Builders, affordable housing advocates clash over bills that could increase fees for developers

Against a backdrop of increasingly unaffordable housing options, two measures heard at the Legislature on Tuesday highlighted the deep divide between developers and affordable housing advocates.

Proponents of the bills said the proposed legislation would give local governments the ability to raise money to support affordable housing projects. Opponents held that it would increase fees for developers and further negatively affect the market.

AB334, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas) and presented during an Assembly Government Affairs Committee meeting, would establish two options local jurisdictions could adopt to increase affordable housing stock. 

One option would allow local governments to require developers to follow inclusionary zoning policies, which would stipulate that a certain percentage of new construction has to be affordable for lower-income households — or pay a fee to avoid those requirements. The other would allow jurisdictions to adopt fees, known as linkage fees, ranging from $0.75 to $10 for each square foot of commercial or residential development.

Under the latter bill, the municipality or jurisdiction would have to create a local affordable housing policy or ordinance with other stakeholders before implementing the fees. The municipality would store money from both types of fees in an affordable housing trust fund that would fill financing gaps for developing and preserving affordable housing.

"[Affordable housing] is a critical issue within our state right now, and it cannot wait for more working groups," Summers-Armstrong said.

An amendment to the bill would reduce the maximum linkage fee that a local government could adopt on industrial development from $5 to $3, and exempt homes under 1,500 square feet, starter homes and small businesses. 

The amendment would also target 80 percent of revenue from linkage fees for affordable housing for people earning 60 percent of area median income (for a family of four that is about $47,200 in Clark County and roughly $50,100 in Washoe County) and prioritize at least 30 percent of the funds for revitalization efforts taking place at a neighborhood-level in lower-income census tracts. The allocations would not be mutually exclusive.

Summers-Armstrong said lack of investment and urban blight has led to abandoned homes in her district and other areas with large minority populations, such as Las Vegas' Historic Westside. The funding for revitalization efforts would allow community organizations to help move forward with preserving existing affordable housing and creating new affordable housing.

"We want affordable new housing, but not at the expense of decimating communities that are in existence," Summers-Armstrong said. "The preservation of a community is key to all of this because we want our children to live in our communities. I have sons, I want them to be nearby."

The other bill heard Tuesday, AB331, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson) and would allow local governments to incorporate the two options from AB334 (linkage fees or inclusionary zoning) into their affordable housing plans, while also asking counties and incorporated cities with populations greater than 100,000  (Washoe County, Clark County, Reno, Sparks, Mesquite and Boulder City) to establish five-year goals for preserving and producing affordable housing. The goals would be a non-punitive target for affordable housing units to be built or maintained during the five-year time frame. 

AB331 would also direct the Nevada Housing Division to consider the progress and tangible commitments to their housing goals made by those local governments when allocating funds from the division's Account for Affordable Housing and other sources of funding such as grants or the federal government. The affordable housing account is funded through a real estate transfer tax that generates anywhere from $8 to $10 million a year — but advocates say that amount barely makes a dent in the affordable housing market.

"Despite recent efforts of federal, state and local governments to address the issue, the problem has not improved. If anything, it has gotten worse," Marzola said during the hearing. "This bill provides clarity that local governments have the tools they need to advance affordable housing strategies that work for their community."

Christine Hess, the executive director of the Nevada Housing Coalition, said the five-year time span is designed to account for the time it takes to properly plan for and develop affordable housing that meets community needs. She added that fees need to be allowed to aggregate for three to five years to enable productive investments.

If passed, the two options in SB324 would join a dozen or so policies that local municipalities can already implement, and SB331 would require counties with populations greater than 100,000 to report on uses of inclusionary zoning and the fees. Current policies that local governments can adopt include subsidizing impact fees, selling land at 10 percent of the appraised value, donating land to a nonprofit, providing density bonuses or offering rental assistance. 

"These two [additional] tools balance out that toolbox by allowing local governments if they choose to, to enact additional fees to help put some more money in that pot to fill the gaps," said Nevada Housing Coalition lobbyist and one of the bill presenters, Sarah Adler.

Warren Hardy, a representative for the Urban Consortium (consisting of the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno and Sparks), testified in support of the two bills. As a general rule, he said, the consortium supports any legislation that gives local governments more options to address the need for affordable housing. 

"This legislation will give us the tools to reach out to the community, to reach out to the stakeholders, and to craft, at the local level, a solution to this problem," Hardy said. "We appreciate the sponsors for bringing this forward and particularly in a way that enables local governments to have a say and to make a decision about adopting these measures."

But the bills have attracted organized opposition from outside groups. Within the last week, Nevada Housing Now, a self-described "grassroots arm of the Nevada Home Builders Association," released two advertisements on YouTube against the bills, telling lawmakers, "Don't make housing even more expensive in Nevada'' and "oppose AB331 + AB334." 

"New home construction injects nearly $10.1 billion into the state's economy and accounts for $4.7 billion a year in total wages and salaries," text in one of the videos said. "Linkage Fees and Inclusionary Zoning act like a tax on housing."

Developers emphasized that the fee proposals would increase housing costs for buyers. The Legislature should consider bills that expand low-income housing tax credits and grants for rental assistance, not ones that burden developers, said David Goldwater, a lobbyist for the Nevada Home Builders Association.

"Linkage fees only add to the cost of housing," Goldwater said during the hearing. "Without control over how the money is spent, history suggests fewer affordable units built and more working families priced out of the market."

In response to the opposition, Adler said that inclusionary zoning has been authorized in Nevada statute since 1999, and the policies local governments would be required to write would stipulate how money is spent. None of the funds generated through the legislation would go toward a city’s general fund, she said.

"I totally respect the pickle that [developers] are in. They are already paying a variety of kinds of permit fees, licensing fees, impact fees, because that's how we pay for our community development is through growth," Adler said. 

Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) voiced fears that additional fees would discourage development. Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) advocated for a different solution.

"If we need teachers, we don't make it harder to become a teacher. If we need doctors, we don't make it harder to become a doctor, we make it easier," Black said. "The answer is to reduce fees, to reduce restrictions, reduce red tape and make it easier for them to build, not make it harder for them to build."

Summers-Armstrong countered that Nevada offers so many benefits to businesses that AB334 will not halt development or growth. She added that the bill would help create affordable housing for people working for companies such as Amazon or Walmart that do not pay wages high enough for employees to afford housing.

"This is not going to make our environment so hostile that businesses will not want to come here," Summers-Armstrong said. "We still have a burgeoning economy ... but I think that Nevada also has to recognize that she has citizens that need help, that these jobs have a consequence." 

Cities such as Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. have enacted similar legislation to AB331 and AB334, Summers-Armstrong added. Developers would not stop building with the addition of these fees, she said. 

The proposed fees are based on rigorous economic analysis, not every industry is subject to them and local governments must work with all stakeholders, Hess said.

"I'm a former economic developer, I love new business, I love new development, it's exciting when new projects come to town, but there is an impact," Hess said. "We can't just talk about affordable housing anymore. And as even our opposition has noted, there's not one tool, and in fact, we would consider these two tools pretty small pieces of our ultimate success strategy to tackling affordable housing."

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: Real estate, development industries gave legislators more than $1.3 million ahead of 2021 session

Through the 2020 election cycle, no industry gave more money to Nevada’s legislators than real estate companies, developers and the PACs funded by those companies, which combined to contribute more than $1.3 million over the last two years.

In total, it’s an amount roughly 30 percent more than the next nearest industries — labor unions and health care — which each contributed just over $1 million dollars in combined contributions to state lawmakers in the aggregate. 

It’s also a sizable increase in industry spending compared to trends over the last two years, representing roughly a third more than the industry gave in either the 2016 or 2018 cycles, when those same PACs and related businesses gave lawmakers slightly less than $1 million combined. 

This influx of extra campaign spending comes at a time when the Democratically controlled Legislature has signaled a renewed interest in housing issues, especially as concerns mount over housing affordability and supply issues compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic. 

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 all sitting Nevada lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending throughout 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: 965 individual contributions from 240 contributors fell under the broad umbrella of real estate and development, a group that includes everything from large PACs and corporations to industry executives and investors. 

There are, however, three legislators not captured in these real estate-centered numbers: Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas), reported no contributions from donors categorized by The Nevada Independent as real estate or development related, while Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Asm. Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas) were each appointed after the election and after a freeze on contributions made prior to the legislative session. 

Breaking down the top contributors

Like most industry-level campaign spending, the vast majority of total spending was spearheaded by a handful of well funded PACs at the top. 

Taken together, top-contributing PACs controlled by five groups — Nevada REALTORS, the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, the Nevada Home Builders Association, the Nevada Subcontractors Association and Associated General Contractors — accounted for nearly three-fifths of all the money contributed by 240 individual donors.   

A vast majority of the remaining donors gave in relatively small amounts. 215 donors gave legislators less than $10,000 in the aggregate, and of those donors, 163 gave less than $2,000.

Below is a donor-by-donor breakdown of those five largest contributors.

Among all donors, no group came close to Nevada REALTORS, which alone spent $397,000 on 57 legislators through 2020. 

However, not all those dollars came directly from the group’s PAC. Instead, at least some money spent by Nevada REALTORS flowed through similar PACs that often contributed to similar candidates. 

Under Nevada law, individual donors are capped at $10,000 in contributions per cycle, $5,000 each for a primary and general election. However, the largest donors of any given cycle — usually corporations — often circumvent this limit through the use of subsidiary companies, sometimes spreading tens of thousands in contributions through a half-dozen or more individual donors. 

PACs, which have no legal limits on the amount of campaign contributions they can receive, frequently offer an avenue similar to that of a subsidiary, allowing single donors to continue maximizing contributions to a handful of favored candidates by contributing massive sums through multiple PACs. 

For instance, Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) — who has long worked as a REALTOR in Nevada and was once the president of Nevada REALTORS in 2018 — received the $10,000 maximum not only from the Nevada REALTORS PAC, but also from REALTOR Champion PAC and REALTOR Industry PAC. Those two PACs reported raising money from just one transaction in 2019: a flat $1 million each from Nevada REALTORS.  

Kasama was among five legislators receiving greater than $10,000 from Nevada REALTORS or related PACs, a group that also included Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, D-Las Vegas ($15,000); Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks ($15,000); Sen. Dina Neal, D-Las Vegas ($12,500) and Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas ($10,500). 

Nevada REALTORS gave an additional 14 legislators the $10,000 maximum, of which 10 recipients were Republicans and four were Democrats. Overall, Nevada REALTORS' contributions largely favored the GOP, which received nearly 50 percent more on average than legislative Democrats. 

Two of Nevada’s home builders trade groups — the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Nevada Home Builders Association — combined to contribute $198,500 to lawmakers in 2020, roughly twice as much as the next-nearest single donor. 

The largest single chunk of that money came through the SNHBA and its Home Building Industry PAC, shortened as HI-PAC, which gave 43 legislators $119,000. Even taken alone, it would still be the second largest total contribution amount of any single real estate donor. 

HI-PAC’s contributions generally favored Democrats — Democratic lawmakers combined to receive $81,000 to the Republicans’ $31,000. On average, it meant individual Democrats received roughly $3,000 to the Republicans’ $2,375.

Five legislators received the $10,000 maximum from HI-PAC, including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizaaro (D-Las Vegas), Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno (D-Las Vegas). 

Contributions from the statewide PAC, the Nevada Home Builders Association PAC or NVHBA PAC, totaled $79,500 for the cycle — enough to make it the fourth-largest donor on its own. 

However, much of NVHBA’s own political fundraising money came directly from regional home building trade groups, including $50,000 each from SNHBA and its Reno-based counterpart, the Builders Association of Northern Nevada. 

The PAC’s coffers were also buoyed in 2020 by an additional $100,000 from the Leading Builders of America, a national trade group whose only other entrance into Nevada political fundraising was a $10,000 contribution to one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt in 2017. 

Only two lawmakers saw maximum contributions from NVHBA: Frierson, and Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden). Other major recipients include Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas ($8,000)) and Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Reno ($7,500)), with the remaining 34 legislators receiving $5,000 or less. 

NVHBA’s contributions slightly favored Democrats in the aggregate, who received $42,000 to the Republicans’ $37,500, though the average individual Republican received marginally more, $2,083 to the Democrats’ $1,615.

Contributing through its PAC, the Nevada Subcontractors Association gave 42 legislators $95,000, making it the third-largest real estate contributor of the cycle. 

A slight majority of that money went to Democrats, who in total received $50,500 to the Republicans’ $44,500. On average, however, it was individual Republicans who received slightly more, roughly $2,340 to the Democrats’ $2,190. 

The Nevada Subcontractors Association gave the maximum contribution to just one legislator: Frierson. Four others — Hammond, Jauregui, Cannizzaro and Gansert — received $7,500, while the remaining 37 lawmakers receiving contributions saw $5,000 or less. 

Through its AGC Build PAC, Associated General Contractors— not to be confused with the similarly named and similarly spendy Associated Builders and Contractors trade group — contributed $76,750 across 31 legislators, enough to make it the fifth-largest single donor. 

Unlike other top donors, AGC’s contributions widely favored Nevada Republicans, who received $58,500 to the Democrats’ $18,250. On average, Republican lawmakers saw roughly $3,650 from AGC, compared to just $1,210 for Democrats. 

AGC also gave out just one maximum contribution in the form of two $5,000 donations to Hammond. Sen. Carrie Buck, R-Las Vegas, saw the second most with $7,500, while the remaining 29 legislators received $5,000 or less. 

Breaking down the top recipients

Though all but three lawmakers received at least some fundraising from the real estate industry, much of the money was concentrated among just five Republicans who won some of the state’s most competitive legislative races last year. 

Taken together, those five legislators — Gansert, Kasama, Buck, Hammond and Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) — received 32.6 percent of all real estate money contributed through 2020. 

Overall, industry contributions also tended to favor the GOP. Though outnumbered by legislative Democrats 25 to 38, Republicans received 60 percent of all real estate contributions, or $810,194 to the Democrats’ $536,450. 

Consequently, the average Republican legislator received more than twice as much in real estate-related fundraising, roughly $32,408 compared to the average Democrat’s $15,327. 

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. 

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

Front of the Nevada Legislature building at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major state Senate races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary battles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Assembly races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislative leaders

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

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

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

Sisolak

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

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

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

Developers, trial lawyers face off over bill revising construction defect law changes made in 2015

A backhoe on a cleared lot

Usually, an in-depth discussion on the characteristics of expansive clay soil wouldn’t draw much attention outside of an engineering classroom or a construction site.

But on Tuesday, dozens of lobbyists and representatives from two of the most powerful industries in the state crowded committee rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas to hear that presentation amid an emotional hearing on a long-running point of contention: construction defect lawsuits.

The actual subject of the hearing was AB421, a bill heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee that would reverse many of the substantive changes Republican lawmakers made in 2015 on lawsuits related to construction defect claims, a move derided by Democrats but lauded by Republicans including Gov. Brian Sandoval and developers as necessary to stem the growing tide of alleged “frivolous” lawsuits on residential construction defects.

Since the 2015 law was passed, the number of construction defect lawsuits has dwindled significantly — declining by nearly 90 percent from the 2014 peak, according to a study by Applied Analysis, with only 20 defect lawsuits filed statewide last year.

But newly won Democratic control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers has both sides geared up again for a fight over the section of state law allowing homeowners to sue builders and contractors for shoddy or dangerous residential construction practices.

The hearing also brought into stark relief the bitter conflict between two of the state’s most powerful industries: trial attorneys and developers/real estate companies. Both were top campaign contributors during the 2018 election cycle; real estate companies and developers contributed more than $997,000 to legislators, while law firms and individual lawyers contributed $630,000 to lawmakers during the election cycle. The issue has spilled out of the Legislature; the Builder’s Association has run ads opposing the bill on social media, and Republican Sen. Ira Hansen — the sponsor of the 2015 bill — has placed ads on Facebook opposing the bill.

The measure doesn’t entirely replace the 2015 law, but reverses many of its primary provisions.

Notably, it would extend from six to 10 years the period after home construction in which a construction defect lawsuit can be brought and indefinitely if the defect is caused by fraudulent or willful misconduct. Prior to 2015, Nevada had a “complex” system for bringing construction defect cases, typically between six to 10 years after the home was built depending on whether defects were patent or latent, known to the contractor or caused by willful misconduct, with time added on if the defects were discovered in the last possible year a claim could be brought.

But the 2015 bill instituted the universal six-year time period in which to bring construction defect claims once the home is “substantially” completed. Although most defect claims relate to more obvious issues with a home — wrongly fitted doors or windows, issues with lights or plumbing — Tom Marsh, a civil and geotechnical engineer, gave lawmakers several examples of how the clay soil composition on which most homes in the state are built spelled the possibility of major foundational issues with home construction that wouldn’t be apparent until eight to 10 years after the home was built.

“It really takes time for these things to manifest,” he said.

The bill also amends the definition of a construction defect beyond something that “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to a person or property” to include any defect done in violation of local law or ordinances.  Attorney Ardea Canepa-Rotoli, a member of the Nevada Justice Association (the trial lawyers’ lobbying arm), told lawmakers that limitation meant a clearly dangerous defect or issue in a house would not be grounds for a civil construction defect lawsuit under the current law.

“Until or if that electrical code violation results in a fire, harming a person or property, it may not be considered to be a defect,” she said. “That’s just morally repugnant and just doesn't make sense."

The bill also removes certain pre-litigation requirements for homeowners, including a requirement that the homeowner be present when obtaining an expert opinion on the alleged defect, and a requirement for homeowners to first exhaust all warranties and limiting defect lawsuits to alleged defects denied by an insurer. It also removes prohibitions on homeowners associations to institute or to defend a defect lawsuit.

It also would remove limitations on recovery in lawsuits to only constructional defects proven by the claimant and allow for recovery of “reasonable” attorney’s fees. Canepa-Rotoli said many construction defect lawsuits were argued by attorneys working contingent fee contracts, as many homeowners cannot afford hourly rates for an attorney, so allowing recovery of those fees would allow more individuals to access the legal system.

Eva Segerblom, a trial attorney and member of the Nevada Justice Association, told lawmakers that the dwindling number of defect lawsuits was not because of higher construction standards but because the 2015 law made it nearly impossible to bring such a lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, this is not because all the homes in Nevada are being built without defects, but it is because the changes in the law have made it virtually impossible for homeowners to have a remedy,” she said. “The fact of the matter is that the current law puts all of the risk on the homeowner purchasing it.”

But a wide variety of lobbyists and representatives of the construction and real estate industry said that dwindling number was proof that pre-litigation dispute resolution processes were working, while helping keep down insurance and construction costs in a period of high demand for affordable housing.

Opponents pointed out that between 2000 and 2012, construction defect lawsuits in Nevada increased by more than 355 percent while home sales dropped by 86 percent, with a UNLV study finding homeowners in the state were 38 times more likely to be involved in such a lawsuit than the national average.

David Goldwater, a lobbyist for the homebuilding industry, said that the current construction defect system was set up to give homeowners as many opportunities as possible to quickly resolve issues with their home before going to court.

“I wish there was a bill you could vote for to force all builders to build the perfect house,” he told lawmakers. “I promise I’d work day and night to get that passed. The truth is, houses are not built perfectly, and when they are not, the home buyer needs fast and effective remedies. No one who buys a house wants a check from protracted litigation that lasts several years and drains them of time and resources.”

A study by Applied Analysis on behalf of the homebuilders found that the industry-wide cost to settle construction defect claims fell from an average of $32.1 million between 2010 and 2015 to just $3.8 million between 2016 and 2018. The study also estimated that costs fostered on all home sales as part of insurance and settlement costs related to construction defect lawsuits had fallen from an average of $5,000 to about $360, which advocates said allowed thousands of homeowners on the margins to access housing that they otherwise would be priced out of.

At the hearing, subcontractors, real estate agents and developers testified that approval of the bill would result in higher insurance rates and tougher barriers for housing development. Jesse Haw, a Reno-based contractor (and former state senator), told lawmakers that he and his brother’s company built their first residential subdivision in more than 14 years in 2016, which he credited to the 2015 changes in defect law. He warned that reversal of those changes would hurt smaller builders such as him the most.

“I’m here to tell you that private builders will be impacted the most,” Haw said. “My stock price doesn’t go down when I get sued; I simply go out of business.”

Updated at 9:50 a.m. to correct the name of the individual testifying on behalf of the bill.

Follow the Money: Lawmakers raised $11.7 million throughout 2018 election cycle

Running for office — even for a citizen legislature — is an expensive proposition.

At the low end, funding a successful bid can cost candidates tens of thousands of dollars, while competitive campaigns can be even pricier and require campaign hauls in the six-figure range.

In the 2018 election cycle, donors who contributed more than $200 to a candidate cumulatively contributed roughly $10.8 million to 63 state legislators, with total donations topping $11.7 million. Donations came from across the state and across the country, with much coming from Nevada’s usual top contributors: casinos, real estate developers, unions and law firms.

Fundraising totals increased compared to the 2016 election cycle, where the 63 lawmakers raised a combined $10.8 million over the two-year cycle.

The secretary of state makes campaign finance data available online, posting regular reports throughout every election cycle. But parsing that data and drawing conclusions can be a cumbersome task.

So, The Nevada Independent tracked and categorized more than 8,000 donations of $200 or more from January 1, 2017 to the pre-session fundraising freeze on January 15, 2019, which roughly encompasses the two-year election cycle. Donors are limited to making a maximum $10,000 contribution to a single candidate, but major corporations easily surpass that limit by contributing through various affiliated entities or businesses.

Each donation was categorized before the entire set of donations was analyzed for patterns and trends.

This data set — as large as it may be — doesn’t capture every slice of Nevada’s campaign finance pie. Data collected does not include donations made to losing candidates, nor does it break down spending by the many PACs or political groups that spend on state elections, or small donations under the $200 threshold.

The collected data offers a picture, though, of how the most powerful and well-connected industries in Nevada — gaming, energy and organized labor — contribute to campaigns and offers a glimpse at how legislative campaigns are funded and operate. It also lends useful context as the 120-day Legislature gets underway, and lawmakers face pressure and requests from the very same businesses and entities that helped fund their campaigns.

Over the coming weeks, The Nevada Independent will do weekly deep dives into contributions from highlighted industries ranging from pharmaceutical companies to payday lenders.

Below are some highlights of the data analyzed so far.

Gaming industry, unions top the list (again) as biggest campaign donors

In total, the gaming industry and unions top the list as the largest campaign donors.

Casino companies spent more than $1.6 million over the last two years, while unions spent nearly $1.4 million in the same time frame. However, those donations were fairly spread out — on average, the gaming industry spent $2,700 per legislator, while organized labor organizations spent an average of just $1,539 — much closer to the overall average contribution of $1,337.

Top casino donors consisted of the usual suspects, with MGM Resorts properties leading the pack through contributions of $345,000 to 53 separate legislators. Other top casino donors included the Las Vegas Sands ($240,500), South Point Hotel & Casino ($160,000), Caesars Entertainment ($90,000 to 42 legislators), Wynn Resorts ($103,000) and Station Casinos ($106,500).

Organized labor also made major contributions; AFSCME contributed $153,000 to lawmakers, the Nevada State Education Association contributed more than $154,000 and the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 525 made $83,000 in contributions.

But one of the largest individual donors to legislators isn’t a casino or union — it’s “Citizens for Justice,” the political action committee of the Nevada Justice Association which represents trial attorneys in the state Legislature. In total, the PAC gave more than $305,000 to 54 individual lawmakers, including $10,000 each to lawmakers Jason Frierson, Brittney Miller, Chris Brooks, Ellen Spiegel, James Ohrenschall, Keith Pickard, Maggie Carlton, Marilyn Dondero Loop, Michelle Gorelow, Ozzie Fumo, Steve Yeager, Teresa Benitez Thompson and Tom Roberts. Nine legislators did not receive contributions from the PAC, including five state senators not up for re-election and two appointed Assembly members.

Other major contributions include NV Energy ($215,000), a PAC affiliated with Sunrise Health Care System ($162,250), Cox Communications ($110,500) and the Nevada Home Builders Association ($131,500).

Major campaign donors varied in their contribution levels between the 2018 cycle and the 2016 cycle; MGM Resorts made more than $305,000 in contributions in the last election cycle, $40,000 less than the casino giant contributed to legislative candidates in 2018.

NV Energy’s $213,000 in donations was a significant bump in contributions over what the utility company gave in the 2016 cycle, when it contributed $128,000. Rooftop solar installer SolarCity also saw a drop in contributions, going from $49,500 in donations to only $3,000 in 2018.

Democratic leaders brought in some of the highest total contributions

Leaders of the Assembly and Senate caucuses of both parties were each able to raise significant sums — a combined $2.1 million — over the two years of the reporting cycle.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson brought in more campaign funds than any other lawmaker over the 2018 election cycle, raising more than $792,000. His Republican counterpart, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, reported just the tenth-largest fundraising haul of the 63 members of the Legislature, raising nearly $300,000.

In the other chamber, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson reported raising nearly $503,000 over the reporting period — good for the second highest total of all lawmakers. Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer raised just over $318,000, the eighth highest reported total.

Other top recipients of campaign cash include a slew of state senators who won competitive races including Democratic Sens. Melanie Scheible (around $485,000) and Marilyn Dondero Loop ($479,000) and Republican Sen. Keith Pickard ($379,500). Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager raised more than $397,000, the second-highest total of any Assembly member.

On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest reported fundraising total of a lawmaker up for re-election was Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus, who raised $45,700 and represents a rural, heavily-Republican district. The lowest total belongs to appointed Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, who raised $1,000.

Democrats dominated fundraising in 2018

Unsurprising given their election night victories, the 42 Democrats in the Legislature raised significantly more campaign funds than the 21 Republicans — $8.3 million for Democrats and nearly $3.4 million for Republicans.

On the whole, individual Democrats typically raised more than Republicans. The median Democratic fundraising haul was more than $154,000, more than $28,000 higher than the median haul of $126,000 for Republicans.

And on the whole, Democrats had a slightly higher average donation ($1,371) than Republicans ($1,253), though median contributions for lawmakers in both parties were the same; $1,000.

$10,000 donations

Of the more than 8,100 contributions tracked, only 72 donations of the maximum $10,000 were made to legislative candidates over the two-year period.

A total of 48 separate entities, including casinos, political action committees, unions and even candidates themselves reported making the maximum contribution in one swoop. MGM Resorts gave the largest number of $10,000 checks at 10 apiece.

Legislators receiving the highest number of $10,000 contributions were Republican state Sen. Keith Pickard — who narrowly won his race by 24 votes — and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson; both lawmakers received nine maximum contributions over the last two years.

Jeremy Marsh and Jodie Snyder contributed to compiling data used in this report.