the affordable housing crisis and messaging targeted at lawmakers not to make housing more expensive.

"Nevada Housing Now is a key stakeholder that helps promote legislation like SB 257, a measure that streamlines insurance requirements for multifamily for purchase developments," the group wrote in an emailed statement to The Nevada Independent. "We want to work with all advocates and stakeholders to solve Nevada's affordability crisis and assure the problem does not get even worse."

According to Facebook’s ad library, the group has spent more than $450 on the social media platform over the last week, and nearly $40,000 since the page was launched in 2019.

Charges also show that the Nevada Home Builders Association spent less than $100 on advertisements related to the Nevada Housing Now page, but Nevada Housing Now would not provide additional details on its connection with the Nevada Home Builders Association or further comment on its plans for the legislative cycle.

Nevada Housing Now isn’t registered as a political action committee with the secretary of state’s office. The group’s website describes the organization as a “coalition of more than 7,000 homeowners, renters, and homebuilding professionals and organizations including the Nevada Home Builders Association.”

The majority of the group’s advertisements feature statements thanking Gov. Steve Sisolak for protecting housing affordability during the pandemic.

"NHN applauds the efforts of Governor Steve Sisolak during the pandemic to not only keeping the employees in the homebuilding industry working, but also adding nearly 10,000 new homes to a shrinking supply of shelter," the group wrote.

Real estate companies, developers and PACs funded by those groups contributed more than $1.3 million to lawmakers' campaigns with funds from the Nevada Home Builders Association PAC making up 6 percent or $79,500 of that overall total and establishing it as the fourth-largest donor out of those groups for the cycle.

The Nevada Home Builders Association could not be reached for comment.

— Tabitha Mueller


Upcoming bills of note

Lawmakers heading into the eighth week of session have stacked their schedule with a bevy of high-profile measures, ranging from licensing cannabis-friendly events, increasing protections for tenants, upping the penalties for public record violations and making it easier for women to obtain birth control medication.

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

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

Monday, 8 a.m. - The Senate Commerce and Labor committee will hold a hearing on SB209, a bill from Sen. Fabian Doñate that expands the types of activities and reasons for an employee to request paid time off. It’d also require the Legislative Committee on Health Care to conduct a study regarding the long-term health implications of COVID on casino and frontline workers.

Monday, 9 a.m. - Members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee will hear AB187, which formally designates the month of September as “Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month” in Nevada. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson — who underwent treatment for prostate cancer complications last week — will present the bill.

Monday, 3:30 p.m. - Legislators in the Senate Growth and Infrastructure will hear details of SB232, which would generally require that any car traveling on a two-lane highway in the state has to keep its headlights on, regardless of the time of day.

Tuesday, 9 a.m. - Members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee will hold a hearing on AB276, a bill by Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) that increases the size of court penalties in any lawsuit brought about over a delay or denial of public record requests.

Tuesday, 1 p.m. - The Senate Judiciary committee will hear details of SB223, which would prohibit those in the legal system from denying someone’s ability to serve as a juror on the basis of their race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age or physical disability.

Tuesday, 4 p.m. - Members of the Assembly Revenue committee will hold a hearing on AB322, which provides a licensing and regulatory structure for events where the sale and consumption of cannabis and cannabis products is allowed.

Wednesday, 8 a.m. - The Senate Commerce and Labor committee will hear details of SB190, a bill by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro that would create a standing order for birth control medication from the state’s chief medical officer — allowing women to get birth control without a prescription from their doctor, and still be covered by insurance.

Wednesday, 1 p.m. - Expect fireworks during the Senate Judiciary hearing on SB218, a bill by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) that would make several tenant-friendly changes to state law. Those changes include a clearer definition of a “security deposit,” give tenants a chance to address any issues with a dwelling that could affect the security deposit before the end of a rental agreement, exclude “normal wear” from costs that can be taken from a security deposit, require a grace period on late payment of rent, prohibit application fees for prospective tenants, and also prohibit any fee charged to a tenant not explicitly authorized in state law. 

An empty hall reflected on photos of the Nevada's Senate majority leaders inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

Lawmakers say they want to stop jailing people for traffic offenses — a practice one critic says is out of a Charles Dickens novel — but the bill faces a wall of local government opposition,  Michelle Rindels reports

Riley Snyder gets his hands on the official complaint against former lawmaker Alexander Assefa.

A citizen review board that’s supposed to monitor police misconduct rarely contradicts the police, the Review-Journal’s Art Kane finds. Martha Menendez, an Indy columnist and former member, called it “chummy” with the cops.

Things are getting increasingly serious with Republican former Assemblyman Brent Jones’ company Real Water — one consumer needed a liver transplant, and another woman blames the beverage for her sister’s liver failure death, the Review-Journal’s David Ferrara reports.

After the tragic deaths of five cyclists in December, Sen. Joe Hardy wants to bar cyclists from roads with speed limits of 65 mph or higher, but the cycling community is forcefully opposed. Via the Sun’s Ricardo Torres-Cortez.

The 90s-era policy of automatically referring youths accused of certain felonies to the adult system is one throwback that lawmakers want to get rid of this session (Nevada Current)

Do HOA foreclosures feed into systemic racism? Sen. Pat Spearman says yes (Nevada Current)

Vegas PBS’ Nevada Week digs into a Sen. Ben Kieckhefer-endorsed effort to make the state the Esports capital of the world.

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Remaining Bill Introductions Deadline: 0 (Monday, March 22, 2021)

First Committee Passage: 18 (Friday, April 9, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 70 (May 31, 2021)

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $1 million in union and labor group spending on legislative campaigns

As in most election years, no single group of political donors was a bigger booster for legislative Democrats than labor unions, which shelled out more than $1 million on legislative campaigns in 2020, of which roughly 94 percent went to Democrats. 

Still, it was a sharp drop in contributions from labor groups, which doled out nearly $1.4 million during the 2018 midterm elections and almost $1.7 million in 2016. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 contributions of more than $200 made to sitting Nevada lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in the two-year cycle, and more broadly show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much those contributions were worth in the aggregate. 

The data in this story represent a slice of the broader whole: 746 unique contributions from 63 donors — from union-controlled political action committees to a handful of individual union leaders — fell into the broad category of unions and labor.

There are, however, some points not captured in these data: 11 sitting legislators did not receive any contributions from union or union-affiliated donors. That group includes two Democrats — Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas) — who were appointed after the 2020 election; one Democratic senator, Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), who was not up for re-election and raised the least of any sitting lawmaker last cycle; and eight Republicans. 

Also excluded are any funds spent on losing candidates, a group that includes a handful of well-funded Democratic incumbents and challengers in highly competitive districts in both Reno and Las Vegas. 

Breaking down the top contributors

Unlike some other industries, where the largest contributions are clustered among a handful of wealthy donors at the top, labor contributions were largely spread across dozens of unions. Few groups gave lawmakers more than $50,000, and only one gave more than $100,000. 

Even so, taken together the top 10 donors still comprise a majority of all labor contributions, roughly 56 percent, with the bottom 53 donors making up the remainder. 

Among the smaller labor donors, many unions still gave in relatively large amounts, comparative to small donors in other industries. An additional 17 donors gave between $35,000 and $10,000, and just 13 donors gave less than $2,000. 

Below is a donor-by-donor breakdown of the three largest labor contributors. 

Leading the pack of PACs was the only six-figure union donor last cycle: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which cumulatively gave 31 legislators — all Democrats — $114,500. 

AFSCME has long been a campaign booster for state Democrats, most recently spending more than $3.7 million on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign ahead of a push to allow state workers to collectively bargain in 2019. 

But even among AFSCME contributions given solely to legislators, spending dipped by roughly 25 percent in 2020, down from the $153,000 the union spent in 2018. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) — who spent much of 2020 locked in a highly competitive re-election campaign — was the only lawmaker to see a maximum $10,000 contribution from AFCSME. 

Three other legislators — Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) and Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson) — received $7,500, while the remaining 27 recipients received $6,500 or less. 

The Service Employees International Union, which represents service employees and hospital employees, among others, contributed $75,500 to 25 Democrats last cycle, enough to make it the second-largest labor donor. 

Even so, SEIU’s legislative campaign spending dropped by nearly 29 percent in 2020, down from $106,000 spent in the 2018 cycle. 

Once again, Cannizzaro was the sole legislator to receive the $10,000 maximum from SEIU, with Frierson and Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) following behind with $7,500 each. 

Five legislators — Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson), Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas) — received $5,000, while the remaining 17 received $3,000 or less. 

The Nevada State Education Association, the statewide teachers union, came up as the third-largest donor last cycle, contributing $73,000 to 29 legislators (all Democrats). 

But amid widespread school closures and months of uncertainty over the future of in-person teaching, that topline figure is a sharp drop from similar spending in 2018, when NSEA contributed more than twice as much — $154,500 — spread across 35 lawmakers. 

In 2020, no legislator saw the maximum from NSEA, though Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Sparks) — who at one time led the Washoe County Teachers Association union —  did receive $9,000. Frierson and Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) followed behind with $5,000, while the remaining 26 recipients received $4,000 or less.

Notably absent from the legislative fundraising rolls is the state’s other major education union: the Clark County Education Association, which gave just $5,000 to Sen. Mo Denis, the chair of the Senate Education Committee. 

Instead, much of CCEA’s fundraising — $190,000 in raw contributions and more than $107,000 in additional in-kind contributions — went to Strategic Horizons PAC, a group founded by the union in 2019 with the aim of drastically boosting state funding through tax increases. 

Breaking down the top recipients

Though legislative leaders often see more contributions than rank-and-file members, a disproportionately vast share of the union total went to the state’s two Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — who combined to received more than 30 percent of all union contributions last cycle. 

Cannizzaro in particular, who led all recipients with more than $196,000 in union and labor contributions, was an outlier among both her fellow senators and all legislators taken together. Of more than $346,000 raised by state senators of both parties from labor groups, nearly 57 percent was raised solely by Cannizzaro. 

Overall, nearly all union-related contributions — roughly 94 percent, or more than $970,000 — went to legislative Democrats. Only a handful of public safety-related unions for police and firefighters gave to both Republicans and Democrats, and of those unions, only the Las Vegas Police Protective Association gave more to Republicans ($8,500) than to Democrats ($7,500). 

Over the coming weeks, as part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

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