Sisolak celebrates bills that expand voting access during ceremonial signing

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday held a ceremonial signing of a handful of bills designed to make casting ballots easier in Nevada, marking a deviation from other states where lawmakers have passed more restrictive voting laws.

The bill-signing ceremony at the East Las Vegas Community Center kicked off the last day for the governor to pen his name on bills passed during the 81st Legislature. The five bills, a couple of which he had already signed, are all election-related:

  • AB121 allows people with disabilities to vote using an electronic system created for uniformed military members and other voters living overseas.
  • AB321 permanently expands mail-in voting while letting voters opt out of receiving a mail ballot, and it also gives Indian reservations or colonies more time to request the establishment of a polling place within its boundaries.
  • AB422 implements a top-down voter registration system, moving away from the existing setup that involves 17 county clerks maintaining their own systems and transmitting voter registration information to the secretary of state’s office.
  • AB432 expands automatic voter registration to other state or tribal agencies, such as those designated by the Department of Health and Human Services that receive Medicaid applications and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. 
  • AB126 moves the state to a presidential primary system, ending the use of the caucus.

Sisolak noted that lawmakers in other states have introduced 389 bills that would restrict voting rights, and 20 have been signed into law. He called it an “assault on one of the key tenets of our democracy — the right to vote.”

“But today, in the great state of Nevada, we are so proud that we are sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voter rights — rather, we’re doing everything we can to expand access to the poll while ensuring our elections are secure and fair,” Sisolak added.

The bill-signings come roughly seven months after a contentious election season, during which Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, received an avalanche of threats and harassment after unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud following former President Donald Trump’s loss. Because of the pandemic, Nevada lawmakers expanded mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson celebrate the signing of election-related bills at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Mikayla Whitmore/The Nevada Independent)

Sisolak lauded AB321 for permanently enshrining mail-in voting in the Silver State, which he said gives voters more options. He also commended Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) for being a “tenacious fighter” when it comes to preserving and expanding voting rights.

Frierson emphasized that AB321 doesn’t eliminate any voting options — people can vote by mail, deposit their ballots in drop-off boxes or vote in person.

“These are all options and individual liberties that Nevadans have come to enjoy,” he said.

The governor and state lawmakers also celebrated the state’s conversion to a presidential primary, which could place Nevada ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa to become the first nominating state in the nation. But that’s subject to approval from the Democratic National Committee. AB126, which moves Nevada away from a caucus, establishes that presidential primary elections would occur on the first Tuesday in February of presidential election years.

Sisolak touted Nevada’s diverse population as a reason for why it should lead the primary process, saying it “undoubtedly” represents the composition of the country.

The governor has spent the week in Las Vegas, attending a variety of bill-signing ceremonies to usher new measures into law. The legislative session ended at midnight on Memorial Day.

PHOTOS: Countdown to sine die in Carson City

They came, they legislated and soon they will be gone.

The 120-day session of the 81st Legislature is winding down on this Memorial Day in Carson City. Lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to finish their work by the stroke of midnight, meaning a mad dash to the finish line with fewer than six hours to go.

Lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists and the press corps have basically camped out in the Legislature over the past three days. While legislative sessions may seem to crawl by in the initial month or two, the pace always hastens as the deadline looms — with a characteristic sprint toward the end. In the past 48 hours alone, lawmakers have passed a bill that would tax the mining industry to benefit education and all but passed a bill creating a state-managed public health insurance option. At the same time, other pieces of legislations have met their untimely death.

The Nevada Independent's photographer, David Calvert, captured scenes Monday from the bustling Legislature, where there are no barbecues in sight but plenty of suit jackets and last-minute dealmaking. Take a peek:

Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy walks her dog, Beanie, on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assemblyman Tom Roberts, right, speaks with Tyre Gray, president of the Nevada Mining Association, on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
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)
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)
Assemblyman Steve Yeager on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. James Ohrenschall on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The legislative press corps on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Chris Brooks on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro after speaking with the media on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Chief Clerk Susan Furlong on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Samantha Glover, cofounder and executive director of Red Equity, inside the Legislature on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assemblymen Steve Yeager, left, and Glen Leavitt outside the Assembly Chamber on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen.Scott Hammond on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The Senate chambers during an afternoon floor session on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Joe 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)
Secretary of the Senate Claire Clift on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The Senate chambers during an afternoon floor session on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Billy, left, and Nick Vassiliadis on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assemblyman Gregory Hafen on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Lobbyists work in a hallway on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Senators leave their chamber during a recess on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Lobbyists watch senators vote on AB321, an election bill, on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Former Sen. Michael Roberson chats with others inside the Legislature on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Pat Spearman on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Pete Goicoechea on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Members of a joint conference committee discuss SB369, a bill dealing with bail reform on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Members of a conference committee get set to discuss SB369, a bill dealing with bail reform on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Extra copies of the daily journal wait to be recycled on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The Legislature on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
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)
From left, Senators Ben Kieckhefer, Fabian Doñate and Mo Denis are greeted by cheers after letting the Assembly know the Senate has adjourned sine die at the Legislature on the final day of the 81st session, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The final day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada secures $45 million settlement in opioid litigation, accusing consulting firm of deceptive marketing practices that led to overdose deaths

Pills spilling from bottle

Nevada will receive $45 million from the settlement of a lawsuit against consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which provided services for opioid manufacturers, Attorney General Aaron Ford announced on Monday. 

Ford in 2019 filed a 241-page complaint against nationally prominent opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and individuals, including Purdue Pharma, Walgreens, Walmart and CVS Pharmacy. At the time, Ford said the defendants “created an unprecedented public health crisis for their own profits” by duping doctors into prescribing the highly addictive drug used primarily for pain management. 

During a press conference, Ford said McKinsey & Company's role in the opioid crisis included advising manufacturers on how to maximize their profits from the medication. He said that directly affects Nevada, which he described as hard-hit by the crisis.

Nevada will receive the settlement money in two installments, with $23 million arriving in 45 days and $22 million arriving in 120 days. 

“The devastation caused by the opioid epidemic is felt by every mother and father who has lost a child,” Ford said during the press conference. “It's felt by siblings who've lost a sister or a brother… And obviously it's felt by those still suffering from an opioid addiction.” 

McKinsey & Company holds that their work in consulting opioid manufacturers was not against the law.

"McKinsey believes its past work was lawful and has denied allegations to the contrary. The settlement agreement with Nevada, like those reached in February, contains no admission of wrongdoing or liability," said a company spokesperson in a statement.

Monday’s announcement came after Ford withdrew Nevada from a multi-state lawsuit that included 55 states and territories against opioid manufacturers. The attorney general said the multi-state settlement would have yielded $7 million for Nevada, but he pursued individual litigation because he said that “Nevadans were entitled to more.” 

Three months ago, the National Drug Helpline marked Nevada on “red alert” as opioid-related deaths rose amid the pandemic. Officials reported a 50 percent increase in opioid- and fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020, which saw a greater increase in the months following the beginning of the pandemic. 

For now, the attorney general said his office will be working with the Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak to “figure out the best way to appropriate the funds." Ford said that will include using the funds to address the opioid crisis and recover the costs of pursuing the case, but didn't name specific expenditures related to that.

“This settlement comes at a time when Nevada needs an influx of funds to continue its work in this area, which is particularly important in light of the pandemic that has seen a resurgence in opioid-related deaths,” Ford said. 

Updated on 3/22/2021 at 1:48 p.m. to correct a prior statement saying there were 40 defendants listed on the attorney general's complaint, add a statement from McKinsey & Company and include information from Ford's office regarding the use of the funds from the settlement.

Updated on 3/22/2021 at 4:03 p.m. to update the headline of the article.

Bill limiting police chokeholds, requiring duty to intervene passes Assembly in bipartisan vote

Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager presents Assembly Bill 3

A bill that restricts police use of chokeholds, allows recording of law enforcement and calls for drug testing of officers involved in shootings passed the Assembly with bipartisan support, in spite of criticism that lawmakers could have gone further to address police brutality.

Assembly members voted 38-4 on Saturday to pass AB3, with Republicans John Ellison, Robin Titus, Jim Wheeler and Chris Edwards opposed.

A few hours later, the Senate Committee of the Whole passed AB3 as well, meaning it next heads to a full Senate vote. Republican Sen. Ira Hansen opposed, saying the process felt rushed and is not related to COVID-19 or the budget so it shouldn’t be up for consideration.

“It simply does not belong in a special session,” he said.

Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, who presented the bill, prefaced the legislation by describing four lapel pins on his suit jacket — one honoring police officers killed in the line of duty, one for his completion of a citizens police academy, one that says “Black Lives Matter” and a fourth that bears a silhouette of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“These four lapel pins and the values that they reflect — they’re not mutually exclusive,” he said, before turning to the proposed bill. “... Assembly Bill 3 in front of you is the embodiment of what we can do better in the state of Nevada because if we aren’t moving forward, we’re standing still, which means we are falling behind.”

The bill comes weeks after protests erupted nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Flody’s death sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in big cities and small towns across the country — and, with it, calls for police reform. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak and other legislative leaders had pledged to address issues with systemic racism and policing during a press conference in early June, shortly after Floyd was killed and protests erupted around the state. The issue was not brought up in the initial, budget-focused special session this month, but was included in the proclamation for the current special session.

During the Saturday afternoon hearing, Ellison lamented what he described as “rumors” swirling about how the bill would defund police departments. 

“I think it took away from what the bill really intended to do,” he said.

Yeager agreed about the spread of misinformation.

“I think the best PR that we can do is to encourage folks to read the bill,” Yeager said. “Fortunately, this one is not too long.”

While it may not be long, the 10-page bill would enact a variety of reforms. For instance, the measure explicitly allows recording of law enforcement activity if it is not obstructing the activity and bars police from seizing recording instruments or destroying recorded images.

It provides that police can use “only the amount of reasonable force necessary” to carry out the arrest of someone who is fleeing or resisting. The law currently allows police to use “all necessary means” to make the arrest.

Asked about how “reasonable” is defined, Las Vegas police lobbyist Chuck Callaway said case law dating to the 1980s guides that definition. He noted that no officer he’s talked with believes that police actions taken against George Floyd were reasonable.

“There’s always the hindsight 20-20 factor and someone can always question after the fact whether or not the officer’s actions were reasonable,” he said. “If there’s an allegation brought forward to us at Metro that an officer’s actions were unreasonable, we’re going to conduct a thorough investigation on that to determine if that was the case.”

In 2019, Callaway said, there were 1.5 million calls for service where officers made contact with people, and there were 900 reported uses of force, including lower-level complaints such as people saying handcuffs were put on too roughly. He said that was a small fraction of 1 percent of incidents.

The bill also bans officers from choking people and says officers “shall take any actions necessary to place such a person in a recovery position if he or she appears to be in distress or indicates that he or she cannot breathe.” But Yeager noted that chokeholds could still happen if they were in self-defense against deadly force.

Callaway and legislative legal counsel said it would not preclude a physical struggle to get someone under arrest, but the chokehold prohibition applies once someone is in custody. “Lateral vascular neck restraints” were used 21 times in 2019, Callaway said, but the agency this summer changed its use of force policy to limit the technique only to when an officer’s life is being threatened. 

He said the agency supports the bill. The Nevada Police Union, which represents state-employed police officers, also supported it.

Additionally, the measure creates a “duty to intervene” that requires an officer to prevent or stop another officer from using unjustified force against a person, regardless of the chain of command. The officer must report in writing within 10 days the details of the incident.

The bill also requires testing officers for alcohol and drugs — including prescription drugs and cannabis — if they are involved in a shooting or a situation that led to substantial bodily harm or death of another person.

Callaway said under current practice, supervisors are subject to drug and alcohol testing if they are involved in a deadly force situation, but the bill would extend the testing to rank-and-file officers. He said he expected the results would be initially confidential but might later be made public if there was a criminal investigation, through civil litigation or — after the investigation is finished — through a public records request.

Legislators heard an hour of public testimony in support of the bill, although many callers indicated it’s only a starting point. 

“This is really the bare minimum of change that needs to occur in order to foster accountability when people needlessly die at the hands of law enforcement,” said Holly Welborn, policy director at the ACLU of Nevada. 

Assemblyman Tom Roberts, a Republican and former assistant sheriff with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, stood in support of the bill despite calling it a personal struggle. 

“With this bill, it’s not perfect,” he said. “It doesn’t hit every bell and whistle … I think it will actually improve community trust and make our organizations adopt some best practices that are utilized in our state already.”

Police officers who testified against the bill said the measure would handcuff them and is part of an effort to paint officers with a broad brush because of what happened to Floyd.

Scott Nicolas, vice president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, testified in opposition, saying there was “no compelling need to make drastic policy changes” at this time. 

“What we should be focused on is educating the public on dangers of resisting arrest and why compliance during a lawful detention or arrest is so important,” he said.

Senate hears bill that aims to prevent court backup of eviction cases

State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro on Friday, July 31, 2020, during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.

State senators heard testimony Friday on a bill aimed at preventing a court logjam by creating a mediation-focused program for evictions.

SB1 was the first piece of legislation introduced in that house during the special session, which started Friday. The bill comes exactly a month ahead of the planned Sept. 1 lifting of an eviction moratorium.

"Our question is what happens then?” Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty said while presenting the bill on behalf of the Access to Justice Commission, which he co-chairs. “And, in particular, will the court system be able to meet a projected significant increase in eviction cases?”

Separate estimates from the treasurer’s office and Guinn Center for Policy Priorities indicate that anywhere from 135,000 to 142,000 households statewide could be affected by evictions in the coming months. If those estimates prove accurate, the courts could see three times as many eviction-related cases as they normally do in an entire year, Hardesty said. 

SB1 would attempt to alleviate some of that burden by halting eviction proceedings for no more than 30 days and allowing mediation to occur through an alternative dispute resolution program. Hardesty said the courts hope to create a process that allows tenants, landlords and the mediator to convene by phone or video conference call, thus keeping people out of the courthouse amid the pandemic. If the dispute cannot be resolved during mediation, a court hearing would be set.

Republican Sen. Keith Pickard asked why the courts want to enact this program through legislation.

Hardesty said the judicial system fears people would challenge the court’s authority to stay an eviction proceeding, potentially leading to lawsuits. Additionally, the Supreme Court justice said creating the program through legislation gives the public more transparency.

“We don't need any more lawsuits,” he said. “We're trying to reduce them.”

The bill drew broad support from organizations such as the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Mi Familia Vota, the Children’s Advocacy Alliance and the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and the ACLU of Nevada.

“Right now, we are facing a real potential for a surge in homelessness that we cannot afford,” said Emily Paulsen, executive director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance. “Every opportunity that we can take to connect a family to available resources like rental assistance is an opportunity that we should take.”

But Edward Kania, president of Southern Nevada Eviction Services, testified against the bill, saying it stands to further harm landlords whose court access already has been delayed for months.

“This proposal will delay that access further,” he said. “Landlords have been economically suffering during the past six months, despite the fact that they have been providing essential services during that whole time. They simply cannot continue to provide free housing.”

The bill passed out of the Senate Committee of the Whole on Friday afternoon after a voice vote. It next heads to the full Senate.

Clark County judge says supermajority provision doesn't apply to law that froze Opportunity Scholarship growth

Nevada Legislature building

A Clark County judge has ruled that a supermajority provision in the state Constitution does not apply to a law that froze the growth of the Opportunity Scholarship program

The program, created in 2015 under Republican leadership, allows businesses to donate money toward approved scholarship organizations, which, in turn, provide students up to $8,000 to attend private schools. Businesses then receive a tax credit.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2019 passed Assembly Bill 458 along party lines. The new law modified the program by freezing the annual credit cap at $6.655 million and eliminating the annual 10 percent increase. Before the bill’s passage, lawmakers asked the Legislative Counsel Bureau whether the Constitution’s supermajority provision for revenue increases applied to the situation.

The LCB delivered its opinion in a letter dated May 8, 2019, saying the provision did not apply.

But parents of scholarship-recipient students, business donors and scholarship organizations filed a lawsuit in August against the state, Superintendent Jhone Ebert, the Nevada Department of Taxation and tax commissioners. The complaint argues the two-thirds rule applies.

Ultimately, the court disagreed, saying the intent of the supermajority provision is to limit the Legislature’s ability to raise new taxes or increase the tax rate of existing taxes. The plaintiffs had based their argument around the phrase “any public revenue in any form” within the provision.

“Likewise, AB458 does not raise new taxes, or increase existing taxes; rather, it removes or freezes the subsection 4 scholarship credit available from already levied (Modified Business Tax),” according to the court’s minute order. “If the word ‘any’ is given the broad interpretation as suggested by the Plaintiffs, it would mean that revenue increases resulting from Nevada’s population and business growth would also require invoking the Nevada Supermajority Provision.”

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court, said Tim Keller, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm based in Arlington, Virginia that is assisting with the suit.

The story was updated on 5/5/2020 at 10:14 a.m. to include the plaintiffs' plan to appeal.

A year in review through a photographer's lens

A black and white photo of a yarmulke with the name Trump on it

There has been no shortage of stories to tell in 2019.

The year kicked off with the inauguration of a new governor. Then the Legislature convened in Carson City for another packed 120-day session. Meanwhile, presidential candidates crisscrossed the state hoping to capture that coveted caucus vote. The usual tug-of-wars over education funding, water and marijuana regulation played out in the background, too.

But words can never fully convey the emotion behind these events, policy decisions or debates happening in Nevada. That’s why we are especially thankful for The Nevada Independent’s photographers who help bring all these stories to life through their images. 

Here’s a sampling of their best work from 2019. While these photos offer a snapshot of this year, they also foreshadow many of the big stories we’ll be covering in 2020. Cheers to a new year — and a new decade. 

Governor-elect Steve 
 Sisolak and his wife, Kathy, tour the Governor's Mansion in Carson City
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak and his wife, Kathy, tour the Governor's Mansion in Carson City at the conclusion of their trip through Nevada on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Kenya Obote wearing a light jacket, gold necklaces and a black scarf on her head
Kenya Obote, 35, talks about her experience being homeless in Las Vegas while standing in the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Immigration rally in downtown Las Vegas
People hold candles and cell phone lights up during the Lights for Liberty vigil in front of the Lloyd D. George Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas on Friday, July 12, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Desert bighorn sheep crossing road
Desert bighorn sheep cross State Route 375 north of Rachel, Nev. on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Bernie Sanders at campaign event
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a town hall at the Victory Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, July 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke at campaign event
A supporter reaches out to shake hands with former Congressman Beto O'Rourke during a presidential campaign stop outside a Las Vegas coffee shop on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Desert tortoise
Scott Cambrin, senior biologist for the Clark County Conservation Program, prepares desert tortoises for release inside the Boulder City Conservation Easement on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at campaign event
Sen. Elizabeth Warren runs out to greet supporters during a campaign event at Legacy High School in North Las Vegas on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Former Vice President Joe Biden at campaign event
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event inside Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Therapy dog at Legislature
A therapy dog rests inside the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Drag Queen Story Hour
Children attend the Drag Queen Story Hour at the Sparks Library in Sparks on Saturday, July 20, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Hillside in Yerington
Yerington as seen from the Anaconda Copper Mine during a visit from Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Publisher of the Storey Teller
Sam Toll, the publisher of the Storey Teller, at his Gold Hill cabin on Friday, March 1, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Nevada Day Parade float
A man waits on a float during the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is mayor of South Bend, Indiana, waves while walking off the stage with his husband Chasten Glezman after speaking at the 14th annual Human Rights Campaign dinner in Las Vegas. The event was held at Caesars Palace on Saturday, May 11, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/ The Nevada Independent)

Clark County Education Association launches campaign to raise taxes for school funding

Rally signs saying "Fund Our Schools"

The Clark County Education Association is increasing members’ dues to fund a new campaign that aims to dramatically boost overall state funding and lower class sizes. 

Union leaders announced the so-called Strategic Horizon campaign Saturday during a meeting, where members “overwhelmingly approved” the move, CCEA’s executive director, John Vellardita, said on the organization’s podcast. The $9 per month increase to educators’ union fees would go directly toward the campaign.

The campaign seeks to find $1 billion or more in state funding for public education, possibly through one or more initiative petitions to raise taxes, Vellardita said in an interview. The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported the union’s plans.

The union hasn’t decided what tax revenue streams it would target, but Vellardita said it would be ones that could produce the hefty sum as well as garner public support. Once the revenue streams are identified, the union plans to file the initiative with the secretary of state’s office and begin collecting the needed signatures early next year to qualify it for the 2022 ballot, he said.

Vellardita said the timeline also allows for discussion during the 2021 legislative session. The union wants to work with Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leadership on the issue.

“If we can find a solution at the session, that’s obviously the place we want to see it,” he said.

State lawmakers approved Senate Bill 543, which created a new education funding formula, during this year’s legislative session. While the legislation provides a broad outline for the new formula, it doesn’t include any new revenue — a point that has led to criticism, particularly from the Nevada State Education Association. 

CCEA, meanwhile, has supported the new funding formula, saying it was a necessary step before increasing revenue. Vellardita said SB543 offers more reassurance that money earmarked for education would be used for that purpose, hence the union’s campaign.

Given those dynamics, Vellardita said the union “absolutely” believes the public would support increased taxes for public education.

“I think we’re in an interesting time,” he said. “There’s a recognition in the public that additional dollars are needed to make improvement.”

The billion-dollar figure isn’t out of thin air. It’s the number floated in public discussions and studies about what’s needed to adequately fund Nevada’s public schools.

Vellardita said the increased membership dues would provide more than $2 million to put toward the campaign, which the union envisions morphing into a coalition over time. It wouldn’t be the first coalition, though. The Fund Our Future Nevada coalition lobbied for more education funding this past legislative session, but CCEA did not join as a partner.

The move comes several months after the union and district narrowly avoided a teacher strike brought on by a labor dispute that boiled down to inadequate funding. In the end, the district shuffled resources to provide the raises that weren’t originally included in its contract offer to educators.

Federal court dismisses lawsuit seeking to end brothel industry

The front entrance to the Chicken Ranch brothel

A lawsuit that aimed to eliminate Nevada’s legal brothels has been dismissed by a federal court judge who rejected the notion that it conflicts with federal laws.

“While the Court empathizes with Plaintiffs for their lived experiences, the Court cannot adjudicate Plaintiffs’ claims because Plaintiffs fail to establish standing to confer jurisdiction upon this Court,” Chief U.S. District Judge Miranda Du wrote in an order filed Tuesday.

Three women who say they were sex trafficked through Nevada filed the lawsuit earlier this year. The lawsuit — which named the state, the Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak as defendants — argued that legalized prostitution in rural counties contradicts two federal laws that criminalize human trafficking across state lines for the purposes of commercial sex acts.

Reno-based attorney Jason Guinasso, who’s representing the plaintiffs, released a statement saying they “strongly disagree” with the ruling and are considering other legal options, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“If Nevada did not permit legal prostitution, they  would not have been trafficked to Nevada,” Guinasso wrote. “Nevada’s actions and inactions unavoidably conflict with the federal law and policy established to prevent the exact harms that Plaintiffs assert.”

Developer Lance Gilman, who owns the Mustang Ranch brothel in Sparks, praised the judge’s decision but offered a blistering attack on Guinasso.

“We are extremely pleased that the United States District Court deemed this lawsuit baseless and without merit and, as such, dismissed it,” Gilman said in a statement. “However, we are equally frustrated at the persistent and reckless attempts by Mr. Guinasso to ban Nevada’s historic brothel industry through incendiary allegations that are steeped in moral judgement rather than facts and education. This was a complete waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars and, from the very get go, appears to have been done for political gain rather than the establishment of sound policy."

Gilman concluded his statement by extending an invitation to Guinasso to work with the brothel industry and find solutions that “get women off the streets and out of the hands of predators.”