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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SENATE

Ben Kieckhefer: 36

Heidi Seevers Gansert: 33

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Goicoechea: 20

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

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

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

Joe Hardy: 17

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

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

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

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

Scott Hammond: 14

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

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

Keith Pickard: 6

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

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

Ira Hansen: 5

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

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

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

Carrie Buck: 3

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

James Settelmeyer: 2

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

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

ASSEMBLY

Jill Tolles: 92

Tom Roberts: 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hardy: 82

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

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

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

Glen Leavitt: 55

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

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

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

Heidi Kasama: 52

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

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

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

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

Lisa Krasner: 36

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

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

Gregory Hafen: 30

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

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

Alexis Hansen: 18

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

Robin Titus: 5

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

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

Annie Black: 3

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

The Nevada Legislative Freedom Caucus

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

P.K. O’Neill: 19

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

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

Jim Wheeler: 6

Jill Dickman: 6

Andy Matthews: 5

John Ellison: 3

Richard McArthur: 3

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

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

Which Republicans broke up unanimous votes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Democrats dissented from their party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public option likely all but a done deal after Assembly approves bill on party lines

Nevada’s bid to establish a state-managed public health insurance option appeared all but certain to become a reality late Sunday evening after the Assembly voted on party lines to approve legislation setting the process for establishing such a plan in motion.

The bill, SB420, cleared the Senate on party lines last week and now will return to that body on Monday to concur on an amendment that makes several minor, mostly technical changes to the bill and adds an additional appropriation to cover the costs of implementing the public option. Because the amendment was made with the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor, it is likely to clear the Senate without issue.

Once the Senate approves the amendment, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Steve Sisolak for his signature. If he signs it quickly, Nevada will become the second state in the nation, after Washington, to approve a public option. (Colorado is also in the final stages of approving a public option bill.)

Sisolak has not taken a public position on the legislation, though it would be unlikely for the Democratic governor to veto the bill. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed a different public option proposal in 2017 that would have allowed anyone in the state to buy into a Medicaid-like system of health insurance. At the time, Sandoval said the proposal was “moving too soon, without factual foundation or adequate understanding of the possible consequences.”

Since then, the Legislature has continued to consider establishing a public option, including approving an interim study in the waning days of the 2019 legislative session to look into the possibility of allowing Nevadans to buy into the state Public Employees’ Benefits Program.

SB420, now the third iteration of the public option proposal in Nevada, will require insurers that bid to provide coverage to the state’s Medicaid population to also offer a public option plan. The plans will resemble existing qualified health plans certified by the state’s health insurance exchange, though the legislation requires them to be offered at a 5 percent markdown, with the goal of reducing average premium costs in the state by 15 percent over four years. The public option will be available for purchase starting in plan year 2026.

Because the concept differs from the prior two public option proposals lawmakers have considered, no one yet knows for certain what kind of an impact the bill might have on reducing costs and expanding accessibility to health care, two goals that proponents have honed in on in advocating for the legislation. To that end, the bill requires an actuarial study to be conducted as part of the four-and-a-half year ramp up before the bill takes effect.

The bill also expands coverage for certain Medicaid services to the extent money is available, including community health workers and doulas.

The Assembly’s swift approval of the bill on Sunday came as no surprise after Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) threw their support behind the bill on Saturday after previously remaining mum on the topic. While health care industry representatives had angled to turn the bill into an actuarial study only — removing the portions of the bill actually setting the public option in motion — both Frierson and Carlton voiced comfort in the fact that the bill offers significant time before the public option is actually offered for purchase.

“This is a good first step. We're trying to get someplace. We know there's an issue. We're trying to address it. This is a long term process to get there,” Carlton said on the Assembly floor. “The part of the bill that I support the most is being able to get that actuarial study done, know where the state stands and for future legislators sitting in these seats to be able to make a decision. I'm not sure if this is the right way to go, but we're not going to know until we get the data, and that's the part of the bill that I truly support.”

Republican lawmakers have staunchly and uniformly opposed the bill, siding with industry concerns that the legislation will not only not achieve its goal of increasing health care access and affordability but that it will destabilize Nevada’s already fragile health care system. 

“If passed, the bill would mandate insurers to offer a public option and mandate physicians and hospitals to accept rates below cost,” Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington), a family practice doctor by trade, said on the floor. “Doctors will leave the state and hospitals will raise rates or cut critical elective services that are widely used by all. The net effect is less access to care and higher costs for the remaining Nevadans, just the opposite of what we should want.”

Public option proposal advances as key Assembly leaders put their support behind the bill for the first time publicly

Nevada came one step closer to becoming the second state in the nation to pass a public health insurance option on Saturday after an Assembly committee voted to advance the legislation and two key leaders voiced support for the bill after being relatively mum on the measure.

While the public option bill faced a relatively clear path in the Senate, where bill sponsor Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) is the majority leader, it faced a less certain future in the Assembly, with leaders in that chamber remaining relatively quiet publicly on their feelings on the bill. That changed Saturday when Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly’s money committee, not only voiced support for the legislation but defended it from attacks.

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee voted on party lines on Saturday to forward the measure on to a full vote of their chamber.

Carlton, ahead of the committee vote, acknowledged for the first time publicly her own doubts about the bill. But she said her concerns were assuaged by the fact that the bill, SB420, includes a significant runway before the public option would be available for purchase in 2026, allowing the Legislature to come back in 2023 and make any tweaks to the policy as necessary.

“It's not a secret I have been skeptical of this bill from the very beginning, but I've seen the amendments, and I have talked to a number of the different proponents of the bill and opponents of the bill on it,” Carlton said. “I feel much more comfortable knowing that in the future the people that are in this building now that do come back are well aware of what's going on, and I trust them to make the best decisions they can to protect the constituents of this state.”

Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington), however, didn’t mince words on the legislation, which has been uniformly opposed by Republican lawmakers who agree with the health care industry’s concerns about the bill.

“I think this piece of legislation is probably the single most damaging thing we’re going to do to health care access in our state in the entire time I’ve been in this building. I have incredible concerns about this bill,” Titus said. “We all say we want more access to care and, again, I've said it all along: Giving somebody a bus ticket without the buses and ensuring that the buses will be available, we might as well be throwing them under the bus, and I feel this bill throws health care under the bus.”

Frierson, however, pointed to the legislation’s “guardrails” and warned against the public being “misled about the nature of what we're doing.” 

“There are concerns that are valid concerns, but we also have a thing called time,” Frierson said. “If this is not going to kick in until several years, then a subsequent Legislature can make adjustments. I beg to differ that this is the worst thing unless folks who plan on being here don't plan on doing their jobs, which is our job to look at future legislation and make adjustments.”

The comments from Carlton and Frierson marked the first time either has taken a publicly supportive position on the legislation, though Frierson is listed as primary sponsor of the bill. 

On Friday, Carlton temporarily pumped the brakes on the legislation, saying the Assembly needed to take the time to get all interested parties “in the corral together” on the legislation before advancing it, while Frierson earlier this week deferred questions about the status of the public option bill — and whether it was getting tied up in legislative endgame conversations — to Cannizzaro, as majority leader. 

The bill, as written, would require insurers that bid to provide coverage to the state’s Medicaid population to also offer a public option plan. While the plans would resemble existing qualified health plans certified by the state’s health insurance exchange, the legislation would require them to be offered at a 5 percent markdown, with the goal of reducing average premium costs in the state by 15 percent over four years. The public option would be available for purchase for coverage starting in 2026.

Health care industry representatives, however, have argued that not only will the bill not achieve its goal of increasing health care access and affordability but that it will destabilize Nevada’s already fragile health care system. To that end, they have proposed limiting the bill to an actuarial study of the public option concept as outlined in SB420 and letting the 2023 Legislature decide whether to move forward with putting a public option into law, depending on what the study finds.

Approving a public option just as an actuarial study would, however, be a gamble for Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. If they only approve a study, lose any one of the three parts of their Democratic trifecta to Republicans in 2022, and the actuarial analysis comes back and says the public option will achieve their goals and is financially feasible, it would likely be difficult, if not impossible, to pass a public option during the 2023 legislative session.

On the other hand, if lawmakers approve SB420 as drafted — including both the actuarial study and a timeline to establish the public option by 2026 — and the actuarial analysis comes back and says the proposal isn’t workable and either needs changes or to be scrapped entirely, Democrats could make the necessary changes to the bill if they remain in control in 2023, while Republicans would likely remain eager to change or undo the policy if they gain at least some control in 2023.

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee also approved a hodgepodge amendment to the bill on Saturday that would make several minor, mostly technical changes to the bill, require that a niche benefit be covered by the state Public Employees’ Benefits Program and add a $600,000 appropriation to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange to cover the costs of implementing a public option.

The bill now heads to the Assembly for a final stamp of approval. If the Assembly passes the bill, the Senate will be required to concur with the changes made on the Assembly side before it heads to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk. Sisolak has not yet taken a position on the bill, though it would likely be politically fraught for a Democratic governor to veto a public option bill.

If Nevada passes its public option bill quickly, it will be the second state in the nation to approve such a proposal, though Colorado is also advancing a public option bill this spring. Washington was the first state to approve a public option plan in 2019, with its plan available for purchase starting this year.

Riley Snyder and Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

Five bills implement the Nevada budget. Here’s what’s in them.

Lawmakers are wrapping up one of their biggest responsibilities of the 120-day legislative session by reviewing and passing five bills implementing the state budget.

The five measures are the culmination of months of vetting and adjustments of the governor’s recommended two-year budget and allocate not only the $9.1 billion the state expects to bring in through tax revenue over the next two years, but guide spending of certain federal and fee funds.

Once drafted by legislative staff, the budget bills generally can’t be amended if legislators plan to close down the session within 120 days. Here’s a look at what’s in the budget bills introduced this session and their status.

K-12 FUNDING (SB458

STATUS: Passed 21-0 in Senate and 41-0 in Assembly.

Nevada lawmakers are constitutionally required to approve funding for K-12 education before other areas of the budget. The bill to do that includes:

  • Total public support at an average of $10,204 per pupil in the upcoming fiscal year and $10,290 in the following fiscal year. That amounts to a $115 per-pupil reduction from the levels the 2019 Legislature approved for the current fiscal year to the upcoming one.
  • Statewide base per-pupil funding of $6,980 for the first fiscal year of the upcoming biennium and $7,074 in the second fiscal year. Additional weighted funds will be calculated using the statewide base per-pupil funding amount, with the multipliers set at 0.24 for English learners, 0.03 for at-risk students and 0.12 for gifted and talented students. The Clark County School District, for instance, would receive $61.9 million of weighted funds for English learners, $45.4 million for at-risk students and $3.8 million for gifted students in the upcoming fiscal year. 
  • The adjusted base per-pupil funding amounts — which take into account variation in local costs — in the 2021-2022 fiscal year range from $7,222 for the Washoe County School District to $33,746 for the Eureka County School District. The Clark County School District’s adjusted base per-pupil funding is $7,264.
  • In total, the bill allocates more than $2.6 billion from the general fund to the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan: $1,396,939,483 in the first fiscal year and $1,223,780,931.
  • Apart from the general fund, there will be nearly $6.3 billion from outside the general fund going toward the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan. That includes $3,013,387,160 in the first fiscal year and $3,239,583,349 in the second.
  • The bill also includes a variety of expenditures outside that formula, such as funds to support a scholarship program for prospective teachers, nearly $8 million for the Jobs for America’s Graduates Program and $50 million for an Education Stabilization Account for reserves.
  • The state projects 484,892 students will enroll in K-12 schools in the coming school year.

APPROPRIATIONS BILL (AB494)

STATUS: Passed 33-6 in Assembly.

This bill appropriates several billion dollars from the general fund and Highway Fund to many projects, programs and government divisions, including:

  • $2.03 billion for Nevada Medicaid
  • $73.2 for the UNLV School of Medicine and $66.6 million for the UNR School of Medicine
  • $39.2 million from the Highway Fund for the DMV’s IT system redesign (an additional $13.6 million may be appropriated from the Highway Fund for the system redesign to make up for shortfalls from the now-struck down $1 technology fee, if neither AB488, nor AB491, are passed by the Legislature this session)
  • $25.7 million for assessments and accountability within the Department of Education
  • $41.4 million for the Office of Early Learning and Development
  • $20.3 million for capacity building initiatives at the Nevada System of Higher Education
  • $11.4 million for the Autism Treatment and Assistance Program
  • $8.8 million for the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant Program
  • $8.5 million from the Governor’s Finance Office to support graduate medical education
  • $3.9 million for problem gambling
  • $4.8 million for family planning
  • $2.1 million for the Department of Indigent Defense Services
  • $1.6 million to the secretary of state’s office for Help America Vote Act election reforms
  • $1.3 million for the replacement of the parole division’s Offender Tracking Information System
  • $469,000 for the Office of New Americans
  • $200,000 to contract scientists in support of the Nevada Climate Initiative

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS BILL (AB492)

STATUS: Passed Assembly 34-7.

This bill authorizes $413.1 million in projects, including:

  • $89.6 million for capital improvements in the Department of Corrections, including $43.4 million for upgrades at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City
  • $75 million to launch the state infrastructure bank
  • $44 million for resource conservation and preservation programs
  • $36.8 million for an engineering building at the University of Nevada Las Vegas
  • $27.1 million for deferred maintenance projects in the Department of Health and Human Services
  • $26 million for an addition to the Nevada National Guard’s Washoe County Training Center
  • $15 million for deferred maintenance projects in the Nevada System of Higher Education
  • $14.9 million for five DMV projects and one public safety project, including $6.3 million to help fund the construction of a new DMV facility on North Decatur in Las Vegas
  • $9.4 million for the statewide energy efficiency program
  • $6 million for roofing projects statewide
  • $4.9 million for a remodel of the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas
  • $4.9 million for an exterior renovation of the State Capitol building and annex building

AUTHORIZATION BILL (SB459)

STATUS: Passed Senate 18-3. Passed Assembly 35-5.

This bill reflects expenditures that are authorized by the Legislature but derive from funds other  than the state general fund or Highway Fund, and includes federal money passing through the state and entities funded by fees.

  • $9 billion for Nevada’s Medicaid and Check Up programs
  • $5.6 billion for COVID-19 relief programs through the governor’s office
  • $1 billion for the Public Employees Benefits Program
  • $154.1 million for the Cannabis Compliance Board
  • $52.7 million for the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History
  • $36.3 million for the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange administration
  • $80 million for unemployment insurance and $151.3 million for workforce development through the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation
  • $30.5 million for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program
  • $24.7 million for the Division of State Parks
  • $17.9 million for the UNR School of Medicine and $12.8 million for the UNLV School of Medicine
  • $15.6 million for Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services and $8.8 million for Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services
  • $11.4 million for the secretary of state’s office to implement the Help America Vote Act
  • $7.5 million for the Autism Treatment Assistance Program

STATE WORKER PAY BILL (AB493)

STATUS: Passed Assembly 25-16.

The measure dubbed the “State Worker Pay Bill” includes provisions setting maximum pay rates for positions within the state and granting all state employees at least a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the 2023 fiscal year.

It also contains the first-ever implementation of state worker collective bargaining agreements. Some members of bargaining units are given longevity bonuses for long periods of continuous state service.

One point of contention was the bill’s provision that employees represented by collective bargaining units will generally receive a 3 percent cost of living adjustment — more than those not represented by a union. Republicans who voted against the bill described that as unfair to people who aren’t supportive of the union.

“Cost of living adjustment is meant to rise in parity with inflation; increasing state employee union member’s COLA at a higher rate than non-union members is disingenuous and political retaliation for not agreeing with their progressive political activism,” said Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington).

Assembly Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), however, said she was happy that the pay bill now reflects negotiations between employees and the state. She said there were still some “freeloaders” in the state who will get the higher pay rate even though they haven’t contributed to the union, because their class of worker is represented by a bargaining unit.

“We have to recognize that we are a ‘right to work’ state. So those people do still get those benefits, even if they don't pay their dues,” she said on the Assembly floor.

Correction: This story has been updated at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, May 28 to clarify that part of the funds appropriated by AB494 for the DMV’s IT system redesign are contingent upon certain actions during the 81st legislative session.

Deadline Day: Lawmakers advance dozens of bills as death penalty repeal, tenant protection measures fail

Despite the high-profile spiking of an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, Nevada lawmakers rushed to process more than a hundred proposals ahead of another major legislative deadline.

Friday at midnight marks the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass out of their second committee, typically a major legislative culling with less than two weeks left before lawmakers must adjourn the state’s 120-day session.

As of Friday, lawmakers had passed more than 90 bills out of committee with several committees running into the evening hours. High-profile measures making the cut on Friday included bills expanding anti-discrimination housing protections, limiting police use of force and banning use of police ticket quotas.

But one of the biggest casualties of deadline day was already known by Thursday, when Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democratic leaders announced that an effort to repeal the state’s death penalty, AB395, had “no path forward” this legislative session. The bill had previously been approved by the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote, but faltered in the Senate amid hesitation from Democratic lawmakers and Sisolak to fully repeal capital punishment.

The demise of the bill — which one public defender described as a “gut punch” and ACLU representatives described as “an embarrassment” — eclipsed much of the attention for the day, with supporters calling in to unrelated hearings to relay deep disillusionment with Democratic leaders who failed to advance it. Progressives also lamented the bill’s failure on social media and said that aside from AB116, a bill that could decriminalize traffic tickets and is in limbo in a money committee, no other legislation considered this session comes close to fulfilling hopes of expansive criminal justice reform.

Outside of that high-profile bill failure, lawmakers nonetheless moved to pass out dozens of noteworthy bills ahead of Friday’s deadline, including measures banning decorative turf, limiting no-knock police warrants, allowing curbside pickup of cannabis products and implementing rate caps on calls to inmates.

But the relentless ticking of the clock continues. The next major legislative deadline, for bills to pass out of their second house of origin, is set for May 21 — just a week away.

Here’s a look at which higher-profile bills passed and failed as of Friday’s deadline.

FRIDAY

Cat declawing ban dies

A bill that would have banned the declawing of cats will not survive past the deadline, according to Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

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

“I think there were just a lot of different moving parts and we couldn't really come into agreement,” Doñate said. “There were other bills that we had to prioritize like the water bill, the mining bill.”

He said some lawmakers were hesitant because relatively few other states have enacted such a law. There were also unanswered questions about how the bill’s provisions interacted with other parts of statute — specifically, whether veterinarians who declaw a cat would be prosecuted for animal cruelty.

“Hopefully we get the chance to bring it back next session, now that we know where it stands,” he said.

Bill banning police tickets quotas 

Nevada is one step closer to joining the handful of states that ban police tickets and arrest quotas, even though law enforcement agencies have previously said they do not have such quotas. 

The Senate Committee on Government Affairs passed out AB186, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), which prohibits police agencies in the state from ordering, mandating, or requiring officers to “issue a certain number of traffic citations or make a certain number of arrests over any period.”

An amendment to the bill was made to remove a provision which would have also prohibited agencies from considering the number of citations issued, arrests made or amount of fines assessed from citations by any individual police officer during a performance review, a concern that was brought up during a previous hearing of the bill

“The bigger concern I had is when we eliminate it from even being considered, you hear that enforcement does use things like this to determine whether or not they have a rogue copy on hand,” Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said prior to voting against the bill.

But Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) assured the committee that if the agency already does not use quotas then the bill “wouldn't matter” because they are applying what the bill sets in statute and the amendment addresses the concern of using the number of citations and arrests during performance reviews. 

Reducing barriers to contraception 

Members of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor passed out SB190 on Friday, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The bill would allow women to receive birth control through a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit.

An amendment on the bill would require the State Board of Health to create a protocol for dispensing contraceptives that would include providing patients with a risk assessment questionnaire to patients who request contraception.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

“I still have some concerns about especially minor children getting birth control dispensed without seeing a doctor,” Dickman said. “So I'm going to be no right now, I might change on the floor.”

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

HOA debt collection reform

SB186, a homeowner’s association (HOA) reform bill, passed out of the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas), would prohibit a collection agency from collecting a debt from a person who owes fees to an apartment manager, homeowner’s association, or tow car operator, under certain circumstances. It also requires a collection agency to file an annual report with information about debt collected for an HOA during the previous year.

Amendments on the bill prohibit an HOA that uses the foreclosure process from selling a foreclosed home to any person involved or connected to the foreclosure process, requires an HOA to send its notices and communications via e-mail as well as physical mail and mandates that each HOA in a common-interest community with more than 150 units establish a website or electronic portal that members may access.

Republican Assembly members Heidi Kasama and Jill Dickman were the only members of the committee to vote against the bill.

Regulations on food delivery platforms

Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor committee also passed out AB320, a measure sponsored by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would establish regulations for the relationships between restaurants and delivery platforms. 

Under the bill, food delivery platforms would need to be transparent about all fees attached to an order, including a disclosure of the commission charged to the restaurant — expressed as a percentage of the food purchase price.

Regulations specify that a food delivery service platform provider would need to enter into a written agreement with a food establishment before facilitating an online order and that an establishment may submit a written request to be removed from a platform. Any providers in violation of the bill would be subject to a daily $500 penalty.

An amendment attached to the bill would:

  • Lower the limit on the maximum fee that could be charged by a food delivery serve platform provider from 20 percent to 15 percent during a state of emergency declared by a county
  • Provide that the limitation on the maximum fee that may be charged is effective only in a county in which a declaration of emergency is in effect
  • Stipulate that the bill does not preempt any local ordinance that places limits on the maximum fee that may be charged, as long as that ordinance was in effect before April 30, 2021

Tiger King bill

SB344, a bill that bans people and organizations from possessing, breeding, importing or selling dangerous wild animals except for those who fall in a certain category, including veterinarians, certain accredited zoos and certain resort hotels, passed unanimously out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Friday.

The measure, nicknamed the “Tiger King bill” after the Netflix series about tiger collector Joe Exotic, grandfathers in people who already own the animals. People could keep any exotic pets they had as of July 1, 2021. 

A committee amendment passed along with the bill clarifies that employees with a special license and training are allowed to have direct contact with dangerous wild animals. The amendment also provides that people who receive disciplinary action relating to their wild animal license may still be exempt from the prohibitions of the bill, if they resolve the issue before July 1.

Tiny house bill survives deadline

Members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee voted Friday evening to keep alive a bill by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) authorizing and requiring large counties and cities regulate and zone areas for tiny houses.

The bill, which passed out with some Republican opposition, set requirements for cities and counties to develop zoning laws for tiny houses no more than 400 square feet in size, with options including building tiny houses as an addition to a property, as designated single-family dwellings or in a space similar to a mobile home park.

The measure was passed out of committee with a conceptual amendment offered by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) that would require counties take environmental impacts into account when zoning for tiny houses.

Temporary suspension of pupil growth requirement

AB57, a bill pausing certain requirements for teacher and administrator evaluations, passed out of the Senate Committee on Education with some Republican opposition.

As amended, the bill suspends requirements that pupil growth account for 15 percent of the evaluation of a teacher or administrator for the 2021-2022 school year and holds teachers harmless who did not meet their student learning goals from 2020-2021.

Changes to teacher-student ratios

Members of the Senate Committee on Education also passed AB266, a bill prohibiting administrations from being included in teacher to student ratio calculations and requiring that school districts determine the number of vacancies needed to reach state board recommended ratios.

The measure also requires that anyone evaluating a teacher responsible for a class that exceeds ratio recommendations to award the teacher additional weight on criteria within the state’s performance evaluation system. But an amendment attached to the bill would apply that weight only if a teacher was past the probation period and rated as effective or better and prohibit the additional weight from raising the score above the maximum possible score.

Wide-ranging housing protections

A bill aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination housing protections for formerly incarcerated individuals passed out of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on a party-line vote, with all Republicans in opposition.

SB254, which also passed out of the Senate on party lines with Democrats in support, prohibits, with some exceptions, a landlord looking to rent or lease a dwelling from:

  • Inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history, conviction record or arrest record
  • Refusing to rent or negotiate a rental or lease agreement based on an applicant’s criminal background
  • Publishing or releasing any notice that indicates a preference based on an applicant’s criminal history
  • Evicting a tenant based on an arrest record or criminal history.

Exclusions within the bill allow landlords to still conduct a background check to determine whether an applicant has committed arson, a sex crime or a violent felony — and subsequently refuse to rent to someone based on those criminal convictions.

The bill previously stipulated that a landlord could not reject an application because the prospective tenant receives housing assistance funds, but lawmakers on Friday approved removing those protections through a conceptual amendment.

Still, Republicans opposing the bill cited fears that it would infringe on landlord’s property rights.

"There are cases where we should protect people's right to housing. But these people made a choice to break the law," Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) said during the committee’s hearing on the bill. "And I believe that we don't have a place to tell a private property owner who they can and can't rent to, whether we have done that historically or we haven't."

Open-meeting laws exemption

Members of the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs approved moving forward with a bill allowing elected officials to meet behind closed doors when discussing certain projects with environmental effects.

SB77, proposed on behalf of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands, would exempt certain pre-decisional meetings and records involving environmental issues from the state’s Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act. The bill passed out of committee with all Republicans in opposition.

Supporters say that the bill is needed to comply with both federal and state laws, but open government advocates have argued that the measure would limit transparency in a process that has real-world consequences — whether mines are approved or power lines are erected. 

Per a verbal conceptual amendment added by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), the bill would specify that a pre-decisional meeting should not have any other additional agenda items.

Hate crime definitions

The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed SB166 on Friday, a bill clarifying that a crime does not need to be committed by someone with different characteristics than the victim to be considered a hate crime.

The bill specifies that such characteristics include race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and provides that a perpetrator may be punished with an additional penalty if the person commits a crime based solely on the characteristic of the victim.

An amendment from public defenders in Washoe County and Clark County was added to the bill to clarify that the actual or perceived characteristic of the victim must be the primary cause of the crime. Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), the chair of the committee, also noted that the language in the amendment would be cleaned up by legal counsel before the measure reaches the Assembly floor.

Lawsuits over sexual exploitation

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB203 with an amendment from the bill’s sponsor Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) and the Nevada Justice Association. The bill allows a victim of sexual abuse, exploitation or pornography involving minors to commence a civil action to recover damages at any time after the violation occurred.

The amended version of the bill maintains the existing 20-year statute of limitations to commence an action after a victim reaches 18 years of age, though a previous version of the bill completely removed the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual exploitation to bring lawsuits against the parties involved.

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

Limits on police use of force

A sweeping police reform bill, SB212, putting additional limits on police use of force, use of restraint chairs and police dispersal techniques during protests passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday, largely along party lines with Republicans in opposition.

The bill would require police officers to use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives before resorting to higher levels of force to arrest an individual and require police agencies to adopt use of force policies.

The bill limits use of the restraint chair to no more than two hours unless authorized by a supervising officer and would ban its use for a person who is pregnant.

The measure also aims to put limits on police activities during protests or demonstrations, prohibiting officers from firing nonlethal rounds “indiscriminately” into a crowd or targeting a person’s head, pelvis or other vital areas.

A wide-ranging amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), was also passed with the bill. The amendment prohibits an officer from using deadly force against people posing a danger to themselves, if they are not also posing an imminent threat to the officer or others.

The amendment additionally provides that if there is an immediate threat of harm or death at a protest or demonstration, then officers are not required to give an order to disperse.

Savings accounts for low-income Nevadans

Assembly members in the Health and Human Services Committee passed SB188, which could grant some low-income Nevadans the opportunity to create a savings account and receive matching funds from a bank of up to five times the amount of their deposits.

The bill creates the “Individual Development Account Program,” if sufficient funds are obtained, and would allow people living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system, to be eligible to set up an account.

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

An amendment passed with the bill would allow a relative or fictive kin of a minor placed in his or her care by an agency which provides child welfare services to set up a savings account for the child, that could be accessed when the minor reaches 18 years of age.

THURSDAY & WEDNESDAY

Tenants rights bill

Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) has acknowledged that her tenants’ rights bill SB218 is dead. Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, told the Nevada Current that she would not give the bill a hearing by the deadline.

The bill would have enshrined a grace period of at least three days before a landlord could assess late fees for rent, required landlords to return a security deposit within 28 days rather than 30, specified that a landlord could only charge an application fee to one prospective tenant at a time and clarified that landlords cannot dock a person’s security deposit for normal wear and tear.

During a short interview with The Nevada Independent on Friday, Jauregui said that the bill did not receive a hearing because there was not enough time to work with all stakeholders.

“There was a ton of opposition and I obviously didn’t have time to work through it,” Jauregui said. “Sometimes these discussions are lengthy and they involve a ton of stakeholders, and we have to make sure that we’re giving everyone the opportunity to weigh in on them.

The bill had drawn significant opposition from real estate agents who, along with developers and PACs funded by real estate companies and other development industries, contributed more than $1.3 million to lawmaker campaigns — the most money any single industry donated to state legislators.

“We are losing, I think, the biggest tenant’s rights bill of the session thus far,” Bailey Bortolin of the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers said during a forum hosted by Battle Born Progress.

Bortolin said she was told there was too much opposition to the bill, but added that “I don't think it would have been worthwhile to pursue a bill that didn't have any opposition.”

Ratti said in a brief interview on Thursday that she couldn’t speak to why the bill was set aside, but “I think it's good policy and I stand by the bill.”

Ratti added that the most important thing in the works this session is yet-to-be-introduced legislation that would provide a “glide path” that averts a wave of evictions once moratoriums lift this summer. 

Bortolin said she does expect another tenant rights bill — AB141 from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) — will come up for a committee vote on Friday and clear the deadline. That bill automatically seals the records of people who were subject to a summary eviction during the pandemic.

It will not cover tenants whose landlords sought other routes to evict them during the pandemic, such as for a lease violation, but would cover people who were unaware of how to defend themselves during the moratoriums and were subject to a rapid summary eviction, Bortolin said.

Banning decorative grass

An estimated 12 billion gallons of Colorado River water could be saved each year under AB356, which passed unanimously on Thursday out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, pushed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), aims to phase out decorative grass in non-residential developments in Southern Nevada over the next five years.

An amendment attached to the bill clarifies that the waters in the Colorado River distributed by the SNWA or its member agencies may not be used to irrigate grass on any property that is not zoned exclusively for single family residences. The amendment also expands membership of a grass removal advisory committee from seven to nine members, adding a second Homeowner’s Association representative and a golf course representative.

“This is an opportunity for the Nevada Legislature to take action on one of the largest and boldest water conservation initiatives, ever," Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said when he presented the bill to the committee on Monday. “It is one that our community in Southern Nevada is going to depend on in order to sustain itself moving forward."

Pot for pets

Veterinarians could soon be allowed to prescribe hemp or CBD products to an animal under a measure passed by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

Sponsored by Assembly Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), AB101 would give veterinarians the ability to administer hemp or CBD products containing no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC to an animal, or recommend those products to a pet owner.

Supporters of the bill say that it could help veterinarians treat conditions such as anxiety, pain, cancer and arthritis and would stop the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners from disciplining licensed veterinarians or facilities solely for administration or recommendation of a hemp or CBD product.

Incentives for affordable housing developments

Members of the Assembly Committee on Revenue on Thursday unanimously approved a measure designed to support Nevada’s affordable housing market.

SB284, sponsored by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), would remove an expiration date on the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program — established during the 2019 session as a pilot program allocating $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing development annually over a period of four years.

The program was one of the state’s most high-profile efforts to address the affordable housing crisis in 2019, but the pandemic slowed down its rollout, and Ratti said eliminating expiration dates on the program would give it more time to grow.

Multi-parent adoption

Democrat Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen’s AB115 — allowing multiple parents to adopt a child — passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition.

The bill authorizes a court to determine that more than two people may have a parent relationship with a child. It would also recognize the parental rights of stepparents and same-sex parents and would allow for children who are born to surrogate parents or who have divorced parents to have more than two names listed on a birth certificate.

Cathy Sakimura, deputy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the bill is vital for children's well-being and would ensure diverse and multi-parent families are "protected and given the same dignity and respect as other families."

Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) said he opposed the bill because of an amendment specifying that each prospective parent may petition the court for the adoption of a child as an individual petitioner.

“The inclusion of language and the amendment of a joint petitioner without creating a mechanism whereby joint petition is authorized, I think, is going to be particularly problematic for the courts,” he said.

Giving teeth to a DMV pilot program 

A measure making changes to a DMV pilot program gathering data on annual vehicle miles traveled passed out of an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Thursday with four Republicans in opposition.

The bill, SB371, removes recreational vehicles from the list of vehicles for which odometer readings must be submitted to the DMV, prohibits the DMV from disclosing information provided under the pilot program to an insurer and authorizes the DMV to fine participants for not reporting miles traveled. It previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

In response to objections from Republican committee members, supporters said that the fines would be the lightest way to ensure that the program generates a robust data set that offers insight into driving patterns in the state.

“As long as people follow the rules, they don't have to pay the fine,” Assemblywoman and Committee Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) said.

Rate caps for inmates

Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee members also passed SB387, a bill that would require the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to regulate and set rate caps on businesses that provide calling services for inmates.

The bill, which passed unanimously out of committee, would authorize the PUC to establish rate caps and charge limits on inmate calling services — requiring any competitive supplier of inmate calling services to file their rates with the commission, and publish their rates, terms and conditions on their website.

Tribal government representation

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections committee also voted out AB95 on Thursday, granting approval to the bill that would add a tribal government representative to the  Legislative Committee on Public Lands.

Proposed constitutional changes advance

Members of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee advanced two proposed amendments aimed at cleaning up outdated language in the state Constitution.

Committee members unanimously advanced AJR1, a proposal from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) that would modernize language currently referring to institutions for the “Insane, Blind and Deaf and Dumb” with “persons with significant mental illness, persons who are blind or visually impaired, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and persons with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities.”

The committee also approved AJR10, a proposed change by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) removing language allowing slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.

If approved by the full Senate, both resolutions would advance to the 2023 legislative session. If lawmakers two years from now approve the resolutions again, they will head to the 2024 ballot.

Limiting no-knock warrants

Following calls across the country spurred by the death of Breonna Taylor to ban no-knock warrants, lawmakers are continuing to push forward a bill to restrict that practice in Nevada.

The latest push came Wednesday as members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance SB50, a bill introduced on behalf of the attorney general that would prohibit the issuance of no-knock warrants unless a sworn affidavit demonstrates that the underlying crime is a felony that could pose a significant and imminent threat to public safety or the warrant is necessary to prevent significant harm to the officer or another person. The bill previously passed unanimously out of the Senate.

Though progressive advocacy groups have pushed for a complete ban of no-knock warrants, it has attracted support from police groups after amendments were added to the bill.

Curbside pickup for marijuana

Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also voted out SB168 on Wednesday, with no votes from the four Republican legislators on the committee.

The bill authorizes dispensaries to engage in curbside pickup under regulations from the state Cannabis Compliance Board, such as setting designated parking spots for pickup. Curbside pickup for marijuana sales had previously been authorized by Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2020 as an emergency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also makes some changes to the packaging of cannabis products, including a requirement to label all products with the phrase “keep out of reach of children” and a provision giving the compliance board the authority to regulate the packaging and labeling of products.

Tobacco and vapor products

Members of the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee approved AB360 on Thursday. It would require any seller of tobacco or vapor products “utilize age-verification technology at the point of sale” to ensure that any buyers who appear under the age of 40 are at least 18 years old. Violators of that procedure would be liable for a $100 civil penalty for each offense.

Another tobacco-related bill, AB59, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It would ensure state compliance with a federal law that raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 in December 2019. The state has three years from the passage of that legislation to conform its minimum age law, before facing possible financial penalties.

Updated at 3:23 p.m. on Friday, May 14 to include details of bills that passed out of committee on Friday. Updated again at 8:43 p.m. to add additional details of bills that passed out of committee.

Lawmakers approve doubling size of state pension plan’s investment team to two

In a memorable 2016 profile, the Wall Street Journal described the average workday and daily trading strategy of Nevada Public Employee Retirement System’s Chief Investment Officer Steve Edmundson: “Do as little as possible, usually nothing.”

“Steve Edmundson has no co-workers, rarely takes meetings and often eats leftovers at his desk,” the story read. “With that dynamic workday, the investment chief for the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System is out-earning pension funds that have hundreds on staff.”

Five years later, Edmundson may finally get a co-worker.

Members of a joint budget committee on Monday approved closing the state employee pension system’s budget with the addition of a new investment officer alongside Edmundson to help manage PERS’s $54 billion in assets. The new position comes with a base annual salary of $189,222 along with benefits, paid for by PERS administration fees.

PERS told legislative budget staff that the median public pension fund employs one investment professional for every $2.2 billion in assets, and that adding a second position would “reduce    the risks associated with a single employee structure” while also helping the agency develop a succession plan to “help ensure that the underlying investment process and philosophies are maintained.”

Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) cited another PERS budget-closing decision by lawmakers to spend more than $19 million in administration fees for continued implementation of an administration system upgrade — saying the agency needed to be fully prepared for any future issues.

“We want to make sure that we have the right people in place to deal with this, because this is the financial security for people who are going to be leaving state service in the future,” Carlton said. “And we want to make sure it's solid, and not end up in a state where we have a bunch of retirees that can't afford to live.”

Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus was the lone no vote on the motion, saying she would prefer a “real breakdown” on the need for the position. Other Republicans on the committee supported the motion — Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) said it was needed because the “plan has grown substantially, and I think it's got to be pretty overwhelming with the minimal staff that they have right now.”

The governors’ executive budget calls for a 0.5 percent increase in premiums for the vast majority of PERS’s nearly 120,000 members and 70,000 beneficiaries, up to a rate of 29.75 percent (costs for state employees are typically split between employees and employers). The premium rate for police and fire employees is recommended to rise by 1.5 percent to 44 percent.

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

Follow the money: Breaking down $2.8 million in combined legislative campaign spending from major industries

The Nevada Legislature building

Even as lawmakers perennially tout the strength of their small-dollar fundraising, the driving force of any campaign in any cycle — with few exceptions — is big-money donors. 

Often contributing upwards of six-figures across dozens of campaigns, money from these donors often comprises the vast majority of campaign funds, especially in the most competitive legislative campaigns.

However, while all these contributions are reported to Nevada’s secretary of state every quarter, parsing trends from such reports or determining how corporate or PAC donors are spending in the aggregate is no simple task, as each contribution is siloed either under individual candidates or individual donors. 

To get at those trends, The Nevada Independent analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to every sitting lawmaker elected in 2020. 

That $200 cutoff excludes a small portion of small-dollar fundraising, as well as two lawmakers who were appointed to their seats in 2021 (Sen. Fabian Donate, D-Las Vegas and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May, D-Las Vegas) and any fundraising by losing candidates. 

What is left is an expansive picture of the spending habits of Nevada’s biggest industries, from unions and casinos to health care giants and dark-money PACs. Over the course of our Follow the Money series, we’ve taken a deep dive into the spending of the state’s 10 largest industries, a group of donors that collectively spent $7.8 million of the $10.6 million in big money legislative contributions last cycle. 

Links to all previous installments of this series, including top-line breakdowns of all spending and all fundraising, have been included at the end of this article.

But beyond the largest 10 are the 14 “smallest” industries, according to our categorizations, which still spent upwards of $2.8 million combined. Below is a breakdown of that campaign spending, ordered by industry, from greatest to least. 

Spending nearly as much money last cycle as the much-debated Nevada mining industry were a number of alcohol and tobacco companies, which combined to contribute nearly $319,000. 

Spendiest among industry donors was tobacco company Altria (likely better known by its former name, Philip Morris Companies, Inc.), which gave 30 lawmakers a combined $95,050. Almost all of that money went to Republicans, who received $75,050 to the Democrats’ $20,000. 

Among all legislators, none saw more money from Altria than Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), who received $9,000. He was followed by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $8,750 and Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) with $7,000. The remaining 27 lawmakers, including eight Democrats and 19 Republicans, received $5,000 or less.

Other major industry donors include beer-giant Anheuser Busch ($50,500), the Nevada Beer Wholesalers Association ($49,000), alcohol distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits ($33,500) and electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs ($26,500). 

Contributing more than $306,000 combined, the state’s transportation industry included a varied mix of donors from car manufacturers, ride-sharing companies, railroads, taxis and associated organizations and individuals. 

Biggest of all was the Nevada automotive dealers PAC, NADEAC, which contributed $52,500 in total, split nearly evenly between Republicans ($27,500) and Democrats ($25,000). Most of NADEAC’s contributions were comparatively small, however, and only two legislators saw more than $2,500 — Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), each of whom received $5,000. 

Following NADEAC was electric car maker Tesla — operator of the massive gigafactory battery plant in Northern Nevada — which gave 20 legislators $45,000. Most of that, $34,500, went to legislative Democrats, with the two Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — receiving the most of anyone with $5,000 each. 

Other major transportation donors include the Nevada Trucking Association and its president, Paul Enos (a combined $42,500), Union Pacific Railroad ($33,500), rental car company Enterprise ($29,500) and the ride-sharing company Lyft ($21,000).

Twelve telecommunications companies combined to spend more than $300,000 on lawmakers last cycle, with the single largest chunk coming from internet service provider Cox Communications ($120,000). 

The largest internet provider in the state with a near-monopoly on internet service in the Las Vegas metro area, Cox’s spending largely favored legislative Democrats, who received $80,000 to the Republican’s $40,000. That includes one maximum $10,000 contribution to Frierson, as well as $8,000 for Cannizzaro.  

Communications giant AT&T followed with $82,250, again favoring Democrats ($58,750) to Republicans ($23,500). And here, too, the top recipients were Frierson and Cannizzaro, who received $8,000 each. 

Other major donors included internet service providers Charter Communications ($47,500) and CenturyLink ($14,000), as well as satellite TV provider Dish Network ($12,000). 

Though the pharmaceutical industry at large contributed nearly $273,000, more than half came from just one donor: the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which gave 45 lawmakers $140,500. 

Among the most powerful industry groups in the entire country, PhRMA’s contributions favored Republicans, who received $86,000 to the Democrats’ $54,500. Among individual lawmakers, PhRMA’s four top recipients were all Assembly Republicans: Roberts ($8,000), Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) ($8,000), Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) ($8,000) and Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) ($7,000). 

Other major donors include the drugmaker Pfizer ($46,250), National Association of Chain Drug Stores ($17,500), and biotechnology company Amgen ($11,000). Nineteen other donors, including major drugmakers such as Merck, Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson, gave $10,000 or less. 

Though 55 donors in the finance and banking industry combined to contribute more than $214,000, almost two-thirds of that money came from one source: the Nevada Credit Union League (NCUL), the credit union trade association, which gave $86,250 across 46 legislators. 

The NCUL’s spending widely favored Democrats, who received $62,000 to the Republicans’ $24,250. Much of that difference was made up by the sheer number of Democrats receiving contributions (30 Democrats to 16 Republicans), but also by three large contributions to Democratic Leaders. 

Frierson and Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) both received the $10,000 maximum, while Cannizzaro received $9,000. No other lawmakers received more than $5,000 from the group.   

Other major donors include One Nevada Credit Union ($25,500) and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors ($14,500). The remaining 52 donors gave just $9,500 or less. 

Unlike some other major industries, technology-related companies and donors gave to lawmakers in comparatively mid-sized or small amounts, with the largest among them — the data company Switch — giving a total of $62,000 to 21 legislators. 

That money was evenly split between 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, who combined to receive $31,0000 each. That even-split largely extended down to the individual level, too, with Democrats Cannizzaro, Frierson and Gansert, a Republican, receiving $10,000, while Republicans Hammond and Buck received $5,000 each. The remaining recipients all received $2,500 or less. 

The other significant chunk of technology contributions came from Blockchains, Inc. owner Jeff Berns and his wife, Mary, who combined to give $44,500. Berns was at the center of efforts this session to create so-called “Innovation Zones,” which would have created a semi-autonomous county in rural Nevada supported by the use of cryptocurrency. 

As criticism of the concept intensified over the course of the legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak backed away from Innovation Zones last week in announcing the proposal would take shape as a study, instead. 

The single biggest beneficiary of Bern’s contributions was Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who received $10,000 each from Jeff and Mary for $20,000 total. Wheeler’s district, District 39, encompasses parts of Storey County, where Berns’ Blockchains company owns roughly 67,000 acres of land that likely would have become the state’s first Innovation Zone, had the proposal passed muster.  

Berns also gave $5,000 to Cannizzaro, Frierson and Settelmeyer, as well as a handful of smaller contributions to six other lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans. 

Other technology companies gave comparatively little, with Reno-based precision measuring equipment firm Hamilton Company following Berns with $15,000, and the tax-software giant Intuit giving $12,500. The remaining 25 donors gave $11,000 or less.  

Insurance companies — close cousins to the finance industry — combined to give lawmakers $165,700, with the Farmers Employee and Agent PAC leading all donors with $63,000. 

Farmers’ spending was split nearly evenly between the two major parties, with Republicans receiving $32,000 to the Democrats’ $31,000. No lawmakers received the maximum amount from the group, though four — Frierson, Roberts, Gansert and Titus — did receive $5,000 contributions. The remaining 20 recipients received $3,000 or less. 

No other single insurance came close to Farmers’ spending. The next largest, USAA, gave just $25,500 (of which most, $17,000, went to Democrats), while small business insurer Employers EIG Services gave $24,000 (including $13,500 for Republicans and $10,500 for Democrats). The remaining 20 insurance donors gave $13,000 or less. 

Though the payday lending industry at large gave comparatively little — $128,000 split across 37 legislators — the single largest industry donor, TitleMax, was among the biggest spenders of any industry as it contributed $93,000 to 35 lawmakers. 

Most of that went to 20 Democrats, who received $56,500 to the Republicans $36,500. TitleMax’s largest individual contributions similarly went to Democrats, with Frierson and Cannizzaro each receiving the $10,000 maximum. Gansert followed with $7,500, while the remaining 32 legislators received $5,000 or less. 

Other payday lending donors gave little in comparison to TitleMax. Dollar Loan Center was next-closest with $23,500 contributed, followed by Purpose Financial with $8,500. The remaining three donors gave marginal amounts, including $1,250 from Advance America, $1,000 from the Security Finance Corporation of Spartanburg and $750 from Community Loans of America.

Breaking down the smaller industries

Dozens of donors categorized as “other” combined to become the 14th largest category, with donors who could not be classified as industry-specific — 357 in all — contributing a combined $247,761. Many of these donors were retirees or private citizens, and most, 262, gave $500 or less. 

Lobbyists and lobbying firms were the next-largest donor group trailing payday lenders, with 56 donors contributing $126,401 combined. There were few major donors in that group — all but 10 gave less than $3,000. The only exception was the Ferraro Group, which gave $32,500 spread across 33 lawmakers. The group’s donations were relatively small, however, and the single-biggest recipient — Cannizzaro — received just $3,500. 

Roughly three dozen education companies, teachers and other individuals combined to contribute $83,272, with the biggest sums coming from charter school company Academica Nevada ($28,500), education management company K12 Management Inc. ($13,500) and for-profit college University of Phoenix ($11,000). Notably absent in this category are major teachers unions, such as the Nevada State Education Association and the Clark County Education Association, as both of those organizations are covered in our analysis of union spending. 

Spending slightly less than they did in 2018 were 15 marijuana companies or related individuals, who combined to spend $86,500 (down from more than $91,000 spent in 2018). Most of that money was concentrated in the three biggest spenders: An LLC linked to The Grove dispensary ($24,750), Nevada Can Committee ($23,000) and a company linked to the Planet 13 dispensary ($15,000). 

The remaining two categories were the smallest of all: Nevada tribes, but only the Reno Sparks Indian Colony reported major campaign contributions with $30,500 across 37 legislators, while just seven agricultural donors combined for $10,950 (of which nearly half, $5,000, came from the PAC Nevadans for Families & Agriculture). 

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

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent has published deep dives into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see any of the previous installments, follow the links below: 

There’s one month left in the session. Here’s where the Legislature is on taxes, the death penalty and more.

The checkered flag is poised to start waving as state lawmakers enter the final month of the legislative session with a host of major policy and budget issues still unresolved, from repeal of the death penalty to raising taxes on the mining industry, wholesale changes to the K-12 funding formula and many other big-ticket items.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic Forum — the panel of five economists who forecast expected state tax revenue — is generally viewed as the green light for a host of budgetary issues and major bills to move to the finish line before the clock strikes midnight on sine die, May 31.

Most indicators are that the improving economy, coupled with rising COVID vaccination rates, will boost state tax revenues above what the Forum forecasted in December — about $8.5 billion over the next two fiscal years, or about $500 million less than the last two-year budget cycle.

Legislators have nonetheless proceeded based on the less-rosy budgetary picture, making tough cuts to education and health care programs that at times drew heated debate. While a recovering economy is expected to help alleviate some of those previously identified cuts, lawmakers say they’re still waiting on the bigger piece of the puzzle — U.S. Treasury guidance on how the state can spend the roughly $2.9 billion allocated through the recently passed federal American Recovery Act.

But without guidance soon, legislators say it's almost a guarantee that a summer special session will be needed to make a decision on how to dole out the one-time federal windfall.

“Every day from this day forward, we're running out of time,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Chris Brooks said. “(If) that happens at a certain point ... the only way we can do it is to close the budget, and then fill it back in at a later date, just because we'll run out of time.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Chief of Staff Michelle White echoed those comments, saying that the governor’s office didn’t want to recommend allocating general fund dollars to needs that may later be met by an influx of federal funds — even on topics that might attract bipartisan support, such as funding a replacement unemployment insurance system, a broad expansion of preschool and more. Beyond the flexible $2.9 billion, other pots of federal funding with more specific earmarks are also expected.

“The governor wants to make sure that that's a process that can go through the appropriate budgetary process, and with the Legislature having full input,” she said. “We hope that's the case.”

Outside of the budget, legislators are beginning their typical ritual of rolling out ambitious bills in the waning days of the session, including a state-based public health insurance option, fixes to the oft-criticized unemployment insurance system, and a major transmission and electric vehicle omnibus bill. They’re also making progress on behind-the-scenes negotiations, including on a much-publicized effort to raise mining taxes and implementing a wholesale change to the decades-old K-12 funding formula.

But hopes in early May can often turn to tears by June, with many landmines and potential pitfalls awaiting lawmakers and major pending legislation. Here’s a look at the state of play for some of the biggest proposals on tap for the last month of the session.

A gold pour
Molten gold poured into ingot molds at a mine in northern Nevada. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Mining taxes

The question of a potential mining tax hike has simmered in the background through the first three months of session. There’s been little public movement from lawmakers, but three proposed constitutional amendments raising the industry’s constitutional rate cap are playing the role of Chekov’s gun.

Though progressive advocates are clamoring for lawmakers to move forward on AJR1 — striking what they call the mining industry’s sweetheart deal in the Constitution and imposing a 7.75 percent tax on the gross proceeds of mining companies — discussions are ongoing about a potential deal that would lead to lawmakers dropping the proposed amendments in favor of a more immediate tax change.

Democratic legislators appear wary of sending a mining tax resolution to the 2022 midterm ballot and stirring up rural angst at a time when Gov. Steve Sisolak and other high-profile Democrats are up for re-election. The mining industry may also be wary of a ballot measure — voters in 2014 narrowly defeated a ballot question removing the language in the Constitution capping mining taxation, but that victory for the industry came during a midterm election that favored Republicans and had particularly low turnout (though many expect the 2022 midterms to be difficult for Democrats as well, given that the party controlling the White House historically does poorly in midterm elections).

“I said even last special session that if we can find common ground and some compromise that would avoid us having an expensive … exercise on the ballot, that we will certainly be open to that, and we still are,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) said on Monday.

Negotiations are still fluid — meaning things could easily collapse between now and the end of session. But lawmakers, including Senate Finance Chair Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), say that some sort of immediate mining tax increase may be the “best and only option” to raise revenue this session.

“I would prefer to see a collaborative approach between the industry and the Legislature to come up with a change in the current [taxation] structure that they have,” he said. “That would be a sustainable way to put money into our budgets in the short term, and not many years from now. I'm supportive of that approach.”

But any struck deal will lead to a math problem — lawmakers need at least a handful of Republican votes in the Assembly and Senate to clear the needed two-thirds threshold for a tax increase. 

One of Republicans’ most prominent concerns when the proposed constitutional amendments emerged over the summer was that the mining industry was surprised by them; this time around, the industry is at the table for discussions. Republican leaders in both chambers have not completely closed the door on a tax increase, but said they want more input in the process and would want any revenue hike be narrowly tailored and go to specific programs or functions amenable to both parties.

“I think that all tax bills should have been discussed from the get-go,” Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said in an interview. “I don't think it's proper to bring anything with 30 days left and say, ‘Oh, here you go. We made the deal, and now we want you to vote for it.’ Why not have a discussion with us?”

Hospital beds for infants as seen during a tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State-based public option

One of the most heavily lobbied issues over the last month of the session will be the effort to implement a state public health insurance option — requiring insurers that bid to provide coverage to the state’s Medicaid population to also apply to offer a state-backed public option plan. 

SB420 was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and has already been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.

The legislation — dubbed “CannizzaroCare” — comes from public option efforts in past sessions, including a 2017 effort to allow Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program, (which the Legislature approved but that was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval), and a 2019 study lawmakers approved to look into the possibility of allowing Nevadans to buy into the state’s Public Employee Benefits Program (PEBP) health plan.

The legislation is backed by a cadre of public health groups (including health districts in Washoe and Clark counties) and progressive organizations, but has attracted an organized opposition effort from doctors, hospitals and health insurance panning the legislation as an “unaffordable new government-controlled health insurance system.” 

Death with dignity

The latest in a long line of efforts to legalize a process allowing terminally ill patients to self-administer life-ending medication prescribed by a physician hasn’t made much movement since it was referred without recommendation out of committee by the first committee deadline in early April

The bill, AB351, was referred to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee shortly after, where it’s sat ever since. But bill sponsor Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) said he was confident about the bill’s chances — adding that he expected it to come up for a hearing and likely vote at some point once the budget committee finishes processing more straightforward agency bills.

“Eventually we'll have an opportunity to have a hearing there, and then hopefully get it to the floor,” he said. “And I'm confident that that's where it's at now. Obviously, things may change, but I think that's where we're at now.”

Flores said he had also spoken with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and believed the agency would take its fiscal note (estimated cost to implement) off the bill.

The concept has divided lawmakers, and not always along strict party lines. Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said she had struggled with the bill; her libertarian side supported giving patients those rights, but thought that many of the concepts including limiting a coroner’s investigation and timelines in the bill were improper. 

“I have real issues with those things, apart from my struggle with does a person have a right to decide how they end their life,” she said.

The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada
The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., is seen on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Death penalty

Members of the Assembly recently voted along party lines to abolish the death penalty, pushing the proposal as far as it’s ever been in Nevada after fits and starts in recent sessions. But the bill hasn’t been touched in the Senate, where both the committee chair responsible for processing it and the Senate majority leader are prosecutors whose boss — Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson — has been vocal in favor of keeping capital punishment.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has at times expressed unqualified opposition to the death penalty, and on other occasions said he would support it for extreme cases, such as the Oct. 1 mass shooting. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Melanie Scheible has said that the bill could move forward if the sponsor can come with an amendment that is acceptable to the governor, but bill presenter Assemblyman Steve Yeager — while acknowledging he wants to make progress — says he’s not sure whether he and abolition supporters would accept a watered down version of the bill.

Others, including leaders of the Nevada State Democratic Party, say the onus is on senators to at least give the bill the courtesy of a hearing. In a video not widely circulated before this week, Scheible affirmed unequivocally at the Battle Born Progress Progressive Summit in January that she supported the quest to end the death penalty.

Offices of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in Las Vegas. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

DETR bill

Republicans have latched on to one of the most prominent failings of the executive branch — massive backlogs in an inundated unemployment claims system — as one of their top priorities this session. Lawmakers of both parties often mention the emails they have received from claimants desperate for stalled benefits.

Senate Republicans have met with claimants in the glitchy Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and hinted for weeks that they would introduce legislation to address issues identified in a lawsuit brought by PUA claimants, such as the lack of communication between a regular unemployment and PUA computer system. They also have been publicly critical that the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation loan policy bill, SB75, makes technical changes to the regular unemployment program but does not speak to some of claimants’ marquee complaints.

Though Republicans’ bill, SB419, dropped last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Brooks described it as a “stunt” and likely dead on arrival because it proposes spending $40 million from the strained general fund on a multi-year modernization project.

Brooks said the ambitious project should wait until the latest round of federal funding comes through. Democrats have listed a modernization project as a top priority in a framework on how to spend the money, and say they expect the federal guidance will allow such a use.

White said Democrats are in agreement with recommendations made by a governor-appointed unemployment strike force led by former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

“We have to make sure that anything that we've identified last year that could be better, that we're making all efforts to change now that funding … will be available, pending eligibility,” White said.

DETR officials have said it could take up to a year to design a request for proposals laying out exactly what the state wants out of the IT overhaul. In the meantime, the governor’s budget proposes a modest $1 million over the biennium for contractors to help resolve close to 2,000 technical issues of various sizes within the benefits system.

Students stand in line at Wengert Elementary School for the first day of in-person learning on Monday, March 1, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Education

Release of the long-awaited report from the statutorily-created Commission on School Funding last week laid bare what many lawmakers and public education advocates have long suspected — moving Nevada to the national average in per-pupil school funding will cost more than $2 billion over a decade and hundreds of million of dollars in additional revenue every year.

The report recommended that lawmakers implement major changes to the current sales and property tax systems, but those general proposals have largely fallen flat. On property tax changes, Brooks said he “absolutely” agrees changes are needed but “I don't think now's the time to do it” as the state continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Frierson in a previous statement panned the sales tax as regressive but signaled support for restructuring the mining tax and bringing in revenue from short-term rental companies such as Airbnb. 

"With regards to other revenue structures, many take time and robust stakeholder outreach and that has not been something we have had during this session," Frierson said.

Still, lawmakers are moving forward with plans to accelerate a shift to the new “Pupil-Centered Funding Formula,” an update to the dated past funding formula initially approved by legislators in 2019. Many of those budget details, including promises to implement various hold harmless protections to avoid massive overnight funding losses for rural school districts, are still in the works.

Some Republicans have expressed openness to increase funding for education if it has direct ties to student outcomes and is allocated in a transparent manner; they fear that it could otherwise be swept up into collective bargaining agreements. They also have bristled at the shift toward the new funding formula, which has reshuffled the deck on some of their party’s most significant legislative accomplishments — a series of “categorical” programs targeted toward specific student groups with special needs that flourished under unified Republican control of the governor’s office and Legislature in 2015.

Settelmeyer cautioned that Republicans would only be likely to support tax increases directly tied to targeted education spending (the so-called “categoricals,” which include programs such as Read by Grade 3, and Zoom and Victory schools). He said the odds of starting a discussion on a “bipartisan way of how to get there” didn’t bode well at this late stage in the session.

“That's nothing new. Education has always wanted more money,” he said. “Republicans have shown consistently, if it goes to a purpose, we'll have a discussion. You want it to just go to the same system? I think we tend to be a little bit less likely to agree.”

Priscilla Vilchis, CEO of Premium Produce, inspects a cannabis bud at her grow facility in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Cannabis 

A bill to authorize cannabis consumption lounges seeks to resolve a longstanding conundrum in the state — that using cannabis is legal, but consuming it anywhere outside a private home is illegal. It stands at odds with an assumption that drove much investment in the Nevada marijuana industry — that tourist consumption would make the Silver State’s cannabis industry punch above its weight.

The measure, AB341, is described — even by the director of the Cannabis Compliance Board — as the most promising vehicle for diversifying an industry with upper ranks that skew white and male. “Social equity” elements of the bill would give a competitive advantage to lounge operators who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, bringing new players into an industry characterized by extremely high barriers to entry and fierce competition for a limited number of licenses.

A similar consumption lounge concept failed late in the 2019 session, but that was before the Cannabis Compliance Board had formally assumed regulatory oversight of the industry. Proponents are optimistic that with a focused regulatory body in place, the state is now ready to take a step toward lounges.

The bill has been parked in the Ways and Means Committee because of the estimated $3 million the Cannabis Compliance Board would have to spend to support the projected 30 new positions needed to regulate scores of consumption lounges. Marijuana regulation is generally self-supported by licensing fees, although the board has not yet estimated how much revenue the lounges would bring in to balance out the ledger.

“I'm hopeful it's gonna move,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor, adding that it would likely be one of the last things finished in the session. “I just think it's gonna sit there for a while, because we have to close sort of everything else … before we can really have a discussion about what might be available to satisfy that fiscal note.”

Another potential wrench in the wheels is that the bill requires a two-thirds majority vote, which means it’s possible Republican-raised concerns about people driving after consuming marijuana could sideline the bill.

Asked about the possible reemergence of a policy allowing coveted dispensary licenses for applicants who did not win them in a contentious 2018 licensing round, Gilles said the governor’s office is not committing to any policies on that front, citing many moving parts, including ongoing litigation.

“I will be happy to engage in any conversations with folks if there's a proposal that's worth ... being worked through the Legislature that's going to resolve everybody's issues and everybody's concerns,” he said. “I don't know that that's possible.”

Tesla Model X with doors up
A Tesla Model X as seen during an NV Energy and NDOT Electric Vehicle Guest Drive Event at Bruce Trent Park in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Energy policy

One of the biggest remaining policy-focused bills yet to drop is Sen. Chris Brooks’ forthcoming major energy policy bill, which is expected to be introduced sometime this week.

Brooks has described the provisions of the bill in past interviews — it will require a $100 million investment by NV Energy to facilitate greatly expanded electric vehicle charging infrastructure, while doubling down on transmission infrastructure — aimed at finishing NV Energy’s proposed Greenlink transmission project, which utility regulators partially approved in March

On Friday, Brooks said that those portions and others previously described — including adoption of “tenant solar,” allowing utility-scale battery storage projects to access renewable energy tax abatement programs, and moving the state to a larger wholesale electric market would all be included in the legislation.

Brooks reiterated that there were no surprises in the forthcoming bill, and he said the goal was to start the state on major transmission projects as soon as possible — saying that while the Public Utilities Commission made the right choice in the most recent transmission case, lawmakers needed to sign off on any major policy push toward greater transmission infrastructure. 

“It’s not the PUC’s job to encourage economic development in the state of Nevada, it's the PUC’s job to keep the lights on,” he said. “And so the argument that we need transmission, so that we can become a regional hub for transmission in the West, and so that we can attract economic activity to our state, is not necessarily the regulator's job... it's the policymakers and legislator’s jobs and the governor's job to give that message.”

Enrique, who was recently evicted from his home, poses for a photograph in a Las Vegas neighborhood on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Housing and rental assistance

Gov. Steve Sisolak has said that the state extension of the eviction moratorium, which runs through May at the state level but is backed up by a federal moratorium that lasts through June, will be the final one. But lawmakers are working on a bill that creates a “glide path” from the eviction ban into normalcy, and ushers out the hundreds of millions of dollars the state has received in rental assistance but has struggled to get out to people quickly.

“As we're coming up to the end of the moratorium, we need to figure out a way to even further ... perfect the way in which we get those dollars into the hands of landlords,” said Scott Gilles of the governor’s office. 

Gilles said the governor’s office doesn’t think they can get around a federal government restriction that prevents payments directly to a landlord — with no tenant involvement — but the legislation aims “to ensure that a tenant who wants to engage and take advantage of the rental assistance dollars will ultimately have that opportunity.”

Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said discussions include how “we can slow the eviction process enough so that the monies that are there get used” and whether there are other pots of less-restricted money that could help tenants who don’t qualify under newer, stricter federal rules setting income limits or landlords who are having trouble securing the required tenant cooperation.

It’s still unclear whether the bill would have provisions that prevent landlords from immediately evicting a tenant after receiving overdue back rent through the assistance program. 

“We're looking at … whatever options are there to keep people in their homes and if there's some enticement for a landlord to be paid these dollars or ... have some sort of agreement going forward through the mediation program,” Gilles said. “Obviously that's the intended result.”

AFSCME workers prepare to unionize
Ken Edmonds, a developmental support tech at Desert Regional Center, reads a statement before filing for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State worker collective bargaining

Another potential hurdle in the rush to finish the session will come in the novel process of approving collective bargaining agreements for state workers — the first-ever undertaking since lawmakers expanded bargaining rights to state employees in 2019.

In theory, the bargaining units (representing a swath of state workers) are supposed to come to a tentative agreement with the state’s Department of Administration, go for approval to the state’s Board of Examiners (composed of the governor and other statewide elected officials), and is then transmitted to the Legislature as a budget amendment, prior to the end of session.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said Friday that only one agreement (with the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association) out of the seven recognized bargaining units is ready to go before the Board of Examiners. 

The agency said it does not “currently have a timeline” for bringing forward agreements with bargaining units represented by AFSCME (which represents four) and is still negotiating tentative agreements with two other units — the Battle Born Fire Fighters Association and Nevada Police Union.

The 2019 legislation authorizing state workers to collectively bargain also contains provisions giving the governor the final say on wages or other monetary compensation despite any approved collective bargaining agreement.

White said that the main focus right now was timing, and getting budget amendments over to lawmakers with enough time to spare before the end of session.

“Anyone could look at it right now with 30 days left and say that's a tight timeline, and it is a tight timeline but, we feel confident in our partnership throughout this process to negotiate in good faith and get everything done that we can possibly get done in these negotiations and agreements,” she said.

Mirage guest room attendant Perla Padilla, defending champion in the Housekeeping Olympics bed making event, cleans a room on Monday, Oct. 8. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Right to Return

A bill presented by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) that guarantees hospitality workers the right to return to the job they lost during the pandemic has not advanced since it had a public hearing in early April. But the measure, SB386, has a waiver that exempts it from legislative deadlines, and parties have been negotiating to address stark disagreements between union and business interests.

“Our whole goal is making sure people can get back on the job and so it's something we're monitoring. I think there are some real, real challenges that people are trying to work through. And that's kind of the last update I've had on it,” White said on Saturday. “So I think we'll see. I think it's something that folks want to find a resolution on.”

Proposal from governor’s office would give lawmakers more say in where federal COVID aid goes

Nevada State Capitol

Lawmakers will have a greater role in the process of doling out billions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid dollars under a proposed budget amendment from the Governor’s Finance Office, although some wonder whether even more authority should be transferred to the Legislature.

The amendment, which was described during a joint budget meeting on Monday but was not brought up for a vote, would convert the account that includes federal aid dollars to an “executive budget account” — meaning it would go through the legislative approval process. Currently, the account is a “non-executive budget account,” largely administered by the Governor’s Finance Office with relatively little input from lawmakers.

Some lawmakers indicated the Legislature would like even more say in the spending than the amendment offers. If the arrangement is simply that the Legislature gives a yes or no vote on work programs (an agency’s plan on how to spend grant money), for example, then lawmakers are not actually the ones making decisions about its use and are only giving a rubber stamp of approval, they said.

“The Legislature will have more of a back end process than a front end process. And I think that's something that we are going to want to address in some fashion,” said Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “I believe the 63 people in this building should have an opportunity to have a conversation about what's important in our districts, and what's important to our constituents, and where the rubber really needs to hit the road with these dollars.”

The COVID-19 relief programs account will include not only the $836 million in CARES Act money allocated to the state, but also money from the late-December aid package (the Consolidated Appropriations Act) and the package approved in March (the American Rescue Plan). Nevada expects to receive $2.9 billion for state government from the most recent package, but six weeks after its approval still has not received guidance from the U.S. Treasury that will dictate how lawmakers can spend the money.

The holdup in the money meant for the state general fund is ongoing even as other awards drawing from the American Rescue Plan and directed at other sectors are being announced.

The federal government has made significant changes to its policies surrounding the COVID-19 aid since the money started flowing, including extending by one year a deadline that originally called for spending all CARES Act dollars by the end of 2020 and revising the requirements of who could receive rental assistance funds.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said he thinks the Treasury learned from feedback, successes and mistakes of the past year and is trying to incorporate that learning through drafting better guidance on the front end. 

“I'm assuming that's why six weeks later, we're still waiting on the guidance,” he said in the meeting.

Brooks said converting the account is the first step in a process that includes receiving the latest allotment of money, then the next is going through money committees and collaborating with the governor’s office to determine how it is spent. He said he expects some of that work to happen in this session, and some to happen afterward (legislative leaders have discussed the possibility of a special session to allocate the aid).

“The pandemic took place when we weren't in session,” Brooks said about the existing process of deciding how to spend the federal aid money. “We worked really closely together, but we didn't have the ability, short of a special session, to approve anything except work programs after the fact, whereas this is definitely a more collaborative way to do this.”

Asked for comment on a decision that will involve ceding more authority to the Legislature, the governor's spokeswoman Meghin Delaney pointed to a framework on how to prioritize spending the incoming federal aid that was recently released by the governor and Democratic legislative leaders.

"The Governor thinks it is critical to work closely with the legislature on this effort so the State can approach our recovery as a team and collaborate with local governments, school districts and other stakeholders to maximize federal dollars and avoid duplicative spending with other ARP funding coming into other entities in the State," Delaney said.

Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said she doesn’t think lawmakers have a solid grasp of exactly how much of the COVID-19 aid has been spent and how much is left over. She wants more than the reports the committee received Monday morning about how much has been budgeted, and said she hopes the changes in the proposed budget amendment will provide that level of detail.

“I really feel right from the start, we haven't had enough legislative input into where this money's going,” she said. “But I was glad that it got on the record from my members on the committee saying, hey … can we revisit where this money has been allocated? Maybe they haven't used it? How do we now use it maybe in a better direction?”

Updated at 5:30 p.m. on 4/26/21 to add comment from governor's office.

Governor stepping away from plan for autonomous ‘Innovation Zones,’ a concept backed by Blockchains

Gov. Steve Sisolak is scrapping plans for legislation creating autonomous “Innovation Zones” with powers on par with counties, and will instead turn the idea he mentioned during his State of the State address into a proposed study.

The decision, first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, to punt on the highly publicized proposed legislation will be marked as a loss for both Sisolak and Blockchains Inc. in failing to convince skeptical lawmakers in both political parties to support the idea of allowing the company to essentially form its own municipal government on land in Storey County and build a city run on cryptocurrency.  The concept raised eyebrows in national media and on late-night television

In a press release issued Monday morning, Sisolak said he wanted to ensure the measure had enough vetting time outside of the “limitations” of the state’s 120-day biennial session and current response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Innovation Zones is a bold proposal for our State that deserves additional attention and discussion – and not under the pressure of less than 40 remaining days in the current legislative session,” he said in a statement. “I know that legislators, stakeholders and Nevadans still have questions, and I want those questions to be discussed and answered. I want people to be enthusiastic about this opportunity, not skeptical about a fast-tracked bill.”

Instead, the governor’s office and top legislative leaders said they will form a special joint committee through a concurrent resolution, with three or more members from the Senate and Assembly representing majority and minority parties as membership. 

The committee is expected to hold meetings at least once a month and report to the governor and lawmakers by the end of the calendar year, with possible recommendations including abandoning the idea, filing a bill draft request prior to the 2023 session or proposing legislative action prior to the 2023 session, such as in a special session.

Blockchains ran a series of television ads and hired more than a dozen lobbyists (including the politically powerful R&R Partners firm) to push the proposal, and the governor’s office hosted a virtual roundtable in late February to promote the concept.

The general idea, according to draft legislation, would allow a developer with more than 50,000 acres of contiguous land, a promise to invest more than $1 billion in the Zone and an agreement to allow an industry-specific tax to create an “Innovation Zone” — a self-governing county-within-a-county, taking over responsibilities such as tax collection, K-12 education and other services normally provided by county governments.

"The hope was that the Legislature would be able to vet this, and I mean really vet it,” Sisolak said, according to the newspaper.

The governor, a Democrat, said he realized there were a high number of stakeholders and issues involved in the concept, which was circulated as an unofficial bill draft request but never revealed as a formal request or bill. He said he was not sure whether amendments could make the idea feasible.

“I had to look at this and be realistic and pragmatic,” Sisolak told the newspaper.

The proposal was met with a cold shoulder by a wide swath of lawmakers and interest groups. Storey County and other rural counties passed resolutions formally opposing the efforts, some Democratic lawmakers and progressive groups questioned the validity of the proposal and tribal and environmental groups raised concerns about how the proposed “smart city” would obtain the water rights needed to serve an estimated population of up to 36,000 residents.

Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity described it as “a massive water grab from rural Nevada.”

The proposal also attracted questions about the personalities behind it. Blockchains had donated $10,000 to Sisolak’s 2018 campaign and $50,000 to a political action committee affiliated with Sisolak in 2019. 

Sisolak spokesperson Meghin Delaney told The Nevada Independent in late March that “campaign contributions have no bearing on decisions the governor makes. Since taking office, the governor's decision-making is focused on what is best for the state and for its residents, regardless of where the ideas come from.”

Blockchains had also hired the financial consulting firm Hobbs, Ong & Associates; the governor’s wife Kathy Sisolak is a director there. The first lady said in response that her firm “has a policy of segregating work assignments to ensure that I am not engaged in any work performed for the State of Nevada.”

Blockchains Inc. CEO Jeff Berns has also recently been the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former nanny.

Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said she was pleased that the governor downgraded the idea to a study.

“Stakeholder input should have been step one and I look forward to seeing broader impact studies," she said.

Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) said in a statement that Sisolak had "failed to deliver on his premier economic development policy," and said that complaints of running out of time rang hollow given unified Democratic control of the Legislature.

"The majority party controls the entire legislative process," he said in an email. "Democrats did not run out of time; they just prioritized a Billionaire over millions of Nevadans."

Updated at 8:38 a.m. on 4/26/21 to add comment from Assemblywoman Robin Titus. Updated again at 11:35 a.m. to add a comment from Sen. James Settelmeyer.